Indulge Yourself to Boost Writer Morale

by Tim Kane

Writing is a tough business. Mostly because it’s one of the few where you toil away for one to twenty years without a paycheck. That makes pulling up a chair and typing night after night daunting. There are so many reasons to quit.

Willpower is in fact not infinite in you body. Check out this study involving college students and cookies. Turns out, people are more likely to maintain their willpower if they can indulge a little bit. Say, by taking some snacks and your favorite drink with you to the writing desk. Me, I go for for dark chocolate and coffee. The caffeine keeps me from dozing off, and the chocolate is a tiny treat. I nibble a bit when I get stuck.

Additionally, try to make the decisions you make just before writing low stress. If you need to veg a bit and watch a guilty pleasure on the television (for me it’s Chopped), then go ahead. Letting your brain off the hook preserves willpower. And trust me, you’ll need every ounce when you face that blank page.

One warning, don’t let indulgence be an excuse for non-productive snacking or procrastination. I’m not advising laying on your couch eating bon-bons. Some actual writing has to be involved here.

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Literary Agents Are Gamblers

by Tim Kane

Let me state from the start, I am not now, nor will I become an agent. That’s a hard job all the way around. However, I know and have worked with a few over the years. On piece of advice that actually came from a Hollywood agent (who repped actors) always stuck with me: Agents are gamblers.

Think about it. When an agent signs on an author (or actor), the agent will spend hours developing the manuscript and then shopping it around. Every phone call, email, critique or marketing plan is unpaid. Let’s remind ourselves, agents have bills to pay. Unlike most writers, agenting is their only job and livelihood. When they take on a new client, they take on risk.

Just like a Las Vegas high roller sitting at the blackjack table for hours, literary agents pray for the big return. Yes, we know most agents were drawn to the field for love of books and the writing process, but love will only sustain you for so long. Eventually, when the electricity bill goes from white, to yellow, to pink, the bills need to be paid.

Agents need to be good at two things, selling writers and spotting talent. Its the second one that most writers don’t consider. They are basically a talent scout and you (the writer) are a minor league ball player strutting your stuff. If you get signed, it means you have partner in crime. However, for the agent, you are the gamble. The roll of the dice. The two card deal with fingers crossed for twenty-one.

Let’s hope lady luck is with us.

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Copyrighting: A Sign of Writer Paranoia?

Tim Kane

I recall, as a starting writer, I was so paranoid about people stealing my writing that I slapped the copyright symbol on everything. I even employed the poor man’s copyright. I printed out a copy of each short story and mailed it to myself. The date on teh envelope served as proof that the story was written by me.

There are multiple problems with this style of thinking.

First, the idea of mailing yourself copies (despite ignoring the recent trend of cloud servers) ignores the idea of revision. That’s because, along with paranoia, beginning writers think every word that they type on paper is golden and never needs to change. It only needs to be discovered by the great agents, publishers, and readers.

That gets to the second point, writing is meant to be read. Slapping a copyright on it stinks of corporate lawyers. Honestly, as a reader, when I see this, I prefer to set the work down. Mostly because writers who do this have little knowledge of the copyright process.

A copyright will protect an execution, but not an idea. That neat idea of robots versus zombies for your next book…? Yeah, you can’t protect that with a copyright. Anyone can write a tale of mechanical men attacking the undead. The only thing a copyright protects is the particular execution of your idea: names, plot events, style.

Think about it. Anytime an idea for a particular film hits Hollywood, there are always copy-cats. I mean, how many talent shows are there now to discover new singers? The idea can’t be copyrighted.

Finally, copyrighting speaks of overconfidence. It shouts: My writing is so incredibly awesome that people are lining up to buy it. Now, if this is the case, let your publisher add the copyright. If people aren’t beating down your door, it means that you need to do some work on that masterpiece. After all, it’s the execution, not the idea, that will move writers from slush to published.

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Use Search and Replace to Revise Your Manuscript

by Tim Kane

After slogging through multiple rewrites, I thought I was done. Then came the critique. I had overused the same sort of physical reaction over and over again in the book. I turned to the best tool I had: Search and Replace.

This is an awesome feature in most word processors, but don’t take it for granted. It can’t write your story for you. Here are some of the steps I went through to fix a 75,000 word document.

  1. Use the search to find each keyword, but don’t automatically replace. Then you’ll simply replace one redundant phrase with another.
  2. Try rewriting the phrase so that’s it’s different. In my case I had my protagonist having an amped up heartbeat everywhere. I switched this to breathing, or nerves, or tingling.
  3. Cut when you can. If you can do without the phrase, axe it.
  4. Keep track of pacing. I wrote down the page number each phrase appeared on. If the next one was 8 or 10 pages away, I felt I could keep it. If not, then I had to modify or cut.
  5. Finally, do a read through of each modified paragraph before moving on. Sometimes that simple tweak can mess up the grammar.

Use the Search and Replace tool as a way to save time, but use it intelligently.

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How to Take Critique

by Tim Kane

If you’re going to make it anywhere in the writing world, you’ll have to survive your share of critiques: agents, publishers, or fellow writers. The former two are not always kind and that’s why you need to thicken your skin a bit. A read and critique group can help, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.

When you read or submit your writing to a critiquer, you must accept their responses as it. That writer will share his or her professional opinion about your work. A good rule of thumb, if multiple critiquers offer the same advice, you should probably take it. If it’s only one, you might skip it.

Don’t get defensive. We’re all tempted to “explain” what we meant to write, but you can’t do that published books. What? You’re going place and ad on Amazon stating what you mean to write in your book? No. Your book has to do it all on its own. That’s your job as a writer. If the critiquers don’t get it, then you need to head back to square one and figure out what to change.

Finally, be polite. Whether it’s a beginning writer, new to critiquing, or a veteran writer, take their advice seriously. Don’t argue. Don’t whine or complain. And mostly, don’t insult or belittle your critiquers. Bottom line, books need to be read, and bought, by readers. If you can’t wow your critiquers, how can you amaze your readers?

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How to Write Creepy Prose

by Tim Kane

Most writers who delve into horror hit the prose with a bag of cliches and heavy handed stage props—swirling fog, glowing eyes, wicked laughs. Don’t get me wrong, camp can be great (if it’s intentional). However, a more subtle approach can work wonders.

Add Details One by One

Use disturbing details or reversals when describing your scenes. Each one, taken by itself, does little, but in combination, they imbue the reader with unease. Consider Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol. Here an unnamed narrator just inhabited a weather station on a deserted island.

Just then, I heard a pleasing sound far off. It was more or less like a heard of goats trotting in the distance. At first, I confused it with the pattering of rain; the sound of heavy and distinct drops. I got up and looked out of the closest window. It wasn’t raining. The full moon stained the ocean’s surface in a violet hue. The light bathed the driftwood lying on the beach. It was easy to imagine them as body parts, dismembered and immobile. The whole thing brought to mind a petrified forest. But it wasn’t raining.

Reversal: The narrator thinks it’s raining, but then there’s no rain. We wonder what’s creating that pattering sound, and the not knowing makes us uneasy.

Disturbing details: The water is stained violet, a bloodlike color. This idea is cemented in the reader’s skull with the driftwood, described as dismembered limbs.

Let the Character Freak Out

Nothing creeps out a reader than letting the protagonist freaking out. Ever wonder why there are so many screams in horror movies? It’s the same thing. As an author, you must find the written equivalent to the scream.

In Bag of Bones by Stephen King, the protagonist, Mike Noonan, begins to believe that his house is haunted. He’s in the basement and hears the sound of someone striking the insulation, but no one else is home.

…every gut and muscle of my body seemed to come unwound. My hair stood up. My eyesockets seemed to be expanding and my eyeballs contracting, as if  my head were trying to turn into a skull. Every inch of my skin broke out in gooseflesh. Something was in here with me. Very likely something dead.

King lays it on thick here. Instead of one physical reaction, he dumps the whole bucket on us. He doesn’t dazzle us with a etherial decaying corpse. We won’t even see the ghost till the final chapters. No. He tells us how Noonan feels just in the presence of the thing and that’s what creeps us out.

If you want to make your readers squirm, reading only in daylight hours, shy away from the obvious gore and claptrap. Rather, take the quieter road of tiny disturbing details built up over pages and chapters. Show how your character reacts to what’s happening, and the reader will feel it too.

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Using Multiple Intelligences with your Characters

by Tim Kane

We all know to use sensory details to brighten up our prose. However, few writers are aware of the eight multiple intelligences and how they can add depth to your characters.

Basically, this psychologist named Howard Gardner surmised that humans don’t simply have one type of intelligence. They have eight. Here’s a basic run down.

Linguistic Intelligence
Folks with this type of intelligence are good with words (think writers). They like to tell stories and read.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
Ever know that person who’s disgustingly good at math? That’s this intelligence. However, it’s not only math. It could be those who like to make lists and keep things organized.

Spatial Intelligence
People with this intelligence can “see” how things fit together. They can pack a suitcase or a trunk like no other. They often take fields in engineering or architecture.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
These are the sports types. Dancers too. People who can actually get all their limbs to work right to throw the ball or learn the choreography. These are also the people who can’t sit still to save their life. They need to move and act things out. When they speak, they often gesticulate.

Musical Intellienge
This one is straightforward. Music types. Band camp. Anyone who whistles or hums all the time would fit in this intelligence. They can carry a tune (or desperately want to) and keep a beat (even if they have two left feet).

Interpersonal Intelligence
These folks are constantly aware of the people around them. The gossips and flirts. The social climbers. They understand social life and and read it like a book.

Intrapersonal Intelligence
Whereas interpersonal types see all the people around, an intrapersonal person looks within. Meditative, this person knows his or her own limits. He can sense his emotions. She knows what she’s capable of.

Naturalist Intelligence
This person can easily classify living things. Farmers, botanists, and hunters all fall into this intelligence. These folk live for the natural world, like weather, animals, and geology. They enjoy hiking or strolling on the beach, gardening, or staring at clouds.

Now that you have the eight, think of which intelligences your character has. What is he/she good at. This will help you figure out how he/she will react to the world of your novel. Also consider which intelligences your character is lacking. For example, I lack in the Interpersonal department. I can’t recall people’s names to save my life. For me, everyone needs a name tag.

Keep these intelligences in mind the next time you craft your character.

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