RANDOM WRITING ADVICE I’VE READ

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

“A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” – William Faulkner

“. . . edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” – Arthur Plotnik

“I write the ending first. Nobody reads a book to get to the middle.” – Mickey Spillane

“I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.” – Robert Frost

“If writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers.” – Irvin S. Cobb

“It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.”  – Gustave Flaubert

Feather by PeterM - A feather, with gradients, used for writing.

“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.” – Jorge Luis Borges

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

“How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” – E.M. Forster

“Bad things don’t happen to writers; it’s all material.” – Garrison Keillor

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”  – Dr. Seuss

“First you’re an unknown, then you write one book and you move up to obscurity.” – Martin Myers

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” – Douglas Adams

“I avoided writers very carefully because they can perpetuate trouble as no one else can.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”  – Stephen King

“It’s a delicious thing to write. To be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.” –  Gustave Flaubert

And finally:

“The proper study of mankind is books.” – Aldous Huxley

Write On!

MY NEW BOOK

Today my son arrives from up in North Texas, and I’ve been cooking up a storm, with still a bit more to do (apple pie), so I’m not much in the mood to write a blog post about organization, time management, or writing.

But I do want to let everyone know about my newest novel, Perfect Victim, first in a series about a private investigator whose name is Paula Mitchell. How did I come up with the name? My father’s name was Paul, and I grew up with him and my mother on Mitchell Place in New Jersey. I once read that many soap opera stars are named after their first pets and the street where they grew up. I wanted to honor my father (and my aunt who was glad she was born second, or she would have been named Paula), so Paula Mitchell was born.

Right now, Perfect Victim is only available for Kindle applications and devices, here:

http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Victim-Paula-Mitchell-ebook/dp/B00CWRC48A/ref=sr_1_fkmr3_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369619463&sr=8-1-fkmr3&keywords=perfect+victim+books+christensen

You will find out all about it there—the description and so on. In a week or so, I expect the print version to be available, as well. Here’s the cover!

I hope you’ll check it out. What do you think about the cover? I have become so tired of all the dark covers for mysteries, so I decided to do something different, and Derek Murphy, the artist who has been doing all my covers, used the background image of the white living room I pointed him to and came up with this. I think it’s stunning. Derek is amazing.

RESEARCH TOOLS FOR TODAY’S WRITERS

Yesterday’s writers had to have many books on hand, some of them called tomes because they were so large. Today, much information we need is available with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks on-line. Here are some great tools with their perks. But as always, be careful out there. With more good information, there comes more bad information, and even information overload. I believe in the old (not so sure it’s used very much anymore) journalism rule about having three reliable sources before publishing. Research is needed more than ever for fiction writers because many readers do reviews and will downgrade us if we get our facts wrong, especially about weapons and police procedure, I’ve noticed. I saw where one writer got the year a song came out long ago wrong and was called on it. Check those little facts, and the big ones. Our memories for such details are often a bit off. 

Here’s a list of sources I’ve found useful, mostly on-line.

THESAURAS AND DICTIONARY:

Roget’s Thesaurus

http://www.roget.org/

Or buy the book. Handy, but many of today’s dictionaries also include synonyms and are easier to use, such as:

WordWeb Dictionary

http://wordweb.info/

Highlight a word anywhere on your screen, click on WordWeb in your task bar, and the highlighted word usually will enter the dictionary automatically, giving you the definition plus other information, such as synonyms. I only found this little trick by accident. Now you know about it, too. And of course, you can simply type a word into the search line, and if it’s not spelled correctly, a list of words that are close pops up. There’s a free home version and a paid pro version. Your pick. Highly recommended for ease of use.

STYLE MANUALS:

Chicago Manual of Style

If writing fiction http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

$35/year subscription. You can of course, also buy the book ($65 on their site, but I’m sure you can find it used for much less). Actually, I like having a hardcopy for browsing—I bought one a few years ago. But the on-line version lets you make notes and style sheets. Having both would be heaven.

Strunk and White

Now a bit controversial. No official on-line site, but if you search for it on-line, you will find many sites that discuss it. I like to use it as a fallback guide. At least you can always quote it if someone questions you. And it’s short, very short.

AP Guide for Journalism

https://www.apstylebook.com/

$29.95 for the print edition, but there are also on-line subscriptions for $26. Check the site for details. Some styles are different, though, for journalists and writers of fiction. Beware, double check with Chicago Manual of Style before doing what the AP Guide says to do if you’re writing fiction.

SOME ON-LINE ENCYCLOPEDIAS:

Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Free. This one is also tricky. Be sure to double/triple check references and to find other reputable sites that agree with Wikipedia. Beware of entries that Wikipedia itself says need work and references. I find it’s a good starting-off place and use it all the time for casual stuff, but I double check if I’m writing something for publication. Be aware that it’s not all written by experts or people who do good research. Look for citations there. Those could lead to very good sources. Remember the old adage: Consider the source.

Britannica

http://www.britannica.com/

19 cents a day, so a 365-day year costs $69.35/year after a 7-day free trail. Great reputation, but I’ve never used it.

Smithsonian

http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia

Limited to what the Smithsonian exhibits, as far as I could tell. Free, which is nice. I’d certainly trust it.

World Book

www.worldbook.com

Many choices–on-line, print, books for children here.

MEDICAL

Medline Plus

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/encyclopedia.html

Free. Has a good reputation, but it’s always wise to get another two sources for back-up.

Gray’s Anatomy

No, not the TV show, although if you search Google, that’s all that shows up on the first page. But I’ll leave you to search out what you’d need. There’s an on-line edition for over $200, books at Amazon and other on-line bookstores, and your local bookstore might even have what you need.

LEGAL

Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz. A great reference without the legalese. Available in both print and for Kindle. Leslie also has a blog on-line to answer legal questions.

http://www.amazon.com/Books-Crooks-Counselors-Accurately-Courtroom/dp/1610350197/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369328576&sr=8-1&keywords=crooks+leslie

VISUAL GLOSSARY

I like What’s What – A Visual Glossary of the Physical World by David Fisher and Reginald Bragonier, Jr. 1990 edition, $8 for the print book, plus shipping, at: http://www.abebooks.com/What-Visual-Glossary-Physical-World-Bragonier/8074910918/bd

And some final advice: Learn to use Advanced Google Search. Start here:

http://www.google.com/advanced_search

Do you have research links you visit often? Print books you refer to often? Please share them in the comments. Thanks!

ANOTHER WAY TO SORT YOUR TASKS

A, B, C is often suggested as a way to sort your to-do list. Simple. Top priority are A’s, would-be-nice-to-do are B’s and C’s are hardly necessary to do at all.

 

But how to make the decisions? Would word classifications help you more? How about A being Reach (for long-term goals or goals that will give you the most return), B being Standing Still (for tasks that you need to do to keep yourself and your environment up to snuff), and C being for Forget It (unless you use those tasks to procrastinate, and they make you feel good).

Can you come up with some other words to use that will help you understand what role doing your to-dos has in your personal growth and achievement?

I’M EVERYWHERE! WELL, ALMOST

This past week I’ve had a flurry of guest posts on other blogs. I decided to list them here for those who might have missed them. Enjoy!

First, last Friday I guested at Dee Doans’s blog where I discuss how I came to write short stories, then novels:

http://deedoanes.com/experience-in-writing-short-stories-and-novels/

Next, on Monday I discussed with Morgen Bailey what I read when young that influences me now:

http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/author-spotlight-no-232-jan-christensen/

And finally, at Thriller Ink, an author interview (edit: link no longer works, so I disabled it):


I hope you’ll read and comment on one or more of these blogs. Thanks!

IN THE BEGINNING

So you want to be a writer. So did I. I’ve probably written my million words–about eighty short stories and eight full-length novels, and a couple dozen articles, some published, some not.

To be a published author takes perseverance and a tough skin. I seem to have both. But not in the beginning.

It hurts to get that first rejection. It’s discouraging to get the first dozen.

Baby steps are needed. A baby learns to walk by practicing every day, and that’s what a beginning writer should do. You learn an awful lot by simply doing. But it doesn’t hurt to read a book or more a month about writing, and some of the better writing magazines and now blogs.

Read best-selling authors’ autobiographies or self-help books. Stephen King in On Writing said you should read an hour for every hour you write. You can learn a lot about writing by reading the current best sellers and widely in the genre you’re particularly interested in.

The ONLY way you’ll ever get published is to write. Thinking about it, talking about it won’t get you there. You have to go to that quiet spot with your writing tools and just do it.

Good luck!

“DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.”

The Facebook motto, “Done is better than perfect” is something to think about. Creative types learn this early, or if they don’t they never finish most, or even any, projects.

If you haven’t finished the job, you can’t even start to make it better. Until it’s roughly finished, you won’t truly know what needs to be fixed.

Yes, you do the best work you can as you go along. But accept, deep down, that it will probably need more work when you’re “finished.” A writer finishes a rough draft. Then she finishes draft number two. And on it goes until she finally has to say, “It’s the best I can at this time in my life.” And let it go, either off to hopefully get published or into that proverbial drawer never to be looked at again.

Striving for near-perfection is good. Expecting perfection is not good, because in almost all cases, it’s impossible.

ONE WAY TO COMPOSE A STORY

I write a lot of short stories. Some people ask me how I come up with all those ideas. I’ve found all that’s needed is a situation, which of course includes a character or two, and a small detail. My latest story involves a vacuum cleaner salesman who dupes old women into buying a vacuum—the premise—and paperclips—the small detail. I don’t outline, so when giving some background about the woman who helps the older woman get her money back from the vacuum cleaner company, I mention that at work the younger woman had to undo the paperclips her boss had strung together. I have no idea why I came up with that, but it was, to me, a fun detail, so I kept it. And I was able to tie the whole story together at the end with those paperclips. Very tidy.

So, I suggest trying that. I didn’t realize until just a while ago how well this trick can work. I used it in my novel, ORGANIZED TO DEATH, with a candy bar. I had my protag, Tina, stop for gas and buy a candy bar, which she forgets about as things get hectic. A couple of days later, I needed her to go outside for a nasty encounter with a bad guy, and I used the missing candy bar to get her out there. She hasn’t eaten in a while, she’s hungry, remembers it, but can’t find it in her purse. She figures it must have fallen out of her purse in the car. I had no idea I’d need that candy bar later in the story. I never know what detail I’ll be able to use later. If they become too numerous, it’s easy enough to take them out later. But they can also add veracity to the story all on their own.

I’m going to be doing this more consciously as I write. Try it; see if it works for you.