Author Archives: Writing Snippets

About Writing Snippets

Information for the beginning or aspiring writer about all things writing in the fiction world. Novels, publishing, etc. We feature author and other professional interviews.

My Problem (and a few tips)

By Ava Mylne

I have this problem.
I’ve written four full-length novels,
and written to the miserable middles of four more,
but I have yet to submit anything—seriously–for publication.
My problem?
Even after twenty years of practice, nothing
is ever good enough if it came out of my head.
I’m still learning, you see. I still don’t know everything.
No matter how well written something looks to me now,
I’m going to see it in another year and cringe at how flawed it is.
I don’t want to see my own literary flaws
immortalized on some bookstore shelf–
If I ever get that lucky.
I have a lot of very encouraging friends who tell me,
“Just keep trying,” and I do.
My back-brain tells me, “Just keep writing,”
and I will.
Someday I’ll be able to read my own writing
and judge accurately what needs to stay and what needs to go,
but for now, I rely on a dear friend:
Other people’s ideas.

So now, without further ado, I give you: Lauren’s List of Words to Eliminate! (Is this plagiarism? Now excuse me while I go do some editing.)

That
of
ing
ly
just
then
finally
like
as
sound of
made of
so, finally, of course
precisely, slowly, quickly, quietly, softly
all forms of to be
could, should, may, would, can linked to a verb
have, has, had, will, shall, might, must
The word “breathed”—or “hissed” or “growled’ or any other animal sound– used as a tag
amusement vs interest
stare or staring
names of animals–appropriate?
Names used where they should not be (mainly in conversation)

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Giving other writers a hand

Some of you may have already come across the wonderfully pithy and inspiring “Hand in Hand” photo gallery put together by the Wofford College Shared Worlds writing workshop this summer (a writing program for teens interested in speculative fiction). It’s a collection of photos of writing advice inscribed on the hands of various professional speculative fiction writers.

The entire gallery is worth checking out. Here are a few of my favorites:

Neil Gaiman

David Drake

Lev Grossman

Joe Haldeman

Karen Tidbeck

Go check out the whole gallery and share your own favorites in the comments.


The Places that Shape Us

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

This past week I had the opportunity to revisit many places from my past. My parents, after 32 years, are moving out of the home they raised me in and down-sizing their way into a town home in a retirement community. They live one sate away, and I drove with the whole family out to see the home one more time and to help them pack their three decades of accumulated stuff into boxes to prepare for the movers. My home town looks very much the same if you stay in the neighborhood of my childhood. The houses haven’t changed much – some are in need of repair, others have been well-maintained and updated. Some of the yards are well-kept, others less so. But the same was true during my youth. The only major change is that the trees are taller and there are a few extra cracks in the sidewalks. On the other hand, as I drove further afield, I noticed more and more changes. Old shops ripped down and replaced with new. Once-empty fields now filled to the brim with housing tracts. Bright new storefronts and restaurants. Even my old middle school had been completely demolished and replaced with a new building. The place I grew up in had continued to grow and change without me, as if it had a life of its own. It was more than a little disorienting.

Then, on the way home from our visit, we took a detour to the town my father grew up in, to see the old farmhouse once owned by my paternal grandparents. They’ve been gone for about six years now, and my uncle owns the house. I haven’t been back since he and my father decided to subdivide the old farm and turn it into housing lots. The house looks the same on the outside – the same red brick, surrounded by tall trees. The towering catalpa still casts shade over the driveway with it’s dinner-plate sized leaves, the old root cellar resting a few yards behind it. But the familiar fences and outbuildings of the old farm are long gone. Where once stood an old barn and granary there is now a row of ranch-style stucco-coated homes with SUVs parked in front drives and swing sets and propane grills standing in the back. The old bull-pen has been replaced by a street, and a round-about sits right about where another old shed once resided. The reality of progress has washed away the places of my memories, leaving only ghosts behind.

This nostalgia-filled journey got me thinking about just how much our sense of place informs our writing. I can set a story in a city, or a forest, or a frozen waste, or on a space-faring vessel, but in the back of my mind I see rolling fields and distant mountains – gullies lined with scrub and cottonwood – housing tracts and hay pastures standing side by side. Just how much of that makes its way into my writing? How does it inform the way I conceive the worlds I create?

In his study of the Apache sense of place, Wisdom Sits in Places, anthropologist Keith Basso writes:

“…places are perceived in terms of their outward aspect – as being on their manifest surfaces, the familiar places they are – and unless something happens to dislodge these perceptions they are left, as it were, to their own enduring devices. But then something does happen. Perhaps one spots a freshly fallen tree, or a bit of flaking paint, or a house where none has stood before – any disturbance, large or small, that inscribes the passage of time – and a place presents itself as bearing on prior events. And at the precise moment, when ordinary perceptions begin to loosen their hold, a border has been crossed and the country starts to change. Awareness has shifted its footing, and the character of the place, now transfigured by thoughts of an earlier day, swiftly takes on a new and foreign look.”

I’ve been seeing the places of my past as colored by this new and foreign look all week long. It makes me wonder how that disorientation of past memories colliding with present realities impacted Gimli when he stepped inside the mines of Moria, or how different Green Gables seemed to Anne when she returned from college with a new perspective, or how difficult it must have been for Odysseus to get used to his home after being away for so very long.

The interplay of one’s memories of a place with the alterations left by the passage of time is fertile ground for exploration in our writing. Now that I’ve had a taste of it in my own life it’s definitely something I’ll spend more time thinking about as I write.


Writing for a Living

Many fiction writers have to hold down day jobs, but most of us would rather write for a living. What does that really mean? Not living off of our fiction income – that’s a rare and special privilege held by a small percentage of writers. No, for most people, writing for a living means writing mundane things for money and fiction in our free time. Here’s a great info-graphic from The Write Life Magazine to help you start thinking about how you might be able to earn a living as a writer.

One word of warning – while writing for a living might give you more personal satisfaction than many other career choices, it might also burn you out on writing while working on your bread-and-butter writing and before you turn to your personal fiction projects each day. If you think you might fall into that trap, consider jobs that require minimal emotional input and/or give you space for daydreaming/project planning.

For instance, best selling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson spent several years as a night desk clerk at a hotel so he’d have plenty of time to work on his real ambitions while also bringing in an income. Not everyone can find jobs like these, or make them work with personal situations, but if you can, this might just be the right work for you.

What jobs have you tried out to facilitate your fiction-writing ambitions?


Writing Snippets Classics: Revision

In this classic podcast, first posted in May 2011, the Writing Snippets Crew discusses how we revise our novels (or don’t in some cases). We also touch briefly on the difference between short story, poetry and article revisions. Please note – the giveaway mentioned in this podcast is closed.

(about 23min.)

Download here (Right click and select “save link as” to download)


Writers group seeking new members!

The Writing Snippets crew is looking to add one or two new members to our monthly writers group. If you live in north Utah County or south Salt Lake County, or wouldn’t mind driving further afield once a month, you might fit the bill.

We meet one Saturday evening a month for anything from four to six hours. We all exchange 20 pages of material 1-2 weeks in advance for critiquing. We spend 1/2 of every meeting critiquing, 1/4 eating and visiting, and 1/4 having our own writer’s support group! We are seeking only serious writers – already published (self-published counts) or actively working toward publication (writing, editing, submitting, querying). If you fit that qualification and feel like that schedule and format would work for you, please email us at writingsnippets (at) gmail (dot) com. Include your name, a short writer’s biography, and any other information that you think would be pertinent. If you sound like a good fit, we’ll ask for a brief writing sample.

Even if this would be your second group, we welcome you to contact us.

And for those who live too far away for our in-person meetings, we are trying to figure out the logistics of starting a supplementary online-only critique group. We’re not sure what format this will take, yet, but we already have two interested writers. If there is enough interest, we’ll try to get something going by early this fall. If you are interested in an online-only group, please email at the above address and put “online writing group” in your subject line.

We can’t wait to hear from you!


Writers Supporting Writers

Hi, my name is Jocelyn, and I’m a burned out writer.

This is essentially an introduction that I could use at every one of my writing group meetings, and the other members feel the same way. Yes, we come for the critiques. We all need and value the critiques. But what I’ve discovered over my years of participation is that the support, encouragement, empathy and camaraderie are even more important.

Writer’s are odd ducks. We devote a great deal of our mental and emotional lives to people who don’t actually exist. Our occupation is solitary and often isolating. It’s easy to feel detached from reality at times, or frustrated that reality continues to intrude on our ability to flesh out the worlds in our minds. And then comes the frustration and hopelessness that sets in when we’re trying to sell the stories that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into, and we have to face the harsh reality that the children of our mind are now mere commodities that we have to pitch to potential buyers. Buyers who might not love them as much as we do.

If anyone needs a regular support group, it’s writers.

Though our group only meets once a month, it’s an occasion that I always look forward to and always benefit from. Before, after, and sometimes during critiques we vent our frustrations, air our concerns, rant about the industry and the challenges we all face both in our bizarre vocation and in our relationships as they are impacted by our writing. This chance to speak openly in an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance is one of the most valuable things in my life.

Because of our once a month schedule, we often have to look for secondary sources for more frequent critiques, such as online beta partners. But the interactions with online critique partners are never as uplifting or rejuvenating as those monthly “support group” meetings.

Even if you have several wonderful online critique partners, I highly recommend that all of you writers out there search for a local in-person writing group, or at least a few writers that you can meet with socially on a regular basis. The value of this mental and emotional support cannot be overstated.

If I didn’t have my group, I don’t know if I’d still be writing.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin


Tips from Pixar

By Jocelyn Nash Carlion

I’ve always admired the Pixar movie studio – not just for the brilliant animation, but for their wonderful storytelling. Pixar films consistently win more critical praise and more awards than any other animation studio not just because of their technical expertise but because of their focus on telling a good story, and telling it well. In my opinion they not only tell better stories than most family films, but better than most Hollywood films, period.

So, even thought it’s about a year and a half old, I was delighted to find this list of storytelling tips from senior story artists at Pixar, as compiled and tweeted by former Pixar story artist Emma Coats.

Here’s the complete list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Not all the tips will apply to you and your writing at this exact moment, but there are enough gems of wisdom on this list that something on it will probably resonate with you. Numbers 8 and 17 really speak to me right now. Which tips speak to you?


Recharging

by Ava Mylne

I’ve been praying for rain.

In a semi-arid climate, sometimes it gets so dry that the heat reflecting off the bricks of my home makes it almost impossible to keep things alive. Sometimes we get a good rain and my plants look visibly happier, but usually I have to drag out the hose and do it by hand. I also love the sun. Sources close to me have, on occasion, called me “solar-powered”.

I’ve discovered I write in the same way. Sometimes I can’t sleep for the stories running manic circles in my head, and other times I can go months without wanting to even check my e-mail.

I’m in a dry spell right now. How do I sit down and meet my writing goals when there is nothing in my head to write? When I don’t even want to write? When those times come, I find myself panicking, thinking, “Are there no more stories left for me to write? I something I love so much just over?”

So often I have seen friends do something they enjoy until it becomes a chore instead of a love, and it would break my heart if I ceased to love writing. I am also—fortunately–not in the position of having agents or editors breathing down my neck for the next installment. I have friends in that position as well. Is it blasphemous to say that right now I’m not sorry to be unpublished?

I’ve heard this state of literary inaction called “recharging”, and I have to agree with that assessment. I still love my stories. I still get way too excited about my characters, and talk about them ad nauseum to long-suffering friends and family. My characters still live and breathe in my head. But for now I won’t panic. I’ll just recharge. It’s part of the writing process. I’ll enjoy the dry spell in my head, and I’ll enjoy the heat of the sun, and when the rain comes back to douse my whole soul in limitless words, I’ll enjoy that too. And if enough time goes by, maybe I’ll get out the hose and do it by hand.


Where to Publish Short Fiction

by Jocelyn Nash Carlin

Over the past year and a half I’ve been spending more time away from my ongoing novel to try my hand at some short fiction. Short fiction can be a wonderful palate cleanser after months of being bogged down in revisions and editing, and if you are successful in publishing, it can be a great resume builder to add to the bottom of your query letters for your novels. Not to mention that getting your fiction in front of an audience and receiving financial compensation for it (no matter how small) is always a great confidence booster.

But, like many of you, I’ve been faced with the question: Where exactly can I sell my stories?

There are no literary agents as gatekeepers in the short fiction market – you send your work directly to the editors and let them make the buy/reject decisions. Which means you have to know who to send your fiction to.

In my online research I’ve found several helpful websites to get you started in your search for short fiction publication venues.

The first and mostly highly regarded place to find markets for your fiction is Duotrope, a site which not only has the most comprehensive and up-to-date listings for short fiction markets, they also have some submission tracking features and interactivity among members where they can share tips and experiences with different markets. But there is a downside – while Duotrope started out as a free service, after an initial free trial they now operate as a subscription service with a $5 monthly membership fee, or a discount if you join on an annual basis. Given how little short fiction markets pay, you could pay more for Duotrope membership than you earn for your fiction in an entire year. However, they really are the best, so if you have multiple stories ready to submit and you are determined and committed, this site is probably worth your money.

If you write speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror and the like), a fantastic free site listing short fiction markets is Ralan.com. This site lists markets according to how much they pay, from professional-rate markets on down to zero-pay markets. It is updated regularly and tries to stay on top of any announcements from markets as to whether or not they are open for submissions.

Another great place to start for speculative fiction short fiction is the list of SFWA qualifying markets. SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and they keep a list of markets where you can publish to help you qualify for membership in the organization. These markets are not only the top-paying speculative fiction markets, but will also get your writing the most exposure.

I don’t know as much about literary fiction markets, but I found a great list of short-fiction-market-resources on Absolute Write. This page includes links to many market-lists that should get you a very good start on finding the right places to submit your fiction. This article on Yahoo lists the top-paying/most exposure literary fiction markets. And author Cindi Myers is currently publishing a series of articles on more obscure short fiction markets on her blog. One of these resources will likely point you in the right direction to begin your search for a market.

From my experience so far, you’ll pile up rejections pretty quickly when you dive into the short fiction business, but each rejection I collect reminds me that I am working hard toward my goals. And once I finally get an acceptance, rather than a rejection, you better believe I’ll be back to toot my own horn.