Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ah, summer vacation

One fact about writers: We never REALLY take the weekends off. Even when we're not physically writing, we are still thinking about the writing. We're playing with ideas, rewriting sentences and toying with scenes.

For a while, I wasn't physically writing on the weekends. I took weekends off to just relax, hang out with the kids and do fun stuff.

No longer.

With my deadline fast approaching, I'm busy with the book EVERY DAY. If I'm not writing, interviewing, researching or checking out sites, I'm reading articles and planning out how to write chapters.

That was pretty much obvious with me today. Today was officially proof that I'm no longer taking a break on the weekends. I had emails to answer, interviews to do and research. And I don't normally log in at MySpace on the weekends, either -- for the same reason I don't write on the weekends -- but now I am because I'm networking on there with sources for my books. And that's working out pretty well, too.

Like I said, today was proof I no longer take the weekends off. But now it's summer vacation. Children may get summer vacation from school, but writers NEVER get a "summer vacation" from being writers!

One of the things I did today was go to the bookstore to do research. My oldest wanted to come along and, despite my warnings she would get very bored because Mommy will be spending hours paging through books and writing things down, she was insistent about coming along anyway. OK, I figured. I'll just give her a lot of books to read to keep her preoccupied.

Yeah. Riiiight.

The thing about my daughter is that, not only is she a gifted reader, she's a FAST reader. She'll plow right through books. Honestly, I gave her 6 books to read (one of them a comic book), and she was done in less than 10 minutes. Gah!

So it wasn't long before she started talking -- a lot -- and getting restless. A lot! It got pretty frustrating trying to write things down while keeping her quiet and preoccupied. But I was able to pull it off. After about an hour (instead of SEVERAL hours like normal), I was done. I got ALL of the info I needed because, fortunately, I finally found a book with all the info I needed. And I told a very-eager-to-leave Jennifer, "Now you know what Mommy is busy doing when she spends all day at the bookstore."

Now I have the rest of the week with a bunch of work involved with the RGT book. I am thankful that, number one, the baby still takes naps. And, number two, the oldest child is able to keep herself busy with art and crafts. At least, for a little while.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Grammatical numbers and verb agreement

Today I came across an email from England-based DPPi Journal. For those not in the know, I am a part of the editorial advisory board with that magazine. The email went out to all of us on the board, with an attached article and a request for editing of the article. I felt reluctant to try my hand at editing the piece, because, for one thing, I'm American, not English. While my being a part of this magazine has acquainted me with British English and diction, I do not feel capable of adequately performing the task of editing something written for a British audience. And, on the other hand, someone with a better grasp of British grammar might already tackle the editing job.

That said, I decided to give the piece a look all the same. I would just READ it, I told myself. Maybe I could offer some comments on it or a little constructive feedback on the topic.

When I read the article, however, I did notice quite a few editorial mistakes. And even though I knew this article is for a British audience, I felt that, perhaps, the editorial correction would still stand. Perhaps this one thing expected of American grammar would also be expected of British grammar.

A common mistake I saw in the article was that the writer kept putting a singular verb where a plural verb was needed. Here is an example of what I mean (this is not from the piece edited):

I think cherry pie, apple turnovers and cheesecake is a great dessert.

The problem with this sentence is that "is" should be "are." Here is the corrected sentence:

I think cherry pie, apple turnovers and cheesecake are a great dessert.

In the past, we have been told that in order to clear the confusion about what word is correct to use -- "is" or "are" -- we should read the sentence without the extra additions. In this case:

I think cherry pie ... is a great dessert.

This rule applies only if we are talking about one item. It is not appropriate for the above example, but it is appropriate for this example:

I think cherry pie, topped with whipped cream and cherry sauce, is a great dessert.

If, however, you are talking about more than one thing -- in the above example, three different kinds of desserts -- then you would use the plural verb and not the singular.

And even if this is a correction not wholly accepted by the magazine staff, I stand by my correction. Saying "I think cherry pie, apple turnovers and cheesecake is a great dessert" just doesn't sound right if you are referring to them individually.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

A three-fer

Today, I challenged myself to try to do things I don't normally do or haven't done before. This type of challenging attitude also included my writing for today.

Today, I challenged myself to be able to work on three different manuscripts at once. After I read about how one author was able to juggle writing five or six books at once (and recovered from my heart attack after reading that -- haha), I wanted to see if I could handle working on three different books in one day. The most I have done is two. So I wanted to see if I could do three.

And, actually, I WAS able to work on three different books in one day! Yay!

It wasn't easy, though. I faced two roadblocks in trying to meet this challenge:

1. Distraction. I got so caught up in working on one of the manuscripts, it was hard to stop working on it. It was hard to pull myself away. I had to keep telling myself, "I have done enough for this book today! I can do more tomorrow." It was definitely hard to stop working on it. I did finally pull myself away from it, though. I guess making notes on stuff to add later made it easier for me to finally pull away from it.

2. Mindset. One of the manuscripts I worked on today is my new MG novel. And it's a fantasy novel, something that's a bit more different from ghost stories and writing. It was hard to get myself into the "fantasy world" of this story -- at first. I knew what I wanted to write. I knew what the next scene would be. (Heck, I'd been carrying it around in my head for two days!) But it was hard, after working on the ghost book and working on the writing book, to shift gears and move from nonfiction to fiction, from reality to fantasy. And fantasy is not a genre I write in very often. I like mystery. Horror. Suspense. So it's doubly challenging to get myself into that mindset, especially after writing in nonfiction so much today.

However, I conquered those roadblocks. I was able to work on three different books in one day. I'm excited I was able to beat that challenge and pull it off.

But I wouldn't recommend it.

It was very difficult with the stress of being able to write well as I worked on this book then that book, and switching gears was very hard. I was also frustrated that I did not have the time to do more research on something for the ghost book, which is what I needed to do for one chapter.

In summary, I think it is best to limit how many books you work on in one day, only so that you will have time when AWAY from the writing to ponder the writing you've done, and what additional writing and/or editing you can put in there.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Planning ahead

When I was freelancing, I didn't live by the clock. I lived by my calendar. I had deadlines penciled in and planned my queries according to many editorial calendars.

These days, with my focus more on books than articles, I am also planning ahead. This time, however, the planning that I do with my books is just a little different (and involves less querying).

With a book under deadline, I plan how much of the book I will work on each day as well as each week. I sort of put together a "timeline" of what I will do with this book at certain intervals (for example, work on this chapter one day, that chapter another day), and decide when certain parts of the book should be done. I always allow wiggle room in case of emergencies (you just know that THOSE are bound to come up!) and always try to get done as early as possible. If I finish before the deadline, I have time to (relax!) read over the material and double-check for anything I need to verify or supplement.

When it comes to a book that is scheduled for release, planning ahead is definitely crucial to the book's success. There are news releases to go out, ARCs to get to reviewers, readings to plan, speaking engagements to set up and an audience to promote the book to. (This can be done through an E-zine, writing freebie articles which focus on the book's subject or touch on the book's theme, becoming known on certain web sites and through social networks, etc.) It's also helpful to set up a web site to help promote the book, put together flyers and other assorted promotional accessories, and get the word out to friends and family about the book's upcoming release. The more people who order it through an online retailer or bookstore, the greater your book's selling numbers on Launch Day.

With a book that is planned for publication, timing is everything. Deciding on the right time for a book to be released can determine how well it'll sell. For example, a collection of Christmas stories won't be a hot item if it's published in June. More like September or October. (Think of an editor's "lead time" and it'll help zero in on what time of the year would be best for books with a seasonal theme.)

All the same, there are other ways planning ahead can be helpful when it comes to writing books. The month of June is halfway over. Soon half of the year will have passed. It's time to reflect on progress made so far this year.

What have we managed to write?

What projects did we bring into this year that we REALLY want to finish, this year, so that we can start the next year anew and with new projects to write? How can we accomplish this goal?

How can we plan out for the remaining half of the year so that we can complete the old things and make room for new things?

Now is just as good a time as any to think on these thoughts and decide what next step we want to take with our writing career. What have we done so far this year? What do we still want to do, this year?

As for me, these are my goals for the rest of the year:

*Finish Real Ghost Towns (title to be changed) by deadline and get it to publisher.

*Finish Trimming the Fat. Decide on a new title and get the book into final draft shape.

*Find new publisher for haunted houses book. (My co-author is doing this, as well.)

*Finish editing/rewriting MG book (Native American story).

*Type up second book in MG series. Get it to beta readers and try to get manuscript into 2nd draft stage by end of year.

*Finish writing fantasy MG book.

I have an idea of what books I will be working on next year (I bet you can guess that one of those books will be the third in the series! Right now, I've only been dabbling with it) but right now, these are the projects on my plate for the rest of the year.

Putting everything down onto paper or on a file really helps me to organize how I plan them all out and decide where to go with them. Not everything can get done at the same time, of course, and timing when I plan to finish the books can help me plan ahead on what to do with it when.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Using "a" or "an"

Yesterday, I was checking out some info on how to decide whether you should use "a" or "an" in a sentence. Believe it or not, sometimes the proper use of these articles can trip things up. For the longest time, I thought it was appropriate to say "a SASE" because, in my head, I broke down the acronym and it sounded right to say "I have enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope" instead of "I have enclosed an self-addressed stamped envelope."

Then I started seeing writers note how it's actually correct to use "an" before "SASE." Of course, in my mind, I STILL broke down that acronym, so using "an" didn't sound right. I had to force myself to mentally read it as "an S-A-S-E" instead of the words those letters stood for.

Now, I address this confusion in my Revisions book. But the problem is that, during the hours spent researching these chapters on grammar, I forgot to tackle the whole "a" vs. "an" debacle.

My next choice was to hit the 'Net to see what I could find out.

The site English-Zone told me that you are supposed to use "a" if the word following it starts with a consonant, and "an" if the next word starts with a vowel.

"A car."

"An envelope."

Source: Using Articles - A/An

However, after some thought and after I wrote up that part of the chapter, I realized something. There had to be a mistake. You wouldn't say "I just saw an UFO." You'd say "I just saw a UFO." The "u" is a vowel, but using "an" would not work here! What about that??

So I did some more research on this. I finally came to a site that cleared up this confusion:

Use an in place of a when it precedes a vowel sound, not just a vowel. That means it's "an honor" (the h is silent), but "a UFO" (because it's pronounced yoo eff oh).

Most of the confusion with a or an arises from acronyms and other abbreviations: some people think it's wrong to use an in front of an abbreviation like "MRI" because "an" can only go before vowels. Not so: the sound, not the letter, is what matters. Because you pronounce it "em ar eye," it's "an MRI."

Source: Guide to Grammar and Style - A

So there you have it, folks. Rely on how the words sound together and not so much on what letters are following the "a" or "an" in a sentence.

Better make a note of that in my book, while I'm at it.

And now for today's grammar goof that I caught:

"Gay's in the military."

Sadly, this is from a writer doing an article for the Philadelphia Tribune. I'm becoming convinced that the only way for me to break into the big leagues is to include grammatical errors in my work.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Might want to fix this

Saw this on a writer's blog. The blog post was to announce her story being accepted for publication. Had to wonder if there were other typos in her story:

"It is truely an honor to be included among such bright and talented author's!"