Thursday, December 22, 2016

Editing Tip: Beta Readers

So you've finished writing. You've gone over the manuscript for content development and grammar revisions. You have a version you are proud of and want to get someone else's opinion. Maybe you already have someone in mind. Here are a few things to keep in mind before giving your manuscript for someone to read over:
1. Make sure your readers are interest in the subject of the book. You may be such an amazing writer that you are able to make someone who hates fantasy love your book; but be mindful to select people who will want to read your book. Don't confuse this with selecting "yes" readers. Selecting readers who actually like the genre is not to ensure you get positive feedback, but to ensure you actually get good, quality, feedback.

2. Find readers who will provide constructive criticism. I once gave an early draft of My Not So Normal Life to a co-worker. I worked in publishing at the time and thought this might be the person to give me some feedback. In hindsight, the book wasn't ready and needed more work. What I got back from her was a simple "Don't quit your day job." It was soul crushing. I would later find readers who gave me more feedback and have helped strengthen my book. But I still hear those words echoing through my head.

3. Be diplomatic about asking and following up with your readers. Be polite, don't pester, give them time.

4. Ask multiple people to be readers. And if possible, let them see the other readers' comments. For My Not So Normal Life I allowed my Beta Readers to read the document in a file sharing program. One of my readers read the prologue and didn't like a paragraph, but she decided not to comment on it since she could see another reader's comment praising the paragraph. Being able to see the comment, reminded my one reader that some aspects of a book will not be universally loved.

5. Don't seek solely praise. If you get it, that's great. Congratulations! But remember, you're still in the editing phase. Meaning you want to have weaknesses pointed out now so they can be fixed. Don't be the Emperor with No Clothes.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Editing Tip #3: Dialogue

Have you ever read a book and thought "that's not how people talk"? I get this a lot with some children and young adult books. When editing, make sure to pay close attention to the dialogue. Read the dialogue aloud. Hearing how the character speaks will help. When reviewing the dialogue, keep a few things in mind:

-does the words, grammar, sentence structure fit in with the character's personality. (Ex. a British character will say "Mum" instead of "Mom" and a small child may not have perfect grammar or big words)
-does your character have any distinguishing features with how he/she speaks? If the character stammers (occasionally) consider "P-p-p-p-please," over "Please"
-Does the dialogue give too much away. Don't have a villain who explains everything including his/her motivation. You can allude to backstory, but be mindful of saying everything.

When you are done reviewing it, ask a trusted friend about any sections you still aren't sure about. In the editing process, as many set of eyes as possible is always helpful.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Writing Tip #2: Development

Probably the most common problem I see in writing (both my own and others') is not telling enough of the story. I have the vision of my character in my head. I know who she is. I know what she looks like. I know why is acts the way she does. Some stuff is obvious to me. But it's not to my readers if I don't describe it. I can be a very rushed writer. I have the ideas and need to get them out as fast as I can. That's not bad, but it means that I need to go back and add in any missing information. Then, when I have a draft I have read over, I give it to David and my sister. They read over it. David will ask me questions about character development and tell me how he envisioned certain characters. Katie will tell me where I rushed over the description of the book and give me suggestions for how to enhance the story. To the writers reading this, find these people. The ones who will not passively read your manuscript and tell you it's good. I have read too many published books where I have felt the book needed another set of eyes. Ones where the motivation for a character was lacking or where support characters had not unique features and were interchangeable. 

My advice for this week: Make sure the story and characters in your head get on the page. 

Do that by the following: 
-get a pack of note cards. Each time a character or place is introduced, write the name on one side. And on the reverse side, write the words used to describe that place or character. Might seem tedious, but it will help with consistency and as a check that you described everything. 
-when reading ask why this is happening. Why does the hero continue on his quest and not go back home when conflict arises? Why would two characters be friends if they seem to be an odd pairing? How would a character react to hearing certain dialogue? These are questions readers may be asking themselves when they are reading. When you ask the questions, make sure your book answers them. 
-get readers to read your book and concentrate on development. Yes, typos will annoy the reader, but so will an underdeveloped story. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writing Tip:

Writing Tips:

Welcome to November, hopefully everyone who had been participating on NaNoWriMo was successful. My post today is for everyone who has a draft of a manuscript and has the question: Now what?

When I began writing novels as a teenager I got so excited about finishing a manuscript that I'd immediately give it to my sisters to read. They were interested in reading it, if nothing else just to see what I had created. Looking back, my mistake was a big one: I didn't self-edit. Now, I HATE, ABHOR, and LOATHE editing. It can be tedious and is a lot of hard work. You  as the writer go from finishing a book, thinking it is awesome then have to turn a critical eye to it. It's not fun. But you have to do it. I was lucky my sisters were supportive and kept reading through the sentence fragments and undeveloped plot (commonplace in a first draft) and gave me constructive criticism to develop and edit my book.

Give your unpolished manuscript to someone with less constructiveness and you'll get the advice I got from one unnamed family member of "don't quit your day job." Next week I'll discuss the importance of having second or beta readers, but this week I want to focus on how to edit what you've just written.

Here are my 5 tips for how to edit your book:

1. Print out the book on paper. You'll find a lot more mistakes on paper than on a computer screen. Also, it is the first time you'll be able to hold up your book and show it off and get to talk about it.

"What are you doing?" someone asks while you edit your book.
"Just editing my book," you respond nonchalantly, with a tilt of your head.
"What? You wrote that? What's it about?" the person asks.
"It's a epic adventure story set in the wild west."

2. Use a colored pen and write on the manuscript. Use post it notes if there isn't enough margin space. Don't keep the pages clean from marks. Marks are good, they mean you're improving your book.

3. Write legibly. I had a professor who loved to bleed over everyone's papers. She had sloppy handwriting and used a felt tip pen. The only way her writing could have been sloppier is if she used her foot to write. Inputting the edits became so much harder. And with editing the easier you make it on your self the more likely you'll actually get through it.

4. Take some time between finishing writing and editing. Read a book. Then another. And maybe one more (depending on your time schedule and how fast you can read). Pick some books with a similar genre or theme to yours. Don't copy from the books, but see if there is anything those writers did that you liked or didn't like.

5. When your editing, ask yourself questions.
Why is the character acting that way?
Why does the setting look like that?
How does the character feel at any given point?
What is the purpose of the chapter?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Finding Time to Write

When you have a full time job, long commute and demanding dog who likes multiple walks a night there is little time to write. Many writers advise writing first thing in the morning. I put these people in the same camp as those who awake early to exercise. I am not one of those people. My alarm is set to give me just enough time to brush my teeth, brush my hair, get dressed (usually doing all three simultaneously), pack my lunch and breakfast (breakfast is eaten at my desk at work), walk Robin Hood, and make it to train just as it is pulling into the station.

After work, my evenings are usually packed with walking Robin Hood (he prefers at least two long walks a night), making dinner, preparing my lunch and breakfast, exercising (if I am really lucky), reflecting on the day with David, showering (because I have no time to blow dry my hair in the morning) and going to bed.

So when do I find the time to write? I pack it into any break I can come across. Mostly I write on the train to and from work and during my lunch hour. To my boss who sits in the adjoining office, the mad typing sounds you hear resonating through the walls during the noon hour are not in connection with our work, sorry. If Robin Hood is not too demanding for a third walk or if dinner requires simmering I will write in the evenings, but that is not always easy to manage.

As a teenager and college student I found time to write during my jobs as a receptionist in a convent and working the check-out desk at my school’s library. I was so blessed. I miss those days. My muse was allowed to be with me for hours on end. Now, she is given restricted times to visit me. It has taken a lot of discipline, perseverance and tenacity to be creative on a schedule. But for over a year now I have managed a hectic schedule and demands of life and written several books. Sure, my house isn’t super clean and I may not work out everyday, but I have completed what I have set out to complete.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


I spent the first part of my life a homebody. I wrote the adventures of Lily in My Not So Normal Life, because I was too scared to travel. Then I heard of a trip in college, Literary London. I can’t say what drew me to the trip, maybe I was just ready to actually live an adventure.

I found myself in London. I learned how to stand up for myself, that I could survive away from my family, and met my best friend. Since returning from London I have traveled to Switzerland and Ireland and visited several more states in the United States.

Each time I go I discover something about myself, good and bad. In Roanoke, VA I learned I don’t like to travel alone; in Ireland I learned that with David by my side I could be braver than I knew; in Malibu, CA I learned that the sight and sound of the ocean was a great muse; in Switzerland I learned that fondue and wine lead to bad hangovers.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Climbing the Mountain

I am petrified of heights. Always have been. As a child, my dad rented a cherry picker to do some work on our two story house. My sisters rode it up over the house and touched the chimney. I got eye level with the top of the first floor windows and my knees buckled and I crouched down, trying to get closer to the ground.

This past March, David and I traveled to Ireland in celebration of my 30th birthday. Aside: David really enjoys that in lieu of birthday or Valentine’s Day presents we do something, since he doesn’t like shopping.
I knew that Ireland was full of greenery and castles. I didn’t know it had so many cliffs.

One day, as we drove and hiked along the Dingle Peninsula, we came upon a cliff. It probably only rose 50-75 feet in the air, nothing compared to the others cliffsides we’d visited earlier in our trip. But still formidable to me. David asked if we could climb up it. I said okay and willed my feet to move forward. As we climbed over the stone fence blocking off the highest part of the hill, I forced myself to keep going. David encouraged me and was patient, not going too fast and allowing my timid feet to move at their own slow pace. He joked about parts of the drop off being angled so I wouldn’t plunge to my death if I fell over, first I’d roll a bit.

I reached the summit proud of my accomplishment. David praised me for going as far as I did.

I wish I could say that conquered my fear of heights. Unfortunately, as the wind picked up and my scarf whipped against my face I felt the familiar buckle in my knees. My heart raced and I crouched close to the ground. Had it not been for all the sheep poop on the ground I may have been tempted to lay down on the clifftop. But David held me close and waited for my panic attack to subside before he led me back down the cliff.

My fear of heights is still there, but it doesn’t control me as much as it used to.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Coming From a Big Family

I am the oldest of five children, born in three different decades and two different millenia. When my youngest brother became a teenager two years back, it was the first time we didn’t have a child in my immediate family in 28 years. I love being part of a big family. Noise, chaos, and no personal space are natural to me. Maybe that’s how I have managed to survive almost a decade of commuting into Chicago from the suburbs, take a train a rush hour and you’ll experience all three. When I moved out on my own I had to deal with the quiet. I didn’t like it. I have picked up the bad habit of having noise on constantly. Even when I shower I bring my laptop into the bathroom and play episodes on Netflix. I can barely hear the show over the water, but I still need to hear some faint, indistinguishable background noise.

I am grateful that David also came from a big, boisterous family. It has made it easier for us to visit my family where you can expect two conversations to be occurring at the same time and expect a lot of movement as my brothers and sisters come and go.

Someone once asked me if I would like a big family too one day or if I had my fill and would like a small quiet family. I responded that if I were to have one well behaved child (think Rod or Todd Flanders) I wouldn’t know what to him or myself. As the oldest, I wasn’t born into a large family, unlike my youngest brother, but I was a part of one. I was bred to crave the noise and confusion. I was taught how to cook for small army. And now as an adult, I would like nothing more than to return to the daily life in a large family.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to Start Writing

Probably one of the first things I hear when I tell people I write books is that they have always wanted to write a book. David’s dad recently began writing his first book and I so proud of him. I am also proud of my sister who has several manuscripts saved on her computer.

Like any major project starting can be a huge step but I don’t think it’s the biggest step an author has to take. If I could give a prospective writer a piece of advice it would be to just start writing. Write. Just write anything. If you don’t know how to start the book no big deal. Write whatever portion you have more firmed up in your mind. Write down stuff about the characters or the setting. Get the ideas out of your head!

I have notebooks filled with pieces of stories I haven’t written yet. They are far from perfect. To anyone but me they would seem like ramblings of a crazy woman (which they are). But more importantly, they are a starting point. They are a way to think about the story I want to write. So when I do finally get the idea of how to start the book I know who my characters are or where the story takes place. Even better, having written later chapters out of sync makes getting over a writer’s block when I’m in the middle of writing a novel.

If you want to write a book, short story, poem, song, screenplay don’t put it off any longer. Start writing today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Northside vs. Southside

I was recently given this piece of advice about a Southwest suburban area in Chicago:

Outsiders pronounce it “Pay-los”. Everyone from this area pronounces it “Pay-less”.

To anyone unaware, there is a dividing line between the Northside and the Southside of Chicago. The teams we root for are different. Stereotypical team identity is Northside the Cubs and the Southside the White Sox. There are two different airports. Most Northsiders I know prefer to fly out of O’Hare while the Southsiders prefer Midway. Even the streets are different. Northsiders have named streets (Devon, Damen, Milwaukee) Southsiders have numbered streets (127th, 151st, 183rd). If you need more evidence of the divide there is a street that changes its name from Cumberland to First Avenue at the dividing line of North Avenue. Say “First Avenue” to a northsider and you may get a confused look.

I was raised in a Northwest side suburb of Chicago. David was raised on the Southwest side of Chicago. Having been in the same area all my life, with friends and family who lived within 5 miles of me I took a lot forgranted when speaking about my day. I could say “I was right by Superdawg” and everyone would know I was at the corner of Devon and Milwaukee. Around David’s family, the Northside landmarks are unknown. They may have heard of Superdawg, or the streets, Milwaukee and Devon, but they cannot immediately place the small hotdoog stand with the towering boy and girl hotdog statute on the roof on the narrow corner created by the angled Milwaukee bisecting Devon.

Luckily,  David helps to translate for me. When I tell his family I live North of Touhy Avenue, he says “That’s like 200th north” since they do not know readily where Touhy Avenue is. And I’ve learned to adapt my speaking too. I refer to that street with two names as “Cumberland” to my family and “First Avenue” to David’s family. Slowly, I am adjusting to the different landmarks and moving away from an expectation of familiarity; however, I do miss the days where I didn’t have to explain myself as much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Robin Hood

Two years ago I saw the above picture and fell instantly in love. I wanted that dog. The weekend before Thanksgiving I was able to take him home. I was worried the little guy wouldn’t be able to make it up stairs because of his tiny little legs. And except for an unfortunate incident where he didn’t follow the curve of the stairs and ran off David’s front stairs, he managed.

Many of my preconceived notions of dog ownership went out the window within the first month of owning Robin Hood. I was told he’d like to sleep in a cage. So I borrowed a very nice one from my aunts. He refused to go in it. I tried to keep him barricaded in my kitchen. The first time I left him I came home to stuck in between the vertical gate slats because he had tried to run through the gate. He now has full run of the house.

But some of my preconceived notions were right on. I got a dog who is ecstatic to see me when I get home. And I mean ecstatic. And I got a dog who was very loving and devoted (at least to me and David, with my sisters as runners-up).

Robin Hood brings a lot of stress toe my life, but I cannot even begin to describe how much joy he brings. I cannot imagine my life without him. Though I sometimes imagine what life was like without the constant barking.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Imaginary Friends and Why I Write

When I was five I had an imaginary friend, Bethie. I don’t remember much about Bethie, only  that she had a younger sister, looked similar to me, and moved to Hawaii. I didn’t talk with Bethie, I mostly talked about her. Looking back, she was the first character I invented. To me she was real, like all the characters I have imagined over the years. I knew Bethie’s personality, her likes, her dislikes, and knew how she’d react to certain situations. For example, I knew that when Bethie moved to Hawaii she’d be gone forever. Bethie was not the type to keep in touch.

When I began putting pen to paper and allowing the characters who have lived in my mind to live on the pages of my manuscripts I have enjoyed allowing my family and friends to know my inventions. Finally, I could talk about Lily, Nikki, and Rick and not get blank stares. Finally, these people I had created in my head were no longer imaginary. My sisters and I could laugh about a joke one of the characters cracked. David and I had long, late night discussions about the development of certain characters. Suddenly, they were no longer imaginary friends. They were not only known to me. They became known to others in my life.

I don’t write for the money or to share profound ideas with the world. I write so that my “imaginary friends” are no longer imaginary.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Chicago Cubs and My Great-Grandpa

My great-grandpa was born in 1905. He lived to be 100 years old and died in 2005. In her century of life the Chicago Cubs won the World Series once. Though as my grandpa was only 3 years old at the time I don’t think he was able to fully appreciate it. My grandpa loved baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs. I can fondly remember the grainy sound of the announcers detailing the game over his silver, portable radio. I didn’t follow baseball so the words themselves were lost on me. But what I did get was the enthusiasm the announcers had for the game. I didn’t know the names of the players (except for Sammy Sosa) and only half listened to the commentary, but you knew something good happened because of the joy in the announcer’s voice.

I always think of my great-grandpa when the Chicago Cubs have a good year. On Tuesday night when they won the Division, I thought about how much I wished my great-grandpa was still alive to share in the euphoria.

As the Cubs play the LA Dodgers today, I can picture my Great-Grandpa looking down, cheering on his beloved team.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Me when I finish editing a chapter:

I have begun inputting my edits for My Not So Normal Life 2. My writing process is quick, but the editting includes months of reading and marking up a print copy, inputting those edits into the computer, and then editting my new version. I always feel like Homer when I finish editting a chapter. Now, all I need is the tie to throw over my shoulder.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Working to Live

There is a misconception going around. Some people seem convinced that the goal in life is you must love your job. You need to spring up from your bed in the morning, excited to get to work. You should seek personal fulfillment from your work. Now, if you're one of those lucky people who has found personal enjoyment and fulfillment in your work, Awesome! Congratulations! Personally, I have not found this to be the case.
When I was first out of law school, I gave so much to my job, thinking that work would give me a sense of fulfillment. After three years I did not feel fulfilled. I felt drained and tired. I knew I wasn't living up to my potential. I began to look for another job. And I had a choice. I could seek out the job that would be demanding, require me to work long hours, in an attempt to attain fulfillment. Or  I could look for a job that would allow me to pay my bills, keep me fed and sheltered but allow me to follow other pursuits. I chose the second option.

I have been at my current job for 15 months. In those 15 months I have written two books and have taken giant steps towards actually publishing. I am now set to have my first book published through Moorefield House Publishing, an independent publishing company. I work long hours as an attorney and write on the train and during my lunch breaks. And I feel fulfilled. I feel like I have accomplished something.

I don't jump out of bed each morning. I usually hit the snooze button a few times and grumble about it not being Saturday as I shuffle out of my bedroom to brush my teeth. I don't love my job, but I love what my job gives me: the ability to take care of myself and pursue my interests and personal dreams. I consider myself extremely blessed, not because I have a job I love, but because my job allows me to enjoy and love my life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"How to be a Best Selling Author"

As an indie writer, I have to forge and find my own way through the publishing world. I do not have a team of New York publicists, editors, and agents telling me what to do. There are plenty of bloggers who are more than happy to share their success stories and tell prospective writers how to sell books. As someone who has never sold more than 100 books I have no right to question their methods, but as a reader and author I admit am skeptical and cynical about every piece of advice I have read.

My all time pet peeve of writing advice is "writing a book that will be popular". Okay, I consider myself more of an artist. I don't write for profit, I write because I have an idea rolling around in my head, pounding at my skull trying to break out. Writing is a way to get rid of that idea and allow me a relief. When I first began writing My Not So Normal Life books, I did write because they fit into popular genres at the time. I wrote them because THEY DID NOT FIT INTO THE POPULAR BOOKS. I wrote female action books for young adults where romance was not the major plot point and the heroine didn't worry about her appearance or being popular. This was before Katniss Everdeen. Now my book fits more into the popular book genre than it did 10+years ago. But if I had only worked on something that had been popular back then my books would be outdated and no longer relevant. Yes, I sat on my books for a long time, but really I would much rather wait to release something I am proud of than to have written something purely to make money.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Homer gathering a team to make a book

When I read about how to market a book I feel like Lisa.

A Lifetime to Procrastinate

So, I am a huge nerd, which will be evident by the source of my quote (Dr. Who).

Professor Richard Lazarus: You're right, Doctor. One lifetime's been too short for me to do everything I'd like. How much more I'll get done in two, or three, or four.
The Doctor: It doesn't work like that. Some people live more in twenty years than others do in eighty. It's not the time that matters, it's the person.

Recently, I've begun to wonder if I've been making the most of my life. As someone who is officially in her early thirties, (gulp) I have moments of panic that I haven't met the full potential of my life. There are dreams I've let go of and tons of missed opportunities. I am able to lessen my anxiety by telling myself I have plenty of time. Today I realized how the concept of more time can be dangerous. We convince ourselves there is more time. What we forget when we put stuff off is that we can do stuff now. If we lived like we didn't have tons of time, maybe more would get done and we wouldn't consider life too short.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writing Again

"You need to start writing again."
David said this to me last night. We were eating dinner and I commented that I had read another book in less than 24 hours. (A feat considering I work 9 hours a day as an attorney). It was the fourth book I had read in a little over a week. A month ago, while in the middle of editing, I had lamented that all I wanted to do was to sit down and read a book. Once I finished editing and sent my book to my Beta Readers I opened a book and read one book, then a second, then a third, and a fourth. And do you know what has resulted from reading these books? I have found inspiration for my own writing. One manuscript I wrote ten years ago and determined was too dreadful to ever see the light of day, I began to rethink as a young adult book. Dialogue and scenes for books, character development, even poems and background folklore have begun to consume my thoughts. I find myself inspired to write a million different stories. Now the hard decision is choosing which story I should write first...