Saturday, July 15, 2017

Author Blogging & Why It's Essential - Publishing Tips

Should be easy, right? After all, many of us set a word count quota for the day's writing, somewhere in the thousands of words. Surely we can spare 200 or so for a short blog. But deciding what to write about is what always stops me from blogging. Who am I as a writer? Do you really want to hear about the Green Veggie Smoothie I just made with my food processor, throwing in fresh pineapple, cucumbers, apples, spinach, lettuce, grapes, cucumber, and orange, and how it tastes like the smell of watering my garden early in the morning, before the sun is high, with hummingbirds duking it out overhead to get to the feeder above me?

Or smells like sunlight coming through the leaves. After all, I'm a poet. I need to exercise these metaphor muscles the way gardens need water and fertilizer.

But you didn't come here to this title about blogging in order to hear that -- did you? That's the dilemma of the literary blogger. We have a tendency to get personal, to get specific, and to ignore the title topic until almost the end of the blog.

Plus, they say you have to add lots of visuals to your blogs if you want anyone reading them. We just can't read any more without illustrations. Here's my smoothie.

So now, to the question of how to blog as an author. Now that I have your attention with personal stuff and visuals. Here's an excellent article on the three things you must do in an author blog.

My writing process is pretty much like going to work every day. I reserve two hours from the moment I open my eyes (with coffee -- here's another visual) and before I get started working at the mundane job, for creative writing.  I'm disciplined about it, but I count everything as writing, even reading about how to write (though not reading about how to market books -- that's death to the creative flow, though very necessary in other zones of the day.)

 My writing process is sort of effortless once I'm in the zone of those two hours. I know you hated hearing that, but it's true. Assigning a regular time is like waving huge bars of chocolate in front of my Muse. She can't resist.

So there you have it. One article of how-to, a fair amount of personal with a dash of wit (I hope), and a lot of pictures. Author blogging. It was fun!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Stealing from Jane Austen - Writing Tips

Virginia Woolf observed about Austen, “Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.” I'm an Austenite (having an upstairs and a downstairs complete set of her work qualifies, I think). I'm writing a book whose characters are based on the Dashwood sisters from Sense and Sensibility. I'm not the first writer to steal from the extraordinary Jane, and I won't be the last. The fabulous film Clueless did it best, in my opinion.

But having absorbed a wonderful book by John Mullan called What Matters in Jane Austen, I'm newly empowered to study her tips and tricks and to profit from her behind-the-scenes example. We can study Austen as if in a writing course of the kind Master Class offers. Imagine Jane's Master Class! I'd put Aaron Sorkin's right behind hers for fabulous ideas, but that's another essay.

So how to steal the good techniques from Austen. Let's break it down.

Character sketches. Write down Austen's concise character descriptions and keep them in files. Novelists in her time could drop in whole character sketches at the outset of a book, covering personality, backstory, and relationships with other characters in a summary fashion. We don't do it that way anyway; we interweave these tidbits into action-based narrative. But keep Austen's wonderful character sketches handy and let them inspire your character introductions and expansion of backstory.

Setting & Weather. For a terrific time-travel visit to the settings of Jane's novels, read Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project: A Novel. Her attention to the details of Austen's world, via the challenges two time-travellers face, is exquisitely vivid. How to pull on a glove, when to offer your hand to a gentleman (or not), how to speak to a servant, what is the proper time for paying a short neighbor call -- all this boggles the mind and is a terrific example of the function of setting in a novel.

And a NYT article by Kathleen Flynn on Elizabeth Bennet's mad skills if she had to be a debut novelist of today. Flynn remarks, "The assets a young lady of 1815 might deploy are strikingly like those of a debut novelist: beauty, money, connections and wit. And bringing up the rear as always, the tricky question of merit."

Language & Diction. And another article by Flynn examines Austen's word choices and how they contribute to her perennial popularity. One thing that impressed me was that her books contain a higher percentage of words referring to women and family relationships than other writers of her time. Her books are women's fiction before such a term was invented. She used words like "very" and "much" that support her irony and witty observations on characters and events. Where qualifiers like that can be misused, standing in with the not-right word for the right one, Jane uses them to intensify her sardonic effects and observations. Make a list of your most used words and see how they bear on your style and connect with your audience.

More Stealing From Jane to come. For now, go ahead and steal. I don't think Jane will mind.