Excerpt of the Week #4

Second grade report card for a girl with ADHD

A month or two ago, I offered to write a guest post for author Gina Pera’s blog, ADHD Roller­coaster. The arti­cle was pub­lished on May 8, and to date I’ve got­ten more pos­i­tive feed­back and com­ments on it than any­thing else I’ve … Con­tinue read­ing 

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Rainy day link roundup: discover some new writing blogs!

rainy day in Baltimore

It’s a chilly, rainy day here in Bal­ti­more — the kind that inspires me to make an extra cup of cof­fee in the after­noon and migrate from my office chair to the loveseat on the other side of the room. If … Con­tinue read­ing 

Excerpt of the Week #3

This week’s excerpt is from a newly res­ur­rected novella. I’ve always been par­tial to it, but novel­las can be tough to pub­lish. I finally found a pub­li­ca­tion accept­ing longer sto­ries with a June 30 deadline. I’m strug­gling with the flow and tone in sev­eral spots, but I like how my main character’s voice shines through here.

On my way out I heard it. Some­body was play­ing a high and mourn­ful gui­tar solo, drag­ging a note out to just the right length before tum­bling onward. I felt like I was walk­ing through his open heart. I had to stop and lis­ten, strain my ears through all the sound­proof­ing in the walls. God, I loved lis­ten­ing to some­one who could impro­vise like that. There are vocal­ists who can do it, too, but I never could. It was the one place where my voice still felt inhib­ited, like I had some­thing stuck in my throat.

I heard another door open down the hall and shook it off, smooth­ing my arm hair down where it had been stand­ing on end. When I walked past the room with the gui­tarist, I took a look out of the cor­ner of my eye. The arm hair stood back up again and a chill went right down to my ankles.

– from Nightswim­ming (YA short fiction)

For pre­vi­ous Excerpts of the Week, click here.

Excerpt of the Week #2

Fish­ing through the pile of guest posts and cre­ative non-fiction I’ve been work­ing on this week, I felt inspired to share an excerpt from my young adult novel man­u­script. I recently decided to switch the per­spec­tive from third per­son to first per­son, which had the some­what unex­pected effect of tak­ing me way back in the edit­ing process — if it’s not a first draft all over again, it’s nowhere close to a final draft, either.

I love intense, well-written fight scenes — think the Nate-Brenda breakup scene from the HBO series Six Feet Under (dis­claimer: con­tains exces­sive pro­fan­ity and, of course, spoil­ers) – and I worked for a long time on this one. Of course, switch­ing the per­spec­tive forced me to tear much of it down and rebuild. Here’s a piece of the new scene:

John rubbed his eyes with his palms, let­ting out a long breath that puffed his cheeks out around his lips. Just a few min­utes ear­lier I’d wanted to stand my ground in that room until I’d saved our love some­how, but now all I could think about was get­ting out of there. My heart was grow­ing lit­tle ten­drils, reach­ing out through space for some­where warm and safe and, most impor­tantly, nowhere near John or his house. I needed to find Claudia.

Look, I have to go. I have plans with Clau­dia later.” I set­tled my mes­sen­ger bag across my shoul­der and turned to walk out the door.

Mar­i­ana, hold on.” I turned around, tried to keep my eyes cold, felt my body tense as he stood and walked toward me.

Can I have a hug?”

Why?” We stood fac­ing each other in the door­way for a moment, wait­ing to see who would blink first.

– from Stand­ing on the Precipice (YA fic­tion)

For pre­vi­ous Excerpts of the Week, click here.

Interview: Chrissy Hennessey of The New Me

Christine Hennessey - informal photo

A lot of writ­ers strug­gle with the pres­sure to cre­ate an online plat­form — includ­ing a blog, which can steal pre­cious writ­ing time from other projects. You don’t need to be a writer or a blog­ger, though. You can be … Con­tinue read­ing 

Attract more visitors to your website with a polished site description

This post is part of a series of easy tech tips for writ­ers. To see past tech tips, click here.

A friend recently asked me a great ques­tion: how can I help peo­ple find my website?

This task — referred to as search engine opti­miza­tion, or SEO — is a big one. You can make a career out of it.

Of course, you’re a writer, not an SEO expert. We want to keep it that way, so I’m giv­ing you just one piece of home­work to make your site look pro­fes­sional and click-worthy in a list of Google results. Any­one can do it — I promise.

I’m fea­tur­ing self-hosted Word­Press sites today because I see a lot of writ­ers using them. If you want to request a tech tip for your non-WordPress site, please drop me a line in the comments.

First of all, let’s look at how your site appears in a Google search for your name.

site description in Google search results

click the image to see a larger version

[Tip: tell Google to hide pri­vate results (vis­i­ble only to you) by click­ing the option cir­cled in red in the upper right.]

My search result includes bio text from my site’s front page, plus some unfor­tu­nate alter­nate text from my head­shot. That just won’t do. I want to edit that lit­tle blurb under my site title. The word count is tiny, but its posi­tion is powerful.

You can take con­trol of that text by edit­ing your site’s meta­data: descrip­tive con­tent that vis­i­tors can’t see, but search engines can. Sound too tech­ni­cal? Don’t fret. Word­Press has some handy plu­g­ins to help you out.

To get started, log into your website’s admin por­tal and nav­i­gate to Add New under the Plu­g­ins menu on the left-hand side­bar. Using a plu­gin to edit your site’s meta­data elim­i­nates the need for you to inter­act with the code directly. I rec­om­mend Yoast’s Word­Press SEO plu­gin*, and I’m going to use it in my exam­ple here.

Search for Word­Press SEO and install Word­Press SEO by Yoast. The plu­gin has great fea­tures in its set­tings page, but I’ll let you explore those on your own. For now, we’re just going to nav­i­gate to the edit win­dow for our site’s main page — the one peo­ple see when they visit www.yourdomainnamehere.com.

Yoast plugin in WordPress search results

click the image to see a larger version

You’ll see Word­Press SEO has added a new box to the edit page. This box allows you to spec­ify a cus­tom title and descrip­tion for your page. It also pro­vides a handy pre­view of your new and improved search result.

yoast plugin inline settings

click the image to see a larger version

When you’re fin­ished, save your changes by click­ing Update.

The Word­Press SEO plu­gin will auto­mat­i­cally notify Google that some­thing has changed on your page, but you won’t see a change instan­ta­neously. Google doesn’t pull infor­ma­tion from your site in real time — that would take too long, and most peo­ple expect search results to start show­ing up before they’ve even fin­ished typ­ing. Instead, Google peri­od­i­cally scans the web — includ­ing your site — and stores up-to-date infor­ma­tion on their servers. The Google­Bot gets around rel­a­tively quickly, though, so your infor­ma­tion should update within a week.

It really is that easy! Any ques­tions? Let me know in the comments!

* I have no affil­i­a­tion with Yoast, nor have I received com­pen­sa­tion of any kind in exchange for rec­om­mend­ing this plu­gin. I just hap­pen to like it!

Addi­tional References:

Google’s Web­mas­ter Guide­lines
Yoast’s Defin­i­tive Guide To Higher Rank­ings For Word­Press Sites

Excerpt of the Week #1

This week I’m intro­duc­ing a reg­u­lar fea­ture I’ve had on my mind for quite a while. With Excerpt of the Week, I’ll share around 100 words from one of my active projects every other Fri­day. You’ll be able to find them all by click­ing here or fol­low­ing #ExOTW on Twit­ter. Feel free to share your own excerpts in the comments!

I thought of my apart­ment, the stairs creak­ing and flex­ing as I hauled my feet up the two flights to my door with its three locks and its crooked let­ter­ing bear­ing the char­ac­ters “3F.” Soon, I told myself. Soon. You’re almost there. Out­side, an ambu­lance shoved its way through a line of cars. I tried to steal a look into the yellow-illuminated inte­rior, where I could see a para­medic mov­ing to and fro, head down. An ex-boyfriend had called this habit sick, voyeuris­tic, but in truth I was feed­ing my anx­i­ety, try­ing in vain to see if every­one was okay.

– from The Test (flash fic­tion)

Novel progress: one step forward, two steps back, and right where I should be

…stop­ping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emo­tion­ally or imag­i­na­tively, is a bad idea. Some­times you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and some­times you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re man­ag­ing is to shovel shit from a sit­ting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writ­ing

It came to me in the shower: how many suc­cess­ful YA nov­els are writ­ten in third person?

novel manuscript ready to mail off to agentsThe man­u­script wasn’t fin­ished. I had to stop query­ing agents and rewrite it in first person.

I’m thank­ful for these bit­ter­sweet dis­cov­er­ies because they help me take my man­u­script to the next level, but oh, how part of me wished I’d never had this one.

Hav­ing writ­ten so many drafts over so many years, I’d assumed Stand­ing on the Precipice was done.

Before the birth of my first child, I quit my job and took a month to fin­ish this novel once and for all. When I returned from the hos­pi­tal with tiny R. in tow, my first rejec­tion let­ter awaited me in the mailbox.

I con­tin­ued to receive rejec­tions, most of them encour­ag­ing. Agents wrote notes about how my pro­tag­o­nist seemed inter­est­ing, but my novel wasn’t a project they could take on at the moment. They apol­o­gized for slow responses, praised my work, and wished me well.

Fel­low writ­ers con­grat­u­lated me and said, “you’re get­ting so close! Keep revising!”

I smiled and thought, nah, Stand­ing on the Precipice is done. I just need to find the right agent.

Then came my lit­tle rev­e­la­tion in the shower, and you know what? I owed it to the story to make it happen.

manuscript with a note from an agentAs I dipped my toes back into the man­u­script, I saw the gap­ing dis­tance third-person per­spec­tive cre­ated between my main char­ac­ter and the reader. This rewrite was the oppor­tu­nity she’d been hop­ing for all along.

In short, I saw the book Stand­ing on the Precipice had to be, even if it meant comb­ing through the entire man­u­script sen­tence by sen­tence to uncover the story that needed to be told.

Some days, this work feels mar­velous. After all, if I was get­ting friendly rejec­tions before, surely Stand­ing on the Precipice will see an agent’s desk after such vast improvements.

Other days, it’s painfully clear I’m dump­ing more hours into a project that won’t see the light of day for a long time. I’m tempted to use this time for a new piece that could put my name in print sooner.

Novel writ­ing is like the world’s longest game of Chutes and Lad­ders. Just when you’ve read­ied your vic­tory dance, you hit that long chute that starts the whole game over.

Then you have a choice. Some writ­ers would shove that project away in a dark drawer and call it a fail­ure. Oth­ers would keep query­ing any­way. Oth­ers would sim­ply get back to work.

If I’ve learned any­thing in the nearly five years since my first draft, it’s that if writ­ing a novel feels easy, you’re far from the fin­ish line. If you keep an open mind, your book will lead you there — how­ever cir­cuitously. As you lis­ten for its direc­tion, your only task is to remem­ber that no request, no revi­sion, is too great.

Book review: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino

cover art - create your writer platformThis is part of an ongo­ing series of book reviews. To view all of them, click here.

Want more peo­ple to see your writ­ing? Start by keep­ing Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form within arm’s reach of your desk. Even if you think your work will stand on its own with­out self-marketing, this book should give you a firm-yet-friendly nudge in the right direction.

Chuck Sam­buchino cov­ers all the major plat­form avenues — web­site, blog, e-newsletter, non-fiction arti­cles, pub­lic speak­ing, and social media — in just under 250 pages. While that length doesn’t allow for a deep explo­ration of each topic, it pro­vides plenty to get you started.

Like­wise, even if you already know some basics — like how to use Face­book or set up a blog — you won’t need to skip any­thing. As a for­mer pub­lic rela­tions and social media pro­fes­sional who has built sev­eral web­sites, I still gained valu­able insights into how these tools should serve me as a writer. Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form also intro­duced me to key social media ana­lyt­ics tools to quan­tify my progress.

Sam­buchino crafts his mes­sage so read­ers grasp the impor­tance and mag­ni­tude of the task at hand, yet don’t feel so over­whelmed they don’t know where to begin. Per­haps some of this approach­a­bil­ity stems from the fact that Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form reads like a blog: more like lis­ten­ing to a friend than read­ing a text­book. I couldn’t pick it up with­out my note­book close at hand — not just because I was tak­ing notes for this review, but because I kept jot­ting down ideas and next steps for my platform-building efforts.

The only big dis­ap­point­ment came with Sambuchino’s treat­ment of Face­book. He presents read­ers with a choice: accept every friend request and use your Face­book pro­file as a pro­fes­sional tool, or keep it closed off and miss an impor­tant plat­form oppor­tu­nity. Face­book pages bridge that gap, allow­ing you to cre­ate a pro­fes­sional pres­ence for your­self with­out open­ing your per­sonal pro­file to the pub­lic. I was dis­ap­pointed that this fea­ture received only a cur­sory men­tion while Sam­buchino described the per­sonal pro­file as an ideal plat­form tool.

pull quote - create your writer platformI was tempted to gloss over the case stud­ies at the back of the book, but I’m glad I gave them a thor­ough read. Fic­tion writ­ers may strug­gle with Cre­ate Your Writer Platform’s bias toward non-fiction plat­forms, but will find them­selves well-represented in the case stud­ies. The pre­sen­ta­tion will be famil­iar to any­one who reads blog inter­views: answers to a stan­dard list of ques­tions are included, largely unedited, in the interviewee’s own words/voice. This makes even the best­sellers feel human and relat­able and will leave the reader think­ing “hey, this is some­thing I can do, too.”

It would be easy to fin­ish a book like this feel­ing like I could never rise to the level of the case study authors, or like there was sim­ply too much to do, but I felt just the oppo­site. Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form will leave you feel­ing ener­gized and ready to get started, even if your niche hasn’t fully revealed itself to you yet.