Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When your novel is a Frankenstein

I just finished reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for a class, and it inspired me in all kinds of ways. Not only to the plight of outcasts (significant character development for my WIP protagonist, I'm hoping) but also in looking at the overall structure of the novel itself (more on this below).

Let's hit on outcasts first. I'm sure we've all, at some point in our lives, felt like one. Hurt and rejected feelings can cut deeply--even Frankenstein's monster knew the genuine affection the DeLaceys had for one another would never be for him.

But sometimes in a group of people where I feel like a square peg, I'm secretly kind of glad. It just means that we're not necessarily kindred spirits. And that's a good thing, because then I can gravitate toward people who are. At times like these, being an outcast can be empowering. I hope to build this into my protagonist's journey.

The WIP novel overall is a Frankenstein monster in and of itself. Currently, Chapter 10 is a shambles because I had to reorder and delete some events for the sake of story. Significant sections will also have to be rewritten to accommodate changes I've made to the beginning.

But unlike Frankenstein's monster, it won't be that way permanently--and just like "outcast" status, it's a matter of perspective. Sure, I'm splicing together some incongruent parts, but the lifeblood of the novel will piece them together eventually.

So instead of treating my novel like a misfit island toy, I'm embracing its ugliness--in the hopes of making it prettier later on. Sometimes, you have to see the beauty in the ugly before you can see the monster's true nature. Love the novel in spite of its flaws. That will free it. That's the lifebood. That's the story. That's what we're all striving toward.

As the wonderful, late Maya Angelou says, "Love liberates." And there's always a place you can call home.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


There are never enough good things to say about Janice Hardy. She has an awesome fantasy series, The Healing Wars, and she helps tons of writers on her Fiction University blog (formerly "The Other Side of the Story"). I interviewed Janice on Halloween in 2012, and when I found out she had a new book, PLANNING YOUR NOVEL, I immediately contacted her for a follow-up interview.

From Goodreads:

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel.

Over 100 different exercises lead you through the novel-planning process, building upon each other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to do to start writing.

Find Exercises On:
- Creating Characters
- Choosing Point of View
- Determining the Conflict
- Finding Your Process
- Developing Your Plot
- And So Much More!

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to planning your novel, as well as a handy tool for revising a first draft, or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working.

Here are Janice's answers to my follow-up questions:

Since our last interview, your blog, "The Other Side of the Story" changed to "Fiction University: Take Your Writing to the Next Level". What brought on this shift, and how has the blog developed since?

It had been getting more and more how-to for a while, and one day a friend of mine made a comment about how my blog was like a master's class in writing. That put the university idea in my head, and I just couldn't shake it. I'd been wanting to do the writing books for years, but wasn't sure how to approach them, and the two elements just clicked. I decided to re-focus the site to be more educational, and develop the writing books as self-guided workshops. I wanted the site to become a place where writers could go to improve their craft and get helpful advice at any level--beginner to pro. That naturally morphed into doing more in-person workshops and online classes--which I love doing--and suddenly I saw this whole writing world I could develop to help writers.

The site is still in development and will be the rest of the year, but the long-term plan is to create a community site for writers. I'll be adding forums where people can share work and get feedback, ask questions, discuss craft and the publishing business. Online classes will be available toward the end of the year. I'm excited about where it's going.

Me too--it's a great resource for writers at all stages. I was also excited to learn about your new book, PLANNING YOUR NOVEL. What inspired it, and what do you hope readers will take away when they're finished?
For years, I'd wanted to turn the massive amount of information on the site into writing books. It was just a natural evolution, but I couldn't decide on how to structure them. Once the university theme emerged, the idea of "textbooks" took shape. It wasn't about just offering information, but teaching that information with a goal in mind. I use examples for every single exercise to make it even easier to understand and follow along.

One of the popular elements of Fiction University is how applicable the articles are. A writer can read a post, follow the steps or ask the questions and (hopefully) see improvement in their writing. I wanted the books to do the same thing, so each chapter is a workshop filled with brainstorming questions and exercises designed to guide someone step-by-step through the novel-planning process.
The exercises also build on each other so you use what you learn to move forward to the next step in the process. For example, a workshop might start out with a session on basic character creation, but by the end you'll have developed your protagonist, antagonist, and a cast of characters, and be ready to dive into creating a plot for those characters (or vice versa if you prefer to plot first and develop characters second).

By the end of the book, you'll have developed all the pieces needed to craft a summary line, a summary blurb, and a working synopsis--and be ready to write the novel. At the planning stage, these three elements are for the writer's benefit, but they're the foundation for writing the pitch line, query letter, and synopsis for a finished novel. The exercises can actually make the submission process easier, because you'll know what you want to say about your novel.

I love that your book lays out the groundwork for a novel, but also helps build pitches and query letters once the novel is finished. 

In our last interview, in the comments section, you mentioned two upcoming projects: a YA fantasy and an MG caper/mystery. Have those projects developed since? Are there any other books you're working on?
What a blast from the past! The YA fantasy went through multiple drafts, and was one of those books that fought me for every word and I was just never happy with it. I figured a change of focus would help, so I set it aside while I wrote PLANNING YOUR NOVEL, and then I got distracted by a shiny YA idea I wrote for NaNo (a science fiction suspense). It was a story I just HAD to write, and it's just about ready to go to my agent.

I actually had a revelation recently on how to make the YA fantasy work (it involves changing the book from a dual narrative to a single POV), so I'll probably go back to that early next year and rework the draft. The first draft for the MG caper has been done for ages, and it's waiting for me to start revisions.

And of course, I have the next several books in the writing series to write. I really need to clone myself to get everything I want to do done (grin).

I can't wait to hear more about your YA science fiction suspense novel! What are some of the current main categories in YA and/or MG, and what advice (if any) do you have for writers figuring out where their books fit on the shelves?

The categories are about the same--romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and contemporary are probably the biggies, with all their sub-genres. There's still a lot of paranormal in all shapes and sizes, though rumors say dystopians are on the way out. I also hear dark stories are popular and will be for a while still. I think the next "big book" that takes off will likely set the trends for the next few years, whatever that will be.

As for fitting on the shelves, look for books similar to yours and see where they're shelved, or ask what kinds of fans would like the book. You can also identify the most important element of your novel and see where that fits. For example, if your novel is all about two people falling in love and living happily ever after, odds are it's a romance even if it has other elements in it. If it takes place in space or in a high-tech world, it's probably science fiction. Set in a made-up world with magic--probably fantasy. Since YA/MG is all shelved together, don't worry too much about to call your book. Just pick something that will let agents, editors, or readers know the type of book it is. It can be a paranormal romance, or a science fiction thriller, but you don't need to name every element it has, like a paranormal romance mystery thriller.

Very sound advice--what's some of the best writing advice you've received along the way?

My favorite is something my agent told me: "don't go wider, go deeper." It's easy to add more "stuff" to a story to make it bigger, when most times you serve the story better by digging deeper into what you already have. Don't over-complicate it with lots of manufactured problems, flesh out the characters so their problems become the most important part of the story. Uncover your own story secrets.

My other favorite--always serve the story. A great story is why a reader picks up a novel, so do whatever will enable you to tell the best story you can.

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include TheShifter, BlueFire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, FictionUniversity, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

You can also click below to grab PLANNING YOUR NOVEL for yourself, as well as Janice's other amazing books:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ALWAYS MOM, FOREVER DAD by Joanna Rowland, illustrated by Penny Weber

I met Joanna Rowland at a recent SCBWI conference, and I'm excited to feature her debut picture book, ALWAYS MOM, FOREVER DAD.

From Goodreads:

In today's world, more and more children have parents who live separately. As these children move between homes, they can't help but wonder: will mom still love me? Will Dad? In this reassuring picture book, young readers see children who have two households,whether because of divorce, separation, or other circumstances, experiencing life's ups and downs with both parents, secure in the knowledge that Mom will always be Mom, and Dad is forever Dad.

Here are Joanna's answers to some questions:

On your Twitter profile, it says you're represented by Danielle Smith. How did you and Danielle find one another, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

Danielle Smith is such an amazing agent. She really is the perfect fit for me. I met her through Twitter. Twitter has been an amazing part of my growth as a writer. I’ve gotten great links to blogs by authors, agents, editors and I learned about SCWBI. I love the hashtag #tenqueries. It gives you a
window into an agent’s mind for when they pass or accept a query. One night agent Pam Van Hylckama Vleig was doing a #tenqueries and one of the passes was on a divorced picture book. She had liked the concept but something didn’t fit. My first thought was She reads picture books! My second thought was She might like mine if I send it. So I did what any sane writer would do and sent it ten minutes later. It was right before she was opening a new agency and Danielle was going to be an agent there. I had no clue all this was going on. I believe Pam gave her my manuscript and a few days later Danielle started following me on Twitter. I think it was the first time an agent followed me. I may have been a little excited. To make a long story short, she called to offer representation a few weeks later and I became her first client.

My journey to publication has been a great one. It actually wasn’t until 2009 that I knew I was going to become a writer. It was after my school district provided Writers Workshop training during a week
over the summer. I felt inspired and something clicked, so I tried writing YAs and PBs. I used to be really eager and send things out too early that I probably shouldn’t have. But the form rejections just
made me stronger. I’m so grateful I got them because it caused me to dig deeper and try harder. I also met some amazing writer friends along the way. I really think of them as my mentors. They were full of great advice. I think between them and starting to go to SCWBI writing conferences is where I made the most growth. In December of 2012 when the school shooting happened, I had
to put away a dark YA I was working on. That’s when my writing shifted. It made me think about what type of words I wanted to contribute to the world because words do have power and can
make a difference. I wanted to write something that would have a positive impact.

When I wrote ALWAYS MOM, FOREVER DAD I thought this could be the one. Tilbury Publishing House bought my book in July of 2013. That was just a few months after signing with Danielle. They had a beautiful vision for the illustrations. I originally wrote the book through the eyes of one child in first-person POV. Tilbury wanted to show many families throughout and Danielle and I loved the idea. I was thrilled when Penny Weber was announced as my illustrator and I love what she did with the pictures and the cover! I loved how the cover is split in two. It makes perfect sense with this book.

It really does. The premise is fantastic, and I love the idea of many families instead of just one. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away after they read it?

When my now 14-year-old was 3, I was a single mom. She still saw her dad. That was the first time I attempted writing a two home book. Talk about shelving a book for awhile! But I wrote it wrong. Writing a book that resembles a child’s life too much is not necessarily the best thing. So I let it sit and didn’t really pursue the writing dream for years.

A little over three years after trying to write other books is when my writing changed. Two weeks after that shift I went to a family gathering at Christmas. I was talking about writing and one relative said, “I wish there were more positive books about divorce.” I told her I’d write her one. At a family
cabin about one week later, the ideas poured. There are so many positive intact family books. I wanted a positive two home book for my children and students. As a teacher we use mentor texts for our class when teaching Writers Workshop. I really liked the simple flow When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis. I liked that it was in a predictable pattern and I thought “What if a two home book flowed that way?” Then I started brainstorming how could things look different at dad’s and mom’s house from morning to night with the underlying message that love never changes. I had a student whose dad lived in another state, so the different weather scenes are for him. My step-daughter and daughter
used to bring their blankets from house to house so I wanted to acknowledge that children experience that as well. The real reason I wrote ALWAYS MOM, FOREVER DAD is so children wouldn’t doubt they are loved.

What a beautiful theme--and I'm interested to know more about how your writing shifted! You mentioned that you're a full-time schoolteacher. How do you balance writing with day-job tasks, and what strategies have worked for you so far?

I almost laughed when I read “balance.” I feel so unbalanced a lot of the time. Balance is the dream. It’s hard juggling motherhood, and teaching since I’ve switched schools and grades pretty much every year the last five years. So I’m not sure that I’ve found the perfect answer. All I know if I have to cut something out of my life to find balance, it won’t be family or writing, because those are priorities.

I do send myself away for a weekend once a year just to focus on writing. I tend to be productive because if I leave my family and spend money there’s no way I can come back empty-handed. I’ve tried writing before everyone’s up and when they go to sleep. Mornings are best, but sometimes I hit snooze. ;) A nice perk of being a teacher is breaks to write so I’m really excited for this summer. One strategy that helps me is a notebook to write down my thoughts and brainstorm for a project. There is something magical about paper and a pen. I wrote ALWAYS MOM, FOREVER DAD first in one. And going to SCWBI conferences I always pick up at least one piece of advice that will help me become a stronger writer.

I know what you mean about that snooze button! What are some of your current projects?

I’ve completed a fall picture book that could have the potential for spinoffs for the other seasons. I have a couple of other picture books I’m polishing up. Topics range from food, death, animals, etc. I’m also writing an MG that requires history research. My older girls want me to finish a YA ghost story they’ve read the beginning chapters to. Novels take longer as a working mom so I’m hopeful this summer will be fruitful.

To grab a copy of ALWAYS MOM, FOREVER DAD, click the link below:

Monday, May 12, 2014

#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

A lot of people have participated in the My Writing Process Blog tour over the past few months, and I was honored when my writer friend Jennifer Baker asked me to join. Jenn is a great friend to have--she writes really great stuff, and she's always super encouraging. Jenn's excellent answers can be found at her blog, A Baker with an Appetite for Writing.

Without further adieu, here's what I have to add:

What am I working on?

Right now, I'm hacking through the novel I wrote last year, tentatively titled THROUGH DIFFERENT EYES, and writing short stories and scripts on the side. I just started a script about an undercover operation that goes awry, and I was fortunate enough to receive an Honorable Mention in the Samuel L. Finley Humorous Writing Contest for this story.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm still determining exactly where THROUGH DIFFERENT EYES might fit on the YA shelf. So far, it's a utopian dystopia, with some fantasy elements thrown in. The story is shaping a bit differently than it did in my first draft, so we'll see where it wants to go. I've also been told that I write humor well, so I hope to strengthen that part of my craft. Books that are funny as well as dramatic tend to stick with me as a reader.

Why do I write what I do?

Mostly, I write what's fun to play with. I love shaping unique worlds with unexpected elements in them. Some of my favorite series--Harry Potter and Discworld--do this very well. I also try to touch on resonating themes, which is why THROUGH DIFFERENT EYES is a theme-based title. My main character Priya gets ripped out of the idyllic city she grew up in, and is forced to see the world through new kind of "sight." Eyes (in the literal sense) play a significant role in her story.

How does my writing process work?

When I get a new novel idea, I make an excel chart to keep track of characters, plot and thematic elements. The end result looks like a plate of hurl, but it helps keep everything together. I then do an overall plot outline, with pinpoints borrowed from Rock Your Plot, by Cathy Yardley, and draft using a NaNoWriMo chart for word count. Often, plot elements change halfway through, and I adjust my outlines to reflect these.

Editing is a bit trickier, and I'm still learning my process there. With THROUGH DIFFERENT EYES, I'm going chapter by chapter, deepening character motivations, getting rid of story flaws, and connecting established plot elements. I've learned (the hard way) that it's not overly productive to make line edits at this stage, but if one pops out at me, and it's a easy fix, I'll change it. I also plan to incorporate longer trunking periods between novels in the hope of honing my process more.

So, that's it! I am rather late to the #MyWritingProcess party, and as such, couldn't find any takers to continue the chain. Feel free to comment if you'd like to be added. Otherwise, on Wednesday, I'll be featuring debut picture book author Joanna Rowland.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ME AGAIN, by Keith Cronin

I met Keith Cronin at the Backspace Writers Conference in New York last year, and we had a great time talking about librarian stuff (he worked in a library before he became a rock drummer and author). He also wrote a wonderful, touching book called ME AGAIN:

From Goodreads:

Miracles can be damned inconvenient. That's what thirty-four-year-old stroke victim Jonathan Hooper learns when he wakes up after spending six years in a coma. Everyone calls Jonathan's recovery a "miracle," but since nobody had expected him to recover, his sudden awakening becomes an awkward intrusion on the lives of his family and friends. To make matters worse, Jonathan doesn't even recognize these people. The stroke has wiped away most of Jonathan's memory, while the coma has withered his body. In short, Jonathan's not the man he used to be - whoever that was.

The only bright spot for Jonathan is Rebecca Chase, a young woman he meets in the hospital's long-term recovery unit. A stroke has drastically changed her personality, making her a stranger to her husband. Gone is the vivacious trophy wife, replaced by a shy, awkward woman with a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing.

They don't fit in. And they'll never be the same. But now they've got to decide what matters most: who they were, or who they can become?

A steadily accelerating story exploring the irony, humor, and opportunity that can accompany personal calamity, Me Again follows the intertwined paths of two people forced to start over in life: one looking for his place in a world that has moved on without him, the other struggling to navigate a relationship with a man who wishes she were someone else.

And, he wrote collection called SHORTS.

From Goodreads:

This collection contains five short stories by author Keith Cronin, exploring a variety of quirky characters and sticky scenarios with the same combination of humor and emotional candor that has made his novel Me Again so popular with readers.

In “I’d Like to Thank the Academy,” a famous actor’s onscreen kiss unleashes a chain of events that change more than one person’s life. Next is “Black Lights and Breast Milk,” in which a young bachelor recounts how the things he anticipates most eagerly never seem to live up to his expectations. “Starving Artist 101” takes a stark look at a lifestyle many tend to romanticize. In “Shave and a Haircut,” an aspiring Hollywood actor's preparations for his latest audition become unexpectedly painful – at a number of levels. Closing up the collection is “The Wheel,” a story showing how even back in stone-age times, you could never make everybody happy.

Here are Keith's answers to some questions:

Your website bio states that you're a professional rock drummer as well as a writer (rock on!). Do you find that music influences your writing (and vise versa)? If so, how?

It's not so much that music influences my writing, but my music career has definitely helped inform my writing career. For one thing, my years in the music business braced me for how unpredictable - and sometimes flat-out bizarre - any arts-related industry can be. I was also already familiar with the kind of discipline it takes to get good at an art form, whether it's music, writing or anything else. Unless you're insanely talented (and I'm not), getting good at any art form takes a lot of hard work, and the humility to acknowledge that you may have weak areas that will need a heightened level of focus to overcome or minimize.

On a related note, music also taught me to play to my strengths, which is something I think a writer needs to do, too. Although I'm classically trained, and have a deep background in jazz, most people know me - and hire me - as a high-energy rock drummer. I've learned to acknowledge that this is what people want from me as a musician, so that's what I deliver, despite the fact that I also have a sensitive side musically. Similarly, I've learned what aspects of my writing seem to connect most consistently with readers. Having read tons of dark, edgy, violent fiction, I initially started writing in that vein. But nothing I wrote in that style ever went over very well with the literary journals and fiction contests I submitted to. Instead, readers tend to connect with my writing when I focus more on humor and emotional revelation. So that's what I try to give them now.

Versatility and hard work are definitely key in all art professions--and it sounds like you've really found your niches in both music and writing. 
I love the premise for ME AGAIN. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

Thanks, Karen. Me Again got its start as a short story idea that fizzled out. I liked the voice and the main predicament, but had no idea where to take it. It sat on my hard drive for a couple of years until I rediscovered it, and started seeing new possibilities for it. I've always been inspired by the heart-tugging scenarios of people's lives being changed by forces beyond their own control, as happens in Stephen King's The Dead Zone and films like Castaway and Regarding Henry. So I had my protagonist Jonathan come out of a six-year coma only to find the world had moved on without him. But I wanted to compound the challenges he faced, by taking away Jonathan's memory of his former life. The other main character, Rebecca, was inspired by a real-life incident. The younger sister of a friend of mine had a stroke while still in her twenties, and came out of it with a very different personality, something made even more tragic by the fact that she was recently married. That heartbreaking scenario haunted me for years, so I decided to explore it in Rebecca's character.

A quick side note: I find that when I describe these plot components to people, they assume that this is a dark, depressing story. But there's actually a lot of humor in the book, particularly through the viewpoint of Jonathan, who uses humor as both a defense and a coping mechanism. So I may have single-handedly created a new genre that might be called "brain damage comedy."

I guess I hope people come away from the book with some new perspectives on how to interact with people whose lives have been radically changed through no fault of their own. In some cases, what those people might need the most from you is acceptance and genuine interest in who they can become, rather than focusing on what has changed or been taken away from them.

I think it's helpful when you can find humor amid tragic situations--ease burdens, if only for a short while. And you're absolutely right--we are not defined by what happens to us. 
You've published a collection of short stories called SHORTS. How does your short story process differ from novel writing, and what do you enjoy most about it?

The main difference in the process is that with short story writing, the process is something I actually have a good chance of finishing. Seriously, I started writing short stories because I repeatedly found myself about 30% of the way into a novel I had no idea how to finish. After several aborted attempts at writing a novel, my consistent failures were starting to shake my confidence, so I decided to try a project of a more manageable length. It turned out to be an excellent move. A good short story - at least in my opinion - has all the same components of a good novel. The shorter length just limits the complexity of the plot and subplots, and makes you really focus on the language at the level of individual sentences and words. But the story still needs a shape to it, and conflict and transformation (unless you're into the rather abstract and plotless mood pieces that are popular in some journals, which I'm not). Short story writing is a huge skill-builder, and something I recommend to any aspiring writer. It also gives you a sense of momentum, proving that you can actually complete a solid piece of writing, which was something I sorely needed to prove to myself.

I also wanted to prove to myself that beyond merely finishing a piece of fiction, I could actually write something publishable. So I submitted my pieces to literary journals, and was thrilled to have most - not all - of them accepted. Earning those publishing credits built my confidence and my momentum, and also proved to agents and editors that I was serious about learning the ropes of the traditional publishing business. This is a step I think many self-publishing writers are doing themselves a disservice by skipping. To clarify, I think self-publishing represents a broad and exciting range of opportunities for writers, but I do think writers should first hone their craft by gaining the kind of hard-won insights that only grinding your way through a rigorous editorial process can provide.

It also sounds like a good opportunity to go more in-depth, rather than trying to accommodate the wideness of a novel.
You're a contributor to Writer Unboxed--I've really enjoyed your posts there. What advice, if any, do you have for writers wanting to join a group blog?

Aw, thanks - I'm glad you enjoy my posts, and I've really been enjoying the opportunity to share my goofy little thoughts and perspectives at Writer Unboxed. I think writers wanting to be part of a group blog have two main opportunities:

1. Creating a blog with other like-minded writers. (Actually, they don’t necessarily have to be like-minded, so much as willing to work together in a coordinated effort.) This can be great, but the blogosphere is relatively saturated with literary blogs. So the question is: what's your unique angle?

2. Joining an established blog. Here you need to be selective and realistic. Don't just look for a blog that's highly regarded; look for a blog where you and your ideas would be a good fit. I love the balance of craft and business topics at Writer Unboxed. It's not all rainbows and unicorns ("Just write the story in your heart, and you're sure to become a bestseller"), but it's not about gossip and sensationalism either ("The paper book is DEAD! Amazon killed conventional publishing AND causes the heartbreak of psoriasis!") So I was honored to be asked to join the WU ranks. I had already been commenting there, and even won a contest to do a guest post, but I was still VERY surprised to get the invitation to join the same blog where The Donald holds court! But I do think one key to getting invited was that my other participation on that blog had already made it clear that I could write.

Warning: soapbox moment alert!

I think one of the biggest opportunities the internet gives us writers is the chance to show the world we can WRITE. I'm a firm believer that good writing is incredibly easy to recognize, because it stands out from all the terrible writing out there. While non-writers may gravitate to AOLspeak and LOLisms, the web - with all its blogs, forums and social media sites - offers us serious writers a limitless number of opportunities to show the world our stuff. Even 140 characters at a time, a good writer can make her presence known very quickly. Take advantage of this, and take the time to write WELL every time you write anything online. It will be noticed, believe me.

That is so true--and something writers should definitely think about. What are some of your current projects?

I've got numerous ideas percolating, but am suffering from some "fear of commitment" issues, and am having a hard time deciding which idea to dedicate my time and energy to. I'm not a fast writer, so I need to feel very committed before putting in the many months it usually takes me to complete a book.

In the meantime, I've been working a lot on craft. I'm a big fan of Donald Maass's teachings, in particular about pushing your writing to higher levels to create bigger, better books. That's something I want to do, so I've been evaluating my own strengths and weaknesses, and devoting a lot of time to studying things like story structure and how to develop high-concept story ideas. Both of these are areas I want to get better at, and want to emphasize in my future work. In addition to attending seminars and reading books on these topics, I've been analyzing many books I admire, trying to get under the hood and see what makes them work. It's been very enlightening, so I hope to leverage what I learn in my own future work.

That's one of the coolest things about writing: it's a cumulative skill. The more you work at it, the better you can get. And every time you pick up a pen or put your hands on a keyboard, you've got yet another opportunity to raise your game. 

Thanks, Keith! It's inspiring to know that we can get better simply by being willing to improve.

To grab copies of ME AGAIN or SHORTS, be sure to click the links below: