A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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Writer's Digest: 2013 Best Writing Websites (2013)

  • Last week I talked to a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile who’s writing a memoir. She told me she was having a lot of trouble with it—she can’t make herself write about a particular incident she seriously needs to write about.

    She asked me if I had any advice: does she need a class? a group? a coach?

    Now, I do this kind of work with writers all the time, helping them write what they need to write when they need to write it, so, yeah, I had some advice for her. And I’ll give it to you too, in case you’re ever up against a similar block.

    Groups and classes can help if all you need is a little peer pressure to get yourself in gear, but they can make it worse if you’re really struggling with an emotional block and find yourself embarrassed to be unable to break through, especially in front of others. So before you invest in anything try these two tricks:

    1. Permission

      Give yourself permission to pause and write about this issue whenever it strikes you, even if it’s only a couple of lines between work projects that you can go back to and develop later.

    2. Details

      Whenever you do have a chunk of time in which you’d like to write, focus first on recording some concrete, neutral, unrelated details—what you had for lunch, the view from where you’re sitting, some conversation you had recently—to kind of grease the writing wheels so the words will come out of you more easily.

    Frequently it’s the effort to make two transitions at once (the transition into writing mode plus the transition into a safe emotional space) that can cause this kind of writer’s block, and it helps to take them one at a time.

    Remember: you’re writing what you write not to bind yourself ever-more tightly in your painful emotional paralysis, but to free yourself so you can live this one life you get as fully as humanly possible.

    NEXT WEEK: 3 Tricks for Ratcheting Tension in One Day

    THE WEEK AFTER: 4 Tricks for Improving Your Fiction in One Day

    FINALLY: 1 Secret Trick to Becoming a Genius Writer in One Day





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • LisaParty-hats and whistles for everyone!

    Our own Lisa Mercado-Fernandez has just self-published her debut novel, The Shoebox, through Abbott Press.

    The Shoebox has been a labor of love for Lisa for years. She was one of my first editing clients and has remained one of my most dedicated. All through the process of first Developmental Editing and then Copy & Line Editing her debut novel, Lisa remained focused, endlessly creative, and utterly committed to bringing her vision to life.

    She saw a young man, a young woman, and a long, sandy beach in the sunlight.

    That vision is now a reality.

    So please, folks, if you love a wonderful, poignant love story beautifully told, hie on over to Amazon and buy Lisa’s novel. Then please write her a review. Amazon uses reviews (and stars) in their recommendation algorithm to generate further sales. The more positive reviews she has, the more sales she’ll be able to make.

    Abbott Press is the new self-publishing arm of Writer’s Digest, and I really like the job they did on Lisa’s book cover and interior design. She says she enjoyed working with them very much.

    So—congratulations, Lisa!

    May your Peter and Maddy live and love forever on that eternal sunny beach on Cape Cod.

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  • We’re talking about the pros and cons of the three aspects of scenes: description, action, dialog.

    Now, as we all know, dialog is the mainstay of modern fiction. Raised in a world of television, radio, and telephones, we as an industrialized race are familiar with nothing if not the power of talk.

    Dialog is important because:

    1. Fiction is talking, and dialog is talking from the core of character

      It’s words, all words. Words in your mind, words on the page, words in your characters’ mouths. That’s what fiction is. That’s what sets it apart from the other arts.

      When you take that one step further—move from your own words to your characters’—you pull your reader that one step further into your imaginary world.

      And writing is all about pulling your reader as far as humanly possible out of their world into yours.

    2. We are social animals, and we socialize through speech

      More than anything, your reader is human, and human beings need connection. When we speak to each other, we’re making connections to each other. When our characters speak to each other, they’re making connections to each other and to your reader.

      Be aware of this at all times: your reader is in the room with your characters, listening to them talk and getting to know them through their conversation. That’s your magic pill! Take full advantage of it.

    3. Readers love eavesdropping

      Even better than hearing what they’re supposed to hear, readers love hearing what they’re not supposed to hear. She said that? He blurted out this? They confessed what?

      The thrill of eavesdropping through fiction—rather than real life—is that no character ever says, “Our reader’s such an idiot.” And this sometimes does happen to eavesdroppers in real life.

      It’s a win-win situation!

    Dialog is not important because:

    1. We say a lot more than anyone cares to hear

      Even the most stoic non-conversationalist says more than they need to. Nobody gets the chance to go back and edit their own dialog. That means all that extra crap is always there.

      Your job as a writer is to edit out the extra crap.

    2. A great deal of real conversation is boring beyond boring

      By far, the majority of what we say in real life is shorthand allowing us to cooperate on the things we want to do.

      “Is it?” “No.” “Yes.” “Oh, yeah?” “Um, well.” “I guess.” “Then what?” “I, uh. . .” “Huh-uh.” “Uh-oh.” “Call me?” “See you later.” “I will.”

      Do not inflict this on your reader. They don’t even listen to it when people they like say it.

    3. Talk is cheap

      What readers want is a story with legs.

      Use dialog to introduce your reader to your characters, to reveal the hidden dramas inside that complicate the characters’ worlds all out of proportion, to move your plot always, inevitably forward toward the catastrophe that is the point of using all these words and characters to illuminate something about life that your reader needs to know. . .

      . . .but don’t get bogged down in the chatter.

      Go wherever the excitement is.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • You know how everyone’s always telling you “Show, Don’t Tell”? Well, that means “Write Scenes, Not Exposition.” So we’re spending three weeks covering the three aspects of scenes: description, action, dialog. Last week we did description. Next week we’ll do dialog. And this week we’re doing action.

    Action is important because:

    1. Fiction is about movement

      This is the fundamental purpose of fiction: to get a protagonist from point A to point B with the greatest difficulty possible.

      Don’t make it easy on them, whatever else you do. The excitement lies in the complications, the many and varied ways in which you can pull the rug out from under your characters and force them, time and again, to scramble to their feet with every ounce of strength and wit they’ve got.

      And the very best way to pull the rug out from under them is to give them needs and internal conflicts that make them pull it out from under themselves.

      It may be possible to write an entire novel without action, but I’ve never seen it work. Even Virginia Woolf’s alarmingly passive classic To the Lighthouse is about—what else could it be?—a trip to a lighthouse. It’s not a long trip, and it gets canceled at least once. But, yeah. She did eventually have to send them there.

      And a novel packed with action is not only thrilling but gets from point A to point B. Making that journey the gist of the novel is the very stuff of great storytelling.

    2. Readers are fascinated by characters in motion

      You know how interesting people are when they never move? Uh-huh. Just about that interesting. How much time can you burn up watching your co-workers stare at their computer screens in their lonely little boring cubes?

      You just fell out of your chair, didn’t you?

      Now ask yourself why mysteries, paranormal, thrillers, romance, urban fantasy/sci-fi (contemporary Westerns) are such long-time staples of best-selling fiction. Because the characters never sit still.

      In mysteries they’re always rushing around tracking down the activities of the other characters—except Rex Stout’s canonical Nero Wolfe, who spends most of his time tending his orchids and drinking beer while his sidekick Archie does the rushing around (there’s a really good reason those stories are told from Archie’s point-of-view rather than Wolfe’s).

      In paranormal not only do the characters move, they move in really weird ways.

      In thrillers they move at top-speed in terror for their lives (and thriller is the number one best-selling genre after romance).

      In romance, of course, the ways they move tend to do things to the readers’ gonads.

      And although Westerns have faded—to be replaced by urban fantasy/sci-fi, the new Wild West—it’s all about action. Westerns were riveting to generations of men who’d been raised to be intensely active boys and then wound up working rather less-active jobs in their adult lives. Urban fantasy/sci-fi readers can’t get enough of an industrial landscape much like the cities and even modern rural environments where children these days learn what adult activity is all about. . .sadly enough for those who grow up to while-away their days among endless five-foot carpeted walls.

    3. Action creates that essential Visceral Response

      Of course, the whole purpose behind the purpose of fiction is Visceral Response.

      Readers read for experiences. They want to suffer your characters’ traumas and learn through that suffering how to survive. They want to learn how it feels to survive.

      That means in their bodies. In their guts. In their hearts.

      Have you ever read an action scene that made the hair stand thrillingly up on your head? That Visceral Response is the Whole Point of action scenes.

      And if you can create that in your reader, you have earned the right to call yourself a writer.

    However, action is not important because:

    1. Action is easy to screw up

      And. . .that’s why not everyone who wants to become a best-selling thriller author does. Because action must be meticulously choreographed, tightly worded, designed and polished exactly right for maximum impact.

      Aspiring writers screw up high-tension action scenes all the time, writing them long, writing them disorganized, writing them without even realizing they need to shape them perfectly, which means cutting every single word possible.

      It is far easier to learn to shape scenes around simpler internal conflict—a conversation in which the characters misunderstand each other, or an exchange of information, or a moment of regaining balance—than around external conflict or action that requires perfect timing.

      I spend a lot of my time teaching clients how to shape action scenes exactly right. It’s not easy. But it is essential if you want to use them.

    2. Action is not plot

      You can write all the action scenes you like, and if they don’t move your plot forward they’re just churning mud. An endless number of perfectly-shaped fight scenes will eventually lose all but the most die-hard fight fans. And even those guys are probably already watching cable.

      Every word you put into a story must be essential to getting the protagonist from point A to point B. If an action scene doesn’t do that. . .throw it out.

    3. Action without meaning is just a windmill

      Because, in the final analysis, we don’t read simply to learn how to act. We read to move alongside characters through their worlds toward and through their worst nightmares. It is the movement through the nightmare that has meaning. Everything else is set-up for that.

      That meaningful action teaches your reader how to live.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, INDEPENDENT FREELANCE EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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  • This topic came from @__Deb, and it’s such a good idea I’m going to extrapolate from it for two more weeks, covering all three aspects of scene: description, action, dialog.

    “Show, Don’t Tell.” Write scenes, not exposition.

    Description is important because:

    1. Details create the life on the page

      If there is one key to the difference between amateur and professional writing, this is it.

      Do you know why agents toss certain manuscripts aside without even pausing to roll their eyes? Not because they’re imps of Satan. But because they can often tell from a single page whether or not the writer has any experience at all with what they’re describing. And that authenticity is essential.

      Do you know why Grisham sells? Not because he’s Dickens. But because he fills his novels with the telling details of his characters’ worlds. Those details make his shenanigans ring true—as though he’s chronicling the real adventures of real people.

      Readers want that. Even when they’re freaking terrifying adventures.

    2. Readers read for new experiences and new angles on old experiences

      We all know how to live our own lives. I don’t need some faceless writer out there to tell me what it’s like to be me (although if they could tell me where my toothbrush has gone, that would be fab).

      A great deal of incredibly poor storytelling gets bought and gobbled up every single day solely for the sake of the experiences described. Best sellers routinely set their stories in celebrity fat farms, tourist destinations (the Louvre!), cruise ships (the Titanic!), pretty much anywhere in New York City. Readers want to believe they are also celebrities, tourists, on a world cruise. (And some of the powers of the publishing world, apparently, want to believe that everyone wants to live with them.)

      Give your reader an experience they couldn’t get without you.

    3. Writing is about using your senses to recreate the world

      Flannery O’Connor taught me this in her canonical work on writing, Mystery and Manners, decades ago, and it was an epiphany I’ve never gotten over. Five senses. All the words in your language. Put them together: a believable fictional world.

    However, description is not important because:

    1. Setting is static, and character is dynamic

      The reason stories aren’t entirely description is that readers don’t read only for the visual (or audio or olfactory or tactile). They can get that from a painting—and in less than a thousand words, too.

      Readers read for character. They want to know how that charismatic rascal is going to pull yet another Houdini to extricate themself from whatever dreadful predicament they’ve gotten themself into. They want it to feel real, sure. But they really want it to move.

    2. Readers want room to project themselves into your scenes

      You’ll hear teachers, editors, and other mentors pussyfooting around this one—”Use enough detail, but not too much.”

      How much is too much?

      “You’ll just know.”

      No, you won’t.

      Too much is more than the absolutely bare-bones essential bits it takes to sketch this one scene with only those details the characters need in order to get through their story to the epiphany at the end. O’Connor used the general rule three telling strokes to sketch a character or scene.

      If your scene has towering philodendrons and leafy maidenhair and fat succulents and towering ficas and leafy swordfern and fat nasturtiums and towering bamboo and leafy begonias and fat little lemon trees, and the characters need a sturdy flower, a lacey screen, and a long stick. . .pick what you need and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.

    3. Writing is about going beyond the senses into the very meaning of life

      Which means even Emil Zola had a heck of a time creating great fiction out of purely Naturalistic description. He (and Dashiell Hammett, too) needed both action and dialog to flesh it out.

    Fortunately, you actually can get beyond the five senses through just the nuts & bolts of detail. That’s part of the magic of fiction. In fact, if you’ve crafted your story properly they can be pretty simple nuts & bolts.

    One of my favorite endings ever is Raymond Chandler’s beautiful, “It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way—but not as far as Velma had gone.”

    Even if he’d left off the exposition about Velma he’d have said what he needed to say, putting the reader into that simple final experience after the long, rich, complex experience of his novel—letting them understand for themself the Whole Point.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • Happy New Year 2014! We’re going to start off the year with my all-time most-often-viewed post: 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days.

    Now, I’m not entirely certain why this particular post has garnered as much interest as it has.

    Maybe it’s because we love to idea of becoming substantially better at our craft so quickly and efficiently.

    Or maybe it’s because 10 is a nice, round number that we can keep track of by counting on our fingers.

    Or maybe it’s because I brought up trolls first and foremost, back in a day when the blogosphere was a younger place and we were all still wondering what to do about people with nothing to contribute to the conversation but their bad manners. (Now we know: boot them mercilessly out—no one would tolerate guests at a party whose sole goal was attracting attention through dimwitted rudeness.)

    But, however you slice it, this one post has been read by more writers more often than any other post on my blog.

    So it’s worth a re-visit: 10 Things to Do to Become a Better Writer in 10 Days.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    Subscribe:

    No Comments
  • Whew!

    We’ve all been through a long year.

    So I’ve dedicated this month this year to the ephemeral, personal concerns: finding joy and fulfillment through writing, finding gratitude through writing, finding community through writing.

    And now we come to the Big Tamale of them all—the reason we’re all here on this planet in the first place—meaning.

    The meaning of our lives.

    We writers find it through this art and craft we love.

    We really do.

    Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Breaking into Freelance Independent Editing

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  • We’re talking about the joy and fullfillment of writing. We’re talking about how to find gratitude through writing.

    And today we’re going to talk about how we find community through writing.

    It’s not only about the words.

    It’s not only about the readers.

    It’s about all of us. . .being writers together.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Creating Multiple Plotlines

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  • Joy and fullfillment. Yes.

    Are you grateful for your life? I am.

    Are you grateful for just being alive? I am.

    How does writing help me find that gratitude?

    I’ll tell you a secret: it’s whole the reason I do it.

    Gratitude.

    Because we only get this one mortal coil. And we writers know how much that matters.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN:Notifying Editors of the Previous Publication of Your Article

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  • And now that NaNoWriMo is over and the holidays are upon us, along with the ornaments and stockings and the book of Tigger’s Solstice Carols that my son and I made by hand when he was two—I’m bringing back my December series on deeper meaning.

    I know as well as you do how exhausted you are by this time of year. I’m exhausted too. All that writing, all that thinking about our characters and our stories and our language and our readers. All that working, all that struggling.

    All that living.

    Why do we do it?

    Joy and fulfillment, that’s why.





    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story


    A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Being a Reclusive Author in Today’s Publishing Industry

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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights. Read more. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ is a debut author writing literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I developed and line edited Mercado-Fernandez' The Shoebox, published through Abbott Press, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.