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Here’s How to Focus on Your Writing

Over the weekend, I was working on a book project. I’ve been working on it for almost a year and desperately need to finish it. But when I sat down to work on it, suddenly everything became more interesting than the writing on the screen in front of me. It was hard to focus on writing and not the millions of distractions at my fingertips.

I stared at the wood table for too long before picking up my phone and texting back everyone I hadn’t in the last six months. I stared out the window, got a refill on my coffee, and then finally wrote maybe thirty words.

5 Things You Need to Focus On Writing

If you’re struggling to finish all of your writing projects, you’re not alone. I almost always get questions about how I focus long enough to actually accomplish all of the writing I need to get done. So for the sake of all our writing careers, I’m going to try to answer that in today’s post.

1. You Need Real Paper

Computers are incredible. They have made our lives so much easier, but when it comes to focusing, paper is necessary.

When we write, our minds have a million thoughts running through them. How do I want to organize this chapter? What are my main points? Have I already introduced this character? I’ve found that real paper and a real pen give me more power to answer all these questions and allows me to better focus on the writing when I do turn to my laptop.

2. You Need Time

The best way to focus is to give yourself a lot of time. My favorite article about this is written by Cal Newport, which explains the concept of Deep Work. There is a great benefit to taking two or three hours with zero distractions to get work done.

We focus best when we know we have an entire morning or afternoon to dive into a project. When you write, you delve into another world. You need an extended period of time to refresh yourself with where you left off and where you want to go.

3. You Need Deadlines

Deadlines and I have a serious love/hate relationship. Without them, I get nothing done, but with them, I’m often miserable. However, at the end of the day I need to pay rent and buy food, so deadlines it is.

Don’t just set deadlines for weeks and months in advance; set deadlines for what you will accomplish before lunch. You will focus better knowing exactly what you need to do before you get out of your chair.

4. You Need a Pattern

Before I established a pattern in my writing life I was lucky to roll out of bed before 10 am. I worked when I felt like it and didn’t accomplish a lot. But when I did finally establish a pattern, my whole writing life changed.

Establishing a pattern will help you write more consistently. There’s even research that proves famous writers’ sleeping habits lead to productivity and more focus. (I’m in.) Either way, we are creatures of habit and focus when we are consistent in our lives.

5. You Need a Place

You’re a creative, which means sitting in a cubicle will probably kill you. I wrote a post a while back about the importance of finding your place to write. Finding a place you know you can focus on writing is the key to getting the writing done.

Focusing Takes Practice

Although I always picture myself typing away furiously, crafting word after word into beautiful sentences, it never looks like that. About sixty percent of my time is spent staring out windows, counting the clouds, and wondering if these books will write themselves.

15 French Words and Phrases That Don’t Mean That in French

This post lists a number of words and phrases used in English that are derived from French but are no longer employed with the same idiomatic sense in French (if they ever were). Each term is followed by the literal French translation, a brief definition, and a comment about its status in French and how the French language conveys the idiom.

1. au jus (“with juice”): a brothlike meat sauce (the phrase is often incorrectly treated on menus as “with au jus”)—obsolete in French except for the slang phrase être au jus (roughly, “be with juice”)

2. cause célèbre (“celebrated cause”): controversial or emotionally weighted issue—obsolete in French, but originally referred to a sensational or unusual legal decision or trial.

3. demimonde (“half world”): fringe group or subculture, or prostitutes as a class—obsolete in French, though une demi-mondaine refers to a prostitute (in English, demimondaine is synonymous with “kept woman”)

4. double entendre (“double to hear”): a comment that can have a second, often provocative, connotation—faulty grammar in French, which uses à double sens (“double sense”)

5. en masse (“in a masse”): all together—in French, refers to a physical grouping, so when using that language, one would not refer to a chorus of voices as being en masse

6. encore (“again”): additional songs played after the scheduled end of a concert, or a call for such an extended performance—in French, “Une autre! (“Another!”)

7. en suite (“as a set”): usually refers to a bedroom and bathroom connected to each other—not used as such in French

8. esprit de l’escalier (“wit of the stairs”): a witty comment one thinks of only after the opportunity to share it has passed (when one is departing a social occasion)—nearly obsolete in French

9. in lieu (“in place of”): instead of—a partial translation; in French, au lieu

10. legerdemain (“light of hand”): deception in stage magic—not used in French

11. marquee (“awning”): sign above a venue announcing the featured entertainment—not used in French

12. passé (“past,” “passed,” or “faded”): unfashionable—in French, passé de mode (“way of the past”)

13. piéce de resistance (“a piece that resists”): the best, or the main dish or main item—in French, plat de résistance (“dish that resists”)

14. rouge (“red”): blusher, or red makeup—in French, fard à joues (though lipstick of any color is rouge à lèvres)

15. venue (“arrival”)—location—not used as such in French

By Mark Nichol

Source: dailywritingtips

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Fiction Writing Exercises for Stimulating Creativity

Do you ever feel like the story you’re writing is bland? Like it needs to be spiced up? Or maybe you want to write a story but you’re fresh out of ideas.

Fiction writing exercises are perfect for toning your storytelling muscles. They can also provide you with a wealth of ideas for writing projects.

Today’s fiction writing exercises are designed to stimulate creativity and get you thinking about storytelling from fresh angles.

Stimulate Your Creativity with These Fiction Writing Exercises

Below, you’ll find a list of simple scenarios. Each one could form the basis for a story. Your job is to come up with three story premises for each scenario. Be creative and try to avoid the most obvious premises.

Let’s use the following scenario as an example:

While hiking alone in the woods, a character comes face to face with a bear.

The obvious premise might show the hiker getting attacked by the bear or dropping and rolling to avoid getting attacked by the bear, but how could you put an unexpected twist on this scenario? Maybe the bear and the hiker strike up a conversation (fantasy or children’s literature). Maybe the bear is sick and weak, so the hiker decides to nurse it back to health. Maybe the bear isn’t a bear at all. Could it be someone in a bear suit?

Instructions:

For each scenario below, come up with three different premises that could be used to build a story. Try to stretch your story premises across a range of genres, including literary fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, horror, romance, historical, humor, satire, children’s, and young adult. And if you want to come up with more than three premises, go for it!

Scenarios:

  • A cruise ship gets caught in a storm, veers off course, and then sinks far from the mainland, but many of the passengers survive and make it to a deserted island.
  • A man and a woman are sitting across from each other at a small table in a dimly lit restaurant.
  • A family watches as their cat gives birth to a litter of nine kittens.
  • Moments after arriving home from a long and difficult day at work, a character is shocked when the police show up with an arrest warrant.
  • In a mid-sized town, somebody is dressing in disguise and fighting crime — a real-life superhero or a masked vigilante?

Feel free to change these scenarios or mix them up. Maybe instead of a cat having kittens, the family’s dog is having puppies. Maybe the character who is served with an arrest warrant is either the man or woman who was dining in the dimly lit restaurant.

If you try any of these fiction writing exercises, come back and tell us how they worked for you.

Source: writingforward

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The Obsolete Narrative Devices Support Group

Lights come up slowly to full fluorescence on a room, drab and industrial in décor, one wall cracked in several places. Empty chairs are arranged in an uneven circle: after a moment, figures drift in and take their seats. Last to arrive is the THERAPIST, clad head to toe in black, carrying a small clipboard and sporting the sort of smile which makes small children fear what’s good for them.

THERAPIST: Hello everybody! I’d like to start today’s session with—

A thin, nervous figure puts up his hand, clearing his throat repeatedly.

OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: Excuse me? Please? Begging your pardon?

THERAPIST: [sighing] Yes, Opening Title Sequence?

OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: [clearing throat weakly once again] It’s just that I usually start the meeting—

THERAPIST: Yes, yes, I know. But you must understand: it’s not actually helping you, to keep doing this. As I’ve said before, you really need to find another way, if you’re going to become relevant again, yeah?

OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: Next week. I’ll do something different next week.

THERAPIST: All right. Go on, then. But this is the last time, mind. Technically, you shouldn’t even be here. This is a support group for literary narrative devices, not TV.

OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: [singing ecstatically to sudden cheesy music] Duh-doo-doo-doo-doo / bum-de-dum / be-bop-a-loo-la / it’s the narrative device support group show / dum-de-dum-dum-dum / we’ll tell you what you gotta know / yeah!

OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: And there’s telling, not showing, if ever I heard it.

THERAPIST: Thank you, Omniscient 3rd Person Narrator. Might I remind you this is a safe space: we do not comment on our fellow members, no matter how smart we think we are.

OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: Sorry. It’s a habit.

PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: Yes please!

EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: Why does she always get to go first?

PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: Um, duuh!

THERAPIST: Now, now. Be nice.

EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: It’s not even like she’s even fully obsolete! People still use backward-looking prologues all the time!

PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: Maybe that’s because I’m not super lazy and unimaginative, unlike some devices I could mention?

OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: Oh, for Christ’s sake. Who writes this stuff?

THERAPIST: Enough! Prologue From The Future, please continue.

PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: So what I did was, I decided to step into the shoes of an Unreliable Narrator…

Everyone groans.

CONTINUOUS PAST TENSE: I was wondering who was going to hop on the Unreliable Narrator bandwagon this week.

OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: They may be flavour of the month, but it’ll never last.

CONTINUOUS PAST TENSE: I was thinking that myself.

PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: [clears throat before reading loudly and smugly] ‘If only I’d told the truth about the man with the gun, Ermintrude would not have died. But that is assuming that the truth is more than just one version of events, and my part in this is anything but a fiction…’

Discontented murmurs break out amongst the rest of the group.

EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: But that’s not fair! She’s still being a prologue from the future!

EPISTOLARY NOVEL: Hello! I hope you know she’s just taking liberties with the exercise and using it to bolster her own profile! Sincerely!

THERAPIST: [holding up one hand] Yes, but you can’t deny that she’s also being unreliable, right?

Further discontented murmurs ripple through the room, reluctantly acknowledging this to be true.

THERAPIST: What can we learn from this? Perhaps that in order to succeed, we must build on our own unique talents, yes? Bearing in mind that we are here to cope with changes in literary fashions, with a view to becoming relevant again?

Grudging assent sounds through the group.

THERAPIST: For instance, let’s go to you, Epistolary Novel. Whose shoes did you step into this week?

EPISTOLARY NOVEL: Dear me. Well, this week, I’m going to be…

Suddenly, GRATUITOUS SUSPENSE leaps up from his seat and starts screaming and flicking the lights on and off.

THERAPIST: Gratuitous Suspense, sit DOWN!

EPISTOLARY NOVEL: …a text message!

CONTINUOUS PAST TENSE: [snorting with derision] Like nobody saw THAT coming.

EPISTOLARY NOVEL: But that’s not all! I have a whole section from a Facebook comment thread too!

EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: I thought I’d try being a red herring. Do I get extra credit?

Suddenly a crash sounds: the room shakes and heaves, and the entire group is showered in dust.

THERAPIST: Oh my God! The wall!

OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: What’s the problem? Three of them look fine.

THERAPIST: But the one behind you has fallen to pieces! Who broke the fourth wall?

ONE-LINER BOB stands, and looks directly at you. A drumroll sounds, and he says…

ONE-LINER BOB: Badum-tish!

Source: tarasparlingwrites

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How to Start a Novel Right: 5 Great Tips

It’s said that in life, there are two types of people: those who look at the glass as half empty, and those who see it as half full. But for those of us who’ve set the goal of starting a novel, I think it really comes down to how we view the blank page: those of us who find it exciting—full of possibility, hope, even adventure—and those who see it as intimidating—capable of inducing guilt, anxiety, even dread.

If we’re being honest, we can probably all admit to having shifted between the two camps from time to time. It’s just too easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task.

But what better time to remedy that than at the beginning of a new year, a sort of metaphorical blank page itself? That’s where the January 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine comes in Whether you’ve been looking for the best advice on how to start a novel, trying to find ways to rejuvenate a stalled draft, or looking to take your revision across the finish line, this issue is designed to strip away any intimidation until only the excitement of the blank page remains.

It was such a pure pleasure to put together this issue that I wanted to share some of my favorite tips from its pages here.

5 Great Tips for Starting a Novel Right

1. When planning your story’s structure, start with this no-fail method: Create a Doorway of No Return for your protagonist before the 1/5 mark of your book. Everything leading up to that doorway should, well, lead up to that doorway. Look at your own novel-in-progress:

  • Have you given us a character with following?
  • Have you created a disturbance for that character in the opening pages?
  • Have you established the stakes (the higher the better) for the story?
  • Have you created a scene that will force the character into the conflict/confrontation central to the plot?
  • Is that scene strong enough—to the point that your character cannot resist walking through that doorway (or has no choice but to do so)?

2. At the beginning of your story, include minimal backstory. In her article “Weaving a Seamless Backstory,” novelist Karen Dionne offers this light bulb moment of insight:

Including backstory in the opening pages is the same as saying to the reader, ‘Wait a minute—hold on. Before I tell you the story, first there’s something about these characters and this situation that you need to know.’

In actuality, there’s very little readers need to know about our characters’ history and motivations that they won’t learn over the course of the book. Interrupting our story to tell the reader about something that happened *before* it began works against the very thing we’re trying so hard to accomplish: engaging the readers and sweeping them up into the world of our novel.

I love showing authors how they’re unwittingly sabotaging their stories up front and then watching their light bulbs go off, because the problem has such an easy fix: All they have to do is isolate the instances of unnecessary backstory, and take them out.

3. To deepen your descriptions, add character-defining sensory details. For example:

No: She was wearing Chanel No. 5.

Yes: She was wearing Chanel No. 5 like in the old days, he noticed—that sophisticated, mind-coat-and-diamonds fragrance that always quickened his pulse.

4. Make secondary characters significant. In her excellent feature article in the latest Writer’s Digest, longtime fiction editor Lisa Rector suggests brainstorming what meaningful thing a minor character might do or say that could impact the outcome of your story. Then, make sure at least one such significant moment between that character and your protagonist occurs early in your story (ideally with others following throughout the narrative). “Characters that are inactive in the opening scenes tend to remain so,” she explains. “In general it’s far more effective to have fewer characters do more.

5. Instead of “write what you know,” try writing what you feel. In an exclusive interview with WD, bestselling Jack Reacher creator Lee Child explains:

The worst [writing advice] is probably Write what you know. Especially in this market. In the thriller genre, for instance, nobody knows anything that’s worth putting in. There are three people in the world who have actually lived this stuff. And so it’s not about what you know. [Write] what you feel is really excellent advice. Because if you substitute Write what you feel, then you can expand that into—if you’re a parent, for instance, especially if you’re a mother, I bet you’ve had an episode where for five seconds you lost your kid at the mall. You turn around, your kid is suddenly not there, and for five seconds your heart is in your mouth and you turn the other way, and there he is. So you’ve gotta remember the feel of those five seconds—that utter panic and disorientation. And then you blow that up: It’s not five seconds, it’s five days—your kid has been kidnapped, your kid is being held by a monster. You use what you feel and expand it, right up as far as you can, and that way you get a sort of authenticity.

Source: writersdigest

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How to Structure a Killer Novel Ending

There are more than a few writers and teachers out there, many of them orders of magnitude more famous than I am (not hard to do), who don’t like to compartmentalize or even attempt to define the sequential parts and essential milestones of a story’s plot structure. Too formulaic, they say. Takes the fun and creativity out of it, they claim. A write-by-the-numbers strategy for hacks, a vocal few plead.

When they do talk about how to write a book and, more specifically, story structure, they tend to dress it up with descriptions that are less engineering-speak in nature—“the hero’s journey” … “the inciting incident” … “the turn”—and are more appropriate to a lit class at Oxford. Makes them sound—or more accurately, feel—more writerly. Or perhaps they just aren’t used to accessing their left brain for this very right-
brained thing we call storytelling.

What’s interesting is that the stories these writers create, especially if they’re published, and especially the stories they use as examples in their teaching, follow pretty much the same structural paradigm. And given that this isn’t an exact science, that puts them in this left-brained ballgame whether they want to wear the uniform or not.

None of how story structure is labeled out there in workshop land is inherently wrong, nor does it really matter. What you call it is far less important than how you implement it. And even before that, the extent to which you understand it.

Thank God for screenwriters. Because they call it like it is. In fact, most of them think Oxford is a loafer.

The Four Parts of Effective Storytelling

I prefer to call story structure what it is: four parts, four unique contexts and discrete missions for the scenes in them, divided by two major plot points and a midpoint. Call them plot twists if you want to; the folks at Oxford won’t know. Throw in a compelling hero’s need and quest. Then formidable obstacles that block the hero’s path. A couple of pinch points. A hero who learns and grows, someone we can empathize with and root for. Scenes that comprise the connective tissue among them all.

Then execute all of it in context to a fresh and compelling conceptual idea, a clear thematic intention, an interesting worldview, and a clever take on the plot.

I dunno, it all sounds pretty creative to me.

In other words, a blueprint for storytelling. One that, when understood and marinated in artful nuance and dished with clean writing, becomes nothing less than the Holy Grail, the magic pill of writing a novel or a screenplay.

Not remotely easy. But perhaps for the first time, eminently clear. Then we come to Part 4: the finale of your story. And guess what? There is no blueprint for it. And no rules, either. Well, OK, there’s one.

Guidelines for a Compelling Ending

The one rule of Part 4—the resolution of your story—is that no new expositional information may enter the story once it has been triggered. If something appears in the final act, it must have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play. This includes characters.

Aside from that one tenet, punishable by rejection slip if you dismiss it, you’re on your own to craft the ending of your story. And in so doing, the enlightened writer observes the following guidelines and professional preferences.

GUIDELINE 1: The Hero is a Catalyst.
The hero of the story should emerge and engage as the primary catalyst in Part 4. He needs to step up and take the lead. He can’t merely sit around and observe or just narrate, he can’t settle for a supporting role, and most of all, he can’t be rescued.

I’ve seen all these things, many times, in unpublished manuscripts. I’ve rarely seen one in a published book or produced movie. It happens, but never in a title anybody remembers.

GUIDELINE 2: The Hero Grows Internally.
The hero should demonstrate that he has conquered the inner demons that have stood in his way in the past. The emerging victory may have begun in Part 3, but it’s put into use by the hero in Part 4. Usually Part 3 shows the inner demon trying for one last moment of supremacy over the psyche of the hero, but this becomes the point at which the hero understands what must be done differently moving forward, and then demonstrates that this has been learned during the Part 4 dénouement.

The hero applies that inner learning curve, which the reader has witnessed over the course of the story, toward an attack on the exterior conflict that has heretofore blocked the path.

Guideline 3: A New and Better Hero Emerges.
The hero should demonstrate courage, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, even brilliance in setting the cogs in motion that will resolve the story. This is where the protagonist earns the right to be called a hero.

The more the reader feels the ending through that heroism—which depends on the degree to which you’ve emotionally vested the reader prior to Part 4—the more effective the ending will be. This is the key to a successful story, the pot of gold at the end of your narrative rainbow. If you can make the reader cry, make her cheer and applaud, make her remember, make her feel, you’ve done your job as a storyteller.

If you can cause all of those emotions to surface, you just might have a book contract on your hands.

A Plan for Part 4’s Execution

Here’s the real magic of Part 4. If you’ve done your job well in the first three quarters of your story, if you’ve plotted with powerful milestones that are in context to a compelling and empathetic hero’s quest and evolving arc, chances are you’ll intuitively know how your story needs to end when you get there. Or, if not intuitively, then after some serious introspection and long walks in the woods with a digital recorder.

And by “get there,” I’m not suggesting you write the first three parts and then see where you are.

Fact is—and this is for anyone who thinks what is recommended above sounds like organic storytelling development—unless you develop your story over the first three quartiles using your story’s key principles, parts and milestones as benchmarks, you’ll be more lost in Part 4 than you may even have realized. Only by having an executed story plan as a baseline for the perhaps somewhat slightly more organic unfolding of Part 4 does this process stand a chance.

That said, it’s better to plan Part 4 ahead of time, too. Even if you get a better idea for how to end your story along the way, this provides the richest landscape for that to happen.

What I’m saying is that you should strategize and plot all your main story points beforehand—even if you aren’t yet sure of your ending—and in the process of developing the first three parts you’ll find that the final  act begins to crystallize as part of the process.

If you engage in story planning through a series of drafts, rather than an outline, you’ll need to write enough drafts to finally understand what Part 4 should be. Same process, different tolerances for pain.

But there’s risk in that. If you are a drafter instead of a blueprinter (notice I didn’t say outliner—that’s a different process yet, one of several viable ways to plan a story), the likelihood of you settling for mediocrity is orders of magnitude greater. The prospect of rewriting the first 300 pages does that to a writer.

Why Structure Matters

Every once in a while you’ll read about a neophyte swimmer getting into trouble in deep water, and then, when a more experienced swimmer paddles out to help, he fights off the rescue with all his waning strength.

The thing about panic and resistance is that it can get you killed. What can kill you even quicker is not even knowing that you need rescuing.

The analogy hits home because every now and then, more often than you’d think, I encounter writers who just won’t accept the unimpeachable truth and validity of story structure. They fight it off as if their writing dream is being mugged. They reject it as formulaic and therefore unworthy. Maybe they once heard a famous author—one who doesn’t even realize the extent to which he is applying these principles in his work—talk about the spiritual, magical way he writes stories, sometimes actually bragging about all the rewriting he does to make it right.

Make no mistake, a rewrite is always a corrective measure. Nothing to brag about.

Virtually every published novel and produced screenplay is, in fact, a natural product of solid story architecture. Regardless of how it got there. To believe otherwise is like saying the aesthetic beauty of the halls of Versailles has nothing to do with poured concrete foundations and seamless masonry. With architecture. Or that, back in the day, there wasn’t an actual blueprint for it all. Or that the pouring of those foundations was a no-brainer to the extent it didn’t warrant intellectual energy of any kind.

These architectural atheists swear that writing a novel or a screenplay is, or should be, a process of random exploration, that their bliss resides in following characters down blind alleys and allowing them to set their own pace from there, with no real knowledge of where they’re going.

This is like saying the joy of playing golf is wandering around the course, crisscrossing fairways, club in hand, hitting balls at assorted greens as you please. I don’t dispute the inherent kick in such an approach. There’s an innate kick in a lot of things: drugs, alcohol, sex with ex-spouses, Russian roulette … but that doesn’t make them smart or productive.

Chances are, these folks are confusing process with product. If you’re only in it for the process, that’s one thing. Just don’t expect to get published within this century.

Writing without bringing a solid grasp of story structure to the keyboard is like doing surgery without having gone to medical school. You can write like Shakespeare in love and have the imagination of Tim Burton on crack, but if your stories aren’t built on solid and accepted structure—which means, you don’t get to invent your own structural paradigm—you’ll be wallpapering your padded cell with rejection slips.

I’m not saying you must outline your stories. That’s not what story structure means. What I am saying is that you do have to apply the principles of story structure to the narrative development process, outline or no outline. Organic or totally left-brained. At least, if you want to publish. That’s just a fact.

Source: writersdigest

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How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish

I’m working on a new short story. However, it’s been a while, and I’m feeling out of practice, like I have to figure out how to write a short story all over again.

To some extent, the process for writing a story is different each time. In the introduction to American Gods, Neil Gaiman quotes Gene Wolfe, who told him, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn to write the novel you’re on.”

This is true for short stories as well.

You never learn how to write a short story. You only learn to write the story you’re on.

And yet, there are certain patterns to writing a short story, patterns I think everyone follows in their own haphazard way. I’ll call them steps, but they’re more like general paths that may or may not apply to your story. Still, it’s these patterns that I want to present to you in hopes it will make your own short story writing easier.

At the same time, I’ve been presenting these rough steps to myself as I work on my own story. Good news: It’s coming along!

Requirements to Writing a Short Story

But before we begin, let’s quickly discuss three things you’ll need to write your short story. If you don’t have these, you should think twice before you begin:

  • Approximately ten to twenty hours of time. We all write at different paces, and depending on the length of your story (e.g. 200 word flash fiction vs. 5,000 word traditional short story) it might take five hours or fifty. But I’ve found that most short stories in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range take ten to twenty hours. Let me know how long yours take in the comments.
  • An idea. This guide assumes you already have an idea for a story, even if it’s just a basic sliver of an idea.

Writing devices or utensils. Okay, it’s obvious you need something to write with to finish a short story, but I needed a third point!

7 Steps to Write a Short Story

Ready to get writing? Here are seven steps on how to write a short story:

1. First, Write the Basic Story in One Sitting

It may seem silly to begin a list of steps on how to write a short story with a tip to “write the story,” but let me explain.

There are really two different kinds of stories. There is the art form, “short stories,” which comes complete with characters, plot, description, and style.

Then there’s the story, the funny, amusing, crazy story you’d tell a friend over a meal.

The story and the short story are not the same thing. The former is just a story, we tell them all the time. The latter is an art.

The first step to writing a short story is to write the former, the story, that version of the story that you would tell a friend.

And when you write it, be sure to write it in one sitting. Just tell the story. Don’t think about it too much, don’t go off to do more research, don’t take a break. Just get the story written down. Whenever I break this rule it takes me FOREVER to finish writing the story.

2. Next, Find Your Protagonist

After you’ve written the basic story, take a step back. You may feel extremely proud of your story or completely embarrassed. Ignore these feelings, as they bear no relation to how good or bad your story actually is or, more importantly, how good it will be.

The next step is to read through your story to find the protagonist.

Now, you may think you already know who your protagonist is, but depending on your story, this can actually be more tricky than you might think.

Your protagonist isn’t necessarily the narrator, nor is she necessarily the “good guy” in the story. Instead, the protagonist is the person who makes the decisions that drive the story forward.

Your protagonist centers the story, drives the plot, and his or her fate gives the story its meaning. As you move forward in the writing process, it’s important to choose the right protagonist.

3. Then, Write the Perfect First Line

Great first lines have the power to entice your reader enough that it would be unthinkable to set your story down. If you want to hook your reader, it starts with writing the perfect first line.

here are five quick tips:

  • Like the opening of a film, invite us into the scene.
  • Surprise us.
  • Establish a voice.
  • Be clear.
  • See if you can tell the entirety of your story in a single sentence.

4. Break the Story Into a Scene List

Every story is composed of a set of scenes which take place in a specific place and time. A scene list keeps track of your scenes, helping you organize your story and add detail and life at each step.

Scene lists do two main things:

  • Provide structure to your story
  • Show you which parts need more work

You don’t have to follow your scene list exactly, but they definitely help you work through your story, especially if your writing over multiple sittings.

5. Only Now Should You Research

If you’re like me, you want to start researching as soon as you get an idea so that you can pack as much detail into the story as possible. The problem is that if you research too soon, what you find will distort your story, causing it to potentially break under the weight of what you’ve learned.

Other writers never research, which can leave their story feeling fuzzy and underdeveloped.

By waiting until your story is well on its way, you can keep it from getting derailed by the research process, and by this point you’ll also be able to ask very specific questions about your story rather than following tangents wherever they take you.

So go fill in that scene list with some hard, cold facts!

6. Write/Edit/Write/Edit/Write/Edit

It’s time to get some serious writing done.

Now that you know who your protagonist is, have the perfect first line, have created your scene list, and have done your research, it’s time to finally get this story written.

We all write differently. Some write fast in multiple drafts, others write slow and edit as they go. I’m not going to tell you how you should be writing. Whatever works for you, just get it done.

7. Publish!

I firmly believe publishing is the most important step to becoming a writer. That’s why I’ll tell you that once your story is finally written, it’s not finished until it’s published.

Now, you don’t necessarily need to get published by Glimmer Train or Narrative. Instead, what if you got feedback from a writing friend or even by our Becoming Writer community?

If you want your short story to be as good as it can be, get feedback—first from a small group of friends or other writers, and then from a larger community of readers.

The worst thing you can do for your story is to hide it away out of fear or even feigned indifference.

Now, go get your story out into the world.

The Only Short Story They’ll Ever Read

As you write your short story, I want you to ask yourself a question:

What if this is the only story someone ever reads written by you? How will you give it everything you have?

Annie Dillard said:

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

Don’t hold back. Don’t save ideas. Don’t write something you feel you should write.

Instead, write something that is wholly you, a story so bound to your soul that it would be impossible to mistake it for the work of another writer.

In other words, don’t write the best story. Write your best story.

And above all, have fun. 🙂

Do you like to write short stories? What is your favorite part? Let me know in the comments!

by Joe Bunting

Source: thewritepractice

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7 Time Management Lessons From People Who Write A Novel In A Month

Every November thousands of people participate in National Novel Writing Month. Here’s how they accomplish big goals in a short time.

Every November, several hundred thousand people sign up for a crazy goal: They want to crank out a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel in 30 days. National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” for short, was started by Chris Baty in 1999 to provide support for fellow writers trying to cross “write a novel” off their bucket lists. The stunt has produced a lot of novels, but beyond that, it’s taught participants some important time management lessons. Here are seven that can help you achieve big goals of all kinds, even if you’re not trying to write a novel this month:

1. Accomplishing Amazing Things Doesn’t Require An Infinite Amount Of Time.

Writing 50,000 words in a month requires writing just under 1,700 words per day. Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo, will be participating for the sixth time this year. He’s figured out that 1,700 words requires writing for about two hours. “Now when I think of the month, I think of doing two hours per day, or 60 hours for the month,” he says.

The good news is that 60 hours over a 720-hour month isn’t that much. “I feel like it’s very doable,” he says. Many big goals have similarly limited requirements. If you’re already a runner, you can train for a marathon in fewer than 10 hours per week over 16 weeks. These are numbers you can get your head around.

2. Time Is Elastic.

So how do you find two hours a day? Faulkner advises people to “go on a time hunt.” For a week, write down every single thing you do  “Get a really good idea of how you spend your time. Most people really don’t know,” he says. You putter around with the mail pile for 15 minutes while dinner is cooking. You lose 30 minutes following links your friends post on Facebook.

Sure, you may have to give something up, but it may not be something important. Divya Breed, an engineer and writer who attempted NaNoWriMo a few years ago, tells me that the month did “prove to me that Life Without TV wasn’t going to destroy my morale.”

3. Small Bits Of Time Add Up.

In her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time, journalist Brigid Schulte claims that for many working parents, free time comes in bits of “time confetti”–a few minutes here and there. But time is still time. Says Faulkner, “I’m very inspired by the story of Toni Morrison.” As a single working mom of two, she carved out a few minutes to write before bed. She cranked out The Bluest Eye in that time.

Few of us have the Nobel laureate’s talent or drive. But “it’s about finding those nooks and crannies of time,” Faulkner says. If he told himself “I will write when I have those two hours of uninterrupted time in my peaceful office,” it would never happen. But he can wake up 15 minutes early, or sit in a parking lot for 10 minutes and write. The ten minutes between conference calls are completely usable if you’ve got big goals, even if most people just check email instead.

4. Inner Critics Waste Hours.

Divya Breed made it to 37,000 words by the end of November, which was a longer work of fiction than she’d ever created before. Alas, at 13,000 words short of the NaNoWriMo requirement, she didn’t feel elated. But then a year later, as she contemplated trying again, she read her mostly-written draft. “For a first draft, and a rushed one at that, it wasn’t half bad,” she wrote in a guest post on the KreativeHaus blog.

“Huh. Maybe this whole ‘shut the inner critic up and just write’ attitude really worked. Maybe it wasn’t a wasted effort after all.” That kick in the pants helped her finish some short stories, and she’s now been published (see her short story, Strange Attractors, at Daily Science Fiction).

5. Failing Fast Is Efficient.

Nothing comes of most NaNoWriMo novels, but that’s not a bad thing. “I view it as a great time to experiment with creativity,” says Faulkner. “I have one burning novel idea each year. This is a really efficient way to test that idea.” In 50,000 words, you can tell if a novel is worth pursuing to completion. If it isn’t, “it’s only a month out of my life,” he says. That’s better than spending five years tinkering with something you’ll never be happy with.

6. Small Progress Is Motivational.

Jennifer Bowden did NaNoWriMo in 2013. She and her husband both worked full-time, and he was in graduate school, “so our evening hours and weekends felt off-limits so we could spend some time together with our kids,” she says. “I ended up doing most of my writing in bed after the kids went to sleep. I bought a cheap plastic lap desk at Michael’s and left my laptop on the bedside table, and I absolutely refused to go to sleep until I’d written 500 words. This was a ridiculously small goal for each night but I found that this was my own personal ‘hump.’ If I could get to 500 I could usually get to at least 1,500, and there were quite a few nights that I felt really inspired and just kept writing until my eyes blurred.” She ultimately hit 57,000 words by the end of the month.

7. Saying No Is Okay.

When you have a big goal, you may need to turn down opportunities or invitations, or let go of a few responsibilities. Sometimes people feel guilty about this, but people who care about you will likely support you, especially if there’s an end in sight. Says Faulkner, “We always tell people to tell your friends and family you’re going to do this ahead of time. You set expectations: I’m pursuing one of my creative dreams in November, and I really need your help.”

Even good habits can be bent for a while. Bowden says “I usually get nine hours of sleep a night so a whole month of late nights was hard. But I found that because I was losing sleep over something that I loved and wanted to be doing, it didn’t seem to hit me as hard physically as it would if I were doing something I really didn’t want to, like studying for an exam.” It wasn’t sustainable long term, “but 30 days felt like something I could handle.” And in the end, if you have a novel or completed another big goal, it will all be worthwhile.

By Laura Vanderkam

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10 Tips for Marketing Your Book

Before you can sell your book, you need to market it. Here are 10 tips:

  1. First, identify your book’s target audience. Many authors make the mistake of thinking everyone is a potential reader, when in reality, some people are more likely to purchase the book than others. Would your book appeal more to females or males? What age range best represents your readers? Where do they live? What kind of activities do they pursue? The more you can narrow your focus, the easier it will be to locate your audience and promote your book
  2. Market and promote your book locally, then gradually expand your efforts. Create advertisements, such as business cards, posters and fliers,  that will catch your target audiences’ eye and that can be used on all levels.  However, as a general rule, promoting your book locally is your best bet.  Regional and national media will not be interested in you or your book until you have generated local attention. It is much easier for new authors to gain attention from local media outlets—such as newspapers, television and radio.
  3. Create an “elevator pitch” about your book. An “elevator pitch” is a brief, focused message aimed toward a particular person or group that summarizes why they should be interested in your book. Your elevator pitch should be no longer than two or three sentences and should focus on your book’s selling points—those qualities that make it unique and special.
  4. Network, network, network. Positive word-of-mouth publicity is an essential part of any book marketing plan. Start by telling your friends and family about your book. Then broaden your reach to include coworkers and professional acquaintances. The next step for promoting your book might be to inform local organizations such as clubs, churches, synagogues and book clubs. You can also network over the Internet by searching for organizations interested in your book’s topic.
  5. Create a professional looking media kit. This public relations tool will allow you to have your materials well organized.  Before you can gain attention for your book, you should compile information about it that you can send out to the media. Your media kit should include a pitch letter introducing yourself and your book, an excerpt from your book or a copy of it, your author bio and photo, any positive endorsements or reviews you’ve received, sample interview questions and news articles or clippings related to your book’s topic. Your media kit will be the first impression that editors, producers, reviewers or reporters have of you and your book, so make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.
  6. Utilize one of the most effective marketing vehicles, the World Wide Web. The growth of the Internet has been advantageous to authors and publishers as it has presented new forums to find targeted groups of people, build awareness of books, and make purchasing fast and easy.  There are many Online Marketing tools available to you in order for you to best promote your book.
  7. When promoting your book to the media, pitch story ideas, not your book. Many authors make the mistake of merely telling the media that they’ve written a book, hoping for a book review or interview. Think about the types of interviews you hear on the radio or see on television and the articles you’ve read in newspaper and magazines. They are almost always centered on providing helpful information, and to a lesser degree, entertainment. If your book is nonfiction, think about the specialized information that it offers, then make a tip sheet that lists the top 10 ideas from your book. If your book is fiction, is there an interesting story behind why you wrote it? What makes you an expert on the subject?
  8. Always follow up. After you send out your media kits, don’t just wait for a response; following up with your recipients by phone is imperative. It’s much more difficult for someone to ignore you when you call them. Plus, contacting them more than once shows that you have persistence and drive. Don’t become a pest while promoting your book, though. If someone doesn’t respond after three contact attempts, it’s probably best to move on.
  9. Enter your book in competitions. Winning a competition is a major endorsement for your book; awards help with book publicity by verifying that your book is head and shoulders above many others. Start by looking for contests that don’t require steep entry fees or the submission of an inordinate number of books. There are also many contests related to specific genres like mystery or romance. It’s also best to find contests that are especially welcoming to independently published or print-on-demand books.
  10. Don’t give up. Promoting your book is not a task that you can do in a day, a week or even a month. Often, the fruits of your efforts won’t be immediately evident. It takes time and persistence to get your book noticed. Be prepared for some rejection, but remember to celebrate every achievement.

Source: iuniverse

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This is The Reason Book Marketing is Exhausting You and How to Fix That

Many writers are exhausted by book marketing — even those who haven’t released their book yet. Sometimes, simply the thought of where to begin can be enough to stop a writer from ever starting at all. What to do?

There are really three situations we find ourselves stuck in:

  • Analysis Paralysis: there are SO many options, you don’t know where to begin, so…you don’t. You research and talk to people and learn things, and go to webinars and chats and write about what you might do so that counts, right? But you haven’t taken any action or made any decisions. Yet. But you will. At some point. Soon. Key cause: you want to make the most right decision.
  • Procrastination: you’re thinking about starting to market your book, but you’re afraid of making the wrong choice, and if you do, then you’ve blasted your budget all to hell, and then, shit. You’re done. Life is over. So, it’s easier to do nothing and keep thinking about it. Key cause: fear is your greatest motivator.
  • Overwhelm: you know you should be marketing, so you do a little bit of this, and a lot of that, and oh, what about this? And, dang it, that looks good! And before you know it, you’ve forgotten what you have and haven’t done and nothing is really working, and you haven’t sold a damn thing, so meh, this book marketing thing sucks. Why am I even bothering? Key cause: lack of planning.

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s all pretty exhausting. I get it. Today I’m going to show you that it doesn’t have to be.

Let’s deconstruct.

Analysis Paralysis

Nobody wants to be ‘wrong,’ especially when it comes to marketing our books (babies). There are so many options, and it’s honestly quite difficult to know what’s ‘best,’ with all the shiny calls to ‘do this and sell 10 million copies for the low, low price of $49.99!’ and such. As an author since 2010, I get it. I’ve fallen for those easy-button sales pitches myself.

I’m not here to tell you what works and what doesn’t (see my BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge or past posts for that). This section discusses ways to pull you out of the feedback loop of constantly analyzing and achieving no results.

Analysis is important. Don’t jump into book marketing blindly. Research the best options for your book, your brand, and your genre. Create a marketing plan. Set a budget. Have realistic goals. Then, make a decision and move forward. How? Some tips:

  • Give yourself a hard deadline. Writers have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I personally love them. If I know something is due on a specific date, I get it done. Treat your marketing plan (or whatever is it) as you would a college paper or business project deadline. Drop-dead date, no exceptions. You can even make your editor or close friend an accountability buddy.
  • Stop researching and make a damn decision. At some point, you’ve talked to enough people, asked the same question in twenty-five Facebook groups, looked up the answer on YouTube, Google (Bing, Yahoo, whatever), and read 100 blog posts about it.

    You have the answer. You are simply avoiding decision-making out of your fear of being wrong. Well, newsflash, you will be wrong. You will make mistakes. So what? It happens. Every mistake is a learning experience for your next book. 

    Take baby steps. Make smaller decisions. I fully comprehend how difficult book marketing and spending our hard-earned money is, particularly for unknown services. It’s a leap of faith on ‘soft’ services, and there’s no guarantee of a ‘hard’ sale at the end. (Many writers don’t understand this — so instead of building relationships, they go right to the pitch out of desperation. More on that later.)To shake you out of this paralysis, give yourself small decision-making tasks and do them — which social media management tool to try out to save time (I’m using Promo Republic lately which totally rocks — it’s like a combo of Hootsuite, Buffer, and Canva all together), or which influencer to follow and perhaps approach to request a guest blog.

  • Procrastination

    When you procrastinate, you are doing one thing and one thing only: avoiding pain. That pain can be fear, shame, or vulnerability. For many writers who have never published before, the most common is fear: what if people hate my book? What if the reviews are terrible? What if, what if, what if? Then you feel guilty and anxious and mad at yourself. It’s a self-defeating loop and it sucks.

    When you procrastinate, your anxiety is speaking for you. It’s taking control of your life, wasting time you are constantly whining that you don’t have. Isn’t that the ultimate irony?

    We are always saying we don’t have enough time to do what we need to do, yet procrastinating about doing what we need to do to market our books is wasting the time you need. What to do? Some tips:

    • Visualization. This may sound a little woo-woo but just go with it. Picture whatever is blocking you from achieving your goal as a black cloud. Now, push your way through it and get to the other side. Takes literally 5 seconds. Clouds are easy because they’re light and pliable.
    • Learn new skills. Stop ‘putting if off til later.’ Many writers don’t market because they tell me (and/or themselves) they don’t have a marketing degree and don’t know how to market. Newsflash: I don’t have a marketing degree, either! I have decades of practical sales and marketing experience in Big Pharma, yes, and about nine years in publishing, but the magical marketing fairies don’t magically drop knowledge in my lap. I take courses, go to webinars, and read and research, just like you.
    • Focus on short-term and long-term goals. If your focus is only on right now, that makes you no different than a toddler *stomps foot.* Book marketing is a long-term investment in yourself. Everything you do, every single day, works toward your future as an author. Hopefully, this one book isn’t your only book. The interactions and relationships you build now will go a long way toward building a long-term fan base.This is what many writers miss out on when they blast, ‘Buy my book!’ links constantly on social media. There’s no relationship there. Imagine how much more effective they could be?

    Overwhelm

    We’ve all been overwhelmed — by life, by work, by family, whatever. What’s important to keep in mind here is why you feel overwhelmed. Are you overwhelmed by external circumstances or is it self-imposed? One you can’t control (e.g., the weather), the other you can.

    With regard to our topic here, you absolutely can control how you feel by taking charge of your activities. Many authors try this or that, make some effort, and then quit (sound like you?), complaining that nothing is working. Stop rushing around and remember, publishing is a long game and being an author is a business. Many writers who feel overwhelmed tend to not have a plan in place; would you start a business without a business plan?

    How can you prevent this from happening in the first place? Some tips:

    • Strategize. Take the time to create a book marketing plan and stick to it. This doesn’t mean you can’t stray from your plan if an opportunity arises (e.g., an interview or BookBub). Think of your marketing plan as a map to guide your journey from nowhere to somewhere. This means you need to follow your map so you know where you’re going and how to get there.
    • Set Realistic Goals. This, more than anything, will help you through the book marketing process. Decide what you need to do daily, weekly, and monthly. Write down your goals in a planner (online, paper, whatever works for you) and check it off as you go. Be specific: what do you have now, what do you need, and what have you achieved. Start small: ten book sales per month = 2.5 sales per week. Once you achieve that, double it.
    • Prioritize. When everything is important, nothing is important. You are just one person. If you can’t hire outside help (like a consultant or author assistant), it’s all on you. Create a task list and narrow it down to what’s doable that day.

      Answer this question first thing every morning: what’s the one thing I must do before anything else? And do that one thing. 
      Before Twitter, Facebook, email, phone calls — anything. Don’t allow white noise to distract from your focus.

    Building your author platform, building relationships with readers, book bloggers, and book reviewers, and making your book the absolute best it can possibly be are not optional if you want to sell books. It is a lot of work, I won’t lie to you. But remember, you don’t have to do it all at once.

    “I don’t wish for people to have all of their dreams come true. I wish them to be okay with the fact they won’t. If you go into the world not letting it stop you when things don’t go your way, then you’re unstoppable.”

    ~ Louis C.K. 

    By Rachel Thompson

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