Friday, March 28, 2008

What? Associated Content writers are amateurs??

Before I get to the point of this post, I'll give you some background. If you're already familiar with Associated Content, skip the next paragraph.

So, it's not much of a secret that I write for Associated Content. If you're not familiar with the site, it's a place that will publish anyone, and I do mean, anyone. You can submit articles in hopes of getting an up-front payment offer, and they'll offer you a small payment ranging from $3-$20, but usually in the $4-$6 range unless you're really good and well established with a high performance record. On top of the up-front payment, you get $1.50 for every 1000 page views the article gets. If AC turns down your article for payment (which they do quite a bit if it's abysmally written, offers nothing new to the site, and some other reasons), you can post the article anyway and just get the page view bonus.

AC calls themselves The People's Media Company, because anyone can get published there. It's not an accomplishment to be particularly proud of, but I do make a little bit of money there, get some practice writing, get some exposure, and meet new people. You can see links to my latest articles a little way down on the right side of this page.

Anway...recently, the Washington Post published an article about the online content sites Helium and Associated Content. Read the article here. Some writers on the AC forum got all up in arms about it, highly offended because the article called the writers at AC amateurs. It wasn't even done in a derisive manner, but these writers were all upset. A couple of them wrote articles about how hard they work as AC writers, etc. I have some things I'd like to say about it:

1. Most of the AC writers ARE amateurs. There are some professionals there, like Michelle L. Devon and some others, but let's face it...the site is designed with amateurs in mind. They pay you $5/ professional is that??

2. Much of the writing on AC is crap. Serious crap. Many of the articles are just blog posts that someone decided to try to get paid for. The pieces are poorly constructed, contain little useful information, and some of the writing is downright painful to read. Not to say there aren't some great articles there...there really are. There is a lot of great information on the site. But there is tons and tons of crap.

3. Brian Bergstein wasn't being derisive, he was basically pointing out how AC gives amateurs a place to get paid for their writing. I don't know how I'd define a professional writer exactly, but churning out $5 articles all day does not put you on a par with the likes of authors who publish books and articles in print magazines. I'm sorry to break it to you, but the standards are vastly different.

4. I noticed the people who weren't particularly offended by the article were the better writers, and it was mostly the poorer ones who were complaining. Instead of whining about it, spend your time honing your craft. By that, I don't mean to write more crappy articles. I mean, take an English or creative writing class, or read some articles or blogs by established writers about how to write well, improve your grammar, etc. There is loads of information out there for you...use it.

I also see whining from people who are new writers who think they should be getting paid more (or at all) for their work. Would you expect to be paid for a dance performance your first week of lessons? No--writing is a skill that needs to be developed and matured. Work on it...get good at it, THEN look for ways to get paid.

Am I an expert? No. Do I put myself on the same level as famous authors, or Michy, or anyone else? No. However, I'm working on it by learning all I can and taking what pay I can get. I also work a day job that involves writing perfect reports, so I get a lot of practice.

I don't want to discourage anyone from writing. I think anyone who wants to write should. However, you need to be realistic about what your skill level is, and always look for ways to improve and grow.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Almost done rewriting

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel: I only have 4 or 5 chapters left of Bubba Goes National to rewrite. I was pleasantly surprised to open "The Championships" and find that there were actually very few notes! Michy had said she could see my writing mature while she progressed through the book (most probably because it took two years to write), so maybe these last few chapters won't be so bad, after all! I'm pleased to say that I found a few things I decided to change just because, without her prompting. I realized there wasn't very much dialogue in this chapter, so I took some of the narrative and made it into conversation between the characters. See, Michelle L. Devon of Accentuate Services? I CAN be taught! But, you knew that, didn't you?

Thanks to Michelle's developmental editing notes (and my hard work--gotta give myself some kudos here), I have added 12,000 words to Bubba without changing the story. I have only enhanced it, making it so much better. I can't imagine publishing it the way it was before! Just a few more chapters, and this baby's done. Hang in there, Jennifer...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What do my characters know?

One thing Michy's been trying to drum into my naturally blonde head is that you want to describe the scene through your character's eyes. Experience it as they do, feel it like they do. I didn't quite have a handle on this until today.

We were having a discussion on the Accentuate Writers Forum about POV, and when the author is allowed to intrude. Michy mentioned how in third person limited, you need to show the scene through your character.

Melanie made the following post, and at first I thought she had a really good point:

'...I still don't understand why it is wrong to write something like:

"The candle flickered and shards of light flashed across the hall. John shivered, his pulse pounding in his ears. Something scratched and shifted at the end of the hall."

when the whole story is from the POV of the character. Instead of...

"John saw the candle flicker and cast shards of light across the hall. He shivered, his pulse pounding in his ears. He heard something scratch and shift at the end of the hall."

I think that just sounds awful.'

She's right. The second way DID sound awful, and what was wrong with the first way, anyway? Looked pretty good to me, but then I remembered Michy's endless comments about "let's experience this through Leslie's eyes..." etc, etc. How can we experience this through John's eyes? I played around with it for a while, and this is what I came up with:

"The candle flickered and shards of light flashed across the hall, creating shadows that played tricks on John's eyes. He shivered, and through the pulse pounding in his ears he thought he heard something scratching and shifting at the end of the hall."

Once I did this and compared it to the original, I could see the difference. Melanie's sounded good, but (sorry, Melanie) now I realize that it seems a little disjointed...some scary stuff is happening, and also John seems to be worked up about something. In my rewrite, John is experiencing and reacting to the things that are going on in the hall. Hopefully, this speaks more to the reader and draws them in on an emotional level.

What a lightbulb moment that was for me to finally understand! When Michy said, "You've got it!" I just about did a back flip. She can be taught!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

Author intrusion? What the heck is author intrusion? I'd never heard of it before Michy accused me of using it.

"You're wrong," I said, "I've never intruded on an author in my entire life."

"*sigh*" she said. intrusion basically means that the author has inserted her voice/thoughts/opinion into the story. For example, in Bubba Goes National (yes, I must use the whole name in every post. Gotta boost my Google rating), I have Leslie looking at a horse she'd just groomed. I said, "He was beautiful." Well, this was my opinion, not Leslie's. There are a couple of ways to handle this. I can either say, "Leslie thought he was beautiful," or, what might actually be better, have Leslie think, "He's beautiful!"

The author intrusion distracts the reader from the characters' thoughts and perceptions and interrupts the "movie" that should be playing in the reader's head. Therefore, keep the heck out of your story!

Hopefully I explained that correctly. If not, I'm sure Michelle L. Devon (Michy), picky perfectionist princess that she is, will correct me via the comment feature!

Have I mentioned Michy? Check out her blogs by clicking on her name when she comments.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Accentuate Writers Forum Submission Challenge

I have issued a challenge on my favorite forum, Accentuate Writers. I hope my writing readers will join me there and take up the challenge, too!

All right, y'all, let's kick it into gear! We're all here to be writers, right? Let's get our work out there! I hereby offer a challenge. Are you up to the task?

1. You must set your goal of how much and how often you will submit, and post on the thread at Accentuate Writers to report. You can list everything you submitted or just one or two, it's up to you. Say as much about the piece as you like, whether it's the title or just a brief description, and what market you submitted to--again, as much detail as you think is appropriate. You don't have to write a book about it, just tell us what you did.

2. If you haven't already, start a spreadsheet to keep track of what you submitted, where, how (email/snail mail/website sub form, etc), when, and what the result was. This is for your personal use, not the forum.

3. Post when you get an acceptance or rejection so we can celebrate with you!

Who's with me?

My submission goals: submit one Associated Content article and one "real" piece to a "real" market per week.

I have already submitted my AC article, and as soon as I'm done with this blog post I'll send "We're Just Going to Look," part of my humorous Trials of a Horse Crazy Thirty-something series, to Arabian Horse World. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Phew! Done with Budget Horsekeeping

No pearls of wisdom tonight, just an announcement! I am so pleased to say that I have finished Budget Horsekeeping. It only took me about 6 weeks to complete since it's small--somewhere between 60 and 80 pages once the illustrations are added. I really enjoyed writing it--writing non-fiction about a subject I'm familiar with is much easier than fiction, where you have to worry about stuff like emotion and dialogue and showing vs. telling! I'm still working through Michy's notes on Bubba and hope to finish soon. I'm going to be able to breathe again for a while!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Say What? (Dialogue)

Being the straight-forward, get-right-to-the-point kind of gal that I am, I like to say what's going on (telling, of course) and get on to the next part of the story. I'm goal-oriented to a fault! So, as a result, I tend to forget to include dialogue! Instead of telling the reader what's happening, I should let the story come out through the dialogue. This will make the story and characters much richer. Of course, like many things, you can overdo it, too. If you have long, drawn-out speeches where the characters are relating every detail of the story, that's just as bad as having no dialogue at all.

Then there's the whole new set of problems that come with having dialogue.

  • How to make it sound natural? Picture the characters in your head, having the conversation. Is it something they'd say? Is it the way normal people talk? Is the timing right with the action going on around them?
  • Don't forget to make it clear who's saying what (without being annoying).
  • many different ways are there to say "said"?

Examine the dialogue in your story. Is there too much? Not enough? Is it just right?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

*Sigh* But Telling's Easier!

I spend a lot of tmie on writer's forums. Too much time, really, but I digress. When I'm wandering through the various threads, I see a lot of people saying, "Show, don't tell!" I think they sometimes take it overboard--too much detailed description in a book gets tedious. While I do want some idea of what people and scenes look like, I also like to have room to let my imagination fill in the blanks while the book gets on with the story.

This is where I get to today's lesson that I'm learning from Michy's commentary on Bubba Goes National. "Showing" doesn't necessarily mean pages of boring description. Quite the opposite! Just choosing your words differently can make a huge difference. For example, "Leslie was happy" is telling. It isn't bad, per se, it does get the point across. However, "Leslie's eyes sparkled and she felt like her heart would burst from her chest" is just a little longer but "shows" the emotion so much better. Instead of describing a scene, I can explore it through my characters: what they see, what they say, and what they think. The whole story is much more enriching. Of course, showing requires a little more thought, effort, and keystrokes! Writing was much easier when I could just say "Leslie was happy" and get on with it.

Can you find a "telling" passage in your story and rewrite it as "showing"?