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First Monday Mentoring, July 2016 – how NOT to be a writer in the 21st Century

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and the fun stuff about being a writer.

This week’s blog was inspired by an email conversation with a columnist in a regional newspaper (themselves, sadly a dying breed). The column has no website, no email, no means of getting in touch other than by mail or phone.

When I finally tracked down an email contact to compliment the writer, he was predictably pleased that I’d reached out. But on the bottom of his response was the line, “I don’t read all my emails…pick up the phone.”

Well, no. Writers don’t get to tell our readers/customers how they can read our work. That’s up to them.  I used to wonder how you could read my books on a phone. In a word, convenience. You nearly always have a phone with you.

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My current Beacon sci-fi series is published by Momentum, the digital-first arm of Pan Macmillan with the last in the series, Homeworld, released last week. I had to edit the series entirely online, rather than marking up a printed copy, which used to involve a language of editorial squiggles we mostly don’t see any more. To me, the hash sign # still suggests “space out” and we’re not talking taking illicit substances, but spreading out a piece of copy.

No longer. I love hashtags because they connect people to your conversation. The Twitter hashtag #AmWriting is read by millions around the world who share an interest in the writing process.

I admit I sometimes struggle with technology. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes the technology. But I soldier on because it’s fun  being part of this exciting world.

Celebrating a couple of decades working together, my agent gifted me an iPad Mini, a generous gift by any standards. I felt totally challenged by it but persevered and it’s now the best camera I’ve ever had. Not long ago, I had a live chat on it with writer friend, Jennie Adams. For her, it was early evening in Australia. For me, it was midnight in Las Vegas and we chatted as I waited for a flight #lovemyiPad

Other ways NOT to be a writer today:

Refuse to deal with ebooks.

Like most writers, I like print books, but my Kindle has over 500 books on it. Sometimes I’ll read the ebook version because I can have it NOW. Then I’ll order a print copy, especially nonfiction, to study at leisure.

Overlook technology in your stories

I see this a lot with entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Too often characters are stuck in last century. There’s almost nowhere your characters aren’t linked by their devices. I’m judging this year’s finalists very soon with the hashtag #ValerieParvAward on Twitter and I’ll be looking for tech savvy characters.

Change the story to take account of real life. You can only have batteries go flat so many times. Likewise, in a story, you can only have doubt about a person’s parentage for two weeks or less, before DNA testing gives the answer. In Private Sydney, written with James Patterson, Kathryn Fox wrote about new technology that gets it down to one hour and while not as detailed as the longer tests, still reveals a lot. Using technology can broaden your story. Need characters to find answers to something? Let them share on social media or Google the details. Every writer I know blesses Google for making research a breeze.

If you aren’t already, get good at researching. Writing Homeworld, the final  book in my Beacons sci-fi series, I needed to know if you could launch a space shuttle off the back of a Global Express private jet. My net search turned up the PR division of the plane’s makers who sent my query to the designers. They not only wrote back that it could be done but included diagrams, thrilling me with their generosity. Learn the tricks to search terms and dive in.

You notice the difference if you dip into the past for entertainment. I enjoy the1980s cop show, T J Hooker, starring William Shatner, my tweetheart. Thanks for that lovely word, Joanna Sandsmark. He’s seen here with fellow Star Trek alumni, Leonard Nimoy. Watching him in action is fun, but I can’t help wishing for a cellphone every time he has to find a phone to take care of police business.

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Another fav. Is  Murdoch Mysteries, a detective show set in the 1890s where everything is old school. Yannick Bisson as eye candy in the title role doesn’t hurt, either. Former VPA “minion” (what previous award winners call themselves) Erica Hayes writing as Viola Carr, writes a fun series about the daughter of Dr. Jeckyll who inherited his affliction. In these page-turners,Viola employs the tech of the day – plus some neat inventions of her own – beautifully. Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the first in the series – you can’t do much better than that.

Currently I’m developing a book where one lead character steps back in time. The other remains in the present with all its technical goodies, while my character has to deal with the comparatively low tech of the time she finds herself in.

Love it or loathe it, this is our reality as writers today. Technology also changes how we write – but that’s a subject for another blog.

How do you deal with technology in your writing? What books do it best for you as a reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re monitored to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT JUNE 30

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

 

 

 

 

 

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Where will the leap year take your writing relationships? First Monday Mentoring for March

Last week we wished Happy Birthday to all the leap year babies born on February 29. Thanks to Julius Caesar simplifying the early Roman calendar, the extra day happens every four years and was designed to keep festivals occurring around the same season each year.
In Ireland it’s said that women may propose marriage only in leap years, a tradition that has spread worldwide.
But this is a writing forum, so we’re interested in your creative relationships. In 2016 will you be dealing with critique partners and significant others in your life? Proposing (pitching) work to an agent or editor? What will be your relationship with your muse? With the online world?

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I’m exploring some of these relationships during a 2-day workshop at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on 2 and 3 April, joined by my long-time agent, Linda Tate, who will share her take on the writer-agent relationship. The workshop sold out within days, showing that there’s a need for writers to focus on these aspects of the work.

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Equally important are relationships with family and friends. Writing can make us so inwardly focused that it’s easy to forget there’s life beyond the current manuscript. It’s vital we make time for real people, as well as fictional ones. For without real relationships and a social life, we can end up with little new to write about.

Cat writer

Four questions to ask yourself this leap year:

1. Is this writing project serving the people I care about?
It may bring income, make you a more rounded person – I know when I’m kept from writing, I become very hard to live with – but when my husband was alive, I made sure he knew how important he was to me. After he passed, I was glad I hadn’t put writing ahead of his needs. Keeping a work-life balance is key.

2. Is this project serving my goals as a writer?
Writing reviews or blogs and contributing to social media may feel like work – and publishers do encourage writers to have a strong online presence – but if your real writing work is neglected, it may help to look at your priorities.

3. Is this writing serving my wider community?
This doesn’t contradict point two, because community involvement provides ideas and enrichment to you, as a writer. Serving as a volunteer zoo guide at the National Zoo in Canberra for ten years got me away from the computer, meeting people from around the world, and befriending some truly amazing animals.

4. Is this project the best use of my time and energy?
Only you can write your books. A dear friend talked of a real-life experience she intended to write about “someday.” Sadly, she died with the book not even started. Her experiences were never shared with readers and are now lost forever. A famous meme on Facebook quotes J K Rowling on how she managed to be a single mother while writing her Harry Potter books. Her answer was that she didn’t do housework for four years. Priorities.

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Being a writer – if you’re serious about it – is a nonstop juggling act. If you add in a day job, life gets even more challenging. It’s up to you how you handle it. But look first at the time sucks – endlessly checking Facebook or Twitter; sharing so much of your life via your devices that you forget to actually live it; binge watching TV shows and movies.

There’s no harm in doing some of this some of the time, as long as you make conscious decisions on how to have a balanced life and still get your writing done.

2016 can be your year to leap ahead with your writing, and it doesn’t have to be at the cost of other aspects of your life.

Now over to you. How do you manage your writing and relationships? Will you be proposing (pitching) to an agent or editor this year? A leap year is about growth and change. And getting to that all-important happy ever after. Or happy for now. How will you get there?

Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,
Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for September – write characters who live for your readers

Welcome to the first Monday in September when I answer any questions you have about writing, and invite you to share your experiences as a published or emerging writer.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual conference of Romance Writers of Australia in Melbourne, among a record 400 attendees, about 100 being first timers. The enthusiasm level soared. Reunions were loud with much hugging, and we were blessed with outstanding keynote speakers including Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect), New York Times bestselling author of historical and contemporary romances, Mary Jo Putney, Dr. Anita Heiss (novelist and social commentator), American romance writer, Patricia McLinn and many, many more.

At the awards dinner I announced the winner of this year’s Valerie Parv Award – incidentally named by RWA, not by me, I suspect as a good way to make sure I keep turning up. Congratulations to all the winners and place getters. The winner couldn’t make the conference but we had a long phone chat later to welcome Canberra writer, Carly Main, to the ranks of the minions – as past winners dubbed themselves long before the movies.

Carly’s winning book is a Roman-set women’s novel with romantic elements. I’ll mentor her while she holds the award, and we plan on exploring the world of ancient Rome together. Coincidentally, one of my current projects has a similar background.

A key conference theme was that writers are also readers, or should be. And we need to put ourselves in the reader’s place just as we put ourselves into the POV (viewpoint) of key characters including the villains. These “book boyfriends” and “book girlfriends” as they’re called on Facebook can become as important to readers as their real life partners. No greater compliment can be paid a writer than to take our characters so much to heart.

A case in point is Graeme Simsion’s character of Don Tillman, the socially inept hero of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

To enable this process, we need to provide vivid character descriptions , not only in terms of eye colour, hair, height and build, but who they are as people. The old ‘show, don’t tell.’ By showing us their thoughts and interactions with other characters, you draw us as deeply into their world. The success of Graeme’s book – soon to be a major film – speaks for itself. I’ve just finished The Rosie Effect, and am awed by of how vividly he brings Don and Rosie to life.

As Graeme does, we need to take readers on a journey with our characters – soaring with them, sobbing along with them – living with them through the story so that if the character dies, we mourn their loss. These are tall orders but they are what draws readers in to our fiction again and again.

I remember as a young reader being heartbroken at the end of the Narnia stories, not wanting to leave that magical world. Likewise when I reached the end of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series, the final book supposedly “written” by another character following Quatermain’s death.

When Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek’s unemotional Mr. Spock – died in February this year, millions around the world mourned, marking the passing of a beloved character who will live long in fiction and film.
My dream – and it should be every fiction writer’s dream – is to create a character as enduring as any of these. To blur the line between fiction and reality in readers’ minds.

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

That means you’ve gone beyond characters to tell stories about people who live on outside your virtual play, even inspiring readers to write their own fanfic (fan fiction) about them.

IMO there’s no greater goal for a writer, and no greater achievement when you pull it off.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for September – tracking down Scribblopithecus, the writing breed

Welcome. It’s first Monday again, when I answer questions about any aspect of the writing life.

Recently I attended the national conference of Romance Writers of Australia, one of the largest gatherings of writers in the country. Headliners included New York Times’ best-sellers, publishers, agents and writers of all kinds. I presented a workshop on drawing readers into your fictional world.

In the breaks, talk ranged around contracts, submissions and other professional concerns, but also about lesser-known aspects such as the courage needed to write, and how hard it is to diet in such an unpredictable business. This made me think it was time to look at what this crazy business really means.

If David Attenborough wanted to make one of his celebrated documentaries about writers, where would he start? Would he find us in herds like gazelle, or stalking alone like tigers. Would we be fearful or confronting? Do we use protective coloration or can you spot the breed from a distance?

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Confusingly, the answer to all the above would be yes. Writers – call us Scribblopithecus – do gather in herds such as the RWA conference. But more commonly, they hole up in their writing caves, struggling to deal with the real world.

Protective coloration goes by the name of jammies, short for pyjamas, the species’ unofficial uniform. In writing mode, Scribblopithecus can stay in this camouflage for days.

While Scribblopithecus doesn’t actually hibernate, they frequently enter a torpor, a state where they are unresponsive to family and friends, reluctant to initiate communication, and focused entirely on their internal world.

Locating Scribblopithecus is challenging because their habitats are so varied. You find them in every country of the world, existing like cuckoos in a range of settings known as “day jobs.” In these, you may be hard-pressed to spot the writer, so well do they disguise themselves. They’re wonderful mimics, copying the calls and behavior of their day-job counterparts.

But in their natural surroundings they spend hours mesmerized by computer screens and tablets on which they make their characteristic scratchy markings. They’re fussy, though. The markings must be just so, or they will be removed and Scribblopithecus will start over, sometimes dozens of times.

Despite this preoccupation, Scribblopithecus also collects objects called notebooks, the more stylish the better. They seldom defile notebooks with scratchings, but will treasure and fondle them as their collection grows. An environment such as Office Works or Kikki.K can induce an ecstasy state as the species rushes to acquire every object around them.

Scribblopithecus is an omnivore but has a particular fondness for chocolate, despite its effect on their generally sedentary lifestyle. If anyone raids their stash, they can become aggressive, although few specimens engage in physical confrontation.

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Interpreting their scratchings can be confusing. The amount of mayhem, death and destruction represented can lead one to assume that aggression is a natural trait. In fact, Scribblopithecus tends toward shyness, preferring to communicate via its screens rather than face to face. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter are their natural homes and #amwriting is one of the latter’s more distinctive calls.

So what is to be concluded about this species? No two are alike, they alternate between herd and solitary behaviour, experience long periods of torpor and express their aggression passively, through their scratchings. They are also an enduring species, their scratchings being found on cave walls throughout the ancient world.

Should you encounter Scribblopithecus, it’s advisable to offer chocolate and back slowly away lest you find yourself represented in their scratchings and killed off in an unpleasant manner. This symbolic violence is characteristic, along with talking to themselves, mock aggression when they wish to be solitary, and a complete lack of time sense.

It’s safest not to try to placate an aroused specimen. Misuse of apostrophes and terminology such as, “there, they’re, their” has been known to induce an attack frenzy which few outsiders have survived.

So there you have it. Have you met Scribblopithecus? Are you one of the species yourself? Please leave a comment here, moderated unless you click Sign Me Up at right. Or better still, leave chocolate to avoid being killed symbolically.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
AORW cover
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You

at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for April – how to think like a pro writer

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and have me answer any questions you have to do with writing. Today’s first question comes from a panel I was on at the last GenreCon event in Brisbane: Think Like a Pro. It was about crossing over from hobby writer to professional, so I added “writer” to “pro” to head off the smart comments I was getting on Facebook and Twitter

They reminded me of being interviewed by Ray Martin,when I said in all seriousness, romance is the root of everything. The studio audience erupted with laughter. Ray waited, then added quietly, “You said it, Valerie.” So pro writer it is.

Writing is often about aptitude, being born with the storytelling gene, as I believe nearly all successful writers to be. Professional writing is about attitude. It involves learning to see yourself differently, and training others in your life to see you the same way.

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I started out writing everything from press releases to non-fiction before progressing to novels. My first mentor taught me to value my time, setting myself a nominal hourly rate. If I could get non-writing work done for less than this hourly rate, I was better off hiring someone while I wrote new words or developed a submission for a publisher. I still hire computer help, lawn care, book-keeping or whatever else I need so I can focus on my core business of writing.

Working with an agent – or freelance editor if you plan to indie publish – should be seen as an investment. At a minimum, a good agent covers their fee and then some by gaining better deals for you. Mine certainly does.

Writing may be a labour of love but to succeed long term, you need to treat it as your job. Hearing friends say, “I’ve finished writing for the day, now I’m off to work” makes me want to throw things.

Writing IS work. It may not be your day job for now, but as a pro writer, that’s your goal. It helps to tell friends and family, “I’m working” rather than “I’m writing.” Which makes you sound more like a professional?

Here are my four tips for thinking like a pro writer –

1. Put a value on your time. As soon as you can afford it, hire help to leave yourself free to write. Sometimes committing yourself to an expense such as child care or computer advice can spur you to work harder to cover these expenses.

2. Schedule your writing as work. Even if you can only set aside half an hour a day, or commit to writing 250 words, regard it as inviolate and hold yourself accountable to produce results.

3. Make writing a habit. Keep a diary of the words you produce toward your target. If you miss a day, make it up as soon as you can. Don’t worry if writing full time seems a long way off. The discipline of writing around other commitments can mean producing more work than if you have whole days available. The saying that work expands to fill the time available is especially true of creative writing.

4. Allow yourself thinking time. Find a writing place where you don’t feel compelled to “look busy.” Thinking and pushing your ideas to the limit IS important if you’re to create something new and exciting. We writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Now it’s your turn. What beliefs and practices turn you from a wannabe to a pro writer? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie

About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

First Monday Mentoring for August – handling your writer’s grumpy brat

Today is the first Monday in August – how did that happen? Today I open the blog to your questions about any aspect of writing and publishing, and answer them here. The blog is read by many terrific writers who add their thoughts or experiences. Post your questions and ideas, argue with mine, share your war stories. This is the day, heck, sometimes the whole week.

I regret the need to moderate comments before they appear. But turning that off leads to an avalanche of spam and rudeness we can do without. To have your comments appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right to subscribe. I don’t share your email address with others.

To kick things off, I’m addressing a problem all writers share – dealing with our inner grumpy brat. You can be a New York Times bestseller or an emerging writer, but sooner or later Grumpy Brat Writer will appear, usually when you’re facing a deadline or a contest closing date. You need to be ready. Just like a parent in a supermarket when their toddler throws themselves down on the floor and screams blue murder, you need coping strategies to stop your Grumpy Brat Writer from winning the day.
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Here are 5 things you’ll hear Grumpy Writer Brat whine:

1. I don’t wanna

GBW never wants to do anything, especially if it involves work. And most writing involves a LOT of work. GBW would much rather play with her friend, Google, on research sites. Even then, she may start out on topic and be distracted by the first shiny link that comes her way. Which leads to another link and another until your research topic is a speck on the digital horizon. She also loves toys. Solitaire is to GBW what Lego is to most toddlers, and just as hard to get them to put away.
The solution: GBW loves rewards. Don’t wait until the end of a project (or dog forbid, a whole book) to reward her. Give her little treats along the way. They can be time outdoors, a little taste of chocolate, a phone call to a friend, or some reading time when she does what you want.

2. Why do I hafta?
This goes to the question of motivation. Writers have to be self disciplined to get anything done. Unless you have a publishing contract, no one is pushing you to finish the book. Non-writer friends and family don’t get why it isn’t done in a week. And without a goal, you’ll find GBW cleaning out the refrigerator, brushing the cat, or lining up pens in colour coded rows.
The solution: Motivate GBW with whatever works. Enter a contest with a submission date. Choose one that you can meet without too much stress, but that’s close enough to keep you at the keyboard. Tell your writer friends you’re writing. If you’re on Twitter, use a hashtag like #amwriting. Hashtags are like secret handshakes. They link together people who are otherwise unconected. but share a common interest – like getting the writing done. Sign up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. These days Nano is international. Participants aim to write 50,000 words during November. Nobody says they have to be good words, although published novels have come out of these rough drafts. If all else fails, buy a cute kitchen timer and set it for ten minutes. Almost anybody can stay on task for ten minutes. Tell GBW that’s all she has to do, write until the timer goes off. Chances are she’ll still be going after the timer rings. And if not, reward her and come back for another 10 minute sprint later.

3. Are we there yet? (usually repeated over and over)
We’ve all heard GBW on this. She wants the work finished and the fun to start. Especially if you’re writing a book, the finish line can be months and sometimes years away. No wonder GBW gets restless and whiny.
Solution: The kitchen timer in #2 helps to let GBW know when she’s “there” at least in the short term. Choosing a set number of words you’ll achieve each day no matter what and not stopping until you’re “there” can help. Even if your goal is as few as 200 or 500 words, make a deal with GBW that you won’t stop until they’re written. If you write more than your goal, great, but beware of writing 4,000 words and then finding you can’t write again for several days. Slow and steady wins the race.

4. No! (said with jutting out lower lip and folded arms)
Sometimes I think this is the first word that GBW learns. Whatever we ask of her, we get the one word answer and the stubborn body language. How can you deal with such an implacable, “No?”
Solution: GBW is looking out for herself, but she also has an almost subliminal sense of what else is going on with your work. Every time I’ve come up against GBW’s flat refusal to co-operate – every time – it’s been because the writing is going in the wrong direction. Coming up against that “No” leads me to look at what my characters are doing. Is this where the book should be at this time? Could I change settings or characters? Add a new character? Have somebody produce a gun? Magically, as soon as I address what’s bothering GBW, she starts saying yes to me.

5. Hers is bigger/better/shinier
This is GBW looking around and wanting what other writers have. Whether it’s a publishing contract, a prize, an award, great cover art or fantastic reviews, the little green monster brings out the worst in GBW. Often, she’s so consumed with the shiny goodies others seem to have that it stops her from writing anything.
Solution: tell GBW it’s okay to feel jealous. Maybe the other person does have a bigger better shinier whatever. On the other hand, they may also have ill health, financial woes or family issues GBW doesn’t know about. Most of us show the world our best side, but there’s nearly always a dark side lurking. Remind GBW about this and also of the line from the Desiderata, “Never compare yourself to others, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” While GBW is busy envying other writers, just as many would like to be her.

How does your Grumpy Brat Writer show his or herself? How do you deal with it? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

Valerie

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http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

First Monday Mentoring for July – don’t be a no-account writer

Today is the first Monday in July, when I open this blog to your questions about writing, publishing or any aspect of the process, and answer them here. The blog is read by many terrific writers who’ll add their thoughts or experiences to the mix. Post your questions and ideas, argue with mine, share your war stories. This is the day, heck, sometimes the whole week.

I regret that comments must be moderated before they appear. But turning that off leads to an avalanche of spam and rudeness we can do without. To have your comments appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right to subscribe. I don’t share your email address with others.

To kick things off, I’m looking at accountability. The new financial year (in Australia, anyway) makes us think of accounts in the money sense. How much or how little did you earn? And where did it all go? How can you manage better this financial year? When can you give up your day job? All fodder for a later blog.

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There’s a kind of accounting that can make or break your writing future. It’s your output. It’s OK to want to BE a writer. A lot of the time, being a writer is more fun than writing. Attending groups, workshops, posting on Facebook and Twitter, reading craft books and critiquing friends’ manuscripts are all part of the scene, but they’re not writing.

As author, Neil Gaiman, says, “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.” That’s writing. Set yourself a word target you commit to meeting no matter what. It doesn’t have to be seven days a week, or an impossible number. Writing 500 words a day every week for six months gives you a 60,000 word manuscript, the length of a novel these days. And that’s with weekends off. 500 words is about two typed pages.

Recently a writer friend, Diane Curran, posted on Facebook that instead of asking members of her group what they wanted the group to do for them over the next year, she asked them to name their writing ambitions. Then asked what they needed to do by the next monthly meeting to get them closer to their goals. As Diane said, making the members accountable for their progress kept her accountable, too.

There are many ways to make yourself step up. NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is probably the best known. It’s an international must-do for thousands of people who commit to writing 50,000 words during November. Some make the total, some far exceed it. Others do 20,000, 30,000 or whatever they can manage. But every one of them produces more than they would have going solo.

In June, Romance Writers of Australia runs 50k in 30 days. https://romanceaustralia.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/need-a-push-to-get-the-words-down-50k-in-30-days-is-here/ Then there are “sprints” when writers challenge each other to achieve targets such as #1k1hr on Twitter. This stands for one thousand words in one hour. You simply tweet that you’re looking for a 1k1hr partner to start sprinting at the quarter, half or full hour mark. You don’t have to know your partners or live in the same country. Adding the #1k1hr hashtag to your tweet links you up. You write like crazy, achieve whatever part of 1,000 words you can and report back an hour later, using the same hashtag. Sure, you can lie, but this is all about being accountable. Writing is an account of…your character’s adventures….and yours, too.

What does accountability do for you? How do you achieve it? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

Valerie
“In conversation” about romance writing at Southern Highlands Writing Festival in Bowral NSW July 12-14

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http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Tips for writing a good book review, and a contest

For something new, I’m chatting with my lovely agent, Linda Tate (pictured below), about my near-future romantic suspense novel,  Birthright, which has already received some great reviews. To celebrate, I’m off on a blog tour starting January 8. I’ll tweet and Facebook the stops. Feel free to visit and comment to win a download of the book and a personal authorgraph.

LINDA: to help things along I’m launching a contest for the best review of Birthright posted anywhere online during January.

Linda at Valerie launch

VALERIE: a contest means prizes, right? I’m thinking a date with Hugh Jackman.

LINDA: Me too, but being practical, I’m thinking $50 Amazon gift card from your publisher, Corvallis Press, and posting the winning review here for all to enjoy.

VALERIE: No Hugh, sigh. But this is a challenge. What do you think makes a good book review?

LINDA: I like to see the book details and cover photo up front, giving the reader a feel for the book without having to hunt for the information.

VALERIE: then show us what the book is about, without retelling the story or giving too much away. A review isn’t a plot summary.

LINDA: yes, for example I like the way fantasy author, Erica Hayes, calls Birthright a “romance with aliens and evil astronauts”, covering the key elements in a clever way. To grab me, a reviewer also needs to write about what they liked and didn’t like about the book, and why.

VALERIE: the blurb gives an overview of the story, but avoid spoilers. Using brief quotes is one way to give readers a taste of the author’s style.

LINDA: I like reviewers who write in their own style, as if talking to a friend. The reviewer’s excitement, or otherwise, should come through, a bit like when I read a new manuscript.

VALERIE: I like to know how well the reviewer thinks the author built the book’s world/setting. And did they relate to the characters enough to care about them.

LINDA: when I first read Birthright, I felt you brought characters such as Adam to life. He’s gorgeous and brilliant, but a Neanderthal around women. Having strengths and weaknesses makes him very real.

VALERIE: he’s one of my favourites, but then all the characters are. I like reviews that comment on the theme, what the book is really about, and whether it kept you reading to the end.

LINDA: and it helps to give the book a rating, whether as a ‘keeper’, with stars, coffee cups or whatever the site awards.

VALERIE: not every review has to cover every point, as long as they have the general idea.

LINDA: so reviewers, here’s your challenge – review Birthright and post the link (not the whole review) in the comment space below, or on Valerie’s timeline on http://www.facebook.com/valerieparv to win the $50 Amazon Gift Card. Good luck.

VALERIE: See you on the blog tour. Happy holidays and happy reading!

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http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

First Monday Mentoring – don’t forget to enjoy writing

It’s the first Monday of the month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere). You’re invited to ask writing-related questions here for me to answer. Your thoughts and writing experiences may also help others.

Questions posted ahead of time will be answered during Monday November 5.

Sometimes the questions go past Monday into the week, and that’s okay too.

To kick things off, here’s a question I was  asked at the RWA conference in August: writers have so much to do with all the blogging, tweeting and other social networking,  getting work ready to pitch to editors and agents at conference, designing and promoting your books if you’re indie published (and even if you’re with an established publisher)…it never seems to stop. When do we get to enjoy the writing process itself?

This is a good question, and one we need to address if we’re not to burn out

First, accept that you can’t do everything. If you hate doing live blog tours, don’t commit to days or weeks of them. Can the blog owner send you some questions you can answer in your own time? If you love Twitter and hate Facebook, focus on building your Twitter following. You’ll need a Facebook presence, but you don’t have to be online every minute or even every day. Aim for most days.

Put a value on your time

This was one of the earliest lessons I learned as a freelance writer. Work out roughly what your time is worth per hour, easy enough if you have or had a day job. If you can hire someone to handle your website while you write, that may be a fair trade. Business people don’t think of doing all their own grunt work – why should writers? Farm out gardening, laundry, anything you can afford, freeing up more time to write. This also helps you to see yourself as professional, and less likely to fritter away precious writing time.

Most of all, remember why you want to write

The one thing every publisher, editor and agent asked for at conference was “a good story”. They want to read the adventures, romances and fantasies bubbling away inside you. A perfect lawn won’t make those stories happen. Only you can do that, and it must be important to you or you wouldn’t have chosen to write. Tell the stories only you can write, and let yourself enjoy the experience. As little as an hour a day can make your dreams happen. Everything else other than precious family time can wait or be delegated.

Agree? Have questions or other thoughts? First Monday Mentoring is the place to share what’s on your mind.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

 

 

One among many – should you plan to write one book or a series?

I love Twitter. It can be frustrating trying to reduce a Big Idea down to 140 characters but great fun. And inspirational. Today I posted a Lawrence Block quote using the hashtag #quotes4writers. On Twitter, a hashtag automatically groups together tweets (twitter messages) on a related subject – in this case quotes writers might find helpful.

This is the quote I tweeted:

“Concentrate on the book at hand. Projecting an entire series merely dilutes your efforts” – Lawrence Block #quotes4writers

Within minutes, this blog topic was born. Considering how many writers tell me the book they’re working on is intended to be the first in a series, it’s a fairly common concern. But should an author, especially a new author, tell an agent or editor that their book is part of a series? And how much of the series should you develop?

Make sure you get the continuity right.

In Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Lawrence Block makes his thoughts clear, adding, “The agents and publishers are not much impressed. Their interest in a manuscript is in its own merits…”

Even if you have the makings of a series – in a fascinating lead character, setting or profession – the first book has to sell before the second become a twinkle in an agent’s eye.  Not because they don’t like series. They do. And readers love them. But there are traps. The first is the need to read series books in the order they’re written. What if you miss book one? Readers feel cheated if they buy a book without knowing it’s part of a series. They must either buy the first book(s) or try to fill in the gaps as they read.

Giving each book a complete story in its own right is a good idea. You can also fill in necessary background with a light hand to avoid boring the pants off regular readers. Giving the book to a reader who’s coming fresh to the series can help you find out what works. The writer can’t know because the back story is all in our heads, although ideally the details should be in more accessible form, in journals or charts you can check to ensure the orphan in book one hasn’t acquired parents by book three without any explanation.

Another trap is “saving” a great story idea for later in the series.  Give your first book your absolute all and trust that more ideas will come if and when you get to write future volumes. In my experience, ideas emerge as the series’ characters and settings grow. When I wrote The Monarch’s Son I never dreamed that I’d set thirteen books in the fictional kingdom of Carramer or I wouldn’t have made divorce illegal. In future books,  I could only end marriages by killing off one or other party.  I could have changed the law but in book one, my monarch had made much of not doing so to suit himself. On the other hand, I was forced to become more inventive.

By all means let an agent or editor know you have other books in mind but 0nly offer a brief paragraph summing up each proposed sequel until you catch their enthusiasm. And most of all, take Lawrence Block’s advice and concentrate on the book at hand.

What are your thoughts on series books, either to write or to read? Have you fallen into any traps? How did you fix them?

Valerie

Proud to be a Friend of the Year of Reading 2012

http://www.valerieparv.com

on twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

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