Rule #2: A Thousand Words

The best books start here.

Category: On Writing

TypewriterIn my younger and more vulnerable years, I was given a piece of advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. (And no, it is not to shamelessly rip off The Great Gatsby‘s opening line; that I do all on my own.) The advice was this: Write a thousand words of your work-in-progress each day. No more, no less. Just a cool grand.

Here’s the why of the advice:

  • A thousand words is a fair bit, to be sure. But it’s not so much that you can’t see the end of your target when you sit down to begin. It’s not so much that you can get lost in those thousand words. It’s not so much that you’ll have to set aside hours and hours of your day that really should
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7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-habit-oneSeptember—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.

There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list,  … [more]

Well, Labor Day is past and so we here at the Crow hope you all are settling down to some serious work. We certainly are.

mametAmong the many helps we’ve found during our off time is this memo from the mighty David Mamet—the profane, too-often-too-thinky, shamelessly wordy (and so close to my heart) playwright, director, and essayist. His sage advice keeps us focused, our eyes on the prize and our noses to the grindstone and our shoulders to every cliché within shouting distance.

On the off chance his admonitions might help you, you can find them here. This is a note he sent to the writers of the now-defunct television show The Unit, which, despite its unfortunate name, has at least given us this kick in the ass.

Okay, summer’s over! Now put … [more]

Bulwer-Lytton-200x274

It’s award season and the results are finally in!

No, no, not those awards, which remind us that the people who create children’s books are artists as well as craftspeople.

No, I’m talking about the Bulwer-Lytton Awards for worst opening sentence. It is Edward George Bulwer-Lytton whose 1830 masterpiece Paul Clifford begins:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

In his honor, each year hundreds of writers compete to write similarly overwrought and overextended sentences, and they are always a riot. Mere … [more]

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them … [more]

twentyI was fortunate enough last summer to speak with Bruce Coville at an SCBWI event in Orlando. (He’s an amazing speaker—truly amazing—and if you catch word that he is speaking somewhere, by all means go and see him.) Bruce mentioned something he called “The Rule of Twenty.” He doesn’t recall where he picked it up—a business article? a self-help book? a primer on original thinking?—but wherever it came from, I have since relied on it and relied on it often.

What is it? Put most simply, it is this: It is only when one reaches the twentieth or so idea that one starts entering the realm of the truly original idea.

The first five or ten? Those are the obvious ones that the brain goes to along its well-traveled paths. Most people’s heads … [more]

I recently judged a contest for the blog at QueryTracker.net, a great site for writers at the query stage looking for more information about potential agents (and where my client Cole Gibsen first learned about me). I agreed to help out and, seeking something that would be both 1) easy on me and 2) beneficial to writers, I decided to limit the entries to pitches of 25 words or less. To see the winners and more details about the contest, head HERE.

I can already hear many of you groaning. If boiling  down a story into two or three paragraphs for a query is like stubbing your toe, then fitting an entire novel into 25 words is like getting a 50 ton anvil dropped on your cat. You know, if you really like … [more]

PenPaperRecently a writer asked me the following question:

After I finished a YA book I particularly loved, I found out that the writer is on faculty at the Vermont College MFA program. It’s a low-res program – ideal for my lifestyle. I’m considering applying and wondered about your perspective on the pros and cons of an MFA…My goals would be to develop as a stronger writer. For me, that means learning how to go deeper with POV and understanding how to vary my sentence structure to improve pace and description.

This is a great question and one I’m sure many writers anxious to break into publishing ponder at one point or another. In my opinion, a writer who considers, enrolls in, or has completed an MFA is off to a good start. I tend to … [more]

kabook225An agent typically works with manuscripts in two different ways.

The first is when an author comes to me with a completed manuscript. If we decide to work together, we’ll spend time revising—focusing on character development, style, and storytelling. It is always exciting to help a writer best achieve his or her vision, and as many of my authors know, the revision process is one of my greatest joys.

The second is when an author comes to me with an idea. There is no manuscript—just the spark of something wonderful inside that curious (and thrilling!) thing known as the Author’s Brain. In that case, it is my job to help the author translate the idea onto the page, and then work with him or her to craft the arc of the story, develop the characters … [more]

shovelWriters generally hate being asked where they get their ideas. Neil Gaiman tackled the issue on his website (my favorite reply he used to give to the question is “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis”). In On Writing Stephen King quipped that he got his ideas from “a small, bloodthirsty elf who lives in a hole under my desk.” Of course, if you can’t afford trips to Bognor Regis and you feel the imprisonment of elves, however thirsty for blood they are,  to be inhumane, you’re likely forced to come up with more creative ways to speed the muse.

King (after the elf admission) recommended asking “what if” questions for inspiration. Other authors scour the news for ideas, and look for simple stories they can then adapt and personalize. Some writers look to … [more]