Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I'm a last born, which means I have a bit of a rebellious streak. I always like ideas best if I feel they aren't being forced on me by some authority figure. Who wants some bossy person breathing down your neck all the time?

Well, anyone who wants to get things accomplished. Having a rebellious streak not only gets you into scrapes with teachers, directors, managers, or other authorities, it also can keep you stuck in unproductive patterns.

Photo credit: vahiju from morguefile.com
Accountability to another party--not necessarily a bossy person, mind you--can keep you on track far more than going it alone. Why else would NaNoWriMo be such a popular program? Nothing is stopping you from picking any month you like, say January or July, to generate 50,000 words. What NaNo offers is a vast web of accountability, a mob of positive peer pressure to show up and do what you promised to show up and do.

Sadly, NaNo is only a month long. Some writers are able to maintain the relationships they develop then, others, shamed by failing to meet their goals, disengage.

I don't necessarily think we need more rigid programs to help with accountability, but I do believe all of us can benefit from having a someone or some group/team to whom we report about what we're up to.

Here are some ways to build an accountability structure.

Journal your progress

Sometimes you most need some visual reminder that you are showing up to write. When you hit a moment of self-loathing, you have a document you can hold in your hands to that proves you aren't actually a lazy slob. On days when you feel like you're spinning your wheels, you can see how far you've come and draw strength from it.

Roseanne Bane's Around the Writer's Block has some great advice about making commitments with yourself regarding process time (creative play) and product time (working on some aspect of research, drafting, revision, or marketing). As you mark your daily progress and see success with building a habit, she notes, the pleasure chemicals in your brain give you added reinforcement. You want to keep meeting goals and recording it. It feels great to succeed.

Seek social media accountability

I've found it helpful in distracted periods to declare my daily goal on Twitter, then check in again later in the day to report on my progress. Nothing like having your intentions exposed so publicly to make you eager to follow through.

Others use participate in "What's Up Wednesday" on their blogs to be accountable for progressing with projects (and to help them generate blog content and stay connected).


Have an accountability partner

A friend helped me get back into writing after years away by simply asking that I bring her pages each month when we met for coffee. She didn't care what I wrote, so long as I appeared with pages in hand. After a few meetings, I had the beginnings of a novel.

Participate in a writing group

A fact-to-face group can be a great place to build accountability, either for you to produce work or to be developing your craft in some way. I participate in a group to which I bring up to two chapters per month for critique. Others in the group prefer to distribute whole drafts outside of meeting times, using meetings to simply report how they are progressing, and offer fellow writers critiques. The group meetings are often boisterous as we get excited about each other's works in progress and toss around creative ideas to overcome plot holes or other snags in the process.

Perhaps a looser group, such a "Write in" session at a local cafe or library might be all you need. Once again, NaNoWriMo has a forum to join or create such a group.


Find a mentor

Mentoring is like a more intimate teacher/student relationship, in which a less experienced person seeks the guidance of a more experience person. No matter where you are in the journey, you can benefit from this sort of relationship either as a mentor or a protege (this is the once widely-used term from someone who is mentored, before consultants invented the goofy word "mentee" that sounds like someone who belongs in an asylum).

A mentor might function more like an accountability partner with some wisdom for you, or more like a teacher/coach who doles out assignments, cheers you on, and gives you constructive feedback about what you're doing well and where you need to improve.

Professional associations like SCBWI for children's writers offer formal mentoring programs. Or you could seek out connections at places like Query Tracker forums, WANA Tribe (the acronym stands for "we are not alone"), Nathan Bransford's forums, or as I mentioned earlier, NaNoWriMo forums.

You might even have some potential mentor material in your own back yard. Connect with a local chapter of your genre's professional association, take a continuing education class, visit book signings. The perfect person to guide you might be closer than you realize.

Do you have accountability in your writing life? What avenues might you try to get it?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
I'm a last born, which means I have a bit of a rebellious streak. I always like ideas best if I feel they aren't being forced on me by some authority figure. Who wants some bossy person breathing down your neck all the time?

Well, anyone who wants to get things accomplished. Having a rebellious streak not only gets you into scrapes with teachers, directors, managers, or other authorities, it also can keep you stuck in unproductive patterns.

Photo credit: vahiju from morguefile.com
Accountability to another party--not necessarily a bossy person, mind you--can keep you on track far more than going it alone. Why else would NaNoWriMo be such a popular program? Nothing is stopping you from picking any month you like, say January or July, to generate 50,000 words. What NaNo offers is a vast web of accountability, a mob of positive peer pressure to show up and do what you promised to show up and do.

Sadly, NaNo is only a month long. Some writers are able to maintain the relationships they develop then, others, shamed by failing to meet their goals, disengage.

I don't necessarily think we need more rigid programs to help with accountability, but I do believe all of us can benefit from having a someone or some group/team to whom we report about what we're up to.

Here are some ways to build an accountability structure.

Journal your progress

Sometimes you most need some visual reminder that you are showing up to write. When you hit a moment of self-loathing, you have a document you can hold in your hands to that proves you aren't actually a lazy slob. On days when you feel like you're spinning your wheels, you can see how far you've come and draw strength from it.

Roseanne Bane's Around the Writer's Block has some great advice about making commitments with yourself regarding process time (creative play) and product time (working on some aspect of research, drafting, revision, or marketing). As you mark your daily progress and see success with building a habit, she notes, the pleasure chemicals in your brain give you added reinforcement. You want to keep meeting goals and recording it. It feels great to succeed.

Seek social media accountability

I've found it helpful in distracted periods to declare my daily goal on Twitter, then check in again later in the day to report on my progress. Nothing like having your intentions exposed so publicly to make you eager to follow through.

Others use participate in "What's Up Wednesday" on their blogs to be accountable for progressing with projects (and to help them generate blog content and stay connected).


Have an accountability partner

A friend helped me get back into writing after years away by simply asking that I bring her pages each month when we met for coffee. She didn't care what I wrote, so long as I appeared with pages in hand. After a few meetings, I had the beginnings of a novel.

Participate in a writing group

A fact-to-face group can be a great place to build accountability, either for you to produce work or to be developing your craft in some way. I participate in a group to which I bring up to two chapters per month for critique. Others in the group prefer to distribute whole drafts outside of meeting times, using meetings to simply report how they are progressing, and offer fellow writers critiques. The group meetings are often boisterous as we get excited about each other's works in progress and toss around creative ideas to overcome plot holes or other snags in the process.

Perhaps a looser group, such a "Write in" session at a local cafe or library might be all you need. Once again, NaNoWriMo has a forum to join or create such a group.


Find a mentor

Mentoring is like a more intimate teacher/student relationship, in which a less experienced person seeks the guidance of a more experience person. No matter where you are in the journey, you can benefit from this sort of relationship either as a mentor or a protege (this is the once widely-used term from someone who is mentored, before consultants invented the goofy word "mentee" that sounds like someone who belongs in an asylum).

A mentor might function more like an accountability partner with some wisdom for you, or more like a teacher/coach who doles out assignments, cheers you on, and gives you constructive feedback about what you're doing well and where you need to improve.

Professional associations like SCBWI for children's writers offer formal mentoring programs. Or you could seek out connections at places like Query Tracker forums, WANA Tribe (the acronym stands for "we are not alone"), Nathan Bransford's forums, or as I mentioned earlier, NaNoWriMo forums.

You might even have some potential mentor material in your own back yard. Connect with a local chapter of your genre's professional association, take a continuing education class, visit book signings. The perfect person to guide you might be closer than you realize.

Do you have accountability in your writing life? What avenues might you try to get it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Photo credit: infinitetrix from morguefile.com 
In a previous post, I shared some of my favorite resources for copy editing (line editing, sentence-level revision, call it what you will). Today I'd like to share two favorite resources for revision--the big-picture changes one makes once you have some material drafted.

Despite the order in which I'm talking about resources, revision should happen before copy editing, otherwise you'll waste a lot of effort on material you don't ultimately keep. Most of you are pretty savvy in these matters, but for any beginners, some clarity on that point seemed necessary.

Revision is what truly separates the amateurs from the pros. Even a middle schooler can do a quick edit and correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But it takes tremendous skill and indeed wisdom to evaluate what isn't working in a scene, chapter, section or character arc, then actually fix it. Here are two books that offer some great training.

Fiction First Aid


Raymond Obstfeld's gem Fiction First Aid is one I first discovered in my local library and quickly realized I needed to own. Using medical metaphors of  symptoms, ailments and treatments, he examines typical writing problems and their causes, then suggests a number of approaches to revise the problem away. Most sections have an application exercise he calls "physical therapy."

The first two chapters, on plot and characterization, take up nearly half the book. He covers everything from developing great plot structure and suspense to remedying predictable, cardboard, and unlikable characters. His examples are drawn from both books and film across many genres, which I found particularly helpful.

The middle chapters on setting and style can help you build a more compelling fictional world from the outside in. He helps you determine how much setting detail you need and how to better ground scenes without bogging down the story. The style section has great advice on finding a balance between bland or monotonous writing and overwritten purple prose.

I found  the theme chapter especially useful. Because so many English teachers theme us to death in high school, it can be tempting to tell yourself that theme is for dull classics of yesteryear. Obstfeld argues quite convincingly that ignoring theme can lead to pale, thin stories that don't stick with readers. To have a theme is to write a story that means something, that puts forward a sort of emotional and intellectual thesis, then proves it. His case study of the film Groundhog Day illustrates well what a theme is and how one operates in fiction.

Manuscript Makeover


Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover is a book I turn to again and again. Her approach is a rare mix of methodical and somewhat freewheeling creative. Every section ends with a checklist for revision that alone is totally worth the price of the book, it's so well organized and thorough.


Lyon opens with giant-picture items--the overall style and presentation of your story. How do feel when you read aloud? Is it captivating? Is it full of your deeper truth? She suggests a number of really helpful exercises to write more deeply in revision. Her concept of "riff writing" is revolutionary, because it challenges you to go broader and deeper, not simply cut, cut, cut when you revise.

Rather than simply clumping together disparate plot concerns, she divides plot issues over several chapters: whole-book structure (2 chapters), Movement and Suspense, and Time and Pace. Her concept of developing "mattering moments" is incredibly helpful for building well-paced plots.

Roughly a third of the book covers characterization concerns: Viewpoint, Character Dimension and Theme, Character-Driven Beginnings, Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense, and finally Character Personality and Voice. I found her information on voice--especially how to make characters sound unique from one another--quite revolutionary and paradigm-shifting.

The book wraps up with chapters on copy editing and querying manuscripts, with those fabulously helpful checklists I mentioned earlier.

Do you enjoy revision or dread it? Why?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
Photo credit: infinitetrix from morguefile.com 
In a previous post, I shared some of my favorite resources for copy editing (line editing, sentence-level revision, call it what you will). Today I'd like to share two favorite resources for revision--the big-picture changes one makes once you have some material drafted.

Despite the order in which I'm talking about resources, revision should happen before copy editing, otherwise you'll waste a lot of effort on material you don't ultimately keep. Most of you are pretty savvy in these matters, but for any beginners, some clarity on that point seemed necessary.

Revision is what truly separates the amateurs from the pros. Even a middle schooler can do a quick edit and correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But it takes tremendous skill and indeed wisdom to evaluate what isn't working in a scene, chapter, section or character arc, then actually fix it. Here are two books that offer some great training.

Fiction First Aid


Raymond Obstfeld's gem Fiction First Aid is one I first discovered in my local library and quickly realized I needed to own. Using medical metaphors of  symptoms, ailments and treatments, he examines typical writing problems and their causes, then suggests a number of approaches to revise the problem away. Most sections have an application exercise he calls "physical therapy."

The first two chapters, on plot and characterization, take up nearly half the book. He covers everything from developing great plot structure and suspense to remedying predictable, cardboard, and unlikable characters. His examples are drawn from both books and film across many genres, which I found particularly helpful.

The middle chapters on setting and style can help you build a more compelling fictional world from the outside in. He helps you determine how much setting detail you need and how to better ground scenes without bogging down the story. The style section has great advice on finding a balance between bland or monotonous writing and overwritten purple prose.

I found  the theme chapter especially useful. Because so many English teachers theme us to death in high school, it can be tempting to tell yourself that theme is for dull classics of yesteryear. Obstfeld argues quite convincingly that ignoring theme can lead to pale, thin stories that don't stick with readers. To have a theme is to write a story that means something, that puts forward a sort of emotional and intellectual thesis, then proves it. His case study of the film Groundhog Day illustrates well what a theme is and how one operates in fiction.

Manuscript Makeover


Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover is a book I turn to again and again. Her approach is a rare mix of methodical and somewhat freewheeling creative. Every section ends with a checklist for revision that alone is totally worth the price of the book, it's so well organized and thorough.


Lyon opens with giant-picture items--the overall style and presentation of your story. How do feel when you read aloud? Is it captivating? Is it full of your deeper truth? She suggests a number of really helpful exercises to write more deeply in revision. Her concept of "riff writing" is revolutionary, because it challenges you to go broader and deeper, not simply cut, cut, cut when you revise.

Rather than simply clumping together disparate plot concerns, she divides plot issues over several chapters: whole-book structure (2 chapters), Movement and Suspense, and Time and Pace. Her concept of developing "mattering moments" is incredibly helpful for building well-paced plots.

Roughly a third of the book covers characterization concerns: Viewpoint, Character Dimension and Theme, Character-Driven Beginnings, Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense, and finally Character Personality and Voice. I found her information on voice--especially how to make characters sound unique from one another--quite revolutionary and paradigm-shifting.

The book wraps up with chapters on copy editing and querying manuscripts, with those fabulously helpful checklists I mentioned earlier.

Do you enjoy revision or dread it? Why?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

I've read far more books and blog posts about how to be productive than I can accurately count. So much of the advice sounds exactly the same: have a routine, commit to it, don't stop until you meet your goal, treat it like a job. These little tidbits sound great for just about anything other than creative work. Some people can approach writing like it's laundry or at worst, doing your taxes. It might be a bit tough at times, but any momentary qualms can be powered through.

Well, that's not how I'm wired. I set aside time to write, commit to it and...freeze at the keyboard. Or think of twenty other things I'd rather be doing. Or simply beat myself up for not being Shakespeare yesterday. And trying to dedicate more time? Well, it often only makes me more anxious.

Steven Pressfield came along and gave my affliction a label. He called it "resistance," and made it seem pretty normal. Anything you care about, he argues, will bring with it a certain level of fear. His book The War of Art goes into great detail about what resistance feels like and what causes it. His solutions to it, however, haven't borne much fruit for me. Yes, routine can help; silly rituals can help; taking yourself seriously as an artist can help.

But none of these things remove the anxiety factor for me. So when I stumbled across Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, I had to take a look. The author Rosanne Bane goes into a lot of detail about the brain science behind how anxiety derails creative control. To summarize, what writers need most is to develop habits that create a state of mental relaxation so that the fight-or-flight instinct doesn't make you want to leave your desk before you even type one word. And because of neuroplasticity (the brain's inherent capacity for change), new habits can actually cause lasting brain changes.

Photo credit: Maena from morguefile.com
The most powerfully different habit she advocates to be a productive writer?

Play.

You're probably thinking, "Whoa, what? If I want to be more productive, I need to play more? What is this, Opposite Day?"

Bane says writers need to build in a habit of doing something fun and nonproductive 3-5 days a week for any period you can easily commit to. Ten, fifteen or twenty minutes is fine. The point of this play commitment (what she calls "process time") is to retrain your brain toward a relaxed state. The neural pathways you are building will become stronger than the ones that link creative work with fear.

Frankly, I'm tired enough of tangling with my inner resistance to give it a try. Bane recommended coming up with a list for yourself of things you find relaxing and writing down what you are committing to.

My brain balked at this at first. It was surprisingly hard to actually remember what activities I once did for fun, years ago before I started focusing on novel-length writing. Digging through some boxes in storage refreshed my memory about the many hobbies and enthusiasms I once regularly enjoyed.

Here's my list:
play with my cats
play tin whistle
improvise on the piano
sing
do calligraphy
sketch
bake
scrapbook
do scherenschnitte, quilling, and other paper crafts
garden
take photos
make collages
play with magnetic poetry
play Wii

I've committed to fifteen minutes three times a week. Today I unearthed my Irish tin whistle and played a handful of tunes by ear, then worked in the garden. I can attest that my mood improved.

As I think back to the days when I wrote most prolifically (middle and high school), I also made space in my life for hobbies. Maybe hobbies are what enabled me to be on honor roll, work part time and be in band, choir, art club, and school newspaper while writing lots.

It's a theory worth experimenting with. Hey, at least I'll be having fun regularly.

Do you include play in your routine? What favorite activities might you give 45 minutes a week?

9:38 PM Laurel Garver
I've read far more books and blog posts about how to be productive than I can accurately count. So much of the advice sounds exactly the same: have a routine, commit to it, don't stop until you meet your goal, treat it like a job. These little tidbits sound great for just about anything other than creative work. Some people can approach writing like it's laundry or at worst, doing your taxes. It might be a bit tough at times, but any momentary qualms can be powered through.

Well, that's not how I'm wired. I set aside time to write, commit to it and...freeze at the keyboard. Or think of twenty other things I'd rather be doing. Or simply beat myself up for not being Shakespeare yesterday. And trying to dedicate more time? Well, it often only makes me more anxious.

Steven Pressfield came along and gave my affliction a label. He called it "resistance," and made it seem pretty normal. Anything you care about, he argues, will bring with it a certain level of fear. His book The War of Art goes into great detail about what resistance feels like and what causes it. His solutions to it, however, haven't borne much fruit for me. Yes, routine can help; silly rituals can help; taking yourself seriously as an artist can help.

But none of these things remove the anxiety factor for me. So when I stumbled across Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, I had to take a look. The author Rosanne Bane goes into a lot of detail about the brain science behind how anxiety derails creative control. To summarize, what writers need most is to develop habits that create a state of mental relaxation so that the fight-or-flight instinct doesn't make you want to leave your desk before you even type one word. And because of neuroplasticity (the brain's inherent capacity for change), new habits can actually cause lasting brain changes.

Photo credit: Maena from morguefile.com
The most powerfully different habit she advocates to be a productive writer?

Play.

You're probably thinking, "Whoa, what? If I want to be more productive, I need to play more? What is this, Opposite Day?"

Bane says writers need to build in a habit of doing something fun and nonproductive 3-5 days a week for any period you can easily commit to. Ten, fifteen or twenty minutes is fine. The point of this play commitment (what she calls "process time") is to retrain your brain toward a relaxed state. The neural pathways you are building will become stronger than the ones that link creative work with fear.

Frankly, I'm tired enough of tangling with my inner resistance to give it a try. Bane recommended coming up with a list for yourself of things you find relaxing and writing down what you are committing to.

My brain balked at this at first. It was surprisingly hard to actually remember what activities I once did for fun, years ago before I started focusing on novel-length writing. Digging through some boxes in storage refreshed my memory about the many hobbies and enthusiasms I once regularly enjoyed.

Here's my list:
play with my cats
play tin whistle
improvise on the piano
sing
do calligraphy
sketch
bake
scrapbook
do scherenschnitte, quilling, and other paper crafts
garden
take photos
make collages
play with magnetic poetry
play Wii

I've committed to fifteen minutes three times a week. Today I unearthed my Irish tin whistle and played a handful of tunes by ear, then worked in the garden. I can attest that my mood improved.

As I think back to the days when I wrote most prolifically (middle and high school), I also made space in my life for hobbies. Maybe hobbies are what enabled me to be on honor roll, work part time and be in band, choir, art club, and school newspaper while writing lots.

It's a theory worth experimenting with. Hey, at least I'll be having fun regularly.

Do you include play in your routine? What favorite activities might you give 45 minutes a week?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Because I'm an editor who writes, people frequently ask whether I edit my own work and if so, how.

Like most of you, I believe every writer should do some self-editing to ensure a piece is the best you can make it before seeking feedback from others. (I also believe that other eyes are essential, and that self-editing alone will generally not result in a manuscript that it is the best it can be. But that's a topic for another post.)

And like most of you, I also lean on expertise when I'm unsure of a rule: "when in doubt, look it up" is a core motto for editors everywhere. Below are a few favorite resources that I regularly turn to for help with micro issues--sentence-level editing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


I sometimes call this book by Renni Browne and Dave King "a portable MFA." It offers some of the best insights I've come across to make your work not simply clean, but also polished and sophisticated. In fact, one of the most helpful chapters is titled "Sophistication." In it, Browne and King identify a handful of small changes that can make passages sound far more professional: avoiding "as" and "-ing" constructions (which place action at a remove from your reader), ferreting out weak verbs, paring back exclamation points and italics for emphasis, placing literary devices appropriately, and removing unnecessary repetition.

Their insights on proportion--giving actions, characters, devices, scenes only as much page time as is justified--are extremely helpful, especially when you're approaching revision and not sure where to start. When it comes to honing your narrative voice, the authors not only show how to improve, but also explain why some techniques are so effective. If you've always wanted to do deeper point-of-view writing but aren't quite sure how to pull it off, Browne and King's chapters on "Point of View," "Interior Monologue," "See How It Sounds," and "Characterization and Exposition" will guide you expertly.

Browne and King also cover some core revision concerns including show/tell balance, consistent point of view, and well paced dialogue.


Woe Is I


Subtitled "A Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," Patricia O'Conner's guide to basic grammar rules is, well, a lot more fun than you ever dreamed grammar could be. Her pun-filled chapter titles, like "Plurals Before Swine" and "Comma Sutra," lead chapters of no-nonsense advice full of funny examples and witty word play. Her special section called "mixed doubles" on homophones and other commonly switched pairings inspired my "Phonics Friday" series on homophone helps (which I hope are even a fraction as funny as O'Conner's chapter).

The material is grouped topically, though there's an excellent index if you need to find guidance on a particular grammar bugaboo. In addition to covering all the basics, from pronoun use, plurals, and possessives to verb tenses, modifiers, and punctuation, the book has several helpful chapters on frequently misused words and outdated grammar rules that need to be buried with that persnickety snob John Dryden and his ilk. And she clearly knows the sources of every outdated rule and why it needs to die--evidence aplenty to silence your uptight uncle who refuses to watch Star Trek because each episode opens with  Capt. Kirk saying "to boldly go" rather than "boldly to go" (the bogus split infinitive rule).

If you are a grammarphobe, this is one grammar book that will leave you giggling, not whimpering.



What resources have you found helpful for sentence-level editing?
5:39 PM Laurel Garver
Because I'm an editor who writes, people frequently ask whether I edit my own work and if so, how.

Like most of you, I believe every writer should do some self-editing to ensure a piece is the best you can make it before seeking feedback from others. (I also believe that other eyes are essential, and that self-editing alone will generally not result in a manuscript that it is the best it can be. But that's a topic for another post.)

And like most of you, I also lean on expertise when I'm unsure of a rule: "when in doubt, look it up" is a core motto for editors everywhere. Below are a few favorite resources that I regularly turn to for help with micro issues--sentence-level editing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


I sometimes call this book by Renni Browne and Dave King "a portable MFA." It offers some of the best insights I've come across to make your work not simply clean, but also polished and sophisticated. In fact, one of the most helpful chapters is titled "Sophistication." In it, Browne and King identify a handful of small changes that can make passages sound far more professional: avoiding "as" and "-ing" constructions (which place action at a remove from your reader), ferreting out weak verbs, paring back exclamation points and italics for emphasis, placing literary devices appropriately, and removing unnecessary repetition.

Their insights on proportion--giving actions, characters, devices, scenes only as much page time as is justified--are extremely helpful, especially when you're approaching revision and not sure where to start. When it comes to honing your narrative voice, the authors not only show how to improve, but also explain why some techniques are so effective. If you've always wanted to do deeper point-of-view writing but aren't quite sure how to pull it off, Browne and King's chapters on "Point of View," "Interior Monologue," "See How It Sounds," and "Characterization and Exposition" will guide you expertly.

Browne and King also cover some core revision concerns including show/tell balance, consistent point of view, and well paced dialogue.


Woe Is I


Subtitled "A Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," Patricia O'Conner's guide to basic grammar rules is, well, a lot more fun than you ever dreamed grammar could be. Her pun-filled chapter titles, like "Plurals Before Swine" and "Comma Sutra," lead chapters of no-nonsense advice full of funny examples and witty word play. Her special section called "mixed doubles" on homophones and other commonly switched pairings inspired my "Phonics Friday" series on homophone helps (which I hope are even a fraction as funny as O'Conner's chapter).

The material is grouped topically, though there's an excellent index if you need to find guidance on a particular grammar bugaboo. In addition to covering all the basics, from pronoun use, plurals, and possessives to verb tenses, modifiers, and punctuation, the book has several helpful chapters on frequently misused words and outdated grammar rules that need to be buried with that persnickety snob John Dryden and his ilk. And she clearly knows the sources of every outdated rule and why it needs to die--evidence aplenty to silence your uptight uncle who refuses to watch Star Trek because each episode opens with  Capt. Kirk saying "to boldly go" rather than "boldly to go" (the bogus split infinitive rule).

If you are a grammarphobe, this is one grammar book that will leave you giggling, not whimpering.



What resources have you found helpful for sentence-level editing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today I'm taking part in the week-long Follow Fest, hosted by Melissa Maygrove. It's not too late to join the fun! Swing on by Melissa's blog to sign up. Melissa gave us a handful of questions to help us get to know one another, so without further ado, here's all about me:

Name: Laurel Garver


Fiction or nonfiction? 

Mostly fiction, but I'm branching out into nonfiction (writing resources)


What genres do you write?

I write young adult (YA) literary fiction with Christian themes: stories about the places where life and beliefs collide. I also write poetry and, as I already mentioned, writing resources.

Are you published?

Yes: Never Gone, a novel, and Muddy-Fingered Midnights, a poetry collection. Descriptions and links are  HERE. I also have a free, romantic flash-fiction story on Wattpad, "Sketchbook Rapunzel," a prequel to Never Gone.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?

I'm a professional editor with 20+ years experience, and I'm taking new clients. My specialty is line editing: ensuring everything is correct at the sentence level, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and idiomatic usage. I also can help non-US writers who write American characters to Americanize not only spelling and punctuation but also vocabulary and usage.

Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com to discuss your project.

Tell us a little about yourself

This is how I look on Twitter. 

I grew up rural, but have lived my whole adult life in a city and love it. I’ve had a weird love affair with magazines since I was quite young and pursed magazine editing as a career. I currently work on a scholarly journal--a magazine for academics with literary criticism of modernist era literature by Beckett, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and Woolf (and lots of others you might not have read unless you were an English major). 

I met my husband, a philosophy professor, through a book club at our church, so I have C.S. Lewis to thank for meeting the love of my life. We’ve raised our twelve-year-old daughter in our geeky image of loving Dr. Who, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts. 

Last summer we spent 16 days in the UK, 11 of them in a cottage on a sheep farm in Gloucestershire, taking day trips to castles, museums, ancient barrows and stone circles, Roman ruins, and a coal mine. Our favorite sites were Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, The Dr. Who Experience in Cardiff and the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. This summer we stayed closer to home, traveling to the Hudson Valley and Catskills, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish dance feis. 


What are you reading right now?

As part of my 2014 "read outside my genre" challenge, I recently picked up a short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. It's literary fiction that explores the Dominican immigrant experience. 

Which authors influenced you the most?

Madeleine L'Engle's books most made me want to write, and I fell hard for funny narrators from Paula Danzinger's early works for teens like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? But my biggest influence is Susan Howatch, especially her Starbridge series. She writes deeply psychological, edgy stories with spiritual themes that feature complex, flawed characters. She does redemptive fiction better than anyone I know—fast paced, intriguing, never predictable or cloying. Her stories don’t shy away from the darker aspects of life, and because of that, the faith expressed is more profound because of its willingness to get dirty. I emulate Howatch most, though with a heart for the teen experience with touches of humor.

Where can people connect with you?

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn

Author pages:
Goodreads
Amazon
BN.com
Smashwords

Do you have a newsletter? 

Not currently. Social media keeps me busy enough

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?

I welcome guest posts here, especially those on writing / publishing tips (tie-ins with new releases are fine). I'll happily host giveaways for contemporary fiction (MG through adult) that would earn a film rating of PG-13 or below (moderately edgy and emotionally hard-hitting is okay).

Welcome, new friends! Tell me a little about yourself...
6:00 AM Laurel Garver
Today I'm taking part in the week-long Follow Fest, hosted by Melissa Maygrove. It's not too late to join the fun! Swing on by Melissa's blog to sign up. Melissa gave us a handful of questions to help us get to know one another, so without further ado, here's all about me:

Name: Laurel Garver


Fiction or nonfiction? 

Mostly fiction, but I'm branching out into nonfiction (writing resources)


What genres do you write?

I write young adult (YA) literary fiction with Christian themes: stories about the places where life and beliefs collide. I also write poetry and, as I already mentioned, writing resources.

Are you published?

Yes: Never Gone, a novel, and Muddy-Fingered Midnights, a poetry collection. Descriptions and links are  HERE. I also have a free, romantic flash-fiction story on Wattpad, "Sketchbook Rapunzel," a prequel to Never Gone.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?

I'm a professional editor with 20+ years experience, and I'm taking new clients. My specialty is line editing: ensuring everything is correct at the sentence level, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and idiomatic usage. I also can help non-US writers who write American characters to Americanize not only spelling and punctuation but also vocabulary and usage.

Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com to discuss your project.

Tell us a little about yourself

This is how I look on Twitter. 

I grew up rural, but have lived my whole adult life in a city and love it. I’ve had a weird love affair with magazines since I was quite young and pursed magazine editing as a career. I currently work on a scholarly journal--a magazine for academics with literary criticism of modernist era literature by Beckett, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and Woolf (and lots of others you might not have read unless you were an English major). 

I met my husband, a philosophy professor, through a book club at our church, so I have C.S. Lewis to thank for meeting the love of my life. We’ve raised our twelve-year-old daughter in our geeky image of loving Dr. Who, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts. 

Last summer we spent 16 days in the UK, 11 of them in a cottage on a sheep farm in Gloucestershire, taking day trips to castles, museums, ancient barrows and stone circles, Roman ruins, and a coal mine. Our favorite sites were Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, The Dr. Who Experience in Cardiff and the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. This summer we stayed closer to home, traveling to the Hudson Valley and Catskills, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish dance feis. 


What are you reading right now?

As part of my 2014 "read outside my genre" challenge, I recently picked up a short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. It's literary fiction that explores the Dominican immigrant experience. 

Which authors influenced you the most?

Madeleine L'Engle's books most made me want to write, and I fell hard for funny narrators from Paula Danzinger's early works for teens like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? But my biggest influence is Susan Howatch, especially her Starbridge series. She writes deeply psychological, edgy stories with spiritual themes that feature complex, flawed characters. She does redemptive fiction better than anyone I know—fast paced, intriguing, never predictable or cloying. Her stories don’t shy away from the darker aspects of life, and because of that, the faith expressed is more profound because of its willingness to get dirty. I emulate Howatch most, though with a heart for the teen experience with touches of humor.

Where can people connect with you?

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn

Author pages:
Goodreads
Amazon
BN.com
Smashwords

Do you have a newsletter? 

Not currently. Social media keeps me busy enough

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?

I welcome guest posts here, especially those on writing / publishing tips (tie-ins with new releases are fine). I'll happily host giveaways for contemporary fiction (MG through adult) that would earn a film rating of PG-13 or below (moderately edgy and emotionally hard-hitting is okay).

Welcome, new friends! Tell me a little about yourself...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thanks to our host Alex Cavanaugh for coming up with this fun fest theme, "Underrated Treasure," in which we share a favorite movie, band/artist, TV show, or book (any or all categories). As my bio blurb over to the right says, I'm an indie film enthusiast, so I thought I'd talk about my very favorite indie film that I suspect many of you haven't heard of.

Film - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Available for streaming or on DVD

A young man purchases a life-sized, anatomically-correct doll off the Internet and is convinced she is real.

Sounds like a set up for a hilarious romp involving sexual deviancy, right? Prepare to be surprised, because from this bizarre premise comes one of the most touching, insightful, profound films about love and community I've ever seen. More accurately, I'd blurb it as "A small-town community rallies to help a man suffering from a delusion." But I guess that's not as sexy.

What I love most about this film is the psychological puzzle at its core. WHY does Lars suddenly develop a delusion? How have his past and present circumstances conspired to make him need this kind of extreme coping mechanism? Little by little we're given clues, beginning from the very first scene when Lars's pregnant sister-in-law invites him to breakfast, and he answers the door wearing a baby blanket like a scarf. The visual motif of the color pink is tied to the psychological puzzle. In true indie film fashion, we get all the information we need, bit by bit, until the cause of Lars's psychological issues becomes abundantly clear without the screenwriter ever resorting to a Hollywood-style bash-you-over-the-head pronouncement.

I also love what this film teaches about how communities could (and should) act when someone is hurting--by taking the humble path of getting down into the ditch with that hurting person. The local Lutheran church, full of very ordinary, no-frills Midwestern folk are at the center, asking, "how can we help?" and, with absolutely no irony, "what would Jesus do?"

Here's the trailer:




Have you seen this underrated treasure? Have I convinced you to give it a try?
6:30 AM Laurel Garver
Thanks to our host Alex Cavanaugh for coming up with this fun fest theme, "Underrated Treasure," in which we share a favorite movie, band/artist, TV show, or book (any or all categories). As my bio blurb over to the right says, I'm an indie film enthusiast, so I thought I'd talk about my very favorite indie film that I suspect many of you haven't heard of.

Film - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Available for streaming or on DVD

A young man purchases a life-sized, anatomically-correct doll off the Internet and is convinced she is real.

Sounds like a set up for a hilarious romp involving sexual deviancy, right? Prepare to be surprised, because from this bizarre premise comes one of the most touching, insightful, profound films about love and community I've ever seen. More accurately, I'd blurb it as "A small-town community rallies to help a man suffering from a delusion." But I guess that's not as sexy.

What I love most about this film is the psychological puzzle at its core. WHY does Lars suddenly develop a delusion? How have his past and present circumstances conspired to make him need this kind of extreme coping mechanism? Little by little we're given clues, beginning from the very first scene when Lars's pregnant sister-in-law invites him to breakfast, and he answers the door wearing a baby blanket like a scarf. The visual motif of the color pink is tied to the psychological puzzle. In true indie film fashion, we get all the information we need, bit by bit, until the cause of Lars's psychological issues becomes abundantly clear without the screenwriter ever resorting to a Hollywood-style bash-you-over-the-head pronouncement.

I also love what this film teaches about how communities could (and should) act when someone is hurting--by taking the humble path of getting down into the ditch with that hurting person. The local Lutheran church, full of very ordinary, no-frills Midwestern folk are at the center, asking, "how can we help?" and, with absolutely no irony, "what would Jesus do?"

Here's the trailer:




Have you seen this underrated treasure? Have I convinced you to give it a try?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For a change of pace, I thought I'd share a snippet from my work in progress. It's a YA contemporary that picks up roughly 18 months after my debut, Never Gone.

My protagonist, Danielle, is a lifetime New Yorker who is spending a few weeks in central Pennsylvania (or so she hopes) when her grandfather is hospitalized after a bad fall.

===

Photo credit: arien from morguefile.com 
I step out to the back patio to check on Rhys. The chain tethered to the patio railing is tightly looped around a small birch with no dog attached. What the heck? I jog over to the tree and find the clasp bent wide open. He must’ve seen a squirrel and broken free.

“Rhys? Reeee-sss!”

Nothing but chirping birds and the air conditioner’s hum.

How could I lose him my second day here? I kick the tree in frustration and a flock of sparrows bursts out of the leaves, twittering at me. I check tall shrubs around the house; no dog. The garage now has a coffin in one of the parking bays, but no Rhys. The garden shed holds nothing but dusty tools and ancient sacks of peat moss. I search the grove of trees behind the house and the mysterious outbuilding as well, but still no sign of my dog.

I guess this means Rhys took off through the woods. Right. I can do this. It’s just trees. Songbirds. Chirpy little crickets. Spiders…rattlesnakes…black bears…pumas. What chance does Rhys have against a puma? God, help me. I’ve got to save my poor dog before he ends up disemboweled on a rock, left for vultures to pick apart.

I run back to the garage, grab a splintered baseball bat and dive into the thicket. Brambles scratch my bare arms. Dandelions spill silken seeds that flutter into my face and tickle my nose. Burrs hitch a ride on my shorts and socks as I kick deeper through the undergrowth.
“Rhys! Reee-sss!”

I swat away the gnats buzzing around my head. I’d rather roam the Met when it’s wall-to-wall sweaty tourists than be out in all this creepy nature.

Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

I stumble, nearly dropping the bat. What was that? The rapid tapping repeats. It can’t be a rattlesnake, can it?

“Woof!” Rhys’s distant bark rings through the trees. I turn around and around trying to guess his direction. If there are poisonous snakes in these woods, we’re both dead.

A flash of red catches my eye as a mid-sized bird swoops past. It lands on a dead tree and cocks its head. I stand stock-still and stare at its black body, skunk-striped face, funny red hat of a crest. It’s such a beautiful creature, I instinctively pat my back pockets for a sketch pad and pencil. The bird squawks, turns, and rapidly pecks the tree trunk. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

That’s what I’ve been scared of? A harmless woodpecker? Jeez.

More distant barks pull my attention to the deep woods. No more of these stupid fears. I stand tall, tighten my grip on the bat, and follow.

Past the low shrubs and brambles, the woods are soft and cool. Ferns and moss make a pungent carpet across the forest floor. Light shivers among the breeze-bent branches. An earthy scent lingers among the trees. I close my eyes, suck in lungfuls of it, strange as it tastes to my city-girl tongue. Breaths come like prayer.

Behind me, branches snap and swish. My eyes flash open and I see a guy on a big, black horse circling me. He has a hunting rifle in his right hand, pointed at the sky for the moment. One false move, though, and he might just turn its sights on me.

===

What are you working on these days?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
For a change of pace, I thought I'd share a snippet from my work in progress. It's a YA contemporary that picks up roughly 18 months after my debut, Never Gone.

My protagonist, Danielle, is a lifetime New Yorker who is spending a few weeks in central Pennsylvania (or so she hopes) when her grandfather is hospitalized after a bad fall.

===

Photo credit: arien from morguefile.com 
I step out to the back patio to check on Rhys. The chain tethered to the patio railing is tightly looped around a small birch with no dog attached. What the heck? I jog over to the tree and find the clasp bent wide open. He must’ve seen a squirrel and broken free.

“Rhys? Reeee-sss!”

Nothing but chirping birds and the air conditioner’s hum.

How could I lose him my second day here? I kick the tree in frustration and a flock of sparrows bursts out of the leaves, twittering at me. I check tall shrubs around the house; no dog. The garage now has a coffin in one of the parking bays, but no Rhys. The garden shed holds nothing but dusty tools and ancient sacks of peat moss. I search the grove of trees behind the house and the mysterious outbuilding as well, but still no sign of my dog.

I guess this means Rhys took off through the woods. Right. I can do this. It’s just trees. Songbirds. Chirpy little crickets. Spiders…rattlesnakes…black bears…pumas. What chance does Rhys have against a puma? God, help me. I’ve got to save my poor dog before he ends up disemboweled on a rock, left for vultures to pick apart.

I run back to the garage, grab a splintered baseball bat and dive into the thicket. Brambles scratch my bare arms. Dandelions spill silken seeds that flutter into my face and tickle my nose. Burrs hitch a ride on my shorts and socks as I kick deeper through the undergrowth.
“Rhys! Reee-sss!”

I swat away the gnats buzzing around my head. I’d rather roam the Met when it’s wall-to-wall sweaty tourists than be out in all this creepy nature.

Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

I stumble, nearly dropping the bat. What was that? The rapid tapping repeats. It can’t be a rattlesnake, can it?

“Woof!” Rhys’s distant bark rings through the trees. I turn around and around trying to guess his direction. If there are poisonous snakes in these woods, we’re both dead.

A flash of red catches my eye as a mid-sized bird swoops past. It lands on a dead tree and cocks its head. I stand stock-still and stare at its black body, skunk-striped face, funny red hat of a crest. It’s such a beautiful creature, I instinctively pat my back pockets for a sketch pad and pencil. The bird squawks, turns, and rapidly pecks the tree trunk. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

That’s what I’ve been scared of? A harmless woodpecker? Jeez.

More distant barks pull my attention to the deep woods. No more of these stupid fears. I stand tall, tighten my grip on the bat, and follow.

Past the low shrubs and brambles, the woods are soft and cool. Ferns and moss make a pungent carpet across the forest floor. Light shivers among the breeze-bent branches. An earthy scent lingers among the trees. I close my eyes, suck in lungfuls of it, strange as it tastes to my city-girl tongue. Breaths come like prayer.

Behind me, branches snap and swish. My eyes flash open and I see a guy on a big, black horse circling me. He has a hunting rifle in his right hand, pointed at the sky for the moment. One false move, though, and he might just turn its sights on me.

===

What are you working on these days?