Here are your tips, thoughts and teasers for March. Enjoy!
Today is the birthday of William Howells (novelist), Lynton Strachey (British biographer), Ralph Ellison (novelist, essayist – The Invisible Man), Robert Lowell Jr. (poet), Richard Wilbur (poet)
Tip: Write your fist draft as if you’re on a deadline. Set your goal and work for it.
Thought: “Writing can’t be taught, but if the natural talent is there, it can be improved.” – Rod McKuen
Teaser: This is National Elve’s Day. Imagine you are an elf – what kind are you? Are you the tall willowy kind as in The Lord of the Rings? Or small and pixie-like? Do you have magical powers? What are they? Are you kind? Or nasty? Where do you live?
Today is the birthday of John Jay Chapman (essayist), Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss – children’s books), Tom Wolfe (journalst, novelist), John Irving (novelist)
Tip: Describe your character in a few words, but actions are better: She braided her hair, letting it hang down her back to where it touched her waist. John had always loved the dark length, but now there was more gray mixed in with the black strands. Or: She loved the way she could tuck her head under his chin. It made her feel small—something that rarely happened. Not many men could handle her nearly six-foot height. And please, don’t use a mirror—that’s rather cliché.
Thought: “Sometimes, it’s simply best to rip it all up and start over.” – Chuck Leddy
Teaser: What happened on the day you were born? What is the history of that particular day?
Today is the birthday of Thomas Otway (English dramatist, poet), William Godwin (philosopher, essayist), James Merrill (poet, Pulitzer Prize), Patricia MacLachlan (children’s writer – Sarah Plane and Tall)
Tip: Introduce all your characters within the first third of the book. If you bring someone in at the end, especially if they “solve” the plot problem, the reader will feel cheated and won’t come back to you.
Thought: “I know some very good writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts” – Anne Lemont.
Teaser: If you are not hearing impaired, try watching TV without the sound on, using closed captioning. What do you feel like you’ve missed, if anything? Next, try blindfolding yourself and “listening” to TV. What do you feel you’ve missed this way?
Today is the birthday of Alan Sillitoe (British poet), Johann Wyss (Swiss folklorist – Swiss Family Robinson)
Tip: Always carry a notebook and pen with you. Or have a phone you can make notes on (either visually or verbally). That way, when you get that brilliant idea for a plot twist, you’ll have a place to record it.
Thought: “The muse whispers to you when she chooses, and you can’t tell her to come back later, because you quickly learn in this business that she may not come back at all.” – Terry Brooks
Teaser: What is your book about? Boil the answer down to no more than two sentences. This becomes the basis for your pitch to editors and agents.
Today is the birthday of Michael Resnick (science fiction), Howard Pyle (children’s books), Frank Norris (naturalist), Charles Fuller, Jr. (playwright Pulitzer)
Tip: Turn off the internet. And games. And put away any other distractions. One game can lead to an hour of missed writing time. Looking for that one piece of research on the internet can cause you to lose hours in “oh, look at that” distractions.
Thought: “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.” – Erica Jong.
Teaser: Go to your nearest public library and browse the stacks. Check out areas you don’t normally go. What can you find that’s new and different for you?
Today is the birthday of Cyrano de Bergerac (French dramatist, satirist), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbian novelist, Nobelist), Ringold Lardner, Sr. (satirist), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (poet)
Tip: Even famous authors have bad days. But they keep going and you can too. If you have multiple manuscripts you’re working on but can’t figure out what one you want to work on, pick the one closest to being done. Or the one due the soonest. Getting something done goes a long way toward motivating you for doing more. Finish something, even if it’s only one chapter.
Thought: “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” — Joyce Carol Oates
Teaser: You’re a thief. What do you steal? Why? Do you get away with it? Why or why not?
Today is the birthday of: Georges Perec, Donald Barthelme, Paul Preuss
Tip: Check the way you begin sentences, especially dialogue. Do many of them start the same way? Do you have favorite phrases you overuse? Read over your manuscript and make a list of repetitions (and then fix them!).
Thought: “One had better not rush, otherwise dung comes out rather than creative work.” – Anton Chekhov
Teaser: Your character is creating a new drink – what is it? Alcohol or not? Fruit based? Flavors? What would it be used for (casual drinking, parties, kids, etc.)?
Today is the birthday of: Erik Linklater, Kenneth Grahame, Sembene Ousmane
Tip: When preparing a manuscript for submission, go over it to make sure there are no missing chapter numbers or chapters. And make sure your chapters are in the right order.
Thought: “Writing is not about degrees or vocabulary or diagramming a sentence. It is simply about the desire to tell a story.” – Fannie Flagg
Teaser: Make a list of places you would like to visit. Now do the research. Besides money, what would you need to go to these places? Why do you want to visit them? What draws you there? If you can’t go, how much can you find out about them through research?
Today is the birthday of: William Cobbett, Vita Sackville-West, Mickey Spillane, Mircea Eliade,
Tip: What is your story about? Try to boil it down to one or two sentences. This can be the basis for your tag line.
Thought: “To note an artist’s limitations is but to define his talent. A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to his view, but a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.” – Willa Cather
Teaser: What kind of phone does your main character have? A smart phone? An older flip phone? Or does s/he still have a dial up line and nothing else? Why?
Today is the birthday of: James Herriot, Johanna Lindsey
Tip: Sometimes it helps to have something in the ending reflect to the beginning of the story. You can do this with an object or situation that mirrors something in the beginning. For instance, if there’s a blackout at the beginning and the heroine has trouble finding candles or a flashlight, at the end, you could have another blackout, but this time, she has light handy.
Thought: “Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam.” – A Whitney Griswold
Teaser: You’ve moved into a new home. While doing some cleaning, you find a loose board in a closet. You pry the board up and find….
Today is the birthday of: Douglas Adams, Jerry Zucker
Tip: Who are the main characters in your book? There should only be one or two—three at the very most. The other characters are secondary. Make sure your mains have the majority of the scenes.
Thought: “Desire is creation, is the magical element in that process. If there were an instrument by which to measure desire, one could foretell achievement.” – Willa Cather
Teaser: A “Tom Swiftie” is a pun-like adverbial tag and should be eliminated. i.e.: “We need a new lightbulb,” he said darkly. Write a short scene where you use as many Swiftie’s as possible.
Today is the birthday of: Jack Kerouac, Edward Albee, Gabriele D’Annunzio
Tip: Make sure your characters have goals. They need something to strive for. What do they want? Why do they want it? Why can’t they have it? How do they get it? That’s your story.
Thought: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” – Ernest Hemingway
Teaser: There is a ghost haunting you. Why? What have you done that brings this spirit to you? Is it a vengeful spirit? Or protective? Or impish?
Today is the birthday of: L. Ron Hubbard, Giorgos Seferis, Robert Lanham
Tip: What is the action that sets off the rest of the action in your book? In a murder mystery, this would be the discovery of the body.
Thought: “Fiction writers are strange beasts. They are…observers first and foremost. Everything that happens around them is potential material for a story.” – Terry Brooks.
Teaser: You glance out your window late at night and see your neighbor digging a deep hole. You’ve always thought he was a strange character. Do you go out for a sneaky but closer look? Or do you do it overtly? What is he digging the hole for?
Today is the birthday of: Hank Ketcham, Pam Ayres, Kevin Williamson
Tip: Do you have compelling hooks at the ends of your chapters? Things that make your reader want to keep reading? Or do you put your characters to sleep—and thus your readers.
Thought: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Teaser: Today is “Pi” day (3.14 – a mathematical term but also today’s date.) What kind of pie would your character like to eat? Does s/he bake it from scratch? Or buy one and pass it off as his/her own?
Today is the birthday of: Paul Heyse, Lawrence Sanders
Tip: Do you have a compelling opening sentence? One that draws the reader in and sets up the following action.
Thought: “Leave out the parts readers skip.” – Elmore Leonard.
Teaser: March 15, the Ides of March, is famous for being the day Julius Caesar was killed. Though it has been written about often, most famously by Shakespeare, write the assassination scene from Brutus’ point of view. Why did he do what he did? How does he feel about it?
Today is the birthday of: Margaret Weis, Harding Lemay
Tip: Don’t start your story with an info dump. If there’s background information the reader needs, give it out in small bites, not one big feast.
Thought: “I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this.” – Cormac McCarthy
Teaser: Identify your characters by showing not only what they own, but how they treat their possessions. Given an expensive, but ugly, gift, how would they treat it? What would they do with it? Write a short scene from two different character perspectives.
Today is the birthday of: Kate Greenaway, James Morrow, Michael Kelly
Tip: Is your villain morally corrupt and not just a brat? Those with bad morals are more interesting and have more to lose or gain. Brats are like flies—irritating, but not deadly. Be sure to give your bad guy some good features as well. Don’t make them flat and boring.
Thought: There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
Teaser: You just bought an old desk. While cleaning it, you find a faded photograph of a soldier from WWI. There is a name written on the back. Searching further, you find a letter to go with the picture. It was never sent. Why? Do you search for the family? What does the letter say?
Today is the birthday of: William Cosmo Monkhouse, Richard Condon, John Updike
Tip: Unless you’re under a deadline, put your finished work away for at least a week. More would be better. Then you can edit with a fresh eye.
Thought: “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.” – Jules Renard
Teaser: You have the ability to go back in time only once and only for one day. When/where would you go and what would you do? Why?
Today is the birthday of: Irving Wallace, Philip Roth
Tip: Don’t start all the character names with the same letter. Keeping John, Joan, Jeff, Jane becomes too confusing for the reader. Vary your names and their attributes. Make them real.
Thought: “You have to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep praying to the god of whimsy that some editor will respond favorably.” – Peter Benchley
Teaser: You have been cursed by a witch. You will never write another word—including mundane things like emails and grocery lists—unless you…. What? Do you do it?
Today is the birthday of: Ovid, Henrik Ibsen, Ned Buntline, Lois Lowry
Tip: Make a list of websites for names, not just characters, but places too. A good place to start is the US Social Security site. They have popular baby names searchable by years.
Thought: “Don’t be thin-skinned or easily discouraged, because it’s an odds-long proposition; all of the arts are. Many are called, few are chosen, but it might be you.” – John Updike.
Teaser: You come home to find fifteen messages on your answering machine. All from the same number – a number you don’t recognize and can’t find on-line. The first message says “If you want Darcy to live, you’d better answer.” The messages get increasingly threatening. Who is Darcy? Do you know? What do you do?
Today is the birthday of: Jean Paul, Mark Waid
Tip: What atmosphere do you want your novel to have? Use setting as well as prose to put for the tone of your story. Darker words for darker works. Lighter ones for funnier works. Shorter sentences for intense scenes, longer ones for more restful ones.
Thought: “Write a good book.” – Steven Taylor Goldsberry
Teaser: What would the soundtrack of your life sound like? What about your story? What music would go with your story?
Today is the birthday of: Louis L’Amour, Wolf Blitzer
Tip: What kinds of TV shows/movies/books do you like? Why do you like them? What about them draws you? Is this the kind of story you want to write? Why?
Thought: “Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are.” – Greg Daugherty
Teaser: Louis L’Amour had 350 rejections before selling his first ms. What other facts can you find out about famous author rejections?
Today is the birthday of: Jim Trelease, Gary Whitehead
Tip: Always have the next story in mind. When you finish one, you want to be able to start the next one. Have a file with story ideas so you can keep going.
Thought: “Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. “ – Don Marquis
Teaser: Ursula LeGuin sent out her first story when she was 11; she got her first acceptance at 33. Authors are often asked “How long have you been writing?” What would your answer be? Make it interesting and intriguing. You’re trying to entice readers, even when just talking about yourself.
Today is the birthday of: William Morris, Dario Fo, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Tip: Join a writing group, either in person or on line—and participate. Brainstorm, share ideas, share promo ideas. You’d be surprised how much energy you can get just by being with other writers.
Thought: “Sometimes the only reason to keep writing is ‘just because.’“ – Ralph Keyes
Teaser: A vandal has trashed your street. When you find out who did it, you are shocked. Who did it and why?
Today is the birthday of: Gloria Steinem, Flannery O’Connor
Tip: Re-read one of your old stories. Circle adjectives that merely label or explain and replace them with descriptive nouns or adjectives that evoke concrete, sensory qualities
Thought: “No rejection is fatal until the writer walks away from the battle leaving dreams and goals behind.” – Jeff Herman (literary agent)
Teaser: In fifteen minutes, the world as we know it will end. Why? What will you do? What happens next?
Today is the birthday of: Robert Frost, Alfred Housman, Joseph Campbell, Tennessee Williams, Erica Jong, Bob Woodward, Patrick Suskind,
Tip: Your best characters will rise from personal experience. Dredge up everything bad (or good) that’s ever happened to you and let your characters experience it.
Thought: “Never present ideas except in terms of temperaments and characters.” – Andre Gide
Teaser: Your hero is an early morning person who loves to watch the sunrise, but your heroine is a night owl who prefers to sleep late and stay up later. How do they compromise? Or do they? In what way?
Today is the birthday of: Alfred de Vigny, Heinrich Mann,
Tip: Stop pressuring yourself. Very few writers can write brilliantly from page one. Go ahead and write “junk”. You can come back and edit later
Thought: “Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.” – Elie Wiesel
Teaser: Little things around your house are missing. This week, a small pillow, last week, an old t-shirt. Food that you know you bought is gone from the cabinet. Who or what is taking the stuff? How and why?
Today is the birthday of: St. Teresa of Avila, Nelson Algren
Tip: Go through your latest manuscript and use a colored pen to mark all your main character’s dialogue. Use different colors to mark other’s dialogue. Your hero/heroine should be the one with the most to say.
Thought: “To write is to create music. The words you write make sounds, and when those sounds are in harmony, the writing will work.” – Gary Provost
Teaser: Your character’s job is creating new games. What kind of game does s/he do next? Video or board? How long does it take him/her? Does s/he ever play games? If not, why not?
Today is the birthday of: Ernst Junger, Eric Idle
Tip: Listen to advice, but follow your own instincts. What works for one person may not work for you. Take everything into consideration, then do what’s right for you and your writing (unless it’s your editor or agent – then you need to listen very carefully!)
Thought: “To write is a humiliation.” – Edward Dahlberg
Teaser: Create a comic book superhero. Male or female? Human? What powers does s/he/it possess? Were they born this way (Superman) or did it happen by accident (Spider-Man)?
Today is the birthday of: Anna Sewell, Sean O’Casey
Tip: To improve your vocabulary and spelling, do crossword puzzles and other word puzzles. You’d be surprised how much these simple games can help you.
Thought: “Writing is a privilege. A joy. A pain in the ass. The easiest thing in the world to do. The most difficult feat to pull off. It is profound. It is ridiculous. Better than making love. Akin to dying. More trouble than it’s worth. Like rolling down a hill. Like scaling the Alps. Whatever it is…it’s not for amateurs. You really have to want to write, to write.” – Rod McKuen.
Teaser: Your character is stuck in the woods, but s/he is not an outdoors person. How did s/he get there? Why? What does s/he do now?
Today is the birthday of: Octavio Paz, Leo Buscaglia, Judith Rossner, Marge Piercy
Tip: If your character is too comfortable in a setting or situation, it can lead to boredom—for the character and your reader. Put them somewhere that makes them uncomfortable.
Thought: “The first and most important part of writing fiction is just to think about the story.” – Terry Brooks
Teaser: Finish this scene using: snow, game, cell phone, timer: Mama, forgive me…