Grim Commonsense: advice from FOR WRITERS ONLY

All my life I wanted to write—to be a writer, to have my work read by others and enjoyed, or even change their lives! And in my dreams I imagined them being read long after I was dead — in a kind of immortality. Now, decades later, I can say that I’m a successful writer, with three New York Times bestsellers and my work translated into some 25 languages, and I know my books will be trashed  and thrown away probably before another fifty years have passed – and there’s something [...]

5 Signs You’re Not In Alignment With Your Writing Dream

A few months ago, I found myself standing on the edge of my writing career. Up to that point, things had gone OK, but I just didn’t have the success I was dreaming of. I thought about quitting. I questioned whether I even had what it took to make my dream happen. After all, I’d been at it since 2008, wouldn’t I have made it work by now? I took a cold, hard look at where I was at and at where I wanted to be. And what [...]

Why People Are The Key to Addictive Stories

People are adorable. Infuriating. Comforting. Reassuring. Companionable. Seductive. Inspiring. Appalling. Frightening. Unforgettable. If you're a novelist, people are the magic. Period. Think about a book you loved. No don't ponder for very long, just give me a first impression. I'll bet my own weight in Harry Potter or Lee Child novels that it was a character. Maybe two characters. Maybe a group of friends, a family. A pair of lovers. A man and his sworn enemy. A kestrel. Of course you'll also remember the story too, and the [...]

Ten Things All Authors Need to Know About Copyright

If you write to earn money, you need to know about copyright law. Copyright provides the only legal protection you’ll have if your work is plagiarized, infringed upon, or otherwise exploited without your permission or fair compensation. Indeed, without copyright most authors would earn nothing because no one would bother to pay them. Here are 10 basic facts every author needs to know about copyright: Copyright is the federal law that provides legal protection for works of authorship. This includes writings of all kinds, art, film, photography, video, [...]

How to Overcome the Fear of Working with an Editor

Of all the fears first-time authors face, working with an editor certainly ranks highly. I described this fear—as I once felt it—in the introduction to my book on editing, Don’t Fear the Reaper: In the single second you first glance at your work of art turned into an open-heart surgery gone wrong, you will not want to be open to correction. You will not want your blind spots revealed, your technical problems made known, or your gaping plot holes laid bare. The part of your soul that you poured [...]

The Writer’s Notebook

Playmate, Workshop, and Landing Place for the Muse Just as every artist needs a sketchbook, every writer must have a writer’s notebook. This is your laboratory, your studio, your portable workshop. Your writer's notebook is the place you write down those images that come to you while you’re out in the world. It can even teach you to pay attention to that world. It's your junk drawer, your playground, the cupboard where you store ingredients for your writerly stew. Your writer's notebook is where you jot down those [...]

Blessing Babel: Writers Who Switch Languages

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” wrote Thomas Mann. How much more difficult would writing have been for Mann himself if he had attempted to write his fiction in English rather than his native German. Exiled to southern California while the Nazis were in power, Mann did not abandon German to write his formidable novel Doktor Faustus: Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde (1947; Doctor Faustus). Nor, though living in Princeton, New Jersey, [...]

Editing Your Own Writing

Every writer needs an editor - so what do you do if you don’t have an editor? Sometimes you do need to hire one. But there are also times when you need to edit your own work. Thank God I had professional editors scrutinizing my book The Editor’s Companion. However, I can’t turn to a professional editor every time I write a blog post, a letter to the editor, or a short article, but my writing needs scrutiny just the same. As a writer, where do you turn when [...]

Bring Your Story to a Satisfying Close with Bookends

It isn’t always easy to decide where to begin – or end – your story. Many authors take too much time “warming up” instead of starting a scene where something is happening. Others (or the same ones) trail on too long at the end, perhaps trying to explain everything that happened. But a strong beginning and a satisfying ending are important – and “bookends” may help you decide what those should be. Strong stories have a distinct beginning (introducing the main character and problem), middle (where the character [...]

Tell the World Your Story

I began writing when I was a child. Although I practiced other forms of creative expression, I was most attracted to writing. Through words, I could paint pictures and make music. Through words, I could make people laugh and cry and think. The first story I wrote was called The Magic Pen. This story was about a pen, that when used, created stories without the use of any human input as if a sacred power came through the ink of the pen. I could have never known that [...]

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