Category Archives: WRITING TIPS

Take With a Grain of Salt

Wikipedia defines the expression “to take with a grain of salt” as this: “(With) a grain of salt“, (or “a pinch of salt“) is an idiom of the English language, which means to view something with skepticism or not to interpret something literally.

Sometimes as a writer this is a hard thing to wrap your mind around. Writing is art, the creative process of developing something from your own brain and hands, so when someone outside of your little space treads on your words, well, sometimes the critique, whether warranted or not, does not set well.

To me, salt is a source of seasoning. Such is the origin of the phrase:

The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt. Pliny the Elder translated an ancient text, which some have suggested was an antidote to poison, with the words ‘be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt’.

Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, 77 A.D. translates into modern English thus:

After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.

The suggestion is that injurious effects can be moderated by the taking of a grain of salt. Thus, I write this post as advice for any writers (especially new writers) who suffer from self-doubt after receiving a one-star review or a bad blog post about their book or writing. It is a scary thing to present your “baby” to the world and have someone say, “Wow, that is one ugly baby!” But, to be fair, not everyone will like your writing. Not everyone likes my writing, otherwise, I would have far more reviews and far more followers on my blog.

But to take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt, you are, in fact, swallowing the poison along with your own antidote to alleviate the effects of the words. You will not die, and please, do not let criticism keep you from pushing forward to accomplish your art. Only you can speak your words, only you can write what is in your brain.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a difference between constructive criticism and unwarranted criticism. I have found when other writers who are comfortable in their own art, others who sincerely want to see others succeed offer genuine advice to help you improve your writing, how refreshing this is to a young aspiring writer. Actually, to any writer, no matter how old you are and how long you have been writing. I welcome the advice of those who I admire and respect, I mean seriously, art is a continual process of improving and learning, so anyone who thinks they have it down pat I think is fooling themselves. We are always changing and so we need those who will give us a boost.

Unwarranted criticism, well…. do I need to even say anything about this? I did a post earlier in this blog about “Haters Gonna Hate” (which is still on my Goodreads scroll, if you want to check it out) and I think if you scroll back and read that post you will get the gist of what I mean and who I mean.

To sum up, keep writing. Writers have to write, not just that they do write, they HAVE to write. Pick up your sword, slay that blank page, and never let the evil red queen threaten to chop off your head if you say or do something she doesn’t like.

Your words are you…. keep creating!!

Thanks for reading.

D. K. Marley

TO SELF-PUBLISH OR NOT SELF-PUBLISH, THAT IS THE QUESTION!

So this is a question many writers have, to self-publish or to go the traditional route of looking for a mainstream or small publishing house to accept your manuscript?

Here is the reason I chose self-publishing over the traditional way: Many of you may have read my post about grief (and if not, here is the link) and you may have read about my interaction with my once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the literary agent of my dreams in my post about “other Shakespeare authors,” but if you have not read either of those posts, here is a summary of why I chose self-publishing.

First and foremost, I love the idea of going the traditional route. I have many friends who I met during the writer’s retreat I attended who are published authors and secured their book deals from publishing houses. I say, more power to them!

I attended the Writer’s Retreat Workshop in Erlanger Kentucky in 2006 and found myself completely inspired and on fire to finish my first novel and find an agent and trudge through the mire of the publishing industry. Honestly, I was excited and very naive. Two years after that I attended the Writer’s Conference in Myrtle Beach South Carolina where, as I mentioned before, I had the chance to sit down with the literary agent of my dreams. I found her online and researched her background before I went, so I knew what kind of books she took on, but I never in a million years would have thought she might pick me out of the thousands of people at the conference to sit down and have lunch with. But, she did!

What I learned from the talk with her? I have to be honest, I left the conference very dejected and disillusioned because I learned that sometimes you have to learn to be commercial to be accepted rather than rely on your heart, which is hard to take as an artist and writer. I know this isn’t always the case because there are numerous writers out there still making a living on their art and some are far from commercialized.

I continued on after the conference, another two years went by and I finally secured an agent in New York. Again, the naivety on my part blasted me full in the face. Although my agent loved my work and claimed to have sent out my manuscript to numerous publishing houses, every time I asked for verification, well, needless to say, I never got a letter, an email, nothing to confirm what he told me he was doing. All his emails ever said is “St. Martin’s” said no, “Doubleday” said no, and on and on and on…

By that time, I already started work on research for my second and third novel, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I shelved everything from 2011 to 2015 and took up another of one of my favorite hobbies – photography – and my husband and I moved to the Georgia coast. We became wedding photographers and within three years we were voted #2 best wedding photographers in Jacksonville Florida on Thumbtack.com! I also took my artistic and love for storytelling into my photography and started delving into conceptual work. One of my photographs was accepted into an outdoor exhibition in Lithuania, two of my pieces were mounted in a gallery in Houston Texas, an another in Orlando Florida.

And the bottom fell out of my life. February 2, 2015; the most horrible day of my life. The day I lost my daughter and her husband by the hands of a drunk and drugged driver running from the police. They were only one mile from their home. The 20-year-old idiot traveled at 85 miles an hour down the wrong side of a four-lane highway and took them in an instant. He walked away with a scratch on his leg and is now serving 30 years in prison. But my life changed forever. My life, my husband’s life, my son’s life, forever snatched away and we now serve a life sentence of pain and sorrow.

Now it is 2018 and I am slowly climbing out of the despair and depression hole. I don’t think I will ever fully recover, of course, and I acknowledge this fact. I acknowledge that no matter what I do from this point on, nothing will ever return to normal. I am a part of “that group” now. I am now a mother who peruses the MADD website and who will forever carry a hollowness in my heart.

This brings me to the final reason I chose to self-publish. Disillusionment with the whole publishing industry to begin with, and now, grief overtakes me. We are not promised tomorrow. None of us know from one second to the next if we will get that horrible phone call or have a police officer walk up and knock on your door at five o’clock in the morning with a box of your child’s belongings.

I am content to write for my health and sanity and artistry and love. Whether I ever sell one book or a million matters less to me now. Death brings things into perspective in the most tragic way. I choose to do what makes me happy for I have so very few happy days now. Writing makes me happy, or rather a distracted peace I should say. Anything which distracts me from this hole in my heart and life I soak up like a sponge.

And why am I sharing this? Because as writers we often look for acceptance through our writing. We look for another person to connect with, someone who sees the world as we do through our words, and when another person does that there is a measure of joy and happiness which links our art to the world. My advice now to my younger self and to any other young (or old) writers out there looking to plunge into the mad mad mad world of traditional publishing? Let me first say that I am not against it and if you are one of the fortunate ones to hook a deal from a major or small publishing house, yay for you, but for the vast majority of writers who will never see a book deal I say: write for you. Write for your own heart and write what you love.

That literary agent told me no one reads anything having to do with Shakespeare and to a major publishing house, oftentimes, Shakespeare is taboo, but this is what I love. Writers should write what they know and what they are passionate about. I love all things Shakespeare, so this is what I write. I am not a commercial writer and I never will be, for I refuse to become a lemming writer who runs headlong into the ocean of erotica, or gore, or horror, or vampires, or werewolves, or whatever trend moves the reading nation.

My daughter would have loved my novels, and for me, that is enough.

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley

Curious Opinion about Writing Historical Fiction – What Do You Think?

I just discovered this YouTube posting about “What Not to do When Writing Historical Fiction” and I have some thoughts.

I agree on some points and disagree on others. Tons of writers use real people as their main character in writing historical fiction, so does that mean that she has never read books by Margaret George or Alison Weir or Phillipa Gregory? She said she NEVER reads historical fiction books with real people as the main character, and after taking a chance by reading “Mrs Poe” she NEVER will again.

In one of my favourite books about a real person – “I, Elizabeth” by Rosalind Miles – uses Queen Elizabeth the First as the main character and fictionalizes the relationship and conversations between her and Robert Dudley. We weren’t there, so how do we know?

I agree with the notion that you have to be careful in not crossing the line into slander or out-right lies when pertaining to real people in history; but, for the most part, fiction is FICTION, and since none of us were ‘flies on the wall’ of said history and their lives, can we not fictionalized some of the parts of their lives while remaining true to what we do know?

I do not mean changing our historical knowledge of, let’s say, the moral uprightness of Abraham Lincoln, his manner and speech, into one of depravity and weakness (which we know to be untrue), but a conversation betwixt he and his wife about the grief they shared (of which none of us were privy to) might be considered an aspect of fictionalizing the details of a real person. For one, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Anything beyond that is delving into alternate historical fantasy (i.e. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer)

I do think, however, it is a dangerous thing for reviewers to be so dogmatic in their opinions about a genre. Taking that sort of stance is rather polarizing, if you ask me. Either you are going to have a huge number of supporters or you are not which, maybe that is what this particular reviewer is going for. I mean, in the world we live in, you can draw a line in the sand and people are going to take sides, for or against.

I am not that sort. I adore historical fiction and the authors who write in the genre. I know their struggle since it is my own-the endless days of research, the time travelling in your brain to another era, and pounding the keys to develop a world where readers can escape from the ordinary day-to-day monotony of today. Who wouldn’t want to leave the Covid-19 world of today to walk down the Bubonic plague-infested streets of London of long ago?

I give authors a hundred years from now permission to fictionalize my life in 2020 in whatever way that is going to provide a measure of escapism for the readers of the 22nd century. This is art, and art is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not going to scrutinize Monet’s Hay Stacks painting and question if there really was more than two haystacks in the landscape. I’m going to accept it for what it is: an incredible work of art built on the passion of the artist. And isn’t that what we are, artists of the written word?

Here is the link to the video if you choose to watch, and please, comment below and let me know what you think on the subject!!

D. K. Marley

Chickie’s Writing Tips #1

I am at a loss for words, and here I sit trying to write a post for this blog. I mean, I’m not really at a loss for words but you know how it goes when something moves you beyond anything you hoped for and you are dying to tell someone. That is where I am at after attending an online Zoom workshop from Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services by Donald Maass and Lorin Oberweger.

I knew it, of course, that it would be exactly what I needed to bump up my writing for my new work-in-progress; after all, I attended a 10-day workshop over 14 years ago where Lorin was one of the instructors. The experience and the knowledge gained resonates even to this day.

So, I determined that this topic is the very first in my “Chickie’s Writing Tips”. As a writer we often do not do very many things for ourselves except sit in a room alone and type away at the keys to bring our story to life, maybe sipping our favorite coffee or tea with a pup or kitten at our feet. We push ourselves to flesh out the characters and scenes in our head like some Dr Frankenstein pulling the handle and praying a jolt of electricity will bring it all to life. What I have found is that sometimes that jolt comes in the form of a well-renowned workshop where you immerse yourself in learning before writing, or during your writing.

I say, well-renowned, since I have heard of workshops that just do not deliver and left some of their patrons feeling deflated about their prospects of being a writer; but, if you attend one under the tutelage of some high-profile names in the industry, I think it is a safe bet that you will come from that classroom refreshed and electrified.

Free Expressions offers online workshops via Zoom at the moment because of the Covid-19 pandemic known as the Weekly Writing Webinars, but in normal circumstances supports in-person workshops such as “The Breakout Novel Intensive” by Donald Maass and the “Boni Graduate Learning Retreat”, as well as the “Wake Up & Write Writer’s Retreat Workshop” (the one I attended in 2006). At Free Expressions, they even offer a two-year Story Lab that you can apply for where they help you bring your novel from idea to finished and revised draft, with a view toward big five publication! Ooo, if only my ship was approaching the dock . . . right? Still, if you can afford it, then why not do it for yourself and for the stories begging to be told? I know I would if I could, in a heartbeat!!

So, what do you learn? Well, let me give you an example. Yesterday, I listened to the workshop called “Emotional Tipping Points” given by Mr Maass since I was struggling to push my characters further in the story. Well, I shouldn’t say struggling, I actually need to say I knew there was more there and needed a little jolt to breathe some life into them. The workshop delivered more than what I needed. In just two and a half hours, Mr Maass was able to ask enough questions of me and my characters to flesh them out, as if he reached inside my protagonist’s heart and resuscitated her. Just in the first chapter alone, I discovered ways of turning up the emotional impact for the reader, after all, isn’t that what we are trying to do for them? If a reader cannot connect with your characters, especially with your main character, then how long will they stay with the story? Or even want to read another one of your stories?

I’d love to share some of his questions, but that sort of spoils the fun of the experience, does it not? My advice is to check it out for yourself. This one workshop was only $39, but you can get the whole series for $399.00! A steal!!

So, this is my writing tip #1 – do something for yourself as a writer, sign up for a workshop, and not just any workshop – get the best. To me, the best by far is the ones I mentioned above. You will never regret the investment in yourself and your career as a writer.

Where to sign up?

https://www.free-expressions.com/

Who they are?

Donald Maass founded the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York in 1980. He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996),Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009), The Breakout Novelist (2011), Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012) and The Emotional Craft of Fiction (2019).  He is a past president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.

Lorin Oberweger is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers intensive, deep craft workshops nationwide. She’s also known for her one-on-one story mastermind session for writers of all genres of fiction and creative nonfiction.

Lorin’s students and clients have millions of books in print and have been published by HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Disney, and many other presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.

An award-winning author, Lorin has co-written and ghostwritten eight books, several for New York Times bestselling authors of fiction and nonfiction. Her work, commissioned by major publishers, has received glowing notices from the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, NPR, and others.

With bestselling author Veronica Rossi, Lorin is the author of the New Adult books, BOOMERANG, REBOUND, and BOUNCE, published by Harper/William Morrow under the pen name Noelle August.  The novels were praised by Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, among others, and BOOMERANG was chosen as a “new and notable” selection for Target Stores across the US.