Please welcome guest author Sarah Juckes with an article on publishing.
You’ve been submitting to agents for a while now, and although you’ve had a couple of close calls, your book is still unpublished.
At this point, it can feel like you’ve reached a fork in the road. Do you keep going down the agent path, unsure if there’s anything at the end of it? Or do you take the self-publishing road, with its possible pitfalls?
Many writers don’t realize that these two avenues to publishing actually run parallel to each other. You can switch between the two, so your book reaches as many readers as possible. Read More
Please welcome author Cameron Filas with some good advice on writing your first author bio.
It’s an invigorating feeling, receiving one’s first acceptance letter from an editor. We want your piece. Yay! Pop the champagne cork, and put a party hat on your cat. But at the end of that email, you’ll usually realize they want you to provide an author bio.
This can be horrifying, and we authors often fret more over writing our bios than our stories. After all, stories are fictional. Our author bios are supposed to tell the world who we are and about our writing. It can be intimidating to think so introspectively. Read More
It’s hard to believe Writing Forward is eight years old! Sometimes it feels like I just started this website yesterday. Other times, I feel like it’s been with me forever. One thing is certain: I’m looking forward to many more years of Writing Forward.
Every year around this time, I take a look at this website and think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Last year, I finally wrapped up the Adventures in Writing series — three books on the craft of creative writing. Now I’m starting on a new series that focuses on the craft of storytelling, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Look for that early next year.
Writing Forward’s readers have been Read More
Please welcome guest author Ali Luke with some top-notch advice on how to reconnect with your writing when you’ve lost touch with it.
Are you a writer who’s not currently writing?
It happens to all of us at some point – often more than once.
Life gets busy and priorities change. Perhaps you’ve gone from working part-time to working full-time, or you’re expecting a baby, or you’re moving house.
Whatever the reason, you’ve set your writing aside. You might have intended to do so just for a few weeks. You might not have realized you were doing it at first: one missed writing session gradually turned into a couple of months without writing.
You’ve probably discovered that not writing can become a vicious circle. You lose touch with what you’re working on, the effort involved in picking it up again seems greater and greater, and your confidence takes a knock too. Even when life calms down, you find days, weeks, even months going by without any writing.
Here’s how to turn things around:
Tackle a Writing Prompt for Five Minutes
The best way to get back into writing is to just write. If you haven’t written for months or years, the whole idea of beginning again can seem like some huge event that needs special preparation.
You don’t need to begin your journey by climbing a mountain. Instead, take a few steps along the writing road. You might find that this is enough to break through your initial resistance and get you back into your writing.
Do it: Pick a writing prompt to tackle; you can find loads here on Writing Forward. Set a timer for five minutes and write.
Set Aside Some Time When You Can Write
Look at your calendar for the next week or two. Can you find an hour, or a couple of hours, to set aside for writing?
Do it: If you know you’ll struggle to write at home, find an hour when you can be out of the house – e.g. during your lunch break at work, in a coffee shop after work, or even in a library first thing on Saturday morning.
Read Over the Project You Were Last Working On
Chances are, you stopped writing part-way through a project. If so, one key step to getting going again is to read through what you’ve already written.
You might find yourself cringing at the thought of doing so (maybe you’re convinced everything you wrote was awful), but give it a go. Even if you’re not happy with the whole thing, you’ll likely find at least some sentences, paragraphs, and pages that make you fall in love with your work again.
Do it: Try to read like a reader. Transfer your book manuscript to your e-reader, or browse your blog posts on your tablet. (I like doing this with a cup of tea and some chocolate in hand!)
Decide Where You’re Going Next
You’ve got three different options now:
- Resume your project where you left off. Write your next blog post or your next chapter.
- Take a new direction with your project. Cut out a character or two, or change the backstory. If you’re blogging, you might go for a different posting style or change of topics.
- Scrap your project altogether. It’s valuable for what you learned in the process, but if you’re no longer interested in pursuing it, scrap it and start something new.
Do it: Be honest with yourself. It’s fine to pursue a project you enjoy, whether or not it’s likely to be financially rewarding or otherwise successful: don’t be put off finishing your novel because you feel you “should” be spending all your writing time on something else. On the flip side, if you’ve lost interest in a project, admit it and move on.
Establish a Solid Writing Routine
If you want to keep up your writing momentum and avoid slipping away from writing again, you need a strong writing routine, one that involves writing consistently and regularly.
That doesn’t necessarily have to mean writing every single day, but it does mean having at least one writing session a week and trying to stay connected to your work between sessions. (For novelists, that could mean daydreaming while doing the dishes; for bloggers, it might mean reading blogs on a similar topic, answering comments, or brainstorming post ideas.)
Do it: Put your next three writing sessions on the calendar. Look ahead for any special events that you want to attend. These can be a great way to boost your motivation and commitment. You might look for local writing classes, writers’ groups, or conferences you want to attend.
Have you ever taken some time away from writing? What made you return and how did you get going again? Share your experiences and your tips in the comments below.
About the Author: Ali Luke can be found blogging all over the web, but her home base is her blog Aliventures where she writes about the art, craft and business of writing. If you enjoyed this post, try her free seven-week e-course, On Track, designed to help you get going again with a big writing project.
“Only a generation of readers will spawn a generation of writers.” — Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg is one of my favorite storytellers. He and I have something in common: we were both English majors! He knows what he’s talking about when he emphasizes the importance of reading. The simplicity and elegance of Spielberg’s remark makes this one of my favorite quotes on writing.
I encounter a lot of writers who don’t read. Some read in their younger years; others have never been big readers. Many want to read but simply don’t have time.
Lots of professional writers and storytellers have expressed the necessity of reading, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg. But it can’t be said or repeated often enough: reading is an essential practice for all writers. Even if you can squeeze in only ten or twenty minutes of reading per day, it will keep your writing robust.
But the more you read, the better your writing will be, whether you write poetry, essays, or scripts.
I would add that reading well is also crucial. As the market becomes increasingly flooded with millions of books, the quality of those books suffers, and sometimes we have to search more diligently to find excellent works. If you want to write good books, you need to read good books. Study the best storytellers (Spielberg is one of them) and learn from their expertise.
What are some of your favorite books? How often do you read? Do you have any favorite quotes on writing that you’d like to share? Leave a comment, and keep reading!
Quote source: Goodreads
Image source: Shutterstock
Please welcome guest author Alyssa Hollingsworth with tips on writing dialect.
I’ll be honest: I’ve always been terrified of dialect because it’s easy to get wrong. But when done well, it can make a story shine.
When you’re writing in first person, it is important to consider who your narrator is and how she or he speaks (or writes, as the case may be). This is important whether you’re writing contemporary, historical, or fantasy fiction.
When I found myself blundering into a story with a first-person narrator who was from backcountry, I knew I needed to clock hours on the dialect. There are a lot of helpful posts about how dialect should or shouldn’t be done, which can be found on Daily Writing Tips, The Editor’s Blog, or Writer’s Digest.
Before we begin, there’s an important distinction to be made between dialect and accent. Here’s the official definition from the British Library:
A dialect is a specific variety of English that differs from other varieties in three specific ways: lexis (vocabulary), grammar (structure) and phonology (pronunciation or accent).
Accent, on the other hand, refers only to differences in the sound patterns of a specific dialect.
With that in mind, below are some practical steps you can take to equip yourself for writing dialect.
Brainstorm or Research Regional Turns of Phrase
Place and environment often have a big impact on the development of people and language. The first thing I did was made a list of things that would influence this environment. For my fantasy world, these were mostly forests, woods, and farmland.
I tried to think about environmental ways to express happiness, sadness, and anger. How would a woodsman swear? What words from his surroundings would he use to express himself?
This works across environments — whether your characters are seafaring pirates or overcrowded city dwellers, you can use the setting to influence the language.
When you’re relying on a real dialect, do some research and make lists of interesting words commonly used.
Listen and Take Notes
Listen to Real People
If you’re fortunate enough to live near people who speak in the dialect you want to write, spend a lot of time with them or eavesdrop at a coffee shop. But if you’re not near your desired dialect, take to YouTube or to language resource websites.
Listen to Celebrities
After listening to locals, sometimes you might find yourself growing used to a strong accent. It helps to then turn to celebrities and celebrity interviews. Their accents and dialects are often much lighter than the common folk you’ve been spending time with, and it’s useful to keep the range of the language in mind while you’re writing.
Listen to Audiobooks
Find one or two audiobooks that are read in the accent you’re working with. It can be helpful to pick a reader who’s the same gender as your protagonist or find books written by local authors in the dialect you’re researching. Listen to a chapter or so before you sit down to your own project; this will help get your head in the voice.
Whichever way you choose to listen, make sure you take notes. Whenever you come across words that are interesting or unique (like “I’m bladdered” for “I’m drunk”), make a note of it. Listen for sentence structure differences or little tacked-on phrases. Especially pay attention to how verbs are used — often there are some hallmark ticks in verbs. You can use these in your writing.
If Appropriate, Do an Accent Lesson
Beyond taking notes, part of the point of listening so much is to help you internalize the language. Even if you will not be writing out the accent (see the links above for reasons why you might not want to), it’s good if you can clearly hear — and even speak — the accent. This helps you hear your character’s voice and can make it easier to fall into the dialect.
I found Access Accents (on Audible and iTunes) extremely helpful for this. These voice lessons are normally under an hour long and consist of people chatting about the accent and how to do it.
Write Your Character Describing Something
You don’t have to wait until you’re fluent in dialect to start writing, because part of learning the character’s voice will be writing it out.
One of the most helpful exercises is to write your character describing something, such as an event or a scene. Sometimes it helps to draft this in a heavy accent before you go back and edit it. But ultimately, you should challenge yourself to write with no accent, and instead use only grammar and unique phrases to create a distinct voice.
Here are a few prompts for things your character can describe:
- A familiar place she or he loves
- A place she or he has never been
- A childhood memory
- A traumatic event
- A loved one
- An enemy
Read Aloud and Revise
Finally, it’s time to read what you’ve written aloud. Keep a pen handy and mark any places where you stumble. Normally there’s a reason, and you might have to give up a few of your favorite phrases for the sake of clarity.
It’s also important to let native dialect speakers read the material. Since they won’t know your characters as well as you do, they can offer valuable advice about how the dialect is coming and whether or not it’s comprehensible.
At the end, you’ll have a beautifully narrated piece that perfectly complements your story.
About the Author: Alyssa Hollingsworth was born in small-town Milton, Florida, but life as a roving military kid soon mellowed her (unintelligibly strong) Southern accent. Wanderlust is in her blood, and stories remain her constant. Alyssa received her BA in English and Creative Writing from Berry College and her MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She has been previously published in Lunch Ticket, Berry Magazine and Letter to an Unknown Soldier. She regularly writes about the writing process on her blog.
Please welcome guest writer Bessie Blue with some tips on polishing your manuscript.
Have you ever written a first draft and edited it in next to no time? You found three grammar mistakes—typos, really—and your outline was so solid there were no plot holes.
As you sent your story to writing contests, you were bothered by a nagging thought: you just knew you could still improve your manuscript. But you didn’t know how.
So off the story went. And sure enough, it wasn’t accepted into a single contest.
I’ve struggled with this problem, and I’ve learned a thing or two about editing and proofreading.
Is Your Writing Awkward?
Sometimes, sentences don’t sound quite right. When editing my own work, I’ve often come across sentences that were plain ugly. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Grammatically, they were correct. Every word was spelled correctly. The punctuation was accurate. But in each sentence that gave me pause, something was off.
Like this sentence: “The day passed without my even noticing her.”
Technically, it’s correct, but it sounds wrong. There are many ways to rewrite it, such as:
“The day passed and I never noticed her.” Or: “I didn’t notice her all day.”
Often, clunky, awkward style is the result of taking a long time to reach the point. In the above example, I could have expressed my idea in fewer words. As you proofread your manuscript, ask yourself this: “Is my style concise? How I can rewrite this phrase to get to the point more quickly?”
Why You Shouldn’t Always Write in Active Voice
As you edit your draft, you may be tempted to change all your sentences to active voice.
Most of us have heard that we should favor active voice in our writing. But I’m not a fan of this blanket-statement type of advice. In fact, active voice can often be blamed for awkward and clunky passages.
Yes, it’s true that writing in active voice can create more dynamic writing—at times.
But there’s a reason passive voice exists. Look at the following passages:
- “Mold covered the walls in the bedroom.” (Active)
- “The walls in the bedroom were covered with mold.” (Passive)
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between these two sentences. But imagine the first sentence in the context of a paragraph that describes the bedroom. Including a sentence that puts so much emphasis on mold rather than on the bedroom could interrupt the flow and understanding of the paragraph.
When deciding between active and passive voice, my advice is to ask yourself two questions:
- What is your passage about? Match the voice to the type of scene you’re writing. Is it active or descriptive?
- Who or what is the main point of your sentence? In the above example, we care about the bedroom walls, not mold, and passive voice correctly puts emphasis on the walls.
How To Write Like a Poet
You may never have written a poem before, but as a writer, you’re a poet. That’s because rhythm is just as important to writers of prose as it is to writers of verse.
As you edit your draft, think of each line as a verse belonging to a poem. Does it read well? Does it flow? Does it have rhythm?
I’ve created an equation to help myself write like a poet. Here it is:
Sentence variety + word choice = rhythm
Alternate long and short sentences for good rhythm. Use shorter sentences during tense or high-action moments. Prioritize longer sentences during descriptive scenes.
Choose words wisely in your prose just like you would in a poem. Read your chapters aloud, and if the fluidity is interrupted by a word, rework the passage or find a synonym.
Sometimes, you will find that a paragraph has too many adjectives and adverbs. Try removing them—you may be surprised to find that your passage reads better and we can still understand it!
However, don’t automatically remove your adjectives and adverbs. While many dislike this class of words as they’re not really necessary to convey meaning, they can be important for style or rhythm purposes.
Are You Writing With Your Readers In Mind?
You should have identified your audience before you began to write. Now it’s time to make sure every passage in your manuscript has been written with them in mind.
Are you using words and expressions that your intended readers will understand? Is your language accessible? Are you writing at, above, or beneath their reading level?
Once you’re confident with your manuscript, hand it over to a test audience. I write for kids, and I love seeing their honest reactions to my work. While you may be tempted to ask for critiques, I’ve found that the best way to see if you’ve done your job is to watch your readers. Are their eyes glazing over in boredom or have you hooked them?
What about you? What do you find more important: language or content? Will you be using these tips as you edit and proofread? Share your thoughts in the comments.
About the Author: Bessie Blue is a freelance writer, copyeditor, and translator. She gives writing advice and waxes nostalgic about classic children’s books at Vintage Book Life. You can follow her on Twitter (@vintagebooklife).
My Debut Novel
A few days ago, I published my debut novel, which is titled Engineered Underground. It’s the first book in my science-fiction Metamorphosis Series.
The book is currently available for Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon, and it will be available in all other bookstores by July.
Plus the Kindle edition is on sale for just 99¢ until this Friday, April 3, 2015.
If you like science fiction, military, mystery, or superhero stories, please check out my book or tell a friend about it.
Now let’s get to the giveaway!
Win a Free Copy of 1200 Creative Writing Prompts
From today through Friday, April 3, I’m hosting a free giveaway on Goodreads for the paperback edition of 1200 Creative Writing Prompts.
Goodreads is a social media network for people who love to read. It’s a great way to share and discover books. You can create a list of books you want to read and rate and review books you’ve already read.
All you need to enter is a (free) Goodreads account. Once you’ve logged in, click “Enter to Win” below for your chance to win a copy of 1200 Creative Writing Prompts.
The contest is open to residents of the United States.
Here’s what Amazon reviewers are saying about 1200 Creative Writing Prompts:
“By the first page, I realized that I will probably never have to look elsewhere. I didn’t find myself skipping over them to get to the good prompts…they are ALL good. Well developed. Unique. Interesting. Everything I was looking for.” — Bree Salyer
“I give this book 5 Stars and highly recommend it to all fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writers, aspiring writers, bloggers or journalists. It is very well organized and includes something for everyone…I was amazed at the creative, diverse number of high-quality prompts and ideas. It has become my go-to book when I need inspiration. This book is a must have for any writer.” — Sunny
“I teach Creative Writing to high school students, and bought this to use the prompts for my students. I chose this one because it separates the fiction prompts from the nonfiction ones, and also has poetry prompts…My students like the prompts I’ve given them from this book and have even used the ones I’ve made optional. Nice job, Ms. Donovan.” — Dawn
Please welcome guest author Lisa Tener with a post on connecting with your muse as a way to overcome writer’s block and achieve better creativity.
Maybe you’re familiar with the term muse, which comes from the ancient Greeks and refers to the goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts.
In my work with writers, I often refer to “the muse” or “your muse” as a point of access for inspiration and as a resource to get out of a rut, unblock, find clarity on a particular question, and consistently write in a state of flow.
You can think of your muse as an aspect of yourself—imagine a part of you that has solutions for every creative challenge. It has the power to shift negative beliefs and habits that get in the way of your creative flow. Your muse can boost your creativity and help you tap into it with ease. Your muse may help you find the perfect title or even the perfect time of day to write.
When you feel stuck, your muse can shift something within you: a belief that no one will be interested in what you have to say, a tendency to procrastinate, the voice of a former teacher who told you that you couldn’t write—a voice you may have internalized. This can be an especially powerful experience with the muse.
Take Vicky, who felt confused and overwhelmed as she stared at a new blank page, surrounded by sticky notes and several versions of the first chapter of her book. She had tried several different structures and still felt she didn’t quite have it. To get unstuck, she asked her muse for clarity. She imagined her muse as “much larger and wiser than me” and trusted it to guide her. She promptly fell asleep. When she woke up, she returned to her desk to write the chapter and the writing flowed. The new structure worked beautifully, and she was satisfied that she’d found the answer to organizing the chapter.
Beth also felt overwhelmed. She felt passionate about her subject—natural birth—but questioned who she was writing for (people who were already sold on the idea or those who were searching?) and how to write in a way that would resonate with them. In a guided visualization, Beth spoke to her muse, saying, “Show me my readers and how to write for them.” Her muse provided a little guidance but also revealed that she would gain clarity soon. That afternoon, Beth sat next to a young woman on a bench. Their conversation turned to Beth sharing her childbirth experiences. She suddenly knew to write her book as if she were speaking to this woman, in a conversational style.
Your muse knows exactly what you need at any given moment to support your writing and other creative processes.
For some, the muse appears as a wise being—an angel, a spiritual guide, or even God. For others, animal guides are common—wolves, jaguars, or even mice. I remember a woman in one workshop who felt disappointed when her muse appeared as a frog—until she connected the frog to her throat chakra (self expression) and to fertility (or creativity). Frogs are also quite magical in fairy tales and indeed she experienced her muse as magical. Your muse may offer many layers of symbolism—both in how it shows up and in any answers it provides.
Sometimes the muse is more vague—a color, light, or a sense of connecting with something. That’s okay too. If you find yourself asking, “Am I making this up?” tell yourself it doesn’t matter. Just go along with what you get. If you hear your own voice in your head, that doesn’t mean it’s not your muse.
This inner wise being can:
- Replace feeling bewildered or overwhelmed with clarity
- Help you focus and know your next steps
- Support you to break through blocks
- Help you experience your brilliance and creativity
- Provide answers about creative projects
How to meet your muse and tap into its wisdom:
- Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and close your eyes.
- Notice how it feels to be sitting in the chair. Feel your body.
- Bring your attention to your feet on the floor. Notice your breath.
- Now imagine you are walking in a favorite place in nature.
- As you walk along, you come to a spot where your muse is waiting for you. You can ask your muse questions or request support to move through a block.
- Your answers may sound like the inner voice in your head, or you may see an image, or you may experience something more kinesthetic, like an inner shift. Any of this is valid.
- You may wonder, Am I making this up? Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter if you are. Just trust that this is what you need to hear.
- When you’re ready, thank your muse and see yourself returning the way you came.
- Open your eyes and write down your answers.
You can access your inner wisdom and creative source at any time with this exercise. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the deeper your relationship with your creativity and muse. You can use this process for writing projects, creative projects, or any issues in your life.
Download the free audio recording of “Meet Your Muse” to take your through the guided visualization.
About the Author: Lisa Tener is an author, writing coach and four-time Stevie Award winner, including the Silver Stevie Award for Mentor/Coach of the Year 2014. Lisa serves on faculty at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course and blogs on topics like how to choose a literary agent. You can also read her posts on the Huffington Post. Follow Lisa on twitter @LisaTener.
Please welcome guest author Alana Saltz with a heartwarming article on writing memoirs.
As a genre, memoir has been growing exponentially each and every year. More and more people are finding the strength, courage, and determination to write about their experiences in a compelling and literary way. The success of memoirs like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors, which were both adapted as feature films and released in theaters worldwide, help demonstrate that the world is slowly beginning to embrace the genre.
I’ve been a fan and advocate of memoir ever since I first learned what a memoir was. At only twelve years old, I already had an interest in someday sharing stories from my life with the world. I felt like I had something to say, and as much as I enjoyed making up stories either from scratch or based on things I’d been through, having the ability to tell my own story was very appealing to me.
As an adolescent, I struggled with severe anxiety disorder and depression. Knowing that I could write about the difficult, frightening, and remarkable events that occurred helped me get through some very tough times. I was comforted by the thought that eventually, I would make what happened to me and what I went through matter. I could help other people suffering from mental illness by sharing my story, the way I found comfort in reading the stories of others. I’ve carried that hope and goal with me for many years, finally leading me to pursue an MFA in writing to help me write about my life in the most powerful and readable way possible.
That urge and desire to write about my life has been part of me for a long time. It feels natural and right. But many people have been swayed away from the idea of writing a memoir for a number of reasons, many of which are inaccurate or unfair.
First, people might not think they’ve been through anything meaningful or important enough to write about. I’m of the belief that any story can be meaningful and important if it’s told in an engaging and relatable way. What really matters is the heart of who you are as a person and what universal themes and messages you can extract from what you’ve experienced. Memoirs aren’t just personal stories – they’re personal stories that illuminate larger issues that many face and experience.
Others might worry that memoir writing is an act of narcissism or navel gazing. On the contrary, I think memoir is a natural, authentic, and altruistic form of writing. To openly and honestly share your experiences, stories, and vulnerabilities with the world in the hopes of reaching and connecting with others is one of the least narcissistic endeavors I can imagine. It’s something to be admired, not condemned.
Finally, I know a lot of folks who are concerned with the personal ramifications of writing a memoir. My own family and friends have asked me why I couldn’t just write my story as fiction or use a pseudonym. I tried to explain to them that I wanted to stand by my story and what I went through. I wanted to put my name on it. To me, it was worth any potential issues to be able to say that what happened was true, to connect on a genuine and real level with my readers.
I did worry about what a certain family member, my father, would think when he saw what I had written about him. I tried my best to be fair in my portrayal of our relationship and allowed him to see the manuscript when it was finished to correct any misrepresentations I might have made. To my surprise, his response was positive. Despite writing critically about what happened between us, he wasn’t angry with me. In fact, my memoir actually opened the door to an important conversation that I’d needed to begin with him for a long time.
I have nothing against the desire to write fiction based on life experiences. I love fiction and write fiction too. Novels can capture the realities of life, the world, and humanity in very authentic and moving ways. However, there is a special power and awareness that comes when one reads a work of memoir. The knowledge that the story you’re reading is a recreation of actual events that someone has gone through connects and resonates in a different way.
So, if you’ve got a story to tell, consider writing it as a memoir. There are certainly pros and cons, but if you think your experiences might be enhanced or deepened by presenting them as fact, not fiction, it’s certainly worth considering. It will take a lot of strength, courage, and determination to write about your own life in a way that will resonate with others, but in the end, it really is worth it.
About the Author: Alana Saltz is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Her essays have been published in Role Reboot, The Urban Dater, HelloGiggles, and more. She has an MFA in writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and recently completed a memoir about her struggle to overcome anxiety disorder and depression. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com or follow her on Twitter @alanasaltz.