How to Write More

If you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably struggled with getting words on paper–who hasn’t? I’m right there with you. Thinking about writing, planning your next scene, turning on the motivational music, opening the word processor–that’s the fun part, right? The stuff you love doing. Then you look back at the screen and realize the document is open. Code red! Code red! We actually have to write something now!

That’s probably when you get up to grab a snack. “Can’t write on an empty stomach,” you say, munching on an everything bagel with cream cheese. This sets off a chain reaction–you do everything you usually wouldn’t want to do, all to avoid having to face that page.

What went wrong? You had everything ready. You were revving to go, and then… BOOM. Writer’s block.

Next time this happens, this is the key to success: ignore whatever’s going on in your head and tap out the first line. If that’s too difficult, the first phrase. Then continue from there to the logical next step. Continue on a path of small steps and, in a couple of minutes, you should be puttering along just fine.

That’s it. That’s the secret. I know it’s scary and uncomfortable, especially if you’re coming back from a writing hiatus, but it’s a necessary part of being a writer. You have to be willing to do move from the planning stage to the nitty-gritty of actually writing, because if you don’t, you’ll never finish anything. Besides, once the first five minutes have passed, it’ll all start coming back to you.

Even if you can’t find the groove today, you’ve taken a step forward. You’re that much closer to getting into the zone tomorrow. And that’s the best thing you can do as a writer. Just keep trying.

Thanks for reading! I hope you found this post helpful. If you have any additional tips on moving past the dreaded ‘First Minute Freeze-Up’, leave them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Wordsmithing!

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That Time of Year Again

As I’m sure most of you know,  NaNoWriMo started three days ago. Woo-hoo! I am, of course, participating, and through several intense writing sessions, I’ve broken 15k. I hope to find another few bursts of energy over the coming week; I’d like to get as many words out of the way as possible before my responsibilities start catching up to me. As I’ve prepared for the days ahead, I’ve compiled a list of the top three NaNo necessities:

  1. Privacy. You need to have a place you can go to be alone with your words; otherwise, all the distractions will pull you away from the page so many times you give up altogether. Even if you’re one of those people who can cope with noise, try to find a silent place, if only for ten minutes.
  2. Time. If it’s five minutes here and there, okay. If you can get more than that, do. Just make sure that you concentrate in whatever time you can scrape.
  3. Focus. This is, I think, the most important. By focus, I mean the ‘I’m going to write this scene if it’s the last thing I do, and I won’t look back for even a second, because if I do I’ll die’ kind of motivation. Obviously you won’t, but try to write with that mentality. This will help prevent your Inner Editor from taking over, and keep you moving forward.

I’ve excluded ‘writing utensils’ for obvious reasons. If you need someone to tell you that you should bring a pen/typewriter/laptop to your writing session, it’s probably a good idea to find a better use of your time. Bring snacks if you want to, but I find them distracting. I need both hands to type, and if there are cookies within arm’s reach (or anywhere in the house) I won’t be able to resist. I’ll end up staring at the screen, unable to process anything but the deliciousness of the item I’m consuming as crumbs fall between the keys. (I’m sure we’ve all had those moments.)

I would recommend obtaining a timer for your writing sessions if you find yourself with half an hour or more to spare. Sitting down to write is all well and good, but when you don’t have a clear-cut end set, it becomes more difficult to find the urgency to focus on what’s happening in the scene. Too much time can be as great a distraction as a marching band playing outside your window.

If you must write to music, compile a playlist of songs you’re familiar with–so familiar, in fact, that you’re a little bored with them. Play them at a low volume so they don’t break into your headspace.

The number one rule of writing large amounts of story in a small space of time is throw out distractions. Some people would say that distractions in small doses are healthy to the creative process. I say those people have never participated in NaNoWriMo.

Those are my tips for winning NaNoWriMo. If you guys have any other suggestions, leave them down in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Wordsmithing!

Working Through Plot Problems

If you’re anything like me, you run into plenty of roadblocks during the course of your story. No matter how well you crafted that outline, things will change as you write, and you must adjust accordingly. Even pantsers–maybe especially pantsers–have these problems. You rocket through those first few chapters, then everything slows to a crawl, then a stop. That cursed little cursor keeps blinking at you, reminding you that you’re supposed to be writing. But you’re not. And you’re not sure how to start again.

That’s where I’ve been for the past few days in my current novel. I had a solid outline. Then I started writing and realized I wasn’t all that excited to write what I had planned. I don’t force myself to write scenes I can’t get excited about. If I’m not excited, the reader won’t be excited. So I spent a few days tooling around, trying to come up with awesome events that would mesh with what I’d already written.

In the end, I decided to skip a few scenes and get to the ones I’d been planning since this novel’s conception, and work through the transitions later. Guess what? It worked. I wrote longer and faster than usual, and I was much happier. And I already have some epic ideas as to how I’m going to write those transitions.

If you’re having trouble getting your characters from point A to point B, go ahead and try skipping those chapters/scenes you just aren’t sure about. Things tend to fall into place when you have a general structure in the novel already.

If you are averse to skipping scenes, here’s more advice. Think of what would never happen at the moment you’re writing in your novel, then make it happen. Your brain will start filling in the blanks on its own, automatically inventing explanations as to why this is happening. I’ve tried it, and it’s tons of fun–exactly what writing should be.

Another issue that could be holding up your story is lack of knowledge. If you are a planner, chances are, you want a solid outline. This is difficult to attain if you don’t know enough about the world or your characters to establish a good sequence of events. If this is true, ask yourself questions until you feel confident enough to move forward. What do your characters want? What is preventing them from attaining these things? Start with those and gradually become more specific, and after a while, you should have enough info to get you going again. This works at any point in the writing process with any method.

If you’re beginning to be worried about or bored with your story because things seem to be going too well for your characters, throw them down off cloud nine into a mound of pain. Don’t go easy on them, because the villain (if you have one) certainly won’t. Utilize the try-fail cycle to maximum effect. Give your characters (and therefore your readers) hope that things are looking up, then get them into an even worse mess than before. Works every time. Remember the rule of threes, but also feel free to break that if it works better for your story.

Allow subplots to influence the overall story arc. This will up the stakes for everyone and add another element of interest for both you and your readers. For instance, two of your main cast of heroes may despise each other, and their subplot is either working out their differences or struggling to avoid creating a major rift in the group. Have this conflict affect everyone at some point, whether it be a critical moment in a crisis or a lull in the action, or somewhere in between. They’ll refuse to cooperate with each other, one will undermine the authority of the other, etc., in such a way that it harms the morale of the group or gets someone hurt/killed, if need be. That should get things moving again.

That’s my advice on working through plot problems! Thanks for reading. I hope you found this post helpful! If any of you have more suggestions, put them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Wordsmithing!

Tools of the Trade: Evernote

Evernote. The productivity giant. Many swear by it; some decry it. Is it as good as its devotees say? Or as terrible as its detractors think it is? I’ve tested it for myself, and I’m going to tell you what I think.

It’s both.

As with most things in writing, whether or not Evernote will be useful to you is highly personal. Here’s what Evernote allows you to do: keep all your notes, pictures, reminders, and lists all in one place, which you can access across a multitude of platforms. This equates to allowing those who are constantly on the go to work from anywhere on any device.

If you are constantly moving, say a travel writer, or just happen to be busy most of the time, this might work out well for you. If, however, you’re more like me–a person who works almost exclusively from home–then this particular note-taking service will likely not work too well with your work style.

You may notice Evernote allows you to upgrade from your free subscription to a premium one. All that paid subscription does is allow you to store more notes, more photos, more everything. No extra features, just extra space.

Even if you’re a work from home writer, like me, this program may hold value for you. If you’re finding that the intimidating efficiency or breadth of features of a dedicated word processor is preventing you from writing, you might try beginning that day’s work in Evernote. Then again, your email application would have the same effect of giving you a stripped-down writing environment, so maybe not.

My final verdict: Evernote can be a fantastic productivity tool–if you take your work with you everywhere, have need of only a few features, and don’t have access to your laptop all the time. If you’re not sure whether Evernote will work for you, give it a try; the basic account is free, and you can always walk away if you decide you don’t like it.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you found this post helpful. If there’s anything you’d like to say, or any topic you’d like to request, leave it down in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Wordsmithing!

Tools of the Trade: ProWriting Aid

In compliance with my statement, which I issued in the last post, I’ve been hunting the internet (more specifically, NaNoWriMo’s home website–it’s chock full of great resources), and I found something interesting. One of this year’s sponsors, called ProWritingAid, provides a service that I’ve only seen a few times; it checks your writing. It looks at sentence length, number of abstract words, adverbs, paragraph length, etc, and points out things that may bog down the readability of your writing.

There is a premium option available, which opens up more features, but the essentials of the service is available to those with a free account. I’ve tried it with several samples of my current WIP, and it showed me ways to improve the readability of my writing that I would never have considered on my own. Even if I had thought of every aspect of my writing, I could never analyze it as efficiently as ProWritingAid.

For those willing to pay a fee, you can send your manuscript to a human editor. Input your text and they’ll give you a free quote on how much it’ll cost you for them to edit it.

One issue with this site is that, when copying and pasting samples of text into the editor, all of my formatting disappears, turning the sample into one long paragraph. This means I’m left unable to accurately check the pacing of my work. I suppose this could be fixed by uploading the entire document and hoping the software would read it as-is, but when I’m editing, I tend to look at one small chunk at a time.

When writing fantasy or science fiction, expect plenty of false alarms when it comes to spelling. We use some funky names, and, just like in any other word processor, they will confuse this site.

Just as an aside–ProWritingAid seems to hate my style. When writing fiction (or anything, for that matter) I tend to use what it calls ‘glue’ words. Basically, any word that indicates either a transition or an immeasurable quantity. I also use way too many abstract words–in just two thousand words of text, ProWritingAid found that sixty one of them were abstract or vague.

Of course, the site’s an aid, not a rule book. Take the advice you know will improve your writing and ignore the advice that won’t. In any case, ProWritingAid is a tool you ought to at least try. It will force you to view your writing in a more analytical light, and when you’re editing, that’s exactly what you want.

But remember not to input a work you haven’t reached the end of yet. No half-finished first draft would survive an editing session. You would see all of those suggested changes and think, ‘My writing is horrible! It’s worse than I ever imagined! I ought to give up now while I’m still ahead.’ Don’t do that to yourself. Finish the draft. Do two more. Then use the site; it’s more for copyediting than developmental editing.

It might interest you to know that I’ve gone through about four drafts of this post using ProWritingAid. I could probably write a hundred variations of this piece without ever satisfying the software. So remember, when you use that site, take every word of its advice with a pinch of salt.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you found this post useful. Have any of you had any experience with ProWritingAid? Any requests to check out other sites? Leave it down in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Wordsmithing!

A Different Kind of New Year

I recently received a notification from WordPress telling me that this blog has reached its one year anniversary. Over the past twelve months, I’ve written a grand total of thirty-eight posts, accumulated fourteen comments, generated three hundred and forty four views, and somehow convinced all eighty four of you that this was a blog worth following, no matter how sporadically my content appeared–or how varied the quality was.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at this. Not at writing; I wouldn’t presume to offer you help and advice if I even suspected my workmanship was shoddy. No, I’m terrible at blogging. At setting deadlines and sticking to them, at finding motivation even when I think I have none, at generating content you could find both useful and entertaining. I’ve gone so far as to consider deleting this blog.

But I didn’t. And I’m really, really happy about that.

It wasn’t perseverance, per se, but it was a refusal to give up completely. I realize I give way too many ‘speeches’ here, all of them stuffed with pomp and circumstance, like I was some orator at the podium, trying to stir up the crowd, so I’m going to stop myself before I start and instead issue a statement.

Every Tuesday and Saturday, I will release a new blog post.

As you have all been following me for at least a month, I know that you know that this is, for me at least, fairly ambitious. So, I’m asking you all to help nudge this in the right direction. If there’s something specific you’d like me to look into and write about, put a request in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll hunt around for tips, tricks, methods, and software that writers like us might find useful, and I’ll get back to you with some of my findings in a few days.

If there’s any takeaway here, it’s that we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. For a few months now, I’ve avoided asking you guys to request topics because I thought it would somehow mark me as a bad writer. Really, I’m a normal writer–one who runs out of ideas just as they sit down to start writing.

Thank you so much for reading! For those of you who’ve stuck with me through this rough first year, I am forever grateful for your support. Again, if there’s anything you’d like me to write about, drop a request in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you, and honestly, it would save me no end of staring at a blank screen. You know how it is.

Happy Wordsmithing!

What Makes a Good Book

As writers, it’s our job to write good books. Knowing what makes a book good helps enormously in that task. We must keep in mind that books are, first and foremost, consumer goods; they’re there to fill specific needs. Each reader has their own needs, but I think that the majority of the reading populace have a few needs in common. Today, I will be taking a look at the three most common reasons people pick up books at the store and explaining how to work these elements into your stories.

1) Story

This may seem like a ‘duh’ point, but a great deal of books out there have surprisingly shoddy or even nonexistent plots. When examining the quality of the story in your book, these are the things readers will be looking for:

  • Predictability: Does your book follow a ‘tried and true’ format, risking the possibility of boring the audience with a storyline they can guess the flow of? Or is it unexpected at every turn? Whichever it uses, or whatever degree of predictability it has, does it work? Does the author use reader expectations to their advantage?
  • Tightness: How tightly woven is the plot? Does everything tie together in glorious, mind-blowing ways (think epic plot twists and shocking revelations)? Is it loose, flopping around with no direction? Is it somewhere in between? Does its degree of tightness work for that story? (A YA contemporary novel set during summer break will have a great deal more slack than an adult thriller set over the course of a week.)
  • Bunny Trails: What a lot of authors don’t realize is that bunny trails can be great for boosting reader’s understanding of the characters and world, adding to the sense of reality they’re trying to create. They can also give the readers a breather from tension, so as not to overtax their emotions–if a reader feels too much stress, they will put the book down. Does the story contain bunny trails? If so, do the bunny trails help reveal/develop characters or deepen the world? Or are they just there to make the book longer? If there are no bunny trails, does the omission work in favor of the book?
  • Genre/Type: What kind of story is the book trying to tell? Is it succeeding? Why or why not?

2) Characters

The second thing we look for in a book are great/memorable characters that feel real to us. When looking at your book’s characters, examine:

  • Roundness: Are the characters round or flat? Does their degree of depth work in the book’s favor? You’re not going to give the same level of detail to a throwaway character that you will for the protagonist, and even major characters can be flat if that’s the sort of world they’re living in–this happens most often in dystopian.
  • Likability: Are the characters likable? Why or why not? If they aren’t does that detract from the story? Does it make sense? Sherlock Holmes is an unlikable character, aloof, cold, emotionless–but it fits. His mind is analytical, so it wouldn’t make sense for emotions to carry much weight with him.
  • Relatability: Are the characters relatable? Why or why not? Does their relatability make sense? We ought to relate rather closely to a character in a contemporary setting, but a character in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled world should be relatable only on a rather basic level.

3) Escape Factor

The third and final thing the majority of readers want from their books is an escape factor. They want to be whisked away from their mundane lives and given a grand adventure, whatever form that may take.

  • Does this book allow readers to escape?
  • How deep into the book are they able to escape while reading it?
  • How enjoyable is this escape?
  • Are there any points at which the story itself interrupts the escape? (i.e. Mentions Harry Potter in a world where we had assumed those books didn’t exist.)
  • Would they escape into this book again? Why?

For the escape, it’s best to collect a number of opinions from a group of beta readers–a large group. The average of those opinions ought to give you a good idea of how you did and how you can do better. Don’t be discouraged, though! In the history of literature, there has never been a perfect book, so don’t try to be the first. Just write the best book you can, and revel in the journey.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you found this helpful. Do you agree that these traits are what most readers look for? What, in your opinion, makes a good book?

Happy Wordsmithing!

When Your Words Seem Inconsequential

Those days are the worst. When you look back over your plot notes, character sketches, and a few attempts at a beginning, and you get the creeping sense that maybe the world doesn’t need it. When you remember that you’re just one person in an endless sea of words, and you’re afraid they’re going to drown yours out. Yeah, those days are pretty bad.

Unless you decide to fight back.

Who else is going to tell this story? Who else has your voice? Who else sees the world the way you do? Who is you but you?

No one.

That may sound like a bunch of airy-fairy crap, but it’s true. (Not counting doppelgängers, of course.) Every writer is different, so it follows that their stories will be different as well. The days I described above usually happen when we compare ourselves and our work to others. But if all of us are different, what use is it to compare our stories to ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the ‘Hunger Games’, or ‘Harry Potter’? Or ourselves to those authors? None. Your words are yours and no one else’s. If you believe in them, work with them, make them grow, they will have weight and meaning with your readers.

Not so inconsequential now, eh?

We all have those days. It’s up to you whether you’ll give in to doubt and fear or push back with all your might, sitting down to write that day anyway. Your words are powerful. It’s just a matter of getting them down on paper. Don’t give up on your stories. Revive the spark that inspired you, that one thing you loved about that idea, and keep going. You’ll get there. And when you do, your readers will make you wonder how you ever doubted your writing’s worth at all.

What bad days have you had? What was your response? Did you have help pushing past the fear? Or did you give yourself a breather? Put your answers in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you found this post helpful.

Happy Wordsmithing!

How to Pursue Your Passion Stress-Free… Full-time

I recently discovered an article about how writers can feasibly quit the nine-to-five jobs they hate and write full-time while at the same time getting rid of most of the stress we associate with adulthood. Before I go any further, a disclaimer: this option is not for everyone. While I’m going crazy over this discovery of mine, it can be a radical change, and some people will never feel comfortable with it, so keep that in mind as I share with you what I’ve been learning so voraciously about over the past few days.

It’s a different way of living that can be summed up in two words: tiny houses. Usually built on a trailer bed to be acceptable by law, these houses are mobile, a bit like RVs but built to last as long as traditional houses with all the personalization of a full-time residence, which they are to many of the people who own them.

These houses, while not a new concept, have experienced a resurgence in recent years. That’s because of the growing disproportion of housing space to the number of residents, leading to a number of high living costs. While American families become smaller, the houses grow bigger. Why? Because we’re chasing the American Dream; wealth enough that we can buy lots of stuff to fill huge houses. Contrary to popular belief, material wealth doesn’t make us happier. When we take a good hard look at what does make us happy, we find family, friends, and a magical little thing called purpose–and that’s what the tiny house movement is all about.

See, when you live in a space that ranges from 350-800 square feet, everything you own must be useful, and every inch of the house must have either functional living space or storage. Everything about the house and in the house must be intentional. No accumulating countless pieces of crap you never use, no leaving clothes on the floor or items strewn randomly through the living room, no wasting space.

What all this comes down to is a small space filled with only the things you need. In turn, this space ought to be fully personalized so the occupant loves being there, and all the costs decrease dramatically, from construction to living. For starters, there’s less materials to buy, smaller appliances, less construction time (which also makes DIY feasible for more people, with a little guidance), and only the features you need and want will go into the house. Heating and cooling becomes much more efficient, there is no frivolous spending of which to speak–there’s simply no room for unwanted/useless items–and mortgage is non-existent because loans are unnecessary.

So where does that leave writers?

With an affordable space to call their own in which they are able to block out distractions and just write without other constraints on their time, because really, living is inexpensive, especially if you’re willing to get creative. Need fruits and vegetables to add in to your meals? Plant a garden. Don’t want to waste precious water from your tank on sewage? Use a composting toilet. Need power? Solar panels with a battery storage system can keep you off the grid when combined with energy-saving habits.

Downsizing is probably the hardest part of the process for us materialistic Americans, but it’s so freeing. I know from personal experience because I’ve already begun! I plan on having my own tiny house in a few years, and so I am sorting out everything I know I don’t use and won’t need. I can’t believe how much crap I’ve gathered and left to collect dust in the corners of my closet alone!

Like I said before, this isn’t for everyone, but I encourage you to seriously consider this because it’s a viable option for those of us who simply can’t working just to keep a house and want more time to focus on the things that matter. That’s what makes living in a tiny house so much less stressful–you find yourself on sound financial footing with more time to do what you love and be with the people you love in a house that’s entirely intentional.

Sounds like a good life to me.

So what do you think? Are tiny houses an appealing option for people who want to write full-time? Are you beginning to consider the possibilities of such a home for yourself? What are the features you’d most want in the writer’s mobile bungalow of your dreams?

(You can view the article I found here for more information about tiny houses.)

Thanks for reading! I hope you found this post helpful.

Happy Wordsmithing!

Writing Bravely

…Is hard. Really, really, REALLY hard. Why? For starters, we’re afraid–being brave pretty much requires fear. What are we afraid of? Making people unhappy. One of our most basic desires is to please other people. We want to be liked, even loved, by everyone we encounter, even though that’s an impossibility. When we write bravely, we risk making people dislike us. If you’re taking a firm stance on a subject, there will be someone who vehemently disagrees with you, usually in anger. If you try something different in fiction, whether it be a different type of story, combining two previously separate story types, a new element in a story type, a different perspective, whatever, there will be someone who doesn’t like it.

But that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Because if you’re writing for the right reasons, the world’s opinion of you won’t matter. Sure, you’ll hope that people enjoy it, find meaning in it, and value it, and the lack of such reactions will sting, but it isn’t your main focus. Your focus is on the writing. On doing something new, something exciting, something you love.

Also, the only way something great can be written is if the author is willing to look foolish. If the writer is so wrapped up in the audience’s opinion that they are unwilling to try something unexpected, they’ll end up writing the stories that have been written before. In some cases, they’ll be paralyzed, unable to write a word. We’ve all been there. I struggle with it every day. But in order to achieve something truly special, we have to be willing to push past it, to fight the fear and do what we love in spite of it.

Because when we do, great things can happen.

For instance, I never thought I could get even a small group of people to care a mite about anything I said. Here I am, writing to a small crowd, doing my best to communicate everything I know about the craft and the art of writing, and you know what? With every post, I feel the fear a little less.

I know it might seem laughable, but it’s actually a huge deal to me, not only that I’ve found a way to combat my fear, but that you all have seen fit to stick with me over months of inconsistency because there was something in my content, in my words, that you found worth reading. And that’s the one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

That is what vulnerability looks like. I told you something I never thought I’d share. Allowing ourselves to be seen and heard is exactly what happens when we write bravely. Opening our souls and our minds to criticism is difficult, but it’s necessary if we ever hope to write something beautiful and true.

This post isn’t instructive, but I hope you found it helpful! If you have anything to share, feel free. What are your biggest fears about writing? Do you have any stories of triumph to share? Any failures, spectacular or otherwise? Thank you so much for reading, and have a fabulous day!

Happy Wordsmithing!