Category Archives: Reading

Seven Reasons Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

 

Have you ever read your work out loud?

Long before you submit your work to your beta readers, before you assume that you’re done, before you start thinking about renting that billboard to advertise your latest literary genius, you should read your manuscript out loud.

Start at page one. Finish at “The End.” And listen. And keep a red pen handy to make notes.

I’m completely convinced that you’ll make a lot of notes. I’m convinced that you’ll hear far more errors than you’ll ever see. Reading aloud reveals everything.

Seven Reasons Why You Why You Should Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

This is why you should read your manuscript out loud:

You’ll hear words repeated. We all have writing habits that need to be broken. We may use “just”  or “some” too many times. By reading aloud, you’ll be able to see patterns of filter words that need to be eliminated. Make a note in the margin, or highlight your offensive word so you can do a “find” and “replace” later.

You’ll have a better sense of the story’s pacing. When we are writing, we have everything going on in our heads. It may never occur to us that the interior monolog is too long or that exposition needs a trimming. By reading aloud, you may catch these things.

You’ll catch bad blocking. If you are reading aloud, you may be better in tune with what is happening in the scene. This new, fresher, multi-sensory experience may reveal some errors or inconsistencies that need correcting. Fix them now. They can embarrass you later.

Need help? As a fan to sit and listen to you. Record your reading. Put on a play.

You’ll hear the clunkiness of poorly written sentences. Passive voice, for example, is more offensive to the ear than to the eye. If you’re reading aloud, you may come across a sentence that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it needs a rearranging. Or cut them out entirely.

You may notice unnecessary character ticks. Do your characters “sigh” or “smile” or “roll their eyes?”  If you read your manuscript aloud, you may see how often they do this. These aren’t necessary. If it is so important that your character reacts, come up with a less predictable way to express it.

You may find spelling mistakes that spellcheck won’t notice. There is a magical process going on in our brains when we read aloud. We experience a cognitive hey day when our brain, mouth, and eyes are all stimulated at once. I think, and I say this without being a neurosurgeon, that this makes us more alert.  This is helpful with those pesky homophones. Have a red pencil ready and mark all you see.

You may hear inconsistencies in the dialogue. In your novel, you want each of your characters to have a distinct sound. You won’t know if you’ve really pulled this off until you hear your characters come to life. Act your characters, don’t just read their lines, and see if you need to strengthen dialogue.

This is going to take time. So get comfortable, get a big glass of tea (or whiskey if the book is really bad) and start talking to yourself.

Your manuscript will be all the better for it.


 


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. 

How To Review A Book As An Author

By Olivia Folmer Ard

In this digital age, an author’s internet presence can make or break her.

Reputation, success, overall career—these are just a few of the things on the line when we power on our computers and plug into the virtual world. We’re all familiar with the horror stories about authors reacting badly to online reviews of their own books—Kathleen Hale stalked a Goodreads user who left a snarky one-star review, going so far as to physically visit the woman’s home, and Richard Brittain took stalking a step further when he tracked down a cheeky 18-year-old and bludgeoned her with a wine bottle after she criticized his work on Amazon.

Simply put, our kind does not always fare well in the digital realm.

We creatives are a sensitive breed, acting as protective mother hens to our word-children. Without proper discipline and restraint things can turn ugly, and fast.

 

But I’ve noticed a growing trend of self-published and independent authors who struggle with having a good presence on the opposite end of the spotlight. Instead of losing control with a reviewer of their own work, they lose control when they step into the reviewer’s shoes.

Authors should be a shining example of leaving stellar reviews, be our opinions positive or negative. We know firsthand how much work writing, revising, editing, promoting, publishing, and marketing can be. Whatever our opinion, it can—and should—be handled with grace. Here are a few basic guidelines to ensure this happens.

Were you given a free copy? Acknowledge that!

In this industry, receiving free review copies happens a lot. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this exchange, but it’s important to be transparent about these things. Let’s say you give an honest five-star review of your critique partner’s book, but neglect to include a disclaimer that you’re acquainted with the author and received a free copy. Now, let’s say someone figures out you’re connected with the author. Suddenly, that five-star review isn’t looking so shiny. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you were honest in your review. It doesn’t even matter that you barely know the author and have only been Facebook friends with him for three weeks. You weren’t forthcoming about the situation, and now the whole ordeal seems suspicious. People may not feel they can trust you anymore. And they certainly aren’t interested to learn more about YOUR work.

Use professional language!

The three S’s—slang, snark, and swearing—are fun to employ, especially when you’re discussing a book you didn’t enjoy. But when writing a review, especially one intended for public online display, you should avoid all of them. You’re not just a funny Goodreads user anymore—you’re criticizing or praising a colleague. Decorum and respect are in order here.

This goes double for authors you’re acquainted with, even in such nebulous ways as “I think we bumped into each other at a workshop five years ago.” In these cases, you must avoid writing the review as if it’s a personal letter. No, “Suzie, this was so good—much better than the first draft. Post more about this book in the group next Wednesday!” Instead, shoot for, “In The Great American Novel, Ms. Smith’s skills as a writer and storyteller are only improved from her stellar debut, The American Novel.

Be honest, but kind!

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you enjoy a fellow author’s personality, online presence, or cute cat photos—their work just isn’t your cup of tea. That’s okay! If you choose to review their books, be honest in your reactions; however, before you hit “send” on a two- or three-star review, check yourself. Did you write your honest thoughts in the best possible way? Did you, in emotionally neutral words, explain the issues you found with the story, or did you just say “this book stinks”? Did you come up with at least two things the author did well to “sandwich” your complaint?

If you said no to either question, reconsider posting this review. There’s always a way to express an opinion without being downright mean. It isn’t always easy, but we’re writers, after all—if anyone is able to temper honesty with kindness, it should be us.

Can’t say something nice? Don’t say anything at all!

They may say they don’t care if you give it one-star, but let’s get real here: we all care about that. Consider this the Golden Rule, Author Edition. I’ll admit, this one is extremely difficult to pull off. How do you say to the nice author you met online, the one who’s helped you out so much, “I know I promised to read and review your book, but trust me, you don’t want my opinions on public display”?

This isn’t fun. It stinks. It stinks even more if, like me, confrontation is your kryptonite and fibbing is distasteful. Each situation will vary, depending on how long you’ve known the author and how developed your friendship is. They may never ask you when you’ll post a review, and if that’s the case you’re off scot-free. But if they check in with you to see how the reading is coming, it’s best to let them know how you feel before posting a fully negative review for their work.

Couldn’t finish the book? Say so!

Whether you didn’t have the time, the story disinterested you, or the writing was just plain awful, it’s important to let those reading your reviews know if you didn’t complete a book. Further to the point, include details. What page were you on when you stopped reading? What Kindle %? Did you skip around a bit before giving up? This helps others struggling with the decision to keep reading or not decide whether they should persevere, and it’s also a courtesy to the author. What if the problem you had with the book was resolved one chapter over from where you stopped reading? If that’s the case, you’ve unintentionally misrepresented the world and possibly led potential readers astray.

Avoid the “I would have written it this way” trap!

Nothing is more insulting when another writer rolls up their sleeves and turns into an armchair quarterback in the Amazon review section. You might wish a character handled a certain situation differently, and it’s fine to say so, but don’t list all the ways you would have written it better. You’re leaving a review, not teaching a course. What you would have done is irrelevant, because this isn’t your book. Not only will you damage your relationship with the author (if you have one), potential readers may lose faith in the author’s credibility and authority. It also makes you look snobby and unprofessional, and if others find out you’re a writer, they most likely won’t be checking out your work.

Don’t participate in a publicized blog tour if you can’t give a positive review!

It happened to me. I signed up to participate in a release blitz for an exciting new novel, I downloaded the free book, and . . . I couldn’t finish it. Couldn’t get past 10%. I wasn’t an author at this point, so I had no qualms about leaving a review on Amazon (with my did-not-finish information front and center), but I couldn’t bring myself to post the review on my blog. Not on a day when I knew the author would be doing her best to sell, sell, sell. I could have opted out and posted a promotional blurb instead, but I didn’t want my followers to think I recommended the book, so I did the not-so-comfortable thing—I emailed the tour coordinator and told her I wouldn’t be able to participate.

Most coordinators will tell you it’s fine if you have a negative review and they’d still love for you to participate. As an author, I strongly recommend bowing out. It’s a bad idea to showcase a negative review of another author’s work on a day when lots of traffic will be coming through.

Write the review you’d like to receive!

If your review is positive, make it more interesting than “Good book!” If your review is negative, make it more constructive and kind than, “This book sucks!” You’re an author! How much do you crave well-thought-out, elegantly written reviews? How much do the hastily written, vague one-star snark attacks hurt? Write the positive review you’d choose to include in your promotional material. Write the negative review you’d actually be okay with, one you’d find yourself nodding along with thoughtfully and saying, “Yes, I see where she’s coming from.”

Study these guidelines. Learn them. Implement then. Your fellow authors will thank you!


Olivia Folmar Ard is a secretary, history nerd, and all-purpose geek. She’s the author of The Bennett Series, and Readers’ Favorite 5-Star recipient ‘Tis the Season. She is pursuing a second degree in sociology. She and her husband JD live in Central Alabama, where they look after two crazy cats and wait for their miracle baby. Website/Blog: http://oliviafolmarard.weebly.com/Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/oliviafolmarard.author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/oliviadeard Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/oliviadeardGoodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/oliviadeard Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/oliviadeard

 

Eleven Requirements For The First Pages of Your Bestseller

The first pages of a book are like opening a door.

I let myself go at the beginning and write with an easy mind, but by the time I get to the middle I begin to grow timid and to fear my story will be too long…That is why the beginning of my stories is always very promising and looks as though I were starting on a novel, and the middle is huddled and timid, and the end is…like fireworks. — Anton Chekov

Eleven Requirements You Need For The First Pages of Your Bestseller by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

The first pages of a book are  the first impression a reader, agent, publisher or reviewer will read.

Your goal is to keep them so interested that they can’t put it down. To make sure this happens, consider these eleven requirements for the first few pages. And to make it clear, I’ve used examples from Disney movies.

1. Your beginning should set the stage for the story. Without getting too bogged down with detail, the reader needs to know the general feel for the first scene. Is it indoors or outdoors? What time of year is it, if that’s important? What’s the weather like? Is the main character comfortable or not? What details needs to be mentioned to really see the first scene? Are the descriptions of the initial impression enough for the reader to piece it together so they can put their attention on the main character? In the opening of Aladdin, the viewer sees that the story takes place in a Middle Eastern desert in an Islamic culture. While you don’t have the use of computer animation and story boards, you can express this kind of detail in your words to set the stage.

2. Your beginning should introduce your protagonist. The reader needs a sympathetic inclination toward them, or identify with them or see them doing something that seems virtuous or heroic. A reader will formulate a main character’s appearance in their heads, so rather than insist that the protagonist’s look be precise, give just enough details to help the reader along. Our first impression of the main character should be an active one. Don’t have them waking up first thing in the morning or looking out a window. Now Disney did do this with poor Cinderella. The viewer meets her as she is wakened by birds and mice, but I’m going to cut her a break, since she worked so dang much and deserves a little shut eye.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
Ray Bradbury

3. Your beginning should indicate early on the point of view and narrative voice. These are important because they set the tone of whole story.  Carefully choose what character you want to tell the story that’s in your head. Choose the character that has the most to lose. Consider choosing the character that has the strongest emotional connection to the theme. Then, make the words that they use be unique to them. In Pocahontas,  the story was not told from the point of view of Captain Smith, but of our title character. Pocahontas and her tribe had the most to lose in this story. The entire tone of the movie reflected her rich connection with nature and her worldview. Had it been told from Captain Smith’s point of view, everything about it would have been different. Including the name.

Eleven Requirements For The First Pages of Your Bestseller by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

4. Your beginning should hint at the theme. This must be a just a subtlety. In the first reading, your audience won’t see the connection between this opening shot and the rest of the book. But, if your theme is strong and consistent, they will go back to the beginning and see what you have done. Make your theme and intentions of the book understated. It may even be helpful to wait until the rest of the story has been drafted before you tackle the first scene. That’s not cheating, that’s art. In Lion King, the grand, big opening is the presentation of Simba to all of the animal kingdom by his family. Later the viewer sees that the themes include duty and family obligations. So the opening shot points to what’s coming up next.

5. Your beginning shouldn’t focus on making your main character likable.  Instead, focus on making them interesting. Whatever actions you put them in, make it intriguing enough so that the reader wants to know what happened. You’ve got the first third of the book to convince your reader that your protagonist is worth rooting for. Take your time. With apologies to every four-year-old girl in the universe, I’m not convinced that Anna from Frozen was all that likable. She was certainly cute, cheerful and spunky.  I had a hard time being sympathetic to her for never leaving her castle. Don’t even get me started on wanting to marry the first guy to show up at her party. Regardless of how I felt about her, I was still interested in how she was going to get out of this mess. For all her flaws, she was interesting.

“A novel is a tricky thing to map.”
Reif Larsen

6. Your beginning should move quickly with vivid action. A first chapter is not the place for deep introspection, navel gazing or explanation of tragic backstory. All of that can come about the first fourth of the story when the protagonist is debating whether or not to move forward on the adventure. In the beginning, concentrate on convincing the reader this character is worth following through his actions and words. Let’s turn our attention to Cars. The first scene is a race! What’s more active than that? The viewer meets Lightning McQueen (who also wasn’t that likeable) and sees him in action. We rooted for him to win and we didn’t even know why. The action told us about his history and his strengths and weaknesses. We were far more willing to watch what happened to him because we had seen him in action.

7. Your beginning should also explain the status quo. What is the main character’s life like? In just a few pages, you’re going to have that inciting incident jump on the reader like a jungle cat. To have the reader react well and care about the protagonist, the reader needs to know what peace is like for this main character. If done effectively, the reader will become more sympathetic to their plight and hope they fight that tiger well. This is where Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings Bonjour and shows us what it’s like in her poor provincial town. We know something is coming, (I mean the title is kind of a spoiler.) We’re more sympathetic to her because we understand how much she will lose once the story gets going.

“I almost always urge people to write in the first person. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.”
William Zinsser

8. Your beginning should explain, even briefly, what the deepest longing is for the protagonist. Now as you sculpt the story, you can add to this, or change it. The story hinges on your protagonist’s desire. Express this in a simple choice they make, something they say, or how they respond to a situation. Make sure that this desire is significant: it must be something that is a universal, something we can all identify with. Oh, Ariel, can you sing us that song again? In The Little Mermaid, we see Ariel swimming around describing her collection of treasures, explaining how unsatisfying they are. Part of Your World explains her deepest longing and sets the viewer up. We wonder now how she is going to get it.

9. Your beginning should have a big event. This is called the inciting incident. Besides being redundant, this is the big event that gets everything going for our main character. Often, the event is unexpected and disturbing. In Snow White, the queen hates our sweet little princess. The queen makes a decision that forces Snow White into the woods. This changes everything for Snow. Within your first few pages, you need to have your main character face something unexpected — it can be positive or negative — that sets the story in motion around them. Hopefully this incident will spark even more sympathy for them and keep the reader engaged.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Ernest Hemingway

10. Your beginning must have a figurative or literal threshold for your main character.  He or she enters a new world or a new phase of life that is unfamiliar. In Toy Story, Woody unwillingly crosses the threshold from being Andy’s favorite toy to his second favorite. With the arrival of Buzz Lightyear, everything about Woody’s life is different. He has to figure out how he’s going to handle it. We’ve all been rejected. We’ve all tried to make sense of it. So Woody has our sympathy.  Woody crosses another threshold when he decides to rescue Buzz against his better judgement, but that crossing goes into the second act. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

11. Your beginning should ask questions. What will happen next? In A Bug’s Life, by the end of the first act, the viewer wondered what was going to happen to Flick. The viewer wondered what the Ant Queen was going to do about the Grasshopper terrorists. As the story progresses, the questions should become more complicated and not necessarily answered.


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. 

The Diary of A Beta Reader: A Guest Post by Sara Marschand

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Guest blogger Sara Marschand explains her thought processes while she beta reads. A beta reader is often the first or second set of eyes a manuscript gets. Their purpose is to spot holes in a manuscript and communicate to a writer, who maybe a little myopic, that changes need to be made. 

For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of beta reading for many authors.

Much of my feedback highlights awkward sentence flags and unclear story parts. Sometimes it’s a setting that can’t be visualized, other times it may be a whole scene that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Logical errors are the easiest to spot. One author described a tiny cabin that two inhabitants lived tightly in. The next scene featured and armed militia crowding in for a sword fight. Plus, the heroine escaped everyone’s notice as she snuck out a secret back exit. Not likely!

Another author switched back and forth between night and day a couple times in a scene. The author had missed a couple words in editing that changed the clarity of the entire section.

But what goes on in the mind of your beta reader?

This is a snapshot of a year in the life of me, a beta reader. I tackled two works. The authors at different points in their careers.

Diary of a Beta Reader by Sara Marschand

Need questions to ask of your beta readers? Click here!

March

A new paranormal romance arrived. I love urban fantasy mixed with romance, so I can’t wait to dive in! It’s the author’s first book.

Prologue

Action at the beginning. Good start. I’m a huge fan of destruction. The author is overly fond of exclamation points, though. I will gently suggest she doesn’t need quite so many. I’ll have to wait and see if the prologue is relevant to the story.

Chapter 1

And now, I have whiplash. What the heidi-ho did the action- packed prologue have to do with this vapid girl’s POV?

Some of the actions are hard to envision, but I can help with that.

The cool fairy names totally fit the genre. I like them, and I’ll let the author know.

The writing style feels like YA, but why are they all wearing spiked heels?

Chapter 2

Hmm. This author makes a lot of grammatical errors. I’m not an editor, but there are so many, I can’t help but to comment on a few. After all, these could be typos.

Based on the language and simplicity of the sentences this must be YA or mid grade. I thought I was getting a book for adults, but moving on!

Chapter 3

Nope. These errors are definitely not typos. I know I got this pre-editor, but did the author even try to make it readable? Maybe I’ll send her a link to a good grammar book. For grins, I ran this chapter through the Hemingway app— second grade reading level. No wonder my intelligence feels insulted. This is beyond my ability as a beta reader to suggest fixes for, but I really, really, hope she has an editor.

Chapter 4

The characters roll their eyes too much. Another easy fix.

That paragraph was the best yet. If I highlight the excellent passages, she’ll know what works. I’m glad I found something redeeming amongst the choppy sentences.

This is clearly a novice author, but hopefully I can give her something to build her craft. I see a lot of thesis “telling” statements followed with the “showing” sentences. If she can delete those tells, the quality of writing will be improved.

Chapter 6

Holy exclamation points, Batman !!!!!!

These characters all walk and talk the same. I can’t figure out the hierarchy of the fantasy creatures. It seems like age and wisdom mean nothing, but it goes against norms of the genre.

Chapter 13

A pornographic content warning would have been appreciated. Adult audience confirmed. Erotica is not my typical genre. I would not have agreed to read this because of my inability to judge the content properly. Ironically, this is the highest quality writing in the book, except for the choice of words. I’m fairly sure the romance community never describes body parts in the terms used here.

Chapter Who Cares. Lost count.

The agony!  I quit !!! With lots of exclamation points and missing apostrophes!!!  I will never beta read again. Why did I sacrifice a weekend for twenty bucks? I regret my life choices. I read 80k of something the author should have said was an Alpha read and full of shocking content. I spent another four 4 hours summarizing my feedback where I gently wrote a paragraph on why this author should seek an editor.

The paranormal romance beta left me shell-shocked. A content warning flag should have been applied, and if I hadn’t been paid, I would have sent it back after chapter one due to sloppy writing. I could not, would not, take another beta for several months after that grueling read. I even quit the beta reading service I belonged to. I read only published and polished works until an author I’d worked with before asked for me to give feedback on her sequel. The first book was epic in length for the rates I charged, but I loved the story, so I agreed to the second installment.

“Beta reading perk: finding out what happens before anyone else.”

— Sara Marschand

August

The Word document arrived!

It’s been a while since book one. The author made significant changes after the book one beta. I’m really glad she gave me the final version, otherwise I’d be lost. Still, I have both versions swirling around in my head so I’ll review my notes and the changes. I want to get to the new book—stat!   

I don’t expect any nasty surprises. A book refined this far allows me to look at the broad strokes of the story. I’ll provide comments on little things that cause bumps in the read, but I’m looking forward to digging into the overarching plot and character development.

Prologue:

Symmetrical with book one. It’s a teaser for sure, but I like it. The tie-in to the climax works perfectly.

Characters:

There is so much good with this story, but my job is to find the holes. The major characters are just as I remember them, but one minor character bugs me. The male protagonist goes out of his way to keep the minor player alive, and ends up out of character as a result. The protagonist would never behave this way, and it’s too early in the book to have a major character development. The minor character needs to die. He’s got too much dangling plot potential to keep alive if those ideas won’t be pursued.

Two awesome second tier characters deserve a spin off or at least a short story. I’d love to see them on a caper together.

Romance:

This book has less romance than the first, but the opportunities exist. Where’s all the love?

Pace:

Four chapters in the space dock go on FOREVER. I started skimming when I got really bored. It’s basically four chapters of a character complaining about his aches and pains and wallowing in self-pity. Most of this material is repetitive, and it’s a departure from the feel of the rest of the book. Nix this. Please. A paragraph of this would be plenty. This could be a great place to insert a few hints about the end, though.

Dialogue:

Too much cursing. I enjoy a good swear, but not when it detracts from characterization. Multiple characters are using the exact same verbiage, and I’d like to see more differentiation.

Conclusion:

I fixed a few typos because I couldn’t help myself. There are still a number of junk words, which could be removed for conciseness, but I love this book. I’m so happy the author lets me read her works.

The harshest of my direct thoughts never made it into my feedback verbatim, but I did find polite ways to share them and encourage the author as best I could. Author 1 needed to work on her craft more before the story could be addressed. It was a hard read that made me much more selective in the works I’ve taken since. Author 2 and I had an established relationship. Other than a few typos, the copy was clean. I was able to focus on her overall story and plot twists that didn’t work. The author took my feedback graciously and even discussed potential changes afterward. A character died, thanks to me. So many authors take your feedback and you never hear from them again, but this author values my input.

The moral of the story: Give your beta reader the most highly edited work you can and let them be part of the process. The feedback you get will be deeper when their time is time spent reading the story and not fighting fixable errors. I beta read because I love helping authors shape the best story they can.


 

Top 10 Ways You Can Conquer Nanowrimo Like War & Peace

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

We’re just a few days in to National Novel Writing Month and it can feel like you’ve decided to read a Russian novel.

Last spring, I read War and Peace for reasons that I can’t quite remember. I think I wanted to add to my literary experiences. I think that I had seen on too many lists that it was one of the greatest novels ever written. And I also think that somehow my 21st century American sensibilities would totally identify with the plight of rich, idle Russian aristocrats who kinda hate the French.

But, oh my, that book was 1300+ pages long. I was committed to finish and I had to push myself forward, even when I thought it was dull and impossible.

Nanowrimo can feel the same way. It can feel like an eternity to get out of the battlefield of the Russian countryside and back into the warm parlors of Bald Hills. It can feel like an eternity when you read page after page after page, and only get 2% more read than yesterday. Nanowrimo is putting one word after another, just like those poor, poor Russian soldiers put one foot in front of another defending themselves against Napoleon.

Oh, Napoleon! Leo Tolstoy really hates your guts! From Fine Art America Images

Like me, you’ve signed up for something bigger than you because you thought it was a good idea. You thought that you’d have the fortitude to endure the daily grind of 1667 words. You thought that the story that’s been rattling around in your brain for weeks/months/years would just flow out of your fingers.

Nope. It hasn’t, has it? This feels about as hopeless as a French army facing a Russian winter. I am probably not the ideal reader for War and Peace and you can read about why I think so here. 

I’m here to help you. With all the imaginary vodka I can muster, I want to give you top 20 ways to get going on your Nanowrimo project.

Top 10 Ways You Can Conquer Nanowrimo Like War and Peace

1. Put your character in an actual emergency. Food allergies, car accident, flash flood, explosive plumbing, gas leak — none of these are planned. You don’t have to plan yours too. And even if it looks rather deux et machina -ish, don’t worry about it. You can always go back and fix it later. In War and Peace, the big emergencies were that Pierre, the bastard son of the richest rich guy may inherit the estate against the wishes of nearly every noble in the countryside. Apparently, besides not having married parents, his big sin is that he’s dull. Put your character in direr straits than that, please.

2. What does your character have in his pocket, purse or glove compartment? Candy? A gun? Drugs? A crucifix? A hundred thousand dollars in cash? Microfilm? A flash drive? A recording? An epi-pen? A switchblade?  He remembers!  And it uses it, just as the right time to get past this little problem he’s facing. Or, better still, the antagonist finds it in his possession and uses it against him! In War and Peace, the many princesses would have a sewing needle. Yawn. Wait, no, I shouldn’t criticize that. What else would they have? An iphone?

3. Someone asks him to do something against his character and he must do it. For instance: the drug dealer has to rescue kids from a fire, the hooker with the heart of gold saves the First Lady, the victim of abuse stands up to the lady who cuts her off in the parking lot. Aha! This is where we can learn a lesson from the Russians. Pierre, against his better judgement, marries Helene for her looks.  This connection would ease the grudges that the rest of the nobility have against him. What kind of fix can you put your main character into?

4. The paranormal sneaks in. Okay, this might not work for everyone. But what if a unicorn appears in the kitchen and tells him what to do? What if the lawn gnome knows where the treasure is? What if there is a zombie coming across the backyard and the hostas aren’t doing their job of keeping him out? War and Peace has this too. It’s called The Masons. Get this, they require Pierre to think. 

5. Have your character take a break. Maybe if he sat down and ate something, slept and had a crazy dream, did his laundry and bumped into someone at the laundromat, maybe he would think of the solution to the problem, see a clue, meet a friend, fall in love . . . . oh the possibilities are endless! Now, with a title like War and Peace, you’d expect more than just parlor romances, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Nearly every non-curmudgeon male character in the book goes to war to defend against those nasty French. These soldiers get their breaks in various ways: capture, disease, losing a leg. If Tolstoy can use this device, so can you.

6. What would Napoleon do? No really. Think about your favorite movies and steal, steal, steal! There are no new ideas. You are smart enough to disguise any dialogue, scene, or plot point from film. Write in down now and then tweak it later. Even while I was reading W&P, I was thinking, Hey! These bloody battle scenes remind me of Gone With The Wind!  Wartime saga in which families lose their fortunes and the women have to do anything, anything, to survive! Oh Tolstoy! I know nuthin’ about birthin’ no babies!

7. Go backstory. What has propelled the bad guy to do the bad things? What makes your protagonist want what he wants? Dig a little deeper, even for a thousand words or so and that may be enough to get you on your feet. Or, if you’re Tolstoy, and thank God you’re not, you could spend 100 pages or so contemplating the purpose of one man, his conscience, the theory of free will, and the wheels that turn history and how you can compare it to bees.

8. Cupid strikes! Nothing complicates life more than romance. What if there’s a secret love connection between a supporting character and the antagonist? What if another supporting character confesses a life long crush towards the main character? What if the romantic advances that have been in the story all along were just a ruse to advance the goals of the antagonist? And in Tolstoy’s frosty Russia, all it takes to fall in love with an heiress is sitting at her feet while she mourns her broken heart. That’s it. You might touch her hand! OH THE SCANDAL!

This is Alexander I, the emperor that could do no wrong! (At least according to Tolstoy!)

9. And if you really get stuck, ask Twitter. I love some of the ideas that my followers come up with. And then when I’m done (if I ever get done) I can remind them of their help and maybe gain a reader! Or compare your setting, characters and plot to bees. Tolstoy did it twice. Twice!

10. And then, hit the showers. No kidding. There’s something about hot water and physical touch that stimulates our brain. You may have a new idea for your story when you get out! And when you grab that towel, brush your teeth with running water and realize just how wonderful it is that you have neither lice, dysentery or gangrenous limbs, you may want to write about it.

Remember, the point of participating Nanowrimo is quantity, not quality.

This draft is supposed to be messy, kind of like War and Peace, but with less hype. Use these ideas to up your word count. You can clean it up, make it more plausible, omit the cliched scenes, and take out your rants about Napoleon later.

I got through War and Peace. I started April 1 and I finished April 25. I kept at it because I knew that at the end, I’d be glad I finished. You can finish Nanowrimo. And at the end of it, let me know. I’ve got a big bottle of vodka to celebrate with 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. 

Top 10 Tuesdays! Top 10 Ways To Love Your Local Library

It seems fitting to me to incorporate a tribute to libraries in my theme of Beautiful Words. Where else can you get access to free  beauty?

Top 10 Ways To Love Your Local Library
Top 10 Ways To Love Your Local Library

 

My local libraries have been very generous in helping me with author signings and events. I’d like to suggest the sooner you start loving your local library (and the people who work there) the better your relationship and the more help they’ll give you in your marketing goals.

1. Bring them a treat.  Showing up with cookies or donuts just to say thank you would almost always be welcome.

2. Donate your books. Libraries differ on their donations policy, so it’s better to ask first. But many times books in good condition are welcome.

My local library held an authors fair last fall. It  was a great event!
My local library held an authors fair last fall. It was a great event!

3. Show up for their events. The libraries in my area work very hard to educate and encourage the arts and learning in the community. If your library has events, and you attend, you’re making a great impression. And you may learn something in the process.

4. Volunteer. If you have the time, ask how you can help reshelving books or moving furniture for events.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 12.01.18 PM

5. Chit chat! Take the time to speak to your librarian! Get to know them! They will be far more likely to help a friend rather than a stranger.

6. Visit regularly. Libraries receive their funding through their circulation. The more people who visit and use the resources, the more resources they have. Your regular trip to the library is good for you, the library and the community.

7. Ask questions. Librarians are trained to help their patrons. Most librarians are very willing to suggest titles, help you locate materials and show you how to use resources.

What can I control?
My table at a  local library event.

8. Give them your information. Besides being a place to borrow books, local public libraries are also a great place to start marketing your book. Even if you aren’t published, your local librarians need to know you’re a writer. They may very well help you when your big day arrives and you have a book or two to donate to them.

9. Suggest events. (And then offer to help!) Many libraries are short staffed or need good ideas for events and activities. They may appreciate new ideas for their branch. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

10. Sign up for their newsletters and social media. This is really important. Libraries often don’t have the funds to fully advertise their events. You can share and retweet their calendar events and help get the word out.

Do you have any ideas on how you could love your library?

March Forth! Eleven Tips To Help You Be More Creative!

Who wants more ideas? Who needs a brilliant thought? Who could stand a new insight? A fresh perspective? A story idea?

Who needs more creativity?

I know I do! I just wish I could turn on good ideas like I turn on the tap. It’s too bad our muse only shows up at inconvenient times or not at all.

I believe, however,  that creativity can be encouraged. We can play with our own minds in such a way that can help solve problems and get good ideas. Here’s a long list of ways to be more creative. Try some! And leave a comment if you got them to work!

Eleven Tips To Help You Be More Creative
Eleven Tips To Help You Be More Creative

1. Get Yourself In A Good Mood. This study suggests that listening to happy music or finding positive stimulus can relax your brain enough to solve a problem. 

2. Go For A Long Walk Like The Poets Did. What worked for writers of the classics could work for you!

3. Read creative works. Don’t settle for the typical fare, find books that are completely unique and pay attention to what the author did. I’m currently reading The Intuitionist and the author did a brilliant job creating a world where elevator inspectors were the most respected roles of society. Elevator inspectors?  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he would come up with that. I could get frustrated with the book and give up on it, concluding that this type of creativity is kooky, or I could be challenged. Could I come up with something that unique and interesting? Check out this Goodreads list of creative books, they’re heavy on fantasy, but they could give you some great ideas.

“Where is human nature so weak as in the

4. Sit and observe. It’s hard enough to find 10 minutes to write in a day, but if you can, take a few minutes and observe the world around you.  Put yourself in a public setting so you can people watch and then free write about everything you see. Practice this and your creativity will be strengthened and you’ll start seeing things you haven’t seen before. This excellent article gives practical tips on how to be more observant and deduce facts from the world around you. 

5. Push your metaphors as far as you possibly can when you write.  If you use a common simile such as “busy as a bee” then spend ten minutes getting into the specifics of what that looks like. Through a free write, perhaps, you’ll have a fresher image of what we mean when we say, “busy as a bee”. This will clearer and it will also spurn your creativity.

6. Read slower. Sit with a  book from a great classic writer. (My choice would be Flannery O’Connor) and instead of reading the sentences, savor them. Sip them, as you would a glass of wine at a tasting. Pay attention to the nuance. Make notes of what you notice. Train your literary palate to recognize things so that when it’s your turn to write, you’ll be able to tap into your subconscious and write more creatively.

“We write to taste life twice, in the

7. Write in short spurts and then do something mindless. You may have heard this before: set your timer for 10 minutes and write. Then, when the timer dings, go do something mindless, like wash the dishes or prepare a meal. Your brain will use the “down time” to recharge so when you return to the creative activity, you’ll be energized and more successful. This is backed up scientifically. Check out this very helpful article from 99U. 

8. Do some math. This isn’t a joke. If you want to be more creative, get your left brain involved as much as your right brain. Spend a few minutes with something logical and analytical, like Sudoku or 1024. This will get those creative juices flowing. Because according to this article, the “math” we do is really problem solving. The more exercise your brain gets in one discipline, the more it will help the others.

“God writes a lot of comedy... the

9. Want more? Inc.com has 9 Ways To Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes. 

10. Creativity Post has 101 Tips On How To Be More Creative.

11. And  . . . 10 Minute Novelists now has a Pinterest Board devoted to becoming more creative! Follow us! 

 

 

How Being An Armchair Analyst Can Make You A Better Writer (And Football Fan!)

My 10 year old son knows a lot about football.

He takes it very seriously. Can't you tell?
He takes it very seriously. Can’t you tell?

He knows the most obscure penalty calls.  He knows who the third string quarterback is for the Raiders, what college he went to and why he’d probably be taken by Miami next year.  He knows who won every Super Bowl, who coached the winning teams and crazy stats like how many championship victories were earned by teams who came from behind. Along with every Patriots fan in New England, he wants to tell Coach Bellichik exactly what went wrong in last week’s game. My son doesn’t restrict his knowledge to the Patriots; he knows about the Broncos, the Jets (oh! How we hate the Jets!) the Giants (hate the Giants too!) and other threats in the season. If he were myopic about the world of football he would miss out on a lot of great games. (Don’t even get me started on how he feels about college ball!)

For all this knowledge, my son can’t put his knowledge into practice very well.

He’s got his Wii football games. He plays pick up ball in the neighborhood. He loves Madden, but he’s just not going to be able to apply his knowledge within the limitations of his life. He doesn’t play in an organized team. He probably won’t see high school play so college play is probably out of the question. And if he has a future in the NFL,  it won’t be one with shoulder pads on his body and numbers on his shirt. He is for now, just an armchair sportsman, devoted in his passion, hungry for more knowledge and ravenous for more opportunities. 

Like my son, good writers should be just as excited about their game.

How Being An Armchair Analysts Can Make You A Better Writer (And Football Fan!)  #write #writing #amwriting

If we are reading constantly, then we can get, like my son, a spectator’s view of strategy and drama. We can put in our own opinion of what other writers are doing wrong, learn from them and go back to our literary heroes and know their “stats” too.

We need to know our game inside and out.

How can we be armchair analysts?

Read as obsessively as my son watches. A writer who isn’t in the middle of reading a good book can’t call themselves a writer. Don’t know what to read? Join Goodreads, ask your friends, read some of the books from the writers in our Facebook group, go to your local library, find a local book club.

Pay attention to what we’re reading. Look at structure, character development, word choices and imagery. You absolutely can’t be a good writer if you aren’t a reader. Surround yourself with quality books and examine everything from sentence structure to plot. You will get better by learning from the experts.

 Get vocal about the flaws in the books you read. As long as you aren’t mean-spirited, you can explain the trouble spots in your reviews.  Don’t want to leave a review? Keep private notes. Every writer makes mistakes, either out of sloppiness or laziness or lack of skill. Point these out, at least to yourself, and think about what you would do differently.

 Know the league, not just your team.  If you read outside of your genre, the you can still learn much about story, character development and style.  Don’t sell yourselves short in learning from great writers because you were too devoted to the home team.

Why should I get help in my writing?
Sooner Born and Sooner Bred and When I Die I’ll b Sooner Dead! (Sorry, I said home team and I got a little carried away!)

Work in the off season. Guess what my son talked about all spring? THE DRAFT! It’s not football season, but he’s thinking about what’s next! So should you. You don’t have a book out yet, but you should still learn about marketing. There is so much to learn, take advantage of opportunities, like our 10 Minute Novelists weekly chats. 

Expect surprises.  Bellichik and Brady do the best they can, but nobody really knows what the final score will be. (Let’s try to avoid that disastrous game against Kansas City!) That’s the way with the writing/publishing/marketing world. You give it all you’ve got, but you don’t really know what the result will be.

Expect disappointment. The truth is, the writing world is saturated with wannabe novelists and instant ebooks. Tapping into this market and being successful is about as hard as a 10 year old trying to be Brady’s wide receiver in 2024. Keep going. Your dream is worth it.

When we are armchair analysts, we think about the game more completely.

Because my son saturates himself with all things football, he can apply it to his game when the opportunity arises. When I saturate myself with good writing and think critically about what I’m reading, then I’m a better writer too.

What have you learned about your game from other writers? Who do you root for in football season?