Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Sweet is This?

The fact that we've received this award twice must mean we are incredibly sweet, right? :)
Thanks to Larissa Hinton for thinking For the Love of Writing is worth awarding. What a great start to the summer!
With this award comes some duties, including giving some facts and nominating some blogs.

So since there are five of us, we'll each give 7 facts about ourselves. This is going to be fun!


1.) We have two dogs and three birds.
2.) I love taking walks.
3.) I hate humidity.
4.) I get sick after I fly on a plane, not before.
5.) I can't stop eating Pringles or M&Ms
6.) I'm only 5' tall.
7.) My children say I wear old lady sweaters.

D.F. Matthews

1.) Was hospitalized for drinking too much coffee.
2.) Cooking is my secondary passion.
3.) Has trouble finding size fifteen shoes.
4.) Is a pen snob. (Get that Bic pen outta here!!)
5.) At the age of nine my first writings were fictional news reports for Looney Toons.
6.) Failed English in 8th grade. (Not my fault :P)
7.) I LOVE coffee!!

Madelaine Bauman

1.) I have entire conversations with myself when I'm bored.
2.) I love going for a late night walk, especially on Halloween.
3.) For some reason I like imitating wolf howls.
4.) I love storms.
5.) Music really helps with writing. I can't write without it on.
6.) I like to create strange food combinations.
7.) Some days I like writing without any lights on in the house. Just the dark and me.

Raven Clark

1.) Give me lots of writing materials and I'd be happiest on a desert island with no one and nothing around me for months.
2.) I love sticking my face in my cat's fur.
3.) I eat my french fries with butter and I'm addicted to pickles.
4. I can go up to three days without sleep and switch from sleeping in the day to sleeping at night without warning.
5.) I act out scenes from my books out loud.
6.) I have a huge addiction to the concept of animal human half breeds, especially predatory ones.
7.) I once wrote 400 pages in two weeks. Wish I could figure out how I did it so I could do it again....and again...and again

Ree Vera

1.) For a brief period, singing was my job.
2.) I have an unhealthy addiction to seafood. Especially sardines in mustard sauce.
3.) I've never worn a bikini, but I have gone skinny dipping.
4.) I. Love. History. I love reading about it, learning about it, lectures...oh my.
5.) I like wearing fake eyelashes. Especially ones with glitter.
6.) Knitting calms me. It may be 'granny-ish' but I like it.
7.) I wear flip flops year round.

And here are the blogs we've chosen to nominate:

1.) procrastinate? writenow.
2.) A Storyteller's Musings
3.) The Art of an Artist
4.) It's a Radiant World
5.) Crazy Lady with a Pen
6.) A Shade Tree
7.) Oasis for YA
8.) Writings, Workouts, and Were-Jaguars

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bits O'Wisdom: Worth It?

**Hello everyone! We have a guest blogger today who would like to share some words of inspiration with us. Is being a writer worth it? Why do we do it? Here are her thoughts on the matter....**

You’re a writer.

Anyone can call themselves that these days. But what does being a writer really mean?

It means life as you know it will suck big ones for the most part. It means long, sleepless, over-caffeinated nights when the voices in your head refuse to stop their incessant yapping. It means looks of admiration from your friends and loved ones that soon turn into pity and finally annoyance, as you strive for that dream of publication.

It means rejection.

It means wanting to bang your head against the wall when the words won’t come. It means getting a day job so you can feed yourself and your family because your writing sure ain’t doing it. Oh yeah. Didn’t anyone tell you that writing doesn’t always pay? No? Well, I hope you’re not too disappointed.

It means rewrites. Editing. It means swallowing critique and more editing. And then when you do happen to get published, it means doing all the above OVER and OVER again for the rest of your life.

I know. When it’s put that way you have to wonder: Why on earth would anyone put themselves through such torture? Why do I bother doing this to myself?

Because…You. Are. A. Writer!

You don’t know where those stories come from or why the need to get them out is there. You just know it’s there inside you. That lust for the written word. That desire for a good story. You were born to do this. You are going to do this!

So you suck it up. You write every day. Every day. Even when you don’t want to. Even when the words are fighting you and the things you write down don’t make any sense. You know your ideas are good. That they are what readers are looking for. So you press on. You ignore the haters. Ignore the looks, the snide remarks about how you’re wasting your time. What do they know? You just wrote a chapter today. Ha! In their faces!

Rejection happens to you. Great! You’re trying! You’re not just sitting around wondering: What if? you’re doing something. So they didn’t like you. Send it again. Start a new story. Kill off your “darlings.” Write the most wretched chapters you’ve ever seen. Then when the burning sensation is gone from your eyes…edit them. Then edit some more. Who’s going to quit? Not you. No way. You keep going. Keep dreaming. Writing.

Yes! Above all else…You keep writing!

Sounds hard, right? Sounds terrifying too I’ll bet. But so what? You’re tough. You’re a writer after all. Writing is hard work. Hard! But the end result, my fellow authors, is so WORTH IT.

~Rue McKinley

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!

It's Watcha Reading Tuesday!! So share with us what it is YOU'RE reading! Cereal boxes, calorie labels...the bathroom jokebook :P Anything at all! And this week, how about sharing with us who your favorite literary character is?? Come on now...spill! :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Using Descriptive Settings

Descriptive setting has none of the excitement of an action scene, none of the glamour of dialogue. But too little description and the reader can get lost, unable to figure out what’s happening. Too much of it and the reader is yawning. Who hasn’t skimmed over paragraphs of description of countryside and weather to get to the good stuff? I do it all the time.

So it’s no surprise, descriptive setting is my least favorite type of writing. It’s usually way down on the list of priorities. Plus, avoiding passive writing and lazy ‘was/were’ sentences is always a challenge for me. Much easier to write ‘the forest was full of tall evergreen trees’ then to craft it into an entertaining sentence like ‘evergreen trees rose tall and straight along the road creating a dense screen’. Leaving out the descriptive setting, however, is a missed opportunity. There are three potential ways for this type of writing to increase the wow of your story.

1. Grounding

An artist friend of mine is always telling the children she teaches not to leave their subjects hanging in the air. Without a horizon line, the people or scenery they draw are literally floating in air. Drawing in the line between earth and sky, puts that tree or person firmly on the ground and not in the sky. That’s the main goal of descriptive writing. It lets the reader know where the characters are.

If you don’t detail the setting, you leave a reader confused and unable to relate to what is happening in the story. I recently read a passage, the opening chapter of a WIP, which gave no description. I ended up picturing the MC actively outside and moving when she was still at her home. That kind of mistake made me no longer trust that writer. That’s not what you want. Yet you don’t want to go into so much detail that you bore the reader either. Do we really need five sentences to tell us how the sky looks? That’s a big no!

Just keep in mind that the amount of description a reader wants is a matter of personal taste and also depends on genre you’re writing. Romance puts different emphasis on what to describe than does mystery or fantasy. Know what’s expected for your particular genre by reading lots of examples of that genre.

2. Character Development

Descriptive setting can show you about your characters. For instance, what music is playing in the background can say heaps. There are different personalities associated with country music compared to hip hop or classical. It’s a great way to show what your character values. Whether your character has a messy or neat room tells about them. It say how much priority they put to cleaning and whether they might be a laid-back, let things go type of person or a type A personality. The type of house or furniture they own can tell whether they are modern or old-fashioned. Books on the bookshelves make them thoughtful. Liquor bottles everywhere, well, you know what that says about a character.

And I repeat it’s a great way to show. You’re not saying ‘Carol is a lazy slob’, or ‘John is a typical teenager’. When John can’t find his keys because his room is so messy or dust is an inch thick on Carol’s counter, you’re showing it. It’s a great trick to use in opening chapters to increase the character development indirectly.

3. Mood

How can you set the mood of your character without telling? Descriptive setting. This is an underused strategy for writing. Use the description of what’s occurring in the background to reflect your character’s mood. Hard to explain so I’ll give a few examples from my own writing.

I wanted to show that my character felt a bit conflicted and thoughtful, he’s trying to come to a big decision. I could have said, ‘Henry rubbed his chin in thought’ or ‘Henry felt doubtful’. Instead, I showed it by the setting. He stopped and stared off over the moor as a lone bird, cast in black by the sun, winged its way home.” The image of the bird, cast in black, gives a feeling of isolation and loneliness. It reflects the character’s mood.

Here’s another example from my opening chapter. I wanted to show the MC is depressed and brooding. “She ignored her possessions to watch the flickering light cast dancing shadows on the walls.” In the middle of the night, she’s staring at candle light flickering on the walls, what could be more brooding.

If you want to foreshadow a bit of danger coming up, make the background reflect it. Trees can ‘loom’ adding a feeling of danger. Branches can ‘grab’. There are plenty of ways to make the setting work for you. I wish I used these tricks more often because the effectiveness is undeniable.

Summer is vacation time. Use that time to improve your writing without putting a word to paper. Now some of you know from facebook I just returned from a long vacation. I used the time driving through several states I’d never been to before to visualize settings. What better way to come up with unique settings than from actual experience of being there? I even made it a game to come up with non-passive sentences for each area. “The wind chasing knee-high grass up the slope in rippling wave after wave of unbroken green.” is eastern South Dakota. “Dense evergreen trees darkening the hills to a uniform black and only broken by high cliffs of stark gray granite” would do for the Black Hills.

Have you used setting to highlight the mood of your work? Got a great descriptive sentence? Post an example to inspire the rest of us. And use that time outdoors for more than getting a tan.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!

Time once again for Whatcha Reading Tuesday!! Come and share what you're reading with us. Anything at all from books to comics to blogs (ahem) to Twix candy bar wrappers. Just post it here. Oh and tell us your favorite bookstore? Is one of the big companies or do you have a cool indie bookstore? Show them a little love :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Make Your Dialogue Come...Alive!

Oh, yeah. Dialogue. For most of us, it's the deal-breaker in a novel. You can have a great plot, lots of action, great locations, well thought out worlds and lots of twists, but if your dialogue is flat or unrealistic, it's like too much baking powder in your favorite homemade cookies. It ruins the whole experience. I've done a lot of research on making dialogue more real, as well as more memorable, and I found some interesting tips.

Let’s start with the simpler part, the realism. In the old days, dialogue was often longer and more drawn out. If you read books like Lord of the Rings, you noticed lots of long speeches. In older books, sometimes a single character’s dialogue could go one for a paragraph or more without a break. These days it's more back and forth; quick, snappy exchanges where one character speaks, then the second, then back to the first.

Think of it as a game of catch. In the game, when someone throws you the ball, do you stand there for several minutes, or even 30 seconds, holding the ball before you throw it back? No. Most of us would throw it back immediately, and our partner does the same. Dialogue works the same way. If you ask someone a question, and they go on for several minutes, you'd probably want to cut them off. Likewise in a story. If you have long speeches without interruption from another character, readers will grow impatient and lose interest. Keeping dialogue short, snappy, and back and forth will keep readers from getting bored.

When it comes to realistic dialogue, there are a lot of aspects to consider in order to maintain the reader’s interest. Adding tension, holding things back, avoiding dialogue tags, and using memorable lines, what writer and literary agent Donald Maass calls "zingers." But first, we'll focus only on the back and forth aspect.

Here's an example. First, we have dialogue with longer exchanges. Our characters for this exchange are Lance and Drake.

"What did you do, yesterday, Lance?"

"Well, I went to the store for mom, washed the car, and then went to my girl friends for a movie."

Drake shrugged. "Cool."

Oi. Can anyone see what's wrong here? Let's start with, BORING. People don't talk like that in real life, at least not if they want any friends. And in a book, we want to see something more interesting than average in our characters anyway. Which means we'll have to do a lot better than that to impress readers.

There are other problems here, no tension, nothing to grab us, nothing to make us want to find out what's going on, but dialogue is a many layered thing, so let's go a step at a time here, and fix the back and forth issue first. 

To most of you, it likely looks like Lance is the problem. He's the one with the longer boring line that has nothing interesting in it. People do those things every day, and they certainly are realistic, but again, readers want something above average, a character who does things that make us want to be in their shoes. Also, there's nothing to make us ask questions, keep us guessing. Also, notice another problem. Lance's bland reply doesn't leave much for Drake to say. This is where writers sometimes get stuck, unsure how to continue, what to have a person say next. There’s no energy here, no life to keep the story going, so it dies. So, let’s kick it up a notch. 

"What did you do, yesterday, Lance?"

"Hung out with my girl."

Drake shrugged. "That's it? Just, "hung out?"


See what happens here? Already it's a little better. This is a classic case of less is more. We left out the more boring parts, plus Lance told very little about what went on, which does two things. It makes us wonder what he did that he's being so dismissive, and it also makes us curious about the character. It gives him a personality. We wonder if he's just one of those mono- syllabic guys who just doesn't like to open up, or if there's more going on here. Such as, he's being deliberately coy. Plus, Lance’s reply is more engaging, which gives us more to work with in Drake’s reply. Furthermore, Drake presses him, and he doesn't give him anything, which not only adds to Lance's mystery, but makes readers want to know more. In writing, we call that "hold backs." Making it difficult for characters to get the information they want adds mystery and evokes questions in the reader’s mind.

You’ll have to forgive me for using the same example throughout this exercise. I’m working on a layering principle, adding elements in stages, and that’s easier to do that using the same one.

So here, we have two elements of at work. The use of withholding information to keep the reader guessing, and the use of short, back and forth beats that give the story a fast pace. But even so, this could be a lot better. Even Drake's lines are a little dry. Why? Because they don't paint a picture of his character. So let’s jack his up a bit.

"Sooo, what did you do, yesterday, Lance?"

"Hung out with my girl."

Drake smiled. "That's it, eh? You just hung out?"


This is a lot more interesting, yes? Where Lance's simple, one word answers might suggest something deeper, Drake's responses add to that. Now we have a sense of his character as an observant, and perhaps nosy friend, who insists something went on last night, maybe even when it didn't. By simply putting the emphasis on "you" we get that he's almost taunting Lance. And by making his actions more intriguing, a smile instead of a shrug, our interest is also piqued. Drake's imagination is running wild, and as such, so are ours. Which makes us want to know. Is Drake just the kind of guy who reads something into everything, is he just razzing Lance, or is he right? And if he is right, what did happen with Lance and his girl? We could even dig deeper as readers and wonder if the girl has a reputation, or if Drake knows Lance and her relationship is such that when they get together, highjinks ensue. Depending on the type of book, it doesn't always have to be the obvious either. But can we still make it better? Oh yes. Always. But before we amp up the dialogue again, lets move onto our next point. Dialogue tags.

Effective dialogue relies on a lot of things, but a big element is timing. Timing is what allows us to maintain a fast pace, hold the tension throughout the prose, and to a large extent, give the exchange a feeling of realism. One of the keys to good timing in dialogue is to avoid dialogue tags where possible, instead exchanging them with action beats. Dialogue tags "tell" rather than "show," telling the reader what to take from the exchange, rather than letting them see it in the prose. They also force us to use more words, and passive ly and ing words, which weaken the writing if used without need. They also kill the pace and drain tension, thus losing the reader's interest. Timing is perhaps the hardest part of employing realistic dialogue. One too many words or one weaker word disrupts the flow, which throws the whole exchange out of balance. Here, let me show you.

"Sooo, what did you do, yesterday, Lance?" Drake taunted.

"Hung out with my girl."

"That's it, eh?" Drake said doubtfully. "You just hung out?" 


You can see the issue here. When dialogue is effective, the tags are unneeded, because it's often clear who is speaking without it, and the reader can infer the character’s tone by how his dialogue is worded. Tags have their place, but action ones add more to the story. They let us see what's happening rather than telling us what to see, and they allow for fewer words. They also allow more active tenses instead of passive, which makes the writing stronger and increases pace, as well as maintains tension. The trick with action tags is not to overuse them. So, let’s spice it up with action tags instead. Ready?

"Sooo, what did you do, yesterday, Lance?" Drake wiggled his brows.

Lance doodled on his paper and didn’t look up. "Hung out with my girl."

"That's it, eh? You just hung out?"

Lance resisted a grin. "Yup."

See how much more character that gives to Drake and Lance? Where the dialogue tags killed pace without even giving them much personality, those action tags allow us to character build and paint an image of the boys without slowing the story down. The dialogue tags wasted valuable characharization time, whereas the action beats enhanced the reading experience. And remember the first time I used that example at the start of this? See how much deeper the story and characters are, compared to that bland, flat exchange at the start?

When it comes to actions, the hard part is knowing when and how often. A good rule of thumb is, if action beats do nothing for the story, leave them out. It's also key to avoid using long action tags, as well as too many. Actions should be a separate sentence from the dialogue. This allows for tighter wording and shorter sentences, which gives the whole thing more impact. Longer or attached actions break up the flow and make the dialogue feel choppy, less like a real conversation. If I had used anymore than I did, or if I connected them to the dialogue itself, it would have taken away from the snappy, back and forth feel and ruined the timing, killing the tension and pace.

Which brings us to the next point. Tension. My readers know how big I am on this. It's what keeps readers glued to the page. Part of tension is hold backs, but part of it is adding elements to the exchange that engage us and make us, not just want to know more, but need to know more. The last exchange had tension, but we can make this really pop by adding more. One level of tension is using words that carry more impact. Stronger verbs, shorter sentences, avoiding unnecessary descriptions, and showing, not telling. But tension can be intensified by adding layers to the prose. We do this using two elements, emotion and character or plot arcs. Don’t roll your eyes at seeing the same example yet. It gets better. Watch.

"Sooo, what did you do, yesterday, Lance?" Drake wiggled his brows.

Lance doodled on his paper and didn’t look up. "Hung out with my girl."

Drake snorted. This again  "That's it? With the most popular girl in school, you just hung out."

Lance resisted a grin. "Yup."

Notice that I didn't actually mention an emotion. Drake's doubt is there, his curiosity, his irritation, but I didn't tell you it was there, I didn't say it. It's all in the dialogue and action, and in this case, in Drake's thought, "this again." It's the subtlety that makes the conversation feel as if we are a fly on the wall watching it all happen. From Drake's snort and his thought, we get that Lance does this all the time, and it drives Drake nuts. We can sense his irritation without being told he's irritated, and slowing the story down. Also, our imaginations are really going now. Is Drake the kind of guy who causes trouble when you tell him too much? There's all sorts of ways this can go wrong, and there in lies the tension. Tension is the anticipation of something about to happen. Telling the emotions or having longer tags would take the focus away from the important things, what's being said, and so lose the tension. If you embed the movement of the story and the tension in the dialogue and actions, it keeps the dialogue real and fast-paced.

Now, just for comparison sake, here’s the first use of the exchange, before we made it matter.

"What did you do, yesterday, Lance?"

"Well, I went to the store for mom, washed the car, and then went to my girl friends for a movie."

Drake shrugged. "Cool."

Wow. Look at that, and now look at the last one.

"Sooo, what did you do, yesterday, Lance?" Drake wiggled his brows.

Lance doodled on his paper and didn't look up. "Hung out with my girl."

Drake snorted. This again. "That's it? With the most popular girl in school. You just hung out."

Lance resisted a grin. "Yup."

Huge difference, yes? But, would you believe we can still make this better? How? By employing “zingers.” In Writing the Breakout Novel, Maass describes these as unexpected one-liners that make a character stand out and make the dialogue leap off the page.

Zingers are a little more complex, but think of them as a punch line to a joke. There's build to them, a certain setup and delivery, and timing is extra important here.  Wait too long or not long enough, use one too many words or the wrong ones, and you lose the whole effect. But like a well delivered punch line, zingers rely on an added element. Surprise, or more definitively, a twist.

Now, to employ a really effective zinger, the conversation needs to be a little longer, so as to allow for the proper set up and build.  Watch this.

"Sooo, what did you do, yesterday, Lance?" Drake wiggled his brows.

Lance doodled on his paper and didn't look up. "Hung out with my girl."

Drake snorted. "That's it? You just hung out."


Drake shook his head. "Ugh uh. There had to be more. Tell."

Lance said nothing.

Drake squeezed one eye shut. "So let me get this straight. You went out with the most popular, hottest girl in school, and you, what? Watched paint dry?"

Lance looked at him and a smile twisted his lips. "Oh there was paint. And balls. And a gun."

Zing! That really makes the dialogue and characters come alive. Lance's playful line does several things at once. It shows he has spontinaity and wit, thus adding to his personality and endearing him to us. It adds to the tension of the passage, thus driving us on. And it further hooks us, making us want to know more. Now we can guess what he and his girl were doing. It was probably paint ball, not at all what Drake thought. That’s your twist. The careful wording and the flow of it makes for the effective delivery. But we also want to keep reading to see Drake's reaction. That revs the tension up several notches. Also, what they were doing is as unexpected as the line itself, which acts as its own force, because it elevates Lance's and his girl's relationship to something deeper than what Drake, and thus, we, expect. The layers we added to the dialogue in the previous runs turns what started out as bland, uninteresting dialogue into something engaging and exciting. But Lance's well timed, well worded zinger takes it to another level, enhancing the reading experience even further.

These days, dialogue can’t just be realistic. It has to take us away from the norm, introduce us to interesting people, and keep us riveted in the story. So, first, make your dialogue real. Then, give it something more. Make it stick out in our minds. Make it leap off the page. 

Until next time everyone, write on!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

We would like to wish all the spectacular fathers out there a Happy Father's Day!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review: Mistborn

Genre: Fiction/Epic Fantasy
Published by: Tor Fantasy
First Publication Year: 2006 
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Back Cover Summary:
Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.
He failed.
For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.
Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.
MISTBORN was a novel that, admittedly, I thought I would find little interest in. Having read only part of Sanderson’s debut novel,  ELANTRIS (2005), and finding his slightly passive writing style and descriptions a little difficult to follow, I was pleasantly surprised at how well MISTBORN turned out, how much I enjoyed it.
Part one of a trilogy, MISTBORN thrusts the reader into a world full of political unrest, a world run by an oppressive figure known as the Lord Ruler—and, amid it all, those who are beneath the nobility—slaves and criminals. It is within this lower class we meet the charismatic criminal mastermind, Kelsier, and the quiet street urchin, with strange powers, Vin. Along with other allies, these two must band together to begin a rebellion to free the world of its ruler and begin anew.
The summary on the back of the novel does not do it justice. Sanderson has crafted a world as complex and detailed as its unique magic system. And yet, surprisingly, the magic system is so simplistic. The magic of Allomancy—burning metals such as steel, pewter, copper and gold to enhance the wielder’s body and defenses—was one I had never seen in a novel, and was well-integrated into the world-building. In a way, it was a refreshing twist.
Another point I have to congratulate Sanderson on is his skills with character. Though, at first I dreaded his use of a prologue, I was surprised at how he pulled me in with the mysterious and always-smiling Kelsier. How the world seemed to suck me in. And then, how I was curious about the quiet but stubborn Vin. Throughout the novel, I found myself hooked to the story—if not for the interesting subtle class elements, the magic system, or the strange legends within the world—then for the characters. They shone with their own wit and charm and were distinctive, with quirks and sympathies and detailed backgrounds, enriching the world with culture and distinctness. If I had to pick a favourite character...definitely Kelsier. He made me laugh. And he was definitely a hero, an excellent mentor for Vin. Another favourite character was Lord Elend Venture. I won’t spoil his purpose, but he was quite…endearing, the way he would rather read and study then dance at balls. Definitely my type of character.
The subtle message of friendship and trust that Vin and Kelsier talk about and show throughout the novel—within a world where trust is futile and friendship could get you killed— was also well done, and created—for me—a sort of emotional connection with the story, with the cast, that had me wondering if this rebellion would succeed or not.
This novel being only the first of the trilogy, I know the adventure has just begun and I am excited to continue on. I plan to review the whole trilogy, so on the next available date, look for my review on book two: THE WELL OF ASCENSION. 
Would I read this again: Yes.
My rating: **** (four stars)
I rated this novel four stars because, although it was a compelling read, Sanderson’s passive writing style (which was a small thing that could have been fixed), and the lack of strong ending hooks throughout most of the book (again, a small thing), left it just short of a full five star rating.
Would I recommend this first novel? Yes. Definitely. If you enjoy fantasy with a unique magic system, compelling characters and detailed yet subtle world-building, I’d pass this trilogy on wholeheartedly. You won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

12 Steps to Maximizing Your Writing Potential

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds like one of those annoying motivational slogans. You know the ones. Some well dressed, fast talking guy promises to solve all your problems if you “Follow these 12 easy steps to a better you!” He gives you just enough to reel you in and then, guess what? You have to buy his overpriced DVD to actually hear the steps, which, more often than not, work to solve your problem about as often as cheesy pickup lines at a bar actually get the girl. This post will give you 12 tips to being a more productive writer, and I promise I won’t sell you anything, nor will I promise publication. But I'll guarantee the tips will work.

Yikes, I really DO sound like that motivational speaker. But seriously, how many writers do you know who, after months or even years of writing the same book, they're still on the first draft? Or they start another book every month, but never finish more than a few chapters before they move onto another? How many of you get up in the morning raring to write, but the moment you sit down at your computer, your ambition fades? The following tips will help you stay motivated, boost your creativity, and help you maximize your writing potential, hopefully allowing you to finish books faster and stick with the ones you start.

1) Develop a writing routine and stick with it.

Good writers write a lot, but doing so takes a lot of self discipline and heaps of commitment. Establishing a writing routine will help you to form both. So pick a time when you can write for a set amount of time every day. Yes. You heard me. Every day.

Oh, man, I can hear the arguments now. But Raven, I don’t have time to write every day. But Raven, I have four kids to take care of! But Raven, I have two jobs! Blah, blah blah. You’re forgetting something, my friends. I didn’t say you have to write from sunup to sundown. I didn’t say you have to write for four hours a day. I didn’t even say one hour. Your writing routine can include writing for five minutes while you wait for your child to get out of school, or fifteen minutes on the train to work. Do you read for an hour before bed? Cut that in half and write for the other half.

Now, if you have kids, especially young ones, it’s difficult to set aside a good chunk of regular writing time. Most people need at least an 20 minutes to get a good groove going. If you have a busy family, let them know you’ll be writing from this time to this time, and you won’t be available. And make them adhere to it. After a while, they’ll get used to it. Also, try to set up a writing space where you can cut yourself off from anyone who will disturb you. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be somewhere you can be comfortable and write. As Stephen King says, “All you need is a room with a door you can close.”

To help maintain the routine, treat writing the same way you would a job. Most people follow the same work pattern every day. They clock in at the same time and clock out at the same time. Try to establish a writing pattern that’s as close to this as possible. After a while, you’ll find yourself writing out of habit, and it won’t be such a struggle to get yourself going.

But why every day, you ask? Like many authors, I find that after even a day or two off, it gets more difficult to go back to writing again. It’s like when people call in sick. The more often you do it, the more often you want to do it. Also, I find even a few days is long enough to lose touch with the world and the characters I create. I forget how I worded something, or lose that certain vibe a character gives off. The longer I’m away from a novel, the more I lose the flow, often so that I have to go back and reread what I wrote. If you write every day, it will help you stay in touch with the story and keep the ideas fresh in your mind. If you have the sort of busy schedule that prevents writing for longer spurts, even five minutes a day can help you maintain the flow of your story, keep the creative juices pumping, and prevent the story from going stale. If you won’t take it from me, take it from King. In his novel On Writing he tells us, at the most he’ll give us a day off a week, but otherwise we need to be writing every day.

I’ll tell you, I used to have trouble writing more than a few hours a week. I just couldn’t get the motivation to do it more than that. But—and forgive the bad testimonial feel of this—I recently started a routine of writing every day, for a set amount of time, and guess what? It works. I went from writing 6 pages a week to at least 10 a day. Yes, seriously.

2) Cut off all distractions.

These days, most of us spend a lot of time on the internet.  Chatting with friends, Tweeting, farting around on Facebook, answering messages. If I allowed it, I would spend hours a day—no, not a week, a day—answering emails. You know how it works. You start your day nice and early, with plenty of time to write. You sit down at your computer, and the phone rings. Your best friend is calling to tell you all about her hot date last night You tell yourself you’ll talk for a few minutes, and then you’ll write. But she wants to tell you every detail, because this guy is just so perfect, and of course, you don’t want to cut her off. So an hour goes by before you hang up. Then you turn on your computer and you have four emails that you just have to answer. You answer them send them off. Then your other best friend comes online. You’ll just talk for a minute, then you’ll write. An hour later, when you finally sign off, Grandma stops by. By the time she leaves, its lunch time. Then its three o’clock and the kids are home. Before you know it, the day is gone, and you stare at that blank page in horror. You haven’t written a word! There is a simple way to avoid this information age disease we call procrastination. Aside from learning to say no, and tell your friends, your kids, your grandma that your writing time is your writing time, make sure to cut off all distractions. Take the phone off the hook, keep the internet off (unhook it or even write in a room where you can’t get it if you have to) and yes, tell your friends and family to leave you alone. Set aside time to write, and then during that time, you write.

3) Delete your Facebook/Twitter accounts.

Oh the horror! I can see several of you going white with panic. How dare I ask you to do such a thing! For some of you, asking you to cut off your twitter or FB accounts is like asking you to cut off your own arm. Besides the possible need to start attending Facebooker’s Anonymous (Hi, my name is Raven, and I’m a Facebook-aholic) even those of us who aren’t permanently wired to our networking sites may find the temptation to play around on them just too great. It would probably frighten you to realize how much more spare time you have to write once you delete all those unnecessary accounts.

Now, I know that having author’s pages, blogs, Twitter, and possibly other fan-based pages have become essential to a writer’s world. These are necessary tools to promoting oneself as an author, and one’s books. Plus, many agents and publishers ask writers to include links to fanpages and blogs in their queries to establish that the writer has a following, and having already built a fanbase before you submit can actually aid in getting published. In addition, it helps writers get noticed if they have connections with other published authors. I’m not saying to delete your author or fan-based accounts. I’m talking about your personal ones. And importantly, I’m telling you to do it if you end up tweeting and Facebooking when you should be writing. Deleting “playtime” accounts will eliminate the temptation to spend hours procrastinating on those sites when you should be working on your novel.

4) Stay away from writing sites.

Anyone who uses a writing site knows the double edged sword they present. A lot of us found our most loyal fans on writing sites, and for most of us, it’s where we find other writers who help us improve our craft. But if we aren’t careful, they can also be huge time suckers. We’ve all had it happen. Other writers message us asking us to read their work with the promise of returning the favor. And we read, we comment, we rush to accept the offer. Why? Because we can’t resist the prospect of hearing how good a writer we are. We all like to know we’re doing well, and we often need others to point out mistakes we make in our writing. The problem is, one can spend hours at a time reading and commenting only to end up with one liners like, “Great job,” or “Nice!” Comments that don’t even help us. Or worse, you spend hours reading a whole lot of horrible writing, and then half of the so called authors never even touch yours. Not to mention, many writers become so focused on getting comments that they become feedback dependent. As soon as no one is reading, we lose motivation, and every time we get a negative comment, we panic and start worrying about what we’re doing wrong. It stops us in our tracks and even prevents us from finishing a book, because our readers don’t like it. (There’s also the whole issue that posting your book online can cause problems with getting published later, and I’ll be doing a blog on that next week).

So how do we deal with the interference writing sites cause? Don’t go on them while you’re working on a book. Ignore the comments during the creative process, and don’t post chapters from a book you’re working on. And if you can’t do that, delete the account. You can always recreate the account later, after you’ve completed your current project. Criticism is a necessary part of the writing process, but it should be a part of the editing process, not the writing one.

5) Don’t Edit.

Yeah, you read that right. See, writing and editing should be two separate things, and for good reason. When you write, your mind is creative mode. This is a different mode from the editing one. In one of her blog posts, Author Camy Tang talks about editing and writing coming from two different sides of the brain. I can’t find the actual post where she describes it, and I should be putting the link so you can refer to it. Her blog is here, and if anyone can find the post I’m talking about, please post the link so I can insert it. Camy explained it better than I could, but basically she says that editing takes the right side of the brain, while writing takes the left. The creative, or left side of the brain, causes the ideas to flow, the images to form. The right side is your “Internal Editor.” That’s the voice in your head that tells you that you’re showing, not telling, this is too wordy, this character is flat, that dialogue is lame. As soon as you start to edit your words, your brain switches from the creative side to the analytical, and your Internal Editor switches on. This disrupts the flow of ideas and images and breaks your concentration, often killing the high that comes from the creative process and dousing your motivation. It’s important, when in the creative process, to keep your brain in the left side mode of thought and silence your Internal Editor’s voice. So when writing the first draft of a book, don’t edit. Don’t think. Don’t censor your words. Just write. You will make mistakes, you will write crap. Let it happen. Everything can be fixed, and there will be time to fix it, later.

6) Don’t leave the page blank.

For many of us, the biggest motivation killer is confronting the blank page. You sit at your computer, all excited to write, but the moment you see that huge white space staring back at you, you wilt like a flower at the first breath of frost. Or you spend the first hour of your writing time fighting to get that perfect opening line down. Worse, you had that perfect line the night before, and now you just can’t get it right. I found a great solution for this. Don’t leave the page blank.

For most writers, the instinct is to end their writing day at the end of a chapter. Don’t. Keep going. Start the next chapter, finish the first paragraph, even the first page. Then quite for the day. This way, when you begin your routine the next day, you’ll have a good start to your chapter and the moment you read what you wrote, the ideas you had last night will flood back.

7) Carry a pad and pen at all times.

Oftentimes our best ideas form when we aren’t actually writing. They pop into our heads while waiting at the bus terminal, sitting on the john, waiting for our coffee to brew, or as we’re drifting off to sleep. But by the time we get to a computer, the idea fades. We forget that golden line the hero said, or that awesome fighting move. If you have a pad and pen with you at all times, you can stop what you’re doing to write those gems down before they slip away. Besides, you never know when a story idea will hit you that could be your next best seller.

8) Read. A lot.

Believe it or not, this is my biggest downfall. I don’t read enough. I’m lucky if I read a book every couple of months. I know, flog me. Most of the time, it’s because so many books out now just don’t grab me the way they used to. It’s also because, the more I learn about writing, the harder it is to just sit back and enjoy the book. I pick at everything, and I’m so hyper aware of how the book is written, I forget to just take it in. But reading is a staple of the creative process. It helps you to see what’s popular and what’s not, and why. It keeps you in touch with what’s been overused and what hasn’t. If you pay attention to what you read, it can also help you to see what works in a story and what doesn’t, what makes people want to read this book, but not that one. The rules and trends change all the time in writing, and only by reading other works will you be aware of those changes. And best of all, reading other works helps to generate ideas for new stories and plot lines.

9) Read as a writer, not as a reader.

Yes. I’m basically telling you to do the exact thing that causes me to lose interest in reading. In order to learn how to write better books, we have to pay attention to what other authors are writing. This means picking it apart, analyzing it. Pay attention to what it is at the start of the book that didn’t pull you in. Ask yourself why that character rubbed you the wrong way, and what could have been done to make him/her more likable. Pay attention to how often the same creature is used in how many books, or which ones you’re tired of, and consider what you would do to make it more original. Doing this will help you generate more original stories or turn old plots into fresh ideas that will grab the attention of agents and publishers and keep readers wanting more. Also, when you come across phrases, ideas and concepts you like, wording that catches your attention, write it down. Then think on how you can turn it into something new.

10) Finish reading every book you start.

I know, this will be hard. If you really hate a book, it’s murder to have to finish it. The pages feel like lead weights and the two hundred pages you have left suddenly look like a thousand. And I know some of you would rather put a crappy book down and spend time on one you’ll enjoy. Well, suck it up. For two reasons. One, writing takes discipline, and forcing yourself to get through every book you read will help form disciplining habits. If you want to write for a living, then like it or not, reading will also be part of your job. Think about it. When you are at work, do you quite and go home because you’re having a bad day? No. Then why do that with a book? Two, it’s impossible to tell whether you like a story after a few chapters. It could start out great, but lose steam part way through. Or the whole book could be awesome, but the ending is horrible. Likewise, a book can start out slow or uninteresting, but suddenly pick up. As a writer, you need to see what the writer did that made you lose interest, so you can avoid making the same mistakes. And the only way you can do that is to read the whole story, to see it through to the end. So read good books, bad books, and everything in between. And more importantly, finish them. 

11) Finish every book you write.

Oi. I know. How many of you are looking with horror at the huge list of stories you started and never finished? It’s a bitch, but you need to finish them. Like reading a whole book, it’s important to finish writing them too, and, partially for the same reasons. Once you give up on a story, it gets easier to give up on others the moment you think it isn’t going the way you wanted. But you never know when one of those stories, with editing and hard work, could turn into the next great thing. And in everything we write, there is usually a few ideas we might be able to use later. So when you start a book, no matter if you like it or not, keep going. If other ideas come, make notes and then go back to your current project. Get it out as fast as you can so you can move onto the next. To get published, you need a finished book, and once published, our agents and publishers want more, and they want them fast. Most writers are expected to put out a new book every year, if not several times a year in order to keep readers interested and gain new readers. You can’t turn books out that fast if you can’t finish most of them. Not to mention, getting into the habit of finishing what you start, and doing it as quickly as possible, will help to form the discipline you’ll need when you have deadlines to meet.

12) Do what works for you.

This is going to sound weird coming off of everything I just said, but, basically, this means if what you’re doing now is working, keep doing it. And yes, this means if you finish books better by writing a chapter and then editing it before you go onto the next one, then keep doing it. There are some authors for whom this approach works. If you’re creative juices flow faster with the internet on, then leave it on. When I write, I can’t do it without my Youtube on. I need my music, and Youtube happens to be the easiest way. If writing at a different time every day keeps you writing, then change it up. If you can only write with six kids screaming in the background and your hubby shouting at you to find something every five seconds, by all means, sit in the middle of the busiest room in the house and type away.  These tips are generalizations. Nothing works for everyone. But, if you find you’re having trouble getting those words on the page, chances are, doing even one of these tips will help you fix that.  Mix and match, do what works, ignore what does not. Eventually, something’s got to give.

What about you? How do you make the most of your writing potential? Are there any techniques you’d like to… Hey… wait a minute, what are you doing reading this blog? Go write! Go, I say!


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