Monday, October 1, 2018

October 2018 - How long does it take to become a published author?

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

This month's question is
"Is it a matter of talent vs. craft in becoming a published writer?"

Two things about talent— 1) Talent cannot be taught, and 2) talent will take a writer only so far. 

As to the writing craft? Craft can be taught and the devices and techniques can be learned. But—and you knew there was going to be a but, right?—the kicker is that it takes time to learn craft because craft enhances talent and liberates creativity. 

Oddly enough, there are writers with the highest ability and degree of talent but who don't write. And then there are those writers who strive for years to learn story, to learn writing craft, techniques, and devices who succeed as published authors and storytellers. So, what's the difference in the two groups? It's desire and drive.

Or at least that used to be the norm. Actually, these days anyone who writes anything can self-publish overnight. Craft and good storytelling isn't in such an equation. The proof is in the 4,500 books a day that glut the marketplace.

If you want to write well and tell a story well, sell books that readers will thoroughly enjoy, you'll need to understand how much talent you were endowed with and weigh it against your desire to tell stories vs. the quick, overnight fantasy of becoming "a rich and famous author." 

To enthrall readers and sell books means putting in the writing time and learning how to overcome your talent weaknesses. How much time? Figure a million words and The 10,000 Hour Rule.

What is The 10,000 Hour Rule? Simply stated, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of work—hard work—and diligent practice—in any field to become accomplished. This doesn't make you the best, but it certainly does make you highly skilled and savvy.

It doesn't matter if the field is sports (like swimming, dressage, or soccer) or a particular profession (veterinarian, surgeon, or engineer), it takes time to learn skills. It takes time to practice and experiment with techniques and devices. It even takes time to digest the failures because those provide valuable knowledge and insights.

Because there are 144 aspects to a novel, and no one can learn everything overnight, The 10,000 Hour Rule for a writer translates into roughly five years. However, that only makes a writer "accomplished." To make the expert-author league, triple or quadruple that. Yes, there are those one-in-a-billion people who become overnight successes. If you're one of them, more power to you. The rest of us, well, we take the long and winding road to success.

Here's the thing, writers are basically self-taught. They learn by reading how-to books, attending workshops, taking courses, actively interacting (talking) with successful writers, and getting reliable feedback on their works in progress. And they write and write and write. As Sol Stein said, "A writer is someone who cannot not write."

Unfortunately, because of the ease to vanity publish* with Amazon or Smashwords and others, far too many writers skip the learning aspects of fiction and storytelling. What further complicates things these days is that the burden of quality and comprehension falls squarely on the shoulders of the writer. Just ask readers. And don't forget, readers who sample poor-quality stories don't usually buy another book from that author.

So, I encourage you to take the time necessary to learn and become a terrific storyteller.

* To Vanity Publish means paying a company a fee, or full costs, or giving them a percentage of sales to produce books, videos, music, academic journals, or other works. (In my opinion, has for many first-time writers become their vanity publisher.)

~~~~~~~~~~ November 2018 — The Inciting Incident (where the story really begins)



Sunday, September 2, 2018

September 2018 - How to Start a Blog (why and when)

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is — 
"Should I blog before I finish my first book or after?"

The reality is that you should have begun blogging before you wrote the first draft. Why? Because you need a readership to tap into when you do publish or are published. The experts say that for success, you'll need a following of 1,000 people before you launch a book. That's a truly daunting task if you wait until after the book is out in cyberland.

The most popular blog venues are Blogspot and Wordpress. For the record, I prefer using Blogspot ( ) which, thankfully, ties into my hub website ( I also have a Wordpress blog but I don't like it as well as the Blogspot one. The reason I ended up with a Wordpress blog is that someone had already taken the name Jewels of the Sky ( at Blogger. Which brings me to advising you to google your name and the name for any blog you want to set up so you can find out if it has already been taken.  

When setting up your blog, strive to keep the name for the blog as short as possible. Doing so cuts down on typing the link as well as enabling your followers to find your blog as fast as possible. 

As to frequency of blogging, that's a quandary. Two things to consider are: 

1) how much content can you produce and on what time schedule? What happens when you run out of topics (if writing a daily blog, that's 352 days a year and 352 different topics).

2) who are your readers? Will they love or hate being pestered daily, weekly, etc.? So, when is the best time to engage with your followers or your potential followers?

Choices in frequency of blogging are daily, weekly, bi-weekly, tri-weekly, monthly, quarterly, only on the first (or fifteenth) of a month, only on Tuesday and/or Thursdays, etc. It's up to you, the time you have available, and who your audience will be.

One other aspect about blogging to consider is becoming a Guest Blogger, that is, you become the "guest" and are featured on other people's blogs. That I enjoy doing. [And, yes, if you would like me as a guest at your blog, feel free to contact me.]

The sooner you start blogging, the sooner you work the kinks out of the process and gain loyal followers who'll help sell your book when you do have it published.

Of course, blogging isn't for everyone, but it is a basic necessity for an author. It also counts as "social media," which editors, agents, and publishers consider part of an author's platform.

Blogs and blogging is a broad and controversial topic, so I can't go into great detail with this post, but here is a link to a post that I found very informative and which mirrors my own views on blogging.

****October 2018 — Is it a matter of talent vs. craft in becoming a published writer?
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

August 2018 — Misplaced Modifiers are laughable and the bane of writers

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "Critiquers have nailed my writing for misplaced modifiers. How can I recognize them and stop making this mistake."

Misplaced modifiers are common grammatical errors where a clause, phrase, adverb, or adjective is inappropriately separated from the word it modifies or describes. This type of error often happens during the heat and speed of drafting a story. This post will be about misplace modifiers— not dangling modifiers, which is a subject unto itself. 

Whether a misplaced modifier comes at the beginning of a sentence or later in the sentence, the result is awkward— often illogical,  unintentional, even humorous— imagery when read.  For example: 

Misplaced Modifiers— 

CLAUSES— at the beginning of a sentence (notice this is an introductory clause)— 

After fixing the prairie schooner's wheel, the horses pulled the load down the road. (Can horses fix wagons wheels?)

PHRASES— at the end of a sentence—

Marsha noticed the fence behind the house made of barbed wire. (A house made of barbed wire?) 

Or even, John spotted the airplane using binoculars. (An airplane using binoculars?)

ADVERBS—Misplaced use of adverbs often changes the meaning of a sentence. The most common "Red Flag" adverbs to look for are only, just, nearly, merely, and almost. Examples include— 

Just Marsha was picked as prom queen. 
      Marsha was just picked as prom queen. 

      John only donated ten dollars to the camp fund. 
      Only John donated ten dollars to the camp fund.

ADJECTIVES—Like adverbs, placing an adjective in the wrong position changes the meaning and imagery of a sentence:

Marsha ate two slimy bowls of spaghetti. 
      Marsha ate two bowls of slimy spaghetti.

Catching misplaced modifiers— be they clauses, phrases, adverbs, or adjectives— is best done by slowly reading the manuscript out loud and visualizing the actions, the cause-effect sequences, and being mindful of clarity. 

Since grammar checkers don't usually flag misplaced modifiers, it is helpful to go old-school and diagram the sentence that has been flagged for a misplaced modifier. For example— 

Coated with ketchup and mustard, I enjoyed the

Actually it was the hamburger that was coated in ketchup and mustard. Diagramming the sentence nets— 

Remember, readers are not mind readers, they only have the words on a page to go by. It is in the revision process that you can more clearly look at what you wrote and get the words right.

P.S. Feel free to share one or two of your misplaced modifiers and brighten my day.  

******Next month -  September 2018 — How to Start a Blog (why and when)

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

July 2018 — Preplanning for NaNoWriMo (a Project Bible)

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "I want to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. Any tips to make the writing go more smoothly or help me achieve my word count?"

You are wise to begin planning now for NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month, because it can save you countless revisions and rewriting as well as avoid a story that dead-ends or one that goes off on tangents.

When it comes to writing a story, I truly recommend doing as much preplanning (and thinking) as is possible based on the idea and characters that have been conjured by the imagination. 

I am also an advocate of writers embracing "structured creativity," which doesn't limit but liberates creativeness. 

Structured creativity can be as simple as having a personal Project Bible to keep track of and ensure a story comes alive (which nets fewer mistakes when drafting). That Project Bible could be nothing more than reminders, forms, or check-off lists. You see, by my count, there are 144 aspects of a novel. Unless you have a genius mind with total recall, how can you possibly keep tract of all that information about story, plot, characters, setting, time lines, etc.? Most writers can't. I certainly can't. But having a "guide" and "reminders" is a godsend to creativity and generating a completed story that readers will pay money for. 

Again, now is the best time to begin your process, to think about your story, your characters, the theme, the plot, etc. and jot down the bones of the story. That way, when November comes, you have a better chance of completing a worthwhile tale. 

*** August 2018 topic — Misplaced Modifiers

Get your stories written - take the course - 

Become a producing writer of quality fiction -

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Friday, June 1, 2018

June 2018 — Pros and Cons of Writing Every Day

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "What are the pros and cons of writing every day?"

Most writers have heard the adage that writing is a muscle—you have to write every day to build that muscle. 

Sure it's wise to set aside time to write because, as E.B. White said, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."

Now, the pros and cons of writing daily is not as simple as you might think. 

Writing boils down to the psychology of self. It's desire versus commitment. It's work versus free-rein. It's the logical brain versus the creative self. And, as you may be aware from my past blog posts and the information in my guidebook, REVISION IS A PROCESS, logic will always—ALWAYS—trump creativity. And of course, life tends to sabotage the best laid plans. For instance, you intend to write for a hour on Wednesday morning. On that day you wake with a headache and fever that fogs your brain. You're too sick to write. Maybe it's something at work that trumps writing that day. Maybe it's a family problem or an errand that must be run that prevents you from writing. In the end, nothing gets written. You may even tell yourself you'll find another time to write. Then something else subverts that plan. That's when you realize you need to look inward and make a very important decision—to write or not write.

BICHOK (Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard) is a mantra many writers are told to embrace. It means making a commitment to write every day. It doesn't matter what you write, as long as you write. After all, daily writing strengthens and sharpens skills, it relieves stress, it helps articulate feelings. Writing daily also leads to developing analytical skills to puzzle things out logically and creatively.  

But BICHOK may also negatively impact a writer by giving them writer's block. When a writer cannot think of what to write, they often turn to investing in books or online resources for inspiration (writing prompts), which may or may not lead to quality writing that's marketable or to a great story.

In actuality, BICHOK is a terrible way to learn fiction writing skills or storytelling skills. Such skills cannot be adequately learned or discovered this type of trial and error. Besides, unlearning any bad writing habits developed with such trial-and-error writing will be very, very, very difficult to unlearn.

Do I advocate BICHOK or write every day? Well, I happen to be a proponent of Sol Stien who said "a writer is someone who cannot not write." If writing is in you, truly part of who you are, you'll find the time and a way to write, be it every day or by binging or by some other method that works for you. 

Capitalize on your inborn compulsion to write. Strive to understand what type of writer you are, set reasonable writing goals, and figure ways to work around life's interferences.

You are a writer who cannot not write, right?

***Next Month: July 2018 — Preplanning for NaNoWriMo (a Project Bible)


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