Tag Archives: writer

The Writers’ Toolbox: Seminars, workshops, and conferences

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One basic tool every author needs in his/her toolbox is the Writers’ Seminar. These are workshops offered by people who have mastered certain aspects of the craft, and are your way to gain more knowledge of the craft.

They are classes, focusing on every aspect of writing, from the story arc to character development. You can also get classes in how to court agents and editors, if the traditional route is your choice, or conversely, advice on negotiating the rough seas of indie publishing. In this craft, there is never an end to the learning process.

But what if you are housebound and can’t get to a conference? Three excellent resources for an intensive online 3 part seminar are Scott Driscoll’s courses through The Writer’s Workshop ($500.00 each, plus textbook, see the website for more information. Length- and quality-wise these classes are the equivalent of a college course–where else will you get this kind of education for the cost of an average 4 day seminar?)

What about actually finding and physically attending seminars and events? That is where you will meet authors, both famous and infamous, known and not yet known.  You will meet people in the industry who will enlighten you and also help you up the ladder to success.

I love writers’ seminars, and attend every one I can afford to get to–and cost is an issue. But there are many budget-friendly seminars out there, many offered by your local library system.

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For me, it’s about being in a community of authors who are all seeking the same thing–a little more knowledge about the craft. Everyone who attends a writers’ conference, seminar or workshop is serious about the craft, and just in conversation with other attendees you can find great inspiration to help fuel your own creative muse.

How does one find these things? Google (or Bing) is your friend here:

A short list of Seminars, Workshops, and Conferences in Western Washington—check websites for the next seminars offered:

  • Hugo House ($60.00 to join-cost per event may vary)
  • PNWA Writers Conference ($65.00 to join PNWA + cost of 4-day conference–can be pricey. With early registration 2015 conference was $425.00 + the cost of room. Continental breakfasts and two dinners were included, and being vegan I brought my own food. Altogether I spent nearly $1000.00, but was able to do so in 2 chunks.)
  • Southwest Washington Writers Conference ($60.00 early registration, 1 day conference) VERY GOOD INVESTMENT!
  • Port Townsend Writers Conference (10 day conference, Tuition ranges from $150.00 for one or two classes to $900 for the full 10-days, includes room with meals==$90.00 per day–a steal!)
  • Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (costs of individual events vary, average seminar under $200.00) (Terry Persun is giving a seminar most indies could benefit from on taming the beast that is Amazon there August 22, 2015 from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm–get to it if you can!)
  • Clarion West Writers Workshop (Specializing in speculative fiction,  offering everything from seminars to a highly respected 6-week workshop for $3,800.00.  Costs vary, average one-day event $130.00)
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But what if you have little or no $$ to spare for food much less a conferences? For the love of Tolstoy, check out your local library! They are an unbelievably great, free or exceedingly low-cost resource.

For example, the Tumwater, Washington branch of the Timberland Regional Library system has several upcoming seminars offered by author and writing coach Lindsay Schopfer, at no cost to the attendee– the library has hired him as a bonus for the aspiring authors among their patrons. These seminars are not fluff–Lindsay gives good, solid, technical classes for serious authors, so if you are in this area check out the schedule and try to attend.

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Check out your local library, and see what is available for the starving author!

Now that you know what is available in my area, check your own area and see what you can find. You will be amazed at the wide variety of good one-day conferences, multi-day events, and continuing education courses that are available. While most have some cost attached to them, the author who is determined to improve within the craft and who has little or no money can find something that will fit his budget just by doing a little research at the local library.

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Formatting a submission-ready manuscript

Félix_Vallotton_Nature_morte_à_l_assiette_bleue_1922 Félix Vallotton [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMost editors have a great deal of work in their in-boxes, and don’t have time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts and these submissions are not even considered.  All agents, editors and publishing companies have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites.

If you intend to go the traditional route and submit your manuscript to a Big Publisher such as TOR Forge, you will want to make sure your work is submission-ready, and that it conforms to the exact standards they have laid out on their website.

But what makes a manuscript submission ready? TOR Forge clearly says: Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text; and Times New Roman in 12 pitch. Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text. Do not bind the manuscript in any way. Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

First of all, running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

First, we must select the font. I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and also has many sizes.

You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt.  Most say .11 is fine – for me, in a printout .10 is too small for my elderly eyes, I prefer .12. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts, because they have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home’.  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by clicking on the menu and accessing the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman, as it is the easiest on the eyes. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Any errors can be undone by clicking the back-arrow.  Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

fonts post 2 of word series

 

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments, and makes it easier for reading.

Remember, TOR Forge says they want a standard manuscript formatted with margins of 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text. Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and, to a far lesser extent, between glyphs or letters (known as “tracking”), are stretched or sometimes compressed in order to make the text align with both the left and right margins. This gives you straight margins on both sides, but this is not the time or place for this type of alignment.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. You have no idea what a crapped up mess that makes out of a manuscript.  You will have to go in and remove these tabs by hand and it’s a tedious job, but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.

Instead of the tab key, a professional author who is writing in MS WORD uses the simple formatting tool:

On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph’. On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it .  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

  1. On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

The picture below has it all clearly marked out:

paragraphs post 2 pof word series

  1. Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.
  2. Where it says ‘Special’: on drop-down menu select ‘first line’. On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5’
  3. ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0’.
  4. ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double’

Now we need to make the “Header.”  This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, usually automatically inserted and, in this case, consisting of the title of the book and your name. Publishers and editors want this because when they receive a print copy, each page is clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Remember, they want it UNBOUND. Accidents happen: if the ms accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled and the editor will always know that brilliant work was written by you.

We insert this by opening the “insert” tab, and clicking on “page number.”  This opens up a new menu. We add the page numbers using this menu:

This is how it looks:header with page numbers

Now your manuscript is submission ready, and is

  1. Aligned left
  2. 1 in. margins
  3. Double-spaced
  4. Has indented paragraphs
  5. Header contains title and author name
  6. First page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in upper left hand corner

This may seem like overkill to you, but I assure you, if you are really serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be in as professional a format as is possible.

I hope these instruction will help you find the way to format properly in other word-processing programs. MS WORD is most commonly used, and is the one I use, because it is easy and has all the tools I need. Just don’t get too fancy with formatting your novel before you submit it  because no matter how pretty you make that manuscript, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.

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Clauses and Pauses

commaCommas–those mysterious, curving morsels of punctuation designed to contain clauses, but which, when used  irresponsibly, wreak havoc in the ordinary life of the author.

According to the wonderful website, Get it Write, there are two specific situations that call for the use of a comma before the word and:

The first instance is created when there are  three or more items in a series. This mark of punctuation is called the serial comma which I covered in a post called Comatose Ambiguity, (see link here)

“The second situation occurs when “and” is being used to coordinate two independent clauses. An independent clause—also known as a main clause—is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence. In the following example, the independent clauses are in brackets:

  • [Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years], and [today he is an accomplished performer].

“The use of the comma would also apply when any of the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) join two independent clauses.

“Notice in the next example that we do not use a comma before “and” because it does not join two independent clauses but merely joins two verbs:

  • Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years and today is an accomplished performer.

“Here we have only one independent clause—two verbs (“took” and “is”) but one subject (“Miguel”).” (Quoted directly from Get it Write, Sept 8, 2014)

I know this will be difficult for some to swallow, but commas do not serve as pausing places for the reader to breathe.  They join together clauses–short sentences–that would make your narrative sound choppy if they were left to stand by themselves. Take these short sentences, for instance:

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily. He cut a swath through the ranks quickly. Even Garran had no legitimate complaints. He still needled John at every opportunity.

Each sentence  can technically stand alone, but they are boring and choppy that way.

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily, cutting a swath through the ranks at such a rate that even Garran had no legitimate complaints, although he still needled him at every opportunity.

Another good online reference is Brian Wasko’s Write at Home Blog. His article called 7 Ways NOT to Use a Comma is good stuff. Of particular interest to this post on using commas for pauses: “The comma-by-ear method doesn’t work — at least not consistently. I inevitably inserted unnecessary commas all over the place.”

One rule he mentions (that is one of my personal weak areas) is rule number four (and I love his comments): 

4. Don’t use a comma to connect two clauses if the second clause is subordinate (i.e., dependent).

Frowny face:  Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined, because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers.

Smiley face: Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers. (end quote)

I would have shot straight to sticking the comma in front of ‘because’ because it is a good place to pause. (Yep. I said because because.) (Snicker.)

Using commas for pauses is an invitation for comatose mayhem. Consider this: Every person reads aloud at a different rate and with a different cadence. If you indiscriminately throw your commas in wherever YOU think a pause should go, your prose will be filled with strange bumps in the road, because your reader won’t be pausing where YOU think they should. No matter how much of a control freak you are, you can’t force people to read the same way you do. This is why we follow common rules when using punctuation.

Commas separate independent clauses from each other and also from introductory words. In other words, they divide little sentences from each other in order to form compound sentences. 

Oh, the editorial agony.

 

 

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