Tag Archives: Writing advice

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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Editing sucks. But does it have to?…

Let’s face it. Editing can be a drag. When you’re first writing your manuscript, you’re so into it. You’re discovering things about the story, the characters, the plot- it’s all new and exciting- and every scene is just a blasty blast to write. And then, when you type that final period, when you write those final two words, THE END, you sit back and marvel at what you’ve accomplished. Then, out of the darkness, a two ton, pissed off, ego-smashing bull comes waltzin on in to the china shop that is your motivation towards writing. You realize you have sit down and, basically, do it all again. Except this time, all of that excitement and discovery you felt during the writing of the initial manuscript is gone. And you realize it’s work. And work sucks.

So how do you combat this? How do you make editing fun? How do keep your sanity or your spirits up while you slog through the tedious process that is editing? Well, here’s what I think.

First off, create a writing ritual. Have a certain way that you enter into your writing lair each day. It will give you stability, make it feel more like a routine, and it’s actually somewhat of a stress reliever. I read an article recently that described ways of making a routine, like, say a prayer before you start, read a little poetry, or listen to music. Do SOMETHING that is going to get your creative juices flowing before you start.

Take me for example. I wake up, take a shower, read over my emails, have a cup of coffee, and smoke a cigarette (I don’t advise that last part). Then, by that point, I’m awake. I’m focused. I’ve been thinking about the work to come since I opened my eyes. I’m ready to plant my but in a chair and get to work.

But WAIT, there’s more!

Having a routine to enter into your writing or editing is great. It really does help, believe it or not. But I have a few more tips that I really think make the work of editing less dreadful. First off, start by reading the last little bit that you’ve edited. It will get you back into the same mode that you were in when you last sat down. AND there’s an added benefit. You’ll be able to pick up on the little things that need to be tweeked as you go through it, saving you time in the long run. Then, after you’ve read over your last bit of work, get started.

When I’m editing, I frequently feel the wafting wave of discouragement that seems to be so present during this part of writing. But, I have a trick that helps me ignore it. Think about it this way. Every single word, letter, and punctuation mark that you edit is one step closer to publication. You can literally see your progress as you go, and you realize that you’re only a few steps away from your dream. It helps. It gives me a boost of encouragement. Every time I look down, I see how many more thousands of words I need to edit before that dream, and I get a little bummed. But then a few minutes later I look down and that number is smaller! It’s a good feeling.

Another big tip, one that you might not have thought of. Sit somewhere with a lot of natural light. I know it may sound strange, but it does a lot of good. Natural light seems to have a way of keeping us awake, making us feel good, and it keeps us from realizing that we’re basically writing in a cave. It’s probably all of that vitamin D it’s giving us. I always did love me some vitamin D.

Now. If you’re starting to feel the drag of editing, so much so that you’re looking over obvious things, or just taking the time to screw around on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever, instead of doing your edits- take a break! Go outside, take a walk, grab another cup of coffee, call a friend, do something! Taking your mind off of your work for a little while will revitalize your spirit, give you those more than necessary fresh eyes, and get the blood flowing back to your brain. To be frank, that’s why I’m writing this blog. I’m getting my mind off of the edits for a moment, just long enough to revitalize my spirit! Plus, all this talk about editing is making me want to get back to editing. Weird how that works.

And my final tip. If you’re reading over your work, and getting kind of bored with the story overall, OR you feel like scenes just aren’t up to par, why not kill some babies? I’m sure you’ve all heard that term, “Don’t be afraid to kill your babies” in reference to writing. I promise it’s a thing. I am not advocating ACTUALLY killing babies. That’s bad. If you’re wanting to spice your work up, now’s the time. You’re in the editing phase. If you wanna toss in a fight scene, do it! If you want there to be more dialogue, add it! This can make editing feel less like grammar control and more like story development, bringing back some of that excitement from the initial drafting.

So, let’s put that all together into a nice, simple list of advice.

  • Have a writing ritual
  • Read over the last little bit you wrote/edited
  • Realize that you are actively taking steps towards your dream
  • Sit somewhere with a lot of natural light
  • Take a break when you need to! Get that blood flowing!
  • Add a scene, a conversation, something. Keep your creativity flowing!

Look, if you’re a writer, you know that edits are not the most enjoyable thing in the world. But, if you try to look at it in the way that you are actively making your work better, taking steps towards that goal of publication, and making sure that you are providing the best possible work you are capable of, it will feel like less of a drag. I promise. Half of having a positive attitude is convincing yourself that you should have a positive attitude!

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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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Let’s talk about dumping…

That’s right. It’s time to talk about the infodump. Are they a good thing? Are they a terrible thing? I’ve been asked to talk about them, what I think about them, and the pros and cons of using them. This seems like one of those topics of writing that everyone has a very strong opinion on, either good or bad, and I honestly think both sides have valid points. I sort of ride the fence on whether infodumps are acceptable or not. If you want a quick answer as to how I feel about them: I used two in my novel. Couldn’t get around it. But I made it work. And if you want to dump, you have to make it work too.

So are they okay?

Much like everything else in writing, and I do mean everything, it really just depends on the situation. So let’s say you’re talking about using an info dump when describing something. Like, your character sees the super important castle for the first time. And there are all of these things about the castle that your reader just has to know, right? Well, calm down. This is probably not the best time to do an infodump. Like I explained in my article about setting, there’s no point in just dropping all of the details in one sentence, or even one page. For that matter, if you’re talking about the super important castle, you’re probably going to be revealing things about that place over the entire course of your novel. Which is good! If you had infodumped all of those things on the reader at the beginning of the novel, the character would have nothing to discover alongside the reader. So, when it comes to description, don’t infodump. Just don’t.

But, if you can’t infodump when you’re describing something, when would it ever be useful and acceptable? Here’s where I think the infodump can be a very necessary thing. For instance, in my personal work, there are actually a few times that I use the info dump. I think that when it’s used to reveal plot details that can’t really be revealed in any other way, you just have to go for it. There are ways to make it interesting and not just feel like you’re dumping the life story of your world on the reader. Take my story for example. At some point, the main character is interrogated about his world, it’s history, etc. This is, technically, an info dump. I’m telling the reader everything that the character knows about his planet in a rather short scene. However, by setting it up in the way that I have, it comes across as interesting, continues to build the tension of the scene, and moves the plot forward. So in this case, it works. That’s basically all it comes down to. Does it work? If so, awesome! If not, fix it.

So, now that I’ve said a lot without saying a lot, let’s try to hammer out some do’s and don’ts for dumping.

  • DON’T use the infodump when you’re simply describing a setting. It’s lazy and you should be ashamed of yourself. Integrate all of those details throughout the scene, not in one lump sum at the beginning! Bad writer. *scolds with a rolled up newspaper. For more info on setting, check out my article on how to create a good one.
  • DON’T use the infodump because it’s the easiest thing to do. I know you want to. It would be so much easier to just tell the reader everything about that place, or person, or event, than try to work it into the story as you go. But that’s why you can’t do it. It feels like you copped out. And the reader picks up on it, trust me. In general- infodumps feel lazy. If you’re going to do it, you better make it work.
  • DON’T just info dump at the beginning of your story. I realize that your world has a LOT going on. Of course it does. It’s a world with millions of people and events, with years of history, and blah blah blah. I get that. But dumping all of that on your reader at the beginning is two things. A) it’s lazy. It’s lazy and it’s boring to read. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are cases where the writer just lays it all out there and tells you everything there is to know before actually getting into the story and makes it work (somehow). But, generally I’d say to steer clear. And B) it’s confusing. Do you honestly think that if you give your reader five thousand years of history in a split second that they’re going to remember it all? Unless you want them to be coming back to that paragraph through the book to brush up on their history (And I’ve had to do this before), just don’t dump everything in that one place. Start in the action. Then make your way through the history.
  • DO make it interesting. If you’re going to give the reader a TON of information in a very short amount of time, do it in a way that moves the story forward, that makes the reader want to keep reading, and that doesn’t feel like an infodump. If it’s not interesting to write, it’s not going to be interesting to read. And if it’s not interesting, toss it. There has to be a better way to introduce that information.
  • DO think about leaving some crucial details out of your dump. This will open up opportunities for twists and turns later, and if characters needed to know everything and weren’t told, it can make for some seriously interesting scenes. They may feel betrayed that their friend didn’t tell them everything about the situation, or they may feel tricked, or whatever. It’s a cool way to create conflict whilst dumping. I mean, if there has been tension building around something, something that the character doesn’t understand, and you finally let it all out at a climax, the reader will be grateful. They had been waiting for that information for so long! But BAM! Five chapters later they realize that there was more to the story. Now they’re really hooked, and want to know the truth about the stuff you dumped about.
  • DO use the info dump as a last resort. Honestly, I don’t hate them. I don’t. I think that they can be extremely effective if done correctly. But still, the odds are stacked against you. There are so many wrong ways to use the infodump (Which are probably what you’re wanting to use them for), and not a lot of right ways. If there is absolutely no way that you can tell the reader this information in another way (which is the problem I ran into), go ahead and go for it. But you better make it interesting! If you’re reader feels like they’re witnessing an info dump- you probably did it wrong.

Wow. I honestly thought this was going to be a short article. I think it turned out to be my longest. I guess I had a lot to say about dumping! (HA!) My point here is, you can make the infodump work if you have to. As a general rule, I think most people agree to find an alternative solution to it because it generally feels lazy. Which it is. But, sometimes there’s just no getting around it, and that’s okay. I like to think that there are no “rules” to writing, and that everything you’ve ever been told about “don’t do this and do do this”, is in some way flawed. Everything that you have been told “not” to do has been done effectively at some point by somebody. So I guess my final verdict on the infodump is:

If you have no other choice, can make it interesting and effective, and it moves your story forward- dump.

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Setting (and how to craft a good one!)…

Something I’ve always struggled with is description, especially when describing setting. At least until very recently. I found myself writing in one of two ways: Absolutely no description, or ALL of the description. I would write long, boring expositions that had no life, no color, and gave no pleasure to the reader. Or, I would write in a way that my characters ended up in some sort of settingless void. I’ve heard others call it a “white void”, which is where characters end up when a writer doesn’t properly describe a setting. And trust me, I had some white voids in my writing.

But how does one avoid that? How do you describe a setting in a way that is both interesting and concise? Well, I think there are a lot of ways to go about this, and there are probably thousands of other articles and blogs that talk about this. So, if you aren’t satisfied with my advice, go check out some more! If I had to implant one idea into the mind of a writer to help them write description, it would be this: Make your settings feel alive. Don’t just create a space. Create a place. That means that when you describe a room you don’t just say what furniture is making its home there. If you do, you end up with a white void that has a comfy looking sofa. That’s not what you want. So how do you make a place feel alive? How do you create an environment that feels like it’s breathing, like things are actually living within it?

In order to do this you have to learn to really think about the setting you’re trying to describe. For me, I always started out thinking about what a place looked like… but then I didn’t go much further. One of the main problems that beginner writers have is relying solely on sight in order to capture a setting. You have four more senses. Use them. So, let’s get into it.

Let’s say that you’re wanting to describe a beach. Simple, right? You’ve got crashing waves, sand, a big blue sky. Done! See, that was easy!

WRONG!

If you do that, you’re creating a lifeless, generic idea of what a beach should be. At that point you’re just counting on your reader to create their own idea of what that beach looks like. So, how do you make this beach feel alive? There are a few areas that I think writers often times look over when describing a setting- ideas that are crucial to creating a living, breathing, colorful setting.

NUMERO UNO! Textures

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Textures? What do textures have to do with anything?” WELL TEXTURES HAVE TO DO WITH EVERYTHING! Think about this. You’re describing a beach, and you mention the sand. Well, is it just sand? Or is it coarse sand? Does the sand have thousands of tiny pieces of shell scattered across it? Are there sharp little twigs and pieces of drift wood buried in it? The answer to these questions is yes. By describing these little details, you’ve now gone from a bland sand bank to a colorful, touchable seashore.

NUMBER TWO! Temperatures

Setting is all about layers. By thinking of things like texture and temperature, you’re layering your setting in a way that your reader can imagine clearly, with all five senses. Is the beach hot under the midsummer sun? Is the sand boiling under foot? Or, is it cold out? Is the water so frigid that you can’t believe it’s still a liquid? By mentioning the temperature of the area, you’ve created something that the reader can almost feel on their skin. They will imagine the hot sand on their feet, or the cold wind on their face. It’s a good thing.

THE THIRD THING! Wildlife and other living things

This is something that I LOVE to see while I’m reading. By mentioning the other living things around the area, you’re giving the reader the sense that other creatures are dwelling in that space, living independent lives from the character. This is one of the most important things, in my personal opinion, to making a scene (especially a nature scene) come alive. So mention the seagulls, or the tiny crabs darting across the sand, or the little fish that are swimming in the shallows. By now you’re starting to see it, right? The whole big picture is starting to come together, and that once plain Jane beach is now starting to be a realistic place. Onward!

FOUR!  Other senses

This is one of the biggest things that I see writers talk about when they talk about setting. The first three things that I’ve listed here don’t seem to be focused on as much, so I’ll make this section brief. You have a nose. You have ears. You have skin. So do your characters. Don’t just describe your character seeing a seagull, let your character hear that seagull. Or smell the salt water. Or whatever. Using other senses really rounds out the setting, making it feel like a place that we could actually travel to or see with our own eyes.

V! (five)  Details

Now, some writers go way overboard with this one, and I’m not crazy about it. But details are still extremely important. By having your character notice something unique or unusual about the setting, the reader will no longer feel like they are in a well described generic place. For instance, let’s say that there is… I don’t know… A massive steel drainage pipe that comes from the sand dunes and extends into the ocean. You’re reader will now identify that beach by this unusual object. You have to make your setting feel real. And real places have unique features. (Some of which are ugly steel pipes.)

 

So, now that you have a few more things to keep in mind when you’re crafting a setting, how do you actually put it all together? My best advice is to let it come naturally. Don’t throw all of this description into one paragraph, or even one page for that matter. Let the reader discover each of these things as the character discovers them. The beach (or whatever setting you are creating) will evolve and become more complex as the scene unfolds. If your character notices a pretty pink shell, say so. If not, don’t. Only describe the setting as much as the characters would. If you are in the middle of a huge action sequence, your character is probably not going to notice that pretty pink shell. Like I said, setting is something that should feel natural, and it should evolve as it is needed in the scene.

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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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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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