04 Jul

5 Writing Lessons from the 4th of July

Posted in Process, Tips, Writing

In light of today’s holiday, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the 4th of July means.  In doing all this thinking, I realized that there’s a lot we writers can learn from the 4th of July and the founding fathers.  Here are a few things I learned this weekend.

1) Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. We hold these truths to be self-evident… What the founding fathers were really saying when they wrote that was: “What we’re about to say is brutally obvious, but it bears repeating anyway, so listen up.”  They weren’t afraid to state the obvious, and we shouldn’t be afraid either.  Remember, while you may know the world of your story inside and out, your readers aren’t privy to all those details unless you tell them.  Don’t be afraid to give your readers all the details they need to get immersed in your world.

2) Keep it short and sweet. At the same time, don’t go overboard with the mundane details.  Remember the Declaration of Independence is a one-page document.  OK, so it’s a big page, but still it’s not a tome the size of a dictionary.  The founding fathers knew to keep their writing short and to the point.  If a detail is not important to your story, take it out!  Who was it that said “Kill your darlings?”  Well, pull that revolver down from the mantlepiece and start shooting.

3) Put it in writing. The founding fathers didn’t just sit around talking about freedom and independence and all that good stuff; they made decisions and wrote them down.  The same is true with our own writing.  Sure, we can get together with writer friends and chat about craft or talk about our stories, but sooner or later we have to shut up and write.  Remember, you can fix just about about anything in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page.

4) Give it room to grow. Even our beloved Constitution wasn’t perfect the first time it was written out.  (Um, that’s why we have amendments, right?  The founding fathers didn’t get it right the first time so they tried again.  And again.)  If the Constitution had been drafted as a perfect, flawless document, it would be static, stuck in time and not open to interpretation.  As we have it, the founding fathers implemented a way to make changes and gave the Constitution room to grow and evolve.  Give your own writing that same gift.  Sure, it might seem nice in theory to draft a perfect novel on the first try, but if you give it room to breathe, you’ll discover something truly wonderful that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

5) Celebrate with fireworks. At the end of the day, writing is hard work and when you hit a milestone (the end of a chapter, the end of a section, the end of a draft) you have to celebrate.  When all is said and done, light some fireworks (metaphorical ones, of course… I don’t want anyone messing up their writing hands) and celebrate!


30 Jun

Stories for Sendai

Posted in Reading, Tips

When I heard about J.C. Martin was publishing an anthology of short stories to help the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I knew I was looking at something special.  Some of you may remember J.C. Martin as one of the DIY MFA TAs, and together with her co-editor Michelle Davidson Argyle, she’s put together a fabulous collection of stories.  To purchase your copy, go here.  For more information about STORIES FOR SENDAI, visit the website.

Today J.C. shares some insider secrets on how to get an editor’s attention.  She gives some great tips on how to increase your chances of getting your work noticed, all based on her experiences putting together this anthology.  Thank you J.C and Michelle for including iggi&gabi on your blog tour!  And now, without further ado, here’s J.C.

How to Up Your Submission’s Chances of Getting Accepted

We’re really excited to be here on Iggi & Gabi’s blog on the release day of our charity anthology, Stories for Sendai! We are hoping to raise as much as we can to help the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, so why not purchase a copy of the anthology today to help boost Stories for Sendai’s rankings in the Amazon charts, and to further increase our exposure?

Gabi suggested that people may be interested in learning about the editorial aspect of compiling the anthology, predominantly the process of selection: how did we pick our accepted entries? What did we look for? What didn’t we like? It occurred to us that this information might be useful for anyone considering submitting their work to magazines and anthologies, so we were more than happy to share what we know!

Selecting the entries was probably the hardest part of the whole project! We received so many fantastic stories and poems, we were forced to be ruthless with our choices, picking only the best of the best. What a challenge that was! But every entry that went straight into the ‘yes’ pile will have satisfied most (if not all) of the following criteria:

The story fits the required theme. Apart from the obvious aim: to raise money in aid of victims of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we also wanted the stories in this anthology to be morally uplifting, to reflect the quiet strength and tenacity of the Japanese people in the face of overwhelming odds and adversity. As such, all selected entries for the anthology have one thing in common: apart from the fact that they are all awesome, each one is themed around hope, survival, and the strength of the human spirit.

That was a theme we stipulated in our submission guidelines: we wanted stories that left us with a warm fuzzy feeling, or a tear in our eye. However, you’d be surprised at how many entries we received that clearly did not fit the theme, or had the theme jackhammered into what is obviously not a piece of work written specifically for the anthology, but something that had been sitting in the writer’s drawer or computer folder for ages, that they decided to dust off and send in. It is annoying to receive entries like that, as it wastes both the editor’s time and yours.

The story is surprising. We’re big fans of the surprise ending. It’s a skill to be able to include a plot twist within the confines of a short story. Predictable storylines lull us into ‘skim-read’ mode—we already know the ending, so quit the preamble already! Endings with a “Woah, I didn’t see that coming!” factor will always grab the editor’s attention!

The story is unique. The beauty with short stories is that you can write just about anything, so go on—surprise us! Because of our stipulated theme, we received a load of entries about people living with terminal diseases—not only were they depressing, they’re cliché. Editors like it when writers think outside the conventional box. Wow us with something different!

If your story isn’t unique, you’ll need to pull out all the stops to impress us—beautiful prose, flawless writing, and something unexpected—yes, if you’re telling an old story, make sure you do it in a new and unique way!

The story is believable. Even fantasy stories about other realms must have a touch of realism to it. If we start thinking “That character wouldn’t do that!” or “Isn’t that a convenient coincidence!”, then there are inconsistencies in the story that has to be addressed.

The story is well written. Every writer will eventually develop their own writing style and voice. This can only come with practice. There is no use trying to write in the style of Ernest Hemingway when you’re a Stephen King; your prose will end up looking forced. Good writing, be it a lyrical piece of literary fiction, or short, simple prose in a commercial work, will flow well, effortlessly displaying the writer’s true voice.

Just remember: there is a fine line between amateurish writing and purple prose.

The story is proofread. Basic errors in SPG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) pees us off. A glaring typo jars us from the story, and awkward punctuation and sentence structures will prevent readers from completely immersing themselves into your story. Additionally, it smacks of unprofessionalism and laziness: if you can’t be bothered to make sure your work is as polished as it can be before submitting it, why should we give you the time of day?

The story is formatted according to our submission guidelines. We have been kinda lax with this, but it does rub some editors up the wrong way if they specifically asked for Times New Roman and you send in a piece of work entirely in Comic Sans. Correct formatting just makes life much easier for us in the publication stages, when we sort out the format and layout of the entire book. It may sound harsh that your work might be rejected just because it’s a bit too much work to format correctly, so play it safe and give the editors what they asked for.

And finally…

The story ‘feels right.’ If a story has satisfied all the above criteria, what really sells it for us is that feeling in our gut that tells us that this story is something special. It may be subjective, and sometimes entries can be like Marmite: you either hate it or love it, but we know we’re on to a winner when a story resonates with us!

Well, that’s it! We hope you found this information useful, and good luck with all your future submissions!

For an extra edge, why not try and win a critique of your short story, first chapter, query or synopsis? Just purchase a copy of Stories for Sendai and email us a copy of your receipt to be entered for the draw! Not only could you win a prize, you’ll get a lovely book of wonderful stories, and you’ll be helping the people of Sendai! Visit the Stories for Sendai website for more details of the contest!


08 Jun

3 Things I Learned about Writing at Disney World

Posted in Tips, Writing

The weekend before BEA, lawyer-hubby was off from work for a few extra days and we decided to take an impromptu vacation.  We could only take a few days and I was dying to bond with my inner kiddo so we decided to hop down to Orlando and spend the weekend at Disney World.  Little did I know I’d be getting an awesome lesson on writing.

The Disney theme parks are all about creating an overall experience.  Every detail, every design element serves the greater goal.  As writers, there’s a lot that we can learn at those parks that can help enhance our own writing.  Here are three lessons I learned about writing at Disney World.  These lessons in particular came from the Animal Kingdom park.

1) Pay attention to details. At the Disney parks, every detail means something and serves a purpose.  In the Animal Kingdom park, even the cement walkways are stamped with leafy patterns so that it looks like you’re walking on the jungle floor instead of pavement.  The cement gets the job done and there’s no functional reason for the leafy patterns but this simple detail adds to the overall experience, making us feel like we’re really there in the jungle.

Put it into action: When you write, make sure every detail in your work serves a purpose and supports the greater goal of your piece.  If a detail doesn’t pull its weight, consider leaving it out so that you can spotlight the more important details of your piece.

2) Hide the message. One of the activities available at Animal Kingdom is the Kids’ Discovery Club. Kids get a passport that guides them around the park to various sites where they can participate in educational activities and learn about wildlife and conservation.  Once they complete the educational activity, they get a stamp.  If they collect stamps from all the activity sites, they get a special bonus.

Put it into action: Making the educational component into a game hides the educational message makes the activities fun.  In writing, we must do the same thing.  If the educational message or “moral” of the story is too obvious, it can be a turn-off for readers.  If you have a message you want to convey, find a way to do it so that it fits seamlessly into the story and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself.  Make the educational component fun and kids are more likely to engage in story.

3) Stay in character. When I was waiting in line for the safari ride, I asked the attendant how long the ride was.  He responded: “Two weeks.  The safari lasts two weeks.”  I raised my eyebrows and he chuckled.  Lowering his voice he added: “Anywhere from two weeks to twenty minutes.”  I mention this small interaction because one of the things that the Disney parks are known for is how all the people who work there are not actually employees, they’re “cast members.”  Whether they walk around in a Mickey Mouse suit or sweep up spilled popcorn on the sidewalk, they are part of the “show” and they have to stay in character.  This attendant at the safari ride is a perfect example because even in answering a simple question, he played it as part of the show.

Put it into action: Remember to keep your characters consistent and always in character.  If your character does something contrary to his or her personality, it has to be for a good reason.  Make sure that if you let someone in your story break character, it makes sense and there’s a good reason for it.

More writing tips coming soon! I have many more writing tips I picked up on that weekend trip, but if I listed them all here, this post would be gigantic.  Stay tuned for more writing tips and have iggi-rrific day!


19 May

BEA Survival Tips

Posted in Conferences, Tips

This post is co-written by me and Melissa Paris (Missy), who’s been doing the fitness series called Feel Better Write Better.  For more information about Melissa Paris, check out her blog and her Facebook page or connect with her on twitter (@Melissa_Paris).
The internet is filled with great posts giving BEA-related tips.  I recently did a BookExpo America round-up where I listed the posts I found most helpful.  Many of these posts give great advice on figuring out the logistics and getting the most out of BEA, but not all of them talk about ways to keep your mind and body healthy during that crazy week.  OK, maybe you think I’m being melodramatic, but only someone who has attended or worked at a trade show in the Javits can fully understand the utter chaos that it entails.  Here are some tips to help you keep your mind and body healthy while you’re at BEA.
BEA Survival Tips

•  Wear sneakers or shoes with good arch support.   Do not wear flats, or *gasp* flip-flops. Shoes with a little bit of a heel are easier on your feet than flats.

•  Avoid carrying heavy loads for a long periods of time.  Switch shoulders when carrying that heavy bag of books or put the bag down while standing in long lines.  When lifting that heavy bag, try not to hunch over but bend down with your knees.

•  Bring a small rolling suitcase and use the available suitcase check.  Store your books in your suitcase periodically so you don’t have to carry so much in your shoulder bag the whole time. 

•  While standing in line, don’t lock your knees.  Keeping your knees slightly bent is actually better for your posture and will make waiting in line less exhausting.

•  Take a break and go to at least one of the conference talks.  Not only will it give you a chance to sit down for a little while, but it will also let your mind rest from all the over-stimulation from the Javits Exhibit Hall.

•  Stop to refuel.  Take a break for lunch if you can.  Also, bring snacks that are easy to carry and eat on-the-go but also pack a nutritious punch.  Trail mix is a great snack, especially a mix with walnuts and dried cherries.

•  Stay hydrated.  Take a small bottle of water and refill it several times throughout the day.

•  Don’t attempt a long walk home.  The Javits Center is FAR from pretty much everything in NYC.  At the end of a long day, splurge on a taxi or take a Javits shuttle to your hotel.  If your home or hotel isn’t doesn’t have shuttle service from the Javits (check here), you can always take the shuttle to one of the hotels that does have service and take the subway or city bus from there.

•  Don’t take it personally.  A trade show at the Javits is kind of like the Bermuda Triangle: it can drive people a little crazy and make them behave like they’re not themselves.  You have to understand where everyone is coming from, though.  Exhibitors are trying to promote books and make connections with clients.  The buyers and other attendees are trying to make the most of the show and cover as much ground as possible.  Everyone’s a little frantic.  Sooner or later someone is bound to say or do something that will rub you the wrong way.  When that happens, don’t take it personally.  Chalk it up to the insanity, take a deep breath and let it go.

Do you have any trade show or BEA tips to share?


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