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Writing Right: The Blog


When an inexperienced novelist who was stuck midway through his book asked me that question recently, I thought the universe would be in lock-step with an answer. I was wrong. I keep hoping that, sooner or later, everyone who rushes forward with a response to writers in need will recognize a responsibility to answer with the truth. I'm still hoping. Meanwhile, here's what I ultimately wrote that writer in response.

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You've received two answers so far, and both of them are horrendous.


First, writing courses are not better than editorial work. Nothing beats on-the-job training and experience, if you're good enough to get it. Obviously, the respondent who suggested the superiority of writing courses to editorial experience wasn't.


Second, even if there are "a lots of" [sic] online schools now, that doesn't mean you'll learn anything from them. Including how to proofread your material before publishing it.


Third, a "good critique group" isn't hard to find; it's nearly impossible. Too many egos spoil the plot. If you find a "good" critique group and want to join, fine. But, it will never take the place of one-on-one mentoring and professional training. Read More 

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Well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, if you're asking that question, you'd best ignore advice from wannabe "experts" who advise you to choose that "electric" spot, or opt for that "creative" locale, or choose the place that drives your creativity. Even though, offhand, I'd say that St. Lucia sounds nice. Or maybe Bermuda.


Ahh, but, let's get back to square one. If you're asking that question, I'm guessing you want to know where other writers like to write so that you might get some ideas for yourself. Yes, no, maybe so? Regardless, I have some very distinct opinions on the subject.


First, I like to write wherever there's a computer with a word-processing program loaded on it (preferably, MS Word for several reasons, but we won't get into that here). That's numero uno. Outside of that, my writing locale can be indoors or out, at home or away, in a hotel room (five-star, please, with some Moet Chandon chilling in the bucket) or on the beach.


I know that may sound confusing. But, here's the real deal. I don't have an obvious preference because I'm a professional writer of more than five decades' experience. When I was a kid just starting out as a wunderkind novelist of fourteen, I had to write at home in my own little "space." There was no alternative. That's where my inspiration lay. That was the only place for me that would do.


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Every now and then, I get a question I can hardly believe. I recently had just such a memorable experience. Someone asked how much time your should devote to a horrendously boing book. Seem like a reasonable question at first glance, right? Here's what I replied, along with a couple other forum members.

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It's nice to see that at least two of the respondents to your question are clairvoyant. I'm not blessed with such a rare gift. So, I'm going to suggest that, in the future, rather than throwing a question out and walking away from it (and a question with no real answer, by the way, because you're asking something about yourself to which only you can reply), you think your questions through more thoroughly, word them more precisely, and review them more carefully before posting.


Now, how much time you should give a devastatingly boring book depends upon you, of course. But it also depends upon whether you're talking about reading it or writing it. You never say.


If you're asking about reading it, and if you were asking me how much time I'd spend on it (which you're not), I'd say a page-and-a-half max. Life is too short to waste on crap, no matter how worthwhile the subject matter might be. If you're asking about writing it, and if I were the author, I'd say the answer to that would depend upon how much promise I feel the book has and how much patience and talent I possess to turn it into a great work of literature, either fiction or nonfiction. Again, you fail to specify, and that might well make a difference. Read More 

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Somebody ask me this question awhile ago, and I thought it interest enough to delve into. Here's my response:

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Now, you have me thinking back to when I actually did have a favorite time for writing. That was quite a few decades ago when I first began pounding out (on an old Underwood typewriter) my first novel, and I'd start about ten at night and write through the evening until my father woke up to go to work at six the following morning and stared at me, amazed. "What time did you get up?" Of course, I glowed in self-admiration at being able to tell him that I didn't and that I'd been working through the night on my novel. Having discovered me working through the night, I thought, made him realize how serious I was about this whole writing deal I had recently discovered. It also made me believe I was cut out to be a famous, long-suffering novelist and artiste. I was fourteen.


I gave up that nonsense sometime before I reached the age of maturity, which for me was around thirty. Or, more likely, when I got my first real writing job as a suburban Chicago newspaper stringer. That's when I learned the reality of having to write under the pressure of unyielding deadlines. Writing on demand, in effect. That realization was enforced during my years in college where I majored in journalism. An instructor would set up a story, pull out his stopwatch, and tell us to "Go!" Fifteen minutes later, he'd tell us to "Stop!" What we accomplished in between pretty much determined our grades for the semester.


What I'm saying in a round-about but oh, so endearing fashion is that professional writers don't have a favorite time of day to write. Or even a favorite way of spelling "favourite." (Oh, you Brits, always adding extra letters when you should be subtracting them.) Professional writers don't wait until the spirit moves them, until the hands on the clock reach a certain position, or until someone shouts "Go!" They write when they need to, which includes (of course) when they want to. Read More 

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Here's something I came across on the Internet the other day. Someone had actually created a "cheat sheet" for writing. Why? "For myself," he said. "All the information is available via Google and or classes. My goal is to create a reference go-to-document." Then, he listed the cheat sheet URL, which I'll spare you. Here's my response.

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From what I see, your "cheat sheet" isn't about writing; it's about writing Deep Point-of-View, which is a substantially more limited subject than your question implies. Also, the examples you present in your "cheat sheet" aren't well written. Not at all. Many of them are good examples of how not to write. Also, your explanations of the examples you give aren't always very clear, pertinent, or accurate. (And, of course, you need to clean up your typos.) I don't think any of these tips are things you should be impressing upon other writers, particularly less experienced and knowledgeable ones. Apart from that, I have a question for you.


What on earth are you doing to yourself as a writer? Or, rather, what aren't you doing? You sound as if you're an academician whose goal is to compartmentalize certain aspects of writing "rules" for regurgitation to a few dozen students in a classroom at some point down the line. If that's the case, I can see why you'd value something such as your "cheat sheet." Otherwise, I can't. In fact, I can see it doing more harm than good for serious beginning writers. Far more! Read More 

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When someone asked this question online the other day, I had to add my two cents to the pot. Here's my response.

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Simple. Start at the beginning and end at the end.


Next question, please.


What? Too simple? Okay, maybe it's not as easy as that. But, your question is pretty obtuse. If you're asking how I personally proofread and edit a book, that's one thing. But, since you have directed your question to more than one respondent, I'm assuming you're using "you" in the generic and not the specific sense. As in "How do you people proofread and edit a book?"


Honestly, anyone who sets about proofreading and editing a book, and doing so properly, needs years of technical knowledge about writing, language, punctuation, and spelling. Sentence structure also comes into play. As does syntax, characterization, dialogue, general structure, construction, and all the other elements involved in writing a fiction or nonfiction book (you don't specify in your question). After that, the editor must have a keen eye to identify a problem area when he or she comes across one and, of course, know how to fix it. There's no "one way" to do it right. But there often is one "best" or, rather, "most effective" way to do so, subject to personal preference. Read More 

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A writer asked the other day whether or not writers should reject rejection. Huh? Anyway, here's what I suggested.

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Okay, kiddies and kiddiettes, for starters, let me say that I'm stunned by one person's response to this question. It comes from some Coffee Shop representative, whatever on earth that is, pretending she knows what she's talking about when she obviously doesn't. Here's why.


That respondent said that receipt of a rejection slip is "meaningless" and doesn't imply that your work is bad but merely means "Your work isn't the right fit for us right now because of genre/market conditions/my personal preferences/etc." Even more likely, it could be (and most likely is) a wake-up call for you to learn to write better, pitch better, or pack up your things and get the hell out of Dodge.


Yes, all those things this "former Author" (again, whatever on earth that means) and Coffee Shop graduate mentioned could be possible, but they're hardly likely.


Would you like to know the number-one reason I rejected pitches or queries or even complete submissions when I was editing a national magazine and, later, a series of regional newspapers? They sucked. By that I mean the writing was poor, the concept was poor, the punctuation and grammar were poor, and the execution was juvenile. Read More 

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Someone asked a question online the other day about finding someone to ghostwrite a novel for him. Here's how I responded.

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Can anyone? Sure. Will that person be top-notch? Not so fast.


Here's the deal. A first-rate, professional ghostwriter with an opening in his schedule, who also just happens to love your idea and is on the same track as you, will do the job. More people employ ghosts to write their novels than anyone here can possibly imagine. Sometimes, people have a dynamite idea for a book and don't have the time or skills to bring it to fruition. In fact, oftentimes! The same with nonfiction books. It happens far more frequently than people realize, even among top-selling authors (go figure!).


Professional ghosts get their kicks out of writing the book you have in mind. And making it work. The best of the best write in your own literary style, too. Yes, they're that talented. And, of course, they turn out a product of which you can be proud after working together with your ghost for weeks or even months, depending upon the complexity and length of the project. Read More 

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If you've tried everything you can think of to land a literary agent to represent your work to publishers, you've probably failed. Through no fault, necessarily, of your own.


Welcome to the Real World of book publishing. You know, the one where landing a publishing contract is only the second most challenging thing for a writer to do; landing an agency contract is number one. Far and away.


The reason is simple mathematics. Sure, for every book published, probably a few hundred or more go unpublished. But for every agent landed, thousands of authors get turned down. The reason is that there are only so many agents to go around, and they're in huge demand. That's because good agents can offer fledgling writers invaluable advice, so they act as sounding boards and dispensers of knowledge. As a result, book publishers increasingly turn to agents to "screen" the work submitted to them in order to save their editors time. Agents weed out the junk (or the vast majority of it) and pass along only the best of the works they receive from their represented writers. Read More 

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Every now and again, I run into someone who asks for advice on writing when he really should be toughing it out himself. The other day, someone wanted to know how to write "a introductory fight between two mafias." Naturally, that was more than I could resist. This was my response.

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Here's an idea. You sit down, unplug the PlayStation, turn off the video games and the television sets, pull the plug on that stuff you believe is roughly approximate to music, sign out of Facebook, put your cell phone on "silence" mode, and think. Literally. Think!


I know I'm from a different generation, and I know we Baby Boomers didn't do everything right. But one thing we did do properly was learn how to think. To envision. To fantasize. To research, read, study, and learn. To ask ourselves questions and get answers we can use. Try starting out with What if? What if? What if?


Do you get my drift? No one can tell you how you should write "a introductory fight between two mafias," which I assume you mean "an" introductory fight between two mafia "gangs." Regardless, no one can tell you what to write and have it come out sounding like your own literary voice. (I know, I know—so, Google it!) Writing isn't a team sport, and it's not a collaborative effort, contrary to what all those money-hungry sites all over the Web keep telling you while they prey on writer wannabes. Read More 

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