René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.


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Typing Up My Chicken Scratch #WriterProblems

The first draft of my fiction manuscript is done. Yes! But it’s handwritten, across four notebooks, totaling 378 pages. The next step of the process is typing everything up. Panic. And breathe.

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Pretty-looking notebooks on the outside, writer-gobbledygook on the inside.

I had a feeling it was going to be rough, converting this draft from chicken scratch to a lustrous Times New Roman, Word document. I was right. It started off as a mental slug-fest—and sometimes a snooze-fest.

If you’re in the same situation as me, or you’re contemplating writing your first draft by hand, here are some options for typing up your handwritten manuscript.

Some of these companies charge by the page or provide a cost for the entire page count. A simple search for “manuscript typing service” on Google will provide results with prices ranges from $.80 per page to $7.60 for each 10 pages.

  • Get a virtual assistant

This service could be handy for a lot of tasks, including typing your handwritten manuscript. Virtual assistants are independent contractors who work exclusively online or remotely. There are even VAs who specialize in working with aspiring authors. This article gives great tips on how VAs can help. Prices can depend on your budget, from $10/hour and up.

  • Use a software dictation program

I was pleased to see that there is a dictation program already installed on my MacBook. You can access it easily through your Word document > click “Edit” > scroll down and click “Start Dictation…”

I tested a few paragraphs of my manuscript to see how it would work, and whether it would save me time.

Here’s the before and after:

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It may be a little hard to tell, but there are formatting errors and issues with detecting my speech pattern. Also, I didn’t say some of the commands correctly, like “Tab key,” which are reflected in the outcome. By the time I cleaned everything up, it took 02:43 minutes. When I typed it myself, without the dictation tool, it took 01:52 minutes. That time included a little proofing along the way, too. Results may vary with a different dictation program, but I thought this was an interesting experiment to mention, nonetheless.

  • Get an intern

An ex-coworker-friend suggested this gem idea to me. Contacting an undergraduate creative writing program or placing an ad on a university website may get the help you need to type your handwritten manuscript. And it may be less expensive than going the virtual assistant route.

  • Make your kids do it 

If I had children, putting them to the task would be a good option. And if they’re not interested in helping, it could be a strategic parental tactic.

You: “Junior, it was your night to do the dishes, and you forgot. As punishment, you have to type 10 pages of my handwritten manuscript.”

Your kid: “Nooooo! Mom, you are so mean!”

Well, that’s what I would do. *Says the person without kids* (Related article: Being a Mom vs. Being a M.O.M. (Mother of Manuscripts))

  • Grin and bear it yourself

Typing your manuscript can be okay after all. It builds muscles in your fingers. Besides that, it gives you the chance to edit as you go. Along the way, you may even create a second draft in the process.

What steps did you take, or are you taking, to type your handwritten manuscript?

 

 


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6 Reasons to Attend Writers Conferences

Last week, I attended the LaJolla Writer’s Conference and had a blast. jeremy-bishop-151531If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference before, I highly encourage this one—which is known for its small workshop sizes, easy access to authors and agents, and lack of slimy salesmanship. Whether you attend this conference or not, it’s a great experience for writers to go to one—preferably one each year, at least. Here are six reasons to attend writers conferences.

  • Immerse yourself in the writers community

Going to a conference gets us out of our solitary, isolated fantasy world. And that wasn’t just a pun for fantasy writers, it goes for all of us. A conference provides a different experience than a writer’s group, and exposes you to a variety of resources and information that is hard to match outside of the conference spectrum.

  • Learn (or re-learn) tips for story structure, one-sentence summaries, etc.

I learned at least 10 story-plotting methods last week, like “M.I.C.E.,” “Snowflake” and the “3-Act, 9-Block, 27-Chapter” methods. Many of them I already knew, a few of them I didn’t. Most of them are just variations of the three-act structure. The “Plotting Magic” workshop of 15 plot steps led by Marni Freedman really resonated with me, which follows the Writer’s Journey/Hero’s Journey concept.

  • Meet new friends who are quirky like you.

I don’t know about you, but most of my friends aren’t writers. As incredibly supportive and encouraging as they are, they don’t know that “muffin top” or “spare tire” aren’t what I mean by “sagging middle,” though it can be just as traumatizing. Writers conferences provide a safe zone for writers to be the quirky clan that we are, and to meet others who are like-minded.

  • Hear from authors, agents and editors.

For some writers, this is the main reason they attend conferences. Many times, you’ll have the opportunity to pitch your idea directly to an agent—or in my case last week, be able to sit with one and nine other writers during dinner. Conferences offer the chance to get contacts in the industry that you may not make, otherwise. And if one is genuinely impressed with what they hear from you, you never know what may come of it.

Also, hearing from authors who have already crossed the publishing threshold—how long it took, the road they traveled to get there, and the sacrifices they made—is an inspiration.

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Fantasy writer Eldon Thompson and crime writer Meg Gardiner shared their wonderful journeys during keynote speeches at the 2017 LaJolla Writers Conference.

  • Learn about various genres.

If you write memoirs and are interested in fiction, for example, you can get a crash course on other genres. I attended sessions about screenwriting and non-fiction, just to mix things up a bit. Who knows where creativity may take me in the future?

  • Get inspired.

To me, this is the most valuable part of a conference. Inspiration is a by-osmosis experience that happens no matter what—even if a critique during a workshop stung a little or a pitch didn’t go as planned. I always leave a conference writing more than I did before I arrived.

Overall, it keeps you motivated to continue writing. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

 


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Should I, Can I, Try to Write the Great American Novel?

When I was in my early 20s, I started to tell people that I wanted to be a novelist. Many would respond with something like, “Oh, writing the Great American novel?” Yes, I’d say, naively. thumbnailI thought it would be awesome to have my name in conversation with the literary greats—Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, etc.,…and me. Graduate students in literature across the country would analyze my works for their theses and dissertations. I could be Toni’s BFF. I thought that was what writers were supposed to do: aspire to literary greatness, work on penning the Great American Novel, and dream of having tea with Toni. But the more I wrote, the more my perspective started to change.

I started noticing that I was developing a voice, and that voice wasn’t “literary.” It wasn’t very sophisticated, nor polished, nor grand. The vocabulary used didn’t require a dictionary. The descriptions didn’t drip in eloquence for pages and pages. Of course there are many exceptions for Great American Novels that don’t adhere to those criteria, but it’s what I noticed for the majority of them. I started to panic. The differences between the work of the greats and my far-from-great work were vast. I couldn’t write the Great American Novel. Perhaps I should stop.

Even with that doubt, I couldn’t stop writing. Characters still formed in my mind. Conversations still flowed in waves. Writing was involuntary, a compulsion. Not writing meant that something was missing in my life—not writing meant sometimes I’d get a little cranky. The act of not writing wasn’t an option.

CHECK OUT: Writer’s Don’t Write to Get Published

I decided to accept my writing “limitations.” I would write just to write. I would take classes, try to get better and enjoy the craft. I would read more books that weren’t of the Great American Novel ilk. Many of them, I would enjoy, as flawed and imperfect as they were. (I’m flawed and imperfect, too, aren’t I?) Those novels were attainable. They inspired me. Those books made me want to keep writing. If I can fall in love with, and be motived by, a less-than-Great American novel, maybe someone will feel the same way about mine.

What about you? How do you feel about writing the Great American Novel?


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It’s Just a First Draft, Right?

drew-hays-26241.jpgI know, it’s just a first draft. Just get it out! Just go crazy! Just brain dump! Who cares how many times you just wrote “just?” Or that you used too many exclamation points? Don’t worry about commas or split infinitives or run-on sentences or bad grammar. In some cases, you may not even be able to read what you wrote, but later you’ll know what you meant. It’s okay for now, because it’s just a first draft.

Description is important, but not right now. It will just slow you down. Do people even want to know what pain smells like, what color the weather is, or if perfume has a taste? You could spend 30 minutes thinking of the right way to describe the mildew in your antagonist’s shower. Close the thesaurus.com browser. You’re wasting valuable writing time. You can add your descriptons later. This is just a first draft, right?

Don’t think about whether your scenes are out of order. That can be fixed during your next draft, which you won’t get to until after 300 pages of word-vomit are typed or handwritten, and chunks of it will have to be rewritten anyway, because it won’t make logical sense. But it’ll make sense to you later, because the scenes are in the right order in your head. For now, it’s just a first draft.

Eyes and hearts. You’ll want to avoid them in your next draft. But in this one, you can write about eyes and hearts all you want. Everyone can stare into each other’s eyes, even if you don’t know what color the characters’ eyes are yet. So yes, by all means, let your heroine’s heart burst with happy-ever-after love, and all of the cliche things that come to mind. You can fix that later. It’s just a first draft, right?

It’s okay if you don’t have concise, snappy dialogue. You’ll develop the character’s voices as you go. Let them ramble away for now. It’s better to understand the dynamic. You can cut what doesn’t work later.

Speaking of “cut,” don’t cut anything as you write. Pretend your keyboard doesn’t have the delete or backspace buttons. Your pencil doesn’t have an eraser. Your pen can’t draw a heavy dark line through the written gobbledygook. And don’t analyze how all of the extra words will effect your word count.

Oh yeah, word count. That can be a stickler. But don’t let it be. Just write what you want to write. Tell your story. Don’t worry how long or short your book is going to be. It doesn’t matter if you over-write or under-write. Unless your protagonist is actually an underwriter. And if they are, you can change them to a law-firm partner later.

This is just the first draft. The only one who is going to see—and is only ever meant to see—this crappy, ill-written, mental-mush first draft is you, right?

Right!

Good. I’m glad that’s settled. Now, about that second draft…

 

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash


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Why Aspiring Authors Are Really MathWriterMeticians

Aspiring Author + Word Count Fixation =  MathWriterMetician. I’m coining this term, because we writers are obsessed with numbers and math, whether we want to believe it or not.

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I find myself crunching numbers almost daily. That’s how I track my WIP. I can’t help myself. One number buzzes around me at all times like an eye floater: 80,000. The coveted word count goal. Everything revolves around it.

  • I always want to know my current word count.

Since I’m writing my first draft by hand, I constantly add up how many words are on each new page. I’ve become very well acquainted with the calculator app on my mobile phone. You can also use Scrivener to track your word count and progress.

  • I have my mind on the end goal: 80,000 words.

Since 80,000 words seems to be the ideal word count for a manuscript, by agent and editor standards, I use that as my guide. I subtract my current word count from the magic number of 80,000. That way, I know how many words I have to go until I reach my goal.

  • But that’s not enough. I’ve gotta crunch the percentage, too.

I’ll divide my current word count by 80,000. I use division to get to the percentage. Right now, I’m 43.92% done with my draft. But if anyone asks, it’s quite possible that I’ll round up to 45%. (Shh…don’t tell anybody.)

  • I calculate how many words I write in a week or day, on average.

I’ll divide the word count I have left by the amount of words I write on average to determine how many weeks it’ll take me to get to 80,000. And if I want to be done faster, I’ll calculate how many more words I have to write per day to meet the new schedule. Famous authors run the gamut for average words written per day.

  • I can go on and on…

Obsessed, I say. Are you a MathWriterMetician, too?

Photo from Pexel: www.facebook.com/asdiiwang

 


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Writing Tips from Reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless

Years ago, I didn’t read as much as I should have, much to my mother’s chagrin. Of course, that changed over the years. Reading became one of my absolute fave activities. Not only is it a wonderful experience, it provides inspiration and a great teaching tool for me as an aspiring author.kate-williams-40159

A friend recently told me about the author Gail Carriger, because she knows I’m working on a comedy-of-manners novel. Carriger’s novel, Soulless, is that–plus a historical romance, plus werewolves and vampires, plus a who-done-it plot. I must admit that I’m not usually into paranormal romance, but I’m all for trying new things. Frankly, I enjoyed the read. Here are some lessons I learned while reading Soulless by Gail Carriger

Reading Carriger’s novel inspired me to toggle between reading her book and writing my own. I want people to enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed reading hers.

  • She shows that witty description can be just as important as witty banter

In the beginning of the novel, the heroine is being attacked by a vampire. The heroine is annoyed by the attacker’s futile attempt, as well as his “overly starched shirt.” I learned that dialogue doesn’t have to be the only place to express humor.

  • She singlehandedly convinced me that werewolves can be sexy

Like I said before, paranormal romance isn’t really my thing. But Carriger made me think differently about big, hairy beasts. Uh, moving along…

  • She makes an alternative world seem believable

The novel is set in London, 1800s, where werewolves and vampires are part of British society. An unbelievable concept, but she sold me on it. She provided lots of information and tidbits about this other society–sometimes repeating them to make sure the reader’s got it. It helped bridge the gap between a far-fetched idea and magical make-believe. Nicely done.

What should I add to this list? How much do you love Gail Carriger’s Soulless?

Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash


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How I Read Books as an Aspiring Author

I don’t know when I turned a corner and started reading books with my “writer hat” on. vanessa-serpas-270252

You know what I mean: The moment you change from a passive reader to an active one. When you’re no longer escaping when you pick up a book, you’re analyzing. Instead of holding a cup of tea (or coffee, if you so choose) with your free, non-book-wielding hand, you’re holding a pen to mark notes, scribble and underline within passages. Here’s what I look for, as an aspiring author, when I read books.

  • Tone

Tone comes across immediately. It’s more of a feeling than anything I can pinpoint–I’m just immersed. It’s like swagger; you know it when you see it. When I see it, read it, feel it, I want to emulate it in my own writing. Example: My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante.

  • Dialogue

I love dialogue. This is why I have half-written scripts collecting electronic dust. And it’s why I love movies. I know dialogue is good when I can imagine it playing before me like a film. Example: One Day, David Nicholls.

  • Pace

When a book is not going too slow, nor too fast, I note the pacing. It dives into details when needed and trims the fat at the right times. I don’t walk away feeling like pockets of the plot are missing. Example: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese.

  • Length

I’m not usually a fan of long books. I blame it on graduate school, where I had to read Mason & Dixon. I’m more impressed by a book that is compact and concise but still leaves me feeling full as a tick. Example: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison.

  • Setting

This is when the sights, sounds and tastes throw me out of reality–and I have to look out the nearest window to remind myself where I am. Example: Faith for Beginners, Aaron Hamburger.

There are a million great examples for each of these. Which ones have inspired you?

Photo by Vanessa Serpas on Unsplash