Tag Archives: help

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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Book Review: Write. Publish. Repeat.

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Title: Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-publishing Success by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant with David Wright

Genre: Writing, non-fiction

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: Write. Publish. Repeat. is an indie author’s dream in terms of a straight-forward how-to book for marketing, building an audience, and creating a writing empire.


I love Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. This is the first of their books that I’ve read. I picked this one up on a recommendation from several other authors, and I am so glad I did.
Write. Publish. Repeat. is an extensive book, covering the self-publishing/publishing as an industry, how to look professional, what to do, what not to do, marketing, and probably every other topic under the sun that an indie author could want to know about.
The information is laid out in an easy to follow manner with each section of the book being devoted to a certain topic, and while the authors say there may be some back-tracking and double covering of topics, I didn’t notice. The tone is conversational and most importantly common-sensical. Platt and Truant pull from their own experiences as indie authors as well as those of their friends and fellow authors to illustrate how to an author can make it in the industry by achieving certain manageable goals. The book certainly isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme or a sensationalized how-to-make-millions-with-a-shitty-but-marketable-book book. Truant and Platt don’t play that way, and they remind the reader of that.
Write. Publish. Repeat. relies on an author understanding a few finer points: be adaptable, work hard, and be yourself without being an asshole because no body likes those.
People who should read this book: Indie authors of any range (new, moderately successful, successful, thinking of possibly maybe publishing) and traditionally published authors who need to learn how to market their book professionally or would like to know about more publishing options or would simply like to build their brand. I’m thinking especially of authors published by small presses.
People who shouldn’t read this book: people who want fame and fortune with one book, people who aren’t in it for the long haul, quitters, whiners, literati types, and people who can’t deal with occasional profanity.
Write. Publish. Repeat. is an indie author staple. The advice within in it is straight-forward, doable, and for the most part, painless. If you’re even thinking about going indie, read it.

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Book Review: Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels

raynehallshortstories

Title: Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novel by Rayne Hall

Genre: Writing, non-fiction

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: A good resource for how short stories can boost sales that comes with exercises for idea generation.


As with most of Rayne Hall’s works on Amazon, Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novel is meant to help authors who already know how to write and are just trying to hone their skills and learn some new techniques.

Writing Short Stories provides the reader with an exercise where they can generate ideas for short stories that can tie into their existing series or books. Following Hall’s method, the reader can figure out how to tie short stories into their existing works by creating works of a similar flavor using side characters. I don’t want to go too in depth because the book is short and the exercises in it are much more useful than my paraphrasing.

In the future, I’m hoping to apply this to my teaching (if I ever get to teach creative writing), and I’m planning on writing some short stories over the summer using Hall’s method. It’s simple, straight-forward and uses something similar to the pomodoro method, which I’m all for. Hall also provides ways to publish these short stories in a way than can benefit the author and give them the most exposure.

The only thing I didn’t like about Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels was that she included a lot of her short stories in the back of the book. It seemed more like free publicity than a way to help the reader. Also, Hall suggests the stories generated should be about 2,000 words long, but I don’t think word count is really an issue in the long-run.

If you’re interested in purchasing Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels, it’s on sale this week for 99 cents on Amazon.

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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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Don’t Be Cruel to Each Other

I can’t say it enough. Don’t be cruel to each other. It doesn’t matter who, whether they’re male, female, transgender, gay, straight, black, white.

Over the last few years, we’ve heard stories of young people killing themselves after being bullied. At first, it seemed to cause a sensation, but now, we let out a collective “Awe, what a shame” and go on with life. It shouldn’t be that way.

We should be asking ourselves why this is happening and try to stop it. We can try to instill in the next generation that no matter race or sexuality, we are all human and should be treated as such, but we need to start with ourselves.

It makes me sick to think that someone is sitting in their room or their car or their school bathroom crying at this moment because of something miserable someone said to them that isn’t even true.  You’re fat. You’re worthless. You’re stupid. You’re retarded. You’re too short. You’re too tall. You should kill yourself. No one should hear these things, and there is no need for anyone to ever say them.

Words are the most powerful force in the universe. They can raise and lower mountains, build worlds and crush spirits. We must choose our words carefully because their impact is irreparable. Can you think of something someone said to you that hurt you deeply? Was it years ago? Yet, you still remember it. You’ve felt the effect of it yourself, so now imagine someone saying that to you every day. How would you feel to have your self-worth stripped away constantly? It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells you you’re amazing or pretty or smart because you still remember that awful thing someone said to you, and that will always cling to your mind.

So how do we begin with ourselves?

Watch your words. Some of us have a quicker filter than others and can stop ourselves in time from saying something unkind, but the first step to strengthening that filter is a bit of foresight. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it, and does it need to be said? Not to make you feel better but to help the other person. Will it hurt them? Would it hurt if someone said it to you? It’s such a simple thing, to think of how we would be affected, but it’s shocking how often we don’t do it.

If you see someone else abusing another person verbally, step in and say something. Nip it in the bud. Don’t be abusive back, but stand-up for the other person. Tell them it isn’t right to treat someone that way and why. Try to defuse the situation and give the other person comfort and support. Ask them if they’re all right. What would make you feel better? The best outcome is that the bully/abuser will back off and hopefully think twice about doing it again, and the other person will remember that someone stood-up for them and not that their worth was stripped away once again.

You never know how powerful your words could be. You could destroy or save someone, but which would you choose? I should hope you would want to stand-up for someone because if you were in that situation, wouldn’t you want someone to help you? It’s such a small thing.

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The Editor’s Eye for the Writing Guy

Whenever I tell other writers that I have written and published a novel, they often ask me about the editing process.  For many, editing seems like a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task, but with the help of a beta reader or two, the process can become much easier.  I would like to share my process.  It is far from perfect, but it’s what I usually do and what has worked for me.

There are certain things that are needed before going into the editing process: a finished novel, an open mind, a critical eye, and the drive to get it done. 

  1. A finished novel is fairly self-explanatory.  I suggest it being finished only because I can sit and edit constantly and not move forward for months.  If you think of things you know need to be fixed, make a list and keep it somewhere safe where you won’t lose it (been there, lost several).
  2. Many writers see their novels are their children. No one wants to hear their children being criticized, but when it is in their best interest, you may want to listen to your beta readers and what they suggest.  You don’t need to always listen to what they say, sometimes it won’t work or it’s a personal preference, but be open about fixing things. Try not to get too attached to a certain phrase or metaphor.  In the editing process, as much as you love that line, you may need to cut it or tweak it.  I clung to an analogy comparing England to dingy mashed potatoes but realized the entire chapter needed to be reworked and obviously, the potatoes had to go.
  3. A critical eye goes hand-in-hand with an open-mind.  You need to be able to look at your own work and see the problems in it. Where are you lacking? Where is there too much? If you wrote the story over a long period of time, did you style change from beginning to end? There is no way that after a first or second draft your book is ready for publishing.  Look harder for mistakes and issues that need tinkering with.  One cannot always rely on their beta readers to find every issue, so being self-critical will definitely help when perfecting it before it heads into your readers’ hands.  As a reader, what would make you annoyed or want to change?
  4. Seeing a stack of two hundred and fifty pages laying on your table can be incredibly daunting.  How will you get through all of it with all your other life commitments?  My suggestion is to set a manageable goal for yourself each day or each week.  You won’t always accomplish it and other days you will exceed it, but just try to press on and get through it.  if you are having a day where you reread the same line over and over, step back and do something else for a while or try reading a different chapter. No one said you had to edit the book cover to cover, you can skip around.

My process for editing, can be a long one and a repetitive one to many, but it’s like a rock tumbler.  Each revolution through the story polishes it more and more.

  1. My first editing process (if I hold off until the end of the book) is making the edits I have on my list, things I know need to be fixed, which can include changing characters’ ages or descriptions, changes in continuity or style, passages you have been eying since after you wrote them. I may go through this process more than once just to make sure I got everything.  **As a tip, I like to print out my entire manuscript, then make changes with a red pen by writing in the margins or attaching pieces of paper where I have rewritten chunks of a chapter or scene.  If you tend to miss your changes, go over the pen with a highlighter (I prefer pink) to make the changes stand out.
  2. Leave your draft alone for a while.  Putting away, get some distance from it and make it so you don’t recite the memorized phrases instead of actually reading them.  If you haven’t given your book to a few people to read, you should do so now. Their feedback will hopefully be helpful during your next session. Make sure they will give you honest feedback and most importantly, they will actually do it. Explain to them what you want them to look out for and be specific, write it down even.
  3. Read your story, make notes on areas that need correcting or altering and if any areas are boring.  As you go through and tweak things (mine tends to be wording and adding more since I’m an underwriter. If you are an over-writer, you may need to prune your manuscript), highlight them and mark them in a distinctive pen on your manuscript. Take the feedback from your beta readers and see what they suggest.  If it should be changed, do it now. If you are unsure, save it and wait until you are all done and reread the story again to decide if it needs to be done.  Typically, I go through this editing phase about twice. When doing historical fiction or anything that needs research, make sure you fact-check what you are unsure of still.
  4. Leave it for a week or two. Now, reread it. This is going to (hopefully) be lighter editing.  Read it aloud.  Are there words that need changing? Is any of the dialogue stiff or awkward? Sometimes it may be beneficial to have someone read it to you in order to catch awkward parts that sound fine in your head, and during the reading process, you may also come across typos. 
  5. The final stretch! I call this typo time. I was a writing tutor, so I am familiar with most rules of grammar and can correct most of my work (I still need to look up lay v. lie and a few other rules that always need refreshing). If you have certain rules you know trip you up, make an index card of the rule to keep with you while you go through it again, but if you would rather have someone else deal with grammar, I would suggest finding a proofreader online or a friend who is willing to take a look at it. I go over my work with a fine-tooth comb and often hand it off to my mom who is good at catching mistakes I miss.  At this point, you are done fiddling with your text hopefully. Word changes may still occur, but remember the point is fine polishing, not overhauling. If you are still unhappy with it, I would go back to step 3 or 4 for another round or two of edits.

The point of this post is hopefully to empower you to be your own editor.  The input of others is important, but first and foremost, you should be writing a book you want to read. Take the process into your hands and be self-critical without being self-defeating.  It is your work, your book, and while an editor is a great tool, you should ultimately be responsible for perfecting your writing as it is a process through which you will grow to understand your flaws and what you need to do to become an even better writer.

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