Tag Archives: writing 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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Know your characters…

I was recently asked by Elizabeth S. Craig (Mystery writer and author of the Memphis Barbeque series, Southern Quilting mysteries, and Myrtle Clover series. Check her out here: http://wp.me/P1SArc-2) to do an article on tips for character creation. I’ve been considering writing an article on this topic for some time, so this was a great opportunity!

So. Let’s talk character development. And I don’t mean that in the traditional sense, as in how the character is developed throughout the story. What I mean is: Let’s talk about the developmental process of crafting a character, and what you should know about your character prior to introducing them into your story. We’ll also discuss how to go about introducing them to the reader for the very first time! Let’s get to it!

Think about yourself. There are thousands of things that define you, events that have happened to you, reasons why you are the way you are. The same should be true about the characters in your book. Now, obviously, you aren’t going to be able to write about all of them. You’re going to have to choose what you reveal about your character to the audience very carefully, usually only the most important things. That being said, there are a few key areas that I find to be the most crucial in crafting a character- prior to ever putting them down on the page.

NAME– This is, in my opinion, the most important thing that you could ever decide about your character. Ever. This is the title with which your readers will identify them, and it has to fit the person that they are. I read once that Tolkien never created a character and then gave them a name. He created a name and gave that person a life. I found that to be inspiring. To know that one of the best character creators in the history of literature put this much emphasis on names showed me just how important they really are. So think hard about it! Create a name. Then, once you’ve found one you like, decide who this person is, what they’re like, what their life has been like, etc. I’ll be honest, I have created characters where I tacked on a name afterward. And I tell you, it was a terrible decision. The name just doesn’t feel… right. I find it hard to remember their name, feel as though it doesn’t suit their personality, and find it hard to become attached to them as a whole. Names are important. Pick good ones.

PERSONALITY– Is this person sly and clever? Are they dark and morose? Are they annoying and excitable? Get to know this character. Decide what kind of person you want them to be. THEN, figure out why they are this way. What makes them tick? Was it something that happened to them as a child? Is it their life right now that causes them to be this way? These are things that you may never explain in your book- but you don’t have to. If you understand a character this deeply, they will feel REAL on the page. They will be three dimensional. The way they speak and why they speak that way, or the actions they take, will feel natural. Understanding the complexities of each character will make them feel as though they had a life prior to the one on the page.

RELATIONSHIPS– How is this character related to the other characters in your work? Why is he here? Why, at this particular time, was he in this particular part of the world, doing this particular thing? If characters show up all willy-nilly, it will feel too convenient to the reader. It will feel as though that character’s being there isn’t justified. Think about this one. Figure out their reasons for being where they are, in relation to who they know, who they are related to, who they love- etc. Knowing the relationships of all your characters and how they intertwine will make your story feel organic, as if the things that are happening would have happened regardless of what you decided to write.

MOTIVATIONS: This is connected to both personality and relationships. Why is the character where he is, AND why does he not leave? That’s where the difference lies. Why, when the shit hits the fan, does this character not high tail it out of there? Understanding the reasons for a character’s behavior, his allegiances to other characters, and his overall drive in the story will make your character feel as though he is a living person, with real thoughts, real roles to fulfill, and real tugs of emotion. It’s all about creating a character that feels natural. And to do that, you must first understand each and every character that you create.

Now, there are plenty of other things that you need to decide about your character prior to writing them into a manuscript: What they look like, how they fit into the plot, when you’re going to kill them off, if they will be a good guy or a bad guy- the list goes on. However, these four topics are what I find to be the most crucial. These will make you understand your character. If you understand them, prior to understanding how they will fit into the story, they will fall into place in a very natural way.

 

So, now that you’ve got this amazing character that you know everything about; let’s talk about how you go about introducing them into the story. This is something that I struggle with. Because I know my characters SO well, I actually find it hard to introduce them. See, I know that Caster is arrogant, hates to lose, and is the leader of the group. But how do I SHOW that? How do I go about revealing that to the reader the FIRST time they see him?

First impressions are everything. The first time your character comes on screen, the reader needs to know several things (usually): His name, his personality, and what he looks like. This is SHOWN through how he enters the scene, what he does there, and how he speaks. When a character first enters into your readers lives, the first actions they take should immediately show their personality, as should the WAY they say whatever it is they say. Rather than try to explain this, I’ll just show you.

This is the character (created a few seconds ago for the sake of this blog): Bill Flaxton. Awkward guy, glasses, very tall, bow tie. Think typical genius, socially awkward but incredibly smart. Thin, nervous, etc. You get the idea.

Now, you could introduce this character like so:

               The door creaked open and a man walked in. He was tall, wore a suit and bowtie, and had glasses. He crossed the floor to me and extended his hand.

               “I’m Bill Flaxton. Pleased to meet you,” he said with an awkward smile.

 

With me so far? Now, that ^ just showed you everything I said in my description, right? Oh, WAIT! I didn’t show you anything about his personality, did I? Let’s try that again:

 

               The door creaked open and a man slinked through it, his suit at least two sizes too big for him. He wore a bowtie, and though I’m no expert, it seemed as though it was too tight around his thin neck, the collar of his shirt bunching up around his throat. He crossed the floor, his lips curled upward in what looked to be an attempt at a smile, and stopped directly in front of me.

               After adjusting his glasses from the tip of his nose, he held out a sweaty hand. “Bill Flaxton. Pleased to meet ya.”

               I shook the lanky man’s hand, which he shook vigorously, then wiped my palm on my pants. “Charmed.”

 

Now, as you can see, you got a much clearer image of the man in that second attempt. It’s all about the WAY he enters the room. Saying that he enters the room doesn’t really say anything. Did he barge in? Did he slam the door open? Did he creep in? These are the kinds of things that will give your reader an understanding of that character from the very beginning. Remember: You know everything there is to know about this character. How would he enter a room, and how should you vividly describe that to the reader? How EXACTLY would he say his first line? Think about the typical ways in which your characters do things, and explain them as best you can. It’s all about showing your reader who this person is. You don’t want to have to list his qualities and traits, but you do want your reader to have a vivid image of the person you are describing. It’s a delicate balance, I know. But if you follow my tips of learning all there is to know about your character prior to writing them into your story, their actions and mannerisms should come naturally. When you introduce your character for the first time, you want to show the reader that this is an individual, someone who is all their own, who is unlike any of your other characters. The first introduction of a character is always hard, but by taking the time to properly craft your characters, I think you’ll be able to nail it every time!

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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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