The Library Book

The library book has a coffee stain on one page, and a piece of dried oatmeal under the back cover, but it doesn’t bother me. I like that fact that other people have also had the pleasure of reading this book. And reading, is a unique experience.

When you go to a movie, you sit in the same type of seat as everyone else, and you see exactly the same images. The lighting isn’t affected by the time of day, so other than the fact you’re viewing the screen from a slightly different angles, or eating licorice instead of popcorn, you have the same experience as everyone who sees the same movie.

With modern technology people can watch the same movie in a variety of different environments, on televisions, laptops, and cell phones, but the images stay the same. Reading a book isn’t like that. Everyone sees different images in their minds as they turn the pages. Think about that for a moment; when you write a story and a thousand people read it, you create a thousand different movies.

The worn pages of a library book also remind you that other people have enjoyed reading the book. When you borrow an eBook, you can’t tell whether it has been borrowed a million times, or if you’re the first person to read it. I sometimes visit library websites to see if my eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper, is being read by someone, and sometimes it is, but I can’t tell how many times it has been borrowed from any particular library.

Don’t stop until you’ve finished that novel you’re writing, because there are readers who would love to see it on the shelves of their local library.

Here are some of the books I’ve read lately:

Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know (2019) by Malcolm Gladwell

Leviathan Wakes (2011) and Caliban’s War (2012)  by James S.A. Corey

Note: These are the first two books in The Expanse series, and James S.A. Corey is actually the pen name for two writers working together:  Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Chosen By God (1986) by R.C. Sproul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow-Up

So, you’ve submitted a short story to a literary journal or a screenplay to a film company, and now you have to cope with the deafening silence. Waiting is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the process.  If your work is accepted, that’s great. If you receive a rejection, you can send it to another editor or producer. It’s the time between the submission and the response that’s incredibly frustrating.

Before you submit any material, check the Submission Guidelines, because it usually tells you how long it should take to receive a reply and how long to wait before sending a follow-up inquiry. Reading the Submission Guidelines may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’ve just finished a writing project, you may be tempted to “just get it out there.” I’ve done it before, and it’s embarrassing when you realize that you haven’t formatted the file as requested by the editor, and perhaps lost an opportunity because of your impatience.

What if there are no guidelines regarding how long you’ll have to wait, after submitting material? One option is to e-mail the editor and just ask how long the normal wait times are, and how long you should wait to inquire about your submission. If the wait times aren’t listed, I usually wait three months before sending a follow-up for literary journals, or six months if I’ve submitted a screenplay to a film company.

My experience with literary journals, anthologies, and magazines is that you always get a reply. You may wait longer that you originally expected, but you will receive an answer. That isn’t the case with film companies.

Some film companies say they’re willing to read one of my screenplays, but six months later, won’t acknowledge my e-mails. It might be a legal issue, if they’re working on a project that bears some similarity to my screenplay. One producer states clearly on his website that he can’t accept screenplays directly from writers, because he has been threatened with lawsuits, for supposedly stealing intellectual property.

Waiting can be frustrating, but don’t let it discourage you to the point where you stop writing. Consider this reason for why you should continue writing: There are 7.7 billion people on the face of this planet, but you are the only one who can write with your voice, your passion. Keep the words flowing….

Note: I recently had an essay published in an anthology; Writing Better Fiction: Craft Tips From Some of Canada’s Best Writers and Editors. It was edited by Brent Nichols and was released at When Words Collide in August 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before You Submit

One evening last week I was reading a short story out loud, getting ready to present it at a writers’ meeting. Here are some reasons you should read your material out loud, before you submit it to editors or producers.

Reading out loud is the easiest way to determine if your sentences are a reasonable length. A rule of thumb is, if you need to take a breath while reading a sentence, you need to either add a comma, or make the sentence shorter. It’s better to vary the length of your sentences, so it will feel more natural to your readers. Sometimes your reply to a question will be lengthy, but at other times it will just be “yes,” or “no.” If a character in your story doesn’t not know how to reply to a statement, you can always write, “Hmmm,” as his or her response.

Can the reader pronounce the names you’ve given to locations or characters? This can be an issue for science fiction and fantasy writers, when they’re struggling to come up with unique names. If you read a name out loud and find it challenging to pronounce, then you should seriously consider changing it to something simpler. If your main character’s name is Irlzolriqil, it will be distracting.  Readers who spend too much time concentrating on how  pronounce a name or place, won’t enjoy reading you story.

Taking the time to read out loud, will also help you to find spelling errors, because the software you use, may not recognize the different contexts used with words. “Break,” and “brake,” are both spelled correctly. If the software detects misspelled words, it will only advise you of a problem, if either word was spelled “brek” or “brak.”

If you’re going to read out loud, a good resource is How to be Heard (2017) by Julian Treasure, which is available as either a book or audiobook. An excellent speaker to listen to is Les Brown; you can hear several examples of his passionate style on http://www.youtube.com. Another excellent, though less well known speaker, is Ashwin Ramani. You can find examples of his style in the Sermon Archives at http://www.cschurch.ca. Probably the best speaker I’ve ever heard, is science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer. You can find numerous examples of his speaking style on http://www.youtube.com.

Reading your stories out loud is an inexpensive way to improve your writing and will help you prepare for a successful writing career. And I want you to have a successful writing career, because the world needs to hear your voice, your passion.

Copyright © 2019 by J. Paul Cooper

 

Discouragement

You can’t climb a mountain, unless you believe you can make it to the summit. You have to be optimistic, in order to overcome the inertia and start moving. At the same time, you have to risk the disappointment that will result, if you don’t make it to the top. That is the writer’s dilemma.

Earlier this year I sent a follow-up e-mail to a producer I had submitted a screenplay to. I didn’t receive an answer from the producer, as if I wasn’t even worth the few minutes it would have taken to write a reply.

If your work is refused, and it will be, what are your options? If you stop writing, then you’re allowing the individuals who rejected your work, to decide your future. Why should their opinion prevent you from reaching your full potential as a writer? Some of my short stories were rejected several times, before they were published.

If you’re convinced that a short story has great potential, but it keeps being rejected, perhaps you could take it to a Writer-In-Residence at a local library or university. If you’re a member of a writing group, you could submit it to be critiqued at the next meeting. Since this may not be possible in your situation (or you’re concerned your story might be stolen), another option is to set aside the short story for a few weeks and work on another project. Returning to a story after a break will allow you to see it with fresh eyes, and you may discover new ways to improve it.

If you’re discouraged, learning how bestselling writers approach their careers can be a great help, and Youtube is an amazing source of information. Several successful writers are featured in Evan Carmichael’s “Top 10 Rules” series. You can also search your favourite authors’ names, and you’ll find videos with them delivering keynote addresses at writer’s conferences, speaking at libraries and being interviewed.

I hope you keep writing, because every time a new, passionate voice is heard, the world becomes a more interesting place.

Copyright © 2019 by J. Paul Cooper

 

Jump-Start!

It doesn’t matter if you have a successful writing career, or you’re just getting started, Writer’s Block can be devastating. Here are some ideas to help you get back on track.

Read or listen to: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. Discouragement begins when you’re hoping for that big break, but it seems as if you aren’t making any progress. Jeff Olsen reminds readers that it’s all about consistency and persistence; very few people are overnight successes.

Read or listen to The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. This book contains great advice regarding how to develop positive attitudes and start moving toward your goals.

Watch this three-part video featuring Canadian science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer. Recorded at the 2010 Ontario Writers’ Conference, Word by Word, Robert J. Sawyer discusses the process of building a writing career. You can find it on http://www.youtube.com listed as : Robert J. Sawyer -P1 of 3 to P3 of 3 – OWC 2010. It takes about 25 minutes to watch all three parts. (I’ve mentions this before, because it’s a message that every writer should hear, and Robert J. Sawyer is an excellent speaker.)

Watching videos of novelists and screenwriters discussing their craft is an excellent learning opportunity. If you’re serious about a writing career, why not learn from the best? It’s essential to watch how they conduct themselves while speaking to audiences and being interviewed, since those are skills you’ll need to develop.

If you’re writing a novel, but suffering from Writer’s Block, write an essay. If you’re writing a screenplay, but need to take a break, write a short story. The key is to switch gears, but keep moving forward as a writer. Give your subconscious some time to work on the problem, and when you return to the project in a few weeks, you’ll probably have a solution. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a novel, a screenplay, a short story, essay or stage play, the world needs to hear your unique voice.

Copyright ©  2019 by J. Paul Cooper

Three Questions

Do you have a story idea that you’re convinced is great, but you don’t know where to start? You can begin by writing scenes, without worrying about where they will fit in the story. It’s better to get started, because if it really is a great idea, everything will eventually fall into place. Directors rarely film all the scenes for a movie in chronological order, because they have to work according to when film locations are available. And when it comes to that movie being filmed in your head, you’re the Director!

Have you just received a rejection, and you’re having a difficult time dealing with it? To keep from slipping into a deep depression, remember that publishers and editors are inundated with manuscripts, and they can’t publish all of them. Rejecting your work involves risk on their part as well, as they may have just turned down a brilliant piece of writing. 

Do you feel like you aren’t making any progress, and want to give up? Although it feels great when you do get published, it’s important that you keep writing when you’re going through a dry spell. You don’t know which short story, article or novel manuscript is going to make a significant difference. More importantly, if writing is your gift, if it’s what your were meant to do, then you need to write.

Keep writing, let the world hear your voice and feel your passion!

J. Paul Cooper

 

A Few Thoughts About Critiques

Earlier this week I attended a meeting of a local writers group, and the meetings always open with the critique of two pieces of writing. For this process to be beneficial for the writer who has submitted his or her work for review, there has to be a balance. You need to be truthful, without discouraging the writer to the point where he or she stops writing.

I’ve had my writing critiqued and it was a helpful experience; there were some serious errors in spelling, grammar and plotting. Nevertheless, since a harsh critique can be discouraging,  here are some points to keep in mind, while your work is being discussed by other writers.

1: The individuals who are offering their opinions about your work, aren’t necessarily better writers than you. Just because someone is talking about a subject, doesn’t mean he or she is an expert in that field.

2: You’ve probably had the experience of leaving a movie theatre, and telling your friends how you would have written a different ending. Are the individuals offering a critique of our your story giving you advice on how to improve the story, or just telling you how they would have written it?

3: You are responsible for the material you write. Although you should consider suggestions made by other writers, it will still be your name on the cover of the book.  You don’t want to keep making adjustments to your story, based on the opinions of other writers, until it no longer feels like your story.

4: Writing isn’t strictly a logical process, you have to leave room for inspiration and intuition to guide you. If you think to yourself, “Wow, that’s a great idea!” and someone tells you, “I just don’t think that will work,” you’re going to have to decide between your heart and their opinion.

5: Keep in mind that everyone (and that includes me!) likes to believe that their opinions are important.  What is the highest priority of the writer discussing your material, helping you become a better writer, or having his opinion heard?

Consider the suggestions of other writers, while maintaining your unique voice, and keep writing!

P.S. I’ve been working on a science fiction (space opera) story, and the word count is currently at just over 40,000 words. I don’t know if it will be a novella or a novel.

 

Copyright © 2019 By J. Paul Cooper

 

 

Surviving the Critique

I’ve been attending meetings of a local writing organization since February and I really appreciate their professional approach to critiquing material. You submit a short story or a portion of a novel-in-progress, and two members volunteer to critique the work for the next meeting. At the next meeting you read for up to ten minutes, and then the two volunteers give their impression of the material you’ve submitted to them. They are each given a few minutes to express their concerns, and then it’s opened up to the floor for other members to comment on what they’ve heard.

The critique considers both the material you’ve written, and how well you deliver the material. Since as a writer you may be asked to do public readings, this is an excellent opportunity to discover whether you speak too fast, you don’t speak loud enough, or you  slur your words. You might also discover (especially in science fiction and fantasy) that the names of your characters are very difficult to pronounce.

For the last meeting I submitted a portion of a science fiction novel, and naively assumed that the individuals critiquing the material would be impressed with my excellent writing. I was wrong. It was brutal. The individuals critiquing my material said there were distracting spelling and grammar errors, my action scenes were poorly structured, and I changed point-of-view too frequently.

Fortunately, that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want anyone pulling punches to avoid hurting my feelings, I wanted the truth. If you’re serious about becoming a published author, you need to discover where your weaknesses are. Sending poorly written material to an agent or editor will result in a rejection, often with no explanation other than, “it’s not what we’re looking for at this time.”

You don’t need to worry about what other writers think about your material, because  you make the final decision. You should consider their opinions, but you are responsible for the end product. It can be very embarrassing to have other writers point out your mistakes, but that isn’t a bad thing. Whether it’s a story you’ve published online or a public reading, you have to accept criticism. Joining a group of writers and having them review your work is an excellent way to prepare for negative comments. If someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, just keep writing, you’ll eventually find readers who  appreciate your voice, your passion.

Copyright © 2018 by J. Paul Cooper

 

Catnip and the Ides of March

Your cat lies napping on the cat tree, basking in the afternoon sun. At first it may appear like a Normal Rockwell painting, but perhaps it’s more like a non-fiction book by Robert Greene.
It’s the classic image of a Senator in ancient Rome; with the snap of his fingers servants rush to him, feeding him grapes, offering him wine. The feline reclines comfortably in her cat bed, and as she utters “Meow,” her servants run to her side, bringing her a favourite treat.                                                                                                      Senators in ancient Rome were always aware of the threat of conspiracies, closely watching each other’s actions for clues of machinations. One cat rests on a sofa in the living room, when another feline enters. The cat on the sofa tracks the other cat with laser sharp focus, taking notice of who she shares her affections with.
Roman senators had to instinctively know when it was best to listen and observe, and when it was time to make their presence known, inviting praise. At times a cat will enter unnoticed and watch silently from a corner of the room. At other times, however, a feline will announce her arrival with a loud “Meow.” The plebeians compete for her attention, begging her to take a seat next to them, praising her unequalled beauty, bribing her with treats. With a swish of her tail, she dismisses them as unworthy of her affection, and leaves the room.
Two senators greet each other with pleasantries on the streets of Rome, masking the their true motives. In the afternoon two cats pass each other peacefully, but during the long hours of the night, the silence is shattered by the loud hisses of an altercation, as they vie for dominance.
The wealthy citizens of ancient Rome are also remembered for holding drunken orgies. It’s New Year’s Eve, and you’ve just given kitty some catnip to enjoy the festivities…. The intoxicated feline rolls around the floor uttering incoherent meows, in a display of unbridled debauchery.
It might appear that you and your cat are friends sharing a loving relationship, but are you truly equal? When was the last time a cat flushed the toilet for you? Forget to scoop the litter box and your cat will warn you with loud meows, and then defecate on the floor in protest. You fill the cat’s water dish, but when has the cat ever poured a glass of wine for you? When the cat turns her nose up at something she’s doesn’t like, what do you do? The next time you’re at the grocery store you won’t buy just any brand of cat food, you’ll buy her favourite brand.
After enduring a terrifying dream, Julius Caesar’s wife warned him to stay away from the Senate on the morning of March 15, 44 BC. Ignoring her advice, he went anyway and died from multiple stab wounds, inflicted by Senators who had sworn their fealty to him. The cat sits on your lap and starts kneading you with her claws. You think it’s a sign of affection from a loyal companion, but perhaps those claws represent daggers, and it’s really a warning, “Remember the Ides of March, and don’t forget to buy more catnip.”

Copyright © 2018 by J. Paul Cooper

 

Fiction Essentials

YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW THE WHOLE STORY BEFORE YOU BEGIN: All you really need to start a novel is one scene. Let’s say what you have is a short dialogue between two characters; begin by recording what they say. Next, you can start asking questions: Where did they have the conversation? Was it a relaxed conversation, or were they under pressure? What was the outcome? Once you start adding locations and other characters, it won’t be long before you start to see the story’s full potential.

READ WIDELY: One of the drawbacks of always reading and watching movies in your favourite genre, is that what you write may start sounding like a group of clichés linked together to form a predictable plot. The greater variety of books you read, the more insights you’ll be able to introduce in your stories. Reading a book about business may seem useless if you’re writing science fiction, but if you’re writing a scene in a space station, there will be alien businesses!

DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOUR FIRST CHAPTER IS PERFECT BEFORE CONTINUING, BECAUSE IT NEVER WILL BE:  One of the most dangerous pitfalls in writing, is continually rewriting a story, and never finishing it. Often perfectionism is a form of procrastination; you don’t have to face rejection or criticism, if you never submit your work to an editor. You could have a written literary masterpiece, but you’ll never know unless others have the opportunity to read it.

LEARN FROM THE MASTERS: What an amazing opportunity awaits you at http://www.youtube.com! You can watch successful authors being interviewed, and talking at writing events around the world. You’ll discover what inspires their writing,  learn about the writing process, and by listening to the questions,  help you prepare for your future interviews.

TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO READ IN PUBLIC: Watch for announcements about  Open Mic events at libraries and bookstores. If you belong to a writer’s organization there may also be opportunities to read your material out loud. If you’re serious about building a writing career, public reading is an essential skill; the sooner you begin practicing, the sooner you’ll become comfortable with the process.

KEEP WRITING: If you’re working on a novel and you’ve seemed to hit a wall, don’t stop writing, just switch to another project temporarily.  Take some time to write a short story, an essay, an article or a poem, and let your subconscious work out a solution for the challenge you’re facing in the novel.  After you’ve had a break, get back in the saddle and finish that novel! The world is waiting to hear your voice and feel your passion.

Copyright © 2018 by J. Paul Cooper