Monopoly Tokens For Writers?

As you all have probably heard by now, a popular vote has given the world three new tokens for Hasbro’s game of Monopoly: a T-Rex, a Penguin, and a Rubber Ducky are In. The Thimble, Iron, and Wheelbarrow are Out. (Can’t say we’re sorry to see the Thimble go). The closest unsuccessful candidate was a tortoise. Of course, the announcement of the new designs  was accompanied by an inevitable bit of controversy about how the new tokens undermined the spirit of the original game. But so far, no dark conspiracy theories have emerged about Rubber Ducky fans rigging the system to give the Boot, the boot, thankfully.

It’s too late to vote, but wouldn’t it have been fun to see a writing oriented token in the mix? Perhaps a computer, a paper-filled trash can, or book token?

Are you happy with the winners and losers in the token popular vote? Are you sorry to see any of the old ones go?

 

 

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Do You Journal?

 

Look at all the lovely notebooks.

From the top:

Emerald Leuchtturm-Current Bullet Journal, containing calendar events, daily schedule, car maintenance, random notes taken when the appropriate journal wasn’t available.

White Paper-Masako Kubo–Stapled, not bound.  Last summer’s dream journal, reference.

Red HC Moleskine–Long term ideas for novels and stories since 2011

Light Blue Leuchtturm–Mid-End of 2016 Bullet Journal. I didn’t get into Bullet Journaling until late last year. Now using for blog thoughts and ideas

Teal Flexible Moleskine–Current Morning Pages Journal

Bright Orange Moleskine Notebook–Short story development

Buff Flexible Moleskine--Novel (Formerly The Intruder) WIP notes

Orang/Red Moleskine Notebook–Novel (Untitled cozy–Yeah, gonna give that genre a shot)

Bright Pink Leuchtturm1917 Master Slim–This started out as my 2017 Bullet Journal, but it proved too large for toting around. The 5×8 version (top) fits nicely in any purse or bag. I consider this my Journal of As Yet Unrecognized Possibilities.

For somebody who only owned one non-spiral bound notebook six years ago–the Red HC Moleskine–I’ve certainly made up for lost time. What you don’t see are the notebooks for my last three novels, the Bliss House Trilogy, because I’ve archived them.

As a young writer, I wasn’t much of a journaler. I wanted to write, but I was too embarrassed to write down things that might look silly to other people and carried around my ideas in my head. Of course, journals are meant to be private. I have no idea who I thought would want to even peek at my journals. The words were hardly titillating, the ideas tentative and unpolished. It’s not like I kept money or passwords between the pages.

But now that I’m a woman of a certain age, journals have become critical tools. Not only do I have more pressing/interesting  ideas, I also have a memory like a sieve. Journals are my full-body, writerly Spanx. They keep everything tucked in and looking, if not good, at least organized.

I’ve become very attached lately to the notion of ideas floating from writer to writer, looking for the right one to tell the story. It’s an idea I first read of in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She talks about starting to write a novel that had been sort of pestering her–but she struggled, and it just wasn’t happening. So she temporarily shelved it. But then she talked to novelist Ann Pachett, who described her own work-in-progress. And the ideas were nearly identical. But Pachett’s book was going very well, and she later finished it and sold it.

By writing ideas down, I hope to tether them at least for a while. Collect them, live with them, let them nurture themselves with the attention I can give them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone back to the pages of that Red HC Moleskin when I needed a quick idea fix.

Still, it’s a rather intimidating pile of notebooks. They don’t travel easily, and I’ve only recently gotten used to having the Bullet Journal always with me. For a while I tried an app called Wanderlist, but tapping reminders and notes into my phone makes much less of an impression on me than when I write things down. Then I forget to look at the app often enough.

Tell us how you keep track of your ideas and schedule. Do you journal? Or do you go the electronic route?

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What Would You Tell Kids About Writing?

I attended a high school Career Day in South Carolina yesterday, to talk about writing as a possible vocation. I hosted multiple, back-to-back discussions, each one covering different writing-related careers: journalism; fiction writing; and technical writing.

During the sessions about creative writing and being a novelist, I focused on the need to learn the craft of writing, the importance of connecting with the local writers community, and a few other things I wish I’d known when I was in high school. I was impressed by the questions the students asked. We discussed the nature of themes in novels, The use of pen names, and when/how many times to edit a working draft. I think there may have been a future writer or two in that group of bright, inquisitive students.

So, what kinds of things would you like to have known about writing, back when you were in high school?

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Who You Are and Who You Ain’t

From Larry Brooks… introducing you to an article by James N. Frey.

Chances are you’ve heard of James N. Frey.  He wrote one of the iconic writing craft books of all time, How to Write a Damn Good Novel (1987), which after three decades remains a consistent seller and presence on the craft shelf of most bookstores and collectors of writing wisdom.

He’s been very generous with me, relative to my own work, blurbing not only my own writing books, but also my fiction. But that’s not the sum total of why I like and respect the guy (which are separate criteria). He tells it like it is – something I’ve tried to emulate –  which in the polite company of the collective writing conversation is both a rare and refreshing clarifier among a plethora of vague and often contradictory and downright confusing advice (“Story Trumps Structure,” anyone?).

So today I’m rerunning an article he contributed to my site, Storyfix.com, some eight years ago, a piece that still comes up at conferences as something writers remember, and credit as a milestone in their own writing journey. I’m the first to line up with that response, because it’s one of the boldest, most cringingly accurate musing on the writing life I’ve ever read.

Who You Are, and Who you Ain’t

By James N. Frey

Did you notice, when you told your mother or father, sister, brother, or friend that you wanted to be a writer, the shocked, hurt, bewildered expression on their faces?  Spouses, upon hearing the news, often get ill or take to the bottle. Some start packing.

There are a lot of great quotes from famous writers on writing that tell of the struggle writers go through.  Supposedly Hemingway said that to be a writer all you have to do is “go into your room, sit in front of your typewriter…and stare at a blank page until blood comes out of your forehead.”

We all know what it feels like to have blood trickling down our forehead.  We all know there are days when the words will not flow from our brain to our fingertips, days when the most used key on the keyboard is the delete key, days when you think your mother was right — you should have taken the Post Office exam.  We all know days when we say, what the hell am I doing bleeding from my forehead when I could be…playing golf…or fishing…or playing frisbee with my dog.

Of course writers don’t play golf or go fishing or play frisbee with the dog.  Few writers even have dogs.  Who the hell has time for dogs?  Writers don’t go out to a lot of movies, or baseball games, or picnics in the park.  Writers don’t do much of anything but write, think about writing, or talk about writing.  We go into our little rooms, turn on our music, and turn on our machines and stare at the screen until blood comes out of our foreheads. That’s the writing life.  Not all that glamorous or glorious, is it?  Taken a day at a time.

And then after countless hours of agony writing, rewriting, workshopping, editing, getting critiques, reading books on craft — some of which are damn good — we try to get published and we find that bleeding from the forehead wasn’t all that bad. Now we’re getting banged on the forehead with rejection slips that hurt more than getting hit with a sledgehammer.

Anybody ever tell you your work was not right for their list?  What the hell that does that mean?  They have too many critically acclaimed bestsellers on their list?

How about they tell you it’s beautifully written…they loved your characters…you obviously have a lot of talent and a great future,  but, gee, it’s just not right for our list…we’re not taking on any new clients at this time.  Then why the hell did they say yes to your query letter?

We try to find out what’s wrong, so we go back to book doctors and writers’ workshops and hear that our work is boring or not right for the market, old-fashioned or too avant-garde, doesn’t fit the genre, or is too derivative, and we go back to our room and bleed some rewrite out of our foreheads.

These book doctors charge like hell — there go the kid’s braces — and so we try agents who charge reading fees to finance their trips to the French Riviera.

And then the big day comes and you finally get an agent who seems to really like your stuff. And after it makes the rounds to a couple dozen houses, you hear that the editor loved it, but the pub board said it wasn’t right for their list, that you write beautifully, they loved your characters, but your book, well, is not quite right for their list….

At least, your writer friends tell you, you aren’t still getting printed rejection slips made out to “Dear Author.”

You have by now disabused yourself of the notion that there is an editor waiting in a book-lined office to shepherd your book through the process of getting you critical acclaim and your rightful place on the New York Times bestseller list.

It may happen some day, but in the meantime you’ve found out the first big truth of the writing game — the publishing industry treats writers like shit on their shoes.

The price you pay for being a writer is high.

Read the remainder/entirety of Frey’s article HERE (the entire piece weighs in at well over 3,000 words, too long for this venue. You’ve just read the first 800 of them… the rest are well worth the time, in my opinion.)

Visit James’ website HERE.

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Four Ways To Make Your Novels Addictive

By Mark Alpert

Six years ago, after HBO launched the Game of Thrones television series, I decided to read the fantasy novels on which the series was based. I’d loved The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager, and thirty years later I reread the Tolkien classics with my son, so I was eager to try another author in the fantasy genre. And I wasn’t disappointed — I read all five installments of George R.R. Martin’s series within a few months (and some of those books were lonnnnnggggg). Then, like millions of other fans, I started waiting for Martin to write the sixth book. Out of principle, I refrained from watching any of the HBO episodes, because I didn’t want to spoil my enjoyment of the novels.

Well, a couple of months ago I got tired of waiting. The promised sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, may be published this year — or maybe not. Either way, the hiatus between books was so long that I’d completely lost the thread of the plot. Rather than reread all five of the previous novels, I thought I could refresh my memory more efficiently by watching the television episodes. This was a problematic choice, because the TV adaptation differs from the novels in many significant ways, so there was a chance I’d get more confused rather than less. (The books have a bewildering variety of characters and locales and plot twists.) But I decided to go for it.

And again, I wasn’t disappointed. If anything, I liked the TV series more than I liked the books. The HBO producers streamlined the plot and eliminated inessential characters and added visual and sonic depth to Martin’s imagined world. I watched all six seasons — sixty episodes in all — in about six weeks, which is a little sick when you think about it.

No, not sick. The better word is addictive. I couldn’t stop myself from reading the books or watching the TV episodes. And the defining feature of all addictions is the desire for intense pleasure. So the key to making your novels addictive is injecting moments of pure pleasure into the pages. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create Addictive Characters. In Games of Thrones, it’s Tyrion Lannister. In Confederacy of Dunces, it’s Ignatius Reilly. In All the King’s Men, it’s Willie Stark. In Catcher in the Rye, it’s Holden Caulfield. In Lolita, it’s Humbert Humbert. These are fascinating, perplexing, infuriating characters. Very often they’re not likable, but they’re always riveting. Sometimes they’re like hilarious drinking buddies — you want to spend all night with them, you just can’t get enough. And sometimes they’re like a horrible car wreck on the side of the highway — you don’t want to look, but you can’t turn away.
  • Imagine Addictive Scenes. Let’s talk about the famous Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, the third book in George R.R. Martin’s series. (Spoiler alert here, although who hasn’t already heard about this chapter?) The scene is constructed with so much delicious foreboding. The reader suspects that something terrible is coming, and so do the characters. That’s why Catelyn Stark immediately calls for bread and salt as soon as she and her son enter Lord Walder Frey’s castle; Catelyn is counting that the sacred traditions of hospitality will stop Lord Frey from harming the Starks after they’ve shared a meal as his guests. Afterwards, Catelyn is reassured and lowers her guard a bit, and so does the reader, but there are more ominous signs to come. The musicians at the wedding are terrible (because they’re not really musicians!) and many of the guests seem to be bulkily attired (because they’re wearing armor under their fancy clothes!) And when the trap finally springs and the knives come out and the musicians start firing their crossbows at the Starks, it’s both a surprise and an awful confirmation of our worst fears. (By the way, the bulky clothing trick figures in another great scene in contemporary literature, the passage in Mystic River where Jimmy Marcus’s goons get Dave Boyle drunk before Jimmy guts him.)
  • Write Addictive Sentences. How can you stop yourself from reading a book that starts like this: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Or how about this for an opener: “Hans Walther Kleinman, one of the great theoretical physicists of our time, was drowning in his bathtub. A stranger with long, sinewy arms had pinned Hans’s shoulders to the porcelain bottom.” (Okay, I’m bragging here. That’s the first paragraph of my first novel, Final Theory.)
  • Orchestrate Addictive Dialogue. Say what you will about Tom Wolfe, but the man knows how to write funny, realistic talk. Consider this exchange in Bonfire of the Vanities between the anti-hero Sherman McCoy and his unliterary mistress Maria:

“He couldn’t wait to tell me he was a movie producer. He was making a movie based on this play, Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, or just Marlowe, I think that was all he said, just Marlowe, and I don’t even know why I said anything, but I thought somebody named Marlowe wrote for the movies. Actually, what I think I was thinking about was, there was this movie with a character named Marlowe. Robert Mitchum was in it.”

“That’s right. It was a Raymond Chandler story.”

Maria looked at him with utter blankness. He dropped Raymond Chandler. “So what did you say to him?’

“I said, ‘Oh, Christopher Marlowe. Didn’t he write a movie?’ And you know what this…bastard…says to me? He says, ‘I shouldn’t think so. He died in 1593.’ I shouldn’t think so.”

Her eyes were blazing with the recollection. Sherman waited a moment. “That’s it?”

“That’s it? I wanted to strangle him. It was…humiliating. I shouldn’t think so. I couldn’t believe the…snottiness.”

“What did you say to him?”

“Nothing. I turned red. I couldn’t say a word.”

“And that’s what accounts for this mood of yours?”

“Sherman, tell me the honest truth. If you don’t know who Christopher Marlowe is, does that make you stupid?”

————-

I think every writer knows, at least on some unconscious level, whether his or her manuscript is working or not. If the book is entertaining the author as he or she writes it, then it’ll probably entertain a large number of readers as well. But if the author dreads writing the novel because it’s become a bore, then readers probably won’t like the book either.

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Ways to Add Humor into Suspense – First Page Critique: WOW

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

I have another first page critique. An anonymous author has submitted their first 400 words for critique at TKZ. It takes guts, folks. My feedback is below and please comment with your observations.

***

I levered the cork out of a bottle of Chardonnay and a bullet slammed into my back. Below the right shoulder blade. More to the center. That difficult spot where if you’ve got a rash or insect bite it’s impossible to scratch and not look like you’re having a spastic seizure. If I knew this was the night someone was out to kill me I would have brought something up from the cellar that was more unique than a domestic Chardonnay, even though it had a pleasant balance of oak to it. There was that Nieto Senetiner Malbec from Argentina, I was holding for a special occasion, for example.

Anyway, the chard went flying, the bottle hit my hardwood floor, didn’t break, the amber liquid flowed out. As for me, the impact of the slug jolted me forward. I tripped over my feet and did a full body slam on the deck.

There I was, face down, flat on a hard wood floor, my back hurt like hell and I heard heavy footsteps crunch their way over to me. We’re talking serious, heavy duty, outdoorsman leather soles here. All I was grateful for at this point is that I still wore my bullet proof vest from work. No, I’m not a cop, not a private dick sort of guy, no security guard, ex-military or something like that. I worked in a dentist’s officer. Name’s
Wowjewodizic, by the way.

I stayed still, bit the inside of my cheek to distract me from the pain in my back and waited. Waited for the, what’s it called, the ‘coup de – something or other,’ where the bullet enters the back of the skull and you don’t care where it goes next because you’re dead.

Then it occurred to me, this guy, or gal, probably not likely due to the heavy feet, didn’t use a silencer. This was a full on, make-a-lot-of-noise, gunshot. He wasn’t concerned about the blast drawing attention from the neighbors. Then again, my nearest neighbor was three miles away. And it was raining. It does that a lot in Portland, Oregon.

FEEDBACK

OVERVIEW: This story feels like a cozy mystery with liberal use of humor through the first person voice of the protagonist. in this scene, someone is shot and yet I don’t feel any danger. In the first few lines, the reader learns the protagonist is shot and yet there is far more importance placed on the awkwardness of an insect bite.

I levered the cork out of a bottle of Chardonnay and a bullet slammed into my back. Below the right shoulder blade. More to the center. That difficult spot where if you’ve got a rash or insect bite it’s impossible to scratch and not look like you’re having a spastic seizure.

The author voice detracts from any suspense. If the point is the humor, I would think a whole book would make it a challenge to get through, at least for me. I want a plot to follow and characters I care about when they’re in real danger. In suspense/mystery/thrillers, I prefer a more subtle use of humor. At the foundation of every story needs to be a solid plot with escalating stakes and conflict.

STICK WITH THE ACTION – The action of the protagonist getting shot is completely masked by the mental meanderings of the voice, making leaps between wines, insect bites, the gender of the shooter by how weighty the footsteps are, and Portland weather.

In this intro, there’s a seesaw effect of telling a bit of the story, then wading into a distraction of backstory or awkward asides told through the voice of the character. It gave me the feeling of constantly treading water until I’m exhausted, trying to figure out what the story is about. When distractions outweigh the plot, a reader can lose track of the plot and not finish a book.

SETTING – There’s very little setting written into this excerpt and it takes awhile for the reader to piece together where the protag is. A wine cellar is mentioned, but it’s not until the protag mentions “my hardwood floors” that the reader sees he could be at his home. There are subtle ways to add setting without hindering the pace if the descriptions are part of the action. As a reader, I like to get a feeling for setting in books I enjoy.

LINES BEST USED IN DIALOGUE – The line below is an example of how the author could have stuck to the action of the shooting, yet gotten the humor across through dialogue with another character. Witty repartee with a detective, for example, would allow the author to pepper in humor without overdoing it.

If I knew this was the night someone was out to kill me I would have brought something up from the cellar that was more unique than a domestic Chardonnay, even though it had a pleasant balance of oak to it.

FIRST PERSON/GENDER & RAMBLING NARRATIVE – It’s not until this line (toward the end of the 3rd paragraph) that the reader knows the protag is a man–only 3 words. As a practice, I like to get the gender straight at the start whenever I write first person. I love the intimacy of that voice, but there are challenges to it. In the case of this excerpt, I think the author absolutely listened to the protag and wrote down every word they heard in their head, but in first person, you have to direct the action and what you want revealed about your character. It’s too tempting to ramble away from the plot.

No, I’m not a cop, not a private dick sort of guy, no security guard, ex-military or something like that.

RUN ON SENTENCES – I found these sentences hard to follow and the punctuation bothered me. I understand the need to write quicker thoughts in an action scene, but I don’t consider this an action scene with all the asides and random thoughts that detract from the flow. The author might consider breaking these sentences apart. Rather than one long sentence, it could make the writing flow better and improve the natural cadence.

There I was, face down, flat on a hard wood floor, my back hurt like hell and I heard heavy footsteps crunch their way over to me.

REALISM – I found it unbelievable that the protag would lay there and wait for the shooter to finish the job, while he’s trying to figure out ‘coup de – something or other,’ determine what gender has heavier footfalls, whether the shooter used a silencer, and the rainfall in Portland, Oregon.

TYPO – Unless this is an obscure job I’ve never heard of, ‘officer’ should be ‘office.’

I worked in a dentist’s officer.

USE OF HUMOR IN BOOKS

Many authors use humor in their suspense thrillers in various ways: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovich, Harlen Coben, Lawrence Block, Robert Crais, Elmore Leonard, John Sanford, to name a few. There are countless more who have found ways to add humor to their books. I’ve added an excerpt from one of Carl Hiaasen’s stories below. He and Janet Evanovich tip the scale more toward humor than suspense, but have developed a great balance and a loyal reader following.

Excerpt from Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl intro:

On the first day of February, sunny but cold as a frog’s balls, a man named Lane Coolman stepped off a flight at Miami International, rented a mainstream Buick and headed south to meet a man in Key West. He nearly made it.

Twenty-seven miles from Coolman’s destination, an old green Firebird bashed his car from behind. The impact failed to trigger the Buick’s airbags, but Coolman heard the rear bumper dragging. He steered off the highway and dialed 911. In the mirror he saw the Firebird, its grille crimped and steaming, pull onto the shoulder. Ahead stood a sign that said: “Ramrod Key.”

Coolman went to check on the other driver, a woman in her mid-thirties with red hair.

“Super-duper sorry,” she said.

What the hell happened?”

“Just a nick. Barely bleeding.”She held her phone in one hand and a disposable razor in the other.

“Are you out of your mind?” said Coolman.

The driver’s jeans and panties were bunched around her knees. She’d been shaving herself when she smashed Coolman’s rental car.

“I got a date,” she explained.

“You couldn’t take care of that at home?”

“No way! My husband would get so pissed.”

In this example, Hiaasen puts his serious minded characters in outlandish situations using his tongue in cheek humor to allow things to play out. He sticks with the action of a car crash (the disturbance) until the reader finds out what caused the wreck. The dialogue lines are funny, too. The humor is downplayed and yet very present and fluid. It’s how Hiaasen sees his story unfolding. His use of humor is subtle and becomes a thread that holds the story together and creates his author voice. The idea of placing very earnest characters into a complete farce, and yet allow them to confront things in a serious-minded way, it adds an element of the absurd that becomes funny.

WAYS TO ADD HUMOR

1.) Add a funny character, whether it’s the protag or a secondary character.

2.) Have your serious-minded characters confront absurd and escalating situations without seeing the humor themselves. They are facing life or death. Only the reader gets the joke.

3.) Know how to separate or add humor into a suspense/action scene. I recently wrote a scene where I didn’t expect there to be humor. My hero is in a shootout but he gets a cell phone call from a girl. What does he do? I wrote the scene all action, then came back to add in the moments where I thought he might realistically answer that call, without him looking silly or stupid. It gave insight into him and added unanticipated humor to a tense scene. I also underplayed the phone call and made it seem normal, until you see what he’s doing while he’s talking to her.

4.) Throw in the unexpected. Imagine your serious character getting jolted by something he or she never saw coming. How would they handle it?

5.) Develop witty banter between characters in conflict or dare to write characters with different kinds of humor. Pit an educated cynic up against someone with crude bathroom humor in a juxtaposition of character types. You’ll find these characters take on a life of their own in your head and it’s lots of fun to write. Making each voice distinctive in humor is key.

DISCUSSION

What do you think of the anonymous submission, TKZers? Any feedback?

 

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Public Speaking Tips

By John Gilstrap

Before I get to the real business of this post, allow me a moment to update you on the aftermath of a previous post.  Back on February 1, I posted an entry here recapping advice I’d received to work more with my Facebook page to post videos and other media that would potentially draw more eyes to my page.  Taking y’all’s advice to heart, I have now established my own YouTube Channel, on which I have posted and will continue to post short videos that offer an insider’s look into the publishing business.  So far, I’ve talked about the various steps in the editing process, advance reader’s copies and the role of a literary agent.  My intent is to post one video per week, with a maximum length of 4-5 minutes.  If you’re inclined to subscribe and tell your friends, I’d be most grateful.

Thus endeth the sales pitch. (Endith?)

Public speaking is a major part of a successful writer’s life.  Whether sitting on panels or asking questions from the audience, conducting a seminar or delivering a keynote speech, it’s helpful to master the techniques of delivering interesting information in an entertaining way.  I know a number of people who have made major improvements in their speech construction and delivery techniques through Toastmasters International. At the very least, Toastmasters helps those who are fearful of public speaking to wrangle their fears.

While there are countless moving parts in constructing and delivering any kind of speech, there are some inherently destructive practices and habits that can distract from or totally destroy an otherwise viable presentation, and yet are relatively easy to prevent.

Let’s talk about microphones.

Yes, you need one.  I don’t understand the common refusal to use a mic when one is available and offered.  It seems to be a point of pride among some to declare, “people can hear me without a microphone.”  Even when that’s true, a microphone makes you more easily heard.  Remember, you’re competing with the air handler, the whispers and cellophane crinkles of everyone in the room.  Then, there are the physics of it all.  If the room is carpeted and the ceilings are high, the sound pressure just gets lost or absorbed.  If the floors are wooden and the walls concrete, the echo muddles your words.  That’s why they offered you the mic in the first place.

Lavaliere, stand or handheld?  If I am the primary speaker, I vastly prefer a lavaliere mic over the other options, simply because I like to move around while I speak. My second choice is a handheld, for the same reason.  If the other options are not available, I’ll make due with a stand or lectern microphone.  But even with a microphone, there are significant limitations.

  1. Positioning. With a lav, I find the best position to clip the microphone is between the 3rd and 4th buttons of my shirt. That’s where they’re designed to be placed, so you don’t have to look down and speak into it.  Just project out to the audience as you would if you had no amplification.
    1. Neatness counts.  Okay, this is my personal bugaboo, but I hate the look of the microphone cord trailing from the mic to the battery pack.  Tuck that bad boy away so you don’t distract your audience.  Here’s a good short video that shows how to do that.
    2. If you’re doing an interview from a stage in front of a live audience and you have lapels to work with, be sure to mount the lav on the lapel that is closest to the other person.
    3. Remember that jewelry, name tags or any other objects that might hit against the microphone need to be secured.
    4. Important safety tip: If you’re miked up with a lav radio mike, be sure it’s turned off until you want it to be turned on. It’s always worth a second check before you go to the bathroom.
  2. With a handheld mic, remember that you have lost one half of your gesticulating ability.  If you’re pointing with it, it can’t do its job.
  3. Most podium microphones are aggressively directional.  When you look left or right–as you should, to keep everyone’s interest and attention–think of the microphone as the center of a ball and socket joint, always remaining the same distance from your mouth, regardless of the direction you’re looking.
  4. You still have to project and enunciate clearly.  Amplified or not, mumbling never works.

About the delivery . . .

Lose the PowerPoint.  I see too many presenters of all ilks using PowerPoint more or less as a script.  No matter how interesting your topic might be, your audience will stay with you only if your performance is at least as interesting.  If I’m ever elected king, an edict shall be passed that limits any PowerPoint slide to a maximum of ten words.  But if you must use it, keep a few things in mind:

  1. Make the slides an active part of the presentation. Make them worth reading.  For example, when I give my standard How-to-write seminar, immediately after I emphasize the point that there are no rules in writing, I cue the slide that reads, “But there are some very good suggestions.”  I let the audience get the joke, and then we move along.
  2. Videos work very well as PowerPoints, but it can be tricky getting them to run.
    1. No matter how many bajillions of times you have done a presentation, always take time to rehearse the slides and the transitions on the actual equipment you will be using.
  3. Talk to the audience, not to the screen.  The image is there, I promise. If you need a cue on where you are, use your computer screen as a TelePrompTer of sorts.
  4. Buy your own remote clicker and use it to advance your slides, and practice the transitions so you can keep talking even as the slides move.
  5. Assume catastrophic equipment failure, and have a backup plan to make your presentation without visual aids. It happens more than you’d think, and every time is a character-building experience.

Remember that it’s about the audience.  Even if people have not paid to attend your speech or the conference at which your speech is delivered, they are at a minimum paying with their time, and you accordingly owe them a show.

  1. Don’t poison the well before you begin.  This is more prominent among writers who speak than other groups I’ve dealt with.  It usually begins with something like, “I don’t do a lot of public speaking, so if I screw up . . .”  My thought at this point is always, “Then sit the hell down and don’t waste my time.”  If you know ahead of time that you’re going to suck, then do us all a favor and don’t start. Cede your time to someone who’s prepared.
    1. If the apology falls better into the category of the humble brag, keep that to yourself, as well.  If you kill up there, everyone will know and applaud, and if you die up there, they will likewise know yet still applaud.
  2. Know your subject and be well-rehearsed. Back when I was working my Big Boy Job, I delivered a lot of speeches, most of which were designed to be motivational. Think hundreds of times. And before each one, I always rehearsed the first five minutes and the last five minutes of the speech, usually out loud in the hotel room.  Once I got a presentation going, I could maneuver my way through the middle of the speech by feel, but I obsessed about getting the beginning and the end just right.

We writers are communicators, after all.  The only difference between writing and speaking is that with the latter, there’s only one draft.

Many of you do more public speaking than I. What have I missed?

 

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Night Terrors: Winning the Battle With Self-Doubt

“Writing fiction…is like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.” — Stephen King

By PJ Parrish

The new book is almost done. First draft, that is. I haven’t read it through since we started the thing more than a year ago. I am afraid to. I have this really bad feeling that it is a heaping, stinking, fetid, rancid pile of crap. I dream about it now, this pile of crap, almost every night, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I wake up in a sweat over it. My only consolation is knowing that I feel this way with every book. And that I am not alone.

Years ago, during one of my bouts of self-doubt, I read an entry on Lee Goldberg’s blog in which John Connelly talked about his own demons:

There is always that fear that this book, this story, is the one that should not have been started. The idea isn’t strong enough. The plot is going nowhere. I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and now have to try to find the right path again.

To which Lee responded:

This happens to me, too…but less often if I have a strong outline to start with (though an outline is no insurance policy against realizing 35,000 words into your book that it’s crap and you’re a complete fraud). In talking with other writers, I’ve noticed that the ones who hit the wall the most are the ones who make up their plot as they go along, preferring to be “surprised” by their characters and the turns in the story. Of course, this means the turns may lead to a creative dead end.

My night terrors are especially bad this time out for two reasons. We’re writing this book on spec with no publisher lined up. And both my sister and I have had some life intrusions lately that have knocked us off our usual book-a-year schedule, so we’re worried readers have given up on us and gone elsewhere.

Maybe there are writers out there who never have any doubts. Maybe Nora Roberts or Joyce Carol Oates never break out in a cold sweat at night. But I suspect there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of you out there who are in the same sweaty boat as I am. Because getting published is the easy part. (I know, those of you who aren’t don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.) Staying published is what’s tough. That means consistently writing good books that people want to read. And did I mention trying to always become a better writer?

Here’s Chuck Wendig on the subject of self-doubt. He’s my favorite go-to-guy when I am feeling alone and fraudulent:

You’re sitting there, chugging along, doing your little penmonkey dance with the squiggly shapes and silly stories and then, before you know it, a shadow falls over your shoulder. You turn around.

But it’s too late. There’s doubt. A gaunt and sallow thing. It’s starved itself. It’s all howling mouths and empty eyes. The only sustenance it receives is from a novelty beer hat placed upon its fragile eggshell head — except, instead of holding beer, the hat holds the blood-milked hearts of other writers, writers who have fallen to self-doubt’s enervating wails, writers who fell torpid, sung to sleep by sickening lullabies.

Suddenly Old Mister Doubt is jabbering in your ear.

You’re not good enough.

You’ll never make it, you know.

Everyone’s disappointed in you.

Where are your pants? Normal people wear pants.

You really thought you could do it, didn’t you? Silly, silly penmonkey.

And you crumple like an empty Chinese food container beneath a crushing tank tread.

There’s no easy way to cope with this. But here are some things I have found that have helped me over the decades. If you have some remedies, pass them on. We can all use the help.

  1. Talk to other writers. Be it through a critique group or at a writer’s conference, or just hanging out at blogs like this — make human contact with those who understand. One of the hardest lessons I learned was that, although writing is a solitary pursuit, it’s not a good idea to go it alone.
  2. Get away from your WIP.  Which is NOT to say you should abandon writing for days or weeks because it you do that you lose momentum and risk being exiled from that special universe you are creating in your head.  But it is a good idea, when you a stuck or in deep doubt, to feed your creative engine. Go for a good hike (leave early and take the dog). Read a good book or better yet some poetry. Go see some live theater  or a concert. You will come back refreshed. It’s like doing a crossword puzzle: You can sit there and stare at 19-across for days and not get it, but if you put the puzzle down for awhile then pick it up, you see the pattern and can move on.
  3.   Stay in the moment.  Don’t project your fears forward or your regrets backward: What if I spend the rest of the year working on this story and it turns out to be a heaping pile of poop? What if no editor ever buys it? What if I only sell four copies on Amazon? If only I had started doing this when I was younger or before I had kids (or fill in the blank) I might be successful by now.  As a therapist friend of mine once told me: If you stand with one leg in the past and the other in the future, all you’ll do is piss on your present.    
  4. Don’t be afraid to fail.  Because you will, at some time and at some level. If you spend all your energy worrying about this, you will never be a writer. Failure can often lead you in new directions. Margaret Atwood took a vacation to work on her novel but six months later, she realized the story was a tangled mess with “badly realized characters” and she abandoned it. But soon after that, she began her dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale. As she put it:

Get back on the horse that threw you, as they used to say. They also used to say: you learn as much from failure as you learn from success.

For you penmonkeys who’ve been at this gig for years, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you just starting out, this is what awaits you: Days spent staring at your computer screen, deep in thought and doubt. You will run on cold coffee and warm faith. And you will have nights spent twisting in damp percal. What can I tell you? Yes, you will have self-doubt, so you learn to push though it and persevere. I offer the same two words of advice I give to my youthful female friends about menopause: cotton pajamas.

 

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