Showing posts with label Barb Goffman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barb Goffman. Show all posts

26 July 2022

The Importance of Tenacity


Hi, everyone. I'm taking a mental-health break. Instead of writing a new column to run today, I'm rerunning one from New Year's Day 2019. Sorry about that, but to use that old NBC slogan, if you haven't seen it, it's new to you!

The Power of Tenacity

I planned to title this column the Power of Persistence and to write about writing goals. It seemed perfect for January 1st, when so many people make resolutions for the new year. And I do love alliteration. But then I thought, maybe "tenacity" would be a better word than "persistence." The Power of Tenacity might not have the same cadence as the Power of Persistence, but is it more on point? I had always treated the words as synonyms, but maybe, I began to think, they aren't. Maybe I should check. So I did, and it turns out there's an important difference between the two words. Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for the new year, tenacity seems the better approach.

How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?

I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.

Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?

If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.

And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.

I was about to write that the one thing you shouldn't do is give up, but there might be value in letting go. If your goal is to write a novel or short story, but you never seem to finish your project, and the mere thought of working on it feels like drudgery instead of joy, then maybe being a professional writer isn't for you. There's no shame in that. Not every person is suited to every task. When I was a kid I loved swimming, but I was never going to make a swim team. I wasn't fast enough. Maybe with a lot of practice and other changes I could have gotten there, but I didn't want to take those steps. And that's okay. I enjoyed swimming for the fun of it, and that was enough for me. Maybe writing for yourself, without the pressure of getting to write "The End," is what gives you joy. If so, more power to you. And maybe it turns out you don't want to finish that book or story you started writing. That's okay too, even if you did tell everyone that you were writing it. You're allowed to try things and stop if it turns out they aren't the right fit for you.

But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.

That, my fellow writers, is my advice for you. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?

05 July 2022

The Problem with Coincidences


Today I'm going to talk about one of the no-nos in mysteries. The C word. 

No, not that C word. Get your mind out of the gutter. I'm talking about the other C word of mysteries: coincidence.

How many times have you heard that you can't have coincidences in your mysteries? Coincidences might occur in real life, the reasoning goes, but readers plunking down cold hard cash for good stories deserve ones created by authors who don't lazily rely on coincidence for their stories to work.  

I agreeto an extent.

A coincidence that occurs later in a book or short story, enabling the sleuth to figure out whodunit ... don't do it! Your sleuth should be smart enough to figure things out through investigation, without relying upon, essentially, divine providence. That's the kind of thing that makes readers roll their eyes and mutter, "Oh come on!" 

But a coincidence that occurs early in the book or storythat, as they say, is a horse of a different color. (Yeah, yeah, I know. That was another C word. A cliche. Those are no-nos too. But we're talking about coincidences today, not cliches, so lay off.)

A coincidence that happens early in a book or story is okay because usually it is the inciting incident that kicks things off. Take the movie My Cousin Vinny. Billy Gambini and Stanley Rothenstein were driving a 1964 metallic-mint-green Buick Skylark convertible from NY to Southern California by way of the back roads of Alabama. (I'd like to talk to whoever planned that direct route.) They stopped at a convenience store. A few minutes after they left the store, it was robbed and its clerk was murdered by two yoots ... excuse me, two youths ... who not only resembled Billy and Stanley but who were driving a similar-looking metallic-mint-green convertible. Coincidence? Big. Huge. (Sorry, that was a Pretty Woman reference. I'll try to focus.) Because of the similarities, Billy and Stanley found themselves pulled over and ultimately arrested for murder. But the coincidences not only weren't a problem, they were vital to the plot. Without them, Billy and Stanley wouldn't have been pulled over and there would have been no story, not involving them anyway. Mr. Tipton wouldn't have embarrassed himself claiming the laws of physics didn't apply in his kitchen. Vinny may never have won his first case. And Mona Lisa Vito's biological clock would still be tick tick ticking away. (I'm assuming they got married and had little Gambinis who like to argue over everything. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.)

So, you're reading this and thinking, That Barb makes a lot of sense. But crud, crap, criminy, I have a big freaking coincidence in my book and it's not the spark that incites the story. What do I do?

Here's what you do: you take your coincidence and make it purposeful. Instead of Suzie Sleuth coincidentally ending up sitting in a diner booth adjacent to that of the two killers, where she overhears them talking about how they killed Mr. He Deserved It, change things so Suzie realized Killer One seemed shady so she was investigating him. In the course of her sleuthing, she followed him, purposely getting seated in the next booth. That way, when she eavesdrops and hears all the juicy details, she's done it because she figured things out, not because she stumbled upon the solution thanks to an unbelievable coincidence.

(Disclaimer: That was an example. It was only an example. If it this were a real story and you had killers admit their plans in a restaurant where they could be overheard, readers would be wishing they'd had an actual emergency alert in advance, warning them off such a contrived event.)

Contrivances. That's another C word. A blog for another day.

14 June 2022

When Ignorance is Bliss


We've all heard the advice that authors should write what they know. (And before you roll your eyes, it doesn't mean write only about things you already know about. It means do your research before you write about something so you get the details right and your story is believable.) Along the same lines, editing what you know makes sense too. If I were to edit a police procedural novel, it sure would help if I knew about police procedure. Ditto for a legal thriller. Knowing what a summary judgment motion is and how it works would be important if I were to edit a novel with one of them in it.

But sometimes when I'm editing, I find that ignorance can truly be bliss. It can result in my asking questions an expert in a particular subject might not. Take, for instance, the topic of farming. I'm not a farmer. I've never lived on a farm. I don't even like to go outside. Twenty years ago, a woman in my writing group was writing a novel set on a farm. Each week we'd go over another chapter and I would ask questions that made her realize she'd incorrectly assumed certain things were common knowledge. When that book came out, she gave me a copy and inscribed, "Barb, your ignorance of farming was invaluable." It still makes me laugh.

It's not the only time my ignorance came in handy. Several years ago, a client used an acronym that I'd never heard of before, and I noted it when editing her manuscript. She was surprised. It was a common word in the military, she said. After polling a bunch of people she knew, she realized she either needed to explain the acronym or change it because enough non-military people didn't know the term, and its meaning wasn't obvious from her story's context. If I'd had a military background, it might not have occurred to me that many readers might not know that acronym. 

Ignorance can be bliss. So can pizza.

So, where does the line lie between when an author wants an editor who's a subject-matter expert or one who isn't? I'm no expert on answering this question (ha ha), but I think it depends on how much of an expert the author is on the subject at hand--or how much research the author is willing to do. 

If you're a homicide detective writing about a homicide detective, working with an editor who's never been a police officer might be useful. The editor could bring a helpful outsider's perspective, enabling you to see when you're making assumptions about what most readers will know. But if you've never been a police officer and you don't love doing research, then you'd be well served by working with an editor who knows enough about how police investigations work to tell you if you got something wrong or if you might've gotten something wrong so you should check. 

That said, sometimes you won't be able to find the exact expert you need. If I wanted to write a story about a gravedigger, I might be able to find a gravedigger who could answer my questions. It might be more difficult to find a gravedigger or former gravedigger who also edits mysteries.

So, if you can't find an expert to edit your manuscript, look for one who isn't afraid to question things, asking if you checked if certain things are correct. (It also wouldn't be a bad idea to find a subject-matter expert who will read your manuscript, not to edit it, but to tell you if you got the details right.)

Even as I type this, I can imagine someone reading this column and thinking, even a homicide detective could benefit from the expertise of another insider, someone who might have suggestions a lay editor wouldn't think of. And that is true too. It's why it's a good idea to know your strengths and weaknesses and know exactly what you want--and need--from an editor before hiring one. Sometimes someone with certain expertise is exactly what's right for you. But other times, the person who's right for you is an editor who's ignorant about your field--and who isn't afraid to show it.

24 May 2022

What Fired Me Up to Write a Fireworks Story


Shortly before July 4th last year, I posted this on my Facebook page:

One day I am going to write a story in which someone who sets off fireworks in a suburban neighborhood, not giving a crap about the animals he's scaring, gets what's coming. And I won't feel bad at all. 
 
Sincerely,
 
The mom of a freaked-out dog
 
Boy, did the responses pour in. I got 145 likes, 29 loves, 47 hugs, and a smattering of other emojis. The comments were just as enthusiastic. Here's just a handful:
  • PLEASE please write that story!
  • Also endorsed by moms of small children, fire marshals, ER staff, those with PTSD. Please do something to those who sell the fireworks also . . . 
  • I'm happy to consult on this one! People here are also very concerned about their horses being frightened by them. Apparently several were injured last year
  • And I would read that book and recommend it to everyone I know. My poor boy Paddy has not left my side for hours now. 
  • You’d get lots of support from those of us in California who are sniffing for wild-fire smoke after every very illegal bang.
  • This has always been my least favorite holiday simply because of the loud noise and the fear and confusion it causes to animals, pets and wildlife both. Then there are the accidents to humans and fire potential.
Buoyed by the 100+ comments, I decided to write a story addressing the impact of fireworks. Then I saw a call for stories for an upcoming anthology to be titled Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3: The Color of My Vote. Authors were asked to submit stories involving voting and color. We were giving wide latitude in how we interpreted the theme. As you may imagine, I thought of fireworks. They come in all kinds of colors. People who shoot them off frequently say they're being patriotic (red, white, and blue). People who don't like their impact see red. People who sell them want green. There were many more color associations I could make. Yes, I thought, a story involving fireworks could be a good fit.
 
Then I had to work in a voting aspect. Maybe, I thought, a city council could be about to vote on a proposal to bar residents from shooting off fireworks. I created a main character, a teenage girl, who is desperate for the ban to pass because of how fireworks set off in her neighborhood scare her dog, Bailey. The vote is expected to be close, and she has a friend whose neighbor is on the city council, so they decide to try to push him to vote their way ... with an unconventional approach.
 
Now it's almost a year later, and Memorial Dayanother holiday associated with fireworksis right around the corner. It's the perfect time for Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3 to have been published. And I'm delighted the book includes my story "For Bailey." It's not the straight-on revenge story some people were hoping for, but it does address the effects fireworks can have on veterans with PTSD, firefighters, the environment, wildlife, and, especially, pets. I should add that I do not endorse any real-life crimes against people who set off fireworks or sell them. But I do like using fiction to try to open some eyes to the impact fireworks can have while offering an entertaining tale at the same time.
 
The anthology is out in trade paperback and ebook. It includes 22 stories of crime and suspense, ranging from comic to tragic and from cozy to noir. You'll also find a few stories involving science fiction, horror, and fantasy. The publisher is donating all the proceeds to Democracy Docket, an organization fighting voter suppression in the United States.

Here are the authors with stories in the book, in order of story appearance:

David Corbett, Faye Snowden, Eric Beetner, Sarah M. Chen, Gabriel Valjan, Jackie Ross Flaum, David Hagerty, Thomas Pluck, Katharina Gerlach, Stephen Buehler, Ember Randall, Camille Minichino, Patricia (Pat) E. Canterbury, James McCrone, Ann Parker, Miguel Alfonso Ramos, Misty Sol, DJ Tyrer, Anshritha, Bev Vincent, Barb Goffman, and Travis Richardson
.

You can order a paper copy of the book through many indie bookstores. Click here to find some near you. If you prefer Amazon (paper or ebook), click here. Paper copies are also available through Barnes and Noble. Click here for them.

The anthology supports a worthy cause, so I hope you'll consider picking up a copy. I also hope you enjoy my story and you and your loved ones (human and furry) don't suffer too much from the effects of fireworks this summer.