Top Self-Editing Tips Panel

This post is for all those who attended my self-editing panel at CaperCon this weekend. I promised to post a .pdf of the presentation, so here it is! You can download it from the link below.

(Psst! Even if you weren’t at my panel but would like some self-editing tips, you can download it, too! My aim with this panel was to help writers learn how to find some basic areas for line-edit improvements in their writing.)

In at least one of my panels, I also mentioned the submission planning spreadsheet I made, which is available for download from this site. You can find that post here.

Finally, we talked a little bit about Scrivener, as well. Here’s a post about setting up a submission tracker as a Scrivener project.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the table, bought a book, chatted, and came to my panels this weekend. You helped make it another wonderful convention experience!

 

Friday Desk Report – September 29, 2017

*looks around, swipes a finger across the desk*

Wow, pretty dusty in here. Looks like I’ve been away for the whole summer!

Well, yes, I was. Not away from home (much), but away from my digital home. and from my office, too. That was messy enough to take two days to clean up, but that’s done, so I’d better clean up here, too. And I actually do have stuff to report, because I was back at my desk much more this week.

First up: Over the summer, I turned in the manuscript for Nearspace #3, Beyond the Sentinel Stars. It’s been through edits and although I don’t have a definite release date to share with you yet, it’s coming! For those who love Luta and her crew, I think you’ll really enjoy this installment of their adventures.

Next up: pre-orders are now open for the Gumshoes Bundle from BundleRabbit. If you’re a mystery lover, you won’t want to miss out on this one! It includes my urban fantasy/mystery The Murder Prophet, as well as a host of other great titles.

More news: Where Evil Dwells is out! This anthology of Nova Scotia horror includes my story, “The Girl in the Stones,” and some other writers you’ll probably recognize. Available in stores and at all the usual online locations.

One more thing for today: I’ll be at CaperCon 2017 as a guest, and I have a great lineup of panels and workshops! I’ll post details about them all here next week. CaperCon runs October 20-22 and takes place at Centre 200 in Sydney this year, so plan to come by and visit! It’s set to be bigger and better than ever!

My Address to Grads

Five years ago, I was invited to give the address to graduates from our local high school. I was honoured to do so, particularly since my daughter was graduating, and so I knew many students in the class. Since it’s that time of year again, I thought I’d share my thoughts from that time with everyone. The advice in it is really not only for young people. :)

Good evening, everyone, and good evening especially to you, the graduates of 2012. (And if I’ve been to your English class lately, yes, it’s me again. And I thought talking to twenty of you at once was intimidating!)

Actually, I’m very pleased to have been invited to speak to you tonight. I’ve known many of you since you started school, and I’ve watched you grow into wonderful young men and women. I’ve met more of you through school visits, and I know that this class of 2012 is full of kindness, intelligence, spirit, talent, and potential.

When I was invited to do this, at first I wasn’t quite sure what I should say. My guidelines were to give you some “sage advice.” Now, for one thing, I’m much too young to be giving “sage” advice! But I guess I have learned a few things worth sharing. I think they’re some of the ingredients for a happy life. (Don’t worry, it’s not a long or complicated recipe.)

Learn to say “yes.”
I don’t mean, “be a doormat.” I mean, “open yourself to opportunities.” It’s almost always easier to say “no,” especially if we’re presented with an opportunity that seems intimidating, or outside our comfort zone, or more than we’re qualified for. Say yes anyway. It’s only by taking on things that challenge us that we learn our true capabilities and allow ourselves to grow. So make “yes” your default answer when opportunity presents itself.

Learn to say “no.”
When “yes” is your default, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So learn to say “no” sometimes, too. I know your life seems quite full right now, but once you add in careers and spouses and children and houses and bills and volunteering and grocery shopping and housework and yardwork and travel and deadlines—it’s going to get busier. And in order to give all those things the attention they need—you need a little time to stop and think once in a while. To refocus on the important things and let go of the not-so-important ones. So learn to balance “yes” and “no” wisely.

Remember that who and what you are today is not necessarily who and what you will be tomorrow.
Life is about change and possibility. There’s a lot of pressure on you right now to decide what you are going to be. Don’t let that overwhelm you. All you are really deciding is what you are going to do—at least for the next little while. If you change your mind later, it’s all right. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake. When I left Memorial, I headed for journalism school. Then I changed my mind and became a lawyer for a time. Then I changed my mind again when I realized that I wasn’t happy—and I went back to writing, because that’s where my heart is. But if I hadn’t gone to law school and worked as a lawyer, I probably wouldn’t have met the person who would become one of my best friends and one of my partners in publishing. So even if your path is a winding one, that doesn’t mean you’ve strayed off course. Very few lives are a straight road—and straight roads are generally not nearly as interesting as winding ones.

Create something.
Without a doubt, we live in a consumer society. We consume material things like clothes and cell phones, we consume entertainment like TV shows and movies, we consume far too much of far too many things that are “bad” for us. So to balance all this consumption, I encourage you to also take time to create something. It’s strange how many people deny their creativity—they say, “Oh, I’m not creative”—when what I think they really feel is that they’re not creative enough to do something that someone else would consider “good.” But I think that making things is good for us. You might be a writer or a filmmaker or an artist or a songwriter. You might build bridges or design buildings or craft a new scientific theory. Or you could be a scrapbooker or a woodworker or a gardener. Or you could take pictures or sew things or make music or restore old cars or make a funny video that goes viral. If you don’t create for anyone else, create for yourself. I like this quote from the American journalist William F. Buckley, Jr. He said: “I get satisfaction of three kinds. One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my butt all afternoon.”

So even if you’re not being paid for it, don’t just sit on your butt all afternoon. Create things.

Think for yourself.
Every generation probably hears this, but I think it is especially important in the world right now. We are facing a lot of BIG issues—political, religious, scientific, global—and the rate of societal change is possibly the fastest it has ever been. You will have to make decisions on many of these issues, so I urge you to be informed, consider the facts, and decide for yourself. Just because your parents or your friends or a politician or your favorite celebrity or some guy on YouTube tells you something, does not necessarily make it true. You can respect their opinions, but think for yourself, and be true to your own decisions.

Don’t strive for normal.
Since the time you started school, you’ve probably been preoccupied with being “normal” or “fitting in.” But what does “normal” mean? It means “standard” or “common” or “average.” I want you all to do something. Put your thumbs and fingertips together, and look through the opening that forms. That’s “normal.” Now look around you, everywhere else. That’s the rest of your possibilities. Do you really want to fit into that little space called “normal?” Don’t be afraid to live outside the boundaries, even just a little. I think you’ll be happier for it.

You are never too old.
You’ve been told many times in the past eighteen or nineteen years that you’re “too young” to do this or that. And while that is sometimes true—you really are too young to drive a car at age twelve, or get married in Grade Three—before long you’ll start thinking (or society will tell you) that you’re “too old” to do things. Don’t believe it. You are never too old to do things you think you’ll enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Want to play on a playground? Do it. Change your job? Do it. Learn a new sport, or hobby, or language? Do it. If you truly believe that you are not too old to do something, then you won’t be. But you have to start believing it now, so that doubts and that tiny space called “normal” don’t hold you back later.

Finally, I want to mention the Ethic of Reciprocity. You may think you don’t know what that is, but I’m betting that you do. You might know it as the Golden Rule, which commonly goes something like: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s a concept that goes far beyond that. The idea that the best way to get along in life is to treat others the way we would like to be treated stretches back as far as the ancient civilizations of Babylon, China, Egypt, and Greece, and it stretches across almost every world culture, religion, and ethical code. In Islam, it’s “wish for others what you wish for yourself”; in Buddhism, it’s “treat not others in ways that you would find hurtful”; in Judaism, it’s “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” And so on, and so on.

It’s easy to say it, but when you take a step back and look at it, it’s quite elegant in its simplicity. You can hang almost every other moral and ethical principle on this one directive. Take a minute and really think about what kind of world we would live in if we always considered the other in all of our social interactions. In business, in relationships, in our everyday life. If we always took a brief second to judge our actions by that one, simple test—if someone did or said this to me, would it harm or upset me? If you forget everything else I’ve said here tonight as soon as you leave, I hope this one, at least, will stick. I really think it has the power to change the world.

And that’s it—say yes, say no, expect and accept change, make things, think for yourself, forget about normal, never think you’re “too old,” and always consider the other. My recipe for a happy life! You have already made all of us—your parents, your teachers, your families—incredibly proud, and I hope that as you start down your own winding paths, you’ll find some of these ingredients useful.

There’s a quote that goes: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Go and be the ones who make it happen!

Thank you.

Friday Desk Report – June 16, 2017

A lovely carpet of creeping phlox

Seems like it was a bit of a slow week around the desk, but of course the intrusion of the warming weather and demands of the outdoors have something to do with that. (Not that I am complaining!) Still, I managed to keep up with most things, started a new novel revision, and spent hours refining the magic system used in that novel draft. It now makes more sense and is on its way to becoming a rational magic system. Still a few things to work out, but it definitely has a good foundation now. It was a pain in the butt interesting to try to reconcile the magic use/character abilities that I’d written into the story into a more coherent framework. I’ll have to make changes and adjustments as I work my way through this revision, but I feel much more confident about a good result now.

In my research into building good magic systems, I also refreshed my memory on Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of magic systems, which are very helpful to keep in mind when building one. The first one is at the link, and the others are linked from the bottom of that page.

A gorgeous tall tulip from a “Pretty in Pink” bulb mix from Vesey’s Seeds

I started the week bouncing between projects and finally landed on that revision, but I foresee that pattern continuing over the next little while. There are short stories I want to submit by upcoming deadlines, so although I’m a bit stuck on them right now, I have to keep going back and pecking at them until they agree to cooperate. I love it when I can sit down and write a new story straight through, but alas, that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s more likely to take a lot of digging and mucking about before I reach those two sweet, sweet words: The End.

Family, fire, and cake

Last week was my birthday (which I share with my sister, but no, we’re not twins–she was born five years after me, but on the same date) so we had our traditional outdoor party on the weekend. I made a first attempt at icing flowers made with a Russian ball decorating tip; they turned out all right, but I learned some tricks for making them better the next time. Still delicious!

Still working with my assistant, so despite the yard and garden needs, I think I’ll be able to stay productive in the coming weeks.

 

Eleven Reasons to Love Outlines

This colourful outline brought to you by Scrivener’s binder feature.

I know what you’re thinking, those of you who know me. Why would a non-outliner write a post about loving outlines?

It’s not that I’ve come entirely over to the dark side become an outliner, but I do recognize that sometimes they can be useful, whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool planner or a steadfast pantser. And in fact, this post has been co-written by my sometimes author assistant, Emily, who actually is an outliner and therefore knows more about the whole outlining thing than I do. Here’s what we’ve come up with in our collaboration on the topic.

1. There is No “Right Way” to Outline. Outlines can take on different forms depending on who is making them. Some writers use programs like Scrivener to create digital outlines, others prefer to use note cards or index cards. Any way you want to outline is a good way to outline. You might even find that you don’t have to go the full mile and outline your entire plot, but an outline of your main character’s arc would be helpful, or a timeline of historical events to set up your current world. You’re free to outline whatever will assist you and your writing, and pay no attention to the rest.

2. Outlines Are Inspiring. Whatever method you decide to use for your outline, make it not just helpful to you but visually or aesthetically pleasing. If there’s a color you find particularly inspiring, incorporate that into your outline. If you have images that get the creative juices flowing, represent your characters, or paint the picture of one of your locations, include them in your outline so you are always reminded of them when you return to your outline. Remember that no one else is going to see it; it’s just for you and it should make you excited as well as get you organized. Just don’t get lost in adorning your outline when you should be adorning your plot. Keep it simple and fun!

3. Having a Plan. The beginning of a story can be intimidating to write. So can the middle. And so can the end. Having an outline provides you with an overview of the plot, detailing how things start, how they progress, and how they end so you know where you’re starting and also where you’re going. There is no frightening blank space lying in wait just beyond that exciting first scene. You always have something to fall back on if you forget what you wanted to happen next.

4. Defense Against the Dark Arts…er, Writer’s Block. Every writer faces writer’s block at one time or another. A conversation isn’t working, an explanation requires some research before it can be written, a scene just isn’t interesting enough. An outline provides you with numerous distractions from that one difficult section; you can move onto another scene that you know needs to happen, but with a basic understanding of what needs to come before or after.

5. Structured Spontaneity. Outlines can, at first glance, seem to be an obstacle that will stand in the way of your creativity. If you know everything that’s going to happen in your story, is there really room for discovery or development? Absolutely! Think of your outline as a foundation; your action, characters, and themes all have their own jobs and interactions, and are probably not going to adhere to the outline indefinitely. Your writing will still surprise you, and on that note…

6. Outlines are Not Static. Sometimes characters do things that we don’t expect or a rogue plot point will plummet into the thick of our stories seemingly out of nowhere. This doesn’t mean that your outline becomes worthless. When things need to change, an outline can change with them, and you already have a platform to input new information and step back to see the whole picture in terms of this new development. An outline does not need to be restrictive.

7. Outlining is Pantsing in Disguise. Whether you do it before you write or as you write, you are still creating this storyline, these characters, and these events out of your imagination. Outliners are just pantsers who do more of their imagining prior to the actual act of writing, and write it down so they don’t forget it. So no matter which camp you think you fall into, it’s more a matter of perspective and style than anything else. If you’re a pantser, don’t let the prospect of an outline be scary or off-putting, because it’s not fundamentally much different from the way you usually tackle story construction.

8. Revision Tool There’s no better tool to have by your side when heading into a novel revision than your trusty outline. It gives you a necessary overview of the structure, pace, and logic of your story when you’re trying to ferret out where change is needed. To that end, if you’re not an outliner before you write, create an outline as you go. At the end of every writing session, briefly describe in a sentence or two what just happened. Even if you didn’t start out with an outline, you’ll have one by the time you finish the first draft.

9. Synopsis Tool Likewise, an outline can be an invaluable tool when it comes time to write the Dreaded Synopsis. Particularly if you’ve updated your outline to reflect changes that happened during the actual writing and revision of the novel, or created the outline in tandem with the novel and revisions, you have an accurate but brief reflection of the story from beginning to end, and can set to work polishing it up into a synopsis right away.

10. Aid to Discovery Your outline can reveal things about your novel or story that you may have included subconsciously, like themes and motifs. They’re revealed subtly throughout the story itself, but looking over your outline it may be more obvious that certain elements or objects repeat and resonate throughout the manuscript.

11. Series Tool Maybe you didn’t set out to write a series, but the first book or story has given birth to a followup idea. Your outline can be the first thing in your series bible, and refresh your memory on many elements of the previous story as you set out to write the next installment.