Monday, April 25, 2016

Stop the NOISE #MondayMotivation #AmWriting

I'm in a decluttering mood. In the past few months, I've narrowed down my Facebook "networking" groups to just a few (3 to be exact), cut all non-personal connections from my personal Facebook page and encouraged them to connect with me via LinkedIn or on my author pages, and I've started enforcing office hours with an iron fist.

Why? I'm self-employed, aren't I supposed to be accessible at all times no matter what? NO!

Today I went through my email inbox and unsubscribed from all emails that aren't important to me. I love reading blog articles and sometimes I've needed to subscribe to finish reading the article; however, this has led to my email inbox being so cluttered that I miss clients' emails or authors who want to guest on one of my blogs. It's madness. If I haven't found an unsubscribe button, I've emailed directly and asked to please remove me from their email list.

I know we're all encouraged to build our email lists for marketing purposes, but some people take it too far with multiple emails a day or even multiple emails a week. Yes, I have multiple email accounts for business, author, and personal, but all of them have gotten out of hand. So, today I took the initiative to unsubscribe to all but a few that I actually seek out.

Your email inbox is valuable real estate as a soloprenuer. Take charge of it so you don't miss valuable messages that could be your next big deal! Seriously, I had to weed through it to find important messages from clients and that was the last straw. I pride myself on promptly getting back to people and don't want my reputation ruined because someone has yet another web class or blog post that I don't care about.

If you have a large email list, keep in mind that the recipients don't want to start feeling bombarded by you. Yes, those lists can be effective marketing tools, but if you are seen as pushy or 'spammy', you'll end up alienating your colleagues and prospective customers. Personally, I only email a newsletter once a month. This way, when people see something from me in their inbox, it's unusual and they're more likely to take notice than if they have seen my name five times a week.

Streamlining my contacts and social media has also helped me feel that I'm not wasting time. As a soloprenuer, focus is essential. I can't waste it wading through group messages that mean nothing to me, networking with people who really don't have a clue, or endless "do me this favor" emails that truly don't benefit my ultimate goals at all. Yes, I used the word "me" there a lot--and that's okay. This is my business and my productivity effects my bottom line. With every endeavour--every email list I subscribe to--I need to be conscious of whether this is propelling me forward or dragging me down.

Look at your business email inbox--is it filled with only the things that you need today to be effective? Is there useful information there that can help you in performing better? If not, unsubscribe. Now look at your social media, especially Facebook networking groups. Narrow it down to the top three and either quit or hide the rest so you can focus in on only those that lift you up and support you.  You will feel like a load is lifted once you take charge of the noise you allow into your space.

Write on!
Amber Lea Easton
http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com

Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com


Friday, April 15, 2016

Keep the Tension Tight #AmWriting



Have you ever watched a rocket launch with a lot of fire and gusto only to turn and plummet straight to the ground? After spending so much time revising the beginning of your book to propel the reader into a captivating world, the last thing you want to do is lose that momentum.

As my editing clients will testify, I spend a lot of time harping on passive voice, meaningless backstory, and the art of showing rather than telling. Why? The simple answer is that those things are boring and slow the pace. I equate them to lazy writing.

Let's face it—first drafts include a lot of lazy writing because our intention as writers is to tell the story, to rip it out of our hearts and bleed it onto the page all the way to the end no matter what. Fine.

That's the first step.

But do you maintain the tension after all has bled out? Or does some of it feel forced, as if you're just trying to get through this and that before reaching the 'good parts' again? It's okay if you have sections of this in your first draft, but not in the second or third or fourth. Readers will notice these sections and skim them, if not completely abandon the book. Have you ever read a book yourself and started skimming ahead? Those are the sections where the author dropped the tension.

Let's avoid doing that ourselves. We don't want our readers skimming over anything.

Tension does not mean having constant action throughout, which would become exhausting to both write and read. The art of maintaining tension involves making each scene, every word of dialogue, count. If it doesn't propel the plot forward, it isn't sustaining momentum. Period. It's that easy to determine.

Backstory

Oh, the flashbacks. Let's discuss these, please. Pages of backstory are not okay. If you're writing a suspense novel that is rich with action and suddenly your character is reminiscing over something from a decade ago—and it goes on for more than a few sentences—then you have completely taken your reader out of the moment. Bam! You've dumped cold water over their heads.

Introduce backstory through dialogue or in brief glimpses throughout the story, but not in huge chunks that go on for pages. You may feel that the flashbacks give the reader a glimpse into the character's past, which if fine, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Dialogue is the best way for a character to reveal their backstory. It is the most natural, especially if done in little glimpses during the story's development. Imagine having lunch with your character. He or she is sitting across from you right now. How is the conversation going? Is it one long speech or is there some give and take? Are they revealing a bit of themselves at a time, holding the deeper stuff inside until they get to know you better? Isn't that air of mystery appealing? Don't you want to keep the conversation going to learn more about this intriguing individual across from you?

As an author, that's how you want your readers to feel about your characters. They want to get to know them as they go, always wanting to know more than what you're giving them. The yearning for more will keep them turning the pages.

Another way to write effective backstory is to show snippets of flashbacks that the character may be struggling to hide from the other characters in your story—but this is also the most common mistake, depending on how it's handled by the author. Notice I used the word 'snippets' rather than pages.

He cringed at the sight of blood on her fingertip from the paper cut. Sounds of exploding bombs, screaming children, and machine gun fire overshadowed the present and transported him back to hell in the blink of an eye. He shook his head, forced himself to focus on the now, and held her hand beneath the flowing cold water. He watched the blood swirl down the drain, echoes of the past never far from the surface of his mind.

In the above example, we know this man has been in a warzone without having him actually go back in time for pages and without disrupting the scene.

Flashbacks can be a powerful tool in character development, but only when used with precision. Ask yourself what you are hoping to convey by implementing backstory. Character development is the correct answer---adding to your overall word count is the wrong one.

What if the backstory comes in the form of a dream, you ask? I have seen this utilized effectively, but even then brevity is why it worked. Keep it simple. Make sure it strengthens the storyline.

And if your editor tells you repeatedly that the backstory is boring and slows down the pace, then listen to him/her and rethink your strategy. Please.

Remember those skimmable scenes I mentioned earlier? You want to avoid those. If you feel those flashbacks are vital to your story, then find another, more creative way to express them either through dialogue or condensed into a few paragraphs.  

Have you ever watched a rocket launch with a lot of fire and gusto only to turn and plummet straight to the ground? After spending so much time revising the beginning of your book to propel the reader into a captivating world, the last thing you want to do is lose that momentum.


Showing versus telling

As an editor, I see this mistake happen a lot with writers who are also journalists or academics because they're accustomed to telling stories rather than transporting readers into another world. It's not a fault, per se, simply a different way of writing that works in journalism (or business or academia) but not with fiction or creative nonfiction.

Book readers want to feel the sun on their skin, taste the bitterness of the wine, see the sun reflecting on the water, experience the goosebumps shivering over their skin, and feel their heartbeats hammering inside their chests. Don't tell us we're scared—show us! Make us twist uncomfortably in our seats because we are experiencing the emotions and sensations of the character.

How do you the author do that? Eliminate passive voice where possible. Okay, what's passive voice, you ask? This is hard for some to recognize. A lot of people think if they simply search their document for the word 'was' they will identify it. Although this is somewhat true, I'm going to do my best to break it down.

Passive voice is identified in sentences where the target of the action is promoted to the subject. For example, "Jack is loved by Lisa." In this example Jack is the target of Lisa's love, but has been promoted to the subject. By simply switching it up to "Lisa loves Jack" the author is moving from passive to active. Lisa (subject) loves (verb) Jack (target of the love). One clue that will always identify a passive sentence is when the subject isn't taking any direct action.

I need to state that passive voice sentences aren't incorrect, but they usually aren't the best way to convey your thoughts. They can read as vague or awkward, becoming stumbling blocks in the reader's mind. Active sentences are tight, to the point, and drive the pace.

There are exceptions, of course, especially when writing a sentence where the subject is unknown (perhaps in a mystery novel) where you'd write, "the diamonds were stolen." In that case, the emphasis is on what is stolen (diamonds) because no one knows who stole them. However, as the author, it is necessary to know when it works and when it doesn't. Knowing how to identify both passive and telling is the first step in being able to judge if it's working for your story.

More examples:
The murder weapon was held by Jane. (passive)
Jane held the murder weapon. (active)

Ricky felt scared by the shadow in the hallway. (telling)
Ricky pressed against the wall, paralyzed and unable to breathe let alone scream as the shadow figure approached from the end of the hallway. (showing)

These examples are simplistic and somewhat exaggerated to show you the difference between the two. Both are easy to fix by forcing yourself as the author to step it up a notch. Rearrange the subjects of sentences so that they are doing the action to eliminate passive voice. Describe feelings and descriptions in a way that transports the reader into the mind and heart of your characters to avoid telling.

Backloading paragraphs

What?! Don't worry if you haven't heard of this literary device, but if you have, then you are a step ahead of the crowd already. I applaud you. For the rest, let's continue.

Backloading a sentence or paragraph with a power word is a subtle but powerful technique that gives your work that extra punch. Glance up the page. Notice the ending words on my paragraphs. Perhaps go back a few pages. Here's what I see:

Action
Pace
Story
Telling
See
Tension

A glance up the page of any well-written fiction or nonfiction book will show backloaded sentences. In essence, these are words that solidify meaning. They are strong nouns rather than weak adverbs or—gasp—prepositions. With fiction, it's doubly important to backload paragraphs for a powerful punch that maintains tension.

Readers subconsciously pick up on this technique and, when power words are used at the end of paragraphs and sentences, they absorb that energy. This is what elevates your writing to another level—to that page-turning-can't-get-enough-don't-let-it-stop category.

Again, for such an effective writing tool, it's easy to apply. Simply glance at your manuscript, look at the pages, and see how the ends of your paragraphs look. Then pick up one of your favorite author's books and glance up the pages. The more successful the author, the more you'll see that they've backloaded their paragraphs.

Weak writing will display weak words at the end of paragraphs—adverbs or prepositions, for example. Don't be weak.

Elevate your writing to another level—to that page-turning-can't-get-enough-don't-let-it-stop category.
Action steps for your manuscript—time to put the editor hat on again and be objective:

·      Analyze your manuscript for backstory. If you have it, ask yourself if it is necessary. If it is, how have you handled it? Is it concise? Does it stop the flow of the story? If it is more than a few paragraphs and you still feel it is vital, have you started the story in the right place?
·      Where can you amp up the story to eliminate telling and show the reader exactly what you want them to see or experience? Use descriptive words and nonverbal reactions to transport your reader into the world you've created.
·      Identify passive voice and change to active where possible.
·      Glance through every page of your manuscript and check for weak endings of paragraphs. Trust me, this really makes a difference in establishing and maintaining tension. Once you start to see it, you'll be amazed at the difference a word makes.

Write on!
Amber Lea Easton

 
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com


Monday, April 11, 2016

Who's Really Behind the Screen? Question Authority #AmWriting #Motivation

Writer Beware: That person pretending to be a guru 
in your on-line writers' group 
could be a wanna-be with a lot of false bravado.
Just like on-line dating, you need to beware of on-line writers' groups where people can easily hide behind a fake name and false credentials while doling out advice that sounds credible as they lead you down the wrong path. Worse than that, they might be ripping off your ideas.

I hate to sound like a cynic. It goes against my nature. Because of my instinct to trust first and question later, I've been burned. I'm not sure what it is about a writers' group that breaks down barriers quicker than a dating site would (for me anyway), but my normal boundaries became blurred under the guise of professional sharing and peer-group support in an isolating profession.

I believed people who sounded like pros only to learn later that they either hadn't published yet or had less experience in the business than I did. Oh, but they knew the schpeel. They knew the right words to say, the tone to set, the intimidation to apply to anyone who questioned their "authority." Because they say all the right things and appear to be in charge, people who join the group look to them as leaders without doing due diligence regarding qualifications. In a world where pen names are common and where you're dealing with professional storytellers, pretenders thrive.

If you're a member of a writers' group, keep in mind that you're representing yourself as a professional even if you're sitting at home bare-assed naked. Don't let your guard down. Be smart. 

That's the difference between a face-to-face writers' group and an on-line one. When meeting people face-to-face, usually at a networking meeting or local writers' gathering, it's natural for people to share their accomplishments and credentials. It's part of the game. However, online, such things are seen as self-promotion and are usually forbidden in the group rules or shut down immediately. We may click on their profile picture and read the "about" section where they can write whatever they want, but it's much easier to lie online than face-to-face. Why? Because face-to-face has body language, local accountability (my friend may know you or I may be your neighbor), eye contact, and a degree of personalization that an online cannot provide.

Sure, there are wannabes at the local face-to-face groups as well. I met a man I now call Scary Kerry at one. He presented himself as an award-winning screenwriter, a PR exec, and a PHd student---well, his screenplay did win an award in a small town in the middle of nowhere and his PR experience consisted of working concessions at the baseball stadium. So, yes, frauds are everywhere, but Scary Kerry was easily discovered because people who knew people talk and word spreads. His demeanor was off, he'd get shifty when asked direct questions--all things that are much more noticeable in person than when someone has time to construct a written response. Online groups are much harder to crack.

So what do you do? You work alone, spend all day in front of the computer, and long to connect to a peer group. Online is easy. My advice is to take everything with a grain of salt and not believe the loudest person in the group or the administrator or the one with the fanciest cover or even the one who seems the nicest--be a professional. Treat the online group as a collection of colleagues and keep your professional face on. If someone appears to know it all, check them out. It's easy to do if they are as accomplished as they claim. Check LinkedIn or Google, ask people you trust if they've heard of the person. I recommend those tactics because you can't believe everything you see on Goodreads or Amazon--anyone can slap up a page there, self-pub a book or two, swap reviews with a bunch of other shady authors--which happens all the time--and claim to be a bestseller because they cheated the system with a "box set" or "anthology". Unfortunately, I'm not being a cynic by saying that. Experience has taught me to be cautious.

In a world where pen names are common and where you're dealing with professional storytellers, pretenders thrive.

I was a wide-eyed optimist when I first entered the publishing world. I leaped at the chance to join writers' groups and soaked up as much as I could. But then I noticed that a lot of the leaders bullied anyone who had a difference of opinion or who questioned their credentials. Storylines of my published books were copied, and, when confronted, the thieves claimed things like "imitation is the highest form of flattery" and "yes, your work inspired me, I'm a fan, consider this fan fic."

I don't online date because I've always thought, "anyone can appear to be anyone on those sites" yet I readily accepted the credibility of leaders and members of online writers' groups. My bad! I admit my mistake. So, if you're a member of a writers' group, keep in mind that you're representing yourself as a professional even if you're sitting at home bare-assed naked. Don't let your guard down. Be smart. Make sure the person lecturing you actually knows what they're talking about and isn't thumb-typing from the pretzel stand at the local baseball stadium. (Yes, Scary Kerry, I mean you!)

Write on!
Amber Lea Easton
http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com
(I'm on LinkedIn, too...just in case you were wondering.)

Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com


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