A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘advice’

Tips for getting unstuck

I’ve stalled again. My notebooks full of my third book sit lifelessly on my desk or, in the vague hope that I will spill some ink on the page, in my purse as I flit to and fro through my life. I wrote the first, minor climax and resolved one of the plot lines that has been constant from the first book. It was necessary for the story, as the final climax has a different beast – though to be honest I’m playing with the idea of completely changing the order of the climaxes. But I’m in the middle, and the middle is always the hardest part.

Why is the middle so tough? For me, it’s because I’m goal-oriented. I see what the beginning is, I know what the ending is, but I don’t know how to get there. (It is an unfortunate flaw that I am the same way in my daily life. Talk about frustrating.) Figuring out the important parts of the journey is my next step, but even when I have them (laid out in outline form, no less) I struggle to connect the dots. Considering the number of posts and articles about why it is hard to write the middle – I know I’m not alone.

Rather than rehash why it is so hard, I want to give some tips that help me get through it.

1.Read.

2.Do something else, anything else, for 10-20 minutes, then come back to writing and power through the sticky spots.

3.Get some sleep. I get cranky and cry a lot if I get frustrated/stuck and need sleep. I’ve learned this, and know that if I feel like I am about to cry from frustration, I need to take a nap (or just go to bed for the night).

4.Ask for help. Often talking to my writer friends helps me feel motivated to get through the tough spots. Even more, they may have insight on why your story is stuck – something may not be working and you might not be noticing it.

5.Take a bath. Seriously, it can be like a mini sensory-deprivation tank and helps get the mind spinning.

6.Spend time NOT thinking. watch a movie. Play a video game. Sometimes your brain needs a rest.

7.Do what is right for you. If these tips don’t help, do something that you find relaxing.

8.Most of all, don’t give up. Sometimes it’s hard. We all have writing cycles – I’ve blogged about that here before. If you know what your writing cycle is – don’t try to force it to be something else and know that yes, you’re still a writer even if you aren’t currently writing. You need that recharge time so give it to yourself.

Good luck with your middle! (And I’ll do my best to follow my own advice, too!)

Take care,

Emily

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Why Hire an Editor?

It seems these days that everyone is DIY-ing everything. And why not? It’s fun to make your own decorations, gifts, and cards. But one thing you should not DIY is editing.* That’s right, I said you shouldn’t edit all by yourself. This is a lesson it took me most of high school and the first year of college to learn. I was an avid self-editor. While self-editing is an important step in the editing process, it isn’t the only step.

So why shouldn’t you rely solely on yourself (or worse, spell-check) for all of your editing needs? For starters, you know your story. You know exactly what you mean when you write certain phrases – the same phrases that befuddle readers. If you only self-edit, you are going to miss an important opportunity to improve your writing ability. You might, even with your story bible, miss a detail that you changed in one place but not another (we’re humans, after all).

Another excellent reason is that spell-check doesn’t catch everything. I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself. You write see instead of seen and spell check doesn’t catch it. You’ve probably read and reread and rewritten your work so many times that you skim, and you miss it too. A second pair of eyes will help you beat typos like those.

Okay, okay, you say, but why hire someone when friends will edit for free, or some beta readers will, for free, read and give feedback about what passages don’t work? Simple: you get what you pay for. Friends will often be slow-going (especially when you are an adult writer and your friends are also adults) and, unless they are also writers/readers, they may not edit to the standard you need. Many friends and family readers will only tell you what you want to hear, for fear of hurting your feelings. This is unproductive if you are trying to improve your craft. In the blogging community or writers’ workshops** you may find people who are willing to give the feedback you need, but unless they have an incentive to get it done, they, too, will likely lag. It’s no fault of theirs – people simply have to take care of things happening in their own lives first. An editor, however, will be on a schedule. It is in their best interest to get the work done, and do it well so that their reputation prospers.

I get it, you may not have much money right now. Luckily there are a wide range of editors out there, with all sorts of different fees. There are both professional and freelance editors, some with specific skill sets or preferences for projects, and some who are open to taking on just about any project. If you are really strapped for cash but want to hire an editor, and if you have a computer, you can always earn some extra money with things like Smart Panel, MintVine, SwagBucks, and so many other similar sites. If you aspire to be a published author, you really should hire an editor. Your chances of being accepted by a publisher will increase because a better manuscript means less work for them. The same for story, article or poetry submissions to publishers and magazines. In some cases, even blog posts can benefit from hiring an editor.

So take a look around, find someone who meets your needs, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what the editors are there for. To help your writing become the best it can be.

Take care,

Emily

*Of course start with doing it yourself. Clean up your writing as much as you can, that’s your job as the writer.

**Sometimes the writers you find in workshops or other locations take their role too far, and are crueler to your writing than they need to be. I’ve seen it happen. Always choose someone you trust.

Self-Editing

Your first draft is done, and you may want to start sending it out or letting people read it straight away. You shouldn’t. Let it sit, let it rest, and then after a few weeks (or months, or whatever), come back to the desk and look at it afresh. You will see bits and pieces that don’t fit, rocks among your gems, and you will get to work editing.*

So how does one go about self-editing? It’s a tricky business, I’ll tell you that. It’s tricky because you know what you’ve written, and you may either be sentimentally attached to certain parts of the story that need to be seriously changed (or deleted altogether) or you may skim over your writing and miss things that need to be fixed. If you are like me, you may intentionally gloss over something that you know is wrong, but you aren’t sure how to fix it yet.

Thus the first step in self-editing is to READ CAREFULLY. In fact, read out loud, slowly. When you do this, you will catch things that you would likely not catch reading silently (think awkward word pairings, misspelled words, horrifyingly long sentences). Read once through without changing anything.** Doing this will give you a good sense of your story, how it flows (or doesn’t) and what places need work. Once you’ve read through, go back to the beginning and get started editing with the following tips:

1.Get rid of your “catch phrases”

We all have certain words or phrases that we tend to use more frequently than others. You’ll notice them as you read, and you will remember them. A few times through the book is okay, because your reader may or may not remember that the phrase you used on page 238 is the same as on page 24. HOWEVER I will advise to use particularly “pretty” phrases or words (think quiescence) only once. A word that your reader has to look up or a phrase that they will linger on WILL be remembered. Go ahead and rework these phrases, choose different words, and go on from there. You may have to do this several times.

2. Cut “very”

Do you remember the scene from The Dead Poet’s Society where Mr. Keating talks about “very”? He warns the boys to pick stronger words. And now I’m warning you. If you are using “very” to beef up your verbs or adverbs, you need to work harder. And I know it’s tough. Sometimes you just can’t think of the perfect word. That’s why we edit more than once, and why when we are writing the first draft, we don’t worry so much about “verys.” But to make your novel as strong as it an be, pick “crucial” instead of “very important.”

3.Check your POV

No matter if you are writing in first or third, point of view is crucial to your story. (See what I did there? Huh, huh?) First of all, you should pick a point of view and stick with it. If you pick to follow two characters, alternating between them, don’t all of a sudden drop one (unless they die – which in that case I hope it’s a mystery and we know something the protagonist doesn’t!) or add a third. I’ll give you an example. If you’ve been a follower here for a long time, you know that I LOVE Robin Hobb. This is probably the only complaint I will ever have against her. In one of her recent novels, she changed perspectives and started following a different character – without any indication that this is what she was doing. It was confusing and, to be honest, it took me a couple pages to understand. I did understand, but for those few moments I was not immersed in the story – and our goal as writers is to keep the reader immersed.

When you are writing a single character, try to make sure that every word you write reflects that character. If your own biases or stylistic word choices slip in, cut them. Be careful about consistency. Your novel will shine when you are consistent.

4.Grammar, typos, and formatting

The general stuff, right? Make sure you use correct grammar (or stylistically consistent grammar). Correct misspellings and repeat words. Make sure that your formatting is consistent throughout the manuscript. It’s tedious stuff, but important. Publishers and agents expect a level of expertise when it comes to writing.

I hope these tips will help you as you begin self-editing, and if you have more, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

Take care,

Emily

*You may also need to rewrite huge swaths of your story. This is fine. This is expected. This is probably needed.

**Mark places that you feel need work, if you must. But try your best to refrain from changing things! You want to come into the work with “fresh” eyes – as a reader not a writer. It will help in the long-run, I promise.

Intermediate Worldbuilding

Okay, so last week we had a post for beginning worldbuilding that outlined a few of the most important steps for worldbuilding. Those steps were: make maps, think about religion, and decide how people look. This time we are going to go a couple of steps further. For those of you who want to continue past the first three steps (or those of you who are wondering how to proceed or just want some extra ideas), here are two more steps to take your world to the next level.

1. Language.

This doesn’t mean you have to go all Tolkien on us and go study linguistics to make your own fully-fledged language (though if that’s your thing DO IT!). Rather, look at the names of characters and places that you’ve come up with. Say them out loud. What do they sound like? If you’ve got one nation your focusing on, chances are most names are going to have a really similar cadence or feel to them. I’m not saying that everything has to sound the same (because really, we don’t want that), but look at the rhythm and flow of your names. For instance: in Quest for Salvation I have the following city names: Ruslaht, Ohmlaur, and Talahm. Say those out loud. There’s a similarity, and they are all very clearly from one nation. But Frewantin (another city) is obviously from a different part of the world, by the sound of the name alone.

So what about character names? You can keep it simple, like with city names, and have names that just sound like they go together. Or you can take it a step further and create a system for names. For instance, in my novel there is a system for imperial family names; male names start with consonants, female names with vowels, and all imperial names end with the “ay” sound. In addition, names throughout the nation have certain sounds that are more prominent than others (such as “ie” “o” and “n”). You can get as creative as you want with things like this, and it will be sure to give your story that extra layer. Just be sure to write your rules down, and follow them consistently!

One last note: not all countries have to have similar language sounds. In fact, the further apart they are the more different they should be. You  could always have slight differences between neighbors that become huge differences between the nations on either end of the line. Example: if you have a common tongue that people from most or all nations can speak, they will still have names (cities and people and sometimes even special items) in their own language. So someone named Sandrilion can still interact with someone named Crystal, but be from different places.

2. Politics.

It’s important to know what your political system is in your story world, even if you never mention it directly. That’s because whatever is happening at the top has a huge effect on what happens at the bottom. For instance, if there is a political coup and the king is overthrown by his great-niece the duchess of Winderburn, there’s going to be some backlash. People who supported the king are going to have to fall in line fast, or be smart about taking the new queen down. And maybe some pro-king folks will take it on themselves to raid villages in Winderburn, which causes hardship for the farmers there, who suddenly can’t get crops to the trade depot that your character runs, and she has debts from sending her son to a prestigious academy in the capital that has actually been shut down by the new queen, so not only does she have to pay that back to the folks who loaned her the money and her son is back with her so she has to feed him again, but now her trade depot can’t make a profit because the farms are being raided.

Get the idea? Even little political changes can have a big impact on your characters. It’s a trope in mediocre fantasy that “the poor people don’t care what’s going on with the rich,” (and vice versa) but to make your story ring true, the poor should always care, because everything always effects them – you just have to pay a little more attention.

I hope these two worldbuilding tips help take your world and story to the next level. If you have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below!

Take care,

Emily

 

Beginning Worldbuilding in 3 Steps

A friend of mine recently said “I hate worldbuilding, that’s why I only write fanfiction these days.” I’ve heard the sentiment before, and it shocks me every time. Worldbuilding is my favorite part of writing. I love diving into something that isn’t even real yet and figuring it out, deciding how the people live, how things are done. There is a lot that goes into worldbuilding, and all at various stages of how much you want to accomplish, or how much you need for the story (trust me, it’s always more than you think, but if you have the basics, the rest will come while you write).

So what does one need, to start worldbuilding? I have A NUMBER OF TIPS for you in this post. I will say, before we get too far, that not every story needs tons of worldbuilding. If you are writing a fiction or fantasy that takes place in this world, you may have a specific place in mind so you don’t have to build one. But you may have to take more time developing the magic system or history of were-creatures. As with all writing tips, use them or don’t at your own discretion.

Tip #1: Make maps.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know about my obsession with maps. I draw maps for all of my stories (heck – I draw maps for my ideas and the ideas that haven’t even become ideas yet). This is one of the most important parts of worldbuilding, so you can get oriented and know what’s where. Think about it: have you ever read a book and come across a passage that jars you directionally? For instance, if I’m reading a book and it says they are going east, but then says the rising sun is behind them? Or even not having a discrepancy like that, and just assuming the layout of the world is one way, but in the author’s mind it is the complete opposite? Maps help with this. Maps will help you, the writer, avoid mistakes like the one illustrated above, and they will help readers have a clear vision of your world.

So make maps. Not just of countries and continents, but cities and buildings and important places in your story. You don’t have to include everything in the end, but if you know it, you’ll be able to write more clearly about it.

Tip #2: Think about religion.

Okay, I know a lot of people aren’t religious. I’m not very religious. But we can’t deny that religion plays a huge roll in our world. If you are creating a world from scratch, there are going to be creation myths, legends, and maybe even texts that someone decides is the key for how to live life. Some of these are going to evolve into religions. Because people want something to believe in, whether they are characters in a book, or real people. If you don’t want to have any religions in your book, there should be a good reason for their absence. Not one that you necessarily have to share, but it will inform your writing if it is there. And if there are religions, but you don’t want to make it a focus, maybe your main character is not religious. Or maybe it becomes a source of conflict between the hero and their travelling companion. One suggestion: don’t be preachy. It’s okay for one character to preach at another, but don’t preach to your reader. They won’t thank you for it.

Tip #3: Decide how the people look.

I’m not just talking physical features, though that’s important too. I’m talking about how they dress, how they move. The climate will play a part in this – people in colder regions are typically shorter and stouter while people in warmer areas are thinner and taller. (This is about heat conservation in northern regions, or keeping cool in warmer regions. It’s biological. If you have someone move from a warm region to a cool region, their kids are still going be taller, typically.) Not only height and girth, but in cold places people are more bundled, making for less graceful movements. Clothes are very important to worldbuilding – and not for description purposes (let’s face it, it sucks to spend paragraphs upon paragraphs trying to memorize details of someone’s attire). But if you think about why they wear certain things, you’ve hit a gold mine. If most people in a country wear leather armor, you can assume they are warlike. If they wear fine silks and flowing robes, maybe it is because they are excellent traders and have become very wealthy. Of course, in every culture and country there is wide variation depending on class, occupation, and even religious beliefs.

Okay. So these three steps are going to get you started. Of course there is so much more to think about, but if, like my friend, worldbuilding is not your forte, or is simply new to you, these steps will get you started in the write direction. (I know, written puns never do so well.)

What is your favorite worldbuilding tip?

Take care,

Emily

When Writing, Have Goals

A notebook full of goals has a prominent position on my desk. Some of the things in the notebook are get a full time jobexercise daily, and (my favorite) finish that book. With each goal, I have four or five “action steps” listed – things I can do with RIGHT NOW to accomplish a goal. Things like “write for a half hour every day” (it’s easier than I expected – especially if I take my notebook to work and do it on break) and “design one project a month.” That one is crochet, by the way. Reasons for why I should follow through on the goal are also there, at the bottom of the page. Feeling accomplished is on almost every page. And guess what – I’ve finished two goals and I DO feel accomplished – which encourages me to keep going.

Having goals is an important part of life, so that we aren’t just dragging our feet from home to job and back again – goals give us purpose. So we had better have some goals when we are writing!

What are my overall writing goals? This question is the key to how writing fits into our lives. Is it a hobby, a career, a passion? Answering this question, truthfully, can help you decide how to focus yourself.

I want you to go past “I want to be a published author” and “I want to be a bestseller” and “I want to reach/change/impact the world.” While those are great goals, they are surface goals. They are the goals every budding writer comes up with. Think a little more personally. What does writing mean to you? How does it impact your life? Where do you see your writing going (think hard about this one – it could go towards editing, copywriting, technical writing, freelancing, books, poetry, and so, so much more)?

When you have that figured out, give yourself some action steps, things you can do today, in this moment, to set yourself on that path, or keep your journey going. (As for me, I’m going to do my half-hour writing as soon as I’m done with this post.)

 

 

If you are a fiction writer, you have to think about more than just your goals – you’ve got a whole cast of characters fighting for attention – fighting for their goals to be fulfilled. Just like our goals give us direction and meaning, so do theirs*. Something more than “the good gal is determined to beat the evil witch.” Because while that can be an overarching goal, that good gal had better have some compelling goals for her own life (or a compelling reason that she’s got to defeat the evil witch). Just like us, they need action steps that they can accomplish to get them closer to their goals. Sure, they will make mistakes (at least they better!), but everything they do should advance the goals (hmm, sounds like some plot-relevant advice, doesn’t it?).

Now, let’s get back to us. When writing our lovely novel, we’ve got the task of keeping everything on track. So stick to your goals, even if your characters lose sight of theirs. Get that book finished, get it published or stowed away or whatever you do with finished manuscripts, and then get on to the next one.

Take care, travelers

*Sure, you can have an aimless character, but you will have to have a fantastic story to make that work – too often aimless characters get drug around and have no say about anything. Of course, your goal-oriented character can also have these things happen, and they can make bad choices based on hopes for accomplishing their goals – being goal-oriented doesn’t mean the story is boring.

NaNo Prep: The Medium

Paper, phone app, pencil, pen, Word, Scrivener. We have a lot of choices when it comes to what medium we use for writing. I know plenty of people (myself included) who like to handwrite everything before transcribing it onto the computer. I also know that (it would seem) the majority of writers type their first drafts.

Most of the time, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. And to be fair, it still comes down to personal preference. HOWEVER. When writing for NaNo, we must keep track of our word count, and that is easier with a computer or phone based system. Sure, we could count the the words we write, even count a few pages and do some quick math with averages and multiplying, but that would take an excessive amount of time. We could transcribe everything, essentially doubling our time working on the book, but we’re already pressed for time.

For these reasons I highly suggest typing from the start, because it will make the process smoother. I plan on using google docs because I can access it from any computer, and from my phone. That way I can write during down time when I’m out as well as during my designated writing times.

Whatever you choose, though, is perfect for you.

Next time: Keep Reading

NaNo Prep: Plot Paths

So, we have our characters, our conflict, our general plot. Now for the stuff that ties it all together: events. Think of several big things that are going to happen in your novel. Maybe your main character gets kidnapped. Maybe they kidnap someone else. Maybe they go to the moon and realize they forgot to bring enough oxygen to get home (does it even work like that?). Just make a list of the things that you think should happen in your book.

Got the list? Good. Now, number them (or put them on separate note cards or whatever works for you). Try to organize them into a path that goes from inciting incident, to roadblocks, to climax, to resolution (and everything in between, of course). Don’t worry about a detailed outline. Don’t worry about having everything perfectly worked out. Just give yourself some guidelines for when we finally get to write this thing!

To clarify what I mean, I’ll share a bit. Some of my plot stepping-stones are: a girl takes a name, the secret message, enemy in the camp, mother’s passing. Get the idea?

Of course, if you want to outline a little more fully, do it! I like plot paths because when I try to outline, I feel like I never have enough details, or the right details. And then I feel constricted to only write what I have outlined. Plot paths give me more freedom, which in turn helps me write more.

Next time: The Medium

NaNo Prep: Schedule Yourself

It’s late coming today (and will be again tomorrow) but here I am with today’s NaNo Prep tip, and it’s all about scheduling.

Last week we had you do a time hunt – looking for open chunks of time and time wasters. I started by recording everything I did for how long, but being busy that just didn’t take. I was acutely aware, however, of how I was spending my time all week. Aware enough that I’ve cut back on my time-wasting activities already.

Anyway, now that we have a record (or are aware of our time-wasting habits) we can begin to schedule ourselves for the month of November. Yes, some people might have this easier than others. If you have a set schedule for school or work, it will be easier to block off chunks of time for that and use what you’ve got left to your advantage. For others of us who work irregular hours and may have just started a second job (the reason for my lateness of today’s post) it might be a little harder, especially if we don’t have our schedules very far in advance. But I still encourage you to use this step when you get your schedules!

Things we should schedule: writing (duh), sleeping (can’t be productive if we don’t get enough sleep), exercise (important for every month of the year!), meal-prep time and meal clean-up time, commute and work time, and yes, relaxation time. With these things scheduled, you should have a fool-proof agenda for getting your novel written. Of course, we can’t plan for unexpected events, so always do as much writing as you can whenever you can!

Next time: Research

NaNo Prep: Rumination

Ah yes, chewing and re-chewing so that the grass is easily digestible.

Wait, no. The other kind of rumination. Deep thinking for long periods of time. Now that we’ve got that settled…

Rumination is second on the list because, let’s face it, there is a lot to think about. And it can be done while doing some of the other tasks coming up.

Okay, so what exactly is there to think about. You’re going to write a novel, and maybe hope that it will be good? And you think you can just jump into it? (Okay, plenty of people can – they’re called pansters – but I’d wager most of them still do some thinking ahead.) So the thinking. The following is a list of possible things to consider, think about, ruminate on:

plot, characters, setting, theme, plot twists, beginnings, endings, events along the way (yeah I know that’s sort of summed up in plot, but you can know the plot and not know specific events), flaws, strengths, names, plants, cultures.

If you are planning to write a fantasy novel, some of this stuff is more important than say, for writing a high school drama (though I argue you would still need to know the high school culture like the back of your hand). This is not a complete list, obviously, but it’s a jumping point. And, if you are writing fantasy or scifi (or even if you aren’t) you will want to do all of your research ahead of time. Seriously, come November you will want to spend every minute you can on writing, not waste it with research.

So right now, while you’re ruminating, you don’t need to choose anything. You can, or you can write down a few of your favorite thoughts, but just think. The longer you think before writing anything down, the happier you will be with the outcome. (Okay, that’s a theory. I’m still working on testing it.)

Next time: Clean

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