Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Legendary Author Anne McCaffrey Passes Away

Anne McCaffrey, one of science fiction's most popular authors, passed away yesterday from a stroke, her publisher reported today. She was 85. McCaffrey, who often referred to herself as "Annie," was widely known for her Hugo award-winning, bestselling DragonRiders of Pern series. She authored nearly 100 published books since 1967.

Severe health issues surfaced on her blog back in August where Annie's son Todd McCaffrey alerted her readers that she would have to cancel her appearance at Dragon*con. "What seemed to be indigestion last week has now turned out to be something more serious – some incident with her heart, the full details of which are still to be determined by tests," Todd reported.

Her final blog entry, "A Letter from Rick," accurately represents the overall positive effect she had on her loyal readers worldwide. Annie inspired countless writers and generously offered advice throughout her long and successful career. She will be sorely missed!

Rest in peace, Anne McCaffrey. You were one of a kind.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Writers: Kill the Self-Entitlement Monster

Lately I've seen a sense of self-entitlement among aspiring authors (in online forums, etc.). Some of these would-be writers actually believe that writing a book is enough and readers should automatically flock to the book and consider it a privilege to read the material. This couldn't be further from the truth! I know plenty of you know this already, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate and share: Authors are not owed customers/readers. Even if you've written an amazing book, you can't expect thousands or millions of readers to find the book on their own. You have to work for the readership. This means you need to take part in book marketing, publicity, advertising...not passively waiting for readers to stumble across your masterpiece. Effective marketing, publicity, and advertising will create a buzz around your book and word of mouth should result in lots of sales--but expect to work thousands of hours for those results! 

Kill the "Self-Entitlement Monster" now if it exists within you. If we're really honest with ourselves here, the Monster probably lives somewhere within all of us. Kill it now. Seriously. Allowing it to live will only ruin your writing career and make you look like a fool in the end. 

You are owed nothing.

(Image via De kleine rode kater @ Flickr)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

20 Valuable Writing Resources

I recently compiled a list of writing resources, including books, videos, and articles. The books, each one available at Amazon.com, provide info on writing from bestselling authors. The articles come from popular writing/publishing blogs, while the free videos--advice from Stephen King, Anne Rice, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, and John Irving--are all available via YouTube. Now...onto the list...


Monday, November 14, 2011

Is Caffeine a Writer's Friend...or Enemy?

Drinking caffeine seems to go hand in hand with writing, but have you ever stopped to think why? I mean, other than temporarily relieving sleepiness and increasing alertness, do writers actually notice any improvement in writing ability while consuming caffeine? I personally haven't found that caffeine enhances my writing skills in any way. I sometimes write a bit faster if I've consumed large amounts of caffeine, but there's never any noticeable difference in writing quality.

Obviously I'm not a scientist. I haven't tested caffeine on numerous writers to track their responses. I'm not sure anyone has, really--but there have been many broad, less targeted studies performed throughout the world. Some studies suggest that:

In conclusion, a cup of Joe each day shouldn't negatively impact your writing, but it probably won't enhance your writing, either. Maybe you should try getting some extra sleep before grabbing for that extra cup (or two) tomorrow! How does caffeine affect you?

(Photo by Philip Squires)
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Top 5 Writing Lessons from J.K. Rowling

I've been meaning to blog about J.K. Rowling for a long time now... Well, yesterday I purchased and watched Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (and yes, I had already seen it in the theaters). Definitely the best of all the Potter movies, in my opinion. But I'm not here to blog about the movie itself. No, I'm here to discuss the special features on Blu-ray, specifically "A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe," which revealed the answers to some big questions and also indirectly offered fantastic writing lessons. Here are my top 5:
  1. Persist: Here's where some aspiring authors fail. They get caught up in a get-rich-quick mindset and expect overnight success. They hear stories about how the idea of a spectacled wizard boy popped up into J.K.'s mind...and then they hear about the billion dollars she's made and see her name all over the media. According to her own words, writing the complete story of Harry Potter was a 20-year process! 20 years! Maybe you're struggling with writer's block at the moment or you've developed some doubts. Please, don't give up. Persist. Don't give up after 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, a decade, two decades, three decades, four decades... If you love writing, write and persist. Don't expect overnight success. It's a marathon, not a race, okay?
  2. Treat your characters as real people: "They're in your life the way real people are ... I love writing dialogue ... I miss Dumbledore the most ... He was telling me things I needed to hear sometimes ..." Notice the connection J.K. Rowling has with Dumbledore. She apparently misses hearing from him like she would a far-away friend. As a writer, you need to form a special connection with your characters. Let yourself go and allow each character to speak his/her own dialogue without interruption. Don't get in the way of your characters.
  3. Know where the story's headed [SPOILER ALERT]: "Within the first year of writing, I wrote a sketch for what I thought the final chapter would be... I knew we were always working towards the final battle at Hogwarts. I knew that Harry would walk to his death..."
  4. Stay true to the story and yourself: "I went where my pen took me, and bad though it may seem to some people, I never really considered my readership in that way... I wrote what I wanted to write..." Rowling didn't allow critics or readers to influence her writing. 
  5. Focus only on relevant backstories: Many writers, especially newbies, get lost in backstory. They write as though the reader needs to know everyone's backstory in excruciating detail ... Now, many of us heard through the media that Dumbledore is gay. Rowling never mentioned his sexual preference in the Potter books, but did confirm that he's gay: "The relationship he [Dumbledore] has with Grindlewald--he fell really hard for this boy... His [Dumbledore's] one great experience of love was utterly tragic. It was with someone who was dangerous and demonic [Grindlewald]...so that was my idea of Dumbledore's tragic backstory..." But why didn't she add this backstory to the books? Because it wasn't relevant to the story, she implied. I also gathered from Rowling's conversation with Radcliffe that Professor McGonagall had a somewhat tragic backstory as well, but Rowling ultimately felt that that backstory wasn't relevant to the story either.
(J.K. Rowling image via Daniel Ogren)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Formula for Conquering Writing Distractions

I'm convinced this is the Age of Distractions. If you're like most Americans, you encounter distractions every day. The technology that most of us own has created a stay-connected mentality, ensuring that we're always ready to return text messages, answer emails, respond to comments and messages, tweet and retweet, watch the next TV show on Netflix or movie on demand, etc. Understand this: I love staying connected and enjoying the benefits of technology. Really, I do. I'm a huge technology and social media advocate and I LOVE how the Internet has made lives easier and free book marketing accessible to writers everywhere...but all of this can also become an huge distraction for writers....

Surely, there has to be some formula for conquering writing distractions, right?

Try this: As a writer, have you ever logged the amount of time you spend on the Internet (including social media, browsing, chatting, whatever); watching TV and movies; texting; emailing, etc.? Go ahead and give it a try, even if just for a day or week. I bet the results would shock you...and perhaps motivate you... For example, say you're like most Americans and you watch TV for about 4 hours per day and tool around the Internet for 1.85 hours per day as well. That's 40+ hours per week, 2,080+ hours per year, or 86+ days per year--and we didn't even count texting, movies, or your misc distractions (I bet many exist)! I'm not encouraging you to remove all distractions from your life. Some distractions are necessary and balancing.You'd live a sad life if all you did was work. But how about cutting those distractions in half? How much writing could you accomplish with an extra 1,040+ hours per year?!

This post is just as much for me as it is you... I'm working on this. Will you?

(Image via Flickr)