The blog is written by our members.
If you're anything like me, you've wondered from time to time whether your particular writing process is effective. Perhaps you follow your intuition and do what feels right for you, but there’s a nagging voice in your head telling you that you could do better. There are seemingly endless articles and videos out there in which famous writers expound on their own tried-and-true writing processes. Is listening to their advice helpful or harmful to an amateur writer?
There’s no substitute for a professional editor. But, at some point you will sit down to “edit” your own book. It may be your final read-through after your editor or beta reader has finished, or it may be that you have set the book aside for a few weeks (a good idea) and now you’re ready to put the finishing touches on it before uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing. No matter what the circumstances, you’re ready to edit. Here are a few tips to help you do it as well as possible.
Writing a novel set against an actual historical backdrop might seem easy at first blush. I refer to the simple fact that, unlike the science fiction or fantasy genres (in which one is almost obliged to construct a Tolkienesque landscape with a myriad of cultures, languages, and species), history, by contrast, provides us with ready-built cultures, cartographies and casts of characters. Presto! Instant context. But historical fiction comes with its own conundrums and pitfalls for the unwary writer.
The fear of failure for many writers is so strong, it can cause the very best of us to quit mid-draft, procrastinate writing for weeks, or make the act of writing a misery.
But, there are simple techniques that can trick the brain into making writing easier and help anyone conquer the fear of failure.
As you may know children around the age of 7-13 don't enjoy reading. Many people would say to them you just haven't found the right book yet. But what if the right book isn't there? Writing books for children can be difficult for the simple reason your not a child.But we can all try to look through the eyes of a child.
There is nothing more exciting for an author than to see their work in print.
Like many writers just starting out, my desire for that moment outweighed my plan to make a living wage as a writer - being published as the goal rather than being paid.
How many of us on Critique Circle see our writing as “job,” “hobby,” “art,” “meditation,” or….? And what do we want it to become?
The Kindle store offers more than seven million individual titles. About a third have not sold a single copy. That’s right, more than two million books remain unread. Why? I’d speculate that a significant proportion were published by authors who believed they’d done all the hard work. They thought they could sit back and watch their creation find a readership all by itself. Whether you’re traditionally or self-published writing ‘THE END’ on your manuscript is only the beginning.
It has become a truism that writing in first-person offers more intimacy than third-person. But any mention of intimacy in writing raises the question, How is it expressed and in what genres or types? Some candidates are straight autobiography, fictional autobiography — also known as autobiographical fiction — as well as memoir and biography. All can offer intimacy of different kinds and in varying degrees.
This list can be broadened to include autobiographical novels, a.k.a. autobiographical fiction. All can offer intimacy to varying degrees. There is only space to touch on a few of these here.
At some point, most writers who have finished writing a novel and who do not have an agent will think of hiring an editor. Depending on how well they write, what they have to offer, their financial situation, and the qualifications of the editor they choose, hiring could be a wise move or a foolish one. It’s a tough decision, unless money is not an issue.
When I was starting out with my writing, everything I read - everything I learned - preached "show, don't tell." They talked about using "stronger words" to present what was happening instead of using adverbs to support. As a person with a very large vocabulary, I had dozens of words at my disposal. I thought I was doing everything right. Until….
I've read books where I've been taken up and down on an emotional roller coaster of triumph and despair, and feel exhausted, but good at the end of the book… Each writer must choose themselves what they want their writing to accomplish. Are you writing simply to titillate or shock? Are you writing to make people question their preconceptions? Are you writing to be edgy and push the boundaries? What is it you're trying to accomplish?
The difference between professional critiques and those by fellow writers sharing the trenches with you are important. Fellow writers in groups or with whom you swap chapters or manuscripts are often motivated by the promise of receiving a critique in return. The natural state of most writers is to want to receive feedback on their own writing rather than give feedback on someone else’s. For most writers, giving feedback is the cost you pay to get feedback. Which means that most of the feedback you get from fellow writers could be tainted by the expectation of something in return.
There are three courses of particular notability that will boost anyone’s writing knowledge, even those who are more experienced.
Literature of the English Country House may seem, on the face of it, only for those with a taste for classic literature, but you’ll be mightily surprised how much insight this course gives you into the deeper meaning of words and creative writing techniques.
Naming your book can be harder than naming your first born. For a child, you can go to sites like Behind the Name or Baby Names; but besides the occasional random title generator you might stumble upon, there is no easy way to slap a good title to your writing.
This is the part where I say, “Or is there?”
Are metaphor and simile becoming less frequent used in modern writing? It seems to me that they are, but is it merely a trick that my memory plays on my mind? I remember this being a subject at school when I was about twelve years old. Is this subject still taught, or is it considered old fashioned and not worth teaching the modern pupil?
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
Let’s start with what it means to critique someone’s writing. You may see many definitions of the word but the one we’ll take for our purpose is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
I knew I needed to learn how to structure a plot. I bought several books, but none of them really helped. There was all of this talk about the difference between a plot and a story, and lists of the classic plots, and so forth. None of it stuck.
Then I started listening to Writing Excuses, a weekly podcast hosted by authors Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler. The podcast referenced Dan Wells’ 7-Point Story Structure on YouTube. Five short ten-minute clips of a single lecture, and I beheld the elusive mystery of Plot!
I'm excited to start blogging about writing…the in's and out's of the process. If you are thinking about being an author, I hope you find my “writing” blog useful to you. There could be days, perhaps like today, that are meant to give you background only, but there's always the chance it may trigger an idea for you.
"Conferences provide a wealth of information, everything from fine-tuning your craft, to getting the details right, to publication and marketing. They are absolutely worth your time and effort, and if nothing else, they reinforce that you are not in this alone."
Likely as not, readers won’t blame your characters for the jarring roller-coaster ride of emotion they’ve been on, they’ll blame you, the author. So why risk it? Because who wants to be on a roller-coaster with no twists and turns? There are countless reasons why readers might choose to hate an author, and many of them can be chalked up to poor writing and editing, unrealistic event and characters, too much or too little detail, etc. Here I will discuss the things that writers do on purpose, the plot devices that can make or break a novel.
The first thing to slow the flow of words is the literal pain in the neck which I carry around as a daily challenge. Think of a mild migraine headache which started some five years ago and hasn’t let up since. If I listed all the things I've tried in that time I would double the word count for this post. Let's just say, if you've thought of it, I have tried it.
Take at least an hour & thirty minutes (90 minutes) a day to write. Did I hear somebody in the third row say "90 minutes? But I can't spare that kind of time to write my paranormal romance novel in a month with just 90 minutes a day." Yes you can.
"People often ask me why I’m so determined to write everything down. What is it about writing that keeps me glued to my desk for hours and days at a time? I had to stop and think. Is it because I enjoy expressing myself with words? Is it because I have an instinctive talent for writing? Or is there a deeper reason? My answer is–I write because I must."
In the course of critiquing more than eight hundred stories, I've found myself often mentioning four major writing issues: frequency, echoes, redundancy and repetition. Moreover, it has become clear how often my own stories suffer from the same obstacles to clean, clear, concise and succinct writing.
What a lot of writers don't understand when starting out is that there is more to it than the mere pedestrian experience so often offered within a story's narrative via mundane, lackluster details. There doesn't need to be boring bits between the exciting bits, and I'm not talking about writing fast-paced action scenes on every page, either.
Closer attention to syntax can help deliver on a more dramatic reading experience for the audience. Where the action has lulled, the composition of the sentences can create tension between the words themselves, and set the tone for events yet to come.
This applies a little differently to your books. Your book is you, but it?s not. You aren?t a murderer, or a sex maniac, or an alien from planet Zena, but you may have to play one in your book ? and that stuff?s all made up.
Two years ago, I read Jack Bickham?s Elements of Fiction ? Scene and Structure. The concepts made sense but as a new writer, I couldn?t absorb it all. I re-read the book after finishing over seventy-five percent of my novel?s first draft, and I understood more techniques and tools based on this experience.
Participating in Nano keeps me on track. I often let silly things like work and school and over editing get in my way of writing. During Nano, I make time to write despite those things. Of course, I still make sure to leave room in my schedule for important things like getting distracted by metaphoric squirrels, making coffee runs, and of course trying my hand at guest blogs for Critique Circle.
You are only doing NaNo for one of three reasons:
1) You need to get into a daily writing habit and writing 1666 words a day for a month is a good way of developing that habit.
2) You need to get a big chunk of writing done in a hurry and 50,000 words in a month ain't a full novel for most genres, but it ain't too shabby either.
3) You're friends are threatening to steal your fuzzy socks and your chocolate stash if you don't join.
You should, you know, even if you are determined to be its sole reader. To me, it?s exactly like asking. ?Why should you brush your teeth?? Well? Should you? What if you shun thoughts of other people examining and assessing your teeth? Right. Brush them anyway. It?ll be good for you and you will enjoy the difference. Write a poem for yourself, then. It will be cleansing to any writing you?re cutting your teeth on right now. Try a mindless ditty akin to HEY DIDDLE, DIDDLE. Who knows what that?s about? When?s the last time you shouted ?Hey!? To your neighborhood Diddle Diddle?? Or, maybe your mind?s depths are of a greater measure. How about a life-threatening drama or history lesson completely obscured from view yet there for all to see, one akin to GOOSEY GOOSEY GANDER.
What many unpublished writers do not know is that their entire novel is going to be judged based on just the first three chapters, or one chapter. That's where the 250 words comes in. That is considered to be roughly your first page. Never mind if it isn't. This magic number comes up again and again in writing and querying circles. As I have discussed at length here in the past, Twitter is a fantastic resource for querying authors, because that is where you will hear about most of the regular pitching contests, which ultimately serve the purpose of helping you polish your pitch.
It's been a busy year. The third book in the Grimm Agency series "Wish Bound" is off getting typeset, which means ARCs will arrive in the near future. The second book, "Armageddon Rules" is launched, the first book, "Free Agent" has been out in the wild for 8 months, and now I?m thinking about what I learned from writing a series.
I learned that writing a series requires more planning than writing a one off. When I started the Grimm Agency series, I kept everything in my head. This didn't work out well, as my head can be a confusing and crowded place. I eventually produced a world bible, and I'm so happy I did. Keeping track of what happened to everyone, when, and why is too much for my brain, but my world bible is patient.
Members of the first writing group I attended included a seventy-four year old man who had just started writing. A very nice kind lady tried to introduce all types of writing to the beginners who attended her workshops. We completed various writing exercises in the classroom environment and were given an assignment to complete by the next lesson.
A few weeks ago, maybe longer, I had hit a reading roadblock. I'd become really difficult to please in my reading choices, nothing new I picked up was any good. Too many writing 'rules' broken to allow me to enjoy the stories. And by 'rules broken' I mean bumps in the reading that would toss me out of the story and cause me to analyze the writing. It didn't always break rules, but caused a problem with my reading flow.
To paraphrase and summarize, when your writing just isn't coming alive, seems flat - or plain isn't working, sometimes you've got to take a step of so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth or change, that will make your story "pop." Make that the beginning point. Some indicators you may have to move your beginning point back are: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little of no change in your MC or other characters - lack of conflict or growth; and if by the end of the book, you still haven't told the whole (or real) story.
The bane of my multiple decades of writing has been learning to understand and implement the process of revision (as well as learning not to take criticism personally, but that's another story). So, I have drawers, folders, binder, file cabinets (okay, I'll admit it – A CLOSET) full of half-completed works of fiction. Once committed to a full-time fiction writing effort, I decided to develop a revision approach I hope will help me put clothes back in that closet.
How an author words their critique is very important. Just like how only the right word in your book will do, the same applies with a critique. If a critic doesn't choose their words carefully and focus on the work itself, than everything they say will be ignored. Emotions tie heavily into writing and this fact cannot be ignored when offering up a critique. Being brutal isn't being kind or helpful it's another word for cruel. People seem a little mixed up lately, with going on about given harsh critics for the authors' own good. I think that saying is backwards don't you? So for who's own good is it for? Or rather who feels better, at what end of the critique? Wishing to help others is commendable, however it must stem from kindness.
For us struggling novelists, poets and short fictionists, our writing time is precious. In between work, family commitments and friends, the little allotted time we do put aside needs to be as productive as possible. But when you sit down to write and your brain is sluggish, the cogs not turning quite as slickly as they did just mere weeks ago, or maybe still bouncing all over the place as we try to adjust back from our holiday high and catch up with errands for the day ahead, a two hour session can easily slip by with little achieved. So I thought I would share some of the tactics I use to make my writing time work its hardest
It amazes me that after all of these years spent writing in a variety of genres (novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, essays), I?m still learning about process and other writing-related things. Recently, I?ve been working on what I expect will become another novel. It draws on some of my childhood experiences growing up on the Canadian prairies. Of course, it?s no surprise to anyone that writers use such events in their fiction (and non-fiction), but I find that I get bogged down if I stay too close to the actual material.
Critique Circle was not my first choice when I started looking for critique groups. The thought of showing people my writing was nerve-wracking enough. Showing my writing to absolute strangers terrified me. Especially considering the typical level of intelligence and tact shown in the average comment on YouTube or your favorite news site.
National Novel Writing Month, or Nano as it is lovingly known among us writers, plays an important part in many writers? lives.
Each fall we gear up and get ready for the writing frenzy that starts November 1st when we have to produce at least 1667 words per day to reach that 50,000 word goal and become Nano winners.
We at Critique-Circle have long admired this event and so we decided this year to become an official sponsor and in that way help in strengthening this important event even further.
We also wanted to hear more about what drives the wonderful staff behind Nano and maybe get some tips on how to become a winner, so we called up Grant Faulkner, Executive Director at NanoWriMo and long-time Nano participant.
There are hundreds of middle of the road books about writing that don't offer anything new, but sometimes new information isn't what you need. You need something that helps you grapple with the principles you already know. A new way to see story elements that's going to click with the way your mind works. Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & conflict is one of those extraordinary books that does that.
Writing about creativity comes from reviewing and commenting on other CC members work. What I see at CC is a mix of various skill levels of writing. Some are beginners while others easily exceed my skills as a writer. I am trying to gear a blog for those who are building their skills and perhaps for some wanting to review writing skills. If you are interested in a high quality tract on creativity, I recommend: John Cleese, Creativity, on You tube. It?s about 36 minutes and well worth the view.
If I could own only one book on writing, it would be Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. I sometimes refer to it as my writer?s bible, because it covers such a broad spectrum of writing topics. Everything from character markers to plotting to creating tension to dialog to flashbacks to sensory input to conflict to writing love scenes to revision to titles to . . . well, you get the picture. And though the book is only 303 pages, Stein is able to say everything he needs to so succinctly and his examples are so spot on that you finish each chapter feeling that it?s been thoroughly covered.
Of the many things I learned from Deb Dixon's "Goal, Motivation, Conflict" workshop, this quote stuck with me the most:
"You can do anything in writing, as long as you do it well."
One thing I struggle with is describing how characters sound and their facial expressions. I think this area is one a lot of us have trouble with. If I had a nickel for every time one of my critique partners said, "But how does (s)he sound when they say this?" and "What does his/her face look like right now?" I'd have enough money to buy a year's supply of chocolate. But how often DO we need to describe facial expressions and tone of voice?
My conclusion: Not as much as you think.
One of the first rules of writing that most people learn is not to change POVs mid-scene. Perhaps you read it in a writing book, or a fellow critter here pointed it out to you. It's bad, it's confusing, and it's all but a hard and fast law of writing - don't do it.
But as always, rules are made to be broken.
Before the days of Twitter and FaceTime, people had to actually congregate in public settings. Take a look at the ex-pat writers of 1920's Paris: Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald. And the Inklings of 1930's Oxford: Tolkien and Lewis. Clearly, something magical occurs when like-minded creative beings come together: encouragement, influence, and eventually, success.
"World building" is a term we see bandied around quite a bit when it comes to the craft of writing. What it boils down to is whether or not the author has created an environment that feels "real." But how exactly is that accomplished? Is there some kind of formula, like a scientific equation, that will total up to a believable world? If that's so, why is there an almost mystical quality that evolves between the reader and the book when the world building works?
To create, develop and write expanses of fiction in e-publishing, the writing of a series is a viable option. Where to consider publishing, the writing of series is a viable option. Where to consider serialization treatment of either a complete draft or story outline is dependent on particular components.
As authors, there is always a moment of ?who do I think I am?? when writing a book. Of ?this story sucks, no one will want to read it.? And yet we put our hearts and our souls into the people and places we create on the page. Let me send this message loud and clear. If you are taking the time to write it, if you are taking the steps to hone your craft, the only way you will succeed, in the end, is by believing in yourself. Instead of telling yourself you have no business trying to be an author, try telling yourself you have every right to be an author.
Alrighty, boys and girls! Are you looking to put in your writing into comic books? If you are, here's a little heads up: When you're writing for comics and graphic novels, you'll be appointed with established characters at one point or another. Clearly, anybody will tell you about a comic book writer who's worked on your favorites. *Comic book master Peter David states that when working with characters like Zatanna or the X-Men, you're being handed a certain degree of reader investment and it's easier to sustain and build an audience with established characters than ones made from scratch.
I have been auditor of financial statements and organizational performance for over 30 years and I can say that the people and organisations who make it, plan for success then follow their plans. I have seen many that fail and almost all either had no plans or had an unworkable plan.
As this year comes to a close, I thought I would share with you a simple strategy for developing a plan for success in 2014.
When I finished my book, I remember thinking about writing a sequel, changing the ending, or maybe even adding another chapter. I had worked so hard, and it still felt like I didn't want it to be over.
After much thinking I came up with the perfect solution. It was so obvious, I was surprised I hadn't thought about it before. All I had to do was add digital content.
I don't consider myself an expert. There are lots of people who know lots more than I do both about the craft of writing ( and about where to put commas and question marks ) and about publishing. But a year into my Indie journey, I do consider myself experienced.
Who hasn't heard that old adage, "write what you know"? That's how to get realism in your story, and if your story doesn't feel real, nobody's going to want to read it, goes the thought. Oh poor writers, sitting there with that sinking feeling, because you're an accountant or a phys ed teacher and you want to write hard science fiction or steampunk, but the adage says you can't.
A difficult time for me was the moment I decided to pursue publication as opposed to writing for myself and wondering if I was talented enough to do it. It meant peeling off the rose colored glasses and admitting to my flaws. To become a professional writer, I had to come to terms with how much I didn?t know. Like many others, I knew zilch about the publishing industry, how to approach agents and editors, and most importantly, how to hone my writing to get it where it needed to be.
Emotions can be the most difficult to convey (this is why Becca and I built the Emotion Thesaurus!) Not only do we need to express without telling, we have to show the emotion in a fresh way, make sure it feels genuine and have it match the character's expressive range. Add that to highlighting action and minimizing internal sensations and thoughts? It's a lot to juggle.
"Voice? What the heck is that about?" I mumbled, hunched over another how-to manual, a couple months into scaling the writing craft mountain. Its snowcapped peak sparkled down at me, egging me on from the bunny slopes. And hey, I think I can see some money up there too. I made a pot of coffee and cracked open another book.
It was five months after I joined when sign-ups for National Novel Writing Month were going strong. At this stage of my life, I was very much a "someday" novelist, meaning "Someday, I'll write a novel." Thanks to CC, my someday came that November.
June, 2006 was a fantastic month. That's when someone on Critters (another writer site) told me, Arlene Webb, about CC. Within a year, I had a star beside my name, a buddy list, and private queues for a series I?d been working on since 2004.
For me, CC isn't just about honing the craft of writing, although I bear testament to how fantastic the site is with thousands of crits given and received. I've made friends that know me better than anyone else and those friends are still teaching me how to write.
When you're wondering how good your writing is, the best way to find out is to get comments from at least five hundred readers. A tiny group of readers makes a poor statistical sample. Critiquers at Critique Circle present a better alternative. They will offer an extraordinary variety of insights. Take a look at almost any chapter posted here, and marvel at how the critiques vary.
Critique Circle has had a profound affect on my writing. I discovered, both from critiques on my own writing, and from critiquing others, how dangerous it is for anyone to see their writing from their own point of view.
Other people will read your books. That's the goal, right? It is not very important that they bring their own preconceptions, biases, misunderstandings and misapprehensions to your writing. It is much more important if your story is so clear to you, the author, that you failed to narrate it. People will fill in the missing gaps, and in the process, they will become angry, confused, and bored.