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Writer's Knowledge Base

• February 2015 •

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This month we have an interview with author Becca Puglisi and, of course, the best articles on writing from the WKB.

Have you checked out the Hiveword novel organizer recently? There's lots of new stuff:

I hope you like the additions. I also hope you enjoy this month's interview and links!

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Becca Puglisi


You've developed several resources for writers, among them "The Negative Trait Thesaurus." What helped you realize these resources would be especially beneficial for writers?

Well, it actually began with our own fiction writing. As critique partners back in 2005, Angela and I noticed that we were constantly using the same descriptors to show our characters’ emotions: smiles for happiness, shifting feet for nervousness, clenched fists for anger, etc. To avoid these repetitions, we started making lists of different emotions and the bodily cues associated with them. When we shared the lists on our blog, the response was explosive. Writers from all genres and skill levels admitted to having the same trouble coming up with fresh ways to express emotion, and that our lists provided a resource they couldn’t find elsewhere. And voilà! The Emotion Thesaurus was born. From this experience, we developed a plan for the most direct way to help writers in a practical fashion: identify the problem areas in our own writing, then create resources that addressed the issues. After test-driving each new thesaurus on our blog, we were able to see which ones writers responded to the most.

Thoughts on critique groups and where to connect with one?

Oh, you’re speaking my language now :-). I honestly believe that nothing I’ve done in my eleven years of writing has accelerated my writing and my career more than joining a critique group or working with a critique partner. It’s that important. As writers, we’re too close to our writing to be subjective about it. There are also lots of writing issues we each have yet to overcome or even identify, and how can we recognize them until someone points them out to us? Giving and receiving feedback are hugely beneficial if you want to grow, so I encourage all writers to find a partner or group, either online or face-to-face, and plug in. Angela and I first met as critique partners at Critique Circle, which is a great place for writers of all genres and ability levels to find compatible critiquers. You can also find local groups by visiting the websites of national organizations like the SCBWI, Romance Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America. In addition, many writing groups are held at the public library, so you can always ask your media specialist about groups that meet in your area.

Best way for writers to improve?

After getting into a critique group, you’re likely going to notice the same issues cropping up in your writing. To address these issues, start devouring books on writing craft. Highlight important passages or take notes in an outline style—use whatever method works best for helping you retain information. One year, Angela and I decided to join forces and read the same craft books; we would pick a book, read it, then share our notes and discuss any questions that came up. It was a great way to cement the information we had read; it also provided accountability for me, since nonfiction doesn’t always hold my interest.

Don’t know where to start? For beginning tutorials in writing craft, I suggest The First Five Pages (Lukeman), Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King), and English Grammar for Dummies (Woods). For suggested books on various areas of writing craft, like conflict and story structure, check out the Recommended Writing Books page on our blog. If you’d rather glean your writing information via the web, we’ve also compiled a list of Writing Resources from credible sources that you may want to look through.

What made you decide on self-publishing for your resources? Any tips for writers who want to follow a similar path?

Angela and I had always planned on using a traditional publisher for our books. But as we were researching agents and editors, we started seeing copycat sites popping up where people had copy/pasted our content. That’s when we realized that we couldn’t wait 2-3 years for our books to be published. So we decided to do it ourselves.

It was terrifying at first, but self-publishing has worked beautifully for us. We love the creative freedom that we retain over every aspect of our books. We love working according to our own timetables and schedules. And let’s be honest: we love the royalties. But all of these positives come with a downside, too: it’s a TON of work. To succeed as a self-published author, you have to be willing to spend a lot of your work time doing things other than writing: marketing and promoting, building and maintaining a following through various social media sites, researching the gajillion decisions that have to be made when you have creative control of all aspects of your books, handling issues at various distributors, etc. I honestly spend more time on all the other stuff than I do writing. It’s just part of the deal. If you know that going into it, and you’re willing to spend the time doing all of those “other” things, you’ll be prepared and are less likely to be disillusioned.

The other bit of advice that I have to offer is to resist the urge to publish too soon. Just because you can put a book out there doesn’t mean that you should. You don’t want readers telling you that your book—the one they just paid for and are now wishing they hadn’t—isn’t ready. That’s what your critique group is for, to save you from losing potential readers and making a difficult journey even more difficult by publishing before you’re ready. What’s that old saying about it taking 10,000 hours to become successful at anything? Be patient. Put in your time. Hone your craft. Get honest feedback from reliable critique partners. Hire an editor. And don’t publish until your book is polished and professional.

What are you working on now?

Currently, Angela and I are working on The Settings Thesaurus, which will be the next book in our descriptive thesaurus series. The three volumes will contain over 300 possible settings that writers might consider using in a scene or story. Each entry will offer suggestions for how to describe the location utilizing all five senses, so if an author would like to write about a particular setting but isn’t able to visit it firsthand, they’ll still be able to describe it realistically. We were hoping to get the first two volumes out this spring, but something kind of amazing has come up (something we’ll be able to share more about in the near future), so the books are likely going to be published in the fall.

Where can we find you and your books online?

They can be found at all the major distributors; for a complete list of our books and where they can be found, please visit the Bookstore page at Writers Helping Writers.
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The Writer's Knowledge Base is the search engine for writers. It contains links to the writing-related articles collected and tweeted by @elizabethscraig. The WKB is developed by Mike Fleming and powered by Hiveword which is his free web-based fiction organizer. Hiveword also hosts writing coach James Scott Bell's Knockout Novel program which will help you make your novel stronger via Jim's thoughtful guidance. Elizabeth Spann Craig is a published author who blogs at Mystery Writing is Murder and tweets at @elizabethscraig. Mike Fleming blogs about technology and writers and tweets at @hiveword.

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