“Report It” from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises. It’s packed with writing exercises to help you explore all forms of creative writing: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The book is designed to inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Two: It’s Personal.” The writing exercises in this chapter focus on writing of a personal nature: memoir, journal writing, and personal essays.
I chose this exercise because it’s challenging and fun. It asks you to look at your own life from a fresh perspective and make yourself the subject of a news report.
Give it a try! Then come back and tell us what you learned and how this exercise worked for you.
Is your life newsworthy? Have you ever witnessed, committed, or been the victim of a crime? Have you ever participated in a protest or a performance? Have you ever had an odd or unusual (paranormal or supernatural) experience?
Traditional and professional journalism is concise and factual. It adheres to a set of journalistic ethics, focusing on the facts and details of the story and presenting those facts thoroughly and honestly. True journalism is objective. The ethical journalist does not inject his or her feelings or opinions.
But journalists are human. The news media in general is increasingly accused of using a variety of creative tactics to spin the news in favor of their own religious, political, or philosophical beliefs. For example, in a report, a journalist should not badmouth a suspected criminal, but that journalist can include a quote from a witness who has badmouthed the criminal while intentionally not including a positive quote from some other witness.
Journalists can pick and choose quotes, facts, and even which stories to report.
When you think about the fact that journalists and reporters are responsible for feeding us information about what’s going on in the world and then consider that they are mere human beings, flawed, emotional, and opinionated just like the rest of us, you can only begin to imagine and wonder just how spun all the news actually is.
Your challenge is to revisit your past and write a news report about something you experienced firsthand.
The rules are simple: straight journalism. What does that mean? True journalists are not allowed to include personal emotion or opinion in their writing. Be as objective as possible. Don’t take sides!
Write about the event or incident as if you are a journalist looking in on your own story from the outside. Make sure you include a headline that will attract readers’ attention.
Tips: To get a feeling for how journalism is written (its tone and style), visit a reputable news site and read a few articles.
Variations: Instead of reporting on a story, write a paparazzi piece. Were you spotted while out on a hot date? If you’re at a loss for subject matter, get creative and write a fictional news story; make up something or change something from your past or better yet, write a news story from your future (maybe you win the Pulitzer Prize in ten years).
Applications: The most obvious application is that you could, someday, become a journalist. Journalism in general is an objective style of writing (at least, it’s supposed to be), and this is a style that is difficult to achieve. This exercise encourages you to write about something you care about but to refrain from including your feelings or personal views.
This is quite possibly the best thing ever. Enjoy!
Thanks to “Weird Al” Yankovic, we writers now have our very own anthem.
“Word Crimes” covers a host of writerly pet peeves. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, there’s a LOST reference. All is right with the world.
One of my favorite peeves mentioned in the song deals with using fewer or less. The misuse of less is rampant not just among laypersons but writers and editors as well.
I think this is way better than the original. What do you think? Are your favorite pet peeves covered in this fun and hilarious parody?
The writing community rocks!
Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
This excerpt is from “Chapter Ten: Community, Industry, and Audience,” which explains the benefits and importance of networking with the writing community as well as studying the industry and developing a reading audience. The chapter includes tips, too!
“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” — E.B. White
Writers are notorious for spending hours in solitude, bent over our keyboards, laboring over prose and poetry. And when we’re not absorbed in our own writing, we’ve got our noses wedged deeply into someone else’s, because if there’s one thing we love as much as writing, it’s reading.
We’re known as eccentrics, loners, and introverts. Of course, we’re not all eccentrics, loners, or introverts. Lots of writers are conventional, social, and extroverted. But we all have to spend lots of time alone doing our work.
Yet none of us does it alone. Whether we realize it or not, writers are part of a much larger community that includes fellow writers, readers, and the entire publishing industry.
Fostering relationships with readers, other writers, and a broader range of people who make up the writing community has immense benefits. From learning the craft and developing skills to keeping creativity alive and staying motivated, this community can be essential in a job where the vast majority of your work is self-directed and done in isolation.
The writing community is immense, and there is a place in it for you.
The Writing Community
At the heart of every community lies a common, shared experience, and it’s no different for writers. Other writers understand our unique struggles. Whether we’re tangled up in a messy plot, trying to form a poem into a publishable work of art, or working through a stressful revision on an article or essay, the challenges we encounter as writers are particular to our craft.
When we surround ourselves with other writers, we enjoy camaraderie and make new friends—people who sympathize with our writing struggles and lend a bit of writerly advice.
Your fellow writers will relate to small accomplishments and celebrate them with you. When I finished the first draft of my first book, the non-writers in my life wanted to know if I’d already sent it out to get published. My writer friends said, “Good for you! When are you going to start revising?” The stark difference in their responses punctuated why the writing community is so important to me as a writer. The writers understood how meaningful it was to finish a book and knew that a draft is the first step of many. Their understanding filled my heart with appreciation.
Throughout our lives, we’ll find ourselves involved in various communities. I’ve found that writers tend to be warm, supportive, and generous people. Whether I’m sitting in a live workshop, interacting with writers online, listening to interviews, or reading books full of writing tips, I always sense kindness and compassion from other writers.
Plus, writers come in all shapes and sizes. There are fiction writers, poets, novelists, and a slew of nonfiction writers. Some consider their writing an art. Others view it as a livelihood. Some writers are introverts—solitary, shy, and withdrawn. Others are socially active and extroverted.
Getting involved in the writing community is fun and it can be exciting, especially when you meet other writers that you really connect with. Like all passionate people, writers generally love to talk about their passion and are glad to engage in conversations about grammar or swap writing tips.
As with any career and perhaps especially with creative or artistic careers, involvement with others does wonders for strengthening one’s connection to the craft. The writing community will help you master the craft, keep you focused and motivated, and provide a safe place for sharing ideas.
You can harness the power of this community for whatever you need. For example, I used to have a hard time staying focused on a writing project. I’d start it and then become distracted by some other project or even a completely different interest. My blog, Writing Forward, forced me to commit to writing on a regular basis because it became a space where I interacted with other writers and discussed the craft in meaningful ways. Those interactions, along with my sense of duty to my readers, kept me going and I was finally able to write regularly.
The writing community strengthened and intensified my passion for writing, and it will do the same for you.
Connecting with Other Writers
With the Internet, connecting with the writing community is a snap. It may take a while to find exactly the type of community you’re looking for, but rest assured, they’re out there. You can find writers blogging, podcasting, chatting on social media, hanging out in forums, and participating in community projects like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
Looking for an offline writing community? Check with your local community center and bookstores in your area to see if there are any local writing groups you can join. One of the best places to meet and mix with writers is in a workshop or class, so see if any creative-writing classes are offered at a nearby community college.
You can form or join small writing groups, intimate circles that meet regularly to discuss writing and share ideas and projects, or you can find a writing partner, someone you can bounce ideas off, swap work for critique, or even write projects with, in a partnership.
I encourage all writers to engage with the writing community on some level, but in a way that is comfortable for you. Some people do best in a formal setting, so classes and workshops are ideal. Others thrive on deadlines and competition: NaNoWriMo is perfect for this. If you’d like to lead a smaller online community, start a blog. If you’d like to make watercooler conversation with other writers, get on social media, find other writers, and chat them up. You might find lots of casual acquaintances, or you may form a few close friendships. You might choose to engage with a community online or in the real world. It doesn’t matter. The point is that you engage on some level.
Whether you join a writing community or start your own, you will reap incredible benefits and pleasures from mingling with other writers, and by simply being a writer, you are already part of the larger writing community, so why not get a little more involved?
Do you have good grammar habits?
Can you imagine a nutritionist who eats exclusively at fast food restaurants? A personal trainer who never exercises? A writer who can’t be bothered with grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
In most professions, best practices and tools of the trade are mandatory. If you want to be a doctor, you have to have a PhD. If you want to land a job in accounting, you need math skills. But writers can easily finagle around best writing practices, especially with the increasing accessibility of self-publishing.
Basic grammar skills used to be mandatory–not just for writers but for all high school graduates. These days, you can get out of college with a degree but no clue how to properly structure a sentence or differentiate between they’re, their, and there.
I’ve lamented about the fact that grammar is absent from education. But I’m even more saddened by the absence of good grammar among self-proclaimed writers.
Good Grammar Habits for Writers
I’m not going to rehash all the reasons writers should practice good grammar. It all boils down to being a professional and showing respect for the craft of writing and for your readers.
Learning grammar–mastering grammar–requires making a long-term commitment. You don’t have to spend hours every day poring over grammar guides and dissecting sentences, but you do need to develop a few basic grammar-related writing habits.
These are the habits that I’ve adopted in my own writing practices. Through experimentation, trial and error, and sheer willpower, I’ve managed to turn these practices into ingrained habits.
- 1. Know What You Don’t Know
- Nothing chaps my hide like a self-proclaimed author/writer/editor/proofreader who doesn’t understand the basics of grammar. I frequently come across blogs (and comments) that promise writing tips or expertise but offer more in the way of promoting mistakes. I suspect these writers don’t realize they’re getting it wrong (and spreading bad grammar like a disease). Take a step back and figure out what you do and don’t know. And before you offer advice, make sure you know what you’re talking about.
- 2. Collect Resources and Build Your Arsenal
- Got a friend who is a grammar geek? Is the Chicago Manual of Style still sitting on your wish list? Do you have a bookmarks folder packed with reputable grammar websites? Round up your resources so when questions arise, you can quickly and easily get (correct) answers.
- 3. Look it Up
- When you’re writing and come across a grammar question, take a few minutes to go in search of the answer. Don’t write around it or put it off for some future writing project. Stop and look it up right now. And remember that every time you look something up, you just increased your worth and skill as a writer.
- 4. Read Well and with a Sharp Eye
- If you read nothing but blogs and social media posts, you’re not reading well. Make time in your reading schedule to read books that you know are well written–books that have gone through the tried-and-true editing and proofreading processes. Also, read with an eye for grammar. Be on the lookout for questionable sentence structures, typos, and other errors.
- 5. Polish Your Work
- Most writers with works that demonstrate bad grammar actually know the rules but haven’t properly edited and proofread their work. All the learning and resources in the world won’t matter if you don’t double check every writing project and fix all those pesky typos and grammar mistakes that you made as you rushed through the first draft.
This is by no means an exhaustive list since it’s based solely on my own experiences, so if you have any good grammar tips or best practices to add, please share by leaving a comment. Keep practicing those good grammar habits, and keep writing!
Is creative writing a lot of fun, a lot of work, or both?
Creative writing belongs to the arts, and the arts are an odd bunch.
People pursue artistic endeavors for different reasons. For some, it’s a hobby. For others, a livelihood. For most, it’s a hobby they dream of turning into a livelihood.
It’s a worthwhile dream and a lofty one too. But what does it take to get there? How much fun are you allowed to have, and just how much work must you do to turn your passion into a full-time job?
And if you do manage to make a career out of creative writing, will it still be as fun as it was when it was just a hobby?
Creative Writing is Fun
Young and new writers often come to creative writing because they find it enjoyable. Many are avid readers, so inspired by their love of literature that they want to create it. Others are compelled to express themselves on the page or to have their voices heard by an audience of readers.
Most of us have experienced sudden inspiration. You’re sitting there and a poem comes to you fully formed. It’s finished within minutes and it just might be brilliant. It feels more like the poem came through you from some source outside of yourself. It’s pure magic. It’s exciting. It’s fun.
When we are being creative, and especially when we’re tapped into that magical kind of creativity, it’s an extremely pleasurable experience. From the instant we start writing until our work is completed, we’re on a wild ride, exciting but dangerous too. Because if we rely on having fun, we may start to believe the many misconceptions about creative writing as a career or lifestyle.
Misconceptions About Creative Writing
It’s not uncommon for novice writers who have experienced the magic of sudden inspiration to wait for it to strike again. It’s likely that it will strike again, eventually. But waiting for this type of inspiration to hit you is a bad habit. You’re simply fostering an addiction to the adrenaline-like rush that the magical muse evokes.
This idea that creativity magically happens is just one of the many misconceptions that inexperienced writers have about the craft. These misconceptions are dangerous because they are beliefs that direct writers away from their work. And sometimes, being creative is hard work indeed.
Here are a few of the most notorious misconceptions that surround creative writing:
- Myth: You shouldn’t read much because other writers’ styles might leak into your own work and it won’t be original. That’s like saying you shouldn’t interact with other people because you might adopt their personalities. Trust that your own unique style will emerge, even if it is influenced by other writers.
- Myth: Good grammar is unnecessary if you want your writing to be raw and edgy. Writing is raw and edgy because of what it communicates, not because it’s peppered with typos and poorly structured sentences.
- Myth: Why work at writing when you can just sit around and wait for inspiration to happen? Um, because you’ll produce almost nothing.
- Myth: Artistic success is borne of pure talent. Talent is a booster, not the foundation upon which a successful artistic career is built.
- Myth: You don’t need to hone your creative writing skills because you have natural talent. No matter how talented you are, you are not born knowing how to read and write. There is work to be done!
See? Dead wrong on all counts.
Creative Writing is Fun, Hard Work
Like anything, if you want to succeed in creative writing, you’ve got to work at it. I’ve tried many creative endeavors over the years, and writing is one of the most challenging pursuits you can choose. It requires a vast skill set, intense determination, and a willingness to work. It also requires a good measure of creativity, and you need business skills too. Talent is just the icing on the cake, something you’re born with if you’re lucky.
People have all kinds of funny ideas about hard work and creativity, many of which are nothing more than idle fears. A common one is avoiding a career path in creative writing because then it will become a job and that would take all the fun out of it. Another is that if you have to work hard at creative writing, then you must be talentless.
Misconceptions about the arts are rampant. It’s no wonder artistic people are so misunderstood by the rest of the world. We tend to be an unusual bunch, and many of these misconceptions come from artists themselves.
The truth is that hard work and fun are not necessarily separate from one another. Hard work can be fun and good fun can also be hard work. Going to Disneyland might sound like fun, but even that takes hard work – the work you have to do to pay for your trip, making reservations, packing, getting there, standing in line. If people will do all that for a few minutes of thrills on some theme park rides, why can’t they work just as hard to make their dreams come true instead of sitting around waiting for that magic, that talent, to manifest?
If you work hard at your creative writing, that magic will happen. In fact, the harder you work, the more frequently the magical inspiration will appear. There’s no real benefit in waiting for the muse to honor you with her presence. So stop waiting. Stop looking for an easy way to compose a poem, draft a short story, or write a novel. Sit down and get to work. And have fun while you’re doing it.
Keep working, and keep writing.
Tips for writing a book
Writing a book is a big deal. It takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you want to do it right, which means creating something that people will find entertaining or useful and then polishing, marketing, and promoting it.
It all begins with an idea. A concept. It might start with a few characters or an intriguing plot you’ve dreamed up. It might start with an audience you want to write for or a topic you want to explore.
Many writers start writing as soon as an idea strikes. This approach works for some people, but for most of us, it’s a road to nowhere. If we attempt to write a book every time we get a good idea, we constantly leave previous ideas half finished. If we don’t stop to think about whether the idea is viable, we may get in over our heads or write a book that’s unpublishable or unsalable due to market saturation or lack of interest.
Tips for Writing a Book
There is no right or wrong way to write a book. Ultimately, each author has to figure out how to tackle the project, and what works for one writer might not work for another. But there are some simple techniques and strategies that many authors have found useful and there are certainly steps involved that are essential if you intend to bring your book to a reading audience.
These tips for writing a book are designed to help you think about your project before you commit and to outline some key tasks that have to be tackled in the process of writing a book from concept to publication.
- 1. Start with a Concept
- You might have ten great ideas every day or just one brilliant idea in a decade. The trick is knowing which writing ideas to develop. Before fully committing to a book-length project, make sure it’s the right one for you, something you’re passionate about and can spend months or years cultivating.
- 2. Identify Your Audience
- There’s a difference between knowing your audience and writing for a market. If you love Star Trek, maybe you should write science fiction novels. Then it would be logical to assume that your audience will consist of Star Trek fans. You should also know your genre. But don’t look at the best-seller list, determine that paranormal romance is all the rage, and set out to write a book in the genre just because you think it’s hot right now. There’s a strong likelihood that by the time you finish your book, the fad will have passed and everyone will be reading historical war stories. Write what you love.
- 3. Test Your Ideas with an Outline
- An outline can be as simple as a few key bullet points or so elaborate that it spans dozens of pages. And many writers don’t use outlines at all. Outlines are like road maps; they provide you with a sense of direction, a route you can use as you draft your book. You have to decide if you work better with outlining or discovery writing. Try both and find what fits.
- 4. Decide How to Publish
- You might wait until after you finish your book before deciding how to publish (self-publishing or traditional publishing), but there are benefits to giving it consideration beforehand. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, you may be able to get a book deal (and an advance) before you start writing if you go with traditional publishing. If you’re writing a novel and plan to self-publish, you might want to learn about the self-publishing process while you’re writing your book.
- 5. Draft Your Book
- While it’s true that you’re ultimately writing for an audience, most writers agree that as you write your first draft, you should actually write it for yourself. Look at this way: you too are a reader. If you write a book that you’d love to read, others will love to read it too.
- 6. Think About Marketing
- If you write a book, people will read it, but only if you tell them about it first. Marketing is all about making sure people are aware of your book. This is when you find your audience. All authors have to engage in marketing. If you have the resources, your involvement may mean hiring a PR agency to handle the bulk of the marketing for you. But most of today’s authors find that they have to spend more time marketing than writing.
- Bonus marketing tip: you can start building a marketing platform long before you finish your book (maybe even before you start writing it).
- 7. Revisions: Edit and Proofread
- Don’t send your first draft to anyone. That includes beta readers, agents, and editors. Don’t even show it to your mom. You might have to rewrite entire chapters. You might have to rearrange relationships in a novel or lop off some of your favorite scenes. Your job is to produce the best book possible. So take the time to make changes that improve your work.
- 8. Engage Beta Readers and Apply Feedback
- Once you’ve got a book that you think is ready for readers, send it out to some trusted friends. The best beta readers are well read. Try to find someone who is familiar with your genre. Get a reader with exquisite grammar skills. Invite their feedback. Ask them how you can make your book even better. Then, weigh their suggestions and implement the ones that will improve your book even further.
- 9. Polish Your Final Draft
- Once you have your manuscript in good order, go through and give it a final polish. Nobody likes to read a book peppered with typos. There is an audience that won’t even notice your typos, but you’re not doing them any favors by delivering a faulty product. If you self-publish, then you’ll want to bring in a professional editor during the polishing stages.
- 10. Publish and Sell
- Writing a book is only the first half of your first mission as an author. Once you get it written, you have to get it published. And then you have to sell it. Do some research on traditional and self-publishing. Look into marketing strategies for authors. Prepare for the ride, because it will be a wild one.
Think of these tips for writing a book as general guidelines. Take what you need or what you think will be useful for your particular project.
Got any additional tips for writing a book? Share your insights and experiences with writing a book-length manuscript by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Stephen King: On Writing
Elvis is the king of rock and roll. Michael Jackson is the king of pop. And Stephen King is the king of horror.
He is one of the most successful authors in the world, the recipient of numerous honorable awards, and certainly one of the wealthiest and most recognizable writers alive.
While I’m not all that crazy about horror stories, I do appreciate the creativity and artistic merit that goes into writing good horror fiction. Maybe the fact that I’m bonkers over sci-fi and fantasy will redeem me. Maybe Stephen King will forgive me.
I have read a few of King’s books and enjoyed them, mostly those that fall just outside of horror: The Stand, Hearts in Atlantis, and The Gunslinger. I loved the movie Stand by Me based on his short story “The Body” and the film adaptations of The Green Mile and Misery.
According to Wikipedia: “King has published fifty novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, and five non-fiction books. He has written nearly two hundred short stories, most of which have been collected in nine collections of short fiction.”
I have great respect for Stephen King. I may not love horror stories, but I do love good writing and excellent storytelling. With all his experience, success, talent, and craftsmanship, I can’t think of a better mentor for writers than Stephen King.
The Buzz On Writing
Years ago, I saw Mr. King’s book on the shelf, thought it was good that horror writers now had their own bible, and moseyed downstairs to the used-books basement, where I like to hunt for old MacCafferey and Bradbury books.
The buzz about King’s book wasn’t immediate, but it was persistent. First one writer, then another would rave about “Stephen King’s book on writing.” This is a convenient sentence because the book has a convenient (and brilliant) title; It’s called On Writing.
Eventually the buzz became a persistent hum, almost a chant: “You haven’t read it yet?” “Oh, you’ll LOVE it.” “It’s the BEST writing book EVER.”
Here’s the thing about writers: They don’t throw around book recommendations haphazardly, especially books about writing. So, when every writer you know is telling you that this is a wonderful book that you simply must experience, you really ought to read it.
So I did.
A King’s Life
On Writing is part memoir, part instruction on the craft of writing. This is a smart structure, and one that’s rarely seen in books that aim to educate and inform. Doesn’t it make sense that people who aspire to become successful authors would benefit not only from learning writing skills, but also from studying the lives of other authors who have already achieved success?
The first half of the book takes the reader through Mr. King’s writing life from childhood, through young adulthood, and to his ultimate success as an author. Ever wonder what a wildly successful author read as a kid? Which movies he watched? When he started writing? What challenges he faced in getting his work published?
It’s all there, including the nail on little Stevie King’s bedroom wall upon which he impaled his rejection slips — a long nail, which eventually filled up and led to a second nail. But little Stevie King did something most young writers fail to do: he refused to give up. So the rejections piled up, but so did his writing skills. And then one day, his work was published. And then another day, he got a movie deal (Carrie). Book deals, awards, and legions of fans followed. But buried in all the acclaim and attention is a man who simply loves to write, a man who lives to write.
And Stephen King is a man who has mastered writing.
In the second half of On Writing, Stephen King gets down to the nitty gritty. This is the part of the book that’s just for writers. The first half, being somewhat of a memoir, will delight readers and fans of his books, films, and stories. It will delight writers as well, but we want to know what advice the king has for his loyal subjects, and whether or not you like horror, (indeed, whether or not you like Stephen King’s writing at all), any writer who yearns to carve a career out of the passion that is writing is one of Mr. King’s subjects.
It all starts with the one thing every writer must have: a toolbox. In your toolbox, you’ll put your vocabulary, grammar, and a host of other tools you’ll use to create effective works that resonate and compel. Mr. King talks about plot, characters, where to get ideas, and why The Elements of Style is his favorite writing book.
When I opened this book and started reading, I didn’t know what to expect. I was in the middle of at least four other books (a poetry collection, two novels, and another writing book). I quickly forgot about them all. I could not put this book down, so I devoured it in less than two days. That’s a testament to Stephen King’s writing, because I’m not easily impressed and it takes damn good writing to keep me turning pages and singing praises.
The value of On Writing is immeasurable. I find that writing advice is valuable, but when you add personal story and experience to the mix, it becomes priceless. Every year, I buy and read books that promise to help writers. Most of them end up in the discard pile and get hauled off to the used bookstore. Very few make it to the shelves of my library — The Chicago Manual of Style, Writing Down the Bones, The Elements of Style, and now, On Writing.
Do yourself a favor and get a copy, then read it right away. You won’t regret it.
How to write a query letter.
You’re in the process of writing a book, and you’ve decided to try to get it traditionally published.
Most publishing houses won’t work directly with authors, so in order to get your book traditionally published, you need to get a literary agent to represent you.
Your agent’s job is to get your book in front of editors and negotiate your book deal as well as any other rights (foreign, film, etc.).
The first step landing an agent is to write your book (if you’re writing nonfiction, you would write a detailed book proposal). The next step is to compile a list of literary agents whom you may want to work with.
Once you’ve gathered a list of agents to contact, you can start working on your query letter.
What is a Query Letter?
A query letter is a one-page, single-spaced cover letter (or letter of introduction) that contains a summary of your project and your author bio. The goal of the query letter is to entice a literary agent to read the attached material or request either a partial or full manuscript.
Before you write your query letter, do as much research as possible about query letters. This article is an overview to writing a query letter. If any part of the process becomes difficult for you, dig deeper, pick up a book on query letters, or consult a specialist.
Basic Outline for a Query Letter
There should be six parts to your query letter, including the salutation and valediction:
- Salutation: Also called the greeting, the salutation often starts with Dear… Make sure you address the agent by name; do not use To Whom It May Concern.
- Opening: The introduction of your letter should identify your book’s genre, word count, and any other important details.
- Synopsis: This is not a full synopsis–remember, the cover letter is only one page, so the synopsis has to be tight. Include a quick but compelling overview of the plot, establish the setting, and describe the main characters. You should also identify the core conflict and describe the resolution.
- Credentials (bio): Include your writing credits, education, or experience. If you have a lot of clips, bylines, or publishing credits, only include the most relevant or prestigious.
- Closing: This is where you thank the agent for taking the time to consider representing you and offer to send sample chapters or your full manuscript.
- Valediction: Some common terms used in the valediction are Regards, Thank You, and Sincerely (followed by your name).
How to Write a Query Letter
Here are some tips to guide you as you write your query letter:
- No matter how elaborate your story is or how much you want to tell the agent about yourself, keep it to one page. Do not bend this rule. Be clear, concise, and professional.
- Don’t use gimmicks. Colored paper, weird fonts, and other attempts to stand out from the crowd will backfire. Agents have to get through a lot of query letters, and they know what they’re looking for. Be professional.
- Make sure you adhere to each agent’s submission guidelines–no exceptions!
- Condensing all this information into one page is going to be tricky. Give yourself plenty of time to refine and revise your letter. When it’s done, have a few friends (with strong writing skills) take a look. Polish it until it’s perfect.
- Do not mention your failures or unpublished manuscripts (except the one you’re pitching). Yes, you learned from those experiences, but a prospective agent doesn’t want to hear about them–at least, not yet.
- Do not mention that you’re self-published unless your self-published book was successful and generated loads of revenue.
- There’s nothing wrong with being humble, but a query letter is not an appropriate place for self-depreciation.
- You don’t need to tell the agent your work is copyrighted, and you don’t need to include any kind of copyright mark on the document. Agents are professionals and know your work is copyrighted the instant you created it.
- Do not talk about how you’re going to be the next J.K. Rowling. Do not suggest your book belongs in Oprah’s book club. This kind of arrogance will come off as an illusion of grandeur.
Here are a few more resources that you might find useful:
Have you ever written and submitted a query letter to a literary agent? Was it successful? Did your book get published? Share your experiences with traditional publishing by leaving a comment.
Fiction writing prompts: young adult.
Young adult literature is one of the most exciting genres in fiction. Young people are bright, bold, and open-minded. More importantly, they are going to shape the future. What they read matters.
Young adult books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, and Lord of the Flies tell entertaining stories populated with compelling characters, but these stories also highlight important social questions and issues.
Stories like Catcher in the Rye inspire introspection, and books like The Hunger Games force readers to consider the future of humanity.
And who can forget what is possibly the oldest and most famous young adult story in Western culture: Romeo and Juliet, the classic tale of two star-crossed lovers who are destined for tragedy?
When I was a teenager, my favorite movie was The Breakfast Club. To this day, I think it’s one of the most brilliant films ever made. People often mock me when I say that. How could a movie about a bunch of teenagers spending the day in detention be brilliant, or even important, for that matter? But the film is not just about a bunch of teenagers.
It’s about what it means to be human. It’s about how we are more alike than we are different. And it’s about how we treat each other. It’s about class and culture, the haves and the have-nots, and at its heart, it’s about personal growth and how our interactions with others shape who we become. And it’s a story for and about young adults.
Today’s fiction writing prompts are designed for writing young adult fiction. These prompts are taken from my book, 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which includes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction prompts.
Fiction Writing Prompts for Writers of YA Fiction
You can use these fiction writing prompts to inspire a short story, novel, or screenplay. Use them to inspire a scene in a project you’re already working on. Mix and match them, change them, adapt them in any way that feels right to you.
- On the first day of school, two best friends discover a frightening secret about one of their new teachers.
- Four friends on a nature hike discover a deep cave, complete with running water. As they go deeper and deeper into the cave, they find strange objects—human skeletons, an old computer from the early eighties, a gas mask, and strange mango-sized orbs that emit a glowing blue light.
- A youngster on his or her first hunting trip has a deer in his sight and suddenly remembers the day his dad took him to see Bambi.
- Write a satirical story about an orphanage that is managed as if it were an animal shelter, or write about an animal shelter that is managed as if it were an orphanage.
- Two best friends make a pact. When they get to junior high, they grow apart, but the pact haunts them. Will they fulfill the pact they made as children?
- After a car accident and a minor head injury, a teenager starts having precognitive dreams. Initially, family and friends insist the dreams are coincidences, but the proof becomes undeniable when a government agency steps in.
- Write a story set in juvenile hall.
- A teenager’s beliefs are not in line with his or her parents’ religious system. Can we control what we believe? Can we control what others believe?
- In the midst of a natural disaster, a classroom is locked down and everyone inside is trapped until they are rescued three days later.
- The story starts when a kid comes out of the school bathroom with toilet paper dangling from his or her waistband. Does someone step forward and whisper a polite word, or do the other kids make fun? What happens in this pivotal moment will drive the story and have a deep impact on the main character.
Have you ever tried writing fiction for young adults? Where do you get your story ideas? Did any of these prompts inspire you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
May I use a few of your writing ideas?
From epic romances to fantastical adventures, stories have been captivating audiences for centuries, and they have been inspiring writers (and other artists) for just as long.
There is a longstanding tradition among storytellers of reimagining or extending the greatest legends, myths, and fairy tales ever told, from the greek classics to last summer’s blockbuster films.
Certainly, many derivative works are frowned upon. You can find lists of authors who do not allow (and pursue legal action against) stories written in their worlds. You can find reviews that call such stories rip-offs or refer to authors as hacks who have done nothing more than steal someone else’s writing ideas.
But you can also find some impressive and respectable derivative works in films, novels, and television. In fact, many derivative works are embraced, beloved, and achieve critical and commercial success, plus massive fan followings.
So, when is it acceptable to use other people’s writing ideas? Why do some of these stories get heavily criticized while others are widely celebrated?
Once Upon a Story…
There are many sources of inspiration for storytellers. Some writers rely on their own life experiences while others rip stories from the headlines. Existing stories, both true and fictional, have always had a heavy influence on the tales we tell and retell. How many variations of Little Red Riding Hood have been written? How many fictional movies have been set during World War II? Let’s take a look at the different techniques writers use to tell stories that are built on other stories.
Plenty of writing ideas are culled from great tales that have been told throughout history. Some of these have been converted into formulas that writers can use as storytelling guidelines.
In 1929, Joseph Campbell told the world about the monomyth, a universal pattern in storytelling that he found across cultures and throughout history. Writers turned the pattern into a formula, but perhaps nobody did so as effectively or famously as George Lucas, who used it to write Star Wars.
From the three-act structure to the hero’s journey, formulas have been criticized as making stories dull and predictable yet they have also been credited with providing writers a framework in which to create.
Historical fiction takes factual events from true stories of the past and overlays them with made-up characters or plots.
In James Cameron’s film, Titanic, two fictional characters fall in love on the historic ship that sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean back in 1912. Countless novels, short stories, poems, movies, television shows, and video games have taken a bite out of history and used it as the setting for their stories.
While this practice is widely accepted as legitimate, it’s worth noting that China recently banned time travel stories because they retell history untruthfully (for the record, I think this is ridiculous and a violation of basic human rights, but let’s not get too political here). There is an argument to be made about the dangers of retelling history (take the holocaust deniers, for example) and a much stronger argument to made about making art that examines history.
Fan fiction is a favorite pastime for hobby writers who are loyal fans to their favorite franchises. Google “fan fiction” and you’ll find loads of stories set in the worlds of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Twilight — all critically and commercially successful science fiction and fantasy movies and television shows. But that’s not all. Fans are also writing fiction from TV shows like Bones, Glee, and 80s nighttime soap Dynasty (yes, Dynasty! I couldn’t believe it either).
Some authors strictly prohibit writers from publishing material set in the worlds they’ve created (although they certainly can’t stop you from writing stories in your notebook). They feel that these works will negatively impact the integrity of their stories or compromise them in some way. Other creators either look the other way or encourage fans to play in their worlds. The television show Lost spewed a veritable onslaught of fan fiction and artwork, and the show’s frontrunners enjoyed the homages all the way to the bank. This relationship between creators and fans proved to be mutually beneficial. Lost became a worldwide phenomenon and one of the most-talked-about shows in history.
Generally speaking, writing fan fiction is not the best path to becoming a respectable or published author. The work is copyrighted by someone else, so you can’t publish a book or short story and get paid for it (there may be some exceptions as with contests or other programs by the few authors who are extremely supportive of fan fiction). I think fan fiction is actually a good training ground for young or new writers. It’s an ideal place to practice storytelling — because all of the elements are provided, amateur writers can focus on specific aspects of their work, such as characters or plot.
In 2010, Tim Burton brought us Alice in Wonderland (3-D). This film told the story of a 20-something Alice revisiting Wonderland, so it’s essentially a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s original Alice stories. In their 1951 animated film, Disney took Carroll’s work to the screen, combining elements from various stories and poems that Carroll had written to create a timeless classic that secured Carroll’s heroine a permanent place in our collective, cultural mythology.
This is basically fan fiction breeding fan fiction, but we categorize it differently because Lewis Carroll’s works are all in the public domain, which means anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. You too can write an Alice story, publish it, and be safe from copyright infringement or intellectual property lawsuits.
When we take our writing ideas from the public domain, the work is generally referred to (not as fan fiction, but) as a reimagining, repurposing, retelling, or recycled story. Why are stories based on public domain works viewed and treated so differently from fan fiction? In these projects, writers are using material that is decades old, and the new work basically keeps the old work alive and makes it accessible to future generations.
Where Do You Get Your Writing Ideas?
All around us, there are stories being told and retold, revised and reimagined, stretched and skewed. Today, we have such easy access to stories (they’re all right at our fingertips) that it’s almost impossible not to be influenced by our favorite works. Consciously or unconsciously, many of our writing ideas come from other writers. The only question that remains is this: where do you think you get your writing ideas?
Myths about creativity.
Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my book 10 Core Practices for Better Writing.
This excerpt is from “Chapter Nine: Creativity,” which offers insights and tips to help you stay inspired and creative as a writer. The excerpt I’ve chosen to share presents ten myths about creativity. These are notions about creativity that people assume even though many of them are counterproductive to creativity.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
As a creative writer and as someone who wants to become a proficient writer, understanding creativity will be a great advantage for you. While it will certainly help with your writing, it will also show you how to see the world and people in it from new perspectives, and it will strengthen your problem-solving skills.
There’s an old myth floating around, which suggests that creativity is inherent. You’re either born with it or you’re born without it.
But creativity can be learned and developed over time. Some people may have a more natural inclination toward creative thinking, but anyone can foster and nurture creativity.
Artists throughout the ages have gone to great lengths and sunk to fathomless lows in pursuit of inspiration. The ancient Greeks personified inspiration in the muses. When they needed inspiration, they invoked these supernatural entities, calling on them for artistic help. Artists have set out on journeys, pursued spiritual and religious activities, and engaged in painful or unhealthy experiences in order to feed their imaginations.
Indeed, there are famous examples of authors drinking themselves to death or committing suicide and, of course, there is the well-known tale of Vincent Van Gogh cutting off part of his own ear. And finally, there’s the ever-present stereotype of the starving artist.
Despite these tales of suffering and tragedy among authors and artists, the most successful creative people tend toward more practical measures, choosing lifestyles and habits that are healthy and conducive to creativity.
Unfortunately, these destructive myths about creativity persist.
Ten Myths about Creativity
- Drugs and alcohol: One of the worst myths about artistry is that drugs and alcohol promote creativity. That’s a lie. What drugs and alcohol do is promote dependence. It is ineffective and inefficient to rely on these substances in order to make art. It’s also unhealthy, and in fact, it can be deadly.
- Misery: Another common myth is that pain, sorrow, and anger are the best conduits for creativity. Sure, when we are unhappy, writing can provide a healthy, therapeutic outlet. But this has nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with the need to express oneself. While misery may indeed inspire us, we can be just as inspired by happy or emotionally neutral experiences. Relying on a depressive state of mind for inspiration is just as dangerous as relying on drugs and alcohol. And like drugs and alcohol, such thinking is unhealthy and can be deadly.
- Suffering: This myth is based on the idea that artistry is won through suffering. Some people actually believe that artists should suffer, and suffer hard, before they get to succeed. What you have to do to succeed is work hard. You shouldn’t have to suffer.
- Divinity: There are less dangerous myths about creativity and inspiration. Some people believe that creativity makes a divine appearance only when they are supposed to create, and the rest of the time, they shouldn’t bother. We all have moments of great inspiration. They come and go and are rare for most of us. The most successful writers don’t wait for inspiration, they work for it. Regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs, we can learn to control our own creativity just as we control other aspects of our lives. It’s called free will.
- Talent: Lots of people believe that creativity is inherently tied to talent. Talent just means you have a knack for something. Lots of creative people may not be especially talented, and there are plenty of talented individuals with no interest in pursuing the arts.
- Two kinds of people: Some people are artistic; everyone else is not. That’s definitely not true. Everyone is creative, and the more we nurture and foster creativity, the more creative we become. Creativity is closely associated with the arts, but artists aren’t the only people who are creative.
- Life of poverty: Many people believe that it’s practically impossible to succeed or make a living as any kind of artist. They mistakenly believe that an artist’s life is one of poverty and struggle. All kinds of people experience poverty—not just artists—and artists who do experience poverty don’t do so just because they are artists, as is proven by the many artists who never struggled with poverty.
- Fame and fortune: Conversely, some people believe that artists will enjoy great fame and fortune. While it’s possible that you could write a wildly best-selling novel and become rich and famous, it’s not likely, although the odds are better for you than for someone working in a cubicle eight hours a day who doesn’t make any art at all. At least you have a shot at fame and fortune.
- Creative people are weird: everybody’s weird.
- Creative people are creative all the time or whenever they want to create: Once you’ve shown yourself to be creative, some people will think you’re capable of doing anything that requires creativity or that you’re a constant fountain of ideas. While many creative people have more ideas than they know what to do with, some have to work hard at finding inspiration.
The truth is that creativity is different for everyone and possible for anyone. You just have to want it and you might have to work for it.
Good grammar and good manners.
I’m a writer, but before I’m a writer, I’m a human being. And as a human being, sometimes I make mistakes.
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes–some big, some small. Today, I want to talk about what happens when we, as writers, make a mistake in our work: a typo, an incorrectly structured sentence, or a misspelling.
When writers make mistakes like these, it can be embarrassing. Occasionally, when I’m going through old posts here at Writing Forward, I’ll come across some typo or mistake and I’ll fix it. I do everything I can to ensure that this happens as rarely as possible; I proofread everything I write from my blog posts to my comments, tweets, and emails. But sometimes, mistakes slip past.
There was a time when I’d catch one of my own (published) mistakes and be completely horrified. I could feel my neck and face turning red from embarrassment and even though I’d fix the mistake, it would haunt me for hours. Did it cause me to lose a reader or a client? How many people noticed it? I just wanted to crawl under a rock — even if was just one little tiny typo.
In time, I learned to be more forgiving. After all, a typo is not the end of the world. I’ve found them in some of the most prestigious publications in print and online. And in the larger scope of the world, getting bent out of shape over a grammatical, orthographical, or typographical error seems pretty petty.
Sometimes, my mistakes are brought to my attention by someone else — a friend, a friendly reader, or a complete stranger. These corrections have arrived via email or a comment on the post where the perceived mistake appeared.
The first time this happened in the comments here at Writing Forward, I didn’t know what to do. This was years ago, not long after I started blogging. Of course, I immediately made the correction but wondered whether I should delete the corresponding comment on the post. Did I want to leave permanent proof that I’d made a (gasp!) mistake?
I decided that yes, I would leave the comment in place, thank the person, and move on. Let that stand as evidence that to err is human and I’m okay with being a mere human.
To Err is Human
Usually, when someone tips me off to a mistake, the message is thoughtful; I get a clear sense that it’s just one writer trying to help another writer out, which I greatly appreciate. One email I received recently had the subject line “Because I’d want someone to tell me…” I appreciated this person’s tact, understanding, and most of all, his candid approach.
Since I started this site, I’ve received such corrections occasionally, maybe once or twice a year.
Not long ago, I started receiving an onslaught of corrections — several in a single week. Oddly, most of them were wrong. They were confused about the difference between grammar and style issues or were nitpicking over semantics. Very few of these had a helpful or thoughtful tone. In fact, they mostly came across as chastising (Ha! You made a mistake, and I found it. Therefore, I’m better than you!).
Um, aren’t we all writers here?
To me, the whole reason for practicing good grammar is to show respect for the craft and for one’s readers. Publicly correcting other writers with a berating tone is contrary to that spirit. Why bother with good grammar if you’re going to run around insulting other people with bad manners?
The Internet provides anonymity that we’ve never seen before on public forums. Most impolite comments, tweets, and emails that I’ve received have definitely been anonymous. So, I get the feeling these people know they’re being rude.
Conversely, just about every time someone has sent me a thoughtful and friendly heads-up to let me know something was wrong with my site — whether it was a typo or a broken link — they’ve used their real name and email address and often included a link to their own website.
To Forgive is Divine
In today’s increasingly interconnected world, I think these situations will continue to arise more and more frequently, especially for writers and bloggers who put themselves and their work in front of the reading public.
As with any critiques, our initial response to a thoughtful or friendly correction might be defensive or emotional. You might think you didn’t make a mistake, or you might be offended that someone is criticizing your work even though you didn’t ask for their advice or feedback. And when the correction is wrong or the delivery is nasty, there’s an even bigger likelihood that you’ll be offended (and rightly so).
On the other hand, as you travel around the web, you might see mistakes on other people’s blogs or you might come across them when you’re reading books. Should you stay mum or help a fellow writer out?
Good Grammar Manners
How can we handle nasty or haughty criticisms that are incorrect, uninvited, or just plain rude? And what do we do when we are faced with the question of whether to let someone know that we’ve found a mistake in their work?
To answer some of these questions for myself, I did an online search, wondering if there were any protocols in place for this sort of thing. I was pleased to find that Grammar Girl has addressed the issue quite well in her post “Grammar Manners.” The first question is whether you should correct someone at all.
If the person whom you wish to correct is your child, student, or employee, you should, of course, feel comfortable (if not obligated) to correct his or her grammar…
That makes sense. But what if it’s someone you don’t know or barely know? What if it’s someone who is your peer or even your boss or teacher?
If you do wish to correct the grammar of someone whom you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction, then start by asking them if it is OK to offer a suggestion…
I think the key phrase here is “someone whom you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction.” Most sensible and serious writers want to know if they’ve made a mistake in their writing. But most people, especially non-writers, don’t particularly like to be criticized or corrected.
With writers, I don’t think it’s necessary to ask whether it’s OK to offer a suggestion. Actually, I think sending a friendly email (instead of leaving a comment or issuing a tweet) is the way to go. This keeps the matter private and will help you build a relationship with the person in question, who will likely appreciate your approach.
Grammar Girl makes another important point:
And of course, be certain that you understand the specific grammatical rules and how to apply them before making a correction.
Normally, I wouldn’t even mention this because it’s unimaginable to me that one would go around correcting people without being 100% sure of the rules. Yet, I’ve received several such corrections. I have also seen incorrect corrections in the comments sections of other blogs. I imagine the only thing more embarrassing than making a mistake is being wrong when you try to publicly correct someone else for making one.
Coping with Corrections
How can we deal with people who offer corrections and criticisms?
Personally, I always try to be polite, whether someone is friendly and heartfelt in their correction or rude and snobbish. Of course, if the correction is wrong (and I’ve looked it up to double-check that my usage was proper), I will defend my work and explain the rule and my source to my critic.
I’ll leave you with a few final words from Grammar Girl:
A more subtle approach can be just using correct grammar yourself—not in a pedantic way but just as a good example.
That’s my motto!
How do you feel about making public or uninvited corrections on other people’s writing? Has anyone ever corrected you or have you ever corrected someone else on a blog, social media, or public forum? How did you handle it? What do you think is more important — good grammar or good manners? Leave a comment and pitch in your two cents!