Take Joy In Your Craft #1

I was recently re-familiarizing myself with the music of Velvet Underground, and “Run Run Run” on YouTube led me to “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid. I’d missed the song in 2013, which isn’t surprising since I was no longer in the music business and I don’t hear a lot of French artists on the radio.

From the tolling bell that opened the song, I knew I was going to like it. But after three-and-a-half minutes, I felt like I’d just watched a video of my childhood fantasies.

If there was any other kid, aside from Luke Skywalker, that I’d pretended to be, it was Max from Where The Wild Things Are. And so this video, showing a kid playing fantasy and running with monsters? Heck yeah – I’ve watched it ten times in the last week.

OK, that was mostly an aside, but the video is too fun not to share.

Anyway, my enjoyment led me to a live version of the song, and this brings me to the point of the post. Near the end of the performance in Montreux (7:00), Woodkid invites the audience to take up the intonation of the chorus. When they begin, there’s a wonderful joy that spreads across his face. I don’t believe it has anything to do with satisfying a need for adulation. To me, it’s because he has made a connection with strangers. He has given them something and they have reciprocated in kind.

Thirty seconds later, he transforms that joy into energy. It’s a contagious thing and immediately spreads throughout the audience. It continues until the song ends. However, to the amazement of Woodkid and the performers on stage with him, the audience spontaneously picks up the chorus again (8:45). And that joy returns.

To me, art is two-way communication. A person is giving something and receiving something in return. Perhaps it’s immediate, such as in this video. Very often, it is never known, as was the tragedy of Vincent Van Gogh.

Nevertheless, people are grateful when art touches them, though they might not think of it that way, or even put it into words. They sing along, they cry, they stand transfixed as their eyes drink in the details of something that inspires them.

I believe this amongst the most important exchanges that humans can have, and that makes it one of the most powerful things in the world.

Everyone who creates something has a goal in mind. This is mine.

Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, September 2019

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12 Content Tips To Make Consumers Love You

I’m a product marketing manager by day, which means I spend a considerable portion of my time reading, writing, reviewing, editing, and giving feedback on content (judgment-free!). As such, I have regular opportunities to witness great – and not so great – ways of presenting written content to consumers. Sometimes of my own creation.

Here are twelve items that might help you with your content strategy, whether you’re marketing your book or a widget you sell. I originally assembled this list four years ago, and these tips are as true today as they were then.


1. Is your content bragging about your abilities and services?

  • Consumers want to trust you. But people are turned off by content that’s mostly sales pitch or just talks about how great your book is.
  • Quality content shows that you understand your audience’s needs, not just your own abilities.

2. Did you focus more on SEO keywords than quality content?

keyword stuffing, keyword stuffing and yes, keyword stuffing

  • As a writer and someone in the online marketing biz, this content stands out to me like Waldo in a penguin colony. It’s repetitive and reads like the writer just bought a thesaurus: Do you like to travel to exotic places? How would you like a vacation to an unexplored world? Here at Journeyman Travel, we can jet you off to distant lands! You’ll voyage to foreign countries in one of our exclusive Exotic Vacation Destination packages! That is a content turkey stuffed with artificially-flavored keywords.
  • To avoid unnatural-sounding sentences, write for humans, not computers. Quality content that engages people will build authority and trust, something that search engines reward. Learn more about Semantic Search.

Continue reading

Set Yourself Mysteries

epiphany

Epiphany

from Merriam-Webster

As happens to most of us, something profound occurred to me in the shower this morning. For me, I was thinking about my story. Not the first book I am writing, but the entire story. It was the kind of thought that made me end my shower, towel off quickly, and open my computer to write it down.

Here’s some context first, though I’ll be generic to prevent spoilers: I have a scene between two characters that is the genesis of their friendship. I like the scene because it imparts important information to both the reader and my protagonist, Tildy.

But there’s something else in the scene, a catalyst. It’s the thing that brings these two together, yet it also returns later with significant results. One of the characters even warns against it. Three books later, it fulfills this apparent destiny, devastating both Empyrelia and Tildy in the process.

How did I get there? Am I more architect than gardener, a writer who has a perfect plan in which all things are connected? No.

I set myself a mystery.

It wasn’t something I did consciously, yet I’m aware that I do it all the time. That was my epiphany: I had identified one key element of my writing style. I throw out interesting details, predictions, or other tidbits, which forces me to find a creative solution to explain why these things are important to the story. It also makes writing more fun because I love a good mystery.

I’m not talking about the main plot, however. This isn’t, Tildy needs to journey into the world, fight a heroic battle, and return triumphant – what does she fight? No, this is about smaller details, such as the witch wearing a pearl in her flyaway hair or Tildy not getting along with the birds in Dappledown (the first, I’ve solved, but not the second).

I’m certain this isn’t unique to me, though I can’t recall reading about other writers that do this. If this is new to you – cool! If you’ve read something similar elsewhere, I’d love to get a link to the story.

We can’t wait for inspiration, but if we put in enough time at the keyboard, I think we can find ways to summon it. If I can have fun doing it, too, then that’s a process that works for me. Hopefully, you can find those things that work for you.

Good luck with your writing!

–Mike

Postscript: What I also like about this epiphany is that it prepares me to give more satisfactory answers when people ask about my writing process. In my experience, “I just, uh, write?” is usually met with confusion or disappointment because people think I’ve discovered an ancient secret or something. I’ve just found some tools that work for me, and this is one of the better ones.


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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019

 

Tighten Up Your Writing #7

I recently wrote about removing the word “now” from my manuscript. It wasn’t the first such word I’d targeted, but since it proved to be a popular post, I decided to dedicate another to the subject.

Removing unnecessary words

In my final edit, I’ve targeted about a dozen common words and phrases for elimination or replacement. While it can feel like extra work, it improves the manuscript and sets me up for less work in the next. Here are two of the more fruitful tasks I took on.

Then

  • Unlike “now”, which is a strange choice for past-tense sentences, “then” is usually implied or simply unnecessary.
  • It’s a word that often feels critical (Tildy ran up the stairs and then slammed her bedroom door), but it’s not (Tildy ran up the stairs and slammed her door).
  • While reviewing 277 instances, I cut about 200 unnecessary words and was rewarded with tighter descriptions.

do or do not

Try to

  • Just gross and passive and weak. Again, it often feels necessary (Tildy stood on her toes and tried to see).
  • Channel your inner Yoda here: Your characters do or they do not. There is no try (Tildy stood on her toes to see). If she can’t see, well, describe that!
  • I cut the instances by half. However, the quantity is less relevant: I have 60+ stronger sentences. This is why you do the work.

I also targeted “passed”, “past”, and “know”, which fit into the category of word variety. I was a bit embarrassed to discover their overuse. Fortunately, replacing them wasn’t much work once I put a little extra thought into it.

C’mon, you’ve got a vocabulary – use it!

I’ve been a writer for 20 years and it’s always been an iterative process for me: Write the thoughts quickly, organize the story, and improve my word selection. Over time, my usage of some of these words has declined, which means less rework. When it comes to editing, I’d rather spend more time on shaping the story and less on swapping words.

We’re here to tell tales, after all. Good luck with your writing!

–Mike

Click for more posts: Tighten Up Your Writing

 


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© Michael Wallevand, August 2019

Difficult Choices #1

This post is approximately 550 words. It had been longer, but…difficult choices were made.

Phew. It’s been more than four months since I posted Tighten Up Your Writing #6. The final draft editing continues apace, which is the primary reason I haven’t been blogging.

Well, that and the Gears 5 Tech Test over two weekends in July.

Anyway, today’s update is about a choice I’d been debating a few months. Jack, aka Trusted Reader 16 and one of my most enthusiastic contributors, had given me the same feedback each time I provided new chapters: Some were too long.

He was right every time and I followed his suggestions.

After his latest round of feedback, I literally tallied up the word counts of every chapter and put them in a spreadsheet (hey, I’m a data guy).  A few hit 6,000 and two were on their way to 8,000. In most cases, every scene within a chapter was connected and followed a theme. I did my job well enough that the chapter titles fit all the pieces within.

And yet, those were some long chapters. I’d recently set a target of 3,000 to 4,000 words to keep the reading effort light, while also making it feel like the story kept moving. I was missing the mark. It reminded me of reading when I just want to get to the end of a chapter so I can take a break. Fortunately, I’ve yet to receive that criticism from my Trusted Readers.

I had a difficult choice to make. Do I break up the big chapters?

Murder your darlings

Continue reading

Tighten Up Your Writing #6

A 370-word post in which we realize that things in the past are not happening “now”.

Spaceballs now

Right after Christmas, I finished my mid-draft, which represents the complete book before I check for plot holes, inconsistencies, and other mechanical issues. It’s the first time I read the story straight through and it’s the first time I print out the manuscript to give it a thorough redlining.

I also use blue and green lines, and a yellow highlighter, so perhaps I need a new term.

It’s a time when you sit back and try to enjoy the story (I did!). This additional distance means you’re seeing things you couldn’t when you were nose deep in the writing (oh boy, did I!). I discovered my overuse of the word “now”, which is an odd writing choice when the verbs of the book are all past tense. If you’re not a grammar nerd, it’s the difference between “We walked now” and “We are walking now”.

After Control-F’ing the word (trying saying that in mixed company), I found far too many instances. I was using it as an unnecessary adverb, a way to transition into a new sentence, or as an awkward conjunction. Here’s a list of all the ways I used it. Continue reading

Asking Your Customers Questions

This quick post is approximately 350 words, and I typed it with one hand whilst eating a tasty quesadilla.

Fridays are quesadilla days at the Eagan Thomson Reuters office. I dig ‘em. On Friday, the chef was out of green onions, which was fine. As he was serving up my food a few minutes later, he asked me a question. Would I be interested in sautéed onions or mixed peppers as an alternative ingredient? Some days when he’s out of onions, he’s thinking about other ways to serve his customers. I believe my response was a dignified, “Oooh! Onions!”

20181221_123957.jpg

These two crumbs are all that remain. I even ate the to-go box.

He graciously thanked me for my feedback and we both went about our workdays. With that simple question, he found a way to solve a problem, while also improving the service he could provide to customers. For me, I like that he cared enough to ask my opinion, but I also get the satisfaction of influencing the deliciousness of a future meal.

Writers should have a similar mindset. True, much of what we do is for ourselves, and we have the right to be as selfish as we want in our stories. However, we also need to keep a portion of our brains on our readers. Our customers. That is, unless you don’t intend to have anyone read your story, which sounds like zero funs.

Readers have myriad desires when it comes to reading a book. They want to enjoy it. They want new experiences. They want to be surprised, but they also like to figure things out before your protagonist. Perhaps they want their spirits lifted after a long day or feel the melancholy tugs of nostalgia.

You don’t need a person to read an entire chapter or even a passage. It’s terrifying: I know (here and here). But it’s not very scary to ask a friend or family member, “Hey, what do you think if I did ____________ in my story?”

I believe you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by the experience. So will your trusted person.

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, December 2018