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About Writing Right: The Blog

LIVE IT TO WRITE IT?

I ran across a question the other day that went something like this: Must an author only write a novel about something he has personally experienced? Well, I like shooting ducks in a barrel, so here's how I responded.

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First, is this a serious question, or did you lose a bet? If you read the other two responses you've received as of this writing, you know what I mean.

 

Second, if you read those responses, you should also know enough to take both of them with a big grain of salt. The respondent peddling a book telling how long it takes to write a novel, what you should do "about your first draft" (whatever that means!), and how to revise is ridiculous. Making blanket statements designed to fit every personality, work ethic, and talent level is a waste of time and energy. There is no blueprint for writing a novel—only suggestions on various ways to do it.  Read More 

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DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!

Someone wanted to know how a reader could tell if a book wasn't his cup of tea. I thought about that for a second or two, and here's what I said in response.

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That's an easy one. You know a book is not for you if …

  1. You hate the subject matter
  2. You hate the genre
  3. You hate the author's literary style
  4. You hate the author
  5. You have the author's family

Seriously, speaking from experience, I know a book isn't for me if it takes me longer than a few pages to get into it. Read More 

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THE WARREN REPORT

While this question is a little off the beaten path, when someone wrote online asking if anyone disagreed with the findings of the Warren Report following the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963, I couldn't help but respond. You'll find out why in a couple of minutes. Here's what I said.

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Let me ask you an even more pertinent question: Who didn't?

 

When I was sixteen and the Warren Committee Report was published, I was a conspiracy theorist right along with some of the others who took great pains to respond to your question, fueling the conspiracy controversy that has survived now for decades. And why wouldn't it survive? It's glamorous; it's mysterious, it's titillating, and it's exciting. Unfortunately, it's also untrue.

 

Yes, I was bitterly disappointed with the report and immediately suspected Earl Warren, President Lyndon B. Johnson's personal choice to head the committee into the investigation of JFK, of political chicanery. He was slick, and he was evil. He had a hidden agenda and, like Johnson, didn't want the truth known about who really planned for, ordered, and executed the assassination. And like all those other theorists espousing online here, I was calling for blood. And truth. And justice. Read More 

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YOUR BOOK RIGHTS

Someone asked a question online recently that stumped even me ... for a while at least. He wanted to know what happens to an author's book rights if the book isn't selling. Here's how I finally decided to respond.

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This is an easy one. If your book is not selling, the Copyright Cops show up at your front door, usually around 3 a.m. although sometimes right in the middle of your favorite television show, and serve you a court order and an injunction forbidding you to receive any future royalties from book sales and ordering you to sign over all rights to your book to the federal government.

 

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Uncle Sam is trying to grab everything else you own, why not your creative endeavors, too? Read More 

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ROMAN NUMERAL CHAPTER HEADINGS

People have asked me this question a few times now in the last few months, and it deserves an answer. Namely, can you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? My answer: Yes!

 

Next question: Should you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? Next answer: No! For reasons that may not be obvious. So, let me add a little something more from an "insider's" point-of-view to clarify.


As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I soon learned that nothing set my ears upright and the hairs on the back of my neck skyrocketing for the stars faster than some quirky, unconventionally formatted manuscript submission. It told me about the writer, "I'm a weirdo trying to stand out visually because my material isn't strong enough to stand out on its own contextually." And, do you want to know something else? That was (and is) exactly right. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. And, for that one time that it didn't hold true, well, let me just say that, as an editor swamped with manuscripts, running the risk of wading through all the hog slop in search of the pork chop just wasn't worth it. Read More 

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PLOTTING PROBLEMS

When someone posed the question on line as to why he is able to create good characters but can't create a decent story to save his soul, the Internet lit up with do-gooders, not the least of whom was one of my favorite spreaders of online misinformation. Here's what I told him.

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First, assuming the Queen of Wrong can read (which may be a stretch), I'm not sure why she feels you are only interested in the characters "as they are, not how they got to where they are now." You stated in your question that you're good at characterization, so what's Queenie's beef?

 

And, as for her implication that you need a course on "plotting," let me say that plotting isn't the be-all and end-all she apparently thinks it is. Plotting is storytelling, plain and simple. If you can tell a good story from beginning to end without losing your listener's interest, a plotting course will only slow you down in your development. Ask Herman Melville or Uncle Remus or even Beatrix Potter if they'd taken many courses on "plotting" throughout their lives. Uh-uh? That's what I thought.

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FINDING THE RIGHT WRITER

An inexperienced writer asked online the other day how he can find a writer to hire to write a book he'd enjoy reading. It sounded like an interesting question, so I thought I'd give answering him a shot.

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The first thing you need to do is find a writer with lots of book-writing experience, as well as one with both ghostwriting (ghosting) and editing savvy. Stay clear of beginning, wanna-be authors and people who can't string a sentence together without leaving a few typos behind to save their souls. Also, a writer experienced in all genres of books will be more flexible in approaching your project without messing it up. Teaching and reporting experience come in handy here, as well.

 

In short, if you want to hire someone to write a book even you would enjoy reading, hire the best. You'll pay for that privilege, but the experience and results will be worth it in the long run. Believe me!

 

Where can you find qualified candidates to consider for the job? You can look no further than right here on this Website. Find authors with all the qualifications you need, and contact them about what you're looking for them to do. You should have at least a rough storyline in mind (and on paper!) so you can share that right up front.  Read More 

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SENDING SAMPLE BOOK PAGES

A beginning writer who had received a request from a publisher to send from 50 - 100 pages of his book for review wanted to know which was preferable--sending more or sending less. Here's how I responded.

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Congratulations on an interesting question. It's so interesting, in fact, that it's nearly unique. Perhaps that's why every other respondent who sent you an answer is wrong—either in content or by omission.

 

The truth is that any publisher asking for 50 - 100 pages of a manuscript isn't looking for 10 pages pulled from here and 15 pages culled from there, as several respondents suggested you do. He wants the first 50 - 100 consecutive pages. That's because cherry-picking your "best" pages from the manuscript doesn't tell the editor how the book begins, how successful you are at grabbing the reader's interest and attention in a short period of time, and how logically and cohesively you string together your thoughts. I'm amazed that no other respondent took the time to research his or her answer before spitting it out into cyberspace—which is exactly where such nonsensical gibberish belongs. Read More 

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HOW BOOK AUTHORS GET PAID

Here's an unusual one, obviously asked online by someone with zero knowledge of the publishing industry. He wanted to know how publishers pay an author once he writes a book himself and takes it to them. Okay, kiddies and kiddiettes, here's the lowdown. My response:

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First of all, you don't "write a book yourself"; you write a book. See the difference? Now, are you sure you want me to continue here? Okay, you asked for it.

 

Second, you don't show your book to a publisher. You query a publisher with a pitch letter, detailing your book's merits. Then, you wait to see what kind of response you receive.

 

Third, if your query fell on receptive ears, you'll be told that the publisher is interested and would like to see the complete book (or, perhaps, the first few chapters). But, you don't "take it to them." You submit to them a digital copy (or a printed copy, in the rare event that the publisher requests it), unless you happen to be right down the street from Random House or Simon and Schuster and know one of the editors personally, in which case I stand corrected. Got that? Kool. Read More 

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GETTING IDEAS OUT OF YOUR HEAD

Someone wrote in the other day to say that, while he sees what he wants to write clearly in his mind, he doesn't know how to convey that image to readers. That's not at all an unusual experience. Here's what I advised him to do.

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Do you really want the answer? The only, one, true response? I wonder. But, what the hell, you asked for it, so here goes.

 

You learn how to write. Period.

 

It's as simple (and, of course, as complicated) as that. If you think anyone can actually give you a few "tips" so you can convey what's in your head to your readers so that they can understand and appreciate it, too, you're mistaken. It's your idea; it's your head; you have to be the one to do the heavy lifting. And, that's the only "tip" you need.

 

Okay, you ask, but how do I learn to write? Admittedly, if you're starting from a blank slate (or an empty knowledge bank), that won't be easy. If everyone could be a successful writer, everyone would be a successful writer. Very few of us have worked at this art for nearly half a century and learned how to do virtually everything there is to do to crank out good—no, make that great--stories, at least according to the reviewers. So, how do you take that giant leap? Read More 

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