You should Write What You Know, or should you?

Write What You Know

Write What You Know – debunked (by this author)

by Sheri Williams

As a writer you hear so many rules and regulations, then there are the suggestions and the idioms. And of all of these, my absolute least favorite is “Write what you know!

The thing about this particular “rule?” It’s pointless. (Most writing rules are) Writing what you know would leave the world full of the most boring books ever. Let me ask you this?

Does Stephen King have intimate knowledge of sentient, murderous cars? Or killer dogs? Or killer clowns? 

Does J.K. Rowling really have such an in depth knowledge of magic and the magical world?

Did J.R.R. Tolkien have elves and orcs in his life to help him write the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings?

No. No. And yeah you guessed it, No.

What do multi-published authors do?

What all three of those very famous authors did have was knowledge of humans. And themselves. And the things in their lives that fueled their desire to write in the first place. Then, they, you guessed it, made stuff up. Cause that’s what authors do. We. Make. Stuff. Up.

Yes we all add bits of pieces of our lives and people we know and things we’ve encountered into our stories, but that’s just the flavoring to the main dish. You know?  My favorite instance of this is J.K. Rowling, the master herself. Those dementors that scared us all to shivering piles of fear? That was how she related her depression. And holy smokes did it work. It comes across as a soul sucking entity which depression is, but she made up these dark evil creatures to get across that one aspect of her life. That’s what we authors do. This is the only way “write what you know” works. If you take what you know and morph it, mold it, squish it into something else.

But I don’t think what she did in the Dementor’s case, or what I do when I write serial killers who still love their moms, is the same thing as “write what you know” I think it’s just using life experience to enhance your imagination. When I hear “write what you know” I hear; write about growing up in Connecticut and then moving to the south. Write about being a white woman who has never left the country and is married with two kids. And while I quite enjoy my life, reading about it might possibly (no, absolutely!) be boring for someone else.  

So why the rule?

For me this particular “rule” (I use quotes here cause I don’t really see it as a rule but more of a suggestion that the publishing world seems to be stuck on) is just one more way to keep people in their particular lane.  And I’m not a huge fan of that, in any aspect of life. And now we’ve come full circle to one of my previous blogs for 10 Minute Novelists. Research. I routinely write about the 1800’s and yet I live here and now, so what do I do? I research. The same goes for everything else I write about that has no real basis in my life. Serial Killers. Elves. Trolls. Aliens. All things I’ve never seen in real life (gasp!) but I write them. I write them all. (I like to think of myself as a rebel)

And this same method works for if you are a fully able bodied person who wants to write about a disabled character or a person of color who wants to write about a white character (research and write with respect, this is a rule I live by). There’s room at the table for all writers, who want to write all the things, whether or not it’s something you know first hand, or just something you want to explore, or something that just turns on your writerly brain.

So, how do you feel about “write what you know”? Is it a hard and fast rule for you? Or is it something that like me, you look at askance and wonder who ever came up with it in the first place?

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Getting to ‘What if…’ Sparking Ideas For Your Writing


by Christine Hennebury

Writers often say that their stories started with a ‘What if…?’ Sometimes, though, it’s a challenge to get to that starting point. 

It’s okay if you have trouble coming up with ideas, even if it happens frequently. But, to save yourself some stress, I recommend having some idea-generating techniques ready to go so you can get back to writing as soon as possible.

So, what should you do to get your ideas flowing?

In the big picture, you’ll want start cultivating idea-generating habits like going for walks, and regularly reading books, listening to podcasts, or watching shows that get you into creative mode. You can also spend time with other writers and chat about ideas, and you can practice capturing fleeting ideas in a file or a notebook.

Those big picture plans are great in the long term, but they won’t be much help if you are already facing a blank page.  If you need to get your brain in gear right now, perhaps one of these techniques will help:

 

1) Gather Some Information

You don’t want to go down the rabbit hole with this, so be sure to set a timer for your info-gathering.  Start by googling something really broad that you *might* want to write about – frogs, dinner parties, annoying habits. Have a look at the sorts of things that come up, especially in the image search. Does anything there spark a ‘What if…’ for you?

 

2)   Look Around

This can be closely related to point one but it is a bit more specific and hands-on. Pick any object in your immediate environment. and ask yourself a few questions about it.  What kind of person (aside from you!) might own this? Why would something like this be important to someone? What could it be used for? What *else* could it be used for? Why might someone keep this? Why might they try to get rid of it?

(This is inspired by Julie Duffy’s Story-A-Day May instructions for short story writing.)

 

3) Compare and Contrast

If one object doesn’t spark something for you, perhaps two will. Either look at objects in the space around you, use a prompt generator, or just do a search for ‘common objects.’  Select two and think about how they might be used together or why they should never be used together. What kind of circumstances would lead to someone having a wrench and a chicken nugget in their back pocket?  Why would someone need to keep a knitting needle and a rubber boot in their trunk? How could a hand print and a heart-shaped locket end up on the side of the road?

 

4) Go Off On A Tangent

Take a simple word or concept and go off on a tangent about it. What different things could being green mean? Do you have a character that would be particularly interested in green? Or that might look particularly good in green? Could green mean elves? Environmentalism? Being new at something? Being rich?

The point is to generate ideas, so it doesn’t really matter how odd your suggestions get. Just keep jumping from one to the next.

(This is inspired by a technique described by ‘Renegade Writers’  Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell.)

 

5) Write About Your Writing

If you don’t have any ideas, it’s okay to start by writing about writing (actually, it’s okay to do this even if you *do* have ideas.)  Grab any old sheet of paper or open a new computer file and start writing about writing. Complain if you want. Talk about the kinds of things you like to write, or settings/people/concepts you might want to write about. Once your brain gets into writing mode, a useful idea might just spring forth.

 

6) Ask Someone For Ideas

Call a friend and ask what they would like to read about. Ask a kid how they would build a spaceship from tinfoil. Get on Facebook and ask about the weirdest thing someone has found in their purse. You may not use any of the specific things that people say but getting other people thinking will help you get started. Go ahead and have some fun with it!

 

Getting to ‘What if…’

The point of all of these idea-generating techniques is to get you into a creative mode of thinking. 

After all, you don’t have to stick with any idea that comes up for you, you can just use them as a springboard to the next idea.  As long as you are open to seeing where those first ideas lead, you will eventually get to something you can write about.

If you build the habit of getting into that idea-generating mode regularly,  then it will get easier and easier for you to think of things to write about.


Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .

 

Benefits of Writing With Constraints

By Sherry Howard

Don’t get it twisted.

Writing with constraints isn’t the same as writing in restraints.

All writers deal with constraints. Writing for a blog post? You have an optimal length, a certain expectation for civility—unless you’re Chuck Wendig. Making a submission to a magazine? You’ll likely have a theme to fit into, either for the issue or for the magazine itself. Working on that novel? We all know that the expectations for word length in novels is fluid, but hard to sell if the length is too far outside the parameters.

What we don’t always realize is how much constraints can help us improve our writing. I cut my novel-writing teeth in Iowa University’s MOOC classes where constraints were a given. I learned to write in 400 words with a specific constraint for most assignments. The 400 word limit required me to weigh the value of each and every word. The thematic constraints challenged my creativity in the best way possible.

This Drabble Contest our fearless leader ran is a wonderful example. Janet Reid’s Flash Fiction Contests are the best! She even offers prizes, and the variety of stories generated from the five prompt words prove the point that constraints inspire genius: word cap restraints and prompt words. Many on-line literary magazines provide prompts and themes to get your creativity spinning.

Instead of letting constraints put you in handcuffs, use them to energize your writing. Look around your world. Create your own constraints. Here are a few ideas to get you going.

1. Ask someone you love for a story idea. My first picture book started with a constraint placed by my granddaughter. Write about a bear. Name the bear Kuda. ROCK AND ROLL WOODS was born. (And picture book writing is FULL of constraints.)

2. Start with a famous quote. Use our handy friend Google or a reference book of quotes. Take either the whole quote, the spirit of the quote, or a select number of words from the quote. Write for ten minutes, an hour, or write 400 words using the constraints you chose.

3. Use word count or time limits. Since you’re a member of this group, it will come as no surprise how much you can do in 10 minutes.  250 words create a page, 10 minutes create a scene. Keep creating words and scenes and soon you’ll have a story, novella, or novel.

4. Take a walk and choose any three things or people you see to write about. From my front porch I saw a ladder in my neighbor’s yard with a lawn chair placed in front of it like someone had been watching my neighbor trim a high branch. On the ground lay clippers. No humans. See how many story possibilities are there with those three things?

5. Look at the news on-line or a news show. Take one sentence. Any sentence. Explore the topic.

6. Use numbers one through ten in a piece of any length, but in a way that makes sense to the story. Or pick any three random numbers and work them into a story or scene.

7. Pick a season or a holiday. Write either a story about the holiday or an anti-holiday story. Ever hear of The Grinch?

8. Find a listing of prompts, but choose three instead of one. I have several books of prompts, but I never use them. The world is full of prompts, which can also be constraints, if you look with purpose.

9. Open a dictionary or any book and find the tenth line on page ten, or whatever combination you choose, choose four different words/lines using four combinations of page/line. Now develop a scene.

10. Choose moments in your life that had a huge impact. Write them from another persons POV. Here’s what I did. I’ve always been haunted by a drowning I witnessed as a child. Instead of writing my memory of the event, I wrote it in my brother’s POV, and made myself the drowning victim. It was great therapy for working through a sad memory, and great practice with constraints. (My mother still isn’t speaking to me for drowning my ten-year-old self.)

11. Use art as prompt. Study the great masters. Buy some second-hand art books. Follow Inktober and other art challenges. Follow illustrators and artists.

12. Write poetry. By its nature, it is full of constraints.  It’s one of my favorite ways to challenge myself.

13. Get lost on YouTube. No, really don’t. Because you can spend hours and never find your way out. Set a timer (your constraint!). Grab an idea and get out. Write the topic from an unexpected POV.

Those are just a few ideas to get you thinking about using constraints, sometimes disguised as prompts, to tickle your brain cells into greater creativity.

Get writing!

  


Sherry Howard lives with her children and crazy dogs in Middletown, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the beautiful horse farms Kentucky is always bragging about. In her previous life Sherry was a teacher, consultant, author, and principal in one of the largest urban/ suburban school districts in America. She was published in the educational field for years, and she’s seen her poems and stories appear in multiple journals and anthologies. After writing six novels, she finally decided to see about getting an agent and getting one published. She’s delighted to be working with Clear Fork Publishing to share her children’s books. Her first picture book is available for pre-order. If your child child has sensory motor problems, be sure to watch for this book. Come say hello: Facebook Twitter Sherry Howard

365 Writing Club-Daily Writing Challenge

365 Writing Club365 Writing Club is a free subgroup of 10 Minute Novelists that challenges writers to write DAILY and it will change your writing life. 

Don’t believe me here are just a few of the comments from current members.

“For years, I tried to build a daily writing habit. This group gave me the freedom to let go of perfection and just focus on putting my thoughts out there. My writing practice has real energy and momentum now. I can feel the difference in my skill. I’m like an athlete who has practiced her shots so often that she can depend on herself to deliver them accurately.” -Christine Hennebury

I can’t believe we only have a matter of weeks left in ’17. I signed up for this club again for 2018, it’s been the best motivation for me. I am proud of what I have accomplished, and even more proud of all of us. 40 million words? How crazy is that?!?” -Adrienne Fraser

Yes, 270 writers have written over 40 Million Words and not because they tried to write 50k in a month like NaNo but because they set small daily goals and reached them.  I can’t believe we’re closing in on the end of our THIRD year of 365 Writing Club (formerly 365k Club).  If you’ve been around 10 Minute Novelists you’ve probably heard about this challenge where people keep track of their word count all year long and earn badges for meeting their monthly goals or for writing everyday for a solid month (or twelve).

We’ve gone from 80 participants our first year to over 300 this year, and are expecting 500+ in 2018.  Will you be one of them?

I don’t know, how does it work?

I’m glad you asked. First, let me explain…

365 Writing Club is…

In short, 365 Writing Club is a group dedicated to helping writers develop the habit of DAILY writing. It doesn’t matter if you spend 10 minutes or 4 hours a day writing. The key is consistency so you can grow as a writer and finish your projects. Our goal is to help you form the habit and develop consistency in a fun, accountable environment.

This challenge is about making writing a priority for at least 10 minutes everyday. That’s about 100 words a day. Even if you don’t work on  your manuscript every day, you can write 100 words reflecting on the writing process, setting down your goals for the week ahead, or fleshing out a setting or character (that’s part of the writing process).

We use a Google Sheet with lots of fancy formulas to help you keep track of your daily word count. You put in your daily goal and then enter your daily word counts and the sheet will tell you if you’re hitting your targets and writing at least 100 words a day. We also have columns for editing and critique hours, because we know that is part of the writing process, too.

At the beginning of each month, I award badges for the prior month’s achievements. Every week there are also posts where you can share your goals, your achievements, be encouraged and inspired, and talk with your team when life throws a roadblock in your way.

What 365 Writing Club Isn’t

This is not NaNo. It’s not about writing a crazy number of words in a day. Or even finishing writing a book in a year. It’s about writing consistently.  That’s not to say you won’t finish a book. If you only wrote 100 well crafted words/day you could still write a solid 36,500 word novella in a year or over a dozen short stories. 300/day gets you a solid novel. But the goal is to develop the habit of writing, because if you don’t learn to write when life is busy or hard, when your muse has gone on vacation, when you’re tired of your story, then you will never finish a manuscript worthy of a publisher.

This challenge is also not for weekend warriors or seasonal writers.  If you are the type whose process is to push out a draft in weekends or a season and then spend long periods of the year focused on editing it, this is not the challenge for you.  Writing daily isn’t the only way to be a professional writer, but it is the most common.  But we acknowledge, there are authors who are also teachers/professors who write books during their summer break and then spend time editing, publishing, and marketing through the year. This challenge is not for them, but for time-crunched writers who still want to be published authors.

In light of that….

365 Writing Club

Our theme for 2018 is THE DAILY WRITER. We’re going to break out of the ‘dreaming of being a writer’ mindset and build a professional mindset. We’re going to find time each day and write. It might be on your lunch break or before the kids get up or after they go to bed. It might be dictating on your commute to work. Everyone has at least 10 minutes somewhere in their day to make writing a priority.

We have a Facebook group where my admin team will post daily encouragement and inspiration. We’ll celebrate our million word milestones. There will also be Friday challenges where you can stretch your writing muscles and earn badges beyond our monthly ones. Beyond that, we will have our Hot Off the Press recognition day on Saturdays where you can share what you’ve accomplished each week, whether it is finishing a scene or writing THE END. We also will have teams and weekly check-ins so you can set specific goals and get a kick in the pants when you need it.

How Do I Sign Up?

Registration is open.  Here are the steps.

#1 Make sure you are a member of 10 Minute Novelists Facebook Group. Only members can participate to protect the safety of our group from spam and malicious intent.

#2 Fill out this FORM and add your name and word count to the spreadsheet linked there. If you cannot open the spreadsheet then you will not be able to open the actual spreadsheet we use to track numbers. So make sure you use a laptop or desktop to access the form.

#3 Registration closes on December 9th. Those who sign up before December 1st can confirm their sign up when the preliminary list posted on 10 Minute Novelists Facebook Group that day.  The final list will go up December 10th and those members will get an invite at the end of December (usually right after Christmas) to separate Facebook Group for 365 Writing Club 2018.

If you have further questions there are official rules and FAQ in the documents section of the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook Group.  Or you can private message me there (I’m listed under admin if you go to the members’ list).

I hope you will join us in 2018!

Jessica is a prayer warrior who loves to encourage and teach others how to create safe spaces for the hurting and lost. In 2014, she graduated from Western Governor’s University with a B.A. in Educational Studies and published her first book, Surviving the Stillness. She has written for several blogs and online magazines and is an admin and contributor for 10 Minute Novelists. She also created and manages their annual 365 Writing Challenge, which encourages writers to develop the habit of writing daily.

You can learn more at her website, authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com or on Facebook.

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Top 16 Close-Talking, Double Dipping Tips to Succeeding At Nanowrimo!

Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month.

For 30 days in November every year, hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world try to get 50,000 words on paper. In a perfect world, these words would be brilliant and profound. It’s far more likely that the words are a big hot mess. If you are participating, this is the perfect time to organize your ideas and get ready! The objective is to write as much as possible, you know, yada, yada, yada, not to be beautiful doing it. Sign up here so you can participate this November!

I believe that the objective of 50K words in 30 days is doable for anyone who wants to try.

I also believe that much is to be gained from the whole exercise, even if it isn’t a coherent story. I’ve broken down the steps to writing a story for Nano into super-easy steps. If you follow them, you’ll easily make your goal. (It’s only 1,667 words a day. You can DO that!)

So here we go! (This is the Seinfeld version so I suggest you regift your label maker, put on your puffy shirt, and spare a square!)

 

Step One: Start your story with Did you ever notice  . . .. Is that cheating?  NO! It gets you going and now you only have 49,996 words to go.

Step Two: Pick Two Names: Almost any two will do. Let’s go with Jerry and George

Step Three: Describe these two characters. List their favorite things, their appearance, and their relationships. They also need a job that is unrelated to the genre of the book, like say, make them work for Vandalay Industries! In the import/export business! Say they really, really like velvet!

Step Four: Give them an antagonist. This determines your genre. If it’s a mean girl/boy, then it’s chick lit, (Susan?) If it’s a tall, dark stranger who they think is a pain in the butt (at first) it’s a rom-com, (Putty?) If it’s a mysterious colleague with secret who may do something violent to protect it then it’s a thriller, (Tim Whatley?) If it’s someone who had committed a crime and he doesn’t want our couple to find out about it, it’s a mystery, (Newman and what he did to that poor dog!) If it’s bigger than a personality, like, say, a government agency, then it’s a spy thriller, (Kramer probably knows something about this!) If it’s a non-human but nothing technological is involved, then it’s a fantasy. (“The sea was angry that day, my friends!”  If it’s a non-human but technology IS involved it’s science fiction.(The Bubble Boy!) Okay, so these are loose definitions, but this is Nanowrimo! There is no need to get technical, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Step Five: Give them a setting. Make it consistent with the antagonist. Delis in NYC are more for romantic comedies than for science fiction. You could also hang out in Jerry’s apartment, but the local soup Nazis will do too.  But you know what, it’s NANOWRIMO! Go ahead, break the rules, and while Jerry and George are waiting for the baddie to show up, they can order twenty-seven things on the menu, as long as they follow the rules, because that will pad you with a lot of words! Or maybe Kramer drops by because he wants something!

Step Six: Give them an objective: All this means is that the characters want something. They want to be loved. They want to be famous. They want to be secure, forgiven, avenged, or safe. These are primal needs and everybody wants them. You don’t need to worry about the specifics of the objectives, that will come later.

Step Seven: Give them a handicap: What will keep them from meeting their objective?  Sure, the antagonist will do his part, but there’s got to be more. Let’s say George is an incompetent Yankees employee who thinks uniforms should be made of cotton. Let’s say Jerry has the bad habit of bringing Pez dispensers to piano concerts. Be as nonsensical and illogical as you want because HEY! THIS IS NANOWRIMO! 

Step Eight: Give them something to say:  Open your scene with dialogue. Your pair is bickering because of something. This shouldn’t be hard to come up with. As they bicker, the reader learns about their big objective. There is no topic too small to talk about. You can talk about Snapple. You can talk about why the girl you know wears the same dress every day. You certainly can talk about Superman.

“It all became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat – it’s all been wrong.” –George Costanza

Step Nine: The antagonist makes an appearance OR someone challenges them to acquire something. They are sent off on their mission. They bicker about it some more. They get distracted. Now write about this! NEWMAN! 

Step Ten: Stuck? Tell us backstory! This is where Nanowrimo is beautiful. Tell us all about George’s struggle with his parents and how his fiancee died licking wedding invitation envelopes. Tell us about the trauma that Jerry had when he his girlfriend ate peas one at a time. Tell us about that time that Elaine, ahem, danced. In Nanowrimo (unlike your best work) you can have as much bleedin’ backstory as you want. This will add to your word count, will help you flesh out those characters, explain what happens in chapter 47 and help you understand where the story is going. Trust me.

Step Eleven: Stuck again? Put something unexpected in their path! Japanese businessmen! An NBC pilot!  A new J. Peterman catalog! Have your duo fight it out and regroup and get back to the task at hand. (That could kill a couple of thousand words right there!)

Step Twelve: Take a break and think about your ending. What do you want to happen? Do you want them to meet their objective or not? Brainstorm for 10-20 things that need to happen before your duo gets to the end. This is your very loose outline. From now on, as you get stuck, refer to this. Put Jerry and George in these situations or scenes and then get them out.

“I can’t die with dignity. I have no dignity. I want to be the one person who doesn’t die with dignity. I’ve lived my whole life in shame! Why should I die with dignity?” –George Costanza

Step Thirteen: When you get about 10K from the end, try to wrap it up. Get your main characters in positions where they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re having trouble, make a coincidence work out for them. Have a high school buddy show up with a solution. Don’t even worry about the logic of it. The important thing is that YOU ARE 10K FROM THE END! You need to fill that space up with something. Sometimes all we need to see what happens next is to put our fingers on the keyboard and plow through. You might be surprised what you figure out for your characters.

Step Fourteen: When you hit 50K, CELEBRATE!  You deserve that badge! You deserve a pat on the back And don’t worry about the story.

Put it aside for a minimum of three months. Do it, Jerry. Do it!

Step Fifteen: When three months have passed, get the story out and go on a search and rescue mission. You are now digging through the haystack looking for the needle. You are digging through the stable full of ca-ca, looking for the pony. You are mining for diamonds in the cave. DO NOT PUBLISH THIS, JERRY! I repeat! DO NOT PUBLISH THIS, JERRY! If you have any kind of sense, you will take that 50K words and see if there’s something salvageable, like an exchange of dialog, a good description, a well-drawn character or a little bit of a plot line. This is your good stuff. SAVE IT.

Step Sixteen:  Question my method completely. “What’s the point of writing like a madman for a month if all we’re getting out of it is a little bit here and there.” I’ll tell you. You are learning discipline. You are learning to think fast. You are learning to appreciate the struggle. You are learning basic storytelling elements. You are learning what doesn’t work. You are learning what is good and what is drivel. You are learning to write the hard way.

Nanowrimo is not HOW to write a novel. It is however, a way to build muscle and skills. To stretch your story-telling abilities. To gain perspective and insight. It’s good for you. And your car will look nicer too.

So, veteran Nano-ers? What do you think? How has past Nanos worked for you? 


Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayWant more tips on how to make Twitter work for you? CONQUERING TWITTER in 10 MINUTES DAY is available for pre-order! Specifically written for authors, this book will help you think about yourself, your brand, your books, and your goals on Twitter, create great questions to ask and organize your time in such a way that you can get the most out of every tweet.

Available for $.99! 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community. 

Just Be Awful: Tips for NaNoWriMo Success


by Christine Hennebury

Once upon a time, I thought that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was about writing a novel. It seems that way, given that the point of it appears to be writing 50,000 words in a month. But, here’s the thing, as far as I am concerned, NaNoWriMo is actually about getting over any obstacles on your path to finishing a writing project.

 

There are a lot of preconceived notions about writing floating around out there. Those ideas about good writing and good writers tend to get in our way. We fill our brains with judgements about our word and story skills before we even put fingers to keyboard. The result is stories untold, words unwritten, ideas unshared and I can’t stand the thought of that.

Enter writing challenges like NaNoWriMo (or the 10 Minute Novelists 365 Club). These challenges set out to get you to do something that seems impossible. NaNoWriMo wants you to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. 365 Club wants you to write daily for a year.

 Either way, though, the point is the same – the organizers want you to get past all your mental obstacles to your writing. They want you to challenge yourself to take your creativity seriously by dedicating regular time to it.


Yes, the numbers are huge and the repetition is daunting, but it can be done. And, even if you don’t meet your initial target, you still get more writing done than ever before. So, really, there is no downside.

 

Set The Quality Bar Low

 

I’m not suggesting this is easy. Our obstacles to our writing are real, whether they are tangible or internal. If you have tangible obstacles – childcare, commitments, work projects – you will need to have a close look at your schedule and carve out tiny pieces of time. If your obstacles are internal (thinking patterns or writing blocks etc.), you will need to find a way to set those aside for now so you can keep the bar low.  Since, in the case of NaNoWriMo, the word count is set for you, keeping the bar low means accepting lower quality words.

 

I know, that seems horrible.  You are trying to be a GOOD writer.  But, if you consider that the greater goal is to help you break past mental barriers to your work, you can let yourself away with it for now.  Instead of trying to keep to your usual standards, the ones that keep you writing slowly or not at all, accept that your victory is in the number of words and write some glorious awfulness. You can revise awful writing but you cannot revise a blank page.

 

Once you are free from the constraints of writing well, it is easier to write more. Here are some quality-free ways to add to your manuscript and boost your word count. I dare you to try them.

 

1) Describe Every Single Thing

 

You will definitely cut this out in your revision but, for now, describe everything that you can see with your mind’s eye. Show us every expression on your characters’ faces. Tell us every detail in the room. List recipe ingredients. Double up on descriptions if you need to or describe everything from each character’s point of view. Tell us about the weather, and not just from today. This descriptions don’t have to be good or interesting, they are filler and they are practice, that’s all.

 

2)  Monologue Like a Villain

 

Having  your characters explain their motivation in great detail is useful in more that one way.  Not only will you get more words out of their reasoning but you may discover new information about your characters. Let them discuss why they are doing what they are doing. Have them justify every action. Have them wonder about things. You may end up letting them ramble a bit, but those words count.

 

3) Start A Dialogue

 

Let your characters get chatty with each other. Put them in a coffee shop or on a bus and let them have small talk. Or let them ask questions about events or information from the past. Say everything aloud first if you need to and then get it down. It doesn’t have to be the least bit relevant to the plot and its only purpose is elevating your word count so you can have them say all kinds of nonsense.

   

4) Get Into Boring Routines

 

Your characters have routines and schedules, and you should start writing about them. Your depiction of Mel’s toothbrushing routine may hold a clue to her other strange behaviour.  Or, it might just add a few words to your project. Either way, those routine details are handy.

 

It may seem like a waste of time to write words that you know you are unlikely to keep. However, I ask you to remember  that those words are not your final product, they  are just stepping stones in the development of your story.  You might as well pile those stones as high as possible so you can climb over any obstacles in your way.

 


                                                                                            

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .

How to Write Foreigners in Dialogues


by Joanna Maciejewska

Last month I was writing about how to insert foreign phrases in your novel, but what if your character doesn’t speak perfect English? How do you write foreigners to reflect their struggle with English?

There are many ways you can convey foreigners through dialogues, and since I’m a second language speaker myself, I tend to notice my fellow non-native speakers’ struggles (not to mention my own experiences in the matter!), so I’d like to share some of them with you.

Articles

For a native English speaker, there’s a clear difference between “I saw a cat outside” and “I saw the cat outside”, but it’s not necessarily the same for the non-native speakers. Many languages don’t have articles or use them in a different way and for different purposes, so beyond knowing the school-taught rule that “a/an is for singular, and the is for plural”, your foreign character is ready to mess it up. This might lead to some confusion and make mundane exchanges between your characters more interesting.

“I saw a cat outside.”
“So what?”
“It was the same cat we saw at the murder scene.”
“What?! You saw THE cat?!”
“That’s what I said.”

Some characters, if their command of English is rather simple, might even skip the articles altogether, making an opening for some unintended humor.

“Can you give me address?”
“Why do you need a dress?”

Prepositions

Another great way to show your character making mistakes in English are prepositions as often they don’t translate directly. I’ll give you some examples from my native language. In Polish you don’t say that you see something “in the picture”. You see it “on the picture”. You also wouldn’t say “welcome to New York”, but… “welcome in New York”.

Of course, research will be necessary to make sure your “messed up” articles match your character’s native language.

“There’s coffee on the picture.”
“What?! I told Matt to be careful and not spill any!”
“No. I mean, the girl on the picture is drinking coffee.”

Phrasal verbs

If you’re a native English speaker, you’ve likely never heard about them, but phrasal verbs can be a real struggle for second language speakers. If you look it up online, you’ll learn that “phrasal verb” is an “idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element” (often a preposition). They come to you naturally, because you’ve been surrounded by them all your life, but the second language learners have to actually memorize them. To them, “knock down”, “knock out”, and “knock up” can be very confusing. Moreover, if they hadn’t come across a particular phrasal verb, they might not be able to figure it out without context.

Foreigners are also less likely to use them when they speak if they struggle with English. They won’t ask you to “put out” the fire: they might say “extinquish” instead. This is something that doesn’t require foreign languages study or research. You just need to find a replacement for a phrasal verb.

“We will have to hit him unconscious.”
“He’s too big. There’s no way we’re going to knock him out!”

 How to Write Foreigners in Dialogues

Idioms

Since I mentioned phrasal verbs, I should cover idioms in general. They are always a great way to show the character’s struggle with the language. If you watched NCIS and got to know Ziva, you’ve probably witnessed her language slips more than enough. Sadly, throughout the seasons, it was very inconsistent from perfectly done to artificially made up, so if you want your character sound real, there are few things to remember.

Even though some second language speakers might use a similar sounding word, it’s not that common. It’s more common to use a word with a similar meaning. Second language speakers are more likely to say “don’t beat around the thicket” than they are “don’t beat around the plush”. To give you another example (it’s one of my own slips), once I said “the coast is free” instead of “the coast is clear”. I remembered the idiom had something to do with the lack of obstacles, but I couldn’t nail the right word.

Literal translations

If you’re willing to do a bit of research, using idioms can be a lot of fun. Did you know that in Polish, when someone is going to try something out on you, you won’t become their “guinea pig” but an “experimental rabbit”?

Also, people in Poland and Scandinavia don’t cross their fingers for luck, but instead they wrap other fingers around their thumbs. It’s literally “holding my thumbs”. Of course, experienced second language speakers will know idioms don’t translate directly, but if your character struggles with English, it’s a perfect opportunity to add a bit of flavor to their speech.

“I’m going in. Wish me luck.”
“You can do it!” Bartek raised his clenched fists, almost like in a boxing stance. “I’m holding my thumbs for you!”

Not all of the expressions will be good to use, as they might not be obvious, even in the context. I mentioned “don’t beat around the bush” above, and using Polish equivalent, “don’t wrap it in cotton”, would be confusing for a reader. But it’s definitely worth exploring.

False friends

Did you know that some languages have words that sound the same or similar, but mean something else? In second language learning, these are called “false friends” as they seem familiar to a learner. In English, “transparent” is adjective meaning something is see-through or clear, but in Polish this is the word for a… banner. Similar goes for “sympathy” which in English is most commonly used to describe the feeling toward someone based on relating to their misery. While in Polish, “sympathy” would be a noun and an old-fashioned word used for a person who’s an object of one’s crush.

This is a relatively easy way to mess up your character’s English as the Internet is full of “false friends” lists for various languages. There are also some available on Wiktionary (like those for Polish and Spanish), so all you have to do is get creative with it.

Lost words

It probably happened to you more than once to have a word on the tip of your tongue, but you couldn’t remember it? The same happens to the second language speakers. It’s no surprise, since they had to memorize all the words in English and their meaning in the first place. What’s interesting, it happens to even more advanced speakers. But while the basic learners will just get stuck, the advanced speaker will try to ask for the right word.

“Is everything ok?”
“I ate too much for lunch and now I have… What’s the word for when your food is in your stomach and falls apart?”
“Digestion?”
“Yes, this one! I have digestion problems.”

As a downside, this will only work with characters that are supposed to be smart and knowledgeable, because they need to be able to describe the words they’re looking for. On the other hand, you don’t need to know any second language to make it work.

Foreigners in dialogues

The speaker’s origin influences the mistakes they make, so depending on their first language, the way they speak English might differ. It’s not only about the accent and pronunciation of the words, but also about mistakes they make. If you’re lucky to have second language speakers around, you might take this opportunity to listen to how they speak and what are the mistakes they most commonly make.

But what if you don’t have any foreigners to listen to? You can always go online and read through posts on forums or social media. You can also make friends with someone who speaks English as a second language and ask them what they found different about English language or what were they struggling with the most when they were learning it. They’ll likely provide you with a plethora of examples.


Joanna MaciejewskaJoanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”). You can find out more about her and her stories at melfka.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Procrastination Queen-Laying Down My Crown

Procrastination Queen

That’s me, Queen of Procrastination. Sadly I wear the crown proudly most of the time. I know all the tricks to not have time to write, yeah you read right, to NOT write. Sounds like a chore, right? For me it feels like a chore, and I don’t like to do chores. Every time I should do something I automatically no longer want to do it.

Procrastination is my biggest obstacle when it comes to writing, I don’t prioritize it high enough. I even clean house before writing, and I hate doing chores, really hate it. The other day I cleaned my bathroom, something I’ve been putting f for a long time, instead of writing this blog post just because I HAD to write it.

While I was cleaning, which didn’t take long to do, I thought about one of my favourite characters, Claire Fraser from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. She also hates doing the everyday mundane tasks that you’ll repeat tomorrow. I realized I began cleaning the bathroom because I made a CONSCIOUS decision to stop putting off things I needed to do.

Procrastination is the biggest enemy to my life as a writer.

How to Stop Procrastinating

First, we need to look at WHY we procrastinate and what we can do to overcome it. Do you fall into the pit of self-pity, or end up in the fear of failure cave? Or is it worse than that, do you end up on the top of the fear of success mountain? I’m on the mountain top, in my cave. Yeah, I have the fear of failure AND the fear of success.

Who am I if I’m not the struggling writer? Who am I if I never get to write all the stories I have in my head? Like many of you, I have said to myself “If I could just get started…” then… Well, guess what? You can’t start if you don’t sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.

4 Ways We Procrastinate
  1. Don’t have anything to say, or the words don’t come out as you want? Then write that! Write about all that walls you put up that hinder you. Yes YOU put them up, make a Top 10-list, or Top 12 on why you can’t write.
  2. Is it important to clean the house now, will someone die if it’s messy? Can’t focus on the writing surrounded by the mess, then clean the house and remove your excuse not to write.
  3. The word faucet won’t flow? Put on some music that you know pulls your heart strings, write down what you feel listening to it. Put the emotions into a character. You write an entire piece from just one song.
  4. Need something more visual? Put on one of your favourite movies. I tend to go to Harry Potter or Resident Evil, because I dabble in more than one genre so I need different inspiration depending on what I’m working on. Pick one that you have seen enough times so you don’t need to watch. Use the movie as a background noise to draw inspiration from. Pick a favourite line or capture what resonates true to your own story.
“Be a writer not a waiter.”

I really love this quote, it puts everything into perspective. Do you want to be a writer or a waiter? Every moment you don’t write is a moment you’re a waiter, you wait for the right time or the right project or the right opportunity to appear.

According to WritersLife.com, “over 99% of professional writers – those whose writing is their primary source income – never make the bestseller’s list.” Do you really need to get your book on the bestseller’s list? I, for one, will be happy the day I can live off my writing and can stop shuttling to and from a 9-5 gig.

Make Time

If you can’t find time during the day because you work full-time, have a spouse and/or kids, activities several days a week, you will have to make time. Get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later than usual. I’m just as shocked as you are that I’m mentioning this! I love my sleep and I need it to be nice to people around me. But it is a good way to get more time during the day if you REALLY don’t have time.

An extra hour a day gives you seven hours a week to write. I’m following my own advice as well, being unemployed now I don’t have to get up early in the mornings, but I’m setting my alarm clock for 8 am, and I make sure I get up then. It has improved my writing time in a big way, I’m crunching out over 1,000 words daily and that’s just in the mornings. One day I even crushed the 2,000 words limit! If I, the Queen of Procrastination, can do it so can you.

No More Excuses for Procrastination

Are you getting the picture? Will you stop procrastinate? I will stop! I’m facing my fears head on, being an Aries I should have done this years ago. Ha ha… The word procrastination is just another word for indecision. You are simply not choosing to be a writer. It’s harsh, I know, but the truth is harsh. We who procrastinate are choosing not to write.

Be aware of your choices and the consequences they have. Watching your favourite tv show may be eating up writing time. Instead use it as a reward AFTER you write. If you don’t own a DVR, write during the commercials. In Sweden, we have about 5 minutes of commercials every 15 minutes or so. That’s 20 minutes for an hour-long show, plenty of time to write.

Promise yourself you will stop procrastinating today! You’ll thank yourself later when you hold your book in your hand, or the newspaper that published your short story. Writing this blog post helped me crush the 2 000-word limit again in less than a week. I’m tossing my procrastination crown in the trash. I might be nominated for another one in the future, but now that I know that it’s not the crown I want to wear, I’ll put on my writer’s cap and graciously decline.

Are you with me? Ready to kick it to the curb? Share how you plan to exchange your procrastination crown for your writer’s cap.

Sonja Fröjdendal is an author who can’t make up her mind on which genre to write in. Ever since she forced her mom to teach her to read, books by Astrid Lindgren was the ignition for her dream to be a writer. Inspiration comes from everywhere and in any shapes or forms.

Sonja lives in Sweden, her first publication was a self-published poetry book on Amazon back in 2013. Since then she’s had three novels published in three anthologies and is currently working on the fourth, none in the same genre. She can be found on her author page on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkdIn, Google+, Twitter, or Instagram.

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Social Media Etiquette-Manners Matter

Social Media EtiquetteToday I am going to talk to you about something that you may, or may not, have already had to deal with—social media etiquette. As a writer who is either already in the public arena, or who wishes to be, social media etiquette is going to be extremely important.

Why social media etiquette matters…

I’m sure you’ve heard of branding in relationship to being an author, but this goes even further. Social media etiquette is important because how your fans, and the general public, see you is most likely going to equate to clicks and hopefully sales. If you’re like me, then it grates a little  to know that you may need to censor yourself, even mildly, in order to keep the masses happy. But here’s the thing—it’s not censoring yourself I am advocating here, it all boils down to being nice.

Be you, but be the nicest you possible…  

How to be nice in the age of controversy…

Here are five tips, and why they are necessary in today’s age of controversy:

  1. Be open to honest and constructive conversation. If you have to talk about controversial things, do it, but avoid talking down to people.
  2. Speak about specific persons, events, or statistics. Try your best not to  assume that one specific incident is true of an entire people group. ex. Not all cops racially profile. Also don’t talk negatively about entire populations; a racial group, a group of readers, a state, a community, just don’t do it. They tend to raise arms when that happens.
  3. Reciprocate. If someone follows you or shares/retweets you, at least with a thank you. A smiley face. Something. People remember when you are polite. They also remember when you are not.
  4. Be yourself. Swear. Use funny gifs. Tell ridiculous stories. Be you. But be the politest you you can be.
  5. Remember, the internet is forever. Let me say it again for those in the back. THE INTERNET IS FOREVER, and someone somewhere, screenshotted that awful thing you wish you could take back. So just to avoid it altogether, don’t say the awful thing.
A cautionary tale…

So now that I’ve given you the tips I live by, let me tell you why I feel this is so timely. I’m going to try and do my best not to name names. Not that long ago a very famous author said something on twitter that made me see red. Why? Because in a glib tweet she put down and mocked an entire state, and then I sat and watched her twitter blow up. I even shared her tweet on my author page as an example of how not to handle social media.

People who loved her writing told her they would never read her books again. They unfollowed her. Some tried to explain how wrong she was. But here is the thing, the whole twitter storm could have been avoided simply by not posting a tweet mocking an entire state. And this is only the latest incident in the past year of huge name authors saying things that have left their fans gasping with disbelief.

Learn from other’s mistakes…

Here’s the takeaway. The impact on this huge name author won’t be

long term. She has been around long enough that one twitter storm won’t harm her name or reputation, but an up and coming author? This could mean the black mark publishers won’t touch. As readers get more and more comfortable with contacting their favorite authors, they also get more comfortable judging them. And if you are judged to be a not nice person, it could ruin your career.

So please, as you start your writing career, or even if you are halfway through one, keep social media etiquette in mind before you post to twitter or facebook. Once it’s out there, it can’t be taken back, not completely.

We love to hear from our readers. How do you handle social media etiquette? Do you have any personal rules?

 

Sheri Williams is an author who laughs in the face of genre. She always knew she would be a romance author one day, until she found the macabre that lives in her heart and her brain. Equally as comfortable in her own imagination as she is in the real world, she finds inspiration everywhere. Her stories range from light to dark, then very dark, but always with a touch of romance.

Sheri is a wife and a mom, which bring her great joy. She is also a geek and an avid Netflix binger, which also brings great joy. She always has multiple projects on her plate and if you want to stay up to date, be sure to sign up for the newsletter on her website. You can also follow her author page on fb, on twitter, pinterest and Google+

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Bring Them With You: Writing Vivid Descriptions


by Christine Hennebury

Readers come to fiction to immerse themselves in the world of the characters. If you want your readers to really connect with your writing, with your characters, you need to master vivid descriptions.

When you put in the work to make your book’s world as real as possible, you reward both your readers and yourself.

Creating a detailed world doesn’t mean that you need to overload your text with adjectives. Instead, it means that you need to be precise in your language and selective in the details you share. It means that you connect your readers with your characters through their senses.

Vivid description lets you fully inhabit your world, your characters, and your setting, and that makes your work more fun.

 

Sidenote: When I’m telling stories aloud, I know exactly what each room I describe contains but I don’t share all of those details. Instead, I pick specific items to describe that will connect with my audience. That practice can be useful for your readers, as well. Even if you know every last detail in a room, you can just share the most vital ones.

Creating precise descriptions  is probably not something that will happen in a first draft. You may need to go back and layer in some extra details in your scenes to make them richer.  If you want to ensure that your writing is rich in detail but not a blast of sensory information, perhaps you could consider the following approaches:

Choose a Perspective

Last year, I took a workshop with a local writer who is well known for her engaging descriptions. She had lots of great advice to share but my most important take-away was that every description is from someone’s perspective.

It’s obvious, really, but I hadn’t thought about it before.

Every scene in your book is through someone’s eyes – even if that person is you! So, you have to emphasize details that would be important to them. You have to show their knowledge or their ignorance. And, you will want to add emotional content to details so your readers know what your character thinks about their surroundings.

Descriptions from their point of view can be part of ‘showing’ instead of ‘telling.’ There is a big difference between the person who describes the moon as looking like the bald head of a baby and the person who describes it as looking like a dinner plate.

 

Find a Similar Place

Go to a place similar to the setting in your story and pay close attention. (If your story is set in a fantasy realm, you will have to wing it a bit.)  Look around – we tend to think of visual descriptions first so that’s a good place to start.  What can you see? Do those items have specific meaning in that context? Which items say the MOST about the location?

Next, close your eyes and listen. What noises can you hear? Can you describe them without referring to what’s making them? This is a good chance to use some onomatopoeia!

How about smells? Textures? Tastes? What kinds of other sensory details are available in your chosen setting?

Take some notes so when you get back to your writing you can infuse your events with specific and relevant detail.

The relevant part is key. After all, there may  not much point in mentioning the crimson curtains if no one goes near the window!

However, as I warned above, you don’t want to overload your readers. So, it may be useful to consider which details from the environment stand out. Or, which ones contain the most powerful information. You can convey a very dirty room with a quick description of a rat on a counter eating a piece of what must have once been bread, you don’t need to describe every single dirty thing.

Sidenote: If you cannot go to a similar place, you may want to put the power of Facebook or Twitter to use for your writing. Trade scenes with another writer who can find a similar location and you can do one for them – both of your scenes will be richer for it!

 

Feel It More Than You See It

Standard writing advice tells you to write what you know.  However, when you delve too far into specific language, you can end up with a highly  technical, jargon-filled description. Or in an effort to make your scene clear, you can write one that is too heavily slanted to a single sense. That’s when you should consider how your character is feeling.

For example, it would be easy for me to get mired in details when I’m writing about Taekwondo. I could spend paragraph after paragraph describing certain strikes and blocks and call them by name, telling the reader specific angles and details. It would be technically correct but it wouldn’t draw the reader in.

It would be much better for me to describe how each blow feels. Then, by layering that with details like being out of breath, having sweat running into my eyes, being able to hear my own heart, and being afraid of an opponent’s power, I can immerse my reader in the battle. 

You can do the same in the fact-based sections of your writing –  help them to *feel* what’s happening instead of baffling them with details.

 

Bring Them With You

 

Your reader is accepting an invitation into your imagination so you want their experience to be a rich one. You want them to be right THERE with your characters.

Layering details of sensory information within your characters’ actions and observations will make your world REAL for your readers, it lets you bring them with you on your characters’ adventure.  And, making them FEEL what’s going on will keep them coming back to your stories.  Isn’t that what we’re all hoping for?


Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .

Never Give Up (Or Why New Writers Feel A Little Nuts)

It’s FALL here in beautiful New England!

The trees are showing off their magnificent colors. October is magical. It’s breathtaking and awe-inspiring. It’s glorious and crisp. October is the best time of year.

Unless you’re an acorn.

I am not an acorn, but I would imagine that if I were, and if I were sentient and anthropomorphic, it would be very difficult for me not to feel sorry for myself in October.

Where would acorns like me go? If not eaten by a squirrel, then I and my friends could be buried in a hole somewhere, forgotten under the brutal snow that New England’s prize for loving autumn too much.

Poor me. All alone in the darkness. Decomposing. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll germinate in the spring. If we ever have spring.

Ah, but this is where I get to sermonizing, so I need to get back to October.

If you are a beginning writer, you are much like a wee acorn.

Small, seemingly insignificant, a bit nutty, occasionally accosted by squirrels. If you are a beginning writer, you may look at those towering, more experienced, more successful writers (a tree in our analogy if you haven’t got it already) and think that you should just give it up and become squirrel fodder.

Don’t!

Don’t believe for a minute that you are less because you are just beginning. Please don’t believe that your future is bleak because it’s dark in your squirrel hole. Don’t believe that their strength should be compared to your weakness.

Writers can feel this same way. They may feel that because the market is huge and saturated, they don’t have a chance. Or they may feel that because writers around them are more successful that there’s no room for another voice. They may be so busy looking at the circumstances around them that they forget to plow through.

Instead? Do this:

1. Write every day.  Even ten minutes will keep you going in the right direction. If you can’t write every day, write as often as you can.

2. Remember everyone was a beginner sometimes. If you have to, research your favorite authors and study their early years. Go back to this list of famous rejections. Make it a game to collect your own

3. Worry only about you, and no one else. Writing isn’t a game for the insecure. It’s a quest for those of us who look straight ahead and stick to our convictions and our determination.

4. Hang on to the dream. George R.R. Martin said, “I don’t like writing, but I like having written.” How did he get to his level of fame and success? One word at a time. Now, you can always take a break. You will always have drier seasons, but that doesn’t mean you should quit altogether.

5. Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, compare yourself to another writer. Either you will compare your strengths to their weaknesses and come out looking like a smug know-it-all (and no one buys books from smug know-it-alls) or you will compare your weakness to their strength and give up entirely.

It’s autumn in New England. There’s beauty everywhere. In the grand and in the small.

Keep writing. You will have the glory someday.


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Panning for Gold-Finding Your Best Ideas

Ideas are a dime a dozen for us creative types. Often they come in the most inopportune moments or lead us on bunny trails mid-scene. And yet, when we go to decide what happens in the next scene, we often find our brains zone in on the obvious or worse go blank.
Finding Your Best Ideas

Finding our best ideas for a scene is like panning for gold. We have to sift out the 90% that is just dirt and then analyze the last 10% to determine what is fool’s gold and what is real gold.

Being time crunched writers, we need to learn to do this as efficiently as possible. So here are some steps to help you through the process.

Decide what the purpose of the scene is.

You have to dip into the muck of the story problem. Does your main character needs to encounter the antagonist? Do they need to have their wound poked? Do they need to have a mirror moment where they look into their own soul?

Break up the dirt clods.

You have a purpose now you need to figure out what kind of situation the protagonist can be in to encounter that situation. This is usually the hardest part. Sometimes there is a logical next step in the story, other times anything can happen.

If you have a man who has just committed a crime and is on the run from the police where would he go? How would he get there? Would he steal a car and drive until he ran out of gas? Would he run to a friend’s house? Would he take off on foot and find some place to hole up?

If you know the purpose of the scene it makes it easier to break up all the potential ideas

Filter out the obvious idea stuff.

Sometimes you have a scene idea in your head because that’s the logical thing that must happen next. If your character is on a road trip and they need to encounter another character they are obviously going to have to stop somewhere and get out of the car. Most writers would have them stop at a motel, fast-food restaurant, or gas station, or maybe break down on the side of the road.

But that’s so obvious. That’s what the reader expects. So what is the NOT-so-obvious way for the protagonist to encounter the antagonist for the first time? Could they get a phone call? Pick up a hitchhiker? Hear the person on the radio? See them on a billboard on the side of the road?

Come up with 5-10 alternatives for your next scene.

You got some good ideas that could be potential gold.

At this point you should spend about 10 minutes just brainstorming the top ideas. What kind of billboard would the antagonist be on? What kind of radio song/program/commercial? If they’re a hitchhiker what would they look like? What would their story be? Why would your MC stop for them?

After you work out the ideas, pick the three most interesting.

Finding the gold.

In the end, you have to choose the best idea. You have to separate the fool’s gold from the real gold.  How?  Run it by a writing partner or another published author you know to get feedback on the uniqueness and quality. If you don’t have a supportive group of writers now is the time to find one. You don’t have to share your ideas with the world, but 2-3 trusted sound boards are essential.  Try and find people in your genre who have more experience than you do.

If you are still not ready to share the idea, then pick the most unique one. James Scott Bell says that often the last idea you came up with is the one that has the most potential.  Go with your gut. Which one really fulfills the purpose of the scene? Which one can carry some symbolism or foreshadows future events?

When you find your gold. Write a quick and dirty scene. The worst that can happen is you find fool’s gold.  Toss it and go back to your top three list and choose another.  The key is not to play it safe and predictable.  Real gold isn’t easy to find.

Any other advice you would give to someone looking for the golden ideas for a scene?

Jessica is a prayer warrior who loves to encourage and teach others how to create safe spaces for the hurting and lost. In 2014, she graduated from Western Governor’s University with a B.A. in Educational Studies and published her first book, Surviving the Stillness. She has written for several blogs and online magazines and is an admin and contributor for 10 Minute Novelists. She also created and manages their annual 365 Writing Challenge, which encourages writers to develop the habit of writing daily. You can learn more about her at her website, authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com or on Facebook.

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What Good Writers Do


by Sara Marschand

Kindergartners learn what “good writers do,” but all writers can apply these universal lessons.

Kindergarteners practice tracing letters and numbers as the first steps to becoming literate.  Even at this early stage, they are taught the basics for a lifetime of writing. The sign on my daughter’s classroom wall reads simply “What Good Writer’s Do.” Only a handful of the recent preschoolers can read the sign at the beginning of the year. As they come to understand the words, the sign becomes a useful reference. It provides guidance on how to communicate clearly to readers.  From editing to formatting to effective storytelling, all writers benefit from mastering the basics.  They must to entice readers and agents. 

The rules for good writers found on a Kindergarten wall apply universally.

Good writers think about their topic

This is true on every level and at every stage of a writer’s career.  What do you want to write about? All fiction, boiled down to its simplest element, contains a character and a conflict. A kindergartener writes a sentence about their cat. For flash fiction, you might need a character, two points of conflict and a twist, but longer works require thinking in the form of outlines, scene cards or the Snowflake Method. Even a pantser percolates their story in their head before the words flow.

Good writers ask if it makes sense  

Every day. Every word. Are descriptions clear and vivid enough for the reader to see the story? Have you given your character a twenty-eight-hour day? Does your magic system work one way in chapter one and differently in chapter two?  Check the continuity of the elements in your story from one scene to the next.

Good writers write neatly

 For the kiddos, this specifically refers to handwriting. Many advanced writers still write by hand before entering on a keyboard, but this idea of ‘neat’ writing can be expanded further. Are your thoughts organized on the page? Are you following the scene and sequel method where something happens, your character reacts and then makes a decision? Do you have a purple prose problem where all your sentences are flowery, wordy and full of excessive adverbs and adjectives? All of this tidying doesn’t have to happen in a first draft, but self-editing gives everyone a chance to neaten the work. 

Good writers read it over and over  

Kindergartners check if their letters were formed correctly, but we experienced writers all know this step is about editing and finding the more insidious flaws in our work. Start with the overall plot and structure. Does this sequence of events tell the story you want? Are the character arcs complete?  Once it’s in order, tweak the sections for flow and readability. With each additional pass, the work is polished until the only the grammar remains to be wrestled with.

Good Writers use punctuation at the end

 The kindergartners have a tough job here. They have to learn when to use a period, a question mark or an exclamation point. Formatting work incorrectly for submission earns red marks from the teacher. Grown-up writers can get confused by the exclamation point, too. People use them to show excitement, but overuse of the exclamation point is a sign of weak writing to the gate-keepers of publishing. Use them, but know why.

Good writers use Capital Letter at the beginning

 For professional markets, an improper format can mean the difference between instant rejection or an agent or editor actually reading your work. No one wants to slog through pages of poorly formatted paragraphs.  Stick to standard formatting guidelines—Times New Roman, 12pt, double-spaced. Check with each individual recipient what their standard is, where they want your name and word count information or if they want it at all. To be respected as a professional, give the agents and editors what they want. Follow the rules.

Good writers use finger spaces 

Kindergartners are taught to use a finger width space between their words. Except for ensuring you type only one space after a period, this isn’t useful advice for the experienced writer. However, it acts as a reminder to keep up with changing standards. Two spaces after a period morphed into one due to changes in printing capabilities. Most agents, publishers, and editors prefer electronic submissions to printing and mailing from the pre-email era. Changing standards go beyond typography issues, though. Follow your genre and know what they are looking for (or not) in terms of story elements, types of characters and pacing.

Mastery of writing starts small.

We all began by learning letters. Then added grammar and punctuation. Advice for what makes good writing evolves as we grow as writers, but everyone started at the beginning. What basics do you still have trouble with?

 


Sara Marschand has been writing Urban Fantasy and Science fiction since she ended her full-time career in engineering. When not writing, she enjoys everything produced by Marvel Studios. Sara lives with her spouse, 2 noisy kids, a frog and a goldfish that spits rocks. Visit her blog here.

Theme, or What are you REALLY saying?

Theme, Symbol and Motif – Taking your writing deeper
A three part series on creating depth and cohesion in your story

Part 1: Theme, or What are you REALLY saying?

by JGM Daw

Ask three writers about Theme, and you’ll get four answers. At least that’s how it feels sometimes. Theme is one of those mysterious subjects that I have always had a problem with, mostly because it always conjured up images of rooms with animal print furniture and abstract art. Theme is hard, but it is considered ‘central’ to a story. Getting it right is important.

Theme - What are you REALLY saying

You, the author, need to communicate clearly and, more importantly, effectively with your reader. Theme answers the question, What are you really saying?

There are three main takes on theme that you will come across in the literature, but to me they are like different facets of a gem: theme as topic, theme as conflict, and theme as perspective. All of them are interesting, but none of them feel complete.

One of the most pervasive pieces of advice when it comes to theme is ‘just write, and the theme will emerge.’ As we will see, this is both beneficial and dangerous.

Theme as topic

The first, knee-jerk reaction to the question of theme revolves around theme as a topic. This isn’t to be confused with subject, which describes what the story is about, “i.e, boy meets girl.” Topic describes the general emotional environment in which the story takes place: alienation, ambition, deception, justice, security, etc. These topics can help to set the mood, the attitude, even the rationalization of the choices of the characters at
work in the story. The challenge is that focusing solely on theme as topic leaves a very wide and vague playing field. While your reader may know and even identify with the emotional tone of the story, theme as topic doesn’t take them anywhere.

Theme as conflict

Also known as the basic plots, narrative conflicts, and story types, these statements tend to be grouped into a finite and controllable list (usually seven in number, but that also varies.) The lists almost always include a comparison between two competitive extremes. Man  against man, man against nature, etc. are sprung from the classic list of Quiller-Couch’s seven basic stories. An updated list has buried some of the conflict, but it’s still there. Booker’s Seven Basic Plots couches the conflict in other terms, with labels such as Comedy, which is really is one side of a person struggles with events (and triumphs), and Tragedy, which is the other side, or person struggles with events (and succumbs).

The key to notice here is that there is a comparison, a conflict, a choice between opposing forces. Phillips and Huntley’s Dramatica: A New Theory of Story is explicit about this conflict, pitting one of 64 possible elements in complex relationships with at least three other options. Again, though, this puts the reader in the midst of the action without offering a way out.

Theme as perspective

You may also run across the idea of theme as a message or an opinion, where the author is taking a stand on a particular topic. Greed is evil, love triumphs over all, friendships don’t last forever, these are all value statements. The author, you, have thoughts and  experiences, either lived or explored hypothetically through your story. Whether you are conscious of it or not, the topics you write about mean something to you, and consciously or not, those opinions will come out in your story. They will present themselves to your reader through the dialog of your characters, the options they are offered, the fictional environment you place them in, and even the elements you don’t include in your story.

For example, if your perspective is that ‘love always triumphs,’ does creating a romance where every relationship resolves happily reflect a believable, enjoyable, engaging world for the reader? These are complex issues, and not easily resolved. Often, the author may not even be aware of their perspective, and without that awareness, may not successfully present a defensible argument for their perspective.

Theme as position

As you can see, theme is hard. It is kind of all over the map, but nailing it down will tighten your writing, and as a bonus it will let you know what your story is saying, and what it is missing. The truth of the matter is that theme is ALL of these things: topic, conflict and perspective, balanced together.

Theme is this:

The author presents the reader with a position on their perspectives regarding conflicting demands of the critical topics inherent in the human experience.

Theme as message

Position is more than simply perspective, which has a single point of view. Topics never present themselves in isolation in the human experience. Love, for example, does not stand alone, it is partnered with loneliness, apathyhate, and more. In our lives, these topics come into conflict, and we individually have to choose: to love, which may lead to joy, yet opens us up to heartbreak, or to isolate ourselves, which may create an emotional safety zone, yet deny us the chance to grow and flourish.

Theme is how you, the author, present your preference.  To continue the romance example  above, as an author you might choose to write a story that illustrates that you believe it is better to love, despite the risks, than to remain alone. You have an opinion on the conflict, a stand. In the story, you will illustrate the risks and benefits of both love and isolation, and present your verdict.

Theme as practice

So, finally, how does this help you as a writer?

An understanding of your theme is a bright light that shines on your assumptions, and challenges you to present the other side. The key is that you actually fully represent that other side, take THAT position for the reader as well and explore it as thoroughly as your preferred option. Thus your story becomes fully realized. And who knows? Maybe you will learn something about your theme in the process, and maybe even yourself.

Michael Hauge, in Writing Screenplays That Sell offers his own take on theme here:

“Theme is the prescription for living  that the writer wants to give the audience or the reader.”

So that is it. Say what you REALLY mean.


Michel Daw (aka JGM Daw) is a teacher, husband, father, son, uncle, brother and writer. He is an inveterate geek and SFF fan. His first full length novel, I Should Have Listened to My Cat, is undergoing final edits. He is also a teacher and published author on Stoic Philosophy, and maintains  a website (with his wife Pamela) at thestoiclife.org