Tag Archives: tips

How To Get In (And Stay In) The Writer’s Mentality…

If you think about a professional athlete, they always have some sort of method to getting ready for their game or event. They stretch, they run a bit, they warm up, etc. They may even play a practice game before they go out for the real one. Do you think a professional boxer is just sitting in a McDonalds, eatin’ a hamburger, and then gets up and walks over to the stadium, tosses on the gloves, and says, “Alright. Let’s do it”? Probably not. Whatever it is, they do something to get into the mindset that they need to be in. Right?

Well, writing is the same way. You can’t, or at least shouldn’t, just be going about your day, decide to write, pop open the old laptop, and pick up your chapter where you left off. Now why is that Mr. Tankersley? Good question, my inquisitive and handsome reader! Think about it this way. Let’s say you’re writing a thriller. And where you left off is right at an incredibly intense, super important, nerve racking scene. If you were just standing around in the kitchen, washing the dishes or slicing a tomato, do you really think you’re in the right state of mind to be thrilling your reader? Probably not. When you write, you need to remain in the same tone, the same style, and be able to deliver the same energy. You need to be in the writer’s state of mind.

So how does one do this? How do you go from slicing a tomato to clacking away on your keyboard safely and consistently? How do you go from the mundane to the extraordinary mentality? (If you find slicing a tomato to be extraordinary, I apologize. Replace my example with something you find humdrum, like, I don’t know, folding clothes. If you find that extraordinary, I’m two for two and I suggest you stop reading before I dig myself any deeper.) I think there are probably hundreds of ways to get your mind where it needs to be to pick it back up, but I have a few that I think are especially useful.

  • Read over the last few chapters you’ve written:  This will allow you to get back into the scene. You’ll remember the tension, the darkness, the heart pounding thrills or the sloppy love smooches. This is one of my favorite techniques. This tip is good for SO many things. Not only are you getting back into character, as well as remembering where the specific tone or tension is, but you’re also -wait for it- looking for things to edit! That’s right. While you’re getting your mind right you’re also going to notice a lot of errors (if you’re like me). Things like misspellings, forgot words, awkward sentences, or repeated phrases. This is a good opportunity to fix those little things as you go. It saves you a lot of time in the future. Plus, while you’re rearranging those awkward sections, you’re getting back into that zone. Reading over your last few chapters lets you see where the conversation was at, where the scene as a whole needs to pick up, and a plethora of other things. This is my trick of choice.
  • Do some free writing–  If you’ve never done it, try it. Open a blank document, or take out a sheet of paper, and write. Not about anything in particular. Don’t focus on a single topic, or your story in particular, or anything for that matter. Just write. Let your mind wander, and follow it with your fingers. This is a stream of consciousness exercise, and I’m willing to be bet that you’ll be surprised at what you actually write. If your mind ends up on your story and you have ideas, go ahead and write them down! But don’t be afraid to just be typing away about nonsense. Free writing is an amazing way to get those creative juices flowing, it produces (sometimes) useful lines or ideas, AND it hones in your stream of consciousness, making your mind a calibrated machine that thinks in lyrical ballads and poetic expressions. (Okay, maybe not that last one. But seriously, it will train your brain to think more like a writer!)
  • Talk to someone about your story- Now. Hold on. You have to be careful here. You don’t want to be “that guy”. You know the one: The guy who never stops talking about his own work. Unfortunately, I’m kind of that guy and I hate myself for it. Find someone who is willing to talk to you about writerly things, wants to hear about your story, and knows that you’re talking to him as a way to help the story grow. As you talk, you’ll find yourself thinking of new ideas, developing the plot even further than you imagined, and getting excited about the story that you’re writing. Not only that, but if your friends are like mine, they will ask a lot of questions. They may try to punch holes in your plot, ask about things they don’t understand, or point out contradictions. This is great! It really helps to solidify a consistent plot. If you can find someone who enjoys hearing about your work (as I’m sure everyone does!) this tip is for you. It can be far more helpful than you think!
  • Final Tip! Think about your writing:  Whenever you find yourself stuck doing something that you wish you didn’t have to do, like washing dishes, walking the dog, or spending time with your mother-in-law, use it as a writing tool! This is a fantastic time to zone out and start thinking about your work. In the same way that discussing your story with a friend will help, simply thinking about your work will help to develop characters, solidify your plot, and make your story stronger over all. At one point in time I had a job at a clothing store. (I folded clothes. That’s it. They literally paid me money to fold clothes.) Now, if you’re in that position, I feel you. I know how terrible jobs like that can be. You’re constantly dealing with angry customers, or fixing things that you JUST fixed, etc. It’s awful. BUT, there’s hope. If you use these types of mind-numbing jobs as a way to improve your story, the time will fly by. Anytime that I’m doing something like this I carry a notepad with me. (Well, I used to. Now I have a smartphone. But I digress.) When I’m thinking about my story and something new or exciting comes to mind I write it down. You’ll be surprised at how much you can develop your story while you’re away from the computer. And when you finally do make it back to the old laptop, you’re ready to get to work and already focused!

 

So, if you’re like me you write scenes of intense action and high emotion. When you’re in the moment it’s easy and it flows out of you. But, if you get interrupted, you may come back and botch the whole ending of it. By using these tips you’ll be able to find ways to stay in the writer’s mindset while you’re going about your day, and be able to come back to your story and pick it up without hesitation. Hopefully these helped you as much as they help me! Let me know it the comments!

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Beta Readers: And How to Take Criticism…

I’ve recently started sending out polished chapters of my manuscript to beta readers, eight of them actually. Though I know my book still has a leg of work left on it, I wanted to make sure it was as far along as I thought it was, and that the last edits that I have to do on it would be minimal. So far, I’ve received a lot of positive reviews, and I’m really excited about that. It seems like this round of edits really got the draft close to where it needs to be.

There are a ton of reasons to have a beta reader group, and I highly recommend them. But how do you pick one? How do you know if someone has the qualifications to be one of your readers? Before I decided to do this, I did what every writer should do (regardless of what you’re doing), and I googled it. I wanted to know why I should have a beta group, what makes a good one, who to pick, etc. And I read several well written articles about them. But, as I was reading, I came across advice that I didn’t necessarily agree with, so I thought I would post my own thoughts on the matter.

First things first, you have to have a certain mindset when you’re going into this. You are sending your book out for one reason and one reason only: To find out if it sucks. The point of a beta group is to find out what’s bad about your book, what’s good about your book, and what’s working/not working. If you want to send out your manuscript to a group of people to get praise and have your ego stroked, you probably shouldn’t do it. Let your mom read it, or your husband, or whatever. They’ll make you feel great about your work, after all, they’re your biggest fans. But that’s not what you should want! You should want the TRUTH. You want honest people, usually fellow writers, to tell you what’s wrong with your work. You’re a professional, right? And you want your work to be as professional as possible, right? Of you course you do. Well if that’s the case, you need to have the honest truth about your work shoved in your face, whether good or bad. Now that that’s settled- how do you go about picking a group of people to be beta readers?

One of the first articles I read made a point to say, You don’t want to have your friends or your family or the people closest to you be a beta reader. Now, I understand why they said this. I do. Those people are going to be the ones who are most likely to embellish what they thought about your work. They’re a lot more likely to say, “I liked it a LOT! but…,” and that’s not what you need. You want professional opinions from qualified people. But, here’s the thing. I don’t really agree with this advice. Let’s say you’re writing a YA dystopian book, and your brother is the biggest of YA dystopian fans. Let’s say he’s also brutally honest about everything, and you KNOW for a fact that he won’t BS you. I think it’s fine for him to be a beta! Why not? He loves the genre, he’s read a ton of books that are going to be similar to yours, and he knows what he’s looking for. If he promises to be honest about your work, let him read it! It doesn’t matter that he’s your brother. What matters is that he’s educated, honest, and takes the work seriously.

Now that we have that out of the way, and you know what you’re looking for in a beta, there are a few other things that I think are crucial to keep in mind. When your book is put on the shelves (or the interwebs) it is going to be sold to a WIDE variety of people, right? You’re going to have people of different ages, educations, backgrounds, etc. So, since we know that the point of a beta group is to see how your work will be received, why would you set up a beta group full of twenty year old creative writing majors? There will be no diversity, they will all be looking for the same thing, and you’ll likely get very similar criticism from all of them. You have to mix it up! Take me for example. In my beta group I have three people who are creative writing majors, all about the same age, but they all have widely different interests. I have a literary professor, someone who has a lot of education in this department. I have an older reader, someone who loves the genre that I’m writing. I have an average reader, someone who doesn’t typically read books, so I’ll know if my work is strong enough to be interesting to the non-reader. I have a fellow writer, someone who reads constantly, who’s somewhat snobby about what he reads, and who will be brutally honest (this was tossed in there to see how the hardball reader will take it). And I have another literature major, tossed in for good measure. See, that’s a beta group. I have everything from fellow writers, to readers, to professionals, AND they’re of varying ages and experiences. By setting my group up like this, I’ve guaranteed myself to get a wide variety of criticism and praise.

This is the kind of group you want. It doesn’t matter if they are friends or family (in my opinion), as long as they are guaranteed to not pull punches (like my group). The important thing here is honesty. You’re beta readers have to be honest. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Now. There’s another topic that I would like to cover, briefly that is. I mentioned before that you have to have a certain mindset when you’re going into this. There is a reason for that. If you receive  a lot of negative criticism, it can be devastating. It can make you feel worthless, like your work is terrible, like you should have never sat behind a keyboard in the first place. You CAN’T let this happen. Remember, you wanted this. You wanted to know what was wrong with your work- SO YOU CAN FIX IT. If you receive negative criticism, look at this way: It doesn’t mean your work sucks. It means your work isn’t finished yet.

When I first wrote my manuscript, I got a pretty good amount of negative criticism. They told me that the pace was good, that it was interesting, but that it simply wasn’t written correctly. I was telling the reader a play by play of what happened, not showing them what happened. For more information on showing vs. telling, google it- or ask me to write another article going into that. And it was devastating. I wanted, more than anything, for people to like what I wrote. And I got discouraged, to be honest. But now that I’ve sat back down and edited it heavily, kept at it, made significant changes, I’m receiving all of the praise that I wanted originally- and it’s a great feeling. You can’t give up when you’re told that something isn’t working. You just have to make a change so that it is.

So. Now that you’re mentally prepared for the criticism ahead, know the kind of readers you need for this beta group, and have assured yourself that you won’t get depressed if you find out your work isn’t finished- get out there and do it! Beta readers are a wonderful way to find out if your work is up to par, or what people are looking for. And have fun with it! Whether you receive positive feedback or negative, take comfort in the fact that you have people willing to be honest with you!

AND REMEMBER: Negative criticism doesn’t mean your work sucks- it means your work isn’t finished yet.

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