“Without leaving the house I know the whole universe.” – Lao-Tzu This could also be the motto of the social-media platform known as Twitter. For book authors and other writers who wish to use Twitter, I’ll offer some specific tips below. And here’s a link to Twitter’s own help center, to walk you through the basics. But first, a general shout-out for tweeting in general. To my astonishment, Twitter is surprisingly useful. It’s a well-connected, active group of intelligent users, a place to connect casually with fellow literary types and to be generous about other people’s accomplishments. It’s also a place where you can, nowRead More →

If you really want to try to write a novel in a month, I am not going to stand in your way. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to commit, sitting side by side (virtually) with thousands of other avid fictioneers, to pen a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days, starting at midnight on Nov. 1 with 0 words written. Sure, a few of the impulses behind this zany idea are valid. For instance: It’s good to set goals. It’s good to create a specific timeline in which you commit to reaching a specific goal. It’s good to tell others your goals.Read More →

“There is time for everything.” – Amish saying. 1. Ask the right question: What is possible?  I’m starting a new writing project and want to make good progress this month. A motivational phrase that floats through my mind, one that resonates for me (as a busy person), comes from an Amish source: “There is time for everything.” Although this may produce an initial snort of derision, it holds a deep truth. What happens is the everything. What doesn’t happen . . . well, those ideas and wishes were merely figments of our imagination. We might envision writing an ambitious work. We might break it downRead More →

SEO magic

If you’ve been looking for ways to get noticed on the web, you’ve probably run into the term SEO. It stands for Search Engine Optimization. So . . . how important is it to understand and use? Is it a real game-changer? Or is it mostly hocus-pocus, a bit of internet trickery, a fake magic charm, like the “ohwa tagu siam” chant from scout camp, something to trip up the uninitiated? Perhaps you can tell that I’m not enamored of SEO; at least, I don’t think it’s as valuable as those claiming it’s “essential” make it out to be. Mostly, I just think that writersRead More →

Branding is a simple concept. For an author, in a nutshell, it’s what people expect when they hear your name attached to a book (or story). If you think of the name Mark Twain, or Stephen King, or Toni Morrison, or J.R.R. Tolkien . . . many things likely pop into your head. For me, the name Tolkien conjures up images of a professorial fellow with a pipe, the smile of a raconteur on his face, eager to spin long tales that I suspect I’d like hear, maybe sitting close by in a comfy easy chair by the fireplace in his study, sipping a littleRead More →

In emerging-writer discussions, I often hear versions of this question: How long do I keep trying if I’m not seeing any results in my pitches to agents or publishing houses? There are many ways to approach the answer. You can just buy into Winston Churchill’s advice to youngsters: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.” Yes, there’s a part of me that appreciates that kind of bulldog stubbornness. I’d definitely want it if, say, I needed to defend Great Britain from invasion from foes. ButRead More →

One of the keys of a successful novel is often the presence of two (sometimes more) major storylines. Unfortunately, as a book doctor/novel editor, I often see manuscripts-in-progress that are just too stingy in this regard. I recently read a review of a movie that addressed this very point. Reviewing the movie Warm Bodies, Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “But too often [this movie] also badly needed a second big idea to move its [primary] story off the track we expect it to take from the start.” To put it bluntly, a single storyline, even if well-written from beginning to end, willRead More →

zen fountain

Writers, how patient are you? Do you really listen to what your stories are trying to say before you try to tell them to others? Do you give your stories enough time to grow creatively, to blossom into their fullest form? I run into plenty of newbie authors who have written a trilogy, zooming on to sequels full of plot twists and further adventures . . . before having contemplated and fulfilled the potential of their first (and most important, career-wise) novel. In contrast, accomplished authors know the importance of taking time to reflect, to put work aside for a time, to come back laterRead More →

I’ve in the middle of reading, with considerable delight, William Alexander’s debut fantasy novel Goblin Secrets. It just won a National Book Award for Young People’s literature, and it’s a wonderful piece of literary storytelling. I wanted to share one of his chapter starts, as it continues the “trick of particularity” point I made in a recent post about the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, plus some other good writing techniques. At the start of the third chapter, the young central character, Rownie, is sent on an errand to a gear-smith’s workplace (to fetch some oil for Graba, the witch) : Broken gears and stacks ofRead More →

hobbit home

Are you a fan of The Hobbit? A Lord of the Rings geek? Perhaps you just enjoy a good story, well told. If you’re a writer, here are some tips drawn from Tolkien’s work. Even if they don’t magically transform you overnight into a writer with a worldwide cult-like following like Professor Tolkien’s . . . attention to these principles will improve your writing. 1. Keep those scraps of ideas. A familiar story to those who follow Tolkien’s biography is that The Hobbit “began” many years before its publication in 1937 when, in a moment of odd inspiration, Tolkien jotted down an strange phrase thatRead More →