Saturday, January 28, 2012 Breakthrough Novel Contest

If you haven't submitted your complete novel to the Breakthrough Novel Contest yet, you only have a few more days to do it. The submission period ends February 5, or once 5,000 entries have been received in a given category (there are two: Adult and YA).

I just uploaded mine and submitted, and I'm glad I did. Sure, I might not even make it to the next level, but every time I send my work out, it gets easier. I spent more than a week revising and re-revising my next-to-next-to-last chapter (the climax), trying to get it where it needed to be. I've revised this novel at least 25 times, but probably more that this, for its first version was completed in 2003, just six months after I graduated with my doctorate. I bought myself a used laptop as a graduation present, and it was the first novel I wrote on it.

Is it ready to publish? I have no idea. Countless people have read it--some have read more than one version--and I have to admit it might not be ready for another ten years (*gasp*), but I'll likely not give up on it.

Now it's your turn. Do you have a completed work? SEND IT IN!!!! Don't wait! Don't sit on your hands any longer. Don't doubt.

Okay, doubt if you wish. But send it in anyway. What do you have to lose?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Not Writing--Job Hunting

The "unemployed" chapter of my life will soon be ending, and I'm pretty happy about it. Unlike so many unfortunate people in this country and in the world, though, I wasn't let go because of budget cuts, nor was I fired. I moved. 

And I moved to a place where my typical job wasn't available. I've taught English at the college level for 18 years, at every kind of college you could think of, but that isn't a possibility here, for my hubby's job makes my teaching at the same college illegal. The next closest college is an hour away or more, and I simply haven't wanted to drive two hours for an adjunct class. So I've spent the year just writing, working on my house, and otherwise keeping myself horribly busy with stuff that's kind of interesting, but which also doesn't make any money. 

Believe me, it isn't all it's cracked up to be. I think I have been a far more prolific writer when working than I am when I'm not earning anything. I'm just as busy for some reason, but I haven't been as happy, or as challenged, or as intellectually stimulated. I guess I'm just not meant to be a SAHM (it took me several months to even figure out what that is), and this change may make quite a difference in my state of mind.

So now I'm off venturing into new territory. Substitute teaching--something I've done before and pretty much LOVED--and professional editing online. Both are jobs I've dabbled with in the past, and I'm even working on getting my state teacher's certification so that I can teach full-time.

This week won't be one of writing, I'm afraid. Too many forms to fill out, resumes to compile, and other job-related tasks. Perhaps the weekend?

No telling.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Breaking the Rules

We all speed, right? Okay, well, most of us.

But we know what a speed limit is, right? It's a rule, and it's there for a reason, even if we only treat it as a guideline. And we know what it's for. It's designed to prevent deadly accidents, as a reminder insisting we should only go a certain speed (or lower, not higher).

We follow other rules that are even more important:

Drive on the correct side of the road.
Stop completely before opening your car door.
Don't leave your car running when you are filling it up with gas.

It isn't just cars that come with rules, either. We have rules at work (wear clothing), rules at home (place your dishes in the sink), rules governing writing (use commas where appropriate).

Yet there are also times when one must break the rules. Or when one can break the rules, and get away with it. Rules schmules, one might say. But one would be wrong. Technically, to break a rule, one should know what the rule is and why one is breaking it.

Two requirements for effective rule breaking, in life as in writing.

"Why?" you might pout, stomping your feet. "Why can't I just break the rule without these?"

Let's handle the first requirement: To break a rule effectively, one must know what it is. Now let's imagine you attend high school one day wearing nothing but your underwear. But this is the first time you've been to a real high school, and when your mother home schooled you she let you wear whatever. So all the other kids are staring at you, and you don't know why. You are promptly called into the office and then sent home to change, and when you realize what you've done--the rule you broke--you know you can never return to that school again. Too embarrassed.

Why? Because you didn't know the rule... and broke it in front of everybody.

Now imagine that your principal has restated the dress code over the intercom lately, and you decide he's just a bit too rigid with his skirt length requirements and banning of shirts with decals on them. So you create a shirt that has a hangman on it, all but one leg, with the blanks below saying "F_ _ _ You," and wear it atop a super mini skirt--which you've torn five inches from that morning on the bus--that shows off your cheeks when you sit down.  Now you're sent to the principal's office, and maybe you're even given suspension, but the rest of the school idolizes you for such an act of rebellion. You are forever cool. You are a hero, or at least an anti-hero, and people will talk about you even at your 25-year reunion.

The difference? You broke the rule because you knew what it was and deliberately wanted to create the effect by breaking it.

The same goes with writing rules. Rules have a reason for being, but many writers make mistakes because they don't know the rules well enough. Suddenly, they put, commas, everywhere they can, because they have, no, earthly, clue where to put them. Or they run on and on with no end in sight they can't figure out the proper end mark they wonder whether similar thoughts all belong in the same sentence they think if they put too many end marks in the writing will be choppy or they don't read it aloud and see how horrible it sounds when it's all mushed together.

Not understanding the rules makes it hard to write anything effective. The errors, rather than emphasizing something cool, drive readers crazy. And when the writer figures out what he or she has done, it's extremely embarrassing (or should be).

When one chooses to create a fragment, or to explode a scene in an unusual way, or to make the villain into the hero, or to break any number of writing rules, that choice is made for a reason. (Note: Laziness is not a reason. Or at least not a valid one. And you'll notice that this sentence, the one before it, and several others above are also fragments. Completely intentional. Not lazy. That's two more fragments.)

Go ahead, break the rules. However, if you don't know the rules, find them out first. READ. Find a grammar book and go through the exercises. Learn to find your verbs and make them more vivid. Practice, practice, practice. Did I say READ? Yeah, do that. And once you know the rules, and you discover that breaking one of them--or a few--can add to your narrative voice, could shape an entire scene, might change how readers view a character, THAT is when you can break them. Knowingly.

Don't go in for involuntary rule-breaking. Have your eyes wide open. Do it with knowledge and forethought. Plan it out. And if anybody asks why your underpants are showing, tell them why.

You might just become a hero yourself.