February 5, 2007

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Places to Get Help With Your Writing

One summer when I realized I was completely stalled out on my book because I had reached a plateau in the craft of writing, a close friend recommended I go right to the top for help — to the University of Iowa.

Iowa is famous for its writing instruction.  So, I took 3 classes at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop.

The great thing about the Summer Workshop is that they will let anyone in.  This is a truly great thing, because everyone learns more from reading and hearing the teacher assist terrible writers than they ever do from observing the talented ones.

In the Workshop you learn what it takes to write.  As they say at Iowa:  The most beautiful writing in the world exists in fragments.  They’d rather see a lesser talented writer with a good attitude and strong work ethic than the artistic genius, because the ” great artistes” will never finish their work.

Real Hillbilly Accents & Diet Coke

Local dialect and extra-large Diet Cokes are two of my all-time favorite things.

Writing

Go to Borders Cafe…buy hot chocolate…bring headphones for your laptop.

And be careful who you show your work to. Be sure it’s is someone who likes books in the same genre you are writing in. As you can sometimes intuit from reading savage book reviews, you are putting a gun to your head by having your draft romance novel critiqued by a guy whose favorite reads are computer manuals and military history.

Editing is a very high-skill, specialized talent. Few people can do it. Your cousin or immediate family members are very likely to be rotten at it and will (purposely or by accident) crush both your artistic spirit and your will to live if you ask them for writing advice.

The intersection of art and commerce is like throwing yourself into a paper shredder, a hay baling machine, a combine, a thresher, a sugarcane press (depending on the area of the country you live in and what’s available).

Things to Ponder

I’m happy to meet with book clubs in person if they’re close enough or by phone if they are farther away!

Public Service Quiz

What is of greater service to the American people:
a. Riding on a nuclear submarine, pretending to sink ships and wipe out major cities by firing torpedos and intercontinental ballistic missles?
b. Wiping up barf when you’re the only person with access to the paper towels and mop.
c. Riding in a Lear jet
d. Watching rich people try to ride a horse
e. Getting on C-Span wearing really expensive clothes
f. Standing in your yard wearing $19 scrubs and petting your dog

First Aid Quiz

1.  What do you do if you’re in a group when someone is electrocuted in an isolated area and one of you just sharpened your pocket knife?
2.  How do you remove a cast if it’s getting on your nerves?
3.  What happens if you sew yourself up with embroidery thread?
     a.  Should you wash the cut before sewing it up?
4.  What is the correct tool to use to remove a splinter?
5.  What do you do for a severed jugular vein?
6.  What do you do if four enemas do not seem to be working?

Medicare Coverage Quiz

1.  Does Medicare cover guillotine-related claims?
     a.  List one possible post-legal-execution-by-beheading claim.
2.  Does Medicare cover spacecraft accident-related claims?
     a.  Does Medicare cover claims related to spacecraft launching pad accidents?
     b.  Does Medicare cover claims related to weightlessness aboard spacecraft?
3.  Does Medicare cover
     a.  “Spoiled Child”
     b.  “Spring Fever”
     c.  “Quarrelsomeness”
     d.  “Clumsiness”
     e.  “Double Whammy”
4.  Does Medicare have provisions for “stubbed toe”?
5.  Does Medicare have provisions for “sore finger”?

Test Your Knowledge of Smoky Mountain Dialect

1.  What is “worshing out feet”?
2.  What is an “escape goat”?
3.  What is “the punies.”
4.  Extra Bonus Question:  Who had the punies?

General Questions

1.  What type of animal is named “Forrest Gump”?
2.  Why pour ice water into a sick person’s ear?
3.  If a sick person is chatting with you, should you ask them before terminating their life support?

Clip from “Half Lives”

The Second Biggest Secret

Write a pitchable book.

It’s sad, but if you can’t summarize your book into a form as short as the tag line on a movie poster, you are probably not going to get very far with it.

Many nice people are working on books and when I ask them “What’s it about?” they hem and haw and mutter about how complicated it is, how hard it is to say what it’s really about…that a person would just have to read the whole thing to know….

Well, that’s not going to work. Not in this “modren” age. Think SOUND BITE.

Your pitch to prospective agents has to be in the form of a sound bite. The agents’ pitch to prospective publishers has to be in the form of a sound bite. The publishers’ pitch to the book store chains has to be in a sound bite. The book store’s pitch to customers has to be in a sound bite.

Are you getting the picture?

The Biggest Secret of Writing

Start your book. Work a whole lot on it. Finish your book.

Honestly, this is the biggest secret.

Once when I was scribbling and whining, my oldest friend asked me these questions:

1. How many people do you know who THINK they could write a book or who have SAID they want to write a book? [Lots.]

2. How many people do you know who have STARTED a book? [Less than a handful.]

3. How many people do you know who have FINISHED a book? [None.]

Then he bet me $1,000,000 that if I would simply finish my book, there would be such enormous momentum behind such a rare happening, that I would easily get an agent, the book would get published, and I would get a big movie/TV series deal.

HE WAS RIGHT! [I hope I don't owe him $1 million.]

Descriptive Genius in Local Dialect

My foot’s so sore, if I was standin on a dime, I could tell ye whether it was heads er tails….