Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January Update

Time for my first CAREER UPDATE on the blog.

January has been a crazy month so far when it comes to my writing, and all of those related activities that come with being a writer.

First, I've signed on to be a presenter at a group of conferences (see the sidebar for dates and topics). I'll be speaking to the Salt Lake Scribes Chapter of the League of Utah Writers, on several panels for the Life, the Universe and Everything conference, teaching a class at LDStorymakers, and another at the first Indie Hub Publishing conference. Most of my presentations are already written, which is a good thing, but there is always last minute polishing.

Walnut Spring Press will be publishing my next non-fiction book, Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith. We are expecting a March release, which means I'm working on gathering endorsements, getting a new author photo taken, and drafting articles for Meridian Magazine and TheFamily.com about the research. Once the revisions are done, I have permission from my publisher to post a sample chapter here at my blog, so you'll have the chance for a first look.

I'm currently working on revisions for the first novella in the Always a Bridesmaid series, Grace. My graphic artist is starting to look for ideas for the cover design and I'm hoping for a February release on this one. Grace will not be the only book in the series this year. Two more novellas and a full length novel are almost ready to go.With this series, I've decided to start using a pen name--Marie Ellsworth. I've long intended to write under this name, which is the middle names of my mother and my father combined, but now I have a reason to. Since my other published work has been either non-fiction or written for middle grade and young adult readers, I wanted to keep the branding of the romance separate, thus the use of a pen name.

But those are not the only books on my release docket for 2014. A non-fiction memoir, Living in an Osmond World is nearly done, as is Carny, the next book in the Small Town U.S.A. series, and there is a possibility I'll finish the middle grade novel, Ebenezer, in time for December.

But the biggest news of all--I've signed a contract to write a Christmas novella for an upcoming Timeless Romance anthology! These anthologies have become bestsellers, and I'm thrilled to be invited to participate along with Heather B. Moore, Annette Lyon, Sarah M. Eden, and two other authors.

So, as you might imagine, I'll be spending lots of time this year, working on my computer, but I also hope to hear from YOU! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Writing Tips: Wasted Words

Some of my readers are likely aware that I taught English for 34 years. Others may know that I've been a freelance editor for 17 years. In all of that time, I've read a lot--school papers, manuscripts, and published books. Through all of that reading, I've tried to not only be a critic--yes, that is what English teachers and editors do--but also to improve my own writing skills, based on the lessons I've learned in the process. 

During the second week of each month, I will put on my teacher hat for this blog. Sometimes I will teach readers writing tips I have learned. Other weeks I'll share tips to help you better readers. The truth is, this information is actually one in the same. If you are a critical and discerning reader, you should be able to transfer those skills to your writing as well, improving your final product. 

This week I've been spending a great deal of time editing--both for myself and for clients, which has helped me choose my topic:

 Writing Tip #1: Wasted Words

During the initial drafting process, writers often shoot for a word count target. This is especially true if we are participating in a challenge such as NaNoWriMo or Word Wars with our Twitter friends. The higher the number of words we write in a given time frame, the better. We do everything we can to win the battle, collecting lots of wasted words along the way, all in the effort to have the largest word count when the match is done.  

But by the time we are ready to revise and edit, we realize that many of those precious words we wrote in the struggle to reach our goals need to go away if we want our manuscript to be worthy of publication.

I'm as guilty of wasting words as anyone. It's easy to fall into the trap of a favorite phrase that clutters my writing. I lost track of how many times I had to remove the phrase "a bit" from one of my manuscripts, but that's not the only phrase I've been guilty of using. I've learned to keep a "watch list" during my own editing process, and the search function has helped me get rid of the over-use of certain words. 

But overuse is not the only way an author can waste words. Sometimes we use words to "warm up" to what we really want to say, as fillers when we aren't sure what we want to say, or because of habits we have picked up as we speak, which we let stray into our writing. Here are a few examples:

"And with that" -- Writers add this phrase while drafting when they want to move a character from place to place, instead of just moving them. Almost every time it draws the reader out of the point of view character and into the thoughts of a narrator using the author's voice. Remove this phrase and show us the action to strengthen your scene.    

"Up" -- It's amazing how many times this little word can be added when it's not necessary. Rose up, sat up, and stood up are just a few examples. Search for "up" and read the sentence without it. If the sentence makes sense, omit the word, or better yet, find a way to strengthen the verb.

"Thought to himself" -- Everyone is guilty of this one, but if you stop to think about it, the phrase is sort of silly. Who else would you think to? Unless you're a backwards mind reader, there is no way you can think to anyone other than yourself. Delete "to himself."

"Small / Large" -- We often add these words, thinking they help a reader determine size, but unless you specifically give sometime to compare the item to these qualifiers don't add anything to the description. "A small man" could describe any man without another man to compare him to. Is he under 5' tall? Or is he simply a couple of inches shorter than Michael Jordan? If you want to see how meaningless these words become, pick up a copy of Brian's Winter by Gary Paulsen and read, looking especially for the word "small." I love the story, but it becomes laughable when you hit the section where he uses small something like ten times in a half a page. 

"Well / Um" -- These words are wasted in conversation, and they are even more wasted in written text. Find another, better way to show hesitancy in a character's speech. 

Look over your own work in progress this week and make note of wasted words. Do a search and see how many you can delete. Do you notice an improvement in the quality of your writing? Continue to build your list, make every word count, and you will see improvement as you write.  

One word of warning--you'll also start to see other people's wasted words as you read. This can be good if you add their words to your editing list to avoid in your own writing, but it may also drive you crazy as you realize some of your favorite authors could have been so much better if they'd only learned not to waste words.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Welcome 2014

Happy New Year! Welcome to my blog. One of my goals is to do a better job this year at providing updates. I've even put myself back on a schedule.

If all goes as planned, I'll post a new message each week on Tuesday, and if any exciting news becomes available, I will also post additional updates in between.

Tuesday messages will center around the following themes:

Week 1 -- Setting Monthly Goals (I'll share mine. Feel free to share yours in the comments section)
Week 2 -- Tips to Improve Your Writing or Reading Skills (Once an English teacher, always an English teacher)
Week 3 -- Career updates (Book facts, news, passage, etc.)
Week 4 -- Book or Movie Review (My choice, so please don't request reviews.)

Since this is officially Week 1, I'll share my goals for the month:
1. Finish revisions for Always a Bridesmaid: Grace, the first novella in my new series
2. Approve cover art and format Kindle edition of Grace
3. Complete a client edit (Visit the Precision Editing Group website if you're interested in hiring an editor)
4. Write two entries for Living in an Osmond World and find appropriate cover art
5. Finish reading Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom by A.C. Crispin

I'll let you know how I did when I give my February goals. In the meantime, check in next week for Tips to Improve Your Writing or Reading Skills.