Write Now Prompt for July 3, 2015

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

He moved slowly toward the dim light, not sure what he would find there.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Just for Fun: Places Unknown

Just for fun, write a scene in which you describe your character’s first impressions upon traveling to a place he or she has never been before.

If you are comfortable doing so, share your work in the comments, on the forums or via a link to it on your blog.

Write Now Prompt for June 30, 2015

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

How would she break it to him that the money for their vacation had been spent?

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

The truth about agent queries

When I got my first book published in 2012, I thought I’d made it. Really, it was just the beginning. After a lackluster release of my second novel, I got out of that contract and re-released it on my own. (Both books have kick ass reviews on Amazon, by the way.) Meanwhile, I’ve been sending agent queries for my third book and getting the nicest rejections ever.

In fact, I’ve sent more than fifty queries for this book and I’ve gotten a really promising response. I’ve had requests for full reads from about a third of those, many from top agencies, like Writer’s House, Trident, ICM, Levine Greenburg, etc. One of those agents called me on the phone to discuss my book.

I keep getting the same response. Here’s the remix:

“We’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time.  As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends.”

“Given how competitive the market is, I worry I’d have difficulty placing it. I’m going to step aside so you can work with an agent who will give your work the full enthusiasm it deserves.”

“Do query others; you deserve an agent who will really fall in love with this, and who has the vision for your work that will help you achieve the career you want.”

“We would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.”

My debut novel sold over 10,000 copies. I’m getting warm responses from beta readers. The other great writers I know, even those with publishing history, are hitting a similar wall. It’s really hard to tell whether agents just aren’t taking on new writers or whether the book just isn’t ready.

So with a mentality of “what do I have to lose?”, I wrote those agents back to ask them to be more blunt… I didn’t get any responses. And I’m left wondering, how do you know when your book is ready for publication? I used to have faith in the “gatekeepers”, but if they’ve stopped taking chances on new writers, how do we know when it’s time to go around them?

To all the self-pubbers out there, how did you know?

Write Now Prompt for June 26, 2015

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

She knew the forecast was for rain, but she insisted the party would be outdoors anyway.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Just for Fun: Show and Tell

Just for fun, write a scene in which you tell the reader about a storm.  Then, write the scene again, this time showing the reader the storm.

If you are comfortable doing so, share your results and/or your thoughts on the exercise in the comments, on the forums or via a link to it on your blog.

Write Now Prompt for June 23, 2015

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

When they found themselves face-to-face in the mall’s food court, neither one of them knew what to say or do next.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

What’s Impressionism Got to Do With it?: A Reflection on Showing and Telling

In reflecting on this idea of showing rather than telling in writing, my first thoughts go to some of my favorite Impressionist painters like Monet and Renoir. There is something about the way these artists present their subject matter that seems to be more about showing than telling, and there is something that writers can take from their approach.

Think about Monet’s haystacks or Renoir’s dance or garden party scenes, or his depiction of sisters. These paintings have a smudged quality to them, a blurred and dappled quality, that hints at and intimates the subject matter, rather than bludgeons the viewer over the head with it. The Impressionists were concerned with the play of light on a scene, the influences of nature, and sensual colors. Impressionists gave the viewer just enough to go on, they hinted at deeper meanings beyond the painted scene, and they created a mood, an ambiance. What Monet and Renoir are doing is showing, not telling.

In my own poetry, I find that, consciously or not, I am aiming for an impressionist quality: less telling, less obvious narrative. I like to give my reader flashes of a moment, the texture of an experience, a window into a particular emotion.

The more poetry I read, the more I realize that many poets lean toward a sort of impressionist, nebulous quality that I am attracted to. My conception of what impressionist poetry looks and feels like is somewhat similar to what the imagists were trying to do—folks like Ezra Pound and H.D. But what’s interesting about imagism is that the goal was clarity and finding the precise image to represent the subject. To me, words like clarity and precision seem to not fully represent what these poets do in their work. Take, for example, the famous Pound poem “In a Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Many of us probably studied this poem in high school, and many of us were probably surprised, or perhaps annoyed, at its brevity, and its inaccessibility. Yes, it is precise, in the sense that it uses few words, but is it clear? The descriptions here are blurry, smudgy, much like the work of the Impressionist painters. Words like apparition, crowd, petals, wet all point to a blurry reality, and an unclear—at least initially—message. Pound is definitely showing, not telling, here.

Perhaps in this reflection on showing and telling, what is important to remember is that the ideal viewer or reader is not dumb. The reader does not need to be told what a certain image means—perhaps it is enough to show the reader that image and let it sit there, blooming with meaning.

Ray Bradbury was a master at this sort of thing: he would often describe a scene, with characters and dialogue, and then suddenly swoop the reader away from that scene and show them something else: a bird flying over a mountain, a river winding through a canyon, a sunset on some distant shore that the main characters would never see. He would show the reader these things, and trust them to make sense of it, to connect them with the overall meaning of the story.

And maybe at the core of this showing versus telling discussion is trust in our readers. Do we trust our readers enough to make sense of what we show them? Can we trust that we don’t have to explain every angle, every moment, every reaction? Can we be blurry, in the best sense of that word, and show our readers something, and have faith that they will meet us half way?

Write Now Prompt for June 19, 2015

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

He felt bad about leaving the news on her voice mail, but she had really left him no choice.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Showing, not Telling

“Show, don’t tell.”  Great advice for any writer and the advice that annoys me the most. Seriously, it’s irritating on many levels, not the least of which is that it is spot on in most cases.  The problem isn’t with the suggestion, but rather with the delivery.  The first writing workshop I attended that discussed this failed to offer any examples of what this looked like.  Instead of explanation and example there were vague threats like:

Your work will never be accepted if you don’t learn how to ‘Show and not tell.’

Great, not only did I not understand what it was, but now if I didn’t do it I’d be branded as an ignorant failure.

I’ve also had teachers who’ve taken their time to explain, shown examples and offered suggestions in my writing on how to achieve this.  Still, even with time and practice, it can be difficult to figure out what this means while your fingers are pounding away on the keys.

I will admit that it is something I tend to do by intuition rather than conscious thought.  I tend to feel my way through a poem or story and show where I think appropriate.  There are a few things in my mind that are triggers.  Some of the things I look for are emotions, the verb to be (is, was, etc) and simple nouns, like “tree” or “fence.”  These are areas where I am often guilty of telling rather than showing. I am also on a campaign to eliminate the use of the word, “very,” in my writing, but that’s for another post.

Emotions can be easy to show.  For example:

Bob was happy with the new car.  Could be rewritten: Bob smiled as he closed the door, smelling the new car smell just before he turned the key and the powerful engine roared to life.

Likely, I’d add a couple of more sentences to fill that out but you get the idea.

The verb to be (is, are, was, am, etc) is another trigger for me.  For example: Bob is a doctor.

Well isn’t that nice and boring?  Think about what a doctor looks like and acts like.  What do doctors say? How would you know one if you saw one?  Now, I’d like you to write two or three sentences showing me that Bob is a doctor.

I’ll give you a minute…

Here’s what I came up with:

Bob brushed a bit of lint off his white lab coat and pulled the chart out of the rack on the exam room door.  It was Mrs. Smith again, still complaining about her back.  He put on his best bedside smile and turned the handle saying, “Betty, let’s look at those x-rays I sent you to get and see what we can do.”

Or something like that.

Sometimes a simple noun, like “tree” or “car” needs more description around it to truly inform your reader what you mean.  Think of the word tree.  What image is in your mind?  Draw a picture of it.

I was thinking of the tall California coastal redwoods along the trails I like to hike.  Were you thinking the same tree?  Or were thinking of that maple tree just down the street?

One time I tried that little exercise with a group of software engineers.  Most told me about trees they grew up with: maple, pine, magnolia and cherry.  One engineer surprised me when he said, “I was thinking of a file directory tree on my computer.”  Your readers have the uncanny ability to interpret your words in ways you didn’t intend.  When it matters what kind of tree your writing needs, you have to be specific and show me what’s in your mind or I’ll be thinking computers while you’re writing about leaves.

Or sometimes, just telling me is okay.  Showing generates a lot of words and sometimes to move the plot along faster and maintain the story’s pace it’s okay to just say, “Bob sat under the maple tree.”  The question you need to ask is, “how important is that tree?” If it’s just a prop, tell me it’s there.  If it’s important that Bob be at that tree for a specific reason, show me why.

Now, let’s again think about that sentence with Bob sitting under the maple tree.  If you were a movie director, how would you film that?  What would it look like on a movie screen or as part of a TV show?  Movies, television, plays and other visual forms are all naturally about showing.

When you write about Bob and the maple tree, write it as though you were seeing it through the lens of a camera and show me the richness of the green leaves, the smell of new-mown grass, the slight rise of the hill, the cooling summer breeze, his shoes tossed aside and his smile as Betty slowly sits down beside him.

It takes practice, but you’ll get it.
Keep writing,
Andrew