Monthly Archives: July 2013

Advice for the new writer…

Now, I know this is gonna sound crazy, what with me being a relatively new writer, but I’d like to give some advice for new writers anyway. There are so many things that I wish people had told me prior to my getting started or things that I wished had been drilled into my head before I ever got behind a keyboard. So many, in fact, that I’d probably do a lot better with a Q&A as opposed to trying to write it all down. But, regardless, I want to share a few things that I think are invaluable to someone who’s just sitting down to write a manuscript. Actually, no. Wait. I think these things are important for every writer. I read somewhere recently that one of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is giving up their childlike views and novice tendencies and approaches to writing- and I completely agree. So, whether this is your first time writing a manuscript or your tenth, I think these tips are for you. Trust me, I’m a professional. (Okay, not really. You can take my advice or leave it.)

 

NUMBER ONE: Stop freaking out.

Seriously. It’s not that big of a deal. If you have ideas in your head like, “No one is going to want to read this”, or “I really suck at writing”, or “This will never get published”, STOP IT! Get rid of those ideas. They are nothing but detrimental to you and your writing. You shouldn’t even be thinking about that when you’re working on your first draft. What you need to be focused on is creating your world, crafting your characters, and ENJOYING what you’re doing. I can’t stress that enough. If you are enjoying what you’re doing all of the other stuff should just fall away. The best advice I was EVER given during my time as a writer was, “You have a lot of grammatical errors and stuff like that, but don’t even worry about that. Just get your ideas down on the page.” That little tidbit of advice is what got me through my first manuscript. I stopped caring about that sort of thing, and just went to town crafting my world. And sure, when it was over I had a ridiculous amount of editing to do. But who cares? I finished a manuscript and had a great shell to start creating a better version. Which brings me to my next point.

 

NUMBER TWO: The Educated Writer VS. The Smart Writer

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I think it’s important enough to mention again.  Okay, first off, there is a difference between an educated writer and a smart writer. An educated writer is someone who knows how to write by the book, craft a good sentence, create an engaging plot, etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah. A smart writer, on the other hand, is the kind of person that can do all of those things while maintaining their mental and emotional well-being. If you’re freaking out about every comma splice, run on sentence, or whatever, you aren’t being a smart writer. If you lay awake at night and ask yourself, “Are people going to like my work? Am I good enough at this?” You aren’t being a smart writer. To be a smart writer you have to be able to use some cognitive therapy on yourself. When you find yourself asking questions like that, follow them up by asking, “What does it matter? Is this helping me?” If the answer is no (and it is), then you can move on. You can get back to writing for the sake of writing and enjoy your work. If you’re ever at the point where the sight of your own work is making you sick to your stomach, you aren’t being a smart writer. Take a break! I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain a positive attitude during the writing process. If you don’t you wind up like me and stop writing for a long, long time, licking your wounds and trying to repair your damaged brain.

 

NUMBER THREE: Your first draft is going to suck.

Let’s face it. It is. Unless you take three years to bust it out, agonizing over every single detail of it, it’s going to suck. And even if you do, it’s probably still going to suck. But that’s okay! It’s supposed to! You have to allow it to so that it can grow into what it truly needs to be. The important thing to remember about a first draft is: IT’S A FIRST DRAFT! That’s what editing and revising is for. Like I said, get your ideas down on the paper. All of the other stuff can be fixed later. I know it’s hard to think that way, and you’re going to want it to be as great as it can be, but just go for it. Just get the story down, enjoy yourself while you’re writing it, and fix it when it’s done. Which brings me to my next point.

 

NUMBER FOUR: Let your work breathe.

If you’re like me (And you probably aren’t) you’re going to want to get this manuscript done as fast as possible, jumping on the editing wagon as soon as you type “THE END”. But don’t. I know it’s hard. I know you have great ideas and you think you’ve got it all figured out. But slow down. Once the manuscript is complete, let it sit for a while. This could be a week, or this could be a month, it really all depends on you. Wait until the hype about it has calmed down in your mind and come back to it with fresh eyes. By letting your story sit and fester for a while, you’ll have a chance to fill in the gaps, think about the more detailed aspects of the story, and really get a true understanding of your characters. Not only that, but when you come back to it the errors within it will be all the more apparent, making your job of editing the thing that much easier.

 

If I had someone to tell me about these things prior to my first attempt at writing a novel, I probably wouldn’t have given up and let it collect dust for two years. I think that these ideas are universal, and good to keep in mind regardless of your writing experience. If you agree with me (Or don’t, whatever) leave me a comment! If you have any more questions or things you’d like to say, feel free to ask or tell me!

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Tiny Rant…

You know, as I’ve been getting more into this whole social media thing, what with my twitter and this blog and what not, I’ve been forced to stare at my name. A lot. And it’s not that I hate my name or anything, in fact I’m not  that unfond of it. But still, I feel like it’s one of those unique names. You don’t really see “Tankersley” all over the place. I mean, hell, spell check doesn’t even recognize it. It’s like the computer is telling me, “That’s not a name. That can’t be right.” And I don’t so much mean good unique as much as I mean hard-to-remember-unique or difficult-to-say-unique. Is that just me? Am I worried over nothing? I feel like if my name ever actually got out there people would be like, “Oh, have you read that new book by… that one guy?” Or, “I just read this great story by what’s-his-face”. Maybe I’m being silly. Rant over.

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Keeping a good pace…

All across the interwebs there are hundreds of fantastic blogs and articles about how to create good dialogue, beautiful descriptions, and interesting characters. You can find them anywhere and everywhere. But it seems as though the web is sorely lacking good advice about keeping a good pace while writing. I’ve been thinking about why that is. I mean, if there are a thousand people that can tell you how to write good dialogue, and every one of those writers understands how to keep a good pace, why can’t they explain how they do it? Well, I think I have the answer.

Basically, what it comes down to is: Writing is preference. Writing always comes down to what each individual person personally prefers (Say that ten times fast). Some writers, and readers for that matter, want a lot of dialogue. Others want tons of exposition. Others want a ridiculous amount of world building in the beginning, while others want to just jump straight into the action. Since that’s true, everyone is going to have a different attitude about pace. And, unfortunately for those that are seeking guidance on that issue, most people are not going to be able to give you advice on pace that suits your writing style. There are good general guidelines like, mix it up, don’t overuse description, and only use dialogue that moves the story forward- but that doesn’t really say anything. So, how do you keep a good pace?

I think there are plenty of sources on how to do everything else in the writing process, but pace seems to be something that you just have to feel. Every writer’s pace is going to be different. And honestly, it has to be. But here’s some advice that I think is universal. If you get to the point that you’re bored writing it, the reader is probably going to be bored reading it. What I’ve learned while writing is that if you want to keep a good pace, you have to have an ebb and flow of action. If you’ve had several chapters of intense battles, for instance, then you might want to take a chapter or two after that to let the reader relax. Or, if you’ve had several chapters where not much has happened, you’re really going to need to step the intensity up in order to keep the reader reading.

Another thing to keep in mind, and again you can find a lot of information out there on this, is how you end a chapter. One thing that I’ve noticed that really keeps me turning the pages of a book is to end a chapter in a terrible spot (A cliffhanger, basically). Leave the reader questioning what’s going to happen. Now, this might now always work, but if you end every chapter at a good stopping point, the reader will likely feel as though it’s also a good place to set the book down for a while. However, if you end that chapter in a way that leaves a question in the reader’s mind, one that they simply HAVE to know the answer to, they’re going to keep reading.

Now, I realize this is probably another blog that says a lot without saying a lot. I understand that. But pace is difficult to explain, to be honest. This is one of those areas of writing that you either get, or you don’t. It’s hard to read an article about this subject and be like, “Oh, I get it now. Now I’ll be able to write with a good pace.” It’s just not that simple. Again, my best advice is to just feel the vibe of your writing. If things feel like they’re getting stale, integrate some action. If things feel like they’ve been so action packed that you’re getting exhausted, take a few chapters to let the characters (and your reader) relax. It’s that constant shift in intensity that will keep your reader on their toes.

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Write like a child…

I look back at the first (And only… How embarrassing…) post I did for this blog with mixed emotions. I uploaded it a week after I finished my initial manuscript. If you’ve ever finished one, you know the feeling. I was super excited about it, talking to all my friends about it, and couldn’t wait until it was done. I really thought that it was close to where it needed to be, and that the editing would only take a few weeks.

If you could see me now, I’m pinching the bridge of my nose as I read, “Over the next week I hope to have it edited for the first time”. What was I thinking?! I mean, I know I was really into the work and all, but could I really have thought I could edit a full novel in a week? I was incredibly naïve about the whole process.

Look. It’s embarrassing. I know that. But there’s something really valuable that I learned from reading that post. Back then I had a childlike drive for writing. All I wanted to do was write- all day, every day. I loved my characters, loved my story, and loved the whole process of writing it. Now, that’s not to say that I thought my work was great by any means. I knew that my first draft was AWFUL, and that it would need a SERIOUS amount of work in order to be where it needed to be. But even though I knew that, I still loved everything about it. Even though I knew that some of my characters were inconsistent, or that certain chapters would need heavy revisions, I still loved them. I think that this enthusiasm for writing is something that is crucial for a writer to have. I know it is, actually, because I lost it.

After I finished the manuscript I was full of this bounding love for my story and my work. I was even excited to sit down and edit all seventy thousand words of it. Can you imagine that? Being stoked for the editing process? But then, out of the shadows, a creeping wave of doubt got into my head. I suddenly began to question if I was good enough at writing or if people would even WANT to read my story. And then it was over. I put down the work and didn’t touch it for two years. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t convince myself that I had something worth working towards. It was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. Even though it all worked out and I’m back working at it again, I made the mistake of letting fear get in the way of my love for my work.

I think my point here is that you should never give up on yourself or your work. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from loving what you’ve created. After all, YOU created it. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. I told my wife tonight, while we were having a conversation about me starting this blog up again, that you shouldn’t be writing for anyone else but you. Write something that you’re proud of- something that you yourself would want to read. And if you do that, with confidence and love for your work, people won’t be able to resist it. By letting the fear of failure get to me I kept myself from writing for almost two years. A wasted two years, in my opinion. And now that I’m back at it again, I realize how wonderfully fulfilling writing can be. I realize how much this world and these characters really mean to me. And I’m ashamed of myself for having given up on them for so long. Don’t let your fear or inhibitions stop you. Go after your story with childlike enthusiasm, with no worries about what the end result will be or who will read it. Write because you love to write. That’s all that matters.

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Let’s try this again…

Well, this is embarrassing. A few years ago, around the time that I was finishing my first full length manuscript, I started this blog with the hopes of updating it on a bi-weekly basis. Well one thing led to another and I lost the will to continue working on that story. I knew that at some point I would pick it up again and finish it, but at that time it just wasn’t possible. I found myself incredibly discouraged, completely burnt out on writing, and totally incapable of sitting down to edit the freakin’ thing.

And so here we are two years later and I’m FINALLY back at it, typing away on my keyboard night and day. And even though my old writer stuff (like my twitter, this blog, and the manuscript itself) has just been collecting dust for two years, I’m in some ways glad that I left it alone for so long. Those six hundred and something days away from the story allowed me to come back with fresh (and better educated) eyes, not to mention a completely revitalized drive for writing.

But it’s not just that. I’ve been there. You know how it is- so sick of your own story that you’d rather gouge out your own eyes than look at it. And since I’ve been there I’m in an incredibly good position to tell you how to avoid that place entirely! I’m not only a more educated writer, but I’m a smarter writer. Believe me, there’s a difference. An educated writer is someone that knows all about crafting a great story, writing a good sentence, and creating a wonderful character. A smart writer, on the other hand, is someone that can do all of those things in a way that’s mentally and emotionally healthy. Now that I’ve screwed up the process as much as one can, and been an incredibly un-smart writer, I know what I did wrong and how to avoid it.

I’m extremely excited to be delving back into the world that I’ve created. And I’m just as thrilled to be reintegrating myself into the writer community. I can’t believe it took me this long to get started. I’ll be posting news about my personal writing, ways to keep a fresh attitude during the writing process, and how NOT to make the mistakes I made the first time around.

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