Monday, November 28, 2016

High Stakes? Death. Always Death - An Interview with James Scott Bell

Today the Insecure Writer’s Support Group would like to welcome James Scott Bell, the author of several books on the craft of writing, including Just Write, a Writer’s Digest Book. We’re discussing high stakes in a novel and how to manage writing time. Welcome, James!

1. What is one thing all writers can do today to help manage their time?

Learn to prioritize. Not all tasks are of equal importance. Everything you do should be according to the ABCs.

Tasks that MUST be done label with an A. These are tasks fundamental to contributing to your long-term success. Further, those A tasks should also be prioritized by 1, 2, 3, etc.

Set about to do A1 first....then A2...etc.

B tasks are important, but should not be handled until the A tasks are done. Prioritize these as well. B1, B2 ....

C tasks can wait. Do these only if you get some spare time.

Also, put a time estimate by each task.

I prioritize my tasks by the week. Sunday is a good day to plan out your week.

2. We often hear that the stakes in a novel should be high. How high do you think those stakes should be?

Death. Always death. Physical, professional, or psychological.

Physical death is what you have in a thriller. Someone, or a whole lot of someones, are going to die if the bad guys get their way. The Hunger Games.

Professional death means that the character’s job or vocation (e.g., cop, lawyer, mother) is one the line. If they fail in the novel, that aspect of their life is effectively over, or damaged greatly. The Verdict.

If the novel is mainly about a character on the inside, on their becoming a whole human being, that’s psychological death. If the character cannot overcome the challenge, they will “die inside.” The Catcher in the Rye.

3. What is one of the biggest writing blunders you’ve seen writers make and how can they avoid it?

I have a book called 27 Fiction Writing Blunders – And How Not To Make Them. If I had to pick just one, right now I’d say it’s writing the “expected.” Our minds tend to jump to what’s been done before, not just in characterization and plotting, but in every scene we write. We have to consciously set out to find the unexpected. Which can be in something as subtle as a dialogue exchange. This is what makes writing seem fresh.

4. How can a writer work on several projects at once? Is it possible?

My method is to think of myself as a movie studio. I always have a green-lighted project (my work-in-progress, or WIP). I have several projects “in development.” That means I’ve started making notes on character and plot, and perhaps a preliminary story board (I use Scrivener’s index card view for this). Projects in development go into a file I call “Front Burner.”

Then I have a file of hundreds of ideas I’ve come up with over the years. These are usually summarized in one or two lines. Sometimes just a title. I scan these ideas from time to time, looking for the ones that catch my fancy and, if they do, I make a few more notes. If I start to like something, I move it to the Front Burner.

In this way, my “boys in the basement” are always at work, even when I’m concentrating on my WIP.

5. Why should writers study classic novels?

Depends on what you mean by “study” and “classic.” For me, a classic is The Maltese Falcon or Farewell, My Lovely.  I study these for various purposes related to my own writing.

So it depends on your goals.

If I want to study characterization, I might turn to a Dickens. Or a Stephen King.

If I want to study dialogue, it could be John O’Hara ... or Elmore Leonard.

For emotional impact: Hemingway short stories or To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s good for writers to design self-study programs on each of the seven critical success factors of fiction: plot, structure, characters, scenes, dialogue, voice, meaning (theme). Get some good craft books on the subject and select some novels you’ve read where the writer has done that thing well. Or get recommendations of same. Then read, study, and practice what you learn.

This is called growing as a writer. And it should never stop.

Author Bio:

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including, Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don't Leave Me. In addition to his traditional novels, Jim has self-published in a variety of genres. His novella One More Lie was the first self-published work to be nominated for an International Thriller Writers Award. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books including: Just Write, Write Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structure, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Jim has taught writing at Pepperdine University and at numerous writers conferences in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. He and London.attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver, and graduated with honors from the University of Southern California Law Center.

Visit his website 

Question to Readers: How do you manage writing time and multiple projects?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mason Canyon Tours

There may come a time in your professional career as a novelist when you'll wonder whether you need a literary publicist. Maybe you have a 40 hour a week job. Or you've got small children at home. Or you're in the midst of trying to sell your home, as I am. 

As the author of two published novels, I certainly understood what was needed before, during and after my novel Mâtowak: Woman Who Cries was due for release. But just thinking about it left me in a brain-fog. While I'm not great at delegating chores, nor am I good at relinquishing control, even I knew I was exhausted and needed help. They say a woman asking for help is an anomaly. I'm so glad happy I broke that cycle. 

At the end of a month long virtual book tour, I'm sitting here grinning from ear to ear because I had Mason Book Tours campaigning on my behalf. While I sat back and enjoyed the process, MBT did the work. 

Want to know what they did?

Here's just a few of the things:

  1. MC produced the tour page with all the pertinent information: bio, blurb, photo, book cover, and calendar. 
  2. MC created the Rafflecopter. 
  3. MC designed the tour banners and graphics and promoted the event on Facebook and Twitter. 
  4. MC served as a middle man between all hosts and myself, so that I had only ONE person to interact with. 
  5. MC provided books for the reviewers and collected questions from the hosts. 
  6. MC gathered the answers to all the questions and returned them to the designated hosts. 
  7. MC put together the tour package with the essential material. 
  8. MC chose the excerpts and sent them out to the right hosts in chronological order to match the calendar. 
  9. MC coordinated the hosts within the calendar month, making certain they had everything they needed before their day.
  10. MC updated the author's tour page each morning and sent out individual emails to those hosts. Q&A, guest posts, and excerpts. 
  11. MC visited every single site, left a comment, and shared their links with her networks.
  12. MC sent a final thank you to all hosts and a wrap up to me with a complete list of all host bloggers and their blog links.
  13. ...
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Mason Canyon Tours did what would have taken me a few extra months of prep work. MC took the pressure off and made the release of my third novel a joy. 

Circumstances change and as authors we adjust and we cope. It only takes one published novel to understand that writing the book is the easy part. 

Happy Reading. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

7 Benefits of Journal Writing

Journaling is writing down your thoughts, ideas, experiences and observations. It can be done daily or when inspiration hits you. None of it has to be perfect and no one else has to read it. So why would a writer spend the time to journal? Below I’ve put together a list of benefits.

1. General memory recall. Recently I came across my journals while doing a spring clean. I opened them up and read through portions. How much I’d forgotten shocked me to the core. I’d written about events that had a huge impact on my life at the time, and I’d simply forgotten them. Reading through my scrawled entries jogged the memories.

2. Remembering the details. Even for the events I’ll never forget, the little details had still slipped away. The way someone’s smile made me feel, the way a path wove through a forest like an invitation, the way conflicting emotions can turn a moment inside out. As a writer, these details are crucial if we want to create realistic characters and places and lace our stories with an honesty that speaks to our readers.

3. Maintaining your writing skills. For many years I wrote in a journal every day. Eventually the habit petered out as I let the busyness of life take over (or perhaps it was a perceived lack of a life worth writing down). Whatever the reason, returning to my writing career after an extended break, I discovered my skills had rusted over. Capturing the clarity of language needed to write well had become difficult. Stringing those sentences together in a way that could evoke an emotion or crystallize a moment on the page became like knitting spaghetti: messy and not something I’d ever want to share. Like any skill, writing needs to be practiced regularly.

4. Honing your writing skills. While your journals may never be read by anyone but you, which means they can be as sloppy as you’d like, the simple act of writing in them has the wonderful benefit of sharpening your writing skills. The more we write—any kind of writing—the easier it becomes. It’s because the act forces your brain to step out of passive mode and actively break down your thoughts into the written word.

5. Finding your voice. The beauty of journals is that they don’t need to be perfect, which means they don’t carry the same weight that our writing projects seem to lug around with them. For example, the weightiness of doubts and fears: Is this story working? Will it be worthy of getting published? Will anyone like it? Without those fears, we are free to write whatever, and however we like. For this reason, journal writing can help find our elusive voice because we stop trying to write like other writers.

6. Sharpening your observational skills. Journaling helps to add an extra layer of attentiveness when observing the world if you know you are going to write about it later. That power of observation will bring your stories alive. This not only includes enhancing the ability to describe a place in a way that makes it real, but also to be insightful enough when it comes to people’s emotions and motivations to make characters pop from the page.

7. Understanding yourself. The reason I started writing was to understand my place in the world and what I felt about everything. Writing it all down helped me understand the layers of emotion that raged within. It helped me to be honest with myself when it was so easy to lie. Perhaps journaling can do the same for you.

There are many other benefits, of course, so what benefits have you discovered through writing a journal?

Lynda R Young

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Future of the IWSG

The scheduled guest for today fell through, which happens sometimes, but it gives us the opportunity to update you on what's coming up for the IWSG.

The deadline for the anthology contest was last Tuesday and we received record numbers of entries! Thanks to everyone who entered. The IWSG Admins are sorting through the stories and soon the best ones will go off to our official judges. We'll announce the winners on January 4, 2017 and the anthology will go into production for a late spring release.

The next post day for the IWSG is December 7 and the Question of the month is - In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

We also have some amazing guests coming up - James Scott Bell, Kristen Lamb from Warrior Writers, and literary agent Mark Gottlieb.

Our newsletter will continue with guest articles, including those from publishing industry experts and IWSG members. If you've not signed up, you can in the sidebar. You'll also receive a free eBook featuring our top articles.

Don't forget we're also on Twitter and have two Facebook groups!

As we continue to move forward, we want to provide members with the latest and greatest information. If there is an area or topic you'd like us to cover or expand, please let us know!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Rejections: Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom / IWSG

It’s the first Wednesday of the month when all the IWSGers post on their blogs about their writing insecurities or offer some encouragement to others. If you are new to the IWSG, please check out our IWSG Sign-up tab hereA big thank you to our November co-hosts: Joylene Nowell Butler, Jen Chandler, Mary Aalgaard, Lisa Buie Collard, Tamara Narayan, Tyrean Martinson, and Christine Rains!

We’re revving up IWSG Day to make it more fun and interactive! Every month, we'll announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post.

November's Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?


I'm going to deviate from the assigned question to actually talk about the thing we could all probably agree is our least favorite aspect of being a writer...rejections. The IWSG anthology contest is now closed, and I know those of you who submitted a story are anxiously waiting for January 4th when Alex will announce the winners. Because of that, I wanted to provide a motivational post for those who may fall just a hair short. It's okay! Rejections happen but please don't let them stop you.


Muse, grant me the serenity to accept the rejections I receive...

No writer is immune to rejections. When I say we all get them, I mean we ALL get them. Authors we love have received more rejections than they can count. Writers just like us are getting rejected left and right. Even best-sellers are rejected. It’s true. Their agent could reject their newest finished book. Their publisher could reject a proposal for a new idea. Their editor could reject a specific story for whatever reason.

The courage to put myself out there...

Although rejection never goes away, you shouldn't give up. Knowing that everyone is rejected should give you the courage to submit; you’re not the only one out there going through this. Sure, being rejected hurts. It’s not fun. But it’s part of the process.

You have to be rejected to be accepted.

And the wisdom to know I am a great writer...

Rejections can make us feel as though we’re not good writers. But what one hundred agents hate, one could love. You just have to find that one, and the only way you can do that is by submitting.

Or we could read books by best-sellers and think, “Gosh, I don’t write like that!” I used to say this until I realized that was a good thing. I write like me, and there is no replacement or equivalent for that.

Sometimes we know we're good writers, but our writing just sucks at the moment. And that’s okay, too. We all go through these ruts. We all suck from time to time. Every book has to have some amount of suckage during the first draft...or third. That’s what editing and revising is for. What makes us great writers is our ability to rewrite, revise, and edit.

Now all together:
Muse, grant me the serenity to accept the rejections I receive;
The courage to put myself out there;
And the wisdom to know I am a great writer.

December's Question: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

*Add this question and your answer to your December 7th IWSG post.

Chrys Fey is the author of the Disaster Crimes Series30 Seconds, 30 Seconds Before, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death.

Blogger. Reader. Auntie. Vegetarian. Cat Lover.