Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Musings: Learning from your worse mistake

Hey, there, Musers and Friends.

Welcome to September's last Sunday and Fall's first.

This month has flown by, since we've been back musing. Hope it's been a smooth month for you. Little chaotic here, but when isn't it?

Today our Musers are talking about their biggest mistakes and what they learned...let's get musings.

My worst writing mistake came in the Precomputer Stone Age.  I submitted a mss. to a supposed agent who turned out to be a leach.  I'm glad I did not have the kind of money she was seeking, because the mistake would have then been expensive with no results to show for it.  The experience really burned me, and it was several years before I even considered submitting anything again.  I never stopped writing, of course.  In the end, it turned out to my good.  I was able to hone my skills without distracting myself with the business-side of authorship.

Excessive adverbs and speech tags were my bane when I started out. My goodness, they were breeding, taking over every page, squirming like verbal leeches all through my work, sucking all the energy from my babies. I still have to watch carefully (see what I did there? ;-) ) to make sure that my use of adverbs is limited. I try to keep it to three adverbs per 10,000 words, and speech tags (He said, she asked, etc.) only when I can't do without them. And rarely do I use anything except "said." I used to be hooked on the "exclaimed, shouted, averred, swore" approach to speech, until I learned how to make the dialogue speak for itself. I do occasionally use another one, but, as mentioned before, only when there is no simple way to just use "said."

I've noticed that my mechanics are much more energetic and have more impact when I take this approach. I think it makes the work slide through a reader's brain that much easier.

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

My worst writing mistake occurred when I wrote my first novel in 2007. It’s a common one made by new novel writers and that’s using the word- felt. “She felt…” You don’t need it ever. Show how she felt don’t tell. Worse yet is, “She felt his hand gripping her arm.” How about just, “His hand gripped her arm.” See what I mean? Another writing mistake, “She saw the black and blue bruise on his right eye…” How about just, “His right eye was black and blue.” Watch overusing the word- was. Choose great verbs. Anyway, that manuscript has been executed and buried under my bed. What can I say? Write and learn.

 I think for my worst writing mistake I would have to say the very first story I tried to submit to all the New York publishers. It is a middle grade fantasy and I had no idea of what was expected in publishing. I had no idea of how publishing worked, but I used Writer’s Market and I sent my story to a lot of editors. I got back tons of rejections and none of these publishers wanted it. I almost gave up, but I put it away and realized this might not be the story I was meant to publish. I have always thought I would look at it again and probably now I would see all the mistakes I made in my writing.

My worst writing mistake was to underestimate the importance of writing every day. This year, I have ensured I write something daily and I have had more writing success, than ever before. Waiting until inspiration strikes can result in lots of wasted time. I used to be afraid of writing something that I didn't consider good, so, often, I'd just stare at a blank screen or get distracted. Now, I write anything, even though I know it's not satisfactory and then keep working on it until I improve it. It's easier to revise and polish something than to start from scratch.

...about the time I was fourteen-fifteen, I wrote a story about a senior-year high school boy who was poor and lived on a farm, who was then attacked by a vampire and drafted into an undead army--a sort of civil war between two ancient masters. Only, I was newly writing and thought "Hey, let's add approximately 4,000 adjectives in front of every noun!" I don't remember why I thought this was a brilliant idea; to be artsy and sophisticated? To imitate Dickens? Who knows. All I remember is being absolutely horrified re-reading this old manuscript a few years later. It's a good story (in my opinion :P), but wow, I learned that short and sweet can be better than waxing poetic. I'm not saying that I don't pen a meandering description now and again, but only if the story calls for it. If you add too many adjectives (because really, does your reader need to know that the protagonist's hair is "a lustrous sheen of auburn, resembling more so than anything the coat of a young red bay standing in a mid-autumn sunset"? Or that her legs were "long, languidly placed, white, and gently freckled like a paintbrush had gone astray" every time you mention this person?) might lose your reader in the mire.

              Old sentence (circa 2009): His long, toned legs danced waveringly around the white, solid-looking table as he reached for the old, barely-used telephone hanging from the wall.

               New sentence (circa 2016): His long legs danced around the table as he reached for the old phone hanging from the wall. 

Use these lengthy gatherings of adjectives once in a while, but not for everything.

My worst writing mistake…well, which to choose…? One was when I tried to put across a north of England accent by phonetical spelling of certain words to denote the different vowel sounds. This led to a complaint about mis-spellings from one reader and another pointing out I was using a word that had a completely different (rude) meaning in their vernacular. Okay…so I stopped using phonetics and put the accent across in a different way!

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Musings: The "go to" sense for writing

Hello, Sunday Musers!

Enjoying your weekend, I hope. Been busy clearing out the main living floor in anticipation of new flooring coming in this week. Talk about chaos.

I dislike disorder. I need things in their places and a visual balance to my living area...even if some think it's crowded or too much. Which brings us to the musing of this week:

What's your 'go to' sense when writing?

Mental? I tend to internalize when writing. Bring everything into the character's mind and perspective. When I first started writing I know my voice was telling and am working to change that.

My go to is visual. When I write my books, I’m transcribing the scene as it happens in my noggin. Think of it like a movie scene. I tend to hit pause, rewind, slow forward, pause, rewind, etc. until I get it just right.  So my first time through a scene is all about the visual. Then, I’ll go through and layer in the emotional for depth and fill in my holes with the other senses.

The sense I go to, if it may be so termed, is my mind.  When a thought, potential scene/situation, or piece of dialog that seems to possess a life of its own comes into my head, I play with it for a time.  If it continues to grow, I take out the trusty pencil and paper and hit the books and computer for the necessary research.

For me, I depend on sight, I believe, more than anything. But I also firmly believe that part of the "show-don't-tell" approach for me is to avoid (I never use "never" anymore; I know better LOL) the use of "she felt" or "He saw." I do my best to simply let a scene unfold visually with things happening, things appearing, all on their own, so my readers can experience them at the same time, in the same way as my characters. I do love a visual panorama. One of my favorite scenes using this approach is from Becoming NADIA, my EPIC-Award winning debut novel:

"The early morning sun had not yet cleared the ridge behind the cabin, but light was beginning to shine down into the valley, gently waking the Shenandoah River. The water sighed as it flowed over deadfalls and rocks along the shore, and an occasional ripple betrayed the fish beneath the surface.

Nadia sat on the edge of the wooden dock watching the sun come up. Her toes came just short of reaching the murky river. She could see the light growing brighter with each passing minute, and watched the mist float above the water, like a curtain waiting to be drawn, caressing her lightly as it passed with the river. Birds struck up their songs in the trees, awakening the morning. Behind her, a faint rustle in the undergrowth told her that a rabbit or some other small animal was beginning its busy day. She sat and thought of nothing. Or, at least, she tried to think of nothing."

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

My go to sense when writing and my worst writing mistake. My go to sense is hearing. The sound that engages my creativity the most is running water. I really should hang a dry erase board in the shower- it’s inevitable the scene I’m writing will continue there or the next big plot idea will emerge. Music can also help stimulate my writing but often times it’s distracting because I’ll start to sing along. Depending upon what’s happening in a scene, music does help me convey a character’s emotions. If I need to write someone feeling sad, happy, angry, scared or surprised I’ll choose a song that conveys that emotion to me. It’s important to engage all of a reader’s senses. Ironically writing the senses can aid writers in making newbie mistakes.

This is an unusual sense, but I really feel mine is the sense of touch. I start out with a sentence whenever I write prose or a phrase when I’m writing poetry and then as I am typing the rest of the words will come to me. My mind seems to turn on when my fingers touch the computer keys. I can also do that with a pen. If I start out writing the actual writing will give me more ideas and I just keep writing. So I can start with a sentence and not know where it is going and end up with 2000 words of a story that has begun. Or in the case of a chapter in a book, a complete chapter adding to the book. Usually I don’t know where my story or my poem is going and it adds to the writing. As I write I get more and more of an idea of what I want to say.

My goto sense when writing is whatever the character is most connected to.

Raymond Jaye, my cop/turned PI, lost his left hand to a pipe bomb. He doesn't really talk about touch. His is mostly about sight and sound.

Lisa, a type of spirit I can't possibly explain in under 2000 words and from another series not yet published, is new to having a physical body. She's known a version of sight and sound, but touch fascinates her. She doesn't feel pleasure or pain, only the intensity of a sensation, and her point of view is dominated by that. The way silk clings to slightly damp skin is no better or worse than the gentle tug a knife blade makes the instant before the skin parts and the new sensation rushes in.

In my description, I use sight, hearing, and smell more than touch and taste. Probably because I can't pick out the subtle flavors in scotch of feel the pips on a Braille sign as individual things.

As a visual learner, sight is the most important sense to me but if I'm trying to describe a scene in a story, I usually try to engage the other senses, and the first one that usually comes to mind, is smell. Obviously, describing the smell of a scene may not be appropriate but if it is, it can be very evocative and effective. A smell can be a powerful trigger to arouse emotions or stimulate memories, and can help to bring a scene to life. I am currently working on the sequel to 'DAFFODIL AND THE THIN PLACE' and I am in the middle of describing the smell of a World War One dressing station on the Somme!

I am a strongly visual person and perversely, that is perhaps the sense I have to work hardest at when writing, perhaps because I know what I am seeing in my imagination and therefore might not include sufficient detail in the text to enable the reader to see what I am seeing. There are usually decisions to be made as to how much to spell out and how much to leave to the reader’s imagination. I once worked in central Africa and visited a real live rain forest. Immediately I was back home in the tropical greenhouse at Kew Gardens, a beautiful horticultural centre in London, which is the only place I had previously smelt that warm, damp earth aroma before. The strongest sense as to place is possibly smell and I find that quite challenging to put across in writing.

Touch and sight. Given my genre is the erotic, I find these two senses the easiest to start writing with and then move into the other senses and the characters get closer.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at