Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Reviews: Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?


by Lillian Csernica on January 22, 2015

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About 2/3 of the new books I read, I read on my Kindle. When I’m finished, Amazon asks me for a star rating, then I get an email asking me for a review.

At the moment, the book I’ve started is so bad I doubt I’ll finish it.  My sense of fairness compels me to read the whole thing just so if I do decide to review the book, I will have given it a thorough examination.  I don’t have that much reading time these days, so I really don’t want to waste it on a book that reads little better than a second draft in desperate need of a copy editor.  What slays me is there are already two sequels ready and waiting. <facepalm>

Let me throw this question out to all of you:  In this brave new world of electronic self-publishing, what purpose are reviews really meant to serve?  I know I may be coming rather late to this discussion, but this is what’s on my mind and I value your opinions.

Reviews are helpful to authors in terms of promotion.  We all want to support each other, right? As a writer, I wouldn’t want to do any damage to a fellow writer’s sales by posting a negative review.  It’s said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I don’t know if I believe that.  If the Internet loves you, it really loves you.  If the Internet decides you should be run out of town on a rail, you’re in trouble.

Unfortunately, there are books out there with serious flaws.  If I’m going to write a review, I have to tell the truth about my reading experience.  I am a published novelist.  I’ve published lots of short stories.  I’ve been writing reviews for Tangent for a long time.  That means I am qualified to evaluate the quality of a story’s plot, characters, setting, tone, theme, and pace.  I know about magic systems and worldbuilding.  Certain historical periods are quite familiar to me.  Can’t say that I’m an expert, but I will give credit where credit is due even if I personally don’t care for the material at hand.

And yet I still feel conflicted.  As a writer and a reader, there are times when I am outraged at the half-witted slop churned out by “authors” who really think somebody out there might be willing to pay good money to read it.  I want to do all I can to support the “Caveat Emptor” school of thought when shopping for reading material online.

It does grind my gears to read reviews by people who either know nothing about the elements of good writing, or don’t know how to articulate what little knowledge they may have.  Shameless gushing in a review makes me suspicious.  Some people are not above stacking the deck in their favor.  Here’s the problem: when an inexperienced and uneducated writer recruits his or her fellow writers whose skill level is pretty much at that same level, nobody is going to do any real good by making comments because they just don’t know what it takes to write a better story.

What do you think about all this?

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, historical fiction, Horror, perspective, publication, Writing

The Top Five Writing Blogs I Read


by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2013

 

Kristen Lamb’s Blog — Sharp, personable, meaningful, and informative.  Deserves the title Social Media Maven.

terribleminds: Chuck Wendig — Raunchy, hilarious, heartfelt, and streetwise.

Hunting Down Writing — Full of resources, such as this excellent challenge.

Broadside — Witty, thought-provoking, a valuable perspective on whatever topic she chooses.

Leanne Shirtliffe — Ironic Mom — Just too damn funny.  Whether or not you’re a mother, you will enjoy the author of “Don’t Lick the Minivan.”

Click those links!  You’ll be glad you did!

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Z is for Zygoma


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2013

Most of the people you meet will have a zygoma. You have one. I have one. Supermodels are often known for their zygomatic arches. I have read one description of the zygoma as being slanted like the blades of a scissors.

Do you, at this point, have any idea what a zygoma is? If you’re not in some field related to medicine, it’s a safe bet that you don’t.

The zygoma is the cheekbone.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “What could the zygoma possibly have to do with writing technique?” I’m glad you asked that. The answer is simple.

  1. Do not use technical jargon unless you can create a context that communicates the meaning to the reader.
  2. You can explain the term in dialogue, but please don’t make it one character lecturing another. Dramatize!

It’s important to write vivid and realistic detail. If your characters have advanced degrees or they’re specialists in their fields, they will probably be using some technical jargon in their interior narrative, their dialogue, or any writing they do in the course of the story (journal, letters, memos, etc.). Context is everything.

Let’s make up a word: rumtinkflan.

Noun: My mechanic told me that it takes three weeks to get a rumtinkflan. There’s only one factory in Austria that still makes them.

Verb: If you try to rumtinkflan me again, I will take that serving fork and show you the color of your liver!

Adjective: The roses really are quite rumtinkflan this year, don’t you think?

Adverb: “Please, Jonathan, you can’t leave now!” she cried rumtinkflanly.

Yes, this is very silly. Does it make the point? I hope so. Put the technical jargon, foreign word, medical term, or invented jibberish into a context that gives the reader some clues about form and function.

This brings me to the end of the A to Z Challenge! Thank you all for joining me on this, my first blogging challenge! Please stay tuned for the Challenge Reflections post, where I shall give my post-game thoughts and analysis.

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Y is for Your Truth


by Lillian Csernica on April 29, 2013

Speak your truth. Tell us what you see, where you see it, how it feels, the sound of it, the taste in your mouth as you contemplate it. Your truth. Your take on that strange shifting prismatic place we call Reality.

Another way to say this is “Call ’em as you see ’em.” I warn you, this is dangerous. Are you willing to be that little kid who was silly enough to see what was right in front of him and said so, announcing, “The emperor has no clothes!” People don’t like it when you won’t abide by the established, agreed-upon, and above all NICE version of reality.

Your truth. Your voice. Your vision. Your style. Do you want to sound like all the other writers chasing the latest trend in publishing? Or do you want to speak the truth that burns inside you, that makes you restless and dissatisfied and compelled to write it down in whatever shape best suits it?

Speak your truth. Be authentic. Point out that mole on the emperor’s left butt cheek. Tell people what that birthmark looks like. Your words. Your ideas. Your style.

Your truth will set you free.

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X is for X Marks the Spot


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2013

You might not know it, but you’ve got a big X on your forehead. Might be black, might be red. It’s the X you see on treasure maps that marks the spot where the treasure is buried.

Flannery O’Connor said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Our memories are treasure, sometimes buried, sometimes not. As writers we have to dig into those memories, along with all the other thoughts, images, opinions, likes and dislikes and whatever else we’ve buried under that metaphorical X. We’ve all heard the rule about “Write what you know.” Let’s rewrite that: “Use what you’ve experienced!”

We’re all specialists in our own ways. Me, I know more about the history of Japan than my Japanese teacher does simply because of all the research I’ve done for my current novel. My best friend has advanced degrees in Marine Biology and Physical Anthropology. Those come in very handy when she’s writing science fiction. A formal academic degree isn’t essential. Hobbies and passions and family traditions can provide the basis for in-depth knowledge that adds those special details.

Try this. Sit down and write a list of all the subjects you know something about. Put down everything, from the complex process of bioengineering to the mucky details of unclogging the garbage disposal. It’s ALL valuable, because it’s all raw material for writing. You may well discover knowledge you didn’t know you had. I call that buried treasure!

Dig in. Dig deep. Gold and jewels await!

Buried Treasure: illustration of William "...

Buried Treasure: illustration of William “Captain” Kidd overseeing a treasure burial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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V is for Vigilance


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013

Many people do not understand those of us who choose to make our living through some form of art. Such people measure our success by how much money we do or do not make. They’ve got it backward. Sure, monetary success is great, but those of us who have suffered through the creative process and really understand the toll it takes know how to see things the right way around.

We don’t get paid for our art. We pay for the privilege of creating it.

Dancers sweat. Actors may start out as part of the stage crew while they work their way up to starring roles. Sculptors and potters and people who work in “found art” do exactly that: physical labor, over and over again, until what they’re creating matches the vision in their minds.

What about writers? We pay attention. Think about that. John Philpot Curran said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I say eternal vigilance is also the price of inspiration. Writers keep their eyes and ears open and their notebooks handy. We write down whatever image, scrap of conversation, or burst of intuitive plotting that pops into mind. Then we begin the complex process of growing a complete story or novel from those little seeds.

People talk about the writer’s Muse. She demands payment in attention, observation, vigilance. The Muse doesn’t just drop an idea on our desks all gift-wrapped and pretty. She often points the way toward someone or something that could be useful to us. She’s like a consultant, and consultants don’t come cheap.

Keep alert for all the beauties and dangers and oddities and funny moments and sorrows of the world. Paying attention is the start of how we writers pay our dues.

Be vigilant!

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S is for Sabotage


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2013

From Wikipedia.org:

Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. As a rule, saboteurs try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.”

Psssst!  Here’s one of the dirty little secrets of being a writer. There are people who don’t want us to succeed. Among them we can count the least likely suspects, our very own selves. Now why on earth would we get in our own way? Simple. It’s really hard to go on writing book after book after book. A lot of perfectly reasonable obstacles can get in the way, especially if we have work, kids, school, or other serious commitments such as being the caregiver for another family member. On a day to day basis, the little tasks that demand our attention can also gang up on us.  When we allow these little tasks to get in the way of our writing, they become avoidance behaviors. We want to get today’s writing done, yet we rush off to fold laundry, answer the phone, groom the pet, trim our toenails, etc.  This is self-defeating behavior. Career-derailing behavior. Self-sabotage.

Now let’s look at the people in our lives who might have some motivation for spiking our writing ambitions.

  1. The “Good Intentions” crowd. These people think we’re chasing a hopeless dream, wasting productive time, setting ourselves up for the pain of rejection and disappointment. They think they know what’s better for us than we do. They don’t understand why we write and there’s not much point in trying to explain it to them.
  2. The Jealous Wannabes. We’ve all met them. They talk a lot about writing, but they don’t do much of it. Or they do write, but they refuse to listen to any input that suggests weaknesses in their writing style, plot structure, etc. They claim they know What It Means To Be A Writer no matter how unrealistic or self-defeating that idea might be.
  3. The Know-It-Alls. They hide behind a mask of information, but what they’re really doing is playing oneupsmanship games. No matter how much writing we do, the Know-It-Alls will quote some authority on how we should be doing either more or less at this or that pace. No matter how much success we achieve, the Know-It-Alls talk about the career patterns of Big Name writers. Notice the consistent behavior here. All Know-It-Alls do is talk, and that talk is designed to undermine our confidence, motivation, and momentum.
  4. The Dream Killers. These are hostile jerks who get their jollies from trashing somebody else’s hopes and dreams. They can put on the masks of the above three types, or they can be quite direct with their insults and mockery. Either way, they’re toxic and we need to avoid them.

How do we protect ourselves against such sabotage, especially when it comes from family or co-workers? Just smile. Smile, say thank you for their interest, and go on writing. Know these people for what they are.  Their efforts at sabotage are all about their problems and have nothing to do with us or our writing.

It’s hard, I know, but there’s nothing sweeter than announcing to these people the sale of a short story or a novel. Living well really is the best revenge.

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Filed under Blog challenges, Depression, Family, Fiction, Writing

R is for Roughdraft


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2013

So you wanna write a novel. Fifty thousand to one hundred thousand words. Two hundred to four hundred pages. That’s a serious mental marathon. How do you train for it? How do you build up the stamina, the will power, the sheer endurance to live through every single day it’s going to take you to get to that final draft? That final, polished, perfect manuscript?

Don’t worry about it. Don’t even waste energy asking the questions.

The roughdraft is exactly that. The rough, messy, incomplete, scribbled-on first version of your story. This is where you let yourself go wild. Push it as hard and as far as you can. Throw in anything and everything that sounds good at the moment you’re writing. You’re riding that wild stallion called Creativity. Keep a light hand on the reins and just go where it takes you.

You’ve got the idea. You’ve got the plot, or at least part of it. You’ve got characters. Most of all, you’ve got the excitement. That’s where you start. Writing isn’t a linear process, not for most of the writers I know. You don’t just go from Page One straight through to The End.  Start where the passion is, where you see and feel and hear the story coming alive.

I once had a little note stuck to the side of my keyboard. On it I’d copied a quotation: “You have to write SOMETHING before you can write something GOOD.” Give yourself permission to be that kindergartener discovering fingerpaints. Feel free to color outside the lines. You’re creating something new!  That’s an organic process. Just like all the messes we made when we were little kids, we can go back and clean it up later, right?

Enjoy the ride. 

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N is for Notebook


by Lillian Csernica on April 16, 2013

Writing is to a large extent an intuitive art. While we’re in the process of actual physical writing, we’re making all kinds of comparisons about word choice and sentence structure and action tags and facial expressions. All of these flash through our minds at an almost subconscious level. That’s where we get our ideas, when the great compost heap of our imagination sends up a blossom of inspiration. Quick! Write it down, every detail of it!

We’ve all had the experience of a Great Idea suddenly surfacing in our minds at one of those moments when we were in the middle of doing something like washing dishes or falling asleep. Maybe it’s not the best time to grab something to write with and something to write on. We tell ourselves we’ll remember the Great Idea until we have a minute to go get that pen and paper or run to the keyboard.

No we won’t. What we’ll have is the empty space in our memories, the shape of the idea without that exciting content. That is a serious downer.

Confucius said,  The strongest memory is weaker than the weakest ink.

The writer’s notebook has become iconic for our craft. Spiral notebook, hardback journal, leather bound work of art, legal pad, or these days our laptops, iPads, and other bits of electronic wizardry. Me, I prefer paper to silicon because it’s right there and I don’t have to push and tap and slide before I get to the screen I need. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as you make it work.

Notebooks are those very compost heaps. We write down all the bits and flashes and thoughts and turns of phrase that pop into our conscious minds. The more we say YES to this process of adding to the compost heap, letting it go through its organic process, then reading through it for material we can use, the more blossoms will spring up, allowing us to harvest a bouquet of inspirations.

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J is for Joie de vivre


by Lillian Csernica on April 10, 2013

Yes, that is indeed French for “joy of living.” The English definition of the phrase is most often rendered as hearty or carefree enjoyment of life. Sounds pretty good, right?

To be a writer is to be driven by some inner compulsion to render one’s thoughts and ideas into words. Most of the writers I’ve known well have been what might be termed “broken people.” Many of us write because we’re trying to make something stop hurting. Or perhaps we’re trying to prevent others from suffering the hurts we’ve endured. This is a noble task. Messy, painful, an uphill struggle at times. After all that effort, we might reach only a handful of people with the message we’re driven to send.

You know what many of us need to do? Lighten up.

That sounds frivolous, doesn’t it? Oh no, we tell ourselves, we have serious work to accomplish. Time lost is never regained. Nose to the grindstone! While there’s something to be said for the Puritan Work Ethic, even the Puritans had some fun every once in a while.

I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I am low serotonin. Going back on both sides of my family one can read the patterns of depression and alcoholism and divorce. I have bad days when I can’t write. I have, however, learned how to get past that horrible conviction that I will never write another worthwhile word again. The solution is simple.

Go play with your cat. Go blow bubbles. Go sit in the sunshine. Go look at the stars. Be Here Now. Be fully present, fully mindful, in full possession of whatever inspires in you the joie de vivre waiting within every moment. Better yet, when you have happy moments, WRITE THEM DOWN! Write down what gives you a lift, what drives back the shadows, what floods your weary mind and heart with all the wondrous colors of life.

My writing teacher, Andy Couturier, gave me a brilliant piece of advice. One night after class I was all excited over the progress I was making on my current novel. I was happy, really happy! Andy suggested I write down how I got to that place of happiness. Life is full of ups and downs. Some time another bad day would hit, and I’d need to find the longitude and latitude of happiness once again. A few months later one of my best friends died suddenly. I still miss her every day, but now the grief does not cripple me and stop me from writing.

Joie de vivre. The joy of living. Breathe it in. Let it soak into your every cell. Then return to your writing radiant with the pure energy of being alive.

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