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Posted Sunday, June 19, 2011, at 10:59 PM

I've had a busy week, but several emails have come in to me lately with questions so I'm going to take some time here to answer a few of them.

Q: I keep hearing 'write what you know.' What if I haven't traveled or had a lot of experiences, but I want to write about them?

A: I've heard that expression for years, too, but I'd modify it to "write about what interests you." Stephenie Meyer has found huge success lately with her series about vampires, yet I'm quite sure she has no firsthand knowledge of vampires. The Internet is a wonderful thing, giving us the opportunity to do endless research and to become, in effect, experts in almost any subject. You want to write a John Grisham-like thriller about lawyers, but you're not a lawyer? Research the subject until you feel like an expert, and it will show in your writing.

Q: What does 'show don't tell' mean?

A: One of my favorite quotes about writing is "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass," by Anton Chekhov. That pretty much sums it up. Don't tell your readers that your character is heartbroken over her lost love. Show them her tears, her withdrawal from friends and family, the bad choices she makes in an attempt to cover her pain.

Q: I'm on my first chapter but can't seem to get past that point. I just keep rewriting it and rewriting it.

A: I always suggest powering through your first full draft, just to get it down on paper. If you try to get chapter one perfect you'll spend the rest of your life on it, because there's no such thing as perfection.

Q: I like to read fantasy and want to write it. But does fantasy really sell?

A: Don't write what you hope will sell. Write what you love to read, and what you truly want to write. Writing is hard enough work as it is. But hard work or not, it should still be fun. If all you're thinking about is if, somewhere down the road, it will "sell," you're ruining the experience for yourself.

Q: I don't have time to write every day. Sometimes it's a week or more before I can get back to my book, then I have to reread almost all of it to refresh my memory on it.

A: I know how hard it is to write every day, but a week or more is too long between writing sessions. You'll lose the thread of your story in that time, and will spend most of your time trying to catch up. Set a writing goal for yourself and try to stick with it. If you know you can't write every day, then set your goal at four times a week (or whatever you think is doable), an hour each time. If you write best in the mornings, then commit to writing for an hour in the morning, four times a week. Just try to be consistent. Make writing a habit.

Q: My serious book has lighthearted undertones, but a friend who read it said she was confused by this. Should I stick to one or the other?

A: Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling is a good example of a book that's filled with humor, yet is also very serious. Larry McMurtry handles the combination of humor and heartbreak with Pulitzer Prize-winning (Lonesome Dove) skill. His novel Terms of Endearment is no doubt a tearjerker, yet it's also very funny. If your book is about a serious subject, you don't want it to be unrelentingly dark. The lighthearted parts are a good way to give your readers a breather from all that drama. And beware of sharing your work with friends and family before you're finished. You'll get too many conflicting opinions. If you start trying to please everyone, you'll end up pleasing no one.

"Writers seldom write the things they think. They simply write the things they think other folks think they think." Elbert Hubbard.

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I've joined an online community wehre I can post my writing for others to read and critique. It seems like a good idea, because it gives me some feedback from other writers. But I also wonder about putting my work out there where everyone can see it. what if someone steals my stories?

-- Posted by farmergirl.sp on Thu, Jun 23, 2011, at 5:37 AM

You have a valid concern. I'd suggest posting only a paragraph of your story or, at most, a half a page, for critique. The Internet can be a wonderful tool, but if you post an entire story online you're basically giving it to the world. Anyone could lift it, make a few changes and put their name on it. You might be able to prove that your version was posted first, but even proving it probably wouldn't bring you much satisfaction and no damages because you did, after all, put it on the Internet.

-- Posted by JTennant on Thu, Jun 23, 2011, at 2:07 PM

I joined an online writing group and my concerns mirror the idea posted 6/23/11 (above) about someone 'stealing' my writings.

Is it difficult to copyright one's writings? How is it done?

-- Posted by Firstogo on Sun, Jul 17, 2011, at 7:00 PM

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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