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.
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).
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.
Please welcome guest author Tamara Girardi with a post that challenges the old adage, “write what you know.”
In mid-October, I attended a literary evening with Jodi Picoult as part of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series.
My immediate impression of Picoult: she was incredibly gracious and pleasant. At a reception prior to the event, she worked the room with a genuine smile, taking pictures and shaking hands. During one conversation, she laughed so loud with an attendee the room took notice. In other words, she was lovely.
So was her talk.
She focused on her extensive research, which has contributed to her brand as a writer. Anyone who has read one of Picoult’s novels expects a blend of literary and commercial qualities with significant research that provides the reader an opportunity to learn something new. Picoult shared stories about her time ghost-hunting to write Second Chance and interviewing Holocaust survivors for The Storyteller. The stories she told about researching for her books were just as compelling as the novels themselves.
However, a piece of advice Picoult received as an undergraduate studying creative writing at Princeton could have prevented the creation and success of her twenty-three novels, nine of which debuted at number one on the New York Times Bestsellers List.
The advice was “write what you know,” and it’s not uncommon. Jokingly, Picoult told the crowd she quickly learned she knew nothing and thought it might be best to revise the adage to “write what you’re willing to learn.” In her biography for the event, Picoult wrote that writing what she wants to learn ensures she’s “energized about what [she’s] doing when [she sits] down to do it.”
Not only can writing what you want to learn be energizing, it can also broaden your potential topics and intensify the uniqueness of your story and characters. Picoult’s latest novel Leaving Time features an elephant researcher. She has written about cloning and gene replacement therapy and dynamics of wolf packs, to name only a few of her unique topics. The winning combination is a story world that fascinates you and your readers.
During a writing workshop several years ago, writing teacher James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel, encouraged attendees to write protagonists who were on the edge of the bell curve, not characters who were like every other character in the middle of the curve. Because of her efforts to write what she wants to learn and not what she knows, Picoult’s characters and stories hover on the edge Frey mentioned.
But how do writers write about what they want to learn and ideas on the edge of the bell curve? Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Look for ideas everywhere:
Picoult got the idea for Second Chance when she was walking through her kitchen and noticed a headline from the newspaper sitting on the table. The article detailed a complaint from the Abenaki Native American Tribe that a new development would be built on a burial ground. An entire novel grew from that one headline.
If you’re reading a book, scrolling the Internet, watching a television program, or talking to a family member and a small nugget of information fascinates you, it might do the same for your readers. Make note of it.
The literary agent and author of How to Write a Breakout Novel advocates for creating a twist on an old idea. To achieve this, writers must be aware of old ideas, so they can make them new. To place the protagonist of my unpublished young adult novel Broken on the bell curve, I decided she should be a competitive crossbow shooter. The idea came from a newspaper article I wrote about a fourteen-year-old girl who had won several sharpshooter competitions. I chose to model the shooter but change the weapon. Besides, shooting a crossbow was wicked fun. Then Katniss Everdeen happened, and a teenage girl with a bow is not quite on the edge of the curve anymore. In other words, the curve can shift based on literary trends. Keep that in mind, and when you find a great idea, be sure there’s a twist to make it even more unique.
After noting a fascinating nugget of information, explore the topic more. Of course, great places to start are local libraries and the Internet, but don’t be afraid to contact people in your community who are knowledgeable about what you’re researching. Interview them. Visit them. Befriend them. In my experience, people are often eager to share their insight, especially if they know they’re talking to a writer doing research.
As I mentioned above, I adored my experience of shooting a crossbow. I never would have imagined the arrow would project that quickly. It was amazing! To make my character realistic, shooting with the bow was absolutely necessary. If at all possible, immerse yourself in the experience you’re writing about. Picoult knew that to write a ghost hunter, she had to go ghost hunting. So she did. Observation is a powerful tool for writers. Take any opportunity to get as close as possible to the people and the culture you’re fictionalizing. Honor them with as much authenticity as you can.
In academic research, there’s a process called “member checking” that requires researchers to share their interview findings with participants for feedback. Similarly, fiction writers tend to share passages of their work with experts to double-check the authenticity. I have several mystery author friends who share their work with lawyers and police officers, especially if they’re writing police procedurals. In Broken, the young adult novel I mentioned above, grief is a major theme in the book, so a psychologist friend of mine reviewed excerpts and offered enlightening feedback. Who knows? The process of double-checking could yield more ideas from your experts, and those ideas could send you even further toward the edge of that bell curve. I hope to see you there.
About the Author: An English Instructor for Harrisburg Area Community College’s Virtual Learning program, Tamara Girardi holds a PhD in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews. Her YA fantasy Dreamseer won the 2013 PennWriters Novel Beginnings Contest and is on submission with agents. Tamara is a member of Backspace, Sisters in Crime, and PennWriters. Follow her on Twitter @TamaraGirardi.
Please welcome Natasa Lekic from NY Book Editors with a post that will help you handle rejection letters. Read well, because this post is packed with excellent advice.
Rejection letters are a cruel, inevitable part of every writer’s life. However, they shouldn’t derail your writing habits, which is why it’s critical to get over rejection notes as quickly as possible. To do this, you need to understand their actual value and how it compares to the act of writing.
The advice below will help you cultivate habits and a state of mind that will make rejections feel like a passing annoyance.
- Recall the rejections of writers you admire. Most writers, throughout history, have known the bitter taste of rejection. To read their stories or listen to their interviews is a way of reminding yourself that you’re not alone. They didn’t let rejection stop them from writing – and neither should you. Take rejection as an event in your life that you share with the likes of Joseph Heller, Stephen King, and JK Rowling, among countless luminaries.
- Reconsider your expectations. Your reaction to the rejection is directly correlated with your expectations. When you emailed the submission or query letter, did you fully expect to see your story in the literary magazine or did you envision meeting your new agent in New York? Consider the volume of submissions and queries that get sent to your recipient(s). Once you realize how challenging it is to get noticed, rejections won’t feel as painful.
- Play the numbers game. Submit, submit, submit. One rejection doesn’t seem like a big deal when you have many possibilities available to you. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Opinions about writing are subjective. You need to reach out to a lot of people in order to find someone who supports your work.
- Tell your negative thoughts to shut up. Negative energy leads to self-doubt and is more likely to cause negative outcomes. Athletes know this and train themselves to focus away from negativity. You should do the same. When you manage to remain optimistic, you’re more likely to stick to your writing schedule, write well, and think of new, interesting ideas.
- Fail wisely. When you receive a rejection that contains a personal response, appreciate the fact that the recipient thought highly enough of your work to take the time to respond. Approach the criticism with an open mind. Consider the fact that they might be right, and try to learn from it. What can you do differently next time?
- Turn submissions/queries into a routine. The way to be successful in the long term is to turn your submission efforts into a routine. Submitting your work or querying agents should be a tick on your weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly to-do list. It’s nothing more or less. The important work is the time you spend writing. Submissions and queries are a necessary administrative task, like doing your taxes. Turn it into a habit so you know you’re checking those boxes, and carry on with your real work.
- Reward Yourself. You deserve recognition for the work you’ve done, whatever the outcome. You did your part by completing the story or the manuscript and sending it out into the world, which was no small feat. Remember to reward yourself for the work you do once in a while, whether it’s with a glass of good red wine or an afternoon’s walk in the park. Your commitment to the craft of writing should be appreciated.
If you follow most of this advice, the negative mental effect of rejection letters will recognizably diminish. You’ll be able to maintain a state of mind that allows you to get back to the desk and continue writing.
Elizabeth Gilbert says she’ll “always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome” as long as she never forgets to continue writing. The same goes for you. If you can keep going, you’ll be OK.
About the Author: Natasa Lekic is the founder of NY Book Editors, an affiliation of editors with extensive publishing industry experience who provide freelance editing services to authors.
Please welcome guest author Bryan Collins with a post exploring four types of writing.
This craft of ours is hard. You’ve got an idea, you’ve finished your research, and you know you’ve got something important to write about. There’s just one problem. When you try to write, the words feel slow, awkward, and off target.
Do you want to know a secret?
Good writing does at least one of four things: it educates, informs, entertains or inspires.
- A tutorial shows a reader how they can accomplish a task.
- A news story tells your reader something important about a current event.
- A short story gives your reader a place to escape to.
- A self-help book inspires your reader to make a change in their life.
Great writing does all of these things. You don’t have to do all four, but before you start to write, ask yourself, what am I trying to do for my reader?
Here are the only four answers that count.
I Want to Inform
Take lesson from journalism. The job of a journalist is to tell readers of a newspaper, magazine, or website exactly what’s happening. Facts are the currency of a journalist. They write the most important point first, the second most important thing second, and so on.
Even if you’re not writing journalism, this type of structured writing will help you inform readers.
Your headline, first sentence, and first paragraph should answer the following questions in increasing levels of detail:
- What happened?
- To whom did it happen?
- Where did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- When did it happen?
This approach will help you inform readers about a topic you’re passionate about.
I Want to Educate
Educating your reader means you must approach every topic with a beginner’s mind.
When you become practiced at a task or skill, your writing voice dulls itself on a groove of repetition. Your arguments establish themselves and your opinions solidify. You turn to the same haggard metaphors and imagery long after their prime.
This isn’t fun to write, and it’s not exciting to read.
Consider starting a new job: For the first few weeks or months, you are an outsider who sees the workplace differently and wonders why things are done a certain way. Sometimes, forward-thinking managers will capitalize on your outsider’s insight to make informed changes.
For those first few weeks, you are a unique commodity.
Writing like a beginner means bringing a renewed sense of passion and curiosity to the page. It means seeing things like an outsider or beginner who is learning something for the first time.
I Want to Inspire
The author Christy Brown was born with cerebral palsy in 1932 into a large working class family in Dublin.
Although he didn’t receive schooling for much his life, Brown still learned to read and write with the support of his mother. As an adult, he wrote several critically acclaimed books and collections of poetry using his left foot.
In his autobiography, My Left Foot, Christy described what it was like to grow up with a disability and how others regarded him. He had no qualms about revealing intimate personal details, such as his loneliness and sexual desires.
Brown inspired many people because he pursued a passion in spite of personal adversity. Through this pursuit, he revealed an essential truth about living with a disability in Dublin during the mid part of the twentieth century. In 1989, the director Jim Sheridan even turned the story of Brown’s life into an Oscar-winning film.
Brown’s story is an extreme example, but you can still inspire your readers to take action by writing honestly about adversity and how you regard the world you live in.
I Want to Entertain
If you want to entertain your reader, tell a story.
This creative skill is difficult to master until you turn to the Hero’s Journey.
This is the basic framework behind many narratives and popular stories told around the world throughout history. Essentially, a hero leaves the world they are living in to go on an adventure. After overcoming a challenge, he or she returns home a changed person.
The scholar Joseph Campbell best explains this framework in The Hero With a Thousand Faces:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his people.
You can find this framework in films like The Matrix and Star Wars. In the latter example, Luke leaves his home planet to go on an adventure and save Princess Leia. What happens next changes him, and he becomes a Jedi.
When you write to entertain, tell a story about a journey and how the hero overcame a big challenge.
Ready to Write? Wait!
Before writing this article, I set out to give you an overview the four most common types of writing.
If you don’t know what type of writing you’re producing, you’ll find this craft harder and slower than it needs to be.
Please don’t be that kind of writer.
Before you start writing, establish what you want to give your readers. This will give you confines within which to write, you will find it easier to put the right words down, and you will have a goal to write toward.
Your readers will thank you for it.
What tips do you have for teaching, informing, inspiring or entertaining? Please let me know.
About the Author: Bryan Collins is on a mission to teach people how to become writers and finish what they started with A Handbook for the Productive Writer. Get your exclusive free samples and start your journey on Become A Writer Today.
Please welcome Warren Adler, author of The War of the Roses, with an article that compares print and digital book launches and examines the impact of traditional versus independent publishing on authors’ careers.
The launch of a book, be it the first for an author or their most recent release, has always been the established gateway for traditional publishers to introduce a new work. The launch of a book is like the birth of a baby: crucial and necessary. There is, after all, no future for an unsuccessful birth. For the author, like anything born into a lifecycle, it is the aftermath that really matters, and for those authors seeking career continuity, and even enduring recognition, digital publishing has offered a widening arena of options for keeping a book from disappearing.
The Traditional Publishing Path
I started out as an author with traditional royalty contracts, having my books, The War of the Roses (Warner Books), Random Hearts (Macmillan), The Sunset Gang (Viking Press), Mourning Glory (Kensington), and Trans-Siberian Express (Putnam), among others, represented by large publishers. But traditional publishers could not offer me what I wanted for my work.
The old tried-and-true publishing path went something like this: The book is edited, a cover is designed, and a date is set for the launch. Reviewers are informed and sent copies, an attempt is made to secure endorsements, and the book begins its journey–first, as a hardback. The book is catalogued well in advance. Media outlets are contacted, and some respond, depending on the book and the novelist’s previous work. Bookstores place orders, but most are speculative; the book may or may not be shelved.
Then the launch date arrives, and if the publisher senses buzz around the release, an ad or two might be placed, and coop money invested. A book party may be arranged by the publisher or the author’s friends or relatives. The book is now available for purchase.
But for most books, especially debut novels, if sales are low, the author’s future is dim, and the book eventually fades from the public consciousness. If the book hits a prestigious bestseller list, it has the advantage of being placed in the forefront of the public consciousness by means of various outlets, reminding readers of its presence and sparking purchases. The amount of time on a bestseller list is directly proportional to sales.
Traditionally, a paperback would be launched some time later, and by that point, the hardback is discounted and remaindered. After that, unless the work finds its way on to the big or small screen as an adaptation, or to academia to be adopted into the curriculum, it fades into obscurity and disappears. Traditionally published books are also subject to contractual terms, which eventually take a work out of print based on certain sales outcomes within a given period.
Before the advent of digital publishing, most books had no chance to continue being circulated in new and creative ways, even those that were briefly celebrated. Memory is short, and success and celebrity sputter quickly like the last gasp of a candle before it flames out. Of course, those few who do achieve this brief success consider the spotlight moment as a worthy payout for work well received and recognized as having contributed to the zeitgeist.
While reticence and modesty may inhibit vocalizing their conviction, authors believe that their work has a long tail, has relevance and consequence, and is worthy of survival. From my perspective, it is the absolute truth that motivates artistic creation. But for authors who aspire to endurance, it is in the aftermath where the grand prize lies.
Digital publishing defies traditional norms that dictate the average life span of a book, and authors are no longer bound by the limitations of a traditional book launch.
In shelving methods used by legacy publishers, books would simply be removed from the shelf never to be advertised again. Buyers would have to search for titles in libraries or secondhand bookstores. But when a reader searches for a recently released title with an e-retailer such as Amazon, which also offers a print-on-demand option, iBooks, Nook or Kobo, etc., all the author’s previous works are displayed alongside the search result on the interface. Thus an author’s complete repertoire could always remain available for purchase. An e-book will never go out of print.
The Promotion Front
Thanks also to digital media, an author now has the ability to promote their work via social networking, blogs, online reviews, and personal websites. Authors today, far from having their backlist disappear into the ether, can play an active role in discoverability. This also means that an author can re-launch any book from their backlist at will, utilizing all the networking, publicity, and advertising levers, paid or unpaid, available to the author.
As a novelist and an e-book pioneer, I have long been driven by the issue of discoverability and survival of my books. It has always been a heroic challenge, full of experimentation and beyond predictability, perhaps best characterized by William Shakespeare’s great quote from Macbeth: “If you can look into the seeds of time / And say which grain will grow and which will not, speak, then, to me….”
About the Author: Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler’s international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2015-2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas) and The Sunset Gang. Warren Adler’s newest thriller, Treadmill, is officially available.
Please welcome guest author Jack Woodville London, author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book).
“What I find hard about writing,” Nora Ephron said, “is the writing.”
There’s a difference between writing and typing. Writers produce. Typists reproduce. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Writers believe that a story worth telling is worth telling well. Writers believe that a turn of phrase can invoke a vision, that the choice of exactly the right word will lead someone to think about something in a new light, will persuade, will entertain. Some writers are blessed with a combination of neurons, synapses, left brain cells (or is it right?) that make their words flow onto the page or screen with clarity and purpose. The other ninety-nine percent of us must draft, erase, revise, delete, change, correct, and revisit, so that in the end, after many drafts and rewritings, it looks like it wasn’t hard.
We want to be writers. Where to begin?
1. Your first commitment is to write one thousand words a day, every day. Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, and instant messaging do not count.
Sit at your word processor today and compose a thousand words on the book, novel, memoir, poem, article, or short story that you’re writing. Tomorrow, edit those thousand words, revise them, and improve them. Recast the fuzzy sentences into the active voice. Make the subjects and verbs agree in number and tense, and eliminate the pronouns that might refer to more than one person, place, or thing so readers understand what you intended to say. After you’ve finished editing, write your next thousand words.
Then, and only then, may you take up the cudgel of Facebook and e-mail.
2. Your second commitment is to take yourself seriously. Form short- and long-term strategies for your writing.
A. In the short term, create your space and carve out your time, and then make them sacred.
Your space is your office, your desk, your chair, your word processor, your printer, your physical environment. Make it comfortable for you and for no one else, and consider it to be your office. Organize it. Keep your programs updated. Back up every word you type.
Your time is even more sacred. For the three or four or eight hours that you write each day, do not take telephone calls, do not send or receive emails or mess around with social media. During that block of time you should edit yesterday’s work, compose today’s thousand words, revisit your story outlines, and do the research for the piece you’re writing.
B. When you have achieved those goals, you can shift into the longer-term strategy. What does that include?
Writers find an audience. You must find readers to read what you write. How? Identify and submit your work to literary contests, to journals in your genre, and to first readers. Join and be active in writing groups in your genre, such as the Historical Novel Society or Romance Writers or Military Writers Society of America. Go to school and surround yourself with peers.
C. Go to school? You’ve got to be kidding.
I’m not kidding. Creative writing involves the development and improvement of the conventions of the literary art. These include the mundane tasks of composing paragraphs that make sense and writing sentences that don’t contain too many dependent clauses or indefinite pronouns as well as the skills of writing dialogue, writing descriptions of settings, and the creation of characters who have unique personalities. Courses range from evening classes with a writing group to weekend courses (usually replete with guest editors and literary agents) to full-blown enrollment in academic settings in which you are challenged by writing exercises to improve your skill. Find them. Enroll. Study. Practice new things.
All of this sounds like it’ll take a lot of time. Does it?
Malcolm Gladwell dedicated a chapter of Outliers: The Story of Success to the Beatles, Bill Gates, and your seventh-grade violin teacher. The Beatles played over 1,200 sets before anyone “Saw Her Standing There.” Gates got access to a computer at age thirteen and then spent most of the next six years doing little else but programming on it. Common denominator: they put in ten thousand hours of work, each of them, before someone recognized their genius.
And your music teacher? I don’t know about your personal seventh-grade music teacher, of course, but such people as a group tend to exemplify the difference between someone who may have had talent, a great deal of talent, but did not put in ten thousand hours and, regrettably, did not go on to perform in Carnegie Hall.
The truth is that composing prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a creative and proactive process. You must give it your thoughtful and undivided attention. Practice—dedicated, serious practice—will take your writing to a higher level. It will take time, but if you’re serious, you’ll make time for it.
On the other hand, Facebook, e-mail, and similar intrusions on your writing life tend to be reactive replies to the postings of others and the quick sharing of your own news or musings to which you expect others to react. The attention given to such writing tends to be in much shorter spurts than the attention given to a dedicated effort to compose a news report, a work of history, a short story, or even a chapter. Instead of such diversions counting toward the time you practice your craft, they just take up your time.
Will it take you ten thousand hours to become the genius that you can be? Probably, and then only if you want it. You have to want it badly. Do you?
There’s only one way to find out. Start with a thousand words. Revise them tomorrow. Then write another thousand words. That’s what writers do.
About the Author: Jack London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book) and the award-winning books, French Letters: Virginia’s Wars and French Letters: Engaged in War. He has published some thirty literary articles and more than fifty book reviews. He has also studied creative writing at Oxford University and earned certificates at the Fiction Academy, St. Céré, France and Ecole Francaise, Trois Ponts, France. London lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Alice, and Junebug, the writing cat. For more information, please visit www.jwlbooks.com.