Why Connie Willis Won’t Be Presenting at the Hugo Awards

Those of you who know me well, know that Connie Willis wrote a novel that’s very much shaped and cemented my love for the genre — a novel I reread every year. Her entire body of work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. She’s a great American writer, not “just” a great SF writer.

For an overview of what this is all about: Freeping the Hugo Awards

Reposted in its entirety, with permission from the Connie Willis site: http://azsf.net/cwblog/?p=116

WHY I WON’T BE A PRESENTER AT THE HUGO AWARDS THIS YEAR

WHY I WON’T BE A PRESENTER AT THE HUGO AWARDS THIS YEAR

by Connie Willis

I’ve been asked by David Gerrold, this year’s Worldcon Guest of Honor and one of the  Hugo Awards emcees, to present the Campbell Award at this year’s ceremonies. Ordinarily, I’d be very flattered and would jump at the chance, but this time I’m afraid I’m going to have to tell him no.

I don’t want to. I love the Hugos. I can still remember how thrilled I was the first time I was nominated for one. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had ever since I was thirteen and had opened up Heinlein’s HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL and fallen into the magical world of science fiction. I was nominated for a short story called “Daisy, in the Sun,” and I didn’t win–I lost to George R.R. Martin–but just being nominated and being there at the awards ceremony was more than enough, and then on top of that, I got to talk to Robert Silverberg and watch Damon Knight emcee and meet all these famous authors who were my heroes. It was one of the happiest nights of mThe Best Novel Hugo for Blackout/All Cleary life.

Since that first time, I’ve won Hugos, emceed the awards ceremony twice, and presented countless awards. I’ve handed Hugo Awards for all kinds of fiction to all kinds of authors, told them congratulations, beamed at them as they made their acceptance speeches, hugged them, and helped them down the dark stairs backstage afterwards. I’ve loved doing it. And I’ve loved everything else about the Hugos–the anticipation and the nervousness when you’re a nominee, the fun of bantering with George R.R. Martin and Mike Resnick and doing comedy routines with Robert Silverberg, the excitement of watching authors and artists you love be awarded for the work they do, and the joy of being in a room with thousands of other people who love science fiction as much as I do. I’ve adored every minute of it. Till now.

You may or may not have heard of the Hugo crisis currently facing the science-fiction community. (If you haven’t, I recommend Susan Grigsby’s excellent article on Daily Kos entitled, “Freeping the Hugo Awards.”) Basically, what’s happened is that a small group of people led by Vox Day/Theodore Beale and Brad Torgerson took advantage of the fact that only a small percentage of Hugo voters nominate works to hijack the ballot. They got members of their group to buy supporting memberships and all vote for a slate of people they decided should be on it. Since everybody else just nominates what they like, and those choices vary quite a bit, nobody else stood a chance, and the ballot consists almost entirely of their slate.

When I heard about this, I was sick at the thought of what they’d done and at all the damage they’d caused–to the nominees who should have made it on the ballot and didn’t; to those who’d made it on and would now have to decide whether to stay on the ballot or refuse the nomination; of the innocent nominees who got put on Vox Day’s slate without their knowledge and were now unfairly tarred by their association with it; and to the Hugo Awards themselves and their reputation.

But I didn’t want to speak out and refuse to be a presenter if there was still a chance to salvage the Hugo Awards ceremony. I wanted to do it if I could for the sake of the nominees who were on the ballot honestly and for the sake of the people putting on the Worldcon. And for the poor emcees who had the terrible luck to be chosen to host the awards this year and have watched what should have been one of the highlights of their careers turn into a nightmare. David Gerrold is an old and dear friend. The last thing I wanted to do was let him down. Plus, I’ve generally found that wading in to controversies with your two cents’ worth (even if you’re personally involved and were onstage when they happened) only tends to make things worse, not better.

But then Vox Day and his followers made it impossible for me to remain silent , keep calm, and carry on. Not content with just using dirty tricks to get on the ballot, they’re now demanding they win, too, or they’ll destroy the Hugos altogether. When a commenter on File 770 suggested people fight back by voting for “No Award,” Vox Day wrote: “If No Award takes a fiction category, you will likely never see another award given in that category again. The sword cuts both ways, Lois. We are prepared for all eventualities.”

I assume that means they intend to use the same bloc-voting technique to block anyone but their nominees from winning in future years. Or, in other words, “If you ever want to see your precious award again, do exactly as I say.” It’s a threat, pure and simple. Everyone who votes has been ordered (under the threat of violence being done to something we love) to let their stories–stories which got on the ballot dishonestly–win.

In my own particular case, I feel I’ve also been ordered to go along with them and act as if this were an ordinary Hugo Awards ceremony. I’ve essentially been told to engage in some light-hearted banter with the nominees, give one of them the award, and by my presence–and my silence–lend cover and credibility to winners who got the award through bullying and extortion.

Well, I won’t do it. I can’t do it. If I did, I’d be collaborating with them in their scheme.

So to David, I have to say, with genuine regret, “I am really sorry I have to turn down your kind invitation.” And to the people running Worldcon, “I’m sorry I can’t present at the Hugo Awards ceremony, but I’ll definitely be attending the convention, and I’m supporting you all the way.”

To everybody else caught up in this mess, I want to say, “I totally respect whatever you’ve decided you have to do–to remove yourself from the ballot or stay on, to vote for ‘No Award’ or not, to participate in the ceremony or not, to boycott the Hugos or Worldcon or attend them. I know how hard it was for me to make my own decision, and I have no intention of second-guessing anyone else’s.”

And finally, to Vox Day, Brad Torgeson, and their followers, I have this to say:

“You may have been able to cheat your way onto the ballot. (And don’t talk to me about how this isn’t against the rules–doing anything except nominating the works you personally liked best is cheating in my book.) You may even be able to bully and intimidate people into voting for you. But you can’t make me hand you the Hugo and say “Congratulations,” just as if you’d actually won it. And you can’t make me appear onstage and tell jokes and act like this year’s Hugo ceremony is business as usual and what you’ve done is okay. I’m not going to help you get away with this. I love the Hugo Awards too much.”

Connie Willis

April 14, 2015

 

Interview with P. N. Elrod

Cover of P. N. Elrod's The Hanged Man. Tor Books. May 19, 2015.Accomplished writer and editor P.N. “Pat” Elrod is the author of 24 commercially-published novels, more than 20 short stories, and the editor and co-editor of several collections. In her copious spare time, she freelance edits and critiques.

What is that editors do and don’t do?

That depends on the editor and the kind of editing involved. I have worked as an acquisitions editor—reading the slush pile—as well as what I call regular editing—working on a manuscript—and in developmental editing: throwing ideas at writers to see if they can think  how to fix a problem.

Acquisitions is a rough job. They don’t call it slush without good reason. I have to pace myself and not read too much or I get depressed. I don’t like rejecting stuff, knowing all too well what that feels like, but it’s binary: the story is publishable or it is not. It’s the kind of stuff we publish or it is not.

I’m thrilled when I find something I can pass upstream. It might not get past the next editor, but it makes my job worth it. Editors WANT to find something they love and can share with others.

For me, regular editing requires concentration on details. I am relentless on my own writing; I take pride turning in a clean manuscript to the publisher. When it’s as clean as you can make it, then the real errors are easier to spot.

Developmental editing is essentially feedback that leads to rewrites if the writer is inclined to accept suggestions.

You don’t find as much of that going on now, only for certain books. I see it mentioned in Publishers Weekly, but never had it happen to any of my books. Gone are the days when a writer turned in multiple drafts and a supportive editor offered feedback and suggestions over the course of several months or even years to bring it up to speed. The books need to take off and fly from page one, especially in genre fiction.

Editors want a book that’s strong enough as-is to sell to the Suits upstairs. A nascent work needing rewrites won’t impress that bunch. They want a book that will make money for the company. A book that uses up an editor’s time in repeated rewrites is not cost effective.

This is general stuff and may not hold true for a small presses. They don’t publish as many books and may have more time to groom a work, but don’t count on it. Always strive to send your best stuff. It’s not enough to be the best in your writing group, you have to be as good or better than your favorite writers who have books in the stores.

Back when paper submissions were the norm a writer might get a scribbled note with “Almost there, keep writing” and vague as that is, would fall down sobbing in gratitude. With e-submissions you don’t get that. The publisher whose slush I read said to not send feedback. Too many writers shoot back an email anxiously asking for more comment, more detail, but the editor above me said, “We don’t have time to open a dialog.”

She’s right. I’m on their clock and have to get through dozens of submissions. In the time it takes me to review six stories another twelve have appeared in the IN box. On one especially busy night it was fifty new stories.

How do you know when your book is ready for an editor?

You probably don’t.

Many writers think that the harder they’ve worked on a book the more ready it must be, but publishers don’t give extra credit for effort. They look only at what’s sent. They don’t care if you opened a vein over the keyboard, the bottom line is, “Can these words make us money?”

The best course for any writer is get as much feedback as possible from as many people as possible before sending anything out or shopping for a freelance editor.

It’s preferable to get feedback from writers. Friends and family (who may not be writers) love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings, but another writer will tell you the truth.

“Don’t tell me how much you like it, tell me what’s wrong with the damn thing so I can FIX it!” I said a dozen times over on my first novel. Thankfully a few very brave friends offered things I could use. I didn’t like what I heard, but it turned out they were right. I fixed things. The book sold.

Even now, I’m tetchy about feedback, but it’s a necessary evil. You put on your game face and take it. Writing ain’t for wimps.

What can writers do to make the editing process smoother?

Turn in a clean, proofed manuscript. This is Writing 101 and part of the job. You turn on the spell checker and leave it on, those little zigzag lines under a word are your friends.

You learn correct grammar and punctuation. It’s not rocket science. Get and read The Elements of Style. I got a used Chicago Manual of Style some years back, and I use Google. But you need to learn this stuff or you won’t know when you’ve made an error.

The less work you give an editor the better. You want her focused on your story and characters, not your sloppy spelling and worse grammar.

The editor is not your enemy. She has the same goal as you: making a good book better. You’re two strangers working together, and most of the time you’re on the same page.

A good editor/writer team is one where both are able to listen to each other. I’ve been very fortunate. I find the best professionals on both sides are those who listen and don’t arbitrarily discount an idea. A not so good idea can lead to something brilliant, so long as it’s not instantly shot down.

Don’t be a writing diva, but don’t be a pushover. Many times I had editorial suggestions that were wholly wrong, but I learned to make a note and find my own way to fix a problem.

If the writer reaches an impasse with an editor, then it’s time to call your agent. It’s good to have someone in your corner who has your back.

The rules are different when dealing with a freelance editor hired for a job, the writer is running the show, not the publisher. However, if the editor spots a problem, then it’s wise to hear them out. That problem could be the tree the writer missed because of the surrounding forest.

What are good questions to ask a potential editor?

One thing not to ask is if the editor likes your book. That’s right up there with, “Do these pants make me look fat?”

Don’t put your editor on the spot. If they like your book you’ll pick up on it. If they don’t, allow that you’re not the only star in their sky and don’t take it personally. Stick to the job. If they spontaneously gush, be happy, and don’t let it go to your head.

A writer with a commercial house is assigned an editor who may or may not be the one who bought the book. Let them know how you prefer to work, ask when is a good day for phone calls, and confirm their correct email address. Ask them if there are things that drive them crazy and take notes. Make sure you are clear on deadlines. Ask their procedures. The usual thing is turn in a final draft, it’s copy-edited and sent back for approval, and you put in any changes. The next time you see the MS it’s in galley form.

I had a bad time with one house, assumed I’d get one more look on a book after the copy-edit, same as at other houses, but the next time I saw it was in galley form. I freaked, since there was little chance to do a rewrite on trouble spots. But that was a work-for-hire situation and may not reflect the rest of the industry.

At another place I never saw galleys. It was a small press and the MS went straight to formatting. The next time I saw that story was in the finished book and they had the wrong title on it. Stuff happens.

When I’m dealing with a new editor at a commercial house I warn her on what a pain in the butt I am as a writer and how to “handle” me. (I know my shortcomings!) I ask them to point out a problem and trust me to fix it, don’t rewrite it themselves. If they spot a really bad problem and have a solution, make me think it’s my own idea. Seriously, I fall for that one every time!

I do the same thing as an editor when I’m meeting writers over the phone. I tell the writer I’ll just point out a problem and leave it to them to fix it. Most are hugely relieved. So am I. It’s less work for me!

A writer seeking to hire a freelance editor has to get as much information as possible.

If the editor familiar with the genre? What books has she edited? Contact the writers of books she’s edited and ask them about their experience. Is she a member of recognized editing organizations? Is she willing to do a couple sample pages?

Just because someone has a degree in English doesn’t mean they know squat about editing.

I see plenty of sites where that degree is the only thing on their resume. Maybe that person can do a decisive analysis of Jane Austen, but not how to build a scene, end a chapter, or spot word reps.

Having a solid background in publishing is a necessity and it better not be from working in the mail room. You should be able to call a publisher and ask if that person was in their employ as an editor and what they did there. The freelancer is on a job interview. Don’t trust what’s on the website—verify. There are a lot of sharks in the pool. A true professional won’t mind your curiosity and will encourage it.

Check the websites. Spelling and grammar errors are a red flag. Check them on Absolute Write, Writer Beware, and Predators and Editors.

It works both ways, a freelance editor should have questions for the writer. I want to know if they’ve sold anything and where, if this is to be indie-published or if they’re planning to submit it to a commercial house. If the latter, I tell them to learn to self-edit and get feedback, they don’t need me.

I’m not an editor who can suck it up, work on a badly written book, and collect payment. If a piece of writing isn’t ready, I turn down the job. It’s terrible for my bank account, but I can sleep at night.

I look at the MS and at anything the writer has previously published. If the stuff isn’t ready, it’s a given that the writer is not going to get my best effort. I will say no.

In one case, and only one, I didn’t check things as carefully as as I should have, accepted the job, and it ended badly. I was 10K words into the edit and realized I could not finish it in good conscience. The book was too seriously flawed. The writer just wasn’t ready to publish, and yet he’d done so several times over with his indie books. This was one of a series, so the flaws were all through it like an infection.

I gave him five pages of comments on the flaws—hey, he could always take those books down and rewrite—charged him only for the work done and sent the file back. He paid for the work, but I’m sure he was pissed about it.

Since then I’ve been more careful. I recently edited a pretty good, though flawed book for an indie writer. She had some plot holes and a few bad habits, and I pointed them out in a summation feedback when she got the edited MS. It was a mini-lesson in writing. I didn’t have to do that, but I thought it might help for future books.

She had the option to tell me to go to Halifax and instead thanked me. Seems she didn’t know about those problems and was happy to sort them out. I hope she comes back. I’d like to see how she’s improved.


Do you have a favorite book about writing?

I have several, starting with Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. I was in a bad dry patch, unable to write, and this was the only book that got me out of it.

I also like Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder. It’s about script writing, but good for novelists, asking the same questions any writer needs to answer: What’s the book about? What’s the hook?

It comes with software which I found useful for plotting a steampunk Tor is releasing this summer. I have the devil’s own time plotting, so I like a road map of the story before starting it. I don’t always stick to the map, but it gives a starting point.

But the best books on writing are often those of other writers. When I hit a dry patch it’s time to dive into the library and feed words into my starved brain. I’ll pick old favorites and enjoy those again. They’re usually the books that inspired me from the start. Most retain that magic or have gotten better with age.

NaNoWriMo & the Power of Positive Peer Pressure

Nano Crest

Guest Post by Eldon Hughes

P to the 4th power? P-Diddlying? Whatever.

It’s what doing NaNoWriMo successfully is all about, taking advantage of the power of positive peer pressure.

Every year since 1999 a growing horde of strangers and friends get together in groups, online and face to face, all over the world. At the end of the month, many of them will claim the prize — the title of Author of a book more than 50,000 words long.

NaNo crestYears ago I was the first Municipal Liaison for the (Southern) Illinois – Elsewhere group. Yeah, “Elsewhere.” That was my second NaNo. I ML’d a couple more years and then passed it on to others who lived closer to the neighborhood. I’ve won every year I’ve attempted NaNo (7-8? times.) If you’re interested, you can read one of my NaNo Novels, Willie & Frank, here. Even better, you can get Dust to Dust, Book Two of the Poison and Wine Series, here.  It was written over a NaNo. Some would suggest that that’s cheating, since it was written by two people.  I would point out that the first draft, written during NaNo, topped 100K.

Sometimes NaNoing involved being cheered on by and cheering on others. Sometimes it was challenging myself against people online. Sometimes it was sitting, face to face, in a room full of people just as enchanted by the magic of words as I am. People who share our particular brand of crazy.   I can tell you that about half of Willie & Frank came from dares or challenges that year’s local NaNo group gave me.

Rounding the numbers, last year 690,000 people announced their own start in the novel attempt. 310,000 of them reported crossing the 50,000 word mark. Less than half is about normal. My guess is, some of those who didn’t make it started the month more in love with the idea of being a writer than they were with words. (We’ve all met folks that.) My bet? Most of the rest, who didn’t finish, didn’t take advantage of the power of positive peer pressure.

You can find the nearest NaNo Groups to you, on the NaNo website. Not every group is right for every writer. If there are several, find the one that works for you. Some of them are more motivated by the word wars than the words themselves. Some are more interested in chatting and talking about the writing they are doing when they aren’t together than actually writing at the gatherings. Some are a smile, a wave and a “how many words have you got?” Then they are heads down over keyboards or paper and pen, back at the writing. — A quiet acknowledgement of the shared madness, if you will.

None of those are wrong, per se. But which one is right for you? Maybe you aren’t a face to face kind of person. I hope you will at least try it and find out first, but maybe your group is on Facebook? Or Twitter? Or the NaNo site?

If there’s not a group anywhere near you? Start your own.  NaNo prefers that their Municipal Liaisons be past NaNo Winners. They also prefer that they apply for this unpaid, volunteer position by July.  But they love to hear from motivated writers who want to volunteer.

For that matter, go rogue. Go wild.  If you’re writing in the middle of nowhere, like I am these days, slap up some “contact me” cards at any area coffee shop, library, craft shops or anywhere used books are sold. Basically, the kinds of places you like. You’re a writer, makes sense other writers like those places, too, yeah? Make a few like minded contacts and shazam, you’re in a group of writers.  Just remember, even if we all share the “writer crazy”– we still aren’t all the same.  What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.  Remember, NaNoWriMo is about writing, not editing. So, no critics allowed. Just muses and writers.  Find the group that motivates your writing. The group you feel good about encouraging.

Then go write.

One bit of repeat here — NO EDITING. Save editing until next year. Literally, next year. November is for writing. Write with abandon. Write hard. Write.

And, when you cross the 50K mark? Come back here, to the comments, and crow about it! Shout it from a rooftop. Tell strangers. A lovely writer friend of mine put the period to the sentence where she crossed 50K and then stood on her chair, waved her arms like wings and sang like an angel. The whole room cheered and applauded. We were in a Barnes & Noble at the time. It was hysterical, it was beautiful, it was glorious. She deserved glorious.  So will you. Because you will have earned it, and no one can ever take it away from you. Go. Write. I’ll meet you back here in November.

Eldon Hughes
“Williebee” (NaNo & AW)
@Williebee
www.ifoundaknife.com

 

Four Steps to Becoming a God(dess) of Literary Elements

Guest Post by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

The Art of Floating cover image
The Art of Floating

When I was in grad school working on my MFA degree, fellow writers and I hashed out the symbolic power of Janie’s hair in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, argued about whether or not Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” was a statement against the growing materialism of American culture, and bowed to the importance of hunger in Richard Wright’s Black Boyhunger for food, books, individuality, equality, voice, and more. We lauded Alice Walker’s use of opposites in The Color Purple to characterize Celie—most especially Shug’s mighty sexuality and Sofia’s sassy attitude. “Wow,” we repeated again and again, “it all seems so darn seamless.”

And it is…now. But I assure you that when Hurston, Melville, Wright, and Walker reread their first drafts, nothing was seamless—especially those literary elements that pop, zing, and grab your attention. Those brilliants icons of American literature groaned, moaned, and dropped heads to desks, just like you, when faced with the task of weaving metaphors, allusion, epithet, and other devices into their novels and short stories.

So rest easy in the knowledge that you’re not alone in this challenge, and follow these four steps to create the kind of story about which readers will wow, sigh, and say, “It’s all so darn seamless.”

Step #1 — Story First

As you write the first drafts of a novel or short story, don’t think about literary elements. Don’t think, what does this tree symbolize? Is this statement ironic? Does this scene need to be foreshadowed? Should I include an allusion here? Does this flashback work? Instead, just tell your story. Tell it fully. Create a compelling setting and characters. Figure out the plot. Get the dialogue moving. Establish tension. Follow the story through to an ending (even if the ending changes over time).

Step #2 — Read & Review

When you’ve got a solid draft with concrete characters, a strong sense of place, and, yes, a plot, read through that draft. As you do, you’ll notice that without consciously trying (because you adhered to Step #1), you’ve embedded a number of literary elements in your story. Good storytellers quite naturally incorporate this kind of stuff into their work; we use figurative language to describe a scene, hyperbole to make a point, and symbols to convey meaning. We do it even when giving directions to a bus stop or teaching our children to make chutney.

Step #3 — Heighten

Once you’ve noted the literary elements that quite naturally made their way into your story, decide which you’d like to sculpt and heighten. Then do so. If you need a bit of inspiration, think about Hurston

reading the first draft of Their Eyes Were Watching God in which Janie probably had a modest ponytail. Then consider Hurston scratching her head and thinking, “Hm, Janie’s hair. Yes, Janie’s hair seems to be saying something. Something about power and sexuality.” Then imagine her rewriting so that she ends up with this glittering gem:The men noticed her [Janie’s] firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.”

Step #4Back Off

Remember, first and foremost, your readers want a good story, not a litany of literary devices. So don’t overdo it. Don’t load up every paragraph with similes, motifs, irony, and whatnot. Tell your story. Use the elements that arise naturally. Heighten those. Then back off. Let the story do the work.

Write!

You’re now well on your way to becoming a god(dess) of literary elements. And if, along the journey, you find yourself tempted to overwork a metaphor, pop the reader in the face with a forced foil, or foreshadow nearly every event, stop, return to Step #1, and start again. You’ll be glad you did.

________________________

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of the novels The Art of Floating (Penguin/Berkley, 2014) and Thirsty (Swallow Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Poets & Writers Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, and Hypertext. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for the past twenty years. Follow her on Twitter at @kbairokeeffe and visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

P. N. Elrod Offers Critique

Picture of P. N. Elrod's dog Fuzzy.
P. N. Elrod’s dog Fuzzy.

That’s right, P. N. Elrod the multi-talented author of The Vampire Files urban fantasy series (among many other books and genres) is offering critiques.

This isn’t something she does lightly, and this is a rare opportunity to have a sample of your writing critiqued by a pro.

Elrod is offering critiques to help pay the bills for her miracle dog Fuzzy; that’s Fuzzy in the picture. Fuzzy’s medical bills are in the triple digits. P. N. Elrod is offering critiques to help pay them down.

Here are P. N. Elrod’s terms for a critique.  They’re reasonable, and yes, affordable for even the frugal. She’s also put up some items—Doctor Who Goodies, and original cover art painting—for sale in P. N. Elrod’s Garage Sale (scroll all the way to the bottom to read Fuzzy’s story).

Even if it’s not for you, if you have writerly friends who might benefit from the knowledge of a working writing professional, please spread the word!

Improv Writing

Welcome, AWers! Are you looking for a terrific way to inspire your imagination and make writing fresh and fun again? This week’s guest post by Eldon Hughes offers a creative approach that’s worked for him, maybe it’ll give you a fresh path to follow, as well! — Mac

Guest Post by Eldon Hughes

Improv writing.

Does it work?  I hope so.  C. H. Valentino and I have written two books, so far, this way.

The first one, Poison and Wine, came out in March and is available from the usual online places. Amazon – Nook (print and iBooks coming soon.)

It wasn’t planned that way. It was just a writing exercise that became a story and then grew a world of its own. But isn’t that how the best stories work?

“It’s like taking your imagination ice skating, or inviting someone else’s brain out on a playdate.”

Along the way we get exercise in active reading, active writing voice, scene setting and effective description from within the character’s points of view (because we want our partner to understand, without saying it out right, where we think the story might be going.)

So, here’s the premise. I’m going to ask you three questions, or maybe five, or maybe just one.  I’m going to pull the questions “out of thin air.”  They might be core character questions, or wild tangents:

  1. Good or Evil?
  2. Male or Female?
  3. What’s in your pocket?
  4. Painter or cook?
  5. Himalayas or Salton Sea?

You’re going to do the same thing for me.  The answers are a kick off point for our new characters.  There are NO wrong answers.  How we answer, and how we choose to interpret and act on those answers is up to us.

Then pick a place in the world. It helps if we both have at least a little bit of familiarity with it, or quick fingers and an understanding of how to use an internet search engine like Google.

It also helps if we can literally be on the same page.  And, we can. Google Drive (including Docs) is free for personal use, as well as for non-profits and schools.  Sign up for a free Gmail account and you have Google Docs. (Along with a lot of other really cool free tools.)

One of us creates a document, uses the blue “Share” button (you’ll see it) to share that document with the other, by email address.  We both open the document, and where ever we are online, we’re typing on the same page, at the same time.  The game, dear writer, is afoot.

You write your character. I’ll write mine.  Somewhere in the first couple of graphs they are going to meet, interact, conflict, compete, maybe even come together around a central theme.  It’s up to us and our skill as writers.

Most of the same basic rules apply as in acting improvs:

  • “Yes, and” — If you write, “Have you seen my elephant?” I accept the existence of an elephant, whether in view or not.  The response might be, “Yes, and he was quite tasty, thank you”  or a more complex version of the rule — the “no, but” — “No, have you seen my mouse?”  (I accept your elephant and imply there may be a fable happening just out of sight.)
  •  “Drive the scene toward the story” — I don’t remember who said it first, but every line either moves the story along or reveals something about the character.
  •  “You look better when both writers look good.” When we’re both writing well, the story gets better as well.
  •  “Don’t ask open ended (obvious) questions,” instead let the descriptions and the character’s words and actions reveal who they are and what they are up to.

One more thing? No quitting. Set a time limit or a word count as a goal and write until “the bell rings.”  “Writers write, right?”

Eldon Hughes is a writer, storyteller and education technologist.  His website is www.ifoundaknife.com.

NaNo WriMo 2013 Is Coming

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts November 1. The basic idea is to engage in BIC (Butt In Chair) and write fiction. The goal is to finish 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. By successfully completing 50,000 words by the deadline, you win, (you get a badge!), and have a draft of a novel. Or that’s the idea.

The goal is less one of writing a novel than it is of writing 50,000 words in a month, or roughly, 1,667 words a day.

From the NaNo WriMo FAQs:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

I like very much the attitude behind NaNo WriMo that what’s important is that you’re writing, and writing regularly. It is, as some writers have said, permission to create a first draft without obsessing over style, with the idea that later you will revise at your leisure.

Here’s an interesting thing: you’re permitted to use an outline, or notes that you’ve created ahead of time. But they discourage writers from starting with a draft or even a partial draft, and here’s why:

But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

Note by the way that NaNo has created a special forum for “rebels,” that is, people who aren’t writing a work of fiction. There’s an FAQ for that too; Am I a Rebel?

There’s even support for local NaNo WriMo groups. We have a lot of AWers who are NaNo veterans, and we even have an AW NaNo WriMo and Beyond subforum. MacAllister Stone has written about her own participation in NaNo WriMo, and the difficulty of maintaining a schedule.

What advice do you NaNo veterans have for first timers? What works for you in terms of finding time to NaNo?

From The Dishwasher Froths Success

By C.S. Paquin

Success as a freelance writer has come from the dishwasher— no, not via a lucrative commercial-copy gig bubbling with the attributes of a kitchen appliance, but from the old dishwasher installed in our new apartment.

The state of my kitchen defines my professional success and pre-dishwasher, chaos reigned! Last night’s dishes piled high don’t auger well for a productive morning, but once those counter tops sparkle, well, I’m free to tackle whatever chore is next. The only problem is, I hate dishpan hands, and in avoidance, it’s easy for me to waste an entire day—in fact, the task only takes on a sense of urgency when it’s time for dinner. This disorganization sounds the death knell for my writing career—haphazard working hours, staying up too late to make deadline after hours of procrastination, and working fitfully amidst the laundry, vacuuming, and errands—all impatiently demanding attention once I’m done in the kitchen.

But now, the delight of dealing with dirty dishes without delay, has sparked a catalyst. Each morning, after my daughter goes to school and the baby to the sitter, I tidy the apartment and throw in a load of laundry while the dishwasher sings its sloshy song. By 9 a.m., cappuccino time, I’m opening the mail, and with the rest of the place clutter-free, it’s prudent to keep my desk as pristine and file my papers and pay the bills. I’ve discovered, too, that if I balance the checkbook every few days, then it takes just a few minutes, and I even remember what I bought.

By 9.30 a.m., in disbelief at how early it still is, I switch on my computer and check for looming deadlines. I have regular editing jobs, a small column for a regional magazine, as well as sending out queries to new markets. The difference is, I’m really writing the queries and mailing them. Pre-dishwasher, I’d sit and dream about it, because with a brimming sink, I couldn’t possibly start the query process. So, with my attention not distracted by the chores, I set up and conduct interviews, write and edit what needs to be done, and send in work not only hours, but days before deadline. Ticking off the tasks on my list is addictive and the more I check off, the more inspired I am to find and complete new projects.

Within a few weeks, my flailing career takes new shape—more gigs appear, and checks trickle in. “Aha,” I think to myself, as I add regular banking to the task list: Self-discipline does pay!

This revelation chases away the nagging suspicion that haunted me—that I’m more in love with the idea of writing, than actually writing. These days, as I see my reflection in the shiny plates, I say to myself quite proudly: “I am a freelance writer!”

C.S. Paquin is a nationally published writer in a variety of genres—from news writing to humor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism, and dreams of being a best-selling author. Her first writing love, however, is creative nonfiction and personal essays.

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