Writer? What’s a writer….

That’s the easiest question ever to answer, and yet time and time again I see people selling themselves short.

So, what is a writer?

Writer

Yep! That’s all a writer is…if you write at all toward your dream of being a ‘writer’, then you’re a writer. You are NOT an aspiring writer. Unless – all you do is dream the dream, and put no words down toward achieving that dream. So, if this is true then WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THINGS HOLY DO SO MANY PEOPLE CALL THEMSELVES THAT?

I’m not screaming at you just making a solid point. I believe that most people use the term aspiring because they think that using the plain old term writer is misleading. After all aren’t the only ‘real writers’ published?

Nope. They aren’t. A ‘real writer’ is defined as someone who writes. It’s someone who’s using a pen and paper or a word processor or a computer or whatever to tell a story or relate information. I am a writer because I am writing this blog post. I am a writer because on another tab I am writing a mystery/suspense novel. I am a writer because in a handy notebook beside my laptop here, I am writing an outline for an entrepreneurial book that I plan to write. I am a writer because I am not an aspiring writer.

I use to be. I use to sit and dream about what it’d be like to be a published author. I would stroll through book shops and dream about seeing my name there someday – but I NEVER WROTE A WORD OF MY OWN STORIES. That’s why I was an aspiring author. I could dream the dream (and boy did I ever dream the dream) but I never trusted myself enough to take that leap of faith to actually pull out an old notebook and WRITE A STORY. Until the day that I did.

No. There wasn’t any fan-fair. No confetti cannons. No groups of literary agents and big publishing company editors standing there trying to force me to sign a publishing contract. No bunches of fans standing around screaming my name for me to sign their copy of my book. No Hollywood execs wanting me to sign for a movie deal for my book. Nope. Nothing. There was just me and my notebook with penciled in lines of MY STORY.

That first story was terrible. No horrible. Actually I’m now ashamed to admit that I even wrote it, except for the fact that it was my first. It’s the physical evidence of me taking that leap from dreaming ‘aspiring’ writer to being a full-fledged writer. I had lost my writer’s virginity. I was a changed woman.

Well not much, but I was brave enough to call myself A WRITER! And it was that day that I contracted the worst-ever case of WRITER-AHOLICISM (Yeah, that doesn’t ‘really’ exist but its effects affect every single person out there brave enough to call themselves WRITER). What is writeraholicism?

The insatiable desire to write. Now, that I had been bitten by that bug – I had to WRITE. So, I did. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote some more. (I hadn’t discovered that I had to down the revision and editing drugs yet to help stabilize my writeraholicism – that is to come in a different post.) My writing got better. My writing got stronger. My writing was changing my life.

Now, when I use the terms ‘aspiring’ and ‘writer’ together there are other words in between them. Which makes it look like: I am aspiring to be published writer. I’m that; because I’m querying. Which seems to be yet another medicine that you have to swallow to cope with your writeraholicism. I’m told there isn’t a cure for writeraholicism, just drugs that helps you deal with your disorder – but we wouldn’t want a cure if there was one would we?

So, do me a favor. If you’re reading this and you’re still stuck in that ‘aspiring’ name-calling pit – STOP IT! Call yourself what you are, and never ever be ashamed. If you are taking steps along the writeraholicism path, then I’m afraid there’s no hope for you. You’ll just have to take your revision, editing and querying meds with the rest of us, because you’re in it for the long haul. That makes YOU A WRITER – not an aspiring anything, unless you’ve recently started your querying drugs, and if that’s the case you may call yourself an aspiring to be published writer. But, for the sake of those you love, just give it to them straight and call yourself as you are: WRITER.

Now, on the other hand, if you’re still stuck in the dreaming but not writing yet stage – what are you waiting for? This post isn’t meant to scare you off. It’s meant to give you a right smart kick in the bottom. Being a writer isn’t scary. It’s rewarding. There are tons of others out there that are waiting to help you, because unlike most jobs and careers – there isn’t a limit on how many people can do the job. You don’t have to interview and beat other people. You don’t have to compete with everyone else out there that’s doing this writing thing too (and there is A LOT OF THEM- don’t believe me. Check out the #amwriting tag on Twitter sometime, or #writerslife, or #writetip, or so very many others). The writing and publishing industry world is, in my opinion, the most welcoming and helpful career choice out there. There’s enough room in the publishing industry for all of us.

So, off with you – don’t you have some writing to do? I thought so. I’ve a mystery/suspense to finish myself. See all of you on the other side with our names on book spines.

By the way, if you’re feeling brave enough and you haven’t yet – go change your web profiles everywhere and take out that darned ‘ASPIRING’ from in front of WRITER.

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Navigating the confusing slope of word count…

…for Picture books that is. And, early readers and chapter books too for that matter.

Some of you know that I’m a writer. Some of you even know that I write under two names, but what you may not know is that there isn’t an age range out there that I haven’t written a manuscript for. It’s true. Although if I’m going to be perfectly honest, some of these manuscripts are solely in screenplay format and not novels. I love writing scripts just as much as I love writing novels. But once upon a time: I was just getting started and word counts confused me…. terribly.

When writing scripts for kids you can have up to 30 pages of words, and assuming that you multiply that by the average words per novel page (which is 250 words/page) that gave me 7500 words I could write. However, that is EXTREMELY too high of a word count for picture books. So, I had to cut, slash and otherwise mutilate my beautiful manuscript and then, I couldn’t even find a story anymore. So – I was disgusted.

I tossed away over 100 manuscripts. Yeah, you read that right – 100 manuscripts. Because the script writer in me couldn’t find the picture book writer in me, I lost them all. I even deleted those files from my computer, because obviously I sucked and was incapable of writing picture books. Until the researcher in me reared her rudely obtrusive head and made me research.

I read blog posts from publishers, from literary agents, from other writers, magazines and books all about this weird concept that the screenwriter in me didn’t like. I thought I would reach some sort of epiphany then and all would be well – I didn’t. And, I wasn’t.

If anything all the conflicting information made my confusion worse. So, me being me – I crammed everything into a crate in the recesses of my basement and I walked away. I still wrote scripts, because those things and I had a system. We had a routine. I needed my scripts. A few months later, I stumbled across that crate downstairs again.

I sat down then and tried one more time. I discovered I could write adult novels. I could write new adult novels. I could write young adult novels. And, I could even write middle grade novels. But those darn picture books, early readers and chapter books still drove me insane. This time though I didn’t give up.

Chapter books, were almost like middle grade novels. In fact, chapter books ‘appropriate’ word count was almost the same as a 30 minute script. So – BAM! I transferred my In’VEST’a’GATOR’ script into a chapter book. I saw Al Gator come to life as a chapter book and at the end, his story totaled 8000 words. Which was just like writing a 32 page script. I could do this! Then, I tackled early readers.

Early readers are lost in the void of age space between picture books and chapter books. Kids are just starting to read and enjoy books on their own, besides being chew toys. (I don’t know about your kids, but mine like to try to eat their books when they were about 6 months old – if they could get a grip on one. ;-)) Early readers are designed for 4 to 5 year olds or so. It’s a book they can sit down with themselves and read with their fledgling reading vocabulary they’re learning in preschool and kindergarten. So, I did the math.

I sat down to try to hit that sweet spot of a word count for early readers. Math-wise I knew that it would be like trying to write a 5 page script. And WHOA! That is a very, very short amount of page space. If I could hit 5 pages, then it would give me a 1250 word story. So, I tried. Thus, Boris the Bear was created. Boris taught a lost baby duck all about swimming in a 5 page span. It had humor. It had the three necessary parts of a good story, a beginning, a climax, and an end. It wasn’t good in any sense of the word, but I had succeeded! With a little bit of editing and tweaks, I might actually have a doable early reader. Then, I set off to discover picture books.

Picture books. WERE. HARD. Somehow I had to fit all of makings of a good story in about 800 words. Impossible! Or so I thought. That was just a smidgen over three pages. Mind-boggling I know. How on earth was I supposed to get a whole story in three pages!? For the first time, I abandoned my screenwriting methodology.

I decided I had three pages. I had three parts each story needed. So, I put pen to paper. Page one; I introduced the characters. Page two; I had the climax. And page three; I tied up lose ends – which I learned weren’t many. After all, you can’t really have an excessive amount of subplots in such a small range of pages. You just tell the story. The first one I did was terrible, but I knew that I had found the trick. So, I tried again.

Jane’s Secret Code was created this second time around. I had everything I needed; a diverse character (Jane is blind), an inciting incident (A classmate saw her secret code), and finally I tied it up (the whole class started learning Jane’s Secret Code). I had a whole story, rough though it was, and it was four pages long. After some tweaking, I had the word count down to 500 words – that’s two pages.

I’d done it! I’d mastered the art of super short children’s storytelling. Now, I have little problem, I tend to be a bit wordy at times and wind up having to cut words, but I have a workable first draft in a couple of days. This post is meant to be about word count, so let me just refresh you below – all that good information was lost in my longhand up above. 😉

Word Counts

  • Picture Books:  Less than 800 words
  • Early Readers:  Between 1000-1500 words
  • Chapter Books:  Around 7,000 words

Now, these are the so-called sweet spot word count ranges. Sometimes you see picture books that are 1000 words, early readers that are 2500 words, and chapter books wiggle too. However, if you are still searching for an agent try to STAY IN THE SWEET SPOT RANGE. I assure you that if you search through magazines, hunt around the web and ask around you will receive conflicting advice. Just remember if you flip through books on a bookstore shelf; those writers already HAVE agents and/or editors. Because of that they can break the rules. You. You shouldn’t – at least not until you either snag an agent or entice an editor. Don’t give them a reason to reject you before they even get to read your manuscript. It’s the same thing as submitting a 100,000 word young adult novel, it’s a bad idea. (Yes, it’s been done – Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling and others —but chances are when they were submitting to their agents, their books were in the word count sweet spot too. They just got longer after their agent helped them, and then their publishing house editor helped them — REMEMBER THIS!!!!)

As always, if you have any questions or comments please drop me a line. I’d actually love to hear some thoughts from you on this. Have you ever written a script? Have you ever horribly overshot your target word count? If so, how’d you fix it? Talk to me!!! 😉

My Other Me…

Most of you are aware that I am a writer. What you may not know about me is that I write under a pseudonym also. Under my real name Heidi Norrod, or H.R. Norrod, I write for children. I write manuscripts from young adult down to picture books (my magazine publications for kids are under my real name too). Now, I also have a darker, more sensuous side that writes adult and new adult romance. Now, that romance ranges from sweet to spicy and sometimes even ventures into erotica. To be honest, when I first realized that I had this ‘sexy’ side to me – I was terrified. I mean I’m a single mom for goodness sakes. Not to mention, kids READ MY STUFF!! I CAN’T write this, this sort of stuff! It’s scary. But then, I realized – I can. I can write it. I just can’t use the same name. So, Leilana Norrod was born. Not that she’s a ‘real’ person per say, but she sort of is; she’s the sexy writer part of me.

Writing under two names, writing two vastly different things… (Heidi is currently querying a middle grade time travel adventure, and shopping a few short stories to kids magazines-wish me luck. While Leilana is polishing up a classy erotica novella about frisky cattle rustlers and writing an erotic political thriller (no details on this one are to be announced yet;-).)… doesn’t make me weird. It just makes me a multifaceted writer.

I guess I’m writing this all down for all of you writers out there – all of you that work your butts off and bleed on a keyboard on a daily basis. I’m writing it to tell you that if you are one of those people that want to write ‘something different’, something out of your comfort box, then let your muse free. Let it go. Let your muse lead you on a new writing adventure. If you’re scared about it like me, just know that you are not alone. It’s too hard to try to keep a stopper on your muse. I tried. I tried to stick with just kids stuff, but I wrote terribly – I didn’t write any new material in months while I tried to suffocate my Leilana side. Lift your self-imposed gag order and WRITE. WRITE ALL THE WORDS!

Will the fear go away? I don’t know. My self-doubt rat still nibbles hard. But, I’m unleashing areas of my creativity that I didn’t have before; before Leilana started writing too, and to be honest, Heidi’s children’s writings have improved too. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to escape my comfort box, because you never know what’s hiding out there for you to discover. Those new and exciting things; yeah, you won’t find them unless you allow yourself a little ‘yard time’ from your comfort box prison.

So, I challenge you – all of you – write something outside of your comfort box this week. No one ever has to see it, it’s just for you. But, you may find out it’s good, exceptional even, and if you do; run with it. See where it takes you. You may fall in love with the craft of writing again. You may discover hidden talents of yours. Perhaps you’ll even like this new found freedom, and start chipping away at the walls of your comfort box prison. But no matter what you find – it won’t hurt you to try something new and different – except turnip greens, those things will kill you. 😉

In closing, Leilana has her own twitter account at @LeilanaWrites. If you want to meet my imagination’s darker and more sensuous side, give her a follow.

 

Just a super fast…

… update –

There is a new writing contest coming up for writers of all age groups – it isn’t mine. A couple of friends of mine get the credit for it’s founding and creation, however, I have agreed to be a team leader for one of the picture book and chapter book teams. Contest begins in March (70 days from today as a matter of fact) and I will be posting information about #FicFest (that’s its name) here on this blog as well.

But stress not! This blog will still be the home of #AdPit and #KidPit information as well. Conversationally, both #AdPit and #KidPit will come strolling around on April Fool’s Day – no JOKE! I’m serious. Both will have their twitter pitch parties on April 1, 2016, simultaneously.

While it isn’t exactly my preference to host them at the same time, because of the sheer number of twitter pitch events anymore – it has become necessary, as I do not want to cut either of them out. I enjoy hosting these two parties and watching connections between great writers and books to awesome agents and editors as they put remarkable books in the hands of anxious and excited readers.

However, as more details are made final; I will post more information. For now, get to finishing those gems of books in your brains. We want to see you pitch on April Fool’s Day!

Introducing #KidPit!

Hi, writers! I would like to introduce you all to #AdPit (Adult Pitch)’s little sister event, #KidPit (Kid Pitch).

I’ll just get straight down to it.

Kid Pitch or as it will be known on Twitter #KidPit is a twitter pitch party, just like #AdPit except this time NO ADULT audience manuscripts will be allowed. That’s right! This event is just for you wonderful writers of manuscripts for children. It’s the same thing pretty much, and as long as your manuscript follows the rules below, I hope you’ll come join us. As always, I’m answering any questions you may have, so just leave me a comment below, or feel free to mention it to me on twitter.

 

Here are ALL THE THINGS!

 

  1. #KidPIt is for COMPLETE AND POLISHED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. (if you aren’t ready to send it out to an agent or an editor by the date of the contest, it is NOT eligible – please do NOT pitch it.)
  2. As it’s name suggests, #KidPit is for manuscripts whose target audience is KIDS.
    1. Within your tweet pitch, you should tag it either #BB (Board Book), #PB (Picture Book), #ER (Early Reader), #CB (Chapter Book), #MG (Middle Grade), and/or #YA (Young Adult).
    2. Also, include genre if it is not completely obvious from the tweet pitch. Such as #SFF (Sci-fi/Fantasy), #ROM (Romance), #FTR (Fairy tale retelling), #MYS (Mystery), #TT (Time Travel) and so on.
  3. Mark your calendars. #KidPit will an all day long event on May 27th, 2015. It will start at 8:00 a.m. EST (New York time) and go through 8:00 p.m. EST.
  4. A “tweet pitch” constitutes one tweet is one pitch. So that gives you 140 characters to pitch your manuscript in, plus the hashtag #KidPit and age and genre if you can fit it all. See sample tweet pitch below.
    1. Sample tweet pitch – Found-1 weird charm that lands 12yo Chance in deep trouble in Ancient Egypt fighting aliens from across the expanse of time. #KidPit #MG #TT
    2. Please ONLY pitch TWICE an hour at the most. The timeline moves quickly, so to allow everyone’s pitches equal chances at getting seen by participating agents and editors.
  5. ANY and EVERY GENRE is welcome. If you’ve written it for kids, then it’s eligible.
  6. DO NOT star or ‘favorite’ any tweet pitches that day UNLESS you are an agent or an editor. Leaving the ‘favoriting’ to the industry professionals.
  7. As this is an OPEN INVITATION twitter pitch party, I will not have a list of participating agents and editors. I do know that some are coming, and as word spreads on the day of the contest, more and more will join us.

That’s it! I do hope you’ll join me for Kid Pitch (#KidPit) on May 27th, 2015 from 8:00 to 8:00 EST. If you have any questions feel free to ask below in the comments or look me up on Twitter @hrnorrod

Novel Writing Formula

There are magic numbers when writing a novel, did you know that? It’s true.

10-30-60-90-120

Nope, I’m not playing the lottery, but these are the numbers to keep in mind while writing your novel. Some might argue that it should be 5-10-30-60-90-120 – but good gracious! That gets confusing.

So, while you memorize those numbers, let me explain them to you.

10 – The number of pages you get to attract attention (this tends to lead to older audiences, because the younger your intended audience the faster you have to snag their little minds). Trying to query? Several agents/editors allow for 10 pages to be included with your submission package, there is variance so ALWAYS check and FOLLOW submission guidelines that are on any agent’s or editor’s website. But a good rule of thumb is ten pages. Make the reader care. Do NOT drop a series of back-story bombs and expect that to create concern for your main character. Avoid any and all cliches to begin your story. Start the story where it starts getting good, not before.

30 – The number of pages you have to increase the tension of your manuscript. Build up the tension. Get the reader’s heart rate up. Now, you can sprinkle in a few bits of back story bombs, but use sparingly. Think of them like salt. Too much salt kills any amazing dish of food, period. Give the reader a clear understanding of the main character’s objective. Tell them why. Explain what is getting in the way. (If you are asked to submit a partial manuscript, this is it. The final chance to wow and amaze, before getting the axe, or getting a full request.)

60 – The number where you should be hitting the climax, or be darned close to it. It’s time! Bring all the boom! By now, your main character should be in way over their head. They should be in all kinds of doubt, and worry. They should be neck-deep in trouble, and the readers should worry that they may not get out of it. This is the time for action and not back story, if you throw in any back story now, you’re going to murder your tension. Killing off the tension now will seriously piss off your readers. This should be all tension and excitement.

90 – The number of pages you have to start decreasing your plot toward our ending. Whew! The main character made it. It wasn’t easy, but damn that climax was something else. Now, it’s time to give your reader a bit of a breather. Still, no matter what, keep the flow tight and concise, but it’s okay to ease the tension some now. If there is anymore back story that absolutely must be told, sprinkle it in here. (A side-note on back story, please only use it if it is of dire circumstance to your overall plot. Back story is very often overused and readers simply don’t really care.)

120 – End the thing already! Make sure all your subplots, twists and kinks, and absolutely close off your main plot line by the time you reach this page number. I suppose this is really self-explanatory. Tie up all the loose ends neatly.

The actual page numbers will vary slightly with the final word count. These numbers are not so much to force your manuscript, but use them as a guide. Work in 30 page increments after you snag the reader’s attention in the first 10 pages. This formula can also be used when revising to help you cut out unnecessary fluff, or to add more meat to the story if need be.

For me, I tend to write out an outline before beginning any novel (or screenplay, but that’s a different post to come) and write out the numbers and the event that I want to have happen there.

An example;

For my YA work-in-progress it goes something like this.

10 – Clover and Zeke meet

30 – Clover discovers Zeke’s secret is deeper than just dodging his draft card for the Vietnam War

60 – The police are on to them, and they are nearly caught at a war protest march in D.C. Clover stands by him especially when she finds out she loves him. And even though, Zeke is caught and arrested.

90 – Clover helps Zeke escape the jail with the help of their hippie friends, and Clover realizes she’s pregnant.

120 – Clover encounters her parents again after running away nearly a year prior.

Upon completion of my first draft, I’ll use this formula again to focus my revision process. In fact, it is very likely that I will use this formula each and every time I have a new draft.

Bam! There you have it! At least for my wip. My Middle Grade Adventure that I’m currently querying is a bit different, but that’s because it is for a younger audience. In fact, each book in that series is a bit different. If you have questions about works for younger audiences using this formula just drop me a line and I’ll help the best I can. Even if it means another blog post breaking it down for younger readerships, and you brave, brave souls that write for younger ones. I mean, come on, most picture books are shorter than this post, by nearly 400 words. o.O

P.S. I am planning on doing a post on writing for the tiny stories coming later in this series of writing advice posts.

Questions or comments are welcome. Thank you for reading!

Starting April 1st…

I will be doing a series of posts on writing fiction. I know, you’re groaning already…you’re probably swearing that it’s all been done before, and I have nothing new to offer.

That may be – but I am changing up the delivery of the information.

This series will actually be a whole bunch of shorter series combined. Each smaller series will be based on genre. Then, there will be five more series based on age, such as writing for young children, writing middle grade, writing young adult, writing new adult and of course, writing for adults.

Some of the genres that I am currently planning on covering are, inspirational, crime/mystery, science fiction/fantasy, romance, and horror. Genres may be added by request, but I need to know pretty soon. So, if you have a specific genre that you’d like to see on the blog, drop me a line.

I will also do a series on the nuances of screenwriting. Yes – I have actually written scripts for years. And no, they are not completely different than novels.

Lastly, I will end the monster series, with writing queries, synopses, and pitches – Oh My! 🙂  And of course, marketing and branding tips for writers.

I am currently planning on going at this alone, however – if you would be interested in helping out, drop me a line.

I just wanted to let everyone know, and to be honest – this whole series is in preparation for one helluva of a kick-ass #AdPit that will be coming at you in June. As #AdPit is growing again – and really, my cohorts and I have some amazing opportunities and advice ready to come at you in June.

Thanks for following, reading, and giving me a few minutes of your time!