Friday, June 29, 2012

Quotes About Writing

Ever have a day when you're supposed to write something, but your brain keeps saying, "I got nothing?" This is such a day. So I decided to do what most writers (and many comedians) sometimes do--steal material from others.

Here are a handful of selected quotes about writing, with my own comments.

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." (true, sadly it's true)
- Douglas Adams

"Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write checks." (and all the authors in the audience said, "amen.")
- Richard Curtis

"Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." (especially when your brain says, "I got nothing.")
- Gene Fowler

"Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none." (obviously written after a particularly bad review).
- Jules Renard

"A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God." (and now it's a blank computer screen).
- Sidney Sheldon

"There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are." (but when we finally agree on them, Jim Bell will write a book about it).
- Somerset Maugham

Hope you've enjoyed these. Let's hear your own, now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What, Me Worry?

I have two confessions to make. First, in my younger days, I read Mad Magazine. That's where I first made the acquaintance of Alfred D. Neuman, whose motto, as shown at left, has lasted through decades of presidential campaigns, economic downturns, and threats to world peace. The idea, of course, is that all these things just went over Neuman's head. Some of us probably wish we could adopt that attitude even now. Or maybe not.

I said I had two confessions. The second is that reading Facebook posts and Twitter tweets of my author friends is driving me crazy. It's been a neat experience, this transition from the world of medicine to being a published writer (please note that I avoided putting the latter term in all caps--modesty, you know). But in order to keep up with the friends I've made along the journey, I've followed them via various avenues of social media. And it's nerve-wracking, I have to tell you.

In any given time span I may see posts about writer-friends sending their latest book to their editor, getting ready for the launch of a blockbuster novel, mentioning an interview in a prestigious publication,  packing for a vacation, signing a multi-book contract, modestly dropping the news that they'd won an award... You get the idea. What I have to remember is that this represents the work product of a double handful of writers, and some excellent ones at that. I'm one writer. I have to tune out what others are doing (except to congratulate them, of course) and concentrate on my work and my world. Otherwise, I'll go crazy trying to keep up with the Joneses (and the Hunts, the Collinses, the Cobles, the Millses, the get the picture).

What about you? Whatever your assignment in life, do you do it with one eye on what everyone else is doing? And if you catch yourself doing that, what's your approach to solve it? I hope it's not the same as my friend, Alfred.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Writing: Line Edits

I've talked from time to time about the various types of editing an author does. The editorial letter, also called the macro- or substantive edit, covers the "big picture." In response to those, I've changed settings, sequences, and the names or sex of characters. I've even killed off one character (and never looked back). To me, the macro edit is the toughie. First I have to convince myself that the suggestions are good (they almost always are), then figure out how to implement them.

Next week I embark on the line edits for my next novel, Stress Test. I don't have those in hand right now, so I decided to give you examples taken from the line edits for my most recently published novel, Lethal Remedy.

p 13, delete redundant words from this sentence mid-way down the page:
…there’s a doctor at our medical center doing trials on an experimental drug that might work for Chelsea.
P 32, line 3, correct typo: …bit OF color….
P 37, next to last paragraph, toward the end, change to “…lots of INTEREST from the press.”  (already used attention right above it)
P 43, add a word: “…before she went into PROFOUND shock…”
P 53, names don’t match in last two paragraphs. Both should be “BRETT.”
As you can see, line editing is often just a case of accepting the changes suggested by the editor, although sometimes it morphs into a dialogue about whether the change is good or not. Hope you've enjoyed this inside look at the process. What publishing questions do you have? I'd love to address them here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blog Post Seven Hundred

I normally don't worry about numbers--my books' Amazon rankings, sales numbers, my Klout score (whatever that is--I'm not into that). But when I started to write this blog post, I noticed that it would be the seven hundredth Random Jotting I've unleashed on the public.

I started blogging before the publication of my first book (The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse), and have continued to the present, through the publication of four novels, with another due out early next year. I tried at first to blog daily, or at least three or four times a week. Eventually, reality set in and I settled into the present routine of posting each Tuesday and Friday. Not long ago, I surveyed my readers (both of them, I think) and found that they enjoyed my posts about "stuff in general," as well as posts about writing, so that's what I've been doing since then.

To those who've been with me all the way, my sincere thanks. To those who've joined us as we slog along, I appreciate it. And to those who haven't yet become regular readers, I hope you'll do just that. I'll try to be entertaining and/or educational--sometimes, if we're lucky, both.

Thanks to you all.

(Note: I'm on vacation this week, so I may not be able to respond to your comments, but I hope you'll feel free to leave some just the same.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Writing: Name Recognition

I'm a member of a number of writers organizations, one of which is the International Thriller Writers. Each month I get a newsletter from ITW that lists the forthcoming releases from members. There's a long list, and as I always do, I scanned the most recent one, looking for a familiar name. I love to read thrillers, and like most readers I've identified writers whose previous work I have enjoyed. So, out of that sea of names and titles, I picked one book--just one--that I wanted to be sure to read. Because of name recognition.

Writers talk endlessly about platform and marketing, but I remain convinced that the best way to get our work purchased and read is by word-of-mouth. To put it another way, we seek name recognition. Sure, we can get that by making the New York Times best-seller list, or winning a major award, but it's also possible to get our name recognized because reader A tells his/her friends readers B and C, who then pass on their recommendations to D, E, F, and... You get the picture.

None of this is applicable if you're a celebrity, of course. A "tell all" book by the Pope's butler will probably hit the best-seller list (if it hasn't already--I don't care about those things). But for the writer of fiction, name recognition and word-of-mouth remain the tools that drive sales. At least, that's my opinion.

My friend, award-winning author Jim Rubart, says that an author's name and brand are a promise to the reader. What do you think? Do you ever buy a book because you've read something else by that author and liked it? And, if that's the case, have you ever been disappointed? Let me hear what you think.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Take It To The Limit

I'm not ashamed to admit that my favorite music includes songs by The Eagles. And I'm especially fond of Take It To The Limit. Aside from the lyrics, I just like the harmony, the melody. But the title carries a message as well.

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, just shared a post about pushing herself beyond her comfort zone. She gives examples of skydiving, SCUBAing, skiing black diamond runs, all to show herself she could do it. The lesson, of course, is that we all have within us resources we're unwilling to tap. We don't like to get out of our comfort zone.

In the early days of our marriage, Cynthia and I were in Venezuela for a medical meeting. The resort offered parasailing. Cynthia went up. I stayed on the beach and held her purse.  Later, just a few months before she died, we were in Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the stops on the tour we took was the Capilano Suspension Bridge. That swaying bridge spans 450 feet at a height of 230 feet. Cynthia walked across and back. I stayed safely on land.

When I first began writing, I produced material that should have had bluebirds flying around it. Everything was fine. It all worked out. There was no suspense, no tension--because to write beyond that took me out of my comfort zone. But it didn't take me long to find that without suspense, without pushing things a bit, there was nothing to hook readers.

The same is true of everyday life. Like it or not, I have to get out of my comfort zone. I need to do a few things spontaneously. I even need to take a chance or two. Or, as the Eagles sing, I need to take it to the limit.

After Cynthia's death, another doctor and I were speaking in British Columbia. We visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge. And I crossed it--to the other side and back. I followed Cynthia's example. And I'm glad I did.

Have you ever taken it to the limit? I'd like to hear how and when.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Writing: More About Self-Publishing

There's no question that many, many authors--either tired of fighting to get published in the traditional fashion or anxious to cash in on the ready availability of e-books--are going the self-publishing route. I've had interviews on this blog from authors who have e-published, and I'd especially encourage those of you interested in doing the same to read this interview from James Scott Bell.

For writers wondering whether to self-publish or continue to seek traditional avenues of publication, the May-June 2012 issue of Writer's Digest contains invaluable information, both about making the decision and what needs to be done if the e-publishing route is chosen.

Blogger Porter Anderson attempts to bring more light than heat to the apparent war between the self-published (or "indie-published" if you prefer) and authors published via the traditional route in this post on Writer Unboxed

But for those who see e-publishing as the road to riches,  this latest news may surprise them. The average earnings of a self-published author are about $10 thousand per year--but in that group are a lot of high-earning outliers, with at least half of those who self-publish earning $500 or less! The survey tends to back up what most of us have advocated from the start: the best results come from spending money for professional help--editing, cover art, etc. Sure, it's nice to see your name on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but it's even nicer to get a royalty check that will make a house payment or two. Just a cautionary note.

Have any of you self-published? What have been your experiences? Any words of wisdom for those who haven't yet dipped their toes into the pool? I'd love to hear from you.

Note: I've chosen the winner of a signed copy of Lethal Remedy from among those subscribed to my newsletter. I've sent an email to the winner, and listed the results in my newsletter. If you're not a subscriber, you may wish to use the tab in the right margin to sign up to receive it--two or three issues a year, and you can unsubscribe any time. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


The Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. Children cheer and parents grimace as school ends. The electricity bill climbs as summer heat starts to build. The neighborhood pool becomes a popular place.

At our house, the back yard grill will be used more often. We'll undoubtedly take the grandchildren to the local pool, or to movies, or to (shudder) Six Flags Over Texas. Hopes for a winning Texas Rangers season will rise (and fall, and rise, and fall). There are things that just go with summer.

What are your plans for the summer? Let us know.

Note: In a previous post, I said I was going to give a signed copy of my award-winning novel, Lethal Remedy, to one of the people who had signed up to receive my email newsletter (I send two or three a year). If you haven't signed up, check the area in the right margin that says "Newsletters And Stuff" and enter your name and email address. I'll pick the winner this week, and notify them using the email address with which they signed up. Thanks.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Writing: Reach Out And Touch...

We've just had our primary election here in Texas, so perhaps the phone won't be ringing all day long with political messages. I think the one that set my teeth on edge was a child's voice, saying, "My daddy is So-And-So, and he's running for..." As though that was going to influence my vote.

I've been thinking, in the midst of all this, that perhaps political campaigning isn't terribly different in some aspects from what a writer has to go through to help market his or her books. Oh, we don't criticize other authors, since this isn't a matter of "buy my book, not his." But we do have to convince the reading public that our work is worthy of their time and money. And, as in politics, we try to do this via the media (in our case, social media), via word of mouth (readers pass the word to other readers the way voters talk to other voters), and...wait for it...providing the best possible product.

In my humble opinion, that last one is the best way for a politician or for an author to reach out and touch someone. It's certainly preferable to answering your phone and hearing me ask you to please buy my book. (Then again, if that's what it takes, feel free to leave me your number).

What do you think is the best way for a writer to market their work? For that matter, how about politicians? What can they do to convince you they're your best choice.