René Penn

Follow my journey to becoming a published author


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At the Middle of a WIP? ¡Vamos!

I recently caught a great moment on TV, during a tennis match with Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, when Nadal sliced the ball right past Kyrgios to win the game. Nadal pumped his fist and yelled something, something electrifying. Our TV was on mute, so I couldn’t quite make it out. But I could see the reaction pulse around him. The crowd was going crazy. Some people jumped to their feet. The camera cut to a guy in the front row–a coach, maybe–and Vamoshe jabbed a finger in the air. I could read his lips, “That’s right!”

I asked my husband, an avid tennis fan, to tell me what happened. What did Nadal say to get everybody so fired up? “He said, ¡Vamos! It’s Spanish for ‘Let’s go!'”

As I reach the midpoint of my WIP, a novel, I need to channel Nadal’s energy. The midpoint is a common place where writers may have a slump in momentum, which may reflect in the story, too. “Sagging in the middle” or “middle sag” it’s sometimes called. It’s also the point where your character should go from being reactive to being proactive–reactionary to action.

In both instances, both the writer and the main character have to pump their fist and yell, “¡Vamos!”

  • For the main character: bring her to the point where she asks herself: What kind of person am I becoming? Or what are the odds for success or failure? The rest of the way, she should work toward redeeming herself or bringing the odds in her favor (with roadblocks along the way, of course).
  • For yourself, the writer: if the momentum is waning, it may mean that the story needs a dash of cayenne pepper. Consider twists in an upcoming plot point to spice things up. We need to give ourselves something to be excited about when we sit down to write.

Have you gone through the WIP middle sag? How do you stay fired up?

Photo by Filip Mroz 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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What Has Possessed Me to Write My Novel in Longhand?

What the heck possessed me to stop typing my novel and to start writing it longhand, instead? Especially since I have short hands with small fingers.

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A couple of years ago, I had dinner with bestselling author Michelle Gable. (Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Actually, she was a keynote speaker at an event where me and about 250 other conference attendees were listening to her speech during dinner.) And she mentioned that she wrote her book, A Paris Apartment, by hand—like pen to paper, pencil to notebook. I was stunned; I may have even dropped my fork. She explained that:

  • It works better-on-the-go

It’s more discreet and portable than a laptop. Makes sense. Lugging around a 13″ laptop can be tiring and clunky. And a tablet isn’t very writer-friendly, as far as the keyboard goes.

I noodled this approach, and decided to carry around a pen and journal-sized notebook to continue my WIP. I have to say that I’ve been writing that way since. Here are some other reasons why:

  • I did it as a kid

When I was 10-years old, writing my first fiction stories, there were no computers. There was a typewriter that you used for special occasions, and you loathed when those occasions occurred, because the typewriter was a baffling piece of equipment that required lots of patience and white-out. I had no choice, really, but to write my stories by hand. girl-kids-training-school-159782There’s something nostalgic about carrying on the same creative process I enjoyed so much as a kid.

  • I get out of my own way

When I’m working on the computer, I can’t disconnect the editor-part of myself. That part is a cynical, judgmental, crotchety lady. And she can be a bit of a killjoy when I hit a good writing flow. The less of her while I’m in brain-dump mode, the better.

  • I wonder if it falls into the “working with your hands leads to better creativity” category

I’ve heard this theory. Working with your hands can spur and engage your imagination, because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s associated with creativity. I don’t know if writing longhand can be included in the category of working with your hands, but it’s definitely a better writing experience for me than typing on a keyboard. It’s as if there’s a clearer path from what my brain is thinking to what actually appears on the paper, as opposed to brain to keyboard to computer screen.

What about you? Have you tried writing your manuscript by hand?


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Why It’s Good to Identify Your Author Peers

I first learned about this concept–“author peers” or “peer authors”–about two years ago. It’s been a game-changer for me, and certainly an ongoing educational process. But this whole writing thing kinda is anyway, isn’t it?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First, let me explain what I mean by author peers. If you were published, author peers would be writers whose books are within the same category as yours. It’s the “these authors write books like what I’m writing” group.

Here are reasons why it’s good to identify your author peers, whether you’re a published author or not.

  • It solidifies what you like to read, and therefore what you may like to write

This is how I pinpointed my interested in writing regency-era historical romance. I also researched how these novels are set up to see how I can adopt similar tactics in my own work.

  • It helps with your query letter (or during a conversation with your aunt)

By mentioning who your author peers are in a query letter, you immediately clue in an agent to what your writing style is like. Using an author’s name to describe your style can ground a person a lot faster than a four-sentence description.

  • It helps you identify your target demographic

You can trim a lot of guess-work by simply researching the reader’s demographics of your peer authors. Is their audience male? Mostly Millennials? Do they chomp on short, fast-paced chapters or languish in long, verbose descriptive bits? If your author peers attract a specific type of reader who love a certain writing style, your work may likely achieve success in that genre by adopting similar concepts.

  • It provides inspiration

Once upon a time, your peer authors were unpublished, too, waiting for the chips to fall their way. Eventually, it happened; they got published. If they did it, why can’t we?

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Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

  • It gets you thinking like a published author

I’m obviously not published yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t think like it, right? I personally think there’s something healthy about visualizing one’s name in the scrolling section of reviews that reads, “If you love this author, you’ll also like <insert your name here>.”

What did I miss? Why else is it good to identify peer authors?


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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


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Why Aspiring Authors Should Start a Blog

A couple of years ago, I attended the amazingly awesome and motivating LaJolla Writer’s Conference. They provided tips of what to do as an aspiring author, like starting a blog.

corinne-kutz-211251.jpgIt’s taken me a while to put that into action, but I see why you should start blogging before being published.

  • It gets you writing

I’ve been working in communications/marketing/advertising for 15 years, so I write a heck of a lot every day. But if you’re crunching numbers at work, for instance, where you’d rather be chomping words, writing a blog can satisfy your inner word-nerd.

  • It makes you accountablefrank-mckenna-184340.jpg

My friends and family have heard me talk about writing book, short story or screenplay projects since the ’90s. But now, the whole world (wide web) knows. There’s no turning back. I must keep blogging and get published…or bust!

  • It gives you “street cred”

When I look at blogs, I’m usually going for informal advice on a topic. I admire their level of visibility and commitment. A blogger doesn’t have to be an expert; I don’t really expect that. But I do expect to learn or gain some insight from the article.

  • It puts you on a schedule

Speaking of commitment, blogging demands it, just like writing. There’s no magic formula for how many blog entries to post. I’m learning that consistency is key (for practice and Google Analytics). Sticking to a schedule and not over-committing myself are things I’ll have to watch out for.

  • It keeps you writing when you’re not, uh, writing

If I need a mental break from working on my novel, I can blog instead. I’m exercising the same muscles, just doing it a little differently. It’s still a win. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment in the short-term that I don’t get while working on a long-term novel project.

Are you an aspiring author who has a blog? What can you share about your experience? Does it make you better at Scrabble?

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash; photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash