Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's Pomodoro Time!

While reading a software blog, I came across a reference to the Pomodoro Technique for increasing productivity.  The basic idea is that you set a timer for 25 minutes and just do the items on your to do list for that time period, hopefully without interruption.  If interruptions, arise, you jot them down, then go back to the main task.  You can read about the technique here:  It recommends that you use and actual timer and paper, but I still like using software and the best application that I've found is Pomo Time ( because it mimics the recommended paper very well.

If you're trying to get through NaNoWriMo (I'm not, I just like being more productive) or just want to help your productivity and concentration, give this simple technique a try.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Level of Detail

While I still read for pleasure, I read differently than I used to.  I've gotten pickier about what I'm willing to put up with in someone's writing and I pay attention to writers' pacing and level of detail.  I've never been extremely verbose and my personal writing tends to focus only on relevant details.  When I'm reading (or writing) the middle of a tense action scene, the last thing I really want to know is what the furniture in the room is like.  If the furniture plays a part due to its configuration, that's great, and it's important.  I don't usually find a need to know the style of the furniture, where it was made, where it was bought, what fabric it is, how many vases there are, is the rug oriental or is it carpet, while there's a man about to shoot somebody in the scene.

What I find interesting in my own writing is choosing a level of detail that's appropriate for the story and the scene.  Even more difficult is choosing a method for covering the time period involved.  For stories that take place over years, deciding on the best, and most interesting, way to convey that passage in a clear manner, and keep the story moving is a real challenge.

As I sit here in my family room on a quiet Sunday morning, alone before my family wakes up, I'm struck by the two sides of the room.  My side has a couple of books stacked on the glass-surrounded-by-oak coffee table.  Yesterday's newspaper lays in a neat pile with the crossword puzzle, half completed, on top.  On the side of the room where my daughter usually sits, a pile of papers and a heap of blankets and pillows sit in disarray on the brown and black-flecked, three person, sofa under the double window overlooking the bushes and pond in the background.  But, that doesn't really have anything to do with this post.

I'm currently reading 'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King.  Like the last book I read by him, Cujo, I'm struck by the incredible level of detail he includes for the back story of his characters.  It doesn't seem forced or irrelevant; it simply "is".  The characters and the overall story are richer for it.  There's a depth to his world that enhances the story.  By contrast, I just finished Ghost Country, by Patrick Lee.  Here the details and back story are only what's necessary to the action.  The story must keep flying forward or he'll lose momentum.

These are two ends of a spectrum in detail and pacing, but have been very enlightening as I work on my own story craft.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Making it your own

I watch American Idol with my family occasionally and I've noticed something.  People try to get on the show who can't sing, but everyone can tell that.  Here's the thing that most people don't do and viewers don't notice.  The judges often tell the contestants to "take a song and make it your own."  What usually comes out is the same song with a dash of what I call "soulful moaning" liberally slathered onto it.  Picture how most soul singers sing the national anthem at a sporting event and you'll get what I mean.

To me, this isn't making it their own.  It's showing a lack of creativity, but the contestants just don't get it.  I'm not sure that the judges can really tell sometimes, but in the early stages, they don't care as long as you can actually sing.  I can't blame these people - they're young and haven't had the experience to know what the difference is.

The interesting thing for me is that when I started writing fiction, I started to notice the things I was reading.  I picked up a thriller by a popular author and had to put it down because the writing was terrible and the plot was too confusing.  I read another book and got pissed off that the ending didn't resolved anything and I felt like I'd wasted my time and money reading it.  Another had the most annoying dialogue effects imaginable.  Now, I'm reading something that's got me spellbound with the creativity of the plot, the perfect level of detail added to a scene bringing it to life without bogging down the action, and a writing style that's engaging, unique, and easy to read.  This guy is the American Idol winner.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I know I'm not the only one in the world who gets distracted, but that doesn't make me feel much better when the word count on my latest project moves by 1000 words in a week, rather than a day.  It's so much easier to catch up on blog reading, solving a problem on my paid work, general web surfing, or something else on my to-do list.  However, the only way I can even crack through the plot direction is to keep writing a little bit (at least a little bit) every day so that it stays booted in my brain.

It's simply too easy to work on something with a shorter term goal, but the desire to entertain and create a novel that others will enjoy keeps me thinking.  One thing that helps is pulling the network cable on the computer - can't get a new email or news update that way.  Shutting down my browser works, too, in fact it's probably even better.  The most important thing is just to keep thinking about the project.  Then, when I'm staring at the document with pages to fill, the words will come.  I just have to get started and turn off the distractions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Rejection Time

You work on a book for over a year.  Not just pounding it out over the month of November and putting some editing time on it in December, but really working on it.  Conceiving, plotting, writing, editing, getting feedback, etc.  Then comes the fun part.  You get to boil it all down into a query letter of 250 words or so and send it to agents in your first step towards publishing your work.

And the form rejections start coming.
Step 1: Take a deep breath and remember that agents have to be picky.  They probably read a hundred queries a day and have to pick out books that sound polished and publishable and fit what they're looking to sell.
Step 2: Take another look at your query letter.  After the first few rejections with a query letter that I thought was good, I got an idea for rewriting it in a way that sounded much better.  Even my query letter reviewers weren't able to make my original one sound better because they were more concentrated on grammar and making it sound just a bit better.  It took me, the writer, to do the important editing to make it better represent the book, its tone, and its content.  All my reviewers agreed that the new one was vastly superior to the original.  Moral:  If you think your query letter is OK, then that's what it probably is.  You need better than that.  Start with Query Shark for excellent lessons on good and bad queries, then go from there.
Step 3: Prepare for the inevitable.  The rejections will come.  That's all that might come.  For most writers that's all that ever come.  At least nowadays, there are alternatives.  You could self-publish if you really have the drive to sell your book yourself.  If it comes down to it, there's always posting a PDF of your book on your website and seeing if it catches on virally.

Rejection still sucks.  No two ways about it.  But, if you have never experienced rejection at this point in your life, then you either haven't lived very long or you lead a charmed life - time to join the real world.  For the rest of us, good luck and keep fighting.