Writer’s Conference – Jump Right In!

When you go to a writer’s conference, the back corner of the room might feel safe but it won’t do you much good to hide there.

There is a lot to be said about participation trophies. For a writer though, there are no trophies without participation.

It’s Sunday morning at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. I’m beat. Even the best of us, those who have chastely avoided the lure of the Sheraton bar, remained hydrated and eaten well are tired.

Three days of extroversion leave me exhausted.

But even on a bedraggled Sunday morning, the script for success remains the same. Get in there. Get your writer hands dirty. Go to that class.

If you are given the opportunity to do so, participate.

I was never much of a joiner. I’ve changed some. Even now though, I’m a more likely wall flower and bar fly than I am a genuine jump in with both feet kind of guy. It is key though to see past what you may tell yourself that you “normally do” or continue the self-limiting talk you have rehearsed for ages.

You came out to the writer’s conference. Not enough. Jump in with both feet.

On Friday night I served as emcee for a hilarious event/ “Pitches Against Humanity” was one part game show and one part parlor game, and an overall riot. I have never emceed anything before. Ever. Yet, once I was given the microphone and the written on the fly rules… it was on. A new guy stepped out. People have been stopping me in the hall ever since to shared a bawdy laugh from the pitch game.

Make yourself known.

This morning, I took a filmmaking class “Getting It Done In Portland” taught by Martin Vavra. The energetic head of local Galaxy Sailor Productions had the task of teaching a bunch of drowsy faces the basics of making a movie?

How better to teach it than hand a bunch of conference goers a role and a camera.

Take a look at what we produced.

What’s the bottom line here?

You got in the car. You boarded a plane. You called out of work in the interest of attending a writer’s conference. You’ve gone pretty far. Keep going though. Learn to bet on yourself. Learn to take a few more risks.

*Special thanks to the actors in the above films: Nancy Long and Steve Bourne performed the gruesomely riveting interrogation from Seven, and Nathaniel Fox and Jack Cary re-enacted my favorite scene from Raising Arizona. 

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Writer Networking

Writer networking is as important as writing time.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. By nature, the craft is best executed in a state of near meditation.

To become a successful professional writer or ghostwriter though, you’re going to need to meet other people. I’ll wait for that shock wave to wash over you… but it is true. Your story comes by reaching down into you.

But your story also comes from reaching out to others.

This weekend is the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. It’s the high holidays of my writing year, the beginning of my calendar. One of the premier writer networking gatherings on the west coast, this weekend is a golden opportunity to look at best practices on how to interact to get the most out of your time out.

Be Helpful:

People remember those who help them. Even if it’s just opening a door or helping a wayward soul find a conference room, be of assistance whenever you can.

I work volunteer for this conference for this simple reason. Sure, my time gets me a steep discount on admission, but having a task and a practical purpose helps with my anxiety.

Don’t Be “That Person”:

My favorite agent is here. So is my all time favorite producer. These are “the who” I need to know to get where I need to go.

But these folks are here working. They’re here to please their bosses and with that comes stress. Give your target people space. Let them breathe. If your tastemaker is in the lobby and they’re pondering a text, do not bombard them.

Don’t Be Starstruck:

The opposite of the above is also true… do not be intimidated by “the who” you are here to meet. They’re here to meet, mingle and make connections too. If your person is at the bar, don’t be shy. Strike up that conversation. Say hey.

Meet Everyone:

One of the key mistakes writers make is focusing ALL of their networking energy on agents and managers. Most writers forget the hundreds of other people walking around.

I work as an editor, so my fellow writers are a place to network for new business. That isn’t the extent though. The friends you make on the way up in the writing game are absolutely key. I could write a whole blog on this (and likely will) but writer networking makes it imperative to connect with your peers and make them colleagues.

To return to a previous theme. Help one another.

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Thinking like a writer

Learn to start thinking like a writer even when you can’t actually write.

Thinking like a writer - notice the details in everythingWriter’s magazines often set out to tackle what they see as the biggest elephant in the room: lack of time. How do I find enough time to get my creative work done?

I won’t attempt to tackle that topic here, or anywhere else for that matter. For one reason, any answer that I give you would not be an original. I don’t want to recycle. There are literally hundreds of blogs, magazines and books that give writers advice on how to steal 10 minutes to an hour to get some writing in.

The second and most important reason I won’t tackle the subject though, is that I believe having enough time is not the main obstacle in transitioning from unrequited desk jockey to literary provocateur.

While time is a frequent barrier, the biggest challenge most writers face is their mind set.

How do you start thinking like a writer and in turn acting like one? Here are a just few very easy techniques you can use to think and feel like a writer when you can’t write.

Listen To Dialog:

Unless you live and work in a monastery, you are surrounded by people talking. If there is a consistent area of feedback on new writing it’s this: the characters sound like they were written.

Sit down at a bar. Put down your phone in the line at the grocery store. Use your imagination in the next share holder’s meeting you are forced to attend. These are your characters.

Listen to how they talk. They’re telling you how to write them.

Describe The Scene (In Details):

I do this a lot. It sounds silly, but I walk into a room and describe the scene I encounter in various terms. Kitchen. Newly remodeled kitchen. Newly remodeled kitchen with a retro feeling.

I don’t often do this exercise aloud (unless I’m alone). If I did, I think the people in my world would assume I am much crazier than they already do but finding the myriad of ways and access points to describe an ordinary space and seeing the details contained broadens descriptive powers that every writer needs.

About Details:

Find them. Everywhere. Leave no stone unturned.

Good writing sees the surface but great writing delves deep and churns constantly. Colors. Ornaments. Textures. These create the rich tapestry that readers love.

How do you do this? What color is the tie on the man across from you? Does the woman’s coffee cup beside him show lipstick stains? What does the clerk at the store do while you search for exact change?

The power of observation is a necessary skill. Become a master of all those small things. Your readers will thank you when your bored housewife character does the little things they can relate to.

Form An Opinion:

Maybe you sit down at the end of the day and relax with a TV show. I do. Often. In many of my previous blogs, I proudly reveal TV as a major point of reference for writing and character development.

Don’t watch passively though. Instead, make comment on what works. Ask the person you’re with. What works for you? Why this and not the other thing?

Why do people gravitate to watching Glee like my wife is right now? I’ll advance a theory: it is not simply because of the songs. Form an opinion about what works in the shows, episodes and scenes you watch. That critical eye will go a long way in discerning what works on the page when you finally sit down.

Simply paying closer attention to the details in your everyday can help you start thinking like a writer. You may be reading this either because you’re at an impasse or ready to take the next step. Either way working with a professional ghostwriter can help you and your writing get to the next level.

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Will My Book Sell?

Will My Book Sell?

One of the constant struggles that writers find themselves embroiled in is the clash between craft and marketability. Often preliminary discussions about a manuscript, whether in the edit or ghostwriting phase, arrives at that very important question: After all of this work, will my book sell?

Any ghostwriter who pretends to have an easy answer to that question is sorely mistaken (or they’re overselling their abilities, we’ll tackle that later on). Even casual observers these days are armed with more marketing numbers and analytics than ever before, but still, we can never tell.

The element of surprise remains a strong part of the publishing game. No one knows what will hit and, consequently, no one can predict a miss either.

What I like to tell clients is that with a properly executed plan for their manuscript, we can narrow the wide range of outcomes. You wouldn’t build a house without an architect. You wouldn’t prepare a top shelf cut of meat without knowing cook temps and times.

Why would you attack your book publishing endeavor without a plan?

One of the pillars of a successful book is a properly handled manuscript. You simply cannot fool readers. Here is where the craft versus marketability argument becomes absurd.

These are not mutually exclusive. These two aspects are actually symbiotic. Attention to craft is the first and most critical element of marketability.

The second pillar I believe is defining your audience. It isn’t enough to say, my book is for “readers” or “fiction lovers”. I would go so far to say that simply targeting “fantasy” fans isn’t enough.

The book market is a buyers market and readers are savvy — very savvy. Everyone who buys off of Amazon or browses the shelves knows their search terms. Your reader knows the difference between “high fantasy” and “urban fantasy” and there is no way around this reality: you need to know it too.

The last pillar of a successful plan is to think in terms of quality and not quantity. I know a publisher out there (that will remain nameless) and they sell themselves as an all in one book publisher and marketer. How do they market their client’s books? Everyone that has worked with them tells the same story: they send out a single email blast that reaches a few hundred cold emails (and probably gets a few undeliverable kick backs too).

This never works. Never works. A few hundred cold emails is (almost) as worthless as sitting on your book. Just like readers, buyers know exactly what they want. If your dream editor isn’t taking submissions, there is no point in sending them a query email. It’s just annoying.

Similarly, if an editor is looking for “romance” and your “high fantasy” novel only peripherally involves love, don’t send them a query. You will only make them curse you.

Believe me. Go get a drink with a submissions editor and ask them their pet peeves. Blanket submissions are close to, if not the top of that list.

So to the question – Will my book sell? – to give yourself the best shot at success, have a plan. Be realistic. You’ are not the only person out there with a great book. Be the only one out there marketing their great book smartly.

Another thing you can do to increase your chances is to let a professional like me help guide you through the process. Experience counts so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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How to edit your manuscript

How to edit your manuscript

Or not?

Recently, I wrote a post cautioning authors against the temptation to self edit your manuscript.

Although I stand by the idea that self-editing cannot replace the well executed professional development and content edit phase, I do think that the process plays an important role in the development of a successful manuscript. While you cannot fully develop a manuscript alone, you’re also working uphill if you choose to send material in without giving it your own critical read. Development is a matter of balance.

Here are a few tips on how you can self edit your manuscript to your best advantage.

Be Wise With Time:

This advice applies to every stage of the writing process, but none more so than here. A writer has to be wise with how they use their time. You need to make time to write. You also need time away from writing.

There is an important balance at play.

If your plan is to self edit your manuscript then take time away from it. Don’t edit a chapter the day after writing it. Don’t edit it a week after. Instead, allow the work time to breathe. Stand a step back.

Then when you’re ready, jump back in and make changes.

(Don’t) Be Hard On Your Work:

What I’m trying to get at is a measure of honesty. Be honest about the work. If your gut says it works, don’t overthink it and vice-versa. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t work on the page it’s likely time to make changes.

Again, it’s all about balance. Seems like we keep coming back to that theme.

If It’s Broken (Don’t) Try And Fix It:

This can be tricky for anyone. Creative people are born problem solvers.

The hope is that a proper self-edit will lead to the identification of problems. What do you do when you find a glaring plot hole in the story?

You fix it, of course. Get in there and get it done…

Not so fast though. Being hasty can aggravate a manuscript’s underlying problems. A quick fix is often just that. A gimmick. When your reader sits down with the book, they’ll be able to see a patch job.

Just because you identify the problem doesn’t mean you see the solution. These two are not necessarily linked items. Sometimes the solution takes a substantial amount of time to develop.

Give yourself that time. It’s worth it.

And when you’re ready, get in touch. You’ll be relieved that you followed all the right steps ahead of time.

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4 Truths About Rewriting Myths

4 Truths About Rewriting Myths

Rewriting myths can bring an end to an unfinished process. Read on so you can stay on track and avoid the pitfalls.

Few aspects of the writing life come with more ugly myths attached than the rewriting process. So often I hear writers give wrong headed views about what comes once they face a rewrite of their manuscript.

This post is aimed at writers who have a completed fiction or non-fiction manuscript, or screenplay, that needs a rewrite but who have been fed a lot of malarky about the process through the years.

Here are four real life truths about rewriting myths:

Rewriting Myth 1: Rewriting Means My Manuscript Is Bad:

On the surface, I can understand this fear. There simply is not a better word than “rewrite”.

I’m sure some readers have visions of other “re” words, like “remodel” which implies more radical process. Tear down. Strip bare. Start over.

Sometimes that radical process is the case. Sometimes we have to tear down a manuscript completely in order to find the book inside. That is only sometimes though.

Most often rewriting is a process of orderly streamlining. It’s more of a face lift rather than a tear down.

Rewriting Myth 2: That Will Happen Later:

Right… one way or another, you are going to rewrite your manuscript. Whether that comes after fifty slow arriving rejection letters or in preparation for fifty submissions is up to you.

The writing is on the wall. If you read the calls for submissions in trade magazines, publishers are seeking polished manuscripts from first timers.

You’ll see it in the description. Polished prose. Developed scenarios. No first drafts.

Don’t be the writer who tests that request. It never ends well.

Rewriting Myth 3: My Story Will Get Lost In The Process:

I love when a writer tells me that they are reluctant to rewrite because they are afraid to lose their story. This is such an unfortunate misunderstanding shared by all too many novices.

A first draft is simply a first draft. Core themes are often buried and obscured under what amounts to a writer’s search for meaning on the page. Often when I work with writers on their first draft we discover the most valuable elements under the surface and we work together to draw them out into the open.

Odds are a development editor will help you find your best story in the rewrite process.

Rewriting Myth 4: Editors Are All Out Of Work And Now They Need Money:

This is, at least in part, true… Big publishing houses do not staff editors like before. There is no longer a legion of ink stained and print addled editors agonizing over copy at your dream publisher’s office.

Those editors are not out in the cold freelancing world because their jobs were deemed irrelevant though. Those editors are out there because publishing houses are counting on you, the writer, to do more of the heavy lifting than ever before.

The truth is that editors are more necessary than ever because the competition to push through the slush pile is more fierce and cutthroat now than at any other time.

These myths are just that. The process of rewriting doesn’t have to be so painful but it is a necessary step in the evolutionary process that is your manuscript. I have helped many a nervous writer through the process and I know I can help you too. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you feel stuck at this or any other stage in the process.

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DIY Publishing

DIY Publishing – One Way To Bring Your Work To Life

Amazon and other on-line publishing platforms have given rise to an exciting DIY publishing revolution. By many measures, we haven’t even seen the zenith of where this is all going to. Through a newly liberated publishing process, a new culture of fringe authors and publishing entrepreneurs can bring work to life.

For all of the do-it-yourself freedom that Amazon provides an air of caution needs to be taken. Simply because you can put your manuscript up on-line does not mean you are truly “book ready”.

The steps to a polished book are the same as through the traditional means. All that DIY publishing means in this instance is that authors are more liberated to undertake those steps on their own terms.

One of the ways new authors attempt to get around the editing process is to “self-edit” their manuscript. What do I mean by “self-edit”? Frequently, when faced with the prospect of cost and/or time, or the simple mis-perception that editing is an obstacle, a new author will try and edit/rewrite their book on their own.

I do some self-editing on my articles and manuscripts. After I write and re-write a chapter or a book section, I will often go back and make a few logical changes. I take notes on story elements that don’t make sense. I axe repeated words. I tie in dangling story lines that are either extraneous or underutilized.

I am aware, however, that this process of self-editing can only go so far before it works against me. I know what my character is supposed to look like and feel like. The settings are vividly laid out in my head, so I am able to fill in the gaps, allowing my descriptions to convey that picture. Even when I read dialog or internal monolog out loud, I tend to change the natural flow, adding inflection to words and phrases to ensure that they capture the meaning I want them to. In a sense, self-editing keeps an author in the echo chamber of their own voice and vision at the expense of broadening appeal.

I cannot be as honest with myself as a professional can be. And editing is your manuscript safety net. If something doesn’t work on the page, I need to know.

A writer needs that second set of eyes… and more of the time, a third and a fourth too. Self-editing can catch basic mistakes, errors and repetitions… but bringing a manuscript up to book level? Not very likely.

I am a firm believer in Ira Glass when he says that people get into creative work because they have a heightened sense of taste. If you are already far enough into your manuscript that you are thinking of publishing it, you very likely have read enough to know what you like and what is good.

Don’t fall into the trap, however, that you are an objective arbiter. A writer is a person whose imagination exceeds most, if not all, other personal attributes. When it comes to improving your manuscript however, don’t let your imagination get in the way of improvement.

And don’t make the mistake of DIY Publishing an unpolished work – Instead hire a professional to objectively help you uncover all the necessary edits that your imagination may have obscured.

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Hire A Professional Editor?

Are You Ready To Hire A Professional Editor?

Maybe – but you might consider beta readers as a good first step.

Delivering your manuscript into the hands of a professional editor can be an intimidating step for any writer. It does not, however, need to be the first and only step in improving your first draft manuscript.

You may have heard of “beta readers”. If by some chance you have not, pay close attention. A beta reader is anyone that a writer brings in to give that first manuscript draft a test drive. With the same air of trepidation, a writer makes a dozen copies of their pages and hands them out to a few close friends.

Sounds great right? It’s a great way to kick off the re-write process without hiring a professional editor just yet. Where do I find these beta readers though?

A lot of writers I know work in writer’s groups. They’re great for accountability and networking. Writer’s groups meet weekly (or less often) to discuss new pages, characters and story lines. To many a new scribe, their writer’s group sounds like a pretty good place to test the waters. I would like to offer up a contrary opinion though: I don’t believe writer’s groups are the best place to find beta readers.

While it is true that most writers are voracious readers, I find other writers have skewed views of manuscripts and especially those still in development. All too often, I find that other writers look at your manuscript through a much different lens. They can offer great advice (usually closer to publication) but in those early phases, it may behoove you to cast a wider net and look elsewhere. And here is why.

On the road to publishing success, your book is going to have to impress readers. Lots of them. Thousands of them, in fact. Why not get your book into as many of those genuine book readers as you can? The people who curl on on the couch with a paperback. The passengers who pull out the latest thriller novel as they board an airplane. The person at the library who talks a blue streak about your work.

This is, after all, your target market.

When an inventor comes up with a brand new kitchen gadget, they don’t necessarily test market to the select few chefs who run Michilen star kitchens. However exclusive or skilled, it’s a limited marketplace. To become the new “must have” item, they need to get out to foodies and house wives and the millions of people across the world who prepare meals on a daily basis.

Your set of beta readers needs to amount to a few things. They need to be reliable. They need to be well read and opinionated about books and literature. Whether or not you include your Mom and her glowing praise for everything you do is up to you (I say yes, you’ll need that boost to your confidence).

More than anything though, before hiring a professional editor consider submitting your work to a diverse group that represents your entire market.

Of course, there are some of you I’m sure who are ready for a professional editor. If you’ve done a thorough job in the rewrite process already, then a professional editor can help you bring that final polish to your work and navigate the treacherous industry waters that lay ahead. If this sounds like you or if you’re stuck in any phase of the writing process, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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How To Expand Setting – Screenwriting Tips

How To Expand Setting

A current trend in screenwriting speaks directly to the need for writers to expand their thoughts on setting, specifically, how to expand setting itself. I’m talking about the appetite for “single location” scripts.

Anyone who has seen Ryan Reynolds in 2010’s “Buried” knows you don’t need an elaborate series of locations to tell a tough, heart racing thriller story. In the film (which famously cost $7,000 to produce, pointing to the reason why single location scripts are popular) Reynolds plays a civilian contractor in Iraq who has been buried alive and the entire 90-minute movie takes place inside of his coffin.

Claustrophobic? Then try Tom Hardy in 2014’s “Locke” where for a strong majority of the film we are stuck in the car with a man whose life is literally falling apart around him.

Maybe the most important factor in these films is that Reynolds and Hardy are terrific actors. They are the type of performers that can make this type of bare bones concept work.

There is something else at play though and that is a masterfully clever union of action and setting.

On the surface a coffin and a car are difficult locations to try and set an entire movie in. But, when considering how to expand setting, a closer look and careful planning expands that setting so that, while limited, it’s not going to choke off a good story.

Take Locke’s car for example. As a writer, setting an entire story in the car is a tough task. But look at the possible locations within the car to get the most out of it.

Front seat.


Back seat.


If the car is parked in your script then you can make use of under the car, the hood and the roof, all while ostensibly limiting your script to the car.

The same thing can be said for that coffin.

In “Buried” the script, in the context of how to expand setting, confronts confinement head on with the obvious horrors. The story plays right into the viewer’s expectations. The writers move the character around inside of the confined space. They reveal new light and new darkness. If there are obvious phobias then go head on and show the audience or reader the desperation that the confined character feels.

Fear is, after all, one of the great motivators of action.

The success of “Buried” and “Locke” is in the bravura performances given by their actors but those performances are only possible in how deftly the writers (and directors) manipulated the space. Even if you’re not writing a single location project, look at all the ways to expand your locations to fit your needs.

The only truly limiting setting is one that isn’t adequately utilized by the writer.

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Writing good dialogue – Ghostwriting Tips

Tips For Writing Good Dialogue

Advice from a pro

Writing good dialogue, authentic dialog is tough. People talk in nuanced ways that aren’t always easy to capture on the page. They say you need an ear for it.

How does someone hone that ear though?

Playwright David Mamet’s advice on the subject is famously simple and abrupt. The great Mamet once advised a room full of eager creative writing graduates to eschew graduate school. Instead, he said, find a bar, preferably a pool hall without a television where they could sit down and listen.

Seems simple. Replace tuition with bar tab.

I have taken David Mamet’s advice to heart. I do not play pool (at least not well) but I do take frequent trips to a comfy stool at the quiet bar down the street and simply listen to what people say. It has proven to be the best means of achieving dialog that sounds like real people.

Writing good dialog comes from refinement.

Here are five truths and tips to refining your character dialog to achieve that authentic tone.

Read It Out Loud:

This may sound simplistic but a lot of writers that I know are afraid to do it. And why?

Because their dialog sounds hammy and on the nose.

If you want that real voice, read it out loud and avoid adding your inflection at all costs. This is a critical step, especially if you’re writing a screenplay, which is in large part a performance of your dialog.

Think In Negotiations:

All dialog is a negotiation. Think of what you say on a day to day basis at work or at home. Verbal communication is an expression of desire or purpose, all with the intent of affecting someone else.

This applies even when a character is talking to themselves. Self-talk is grooming for future interactions.

There is a very simple exercise to sharpen this sense. Put two characters in a room. One wants something that the other has but they cannot name or ask for it.

Write it and see all the ways allusion and suggestion enrich the conversation.

Negative Space:

Allow for negative space in your dialog. People don’t always say everything they are thinking. Omissions are as important as inclusions. If your character conversations begin with a hearty hello and end with their chosen means of good-bye, your dialog is probably overwritten.

A way to get this down is follow a simple rule: arrive late and leave early.

Conversations Are Rhythmic:

Straight line conversations simply do not exist. I cannot express this more emphatically. No one walks into a room, announces their purpose, gets what they want and walks out.

One of the ways I work on this is recording conversations. Get permission then record a normal conversation and you’ll see that it’s a rhythmic construct of all the above elements.

Introductions. Negotiations. Negative Space. Repeat.

Mamet Is Correct:

The core truth in Mamet’s statement applies. You cannot learn to hear real dialog a from TV or movie. Writers must find their story subjects in the world and listen to how they talk, interact, negotiate and feel.

An easy tip for writing good dialogue: Go out. Find that barstool. Sit. Listen.

If you’re having trouble writing good dialogue, or with any other area of your work, it may be beneficial to consider working with a professional ghostwriter. A ghostwriter works with you behind the scenes to take your writing to the next level. Considering it? Get in touch!

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