Tag Archives: advice

Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy

ms frizzle quote

I have found my motto for when I teach college freshmen in the fall and it comes from one of my childhood inspirations, Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.

One of the points we’re supposed to stress to the freshman is that writing should be done in multiple drafts and not in one giant Red Bull-fueled writing binge the night before it’s due. Why? Why does it matter that they hand in drafts instead of one “complete” paper?

A) That writing binge paper is probably shitty. I mean, have you ever read something you wrote at 2 AM?

B) Freshman need to be broken of bad habits they are taught in high school, like papers that focus on form over originality of thought

C) Drafts are a place to experiment, to find what you really want to say, and work on their craft. If they were playing baseball instead of writing, would you tell them that learning to catch the night before a game was adequate?

What I want my students to understand is that drafts in my class will be place for them to experiment with their writing and evolve. Those drafts will only be graded on their completion, but they’ll still be able to get feedback that will help them. The funny thing is, I found myself stumbling into the same trap as my future students.

I was working on a tough scene in Dead Magic and found that I was staring at my Word doc instead of actually writing. I knew what I wanted to have happen in that scene, but I was scared to write it. Putting it into a Word doc seemed so permanent. What if it was bad? What if it needed major rewrites? Fixing it on my Word doc would be such a hassle.

In my head, I knew it was a draft. I know that this version of Dead Magic is going to be overhauled several times before it ever hits Amazon, yet I still found myself staring at my computer as if it could never be changed. Luckily, I’m a stationary addict and already had a notebook I had hoped to use while at work or school to jot down ideas. Putting the laptop aside, I scribbled out the scene over the course of about two hours. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t neat or even that detailed, but it was written.

Step one: Write your stuff in a low-stakes place. Just get it out and try to keep going without too many stops.

Step two: Type it up and edit as you go.

For me, step two is par for the course. I’m not just going to slap up my shitty draft into the Word doc I was so paranoid about ruining. As I type up the new material, I add the detail that was missing in my handwritten draft and clean up any oddities. The low-stakes writing gets you out of the rut and can easily be translated into high-stakes writing. One of the unexpected perks was that I ended up writing more by hand and the word count grew even higher when I added detail while transcribing it.

If you’re getting performance anxiety working on your draft, try a change switching your medium. Writing in a designated notebook instead of Word may help take the edge of your perfectionism and help you get past your “writer’s block.”

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5 Tips for Beating Writers Block

Sorry for not blogging sooner, but I have been under the weather for the past week.  Today’s post will be about the dreaded writers block.

Writers block can be one of the most crippling experiences for a writer, and after experiencing a bout of this recently myself, I thought I would post a few tips that may help to get through it.

  1. Ask, “Would your characters actually do this?”  Sometimes being stuck is caused by something as simple as trying to force a scene. Step back for a minute and think about how the scene can be reworked. Is your character doing something out of character? This can be the bane of a plotter’s existence because they have their outline and want to stick to it, but at times, a character can be whispering to you that they don’t want to or wouldn’t do what you are intending them to do.
  2. Free write.  Is another story knocking at your brain but you’re 2/3 into another one and don’t want to give up on it or throw yourself into a new project? Take a few minutes to let the scene out. Save the file in a separate folder of scraps or future projects and let it go. You can always revisit it when you’re finished with your current project, but for now, it’s out of your brain and on paper for later.
  3. Make an outline. Sometimes you need to see it on paper to get going. It’s often a case of where have I come from and where am I going? Draw out what you have thus far and then where you know you have to go. Typically, I use a blank sheet of printer paper and a brightly colored pen to stimulate ideas and remove constraints (no idea why it works but it seems to). Don’t put the future points too close together, leave space to fill-in with ideas. What do your characters need to do and how do we get them there?
  4. Look for visual inspiration. You have ideas, you know what you need to do, but the spark just isn’t there. Try going onto sites like Pinterest or Tumblr and looking for pictures that have to do with your story. If it’s set in the Victorian era, look up historical photos or vintage clothing. Is there a celebrity who looks like your characters? Look them up. Throughout the writing process, I create a Pinterest board of inspiration and look to it when I’m feeling stuck or meh about my writing.
  5. Read. One of the best pieces of writing advice I have ever gotten is to read. Reading will not only stimulate ideas, but it will be a refresher for craft. How does the author get to the climax? How are the characters built with depth and how do we find out about them? Read authors who inspire you and see how they did it. Learn from the masters, and let their words power yours.

Hopefully this helps you in your writing. The block is often caused by stress or fatigue and not laziness on the author’s part, but when you feel stuck, try some of the tips mentioned above and see if they help get you through. If nothing else, go for a walk and clear your head.


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7 Tips for Editing Your Manuscript

editing

I have a love-hate relationship with editing.

Being the type of person who is appalled and embarrassed to have others discover mistakes in my work, I use editing as a way to polish my work before I show it off to anyone.  I have one alpha reader who reads most of my work while it is in progress because she is the most familiar with my characters and can often judge if I have a scene or reaction makes sense, and of course she sees my work in its unedited glory.  She is also my best friend and a fellow writer, who isn’t afraid to say, “Uh, what were you thinking?”  No one else should see it that way.  To me, an unedited work is like being in your underwear.  You don’t necessarily want everyone to see you in that state. Continue reading

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Finishing Book Two and What I Learned Along the Way

wg manuscriptIt’s done.  The Winter Garden is done.

Well, the story is finished.  While I was stuck on the third to last chapter (yes, I had finished the epilogue and part of the pen-ultimate chapter before I started that one), I decided to edit the first twenty-seven chapters.  Now, the editing is done as well and The Winter Garden (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #2) is off to my beta readers! Until they get back to me with their feedback, I will be taking a little hiatus from Emmeline, Immanuel, and Adam.  Every time I finish a novel, it’s a bit depressing.  I’m done with the characters (for now), the plot is finished, the bad guys have been dealt with, and now, I need to step back.  In my next post, I will discuss editing in more detail, but for now, I would like to impart what I have learned after publishing my first book and finishing my second. Continue reading

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