Posted in Writing & Publishing, Writing Tips

Why I Hate Writing Rules

There are eight hundred million and four writing tips out there on the internet (yes, that is an exact number). More than half of them contradict each other. Many of them only work for the people offering that particular piece of advice. And when I was a new writer, I ate those tips up. I read so many blog posts and articles and interviews about the right way to write. The right way to make a book. The right way to write fight scenes/dialogue/sex scenes/humor/suspense/description/an ending/etc/etc/etc.

I listened to the advice of my favorite authors most of all because, of course, I wanted to write something as awesome as their books that I loved so much.

So I tried writing a certain number of words each day. I wrote every day. I wrote at the same time every day. I wrote in a specific space. I followed an outline. I followed a formula. I plotted certain story points at 25%, 50%, 75%, etc the way through the story. I bent over backwards to follow these arbitrary “rules” because I wanted my writing to be good. And I wasn’t confident enough in my own writing to realize that it already was, and I didn’t need to mirror anyone else for that to happen.

So even though I have plenty of my articles here on this blog with writing tips and whatnot, what I’m trying to say here is that you don’t have to listen to them. You don’t have to listen to a single one of them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, it just means you don’t have to.

I think as writers we like to hear about other writers’ processes and methods out of curiosity. It’s interesting to see how people tackle the same task differently. But that doesn’t mean there’s one right way to do it. There’s a million ways to do it, actually.

The important thing is to figure out what way works for you.

So feel free to let writing tips and the writing processes of accomplished authors guide you, but always remember that in the end, you’re looking for your own process. Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. And the only way you’re going to do that is by trial and error.

I don’t like writing advice because sometimes they imply that writing is a one size fits all activity. And it’s not.

So knock yourself out. Read every writing article you can get your hands on—I did, and sometimes I still do—but learn to take what you need from them and discard the rest. Find what works for you, and be confident enough in yourself and in your writing to know what’s right for you.

 

What do you think of writing advice?

Write on, friends 😉

Posted in Writing & Publishing, Writing Tips

The “I Don’t Have Time to Write” Excuse

It takes the average person a minute or less to read a single book page. It takes me anywhere from five minutes to hours to write a single page, depending on the scene. So, yeah. Writing takes time. And you’re busy. We’re all busy. We all have work or school or other obligations that must be met day after day, leaving little to no free time to do anything—let alone write. So how then, do so many people manage to write novels? Do these people magically have more hours in a day? They must have less busy lives—they have more free time than you do, right?

Wrong.

Finding time to write isn’t about having less going on in your life. It’s about prioritizing and making time. Here are some quick tips to squeeze writing into your day, no matter how busy you are.

1. Keep a notebook next to your bed. Those random spouts of brilliance you have when you’re half asleep? Don’t just roll over and forget about it. Grab a pen and scribble it down even if you have to do with your eyes half-open.

One of my favorite writing quotes is “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
Saul Bellow

2. Write in intervals. If you can’t carve out an hour of your day to spend in front of the computer, take five minutes. If you’re in school, write a paragraph between classes or on an off period. Write while you eat lunch. Write for five minutes when you first get up in the morning, before jumping in the shower. Write for five minutes when you first get home. Write before you go to sleep. Write while you eat breakfast. Write whenever you possibly can. Carry a notebook around with you for whenever you have a free second—a cab/train ride, waiting for someone to show up for a lunch date, ect.

3. Put your technology to use. Almost everyone now-a-days carries around a cell phone at all times. Guess what? Every phone has a notepad function on it. Never used it? Get familiar with it. It’s lighter than a notebook and easy to whip out when you’re standing in line at Starbucks or sitting in a drive-through or waiting for a bus. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Just take advantage of those small bouts of free time and write.

4. Use a voice recorder (like the one on your phone) while you drive. Press record as you pull out of your neighborhood in the morning, and just talk until you make it to school or work. Describe what you see, a character you thought up, a scene you dreamt about—whatever. Just get those ideas out. Even if it sounds horrible at first, chances are, at least one thing you say will be useful.

5. Prioritize. I want you to close your eyes. Now picture yourself when you first get home after a long day at work or school. What do you do first? Do you kick off your shoes and relax for an hour in front of the TV? Do you go grab a bite with friends? Take a power nap? Fool around on Google/Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Goodreads/YouTube/WordPress/Instagram? Whatever it is you normally do, stop. Take that hour or two that you use for pleasure and write. If you want to be a writer, after all, nothing should be more relaxing and pleasurable than writing. 😉

The problem with people complaining about not having enough time to write is they have more free time than they realize. Be productive. Put your time to good use.

If you really want to write that novel (or short story or poem or whatever) make a promise to yourself. Promise yourself that you’re all in. If you make an effort to squeeze writing into your day, soon enough, it’ll accumulate into more writing than you’d think you’d be able to produce.

Do you ever feel like you don’t have time for writing? What do you do? Share your thoughts in the comments and get writing 😉

Posted in Writing & Publishing, Writing Tips

Why Your Book is Not Published

So, you’ve written a book. But not just any book. This is the book, as in, the most-awesome-book-ever-in-the-whole-world-oh-my-gosh-it’s-that-good book. It’s perfect just as it is, and surely, surely it must be published this instant for the world to see and enjoy and praise. Second drafts? No need. Editing? Who needs that when you have natural talent? Research? Totally unnecessary. Your book is so good, you don’t need to know how the industry works. The work will speak for itself.

…so then why isn’t it getting published?

1. You call it a fiction novel

Hold onto your hats, kids. I’m about to blow your minds. ‘Fiction’ and ‘novel’ are the same thing. Saying “fiction novel” does not make you sound fancy or sophisticated. People will not be impressed and ooed or awed. They will roll their eyes and toss your work aside without a second thought.

2. You’re going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King; therefore, your novel must be at least 800 pages.

“Does anything happen in these 800 pages?”

“Yes! Lots of things happen! Hundreds of things!”

“Do those ‘hundreds of things’ work together?”

“….are they supposed to?”

3. Half way through your story you worry readers may get bored, so a horde of demons randomly attack your hero, because kids like demons now-a-days, right? Maybe throw in some vampires. Those are popular.

4. It’s riddled with metaphors and similes because you think it makes you sound deep and profound.

Such as: She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Or: Alice and Alex had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

Or even better: Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.

Or my favorite: It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

Or perhaps the best: Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

5. Your main character is the perfect version of you living out your fantasies. This 1) makes your character completely unrealistic 2) boring 3) most of the time unlikable and 4) there is no point to your plot except that the guy gets the girl/money/fame/whatever this weird version of you desires, and guess what, no one wants to read that except the person who wrote it.

More hilariously bad similes for your enjoyment here. 🙂

Write on, friends. 😉

If you have any more new writer mistakes, please do share them in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Posted in Writing & Publishing, Writing Tips

Misconceptions About Writing YA Fiction

If you’re intending to write for the young adult audience then you’d best believe you must write a squeaky clean manuscript because no teenager has ever heard a curse word, had sex, had alcohol, done drugs, or been exposed to violence. Young adults are innocent, angelic creatures, and our society absolutely cannot allow them to be tainted and influenced by such horrors in their literature. Therefore, if you plan to write for this age, your manuscript must not contain any of these elements. So. Basically, it can’t have any conflict.

Not.

I’m amazed by how often I see questions from aspiring writers wondering if it’s okay for their YA WIP to have a cuss word or a heated make out scene or some kind of violent battle. What’s even more surprising, is the amount of people who advise them to avoid these elements.

Books shouldn’t glamorize these elements and encourage young adults to go do drugs or fight, but it’s ridiculous to think teens aren’t exposed to these kinds of things daily. As long as your love scene or battle is important to the plot, there is no plausible reason for why it shouldn’t be allowed in your manuscript.

There are no guidelines saying that if you use the F-word or have a certain amount of blood spilled or too many characters make out that your novel can no longer be qualified as YA.

Use your best judgment.

Is this element absolutely necessary to your story? Does it further explore character, plot, or backstory?

If yes, keep it. If not, decide if you want it for shock factor, to be gratuitous, or because you believe it furthers your story.

Young adult novels can have violence in them. They can contain bad language. There can be sexual content, drugs, alcohol. As long as there’s a reason they’re in your book.

Just because it’s targeted toward a younger audience, doesn’t mean you have to scoop the realism and truth from your words and stuff the void with lies. Kids aren’t stupid. And you’d be naïve to think they won’t be exposed to such content even if they don’t read it in a book.

What are your thoughts on the content in Young Adult novels? Where do you draw the line?

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing & Publishing, Writing Tips

Why Even People Who Don’t Like NaNoWriMo Should Try It

A lot of people disagree with NaNoWriMo. Some go as far as to dislike the event and the entire community that comes together every November (or April and July if you’re a camper) to take on the challenge of writing a novel in a month.

I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t listen to them.

What they say isn’t wrong. I won’t argue with you there. Yes, no one is going to write a perfect, polished, best-selling novel in 30 days. I don’t care if you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or Charles Dickens–you aren’t going to pull it off.

But the thing is, that’s not even what NaNoWriMo is about.

No one expects you to have a perfect novel at the end of those 30 days. No one expects anything of you, actually. Because NaNoWriMo is purely about you challenging yourself and attaining a personal goal. And best case scenario, it’s about you finishing a rough draft.

I’m going to repeat that a little louder for my folks in the back.

YOU’RE WRITING A ROUGH DRAFT.

NaNo is about getting the words on the page. It’s about gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to write until the end even if you don’t love your idea as much as you thought you did in those first few weeks. It’s about challenging yourself to finish what you started and get a foundation down on paper for you to work with later. It’s about developing the habit of writing regularly. To put it most simply: it’s about whatever the hell you want it to be. NaNo is for you. NaNo is about you. And whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.

So yes, I disagree with the misguided people who send off their freshly NaNo-ed manuscripts to agents and publishers, thinking it’s done. But that’s only a small fraction of the NaNo community. Most people acknowledge that when December 1st strikes, their work has only really begun.

NaNo is a stepping stone–a very, very important stepping stone. It provides that little push that so many people need. It provides a community for writers plagued with doubt who almost stop halfway through, but soldier on surrounded by their fellow writer cheerleaders. It forces people to start, which is something 90% of people who say they want to write a novel don’t do.

So harp on NaNo all you want, but there’s a reason thousands and thousands of people participate every single year.

And if you want to write a book–if you so much as want to give it a shot just to see how it goes, you should think about participating too.

It won’t be the end of the road. It won’t give you a finished product. And it may or may not lead to publication down the line.

But it’s a stepping stone. It’s a start.

 

Posted in Writing & Publishing, Writing Tips

Going With Your Gut

Today I’d like to talk to you about getting feedback on your writing. This is a must-have in my own process, whether it be feedback from my beta readers, my critique partners, or just some super helpful strangers in awesome online writing communities who help with my query letters (AgentQuery Connect has awesome forums for all kinds of things of this nature). Getting a second opinion on your story from someone who can look at the story completely objectively is invaluable, in my humble opinion.

However, I’ve also come to learn that the way you approach this feedback is just as important.

I can be insanely insecure about my writing when it comes to allowing others to read it–as are many writers, at least the ones I know. I’m also incredibly stubborn and persistent, and am willing to write a book twenty times over if it means making it the best it can be. So when someone else offers suggestions for improvement, my initial urge is to jump on it, almost blindly.

This happened fairly recently when I had some other sets of eyes give me their opinions on a query letter. A lot of the comments I received were very helpful, and ultimately the query turned out better because of them. Some of the comments, however, weren’t right for the query, and the changes would not have improved the letter. It wasn’t until after I spent hours trying to reword and rephrase a section of the letter that someone told me to change that I realized I liked the sentence the way it was. I liked how it conveyed the tone of my novel and my writing style. And so I went with my gut, and kept it.

I think there is definitely merit in getting second opinions and following advice when necessary. I also think there comes a time when you need to look at these comments and revisions, and ask yourself who knows your story best. (Hint: the answer is you) At the end of the day, you and your work are never going to please everyone. So you’re going to have to decide if you’re going to change your work to try to achieve this impossible feat, or if you’re going to trust yourself as a writer, go with your gut, and make the hard decisions that you believe are right for your story.

The point of this ramble is this: Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut.

And write on, friends.

Posted in Writing Tips

Critique Partners

When many writers talk about their revision process, they usually mention the importance of critique partners or writing groups. I, like many others, attest that this step in the revision process is so extremely helpful and not to be overlooked.

I’m personally knee deep in another set of revisions on my current WIP, and am lucky enough to have fabulous critique partners who have helped me pull this manuscript out of the gutters.

Critique partners are so important, and for so many reasons. No matter how much time and distance you put between you and your manuscript, you still wrote it. You created those characters, breathed life into their story, loved them and tortured them until you typed the end at three in the morning before collapsing into a pile of utter exhaustion. And no amount of time or distance is going to change that. This isn’t to say you can’t revise and edit your own manuscript, because you should, but you should also get a fresh pair of eyes—or two, or three—to look it over. Because these people who didn’t write your WIP can give you something that no matter how hard you try, you can’t give yourself.

They can tell you what they see from a reader’s point of view.

Especially on their first read-through, they don’t know your story. They don’t know how your world works or the backstories for all of your characters. Vague lines don’t automatically make sense to them as they would to you because you understand what it’s referring to that happens 200 pages later. Critique partners see what you can’t—or what you don’t want to—and have the ability to make your manuscript infinitely better, in my humble opinion.

Finding the perfect critique partner, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is like finding your soul mate. It isn’t easy, and sometimes you have to go through a couple of no-good fits before you find your perfect match. And that’s okay as long as you keep looking.

Because, trust me, it’s worth it once you find one that believes in your manuscript just as much as you do.

Do you use critique partners? Share your thoughts; I’d love to hear what you think!

Posted in Writing Tips

Recommending My Favorite Writing Resources and Blogs

I love reading other blogs, specifically ones in the general “writing” category. This is both a very good and a very bad thing. Good because there are some really great blogs out there with helpful tips and important information…Bad because I have the tendency to waste time procrastinate spend a great deal of time reading them instead of working on my own WIP.

Today I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite writing resources from both authors and literary agents that contain countless helpful articles about the craft of writing, the publishing business, and various other topics you can use to procrastinate improve your craft.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/

Written by author K.M. Weiland and probably one of the first writing blogs I ever stumbled upon. There is so much good content on this site. It’s really worth your time to dig through her archives.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/

Written by Chuck Wendig, and I’m sure plenty of you are already familiar with this blog. Not only is there really useful information, but he’s also hilarious 🙂

http://www.adventuresinagentland.com/

Written by literary agent Natalie M. Lakosil with all kinds of helpful tips from both a writer and an agent’s point of view.

http://nelsonagency.com/pub-rants/

Written by literary agent Kristin Nelson and one of my personal favorites. Seriously. I’ve been stalking this blog for years.

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/

I’m sure many of you are also familiar with Nathan Bransford’s blog, but if not, go check it out. Right now. Seriously, stop reading this post and go.

http://blog.janicehardy.com/

This blog by author Janice Hardy is probably the best as far as content on the actual craft of writing goes. Seriously. She has over a thousand posts on writing. You can spend hours digging through her archives and it’s definitely worth your time.

Above are six I frequently visit, but there are so many more! If you have any other favorites, feel free to drop them in a comment below!

Posted in Reading, Writing Tips

Why You Need to Read to Write

Have you ever asked, “How can I be a better writer?”

Has anyone ever answered, “Read”?

That probably wasn’t the advice you were looking for. Generally, people want a nice checklist to complete and then have an exceptionally better product once they’re finished. They shrug off the reading advice because they want to write, not read. But that advice you ignored may be just what you need.

1) Improve your vocabulary

It may not seem like it, but you’re constantly increasing your vocabulary with everything you read. The greater your vocabulary, the greater your grasp on the English language will be, allowing you to more effectively convey feelings, settings, ect, through your writing.

I don’t mean your manuscripts have to be riddled with big words that the majority of your readers will have to pull out a dictionary to understand in the first place, but there’s a huge difference in knowing just the right word to describe something and knowing almost the right word. And no, a thesaurus does not solve that problem.

If I didn’t read so much, I imagine my vocabulary would be depressingly small. When I look back at my drafts from years ago and compare them to my more recent works, the improved quality just from the vocabulary alone is incredible.

Fun fact: I learned the word “muddled” from reading Twilight when I was twelve. 😉

2) Familiarize yourself with successful (and unsuccessful) executions of story structure and pacing

Now, I’m not a very formulaic person. I know there are certain structures your story is supposed to follow, and how to outline it as such; I just find I have more success when I allow my story to have a natural progression instead of trying to cram it into predetermined boxes. However, structure and pacing are still very important in my life, even if I’m not an outliner.

Structure and pacing are some of the first things I look for while revising. And if you don’t know what to look for, this step could be very difficult for you. While reading, study the story of both books you enjoyed and books you didn’t. Why did that story hold your attention so well? Why didn’t the other? In my experience, you learn just as much from reading a bad book as you do from a good one.

Good checkpoints to look out for while reading are the inciting incident (both how it’s executed and its placement within the book), the midpoint, and the climax. If you can nail those three, generally, your natural writing instinct will help fill in the blanks.

3) Learn what types of writing styles you enjoy and begin to shape your own

Everyone has his or her own unique writing voice. In my opinion, voice is the most difficult aspect to nail, especially when you first start writing. And speaking from personal experience, I sounded like a lot of other people before I found my own voice—and it’s something I’m still working on.

The more you read, the more styles and voices you’ll be exposed to, which will help you figure out what makes you like or dislike a book as far as the actual writing goes, inadvertently shaping your own.

Share your thoughts on reading and writing in the comments; I’d love to hear what you think!

And get reading 😉