Tag Archives: Writing

Information Overload

Before computers, the difficult part of research was finding materials. As a kid, I had to ride a bus a half hour downtown to the big county library when I needed to do serious research for school.

Thanks to the internet, I can look up anything that pops into my mind immediately, I can search any question. I can not only pull up a map of a place I want my character to go, I can see the satellite view of it and, most places, pull the little guy onto the map and see what my character would see driving down a road, turning to look side to side.

It’s beyond awesome. I love it.

However, the old dilemma of when to stop researching happens more quickly and is compounded by the necessity of sorting through to discard information of questionable value. Libraries used to do that for us.

Now, even when you’ve narrowed it to solid sources, it’s likely you have an overwhelming amount of information to review. Personally, I procrastinate at this point. I let it all sit, hoping it will somehow sift itself into some kind of logical order.

That doesn’t really work, though. I eventually start sorting through everything, shoving it into physical or computer files labeled by categories of information. Then I attack one category at a time.

This is an imperfect process. For example, I have a four-inch stack of notes on my table about marketing right now, and folders within folders and files that overlap folders floating around in the main folder unfiled. There are a lot of resources that fit more than one part of marketing.

My method to deal with this information overload?

I start with the best resource – the best NEW resource if there are several.

For my marketing project, I’m starting by reading Carla King‘s Self-Publishing Bootcamp Guide, 4th edition. I’ll take notes specific to my project and make an outline or timeline. Then I’ll quickly review old books I’ve read before, scanning for anything to add. If I hit a better outline, I’ll combine the two.

With that solid base, those other piles of pages will read quickly, because most of it will be review. I’ll be skimming through, looking for unique information. That makes the prospect less daunting. And the details will be plopped into the right place on the outline as I find them.

Yeah. It’s not so bad. I’m ready to get to it!

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Celebrate Your Success!

Last week I talked about the importance of celebrating others’ successes. It’s part of building a supportive community of writers.

That means you have to let people know when you have a success, too.

After years of trying to sell my screenplay to a major company, imagining it produced with major stars and being released in theaters, making me rich and famous, my first sale went directly to television, with some known actors. It did not make me rich or famous. I looked at it as another step closer to paying all the bills through my writing.

“Your movie went to television. You may never meet another writer who can say that.”

Reality check from another screenwriter, who’s produced his own films. It wasn’t as flashy as I’d always imagined, but it was still a success – a pretty big one.

The same holds true when you’ve been targeting the major markets with your stories or essays for years and a university press publishes one of your stories and you’re paid in copies. It’s still recognition, validation of your skill as a writer. It’s success.

Celebrate with your fellow writers.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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First Quarter Review

Back at the end of December, I set my goals for 2018. Well, March is behind us – the end of the first quarter of the year, when businesses assess how they’re doing.

My primary writing goal for the year is to make at least $10,000 and I’m losing money at this point. So when I looked at the page with three columns of objectives and steps to reach each that I set up at the beginning of the year, I initially felt disheartened. Then I took a closer look and made notes.

To achieve that one writing goal, I have three objectives. I’ve made progress on each.

Goal #1: Maintain and build on promotional activities, center them on the book coming out later this year (Peg’s Story). Progress:

  • I haven’t had any shorts published yet, but I’ve researched markets, organized my submission process, and have seven pending. I know where each will be sent next.
  • I’ve written this blog every week and several posts have been dedicated to how my writing needs to link to the Me Too movement, which ties in with Peg’s Story.
  • I’ve listened to podcasts and started reading the new edition of Self-Publishing Bootcamp. I’ll focus more on developing the release and marketing plan for Peg’s Story in the next three months.

Goal #2: Keep working on new material. Progress:

  • I have several chapters of a romance novel written and re-written with critique group input. I set up rules for myself in previous blog posts – I want strong heroines.
  • I am developing a YA paranormal novel with feedback from two critique groups – one gets the first draft, I revise, then submit it to the second. This pushes me to keep producing at least two chapters a month through polished level.
  • I’m reworking shorts for the specific markets I’ve decided my work fits.

Goal #3: Do workshops. This goal needs to be amended to Do Activities that Generate Income. Progress:

  • I’ll be teaching a summer workshop Self-Publishing for Educators through Community Education at Sierra Community College and have applied to teach that and a Self-Publishing Basics workshop in the fall.
  • I’m shepherding a local artist and writer, Suzanne BlaneyHer website had been shut down and her Amazon author page was incomplete. I’ve started updating her online presence and her domain is pending transfer to GoDaddy, where I’ll be able to rebuild it for her. She’s finishing up a new art book and I’ll be editing that.
  • I’m negotiating a contract to write another screenplay for Nasser Entertainment. They don’t want to pay anything up front, so I’ll be gambling that they actually produce the film, but they probably will.

I also have two non-writing goals: Maintain balance in my life and Improve my financial status. I’ve made some progress on those, too, spending time with family, doing a little subbing. I still need to get back into a regular exercise routine. Blocking that in may actually increase my productive writing time. We’ll see how the next quarter goes.Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Short Term vs. Long Term

As I write this, I’m in the middle of negotiations to write another screenplay for the company that optioned and produced Running Away. This time I’m having an attorney look at the contract.

She immediately warned me that the company is known for making movies “down and dirty” as cheap as possible, and that while she could read the contract and give me advice, she couldn’t negotiate for me because the only union they deal with is SAG. However, they do produce and sell a lot of movies.

She advised me to think about whether I want to focus on the short or long term before hiring her to analyze the contract.

Well, she didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t figured out already. I know the contract they’ve offered is not reasonable by WGA standards. She’s looking over the contract.

But I did stop to consider her point: Will working for this company work against me in the long run?

Does it mean I’m a hack incapable of writing quality scripts? No. It means I want the validation of being paid for writing, even if it’s not the best pay.

Will other people decide it means I’m a hack incapable of writing quality scripts? Maybe, but if they take a closer look, they’ll see some benefits:

  • It shows I’m not a prima donna – I understand the final product is a collaborative effort and my words are not sacrosanct.
  • It shows I can get rewrites done and back in a timely fashion – or they wouldn’t ask me to do a second script.

I also consider it an opportunity to practice my craft and improve on it:

  • I’ll analyze each script against the movie to learn more about what works – as I already have done here with Running Away.
  • I’ll be practicing writing for a specific audience, which is a good exercise for any writer.

So, while accepting this contract may work against me somewhere along the line, I believe I can sell it as a positive growth experience if I do a few more movies for this company.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

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When You’re Not a Writer – Yet

I believe all writing is good practice for a writer.

While my kids were growing up, I put aside “being a writer” for day jobs. However, many of those day jobs involved writing. For example, I’ve written stacks of court reports. Did that build any skills for my fiction writing? Absolutely.

  • I had to interview people and present their position accurately – to do that I listened carefully and checked for understanding. Even the few villains I encountered had what they believed were good reasons for their actions. So I avoid cardboard characters in my fiction. I know each of my characters from the inside out. Each has a distinct voice.
  • I had to pay attention to details. Small details, buried amidst non-essential information, often clarified an issue or sequence of events. The same holds true in fiction – the details often decide the course of events.
  • I had to take the facts I’d gathered and present them in a logical order that helped the judge make sense of the situation – which was often quite complicated. The same skill is necessary in fiction. If you confuse the reader by putting a conclusion before the facts that lead to it, you will probably lose them altogether.
  • I couldn’t include every single piece of information I collected. I had to decide which facts were necessary and which were superfluous. When writing fiction, I always know more backstory than my readers – they’d be bored if I included all of it. I have to choose what they need to know when. It’s the same skill, repurposed.
  • I also had to decide when to quote an interviewed person directly and when to paraphrase. When writing fiction, I need to decide where to describe interactions and where to use dialogue. The elements that make each effective are remarkably similar whether a court report or a novel.

What about jobs that don’t involve much writing? It’s all experience. Most writers have had a series of jobs before they start making a living (or at least part of one) writing.

If you find a complete job history of an author and then read all of that author’s work, you will probably find characters and settings that use non-writing jobs.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/event/gold-country-writers-six-author-event

 

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Curves in the Road

At sixteen my plan was to spend my senior year of high school as an exchange student, then go to Northwestern for journalism and become an international reporter. I’d make the world a better place and have adventures at the same time. I was on that road. I was editor of my school paper and studying both French and Spanish. I joined AFS and met exchange students from all over the world. I brought home the application.

But my mother had been a stay-at-home mom for almost forty years and she wasn’t ready for an empty nest, so she insisted I could wait and go abroad while I was in college. That last year of high school, there were few academic courses left for me to take. Instead, my interest in art, music, and drama, which had been largely dormant for two years, came back full force. I never even applied to Northwestern.

The killings at Kent State, a month before my high school graduation, did nothing to change my mind. The paranoia of the day seeped into me. Publication of the Pentagon Papers could have inspired a renewal of my interest in journalism, but instead the content increased my detachment from world events. Then Watergate filled the television and my first choice for president was a crook or the man he’d made look like a buffoon. I did a write-in vote for “No Body” and wanted nothing to do with any of it.

I just wanted to live my life.

It’s a good way to live, focused on immediate surroundings, the things where you may make a real difference in lives, one at a time, or one small community at a time. And that is one way to change the world without taking on the big issues.

Looking back, there have been many other roads not taken, some of which might have brought me back closer to my original intent. It’s okay I didn’t take those roads. There have been rough spots, but overall, life has been full and interesting and right now it’s really good. I’m writing fiction full of strong women, providing good role models. . .but, every so often, I wonder if I’m playing hooky from another destiny.

A few weeks ago, I bought the January 15, 2018 Time because it was supposed to be a good news edition, edited by Bill Gates. This morning it got to the top of the reading pile. In it, there’s an article by Melinda Gates about how women’s movements around the world are bringing about significant changes not just for the betterment of women, but for society as a whole. She advocates for an increase in financial support for grassroots women’s organizations and women’s funds.

The article makes me feel as if there’s more I need to do.

It could be a diversion from projects already in place, to avoid completion. I need to guard against that temptation. But I suspect the road I’m on is curving and will eventually intersect with the one not taken long ago.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

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Affirmations for Writers

Our inner dialogue has enormous impact on how we see ourselves, which in turn is reflected in what we do with our lives. The power of repeating positive affirmations has been documented and if you search “affirmations” you’ll find all kinds of lists of positive affirmations recommended to improve your life.

I wrote here previously about having balance in our lives and how, several years ago, a group of close friends gathered regularly over several weeks to look at where we had been, discern what we wanted in all areas of our lives, and then plan actions to make those things happen. This included an assessment of our strengths, which we each put into a personal affirmation to be repeated daily.

By making the affirmation personal, it has more power than a generic statement that may or may not be a good fit. At least, that’s how it works for me. I know I’ve done serious introspection and discovered these positive things are true about me – I just need to be reminded of them on a regular basis.

There are several good habits I let slip from time to time and this is one of them. I do keep a copy of my affirmations posted on my motivational board, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing them daily. I have to thank Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers for inspiring this blog and a renewal of my affirmation habit.

Hope’s weekly newsletters always have good resources and inspirational messages – I strongly recommend subscribing if you are a serious writer. The one I just read, from 2/16/18, had quotes from Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks about not letting fear make our choices. After reading it, I added two new lines to my daily affirmation:

I make choices in hope.
I plan action with purpose.

These two lines are also personally true, but repeating them daily will help me keep that action moving forward and stifle fear and self-doubt.

Take some time to look at where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished (small things count), and what skills you’ve developed along the way. It helps to do this with people who know you, for they may see things in you that you’re overlooking. Then decide what you want in all aspects of life as you move forward – a year from now, five years, ten, twenty. Determine what steps you need to take to achieve those goals, look at what skills or attributes you have that will help you get there, and write your personal affirmation.

The time taken for introspection will be balanced out by more effective actions going forward. The few moments daily affirmation takes will focus your energies for the day.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Novel to Film: Looking at Change

Last week, I explained the major differences between my first novel Running Away and the Lifetime movie made from it. The movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters changed, which changed the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story. It works as a TV movie, but part of me would still like to see the theater version with my themes and characters as I’d intended.

The contract was for one production, so a remake is a possibility, or utilizing parts of the script in a film version of the mother’s story – the novel Peg’s Story: In Search of Self is coming out later this year. With those possibilities in mind, I did two things:

  • I asked the screenwriters at Capital Film Arts Alliance in Sacramento to review my original script. As always, they gave thoughtful feedback.
  • Before the movie went to the director, I did revisions to make it more affordable to shoot. I watched the movie again with that script to analyze the later changes.

Pertinent observations and conclusions I took away from CFAA and my own analysis:

  • Some of the changes were great. I knew going in that there would be changes over which I would have no control. I really liked some of them. For example: 
    • The director’s version of the climax is more visual and dramatically satisfying than the version I’d written.
    • The film has a better, more logical basis for the friendship between Maggie and Chip (the boy who helps her get away).
  • It’s important to grab the audience quickly. Director changes immediately show Richard as an aggressive jerk and expand on his villainy. People who’ve seen the film talk primarily about his character, so yeah, that worked, but that emphasis lost one of my main themes, that sexual predators are not always obviously bad guys, that they are often masterful actors. However, CFAA feedback on my original script included that it started slowly, so I’d need to find another way to begin. 
  • It doesn’t take much to dramatically alter a character and how the audience perceives them. Most of the scenes are still from my revision, but there were a few brief additions that made major changes in Peg and her girls. For example:
    • The first time Peg appears, she’s on the phone pleading for more time to pay a bill. Shortly after that, she tells Maggie that going out with the contractor working on the house didn’t count as dating because she only did that so he wouldn’t overcharge… In just a minute or two, I saw her as weak and someone who used men, so when Richard turned out to be rich, the entire relationship was suspect. I didn’t like her until the climactic scene.
    • In contrast, my Peg was strong and financially secure – she had a good job and owned the house she’d grown up in without a mortgage. She went camping with her girls alone. Her vulnerability came up when she was hospitalized on a camping trip and Richard flew to her side to take care of her. That scene was deleted and Richard went camping with them, adding another creepy bit.
  • The collaborative effort made a better film.  Even with the added scenes and an added thread expanding on the villain, most of the lines spoken were in my script. However, those scenes were trimmed. This wasn’t just to make room for the additions – it also kept the action moving better. Honestly, a film made rigidly by my original script probably would not have held a TV audience as well as this one does.

The bottom line:

“The movie is different from the book” does not mean one is better than the other; it just means they’re different. What matters for each is: Does it work?

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Does it work?

My next novel, which will come out later this year, is Peg’s Story: In Search of Self. It’s the story of the mother in my first novel, Running Away. After that book came out, I wrote and sold the screenplay – the selling part took a few years. You may have seen the movie Running Away on Lifetime, and it’s been pirated to YouTube as well.

If you’ve read the book and watched the movie, you know that the movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters is different. That also means the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story changed.

This is how the changes look:

The novel is about the relationship between mother and daughter and how a subtle predator manipulates both of them to the point where Maggie (the daughter) ends up running away. The emphasis is on the mother-daughter bond – that’s why the hands are reaching for each other on the novel’s cover. My original script stuck with that emphasis, as did the re-writes I did to make it more affordable to shoot.

I’m still the only screenwriter on the credits, however the director added short scenes, including some up front to establish the stepfather as a bad guy quickly. The filmmakers explained that was essential to hold the audience. With several short scenes, the director also added a storyline making the stepfather evil beyond what he does to Maggie. As in the movie poster, he becomes the focal point.

Film is a collaborative medium and the final measure is always: Does it work?

  • Whenever someone tells me they’ve seen the movie, their comments center on the creepy stepfather – no one talks about the girl or her mother. My central theme didn’t survive, but the film does grab people and hold their attention.
  • I sold the script to a production company with a track record for producing and marketing films to television and computer movie markets. They sold the film successfully to French-speaking European television and then Lifetime. They knew their market.

So yeah, the film works. I got paid, got my credits at the beginning and end, and it’s added to my IMDb page. I’m happy.

Next week I’ll take a closer look at the film and how it compares to my screenplay.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Happy Single

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The fourth one is that single women can’t have meaningful lives and be happy.

Myth #4 – Women are incomplete without a partner.

Funny thing…married women will invite single men or single fathers for dinner, but they don’t invite single women unless there’s a suitable single match coming.

When my kids were little, I thought it might be just us – they were pretty rambunctious. Then we got invited for a barbeque by the mother of my youngest son’s friend – not a big party, just the two families, not a single man in sight. And she told me why she’d offered the invitation: She and her husband had grown up in that small town, had had the same group of friends for decades, and when her husband recovered from a life-threatening heart attack, one of those women told her “I’m so glad he got better. I’d have missed having you as a friend.” If her husband had died, they would not have continued including her in their gatherings! Unfortunately, this was not a unique situation.

We’re encouraging young girls to take STEM classes, we keep fighting for equal wages for equal pay, we’ve gotten more men involved in caring for their children, but socially married women still exclude single women. Based on conversations with married friends, I don’t think this is a planned action. It makes some sense that couples would gravitate towards couples for socializing.

But why are single men included more often than single women?

I suspect it’s because a single man is traditionally more likely to be career-centered, while a single woman must be looking for a partner, which makes her a potential threat. And a married woman is traditionally less likely to risk that relationship than a man (because she needs it), and she’s more likely to be the one doing the inviting. Note I used the word “traditionally”. We often continue behaviors that no longer apply to current circumstances, because they’ve been ingrained over generations.

Of course the expectation in a romance novel is that there’s a happily-ever-after or at least a happy beginning for a couple. However, it’s okay for men to be happy single. There’s no reason single women can’t be happy and have fulfilling lives. They’re actually in a better position to have a good partnership than if they go into one needy.

Me Too Connection

The idea that a woman needs to be attached harkens back to the bad old days when women were the property of their fathers, until they became the property of their husbands. That links to the attitude that men can do whatever they want with women and that once a woman’s been used, she’s inferior.

Rule #4 – My heroines will have meaningful lives.

My heroines will include suddenly and perpetually single women who are developing or already have meaningful activities in their lives beyond the traditional nurturing roles. They will talk with other women about things other than sex, relationships, fashion, and appearances. They will have non-romantic relationships with both men and women.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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