Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

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“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

– William James

We all have difficulty with change. Perhaps it’s human nature, the desire to leave unchanged the fruit of our work into which we put so much of ourselves.

We are all hopeful our written words will stand the test of time, bringing the story we want to tell directly to our readers unedited, pristine, and pure as it formed on our mind’s eye when we conceptualized the story we choose to tell.

Therefore, many writers, and most often beginning authors, find themselves reluctant to edit their own work.

Me, not so much. I benefit a lot from the editing portion of the program, and yet, I, too, despise change. I don’t, however, see editing as change. I see it as improvement.

If you do home improvement, try this analogy: it’s the finishing coat of varnish on a perfectly handcrafted piece of custom furniture. It’s not anything that really changes your work, it simply makes it better. Like the exotic mustard on a special sandwich, or the whipped cream on the home-made pie.

Is it always needed? Not always, but it should always be considered. Not for the changes that lie in the editing itself, but for the improvement of the story that makes it better than the original draft.

Therefore, learning self-editing is so important. When we don’t believe we can trust others to change our work, we need to understand how to take the task upon ourselves. More difficult? Yes, but infinitely better than the perceived butchery of other less skilled hands.

But an editor trained and certified can be a godsend for the inexperienced writer. For the experienced writer, an exceptional editor is a “must have”. Unedited work languishes on the shelf and the no-man’s-land of forgotten books is where the stories we cherish, nourish and coax into life go to die an ignominious death.

Early on, we as aspiring writers need to learn that not all criticism is adverse. When we receive an evaluation of our work in progress by an overwhelmed critique partner, casual reader, or beta reader who works without specific direction, the results can be disastrous.

Critique partners are a valuable asset, as any writer can attest. Too often, especially in the beginning of serious writing, it takes time and perseverance to find the partner who recognizes your shortcomings which need weeding out of your writing habits.

The best fit is a critique partner who not only points out the shortcomings in your writing, but who can suggest some methods to change the pattern of your writing. Often, beginning writers cannot give full reign to their imagination. This results in difficulty finding your authentic voice.

Others spend too much time and energy on needless details. Often, as writers starting out, we are often blessed with experienced writers who will help, but sometimes we are afraid to ask when we get brushed off by a famous or successful author. It took me six months to gather the courage to ask, “what does RUE mean?” I should have told myself much sooner, it’s okay to ask a question, especially at the beginning. *RUE shorthand for resist the urge to explain. This advice is invaluable to writers who need to avoid author intrusion into the storytelling.

When we offer too much irrelevant detail or cannot supply the imagery that takes a reader inside the story, or worse yet, rely too heavily on clichés, we are not offering the escape a dedicated reader looks for in the book.

Lack of technical skill, which results in poor grammar, is disturbing for many readers. As a writer, if you don’t respect grammar rules, how can you promote yourself as a writer? This also pulls your reader out of the story, encouraging them to put down your book and look for an escape in someone else’s novel.

Note here the story of J.R.R.Tolkien, who admonished his editor who told the author he misspelled “dwarves”. When an English noun ends with a single “f” in the singular, the “f” changes to “v” in the plural, as in: (“‘Dwarves’ or ‘dwarfs’ – which spelling is correct?”)

Calf–calves; half–halves; wife–wives

There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule, e.g.,

Roof–roofs; chief–chiefs; oaf–oafs

I passionately believe a writer cannot be objective when editing their own work, and therefore I choose others to do this for me. On the first pass, a trusted critique partner to point out flagrant flaws. On the seconds pass, I use a checklist of simple things we rarely see in our own work on the original draft. Then I let it sit while I work on something else, fermenting, if you will, like fine wine. (Oh, the delusions of grandeur!) But like all writers who aspire to true success, I hire an editor. Sometimes expensive, always valuable, forever necessary.

For those who believe they cannot afford editing as an outsource, there are many programs to aid the writing, such as Fictionary.co. For the last pass, if you’re not absolutely, positively capable of lethal criticism, I recommend paid editing. Both developmental and copy editing are necessary if you want to be perceived as a serious author. Nothing like hearing the unvarnished truth from an industry professional.  Make sure it’s someone you trust and respect. You’ll need to value the opinion you’re paying for, and then maybe you’ll learn to edit yourself in a clear and objective fashion.

When you are self-editing and can carry out these basics, you can often reduce the cost of professional edits. But you should accept at the outset you cannot live without your editor.

Imagine standing in the forest and being unable to find any trees. Ridiculous? I think not. Can you tell the difference between the spruce, the oak, and the elm? I’ll bet you can’t. There are layers to our knowledge of language, storytelling, and the craft of writing. Learning the craft is an ongoing process and accepting you will always need the independent and objective eye of a trained editor is necessary for your success.

Decisions for Seniors

It’s been a while since I wrote here, and a number of life events got in the way. Not the least of which was the Covid pandemic, attempts to control the spread of disease, and social distancing.

Here in Northern Alabama life is just as interesting. After we retired from full time RVing, my DH and I recognized the need to make some decisions which would affect our senior situation. These are the type of things a lot of people don’t like to talk about, although it’s often necessary.

The number one issue, being a big ticket item, is funeral planning. This is often a major investment, and consequently this type of event requires advance planning; mostly because once your dead your fate is out of your hands. Literally.

Since my DH and I spent our early retirement volunteering and working to make the earth a much better place. A grand adventure, well planned, well lived and a story for another time.

Now, let me say, long before the pandemic hit, my DH developed some unique health problems. Having spent 42 years in healthcare, I suggested there was something to be learned from the development of his health issues. Since we often stepped up to assist others, we decided to donate our bodies for research or teaching purposes when we died.

Over the holidays our grown children visited. They were hesitant to bring up the subject of dying, but they did ask if we were open to preplanned final arrangements. My husbands parents had passed when the children were younger, but my mother lived well into her eighties and she preplanned her own funeral. Always a good idea, especially with multiple siblings. Preplanning removes a lot of stress and all the arguing you hear about at times like these.

I, for one was excited. Seemed like the perfect segue to sharing our plans to donate for medical research.

Not so much.

“This is perfect,” I told them. “your Dad and I have decided to donate our bodies for medical research.”

“Medical research?” he said looking slightly befuddled. “And then what happens?”

Confused, I asked,”I’m not sure what you mean?”

“Well, what about a funeral? What happens to your body? How do we bury you?”

I took a deep breath. “Well, when the Medcure people are done with the body, they cremate it, and send the remains to you if you want them. If you don’t want our ashes, they’ll spread the ashes at sea.”

“No funeral? No funeral at all? What about a service, a viewing, a wake?”

I took a deep breath. Over the years we’d discussed the uselessness of expensive and elaborate funerals. I’d always felt that the prohibitive cost was a waste of money, and self indulgent on the part of some. The expense often fell to family members who didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars to prove they loved you. I knew how my family felt, and they certainly knew me.

Or at least, I thought they did.

“What about a grand Irish Wake? You always told us the best stories about Irish wakes.”

“Medcure will send you our ashes if you want them. But I have to be honest. I can’t believe you think I should pay for a party I have absolutely no chance of showing up for. Just sayin.”

“Have a discreet memorial service. Tell stories about the good times I enjoyed with you and the not so good times.One you get everyone laughing. I may just show up, body or no.” And then I winked at him.

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How old is too old to start?

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

― Samuel Ullman

Is it too late to start writing that novel you always dreamed about? I don’t think so. In fact I know it’s never too late, unless you’re dead. Once that happens there isn’t much to be done. Unless you believe in reincarnation, or you plan on becoming a Zombie or a Vampire. Who knows, maybe you do plan on one of those two things happening to you.  If not, you may be wasting your time.

I truly don’t think Dracula will be around to revive you once you have infinite amounts of time on your hands.  Really, even if you have all of eternity at your disposal, you will most likely find a way to squander the time, just like you did in real life.

For most of us, aspiring writers that is, we tend to fixate on all the wrong things, thus delaying our inevitable success.

No Fear?

Know Fear!

That’s the aspiring authors beginning motto. We become so entrenched in the things we don’t know, (shameful at your age) that we fail to realize what we do know. What is that, you’re asking? Life!

There are stages to life beyond growth and development, the same way mourning has stages to get us to our end result.

In your 2o’s: Too busy having fun and thinking I already know everything I will ever need to know, plus enjoying the delusion of immortality.

In your 30’s: Very busy convincing yourself you have barely scratched the surface of life and have nothing to gain by introspection.

In your 40’s: 1st OMG moment. I have a family, and husband, children and other extended family members and they all want something from me. What was I thinking?????

In your 50’s: I will be able to retire in a mere 10+ years and then my time will be my own. I can travel, sleep, eat, enjoy fine wine, and I will not have to answer to anyone.

In your 60’s: 2nd OMG moment. This is all falling apart! I didn’t realize the government wants me to work until I’m decrepit at 67+ years old. I didn’t start saving for my retirement when I was young and had money. I will now be too old to do anything I want to do and will probably become a Greeter at Walmart for the paycheck.

In your 70’s: If I had written a single page a day for a single year I would have finished a book by now.

Life lesson?Image result for clip art halloween

Yes! It is never too late to start (unless you’re already dead).

Some Free Advice

“There are no monsters under the bed…

I’ve been having some difficulty with critiquing. Please don’t misunderstand. All writers—whether aspiring or accomplished need critique partners.

It is not easy to find what works for you and to identify what will work for others as well. Over the years I’ve been involved in multiple groups, where the support and assistance are invaluable. The people who are willing to tell you what’s wrong, and help you figure out how to fix it, are like a cool spring in the middle of the desert.

Sometimes, even constructive criticism is hard to hear.

The inability to perceive the construct in the criticism is typically due to our unwillingness to listen. So, here are a few tips that may help if you’re having difficulty getting to the heart of making the writing you’re working on saleable.

When you receive a critique don’t plunder into the material without thought. The person who provides the critique has spent their time, normally their writing time, to help you with your work. Typically to receive service in kind. So be thoughtful when you provide a critique as well.

Begin by setting aside time to review the work and do nothing else. Turn off the phone, shut down the internet, and focus on this task.

Be sure you’re open to new information. You may have planned exactly what happens next, or already written it down, plotted it out. Take this opportunity to be open to new ideas. Remember, writers are also readers. Be willing to let go of the old ideas and form some new ones. See if those are better.

Be in the moment. Think about the information offered. Do you need to ask questions? Is there something more to be accomplished with the give and take critiques require? Are you open to the discussion on improvements or clarifying points in the work?

Approach the critique with the positive intention. If you find the criticism confusing, or it seems odd, clarify. Make sure you and your critique partner are both speaking the same language.

Be persistent when working on your critique. Do not let your mind wander, or race ahead to parts plotted but not yet written. Push through and consider the advice you’re given. Sometimes it’s difficult for writers to see the tree in the forest. Occasionally others bring better ideas to the table.

Take the lead and thank the critique partner for their time. Be specific. “I appreciate your suggestions and am considering some minor rewrites.” Or “I need to set up the next event more clearly. Thanks for pointing that out.”

  Respect the time and energy the critique partner put into making the MS readable, and well-paced. Their writing may be meant to elicit emotions other than those you’ve targeted. But their input is always valuable.

When critiquing face to face, remember to look for body language clues that your partner feels underappreciated, or insulted by your “blow off” of their suggestions. Read the language you incorporate into your characters to avoid demeaning the work they did for you.

Remove ego from the communication. Be humble about the information you receive (and with the information you provide). You can pay attention to the details of the work if you do not equate ego with success.

Remember, stress or tension, such as that of first-time participants, can get in the way of effective communication. Stress affects the ability to listen. Again, read the body language if you’re given the opportunity.

Mirror the others communication skills. Being in sync with their style make it easier for them to listen and understand. Choose a similar rhythm to communicate effectively.

When you ask for help with a newly completed work, such as a beta read or a critique, the most important thing is to narrow your focus to what’s at hand.

Sometimes self-awareness means biting your tongue.

Happy Critiquing!

A little bit of advice about giving up…

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

― Thomas A. Edison

Have you ever considered giving up?  Good news, you are not alone.

I’m going to give you a few example of others who almost pitched in the towel and left the writing to others. .  . almost. Thank goodness they didn’t give up.

Most recent, during an interview with Writers Digest,author Joe Hill (The Heart Shaped Box, Horns, NOS4A2, and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts) talked about his journey toward publication.  He didn’t tell his agent who he was because he wanted his writing to stand on its own merit. In other words, he didn’t want anyone to publish his novel because he was Stephen King’s son.

The list is long and varied.  Mystery author Agatha Christie collected 500 rejections in four short years.

The quality of the message associated with rejection is also often disheartening and horrific.  Here’s a paraphrase of a rejection received by author Zane Grey, “you have no business being a writer and should give up”.

Sometimes the ability to choose the correct or enthusiastic publisher or agent eludes us, but the person who believes in our work as much as we do is out there.

The authors of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” were informed that anthologies don’t sell.  Can you believe that?  Thank goodness they didn’t.

C.S.Lewis collected 800 rejections for “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and  Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections for “Gone with the Wind”.

Author Paul Coelho sees a limited 800 copies of “The Alchemist” sell, but with a new publisher, the number climbs to 75 million in print.

Fourteen agencies reject Stephanie Meyers “Twilight” which went on to spend 91 weeks on the NYT.

L. Frank Baum, told his works was “too radical a departure from juvenile literature”, finally sells “The Wonderful Wizard of  OZ”.

Louisa May Alcott was told by a publisher, “you should stick to teaching” which, thankfully she did not, and is still in print 140 years later.

Even the esteemed Beatrix Potter, the beloved author of “Tales of Peter Rabbit” was rejected so often she chose to self publish.  From its original 250 copies to 45 million.

The Christopher Little Literary Agency collects twelve rejections for author J.K.Rowlings’  “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone”, until the eight year old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor insists on being allowed to finish reading the manuscript.  This led the way for this series of books which now has more than  450 million books in print.

The message here is clear.  Rejection is a part of the writing life.  We all experience it in different ways, at different levels, and with or without rancor.  But persistence is the key to success.  The willingness and the ability to come back and try just one more time can be the difference between life an author, and life wishing you’d finished the last book.

So, how do you deal with rejection?

How much time do you allot for disappointment?

What do you do to get back on track?

What Works?

“Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.”

― John Quincy Adams

 

Different things work for different folks. That’s pretty much  a given. I always respect that what works for me, will not necessarily work for everyone else. This is especially true when it comes to the facing big life milestones.

Ask anyone. Ask the folks over at AARP. They’ve been directing us to disrupt aging for a long as I’ve been a member. That’s a very long time.

 I disrupt aging in my own special way. I have a plan.  If you know me, you know I have a plan, of course.

When I moved into the fifty bracket–and no one can convince me this is/was the new  forties, I chose to stop coloring the gray hair. Who knew that in ten short years gray hair would be hip. Certainly not me. I made the decision based on finances and personal time allotment.

I wore my hair short, and it grows fast; consequently I needed a haircut every four to five weeks. Not to bad, but at $37 a pop, a little pricey. Having short hair colored. A whole different ballgame. Highlights, low-lights–remember it’s an aging population and the goal is to look younger, right?

Nah. If I let my hair go natural I could take a cruise every year! Yea!

So, what’s the alternative?

I took down all the mirrors. 

I know you’re wonder…what the H*ll is she thinking?

I was thinking if I couldn’t see the progress age made, I would feel better and behave more like I felt, than how I looked.

The problem, I forgot how much I aged and did a lot of things I probably shouldn’t be doing.  Oh well. You live you learn. I still don’t miss the mirrors.

Next time:

More on how women of a certain age progress without losing their sanity or their sense of humor.

On June 15-17 My latest thriller, Return to Angels Cove, will be offered on Amazon at a reduced price. Check it out.

Writing with enthusiasm

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

― Helen Keller

Sometimes, just when we first set out to be writers, we grope around in the dark, we stumble and many of us fall.  Some fall completely off the path.  I believe that happens to aspiring writers who do not know you must write a million words before you find your true voice.

Some of us are fortunate and are born storytellers.  Some of us work very hard to learn the craft.  And many of the writers that I know, the ones who are wise, recognize the pursuit of learning craft in terms of writing fiction is a life long endeavor.

The most difficult task associated with writing is the endurance it takes to stay with it.

Simple and yet profound, the writer who is most successful is the one who endures.

You should write everyday.  It doesn’t need to be an epistle, it just needs to be writing.  A journal entry, a simple thought, a set block of time dedicated to a specific project, or a few moments of reminiscing.   These practices become habits.  Habits lead to routines, and the routine of writing is where you find your voice.

But, in order to achieve this success, you must practice. Sit down to write with the belief that you can achieve the goals you set. Approach the building of this routine with hope and confidence, and reap the reward of success.

When you advance your cause by carrying forward with faith and confidence, you do not achieve the success you seek. Your true voice lives within the self you share in your writing. So write to find it.  Surprise yourself.

What writers do

Writer’s write. This is what I’ve been told since the first day I declared my intention to tell the stories inside me.

It sounded so simple. You have a story, and you should tell it. Just sit down and write. Simple and straight forward. If only it were that easy. But it’s not. Whether you write for a living or simply to still the small voices inside you which compel you share the story you know, it is never easy.

The worst part, always, is knowing where to start. Most of us don’t know where the story begins with any more certainty than you do where every story begins. That being said, let me assure you every story is unique. There is no right or wrong answer about where to start.

Regardless of the advice you read, and the opinions are numerous, where the story begins is a matter of choice and style. You will learn how to choose what works for you as a writer, and style develops over time. I’ve heard it said you need to write a million words before you find your voice.

No matter what type of fiction you choose, writing a salable compelling novel is difficult. The fiction market is  highly competitive, and to succeed in the marketplace, even if you choose self publishing, you will need to know the fundamentals of good writing.

What you need to demonstrate is a good hook to engage your reader and compelling plot points to keep them engaged in the story. Then you will need to write sharp and tight to keep your story appealing to the audience.

Developing the opening hook is as simple as writing a sentence and as difficult as summing up the entire premise of the story in a few short words. Great opening lines create a question in the readers mind that needs to be answered. That need is what keeps them reading. The need to find out how the characters arrived at this moment and what happened to them. But more importantly what will happen next?

Hooks are also used to close scenes and chapters. These scene and chapter endings being the opportunities for a reader to take a break and put your book down. If you don’t want that to happen, then ensure that you’ve posed and important question as to what happens next?

Don’t worry about spending too much time on that opening, because for the most part, other than writing, most writers re-write. And it is not only likely, but highly probable, that re-writing is in your future.  If you don’t master the opening on the first pass (And I bet you won’t) you will have plenty of opportunities to re-write then opening into a fine tuned and lethal hook. Because the thing most writers spend their time on is re-writing and editing.

On Writing

“My words sound better coming from my hands than from my mouth.”

Unknown

I cannot tell you a story. Well, I could, but the significant question is can I keep your attention? Maybe, maybe not.

When you’re a writer you learn how to write a hook, and that you should use a hook at your chapter ending. It’s part of the structure you need to put together to keep your reader engaged. Sometimes writing to the structure goes beyond your writing voice.

Once you’ve written about a million words, you start to see and hear your unique writing voice. It’ s something you worked to achieve and you do not want to do anything to jeopardize it. Authors struggle against the editor who tries to edit it out of the story. But how exactly do you allow editing without jeopardizing your voice?

Truth be told, it’s damn difficult.

Most of us find the zone when we sit down to write. If you need to warm up, and I often do, you slip right into the zone somewhere around the second or third page. It’s different for each of us. But once found, the zone is the heaven where all good stories reside. They wait for us to trip into the garden of paradise and enjoy the moment. Because, that’s what it seems like, a moment in time.

When we read–and most authors are avid readers–we become lost in the story. At least that is the goal of every author for each reader to find his own way, at his own pace, with a separate interpretation. What a story means to one of us will not resonate with every reader. Like small hidden gems, the “moments of universal truth” shine through in varied places for each reader.

Each chapter should be formed to build on the story that comes before it. Not in an episodic manner, but rather as a new layer of character, influence of backstory, or personal insight as to why our characters become who they are meant to be by the story’s end.

So many of the “writing rules” are really guidelines meant to improve our writing. But even viewed as guidelines, they confuse the beginning writer. It’s as if you’re juggling, with too many balls in the air.

Show don’t tell.

Anchor the reader and your characters in time and place.

Don’t give too much backstory too soon.

Begin with a hook.

End with a hook.

The best advice for new writers? Write the damn book. You will quickly learn, good books are not written but rewritten

Traveling, Friendship, and Touring America…before it’s too late

It’s been an interesting summer. Fun times catching up with old friends and revisiting favorite places. My DH (darling husband) an I now travel full time in our 5th wheel and are striking off the places we need to see on our bucket list, before–I hesitate to say it, but before someone kicks the proverbial bucket.

So today, in the RV park of iffy wifi, and bad weather I’m resurrecting an old post about friendships and their true values. I’ll keep you posted as I catch up with friends around the country and see the sites.

Women and Friendship

Date: July 22, 2013

Author: Ane

“And life is what we make it. Always has been. Always will be.”

– Grandma Moses

Here’s a thing I know from my heart: value the women who are your friends for they are worth their weight in gold.

Ane Ryan Walker

I do value my women friends. I am still in touch with the girls I grew up with, my best friend from first grade who was still my best friend at high school graduation, and with whom I am still friends today. Ditto for my best friend from college.

I just returned from a long weekend at the beach. It’s an annual event, a three-day weekend cherished by all of us, spent at the beach house of a mutual friend.

Now these ladies and I have been friends for a very long time, sometimes old friends and sometimes new friends. Some 20+ years, and one who just joined us for the very first time. There isn’t a lot of exclusivity to the ”Girls Club” just a few simple rules.

1) Cardinal Rule: Girls Only, no children, no spouses, no boyfriends, no pets. We’ve only violated this rule once, for a two-year old male toddler whose Mom really needed a “girls weekend”.

2) If you get up, you lose your chair, and if you leave the room, we will talk about you. This requires no explanation.

3) No makeup, no bras necessary. (As we age, we make this bra thingy optional. Some of us really need the support.)

4) What happens at the Fish Bowl, stays at the Fish Bowl. We are a little upset that the marketing people stole this for Las Vegas, but we’re not gonna’ press it.

5) No criticism of others situations or behaviors. The truth of it is, everything else in your life may change, but the Girls Weekend is Sacred. We tease, cajole, and tell stories and secrets of our own and others bad behavior over the years, but since those stories never leave the Fish Bowl, the purpose here is to bond with the new, entertain the old, and to put in perspective who we are in this moment. It’s all about how we went from lean, lanky, single, hot girls to the sometimes Grandma’s of today. We know you, and we know your history. This is the place where you come to be your absolute true self. And they keep showing up.

So another year has passed, I took a poll, and if you weren’t in the room, too bad.

No names, the innocent are protected, always.

These are the women I’d trust with my life, share my “bucket list” with, and give my last dime. They are consistent, caring and crazy. They are a reflection of who I really am and I am proud to know them all.

I love you guys!

Thank You Kelli, for the recent visit to Guadalupe River State Park, as always it was great to see you.

It breaks my heart that I will miss Girls Weekend, but I will catch up with Y’all as I can while traveling.

 

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