August 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President

Happy August,

Well, unfortunately, August is the month that New York editors and agents go on vacation and the publishing industry takes a deep breath and rests. If you have a place in the Hamptons, you might run into them, but barring that, it’s best to hunker down, polish your manuscript, and get ready for the post-Labor Day return to business.

Last month, I started a blog dedicated to providing writers with information about editing, publishing, and links to articles that I find informative for the writing craft. Just go to my web site (www.matthewbayan.com) and click on the top menu item that says, BLOG ME. I post something every few days, so check back often.

At our last meeting, one of our members asked me how I carve out time to write. The member was having difficulty because of other priorities that had recently come up.

I don’t know an easy answer for how to get time to write. I’m a bad example because I go against the widely held idea that you need to write every day. The member who raised this question, I’m sure, feels guilty not to be writing every day. Personally, I don’t think feeling guilty about this is productive.

I DON’T WRITE EVERY DAY. Sometimes I don’t write anything for a month. I see no point in sitting in front of a keyboard and trying to pull something out of my head until I have something to commit to the page. Instead I use tiny unplanned moments to load the imagination gun.Imagination at work

What are these tiny unplanned moments? Let’s say I’m driving. Instead of listening to the radio, I think about a character or several characters and let them start talking. Yes, I talk to myself while driving. People used to think I was nuts, but now because of speaker phones, I blend right in. Still crazy after all these years, but not as noticeably so.

What do these characters say? I might be thinking about a scene and have several directions in which I can take it. I’ll have the characters talk it out. If I don’t like the direction, I’ll stop, reboot, and try a different approach. This conversation may last the ten minutes it takes me to get to Costco, or the five it takes to get to the bank. This doesn’t require hours of work. But it may span several days with me using numerous tiny moments to work out the scene.

All writing isn’t in front of a keyboard or behind a pen. Thinking is writing. If I spend several days thinking about a scene or a story arc, my brain is organizing. Isn’t that what writing is? Organizing events into a logical order to tell a story? When I finally do get in front of that keyboard, my imagination gun is loaded and when it fires, I’ll blast out 1,000, or 2,000, or maybe 5,000 words in a day. And this might go on for several days.

When our kids were little, I found it best to write at night after everyone else went to bed. Find what works for you. And stop feeling guilty. Guilt makes humans NOT want to do something because we naturally avoid the cause of guilt.

Maybe that’s what writer’s block is. Too much guilt about something we really should be enjoying more.

Matt

(www.matthewbayan.com)

At the next HSW Meeting, our program will be:Agent Jen Hunt from the Booker Albert Agency

When do you know your manuscript is ready for the next big step? How can you tell if it sounds like a newbie wrote it?

Please join agent Jen Hunt for a discussion and Q&A on what can be some of a novelist’s biggest worries. She’ll share her professional insight on determining when it’s time to stop editing and move on to start the query process or on to self-publishing if that’s your path. She’ll also point out mistakes she sees that writers make that scream, “hey, I’m a newbie!”

Saturday, August 12th at 10 A.M. at the South Valleys Library (15650 Wedge Pkwy, Reno, NV 89511)

FIRST PAGES
As time allows, first pages brought to the meeting will also be read. If you’d like to participate in this month’s first pages critique with Jen and Matt,  please send them in advance to  membership@highsierrawriters.org. 
About Jen Hunt:
Jen Hunt graduated from the University of Reno, Nevada with an English Literature degree and a minor in European history. She became a literary agent at the Booker Albert Agency in 2015 where she reps: Historical (Nothing post the 1940s), Science Fiction/Space Opera, Military Sci-Fi *Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Steampunk/Gaslight/Diesel-punk/Cyberpunk. In all these genres, she likes a hint of romance. Her first sale, Not Quite Snow White, by Ashley Franklin, will be published by Harper Collins Children’s in 2018.
Critique Group Happenings
Do you write short stories?  Do you write non-fiction?  We have a growing need for new critique groups for both categories, in addition to a few people waiting for full novel groups. So if you’re waiting for a good time to jump  in and join a group – now is it!  Contact Wrangler Nicole (nicole@frens.land) to get hooked up with the perfect group for you. 
Dennis Stoddard has been in touch with the Veterans Home in Las Vegas and the Veterans Hospital Guest House in Reno, both of which have libraries of a sort. Dennis is taking book donations on their behalf.
Please bring book donations to the August meeting. These can be books you’ve written as well as books you’ve read.

Writing and Editing Tools

By Rene Averett
I often read and edit for other writers and the problems I see often are that many writers just don’t know how to spell, use proper grammar, or good sentence structure. What surprises me most is that they also don’t know what tools are built into their word processor or available on the internet to help correct these errors before they send their work to a beta reader or an editor. Some of these programs are valuable aids to improve writing. Most focus on clarity and business writing where extraneous words are in the way of communicating the information. Nonetheless, they can be very helpful to the creative writer in looking for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

I’ve listed a few of the ones available on the web for you to consider. This list comes from the NY Book Editors website. You can view the full list and information about each by clicking here. I’ve listed the ones I find most appealing and I use two of them on a regular basis.

Autocrit

          Analysis screen of the first chapter of my book shows the paragraph lengths
and slow-paced paragraphs as a chart.

This is a subscription service costing almost $30 per month to use but it is designed specifically for Fiction Writers.  (When the NY Book Editors article was written, the author quoted $5, which would have been a bargain, but this higher price tag makes it harder for struggling writers to afford.) With the focus on pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition, and strong writing, it can be a valuable tool worth the cost. It also finds instances of passive voice, adverbs, clichés, and filler words. Designed to help you tighten up your story, it makes strong suggestions for change, but the option to accept is always up to you. Just from what I saw, this looks like it might have a pretty steep learning curve.

editMinion


Same chapter analyzed in editMinion. This shows the number of times I used certain words
and helps me to see where I have problems. Plus it also shows a graph of sentence length.

A FREE, easy to use, and quick tool, this program gives you a comprehensive overview. It shows the most often used words, average sentence length, and the longest sentence by words. It also highlights adverbs, weak words, passive phrases, and clichés. While it may not be the best editor on their list, it does a good job of isolating grammar errors and it is free.

Grammarly

               A typical information box from Grammarly to help you decide correct
               use of the word.
I use this program all the time. It is a comprehensive grammar, spelling, and punctuation checker. It makes suggestions for changes and displays the rules behind the suggested change. The program isolates hundreds of error types that are missed by word processors. It also offers synonym suggestions to improve your writing. The free version is available on line and you can also purchase a more robust version. The features in that include over 400 checks and features to improve your writing, plus 30 specific document types. You can purchase monthly or at a big discount on an annual payment.
Grammarly offers a downloadable app for Chrome, Office, and Windows that works with your word processor program, email, or other online writing programs as you are typing. For my purposes, I use the free one. Given that it is a general editor, I believe some of the advanced errors it finds might relate more to business writing than creative writing.

Hemingway

Another program I use, this one addresses readability. Based on the concept that Hemingway wrote to a sixth-grade reading level, the application analyzes your writing and provides statistics on reading time, the number of paragraphs, and the word count. Using color coding in your text, it highlights problem areas, such as passive voice, adverbs, and difficulty to read. While I enjoy the analysis, I do find it contradictory when it tells me I write at grade 4 level but my sentences are too long and complex. For the other features in it, I think it is a useful program. You can use it online or pay $19.99 to download the desktop application.

Left: A sample of Hemmingway’s analysis of the chapter.

Word Processor Tools

Don’t forget your word processor has a built-in spell checker and grammar checker. Turn it on when you’re writing. If you misspell a word or make a grammatical error, the program will put a red line under it. Right click on your mouse and it will display spelling or grammar options for what it thinks you are trying to type. With WORD, this is a reasonably good, but not as robust as some of the editing programs offered on line.

Are you at a loss for alternate words? Chances are your word processing program has a thesaurus in it. Highlight the word you want to replace and click on the thesaurus and a list of additional words will display. If you’re not quite sure if the word you want to select has the same meaning, then look it up in a dictionary. Many are online. Not all synonyms have the same definition.

Analyze the Corrections

With all programs, you need to be able to evaluate the suggested changes and make them based on how the word or phrase is used. No program is able to analyze the context of your sentence, but it will suggest a change based on the words around what it perceives as an error. If you write a complex sentence, it may be grammatically correct, but the program cannot necessarily find the subject, verb, and attached modifiers accurately. That is where you need to apply your brain and analyze the sentence. If you can’t identify it either, you may need to revise it.
Are you writing your short story?

Don’t forget the High Sierra Writers Short Story contest submission date is coming up in November. If you haven’t got it plotted or a draft written, now is the time to really get on it. If you need a refresher on the details, go to the HSW web site at www.highsierrawriters.org

Layouts and edits for the HSW Newsletter are done by Rene Averett. All written content is the property of the authors and HSW. Graphics licensed from Graphics Factory or are public domain.
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