Tag Archives: creative writing

Want to Improve Your Writing? Change Your Thinking

A mental shift in how we think about our writing and process can change our perspective, and thus, help us see the things we’ve been missing.

A long time ago, when I was still fairly new to writing, I had my mind blown by a simple “change of perspective” in how I looked at writing. It was a light-bub moment that finally made me understand something I’d been struggling with at that time—point of view.

In the years that followed, I’ve had plenty moments where changing how I viewed or thought about something writing-related helped me understand it, or use it better. As I’ve spoken with other writers, I’ve seen the same lights go on in their eyes as they looked at something they’d struggled with and finally saw things click into place.

There’s a reason there is so much writing advice out there, from so many different people, and so many different approaches to essentially the same stuff. We all learn a little differently, and a technique or theory that works for one writer might fail miserably for another.

My own theory—if you’re struggling with something, come at it from a different direction and see if it helps. For example:

My struggle with point of view? I got past it because of a simple comment in a critique. In a scene where my protagonist sees a rowboat, my critique partner wrote:

“You used “the rowboat” here, which suggests she knew the rowboat was there and was looking for it. Did you mean “a rowboat,” which would suggest it was new information to her? It seems like she didn’t know it was there.”

This comment made me realize that it’s not about what the authors knows is there, but what the character knows is there, which is the essence of point of view—what information is known. I went from thinking description was about telling readers what was in a scene to showing readers what the POV-character saw. And my scenes got better overnight.

(Here’s more on understanding point of view)

Another light-bulb moment came when I mentally separated “editing” and “revising.” These words are used interchangeably all the time, and do mean basically the same thing, but for me, editing became what I did when I worked on changing specific words in the text. Revising became what I did when I worked on changing the overall plot and story.

Changing how I viewed these two words made a world of difference, because it changed how I approached the revision process as a whole. I used to get caught up with tweaking the text before I’d finished making sure the plot and story were sound. I’d polish text and end up cutting it, or worse—feel it was “done” and not cut or change it when it needed it.

Looking at edit and revise as two separate activities allowed me to focus on the part that needed to be done and ignore the rest. I didn’t worry about the text because I was revising, not editing. I focused on the text when I was editing and done revising. I no longer made every chapter “perfect” before moving on, because I didn’t need to edit until my revision was done. It streamlined my entire post-first draft process.

(Here’s more on the difference between editing and revising)

One last example made writing a scene much easier. I’d found myself thinking “What happens in this scene” versus “What are the characters trying to do in this scene?” This was inadvertently making me write scenes that lacked conflict and uncertainty, because they weren’t about a character trying to achieve a goal, but how my protagonist achieved that goal. It left no room for readers to wonder what might happen next, because everything was so obvious.

Once I shifted my thinking, my scenes got much stronger. My characters fought for their goals, my bad guys tried harder to stop them, and it opened me up to consider other possibilities in the scene that weren’t part of my outline. It let me think, “What did the characters do and how did those actions affect what others did?” Plotting became organic and natural instead of a series of described situations.

(Here’s more on looking at a scene from the bad guys’ perspective)

There’s an ebb and flow to writing, and we all have periods where we get stuck—either in a scene or in our own growth as a writer. When that happens, take a step back and think about why.

  • Have you ignored advice because you didn’t think it would work for you—even though you never tried it?
  • Are you fighting your natural process—outlining when you should be pantsing, pantsing when you should be outlining?
  • Are you trying to follow a “writing rule” too closely that may not apply to what you want to do—or could be wrong for your story or writing style?
  • Are you focused too much on the rules of writing and not enough on the process of storytelling?
  • Do you just need to try a different approach and seek out different opinions on the process or technique?

Writing is fluid, and that fluidity applies to our processes as well. Every writer is different, so it makes sense that how we write, and what helps us understand our writing, is going to change and evolve as we do. Everything we learn builds a stronger foundation under us and allows us to see writing in a new light. The more open we are to those changes, the more we grow as writers.

Looking at your writing from a new perspective can help you improve your writing and get past a sticking point—in both your skill set and your story. Don’t be afraid to try new things or adjust your thinking about old ideas or processes. You never know where those light-bulb moments will come from.

Where have some of your light-bulb moments come from? Has changing your thinking about an aspect of writing helped you?

By Janice Hardy
Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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What it Feels Like When Your Writing is Rejected – and How to Bounce Back

One reader asked me: “I’d like to know what it’s like to get rejected by a publisher or several (if that’s ever happened to you) and how you bounce back from it.”

It has indeed happened to me – as you can see from the photo above! Those are all the rejection letters I received in 2007 – 2008, for a fantasy novel that I was shipping around to agents/publishers, and for short stories that I was sending to magazines. I’ve had plenty of rejections since then, too: competition entries that didn’t even get placed, guest posts pitches that were turned down, reviews of my novels that were less than stellar.

Rejection is simply part of the business of writing. Of course, it would be great if everything you wrote was loved and snapped up by the first editor who saw it. But agents and editors are inundated with new material on a daily basis – perhaps receiving hundreds of manuscripts every week, when they might only take on one or two new authors every year.

Here’s what you need to know about rejection:

#1: Being Rejected Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is Bad

Looking back at those stories I wrote in 2007 – 2008, they were far from brilliant. But they weren’t awful, either. During the same time period, well as collecting a stash of rejection letters, I had two small competition prizes and two short-listings for my short stories. I also started freelancing for several blogs.

When you receive a rejection letter, don’t take it as a sign that your writing sucks. There are all sorts of reasons why a manuscript might be selected – perhaps the magazine had just taken an article on a very similar theme, or published a short story with the same premise. Maybe the agent you’ve written to just doesn’t click with your writing style.

All writers get rejected. Every best-selling writer you know – including J.K. Rowling and Stephen King – has received rejection letters.

#2: Getting a Piece Accepted is a Numbers Game

One of the reasons that I had so many rejection letters in 2007-08 was because that I’d decided to enter as many short story competitions in Writing Magazine and Writers’ News as I could. I wrote around 15 – 20 short stories that year, and while most of them didn’t place in the competitions, four did. I sent out the others to magazines, and managed to get one accepted.

Over the past month or so (as I write this in 2018), I’ve been sending out freelancing proposals to potential/former clients for the first time in quite a long while … my youngest has started nursery school, so I’ve suddenly got some extra working hours. Some of those pitches have been rejected; others met with no response. But some were enthusiastically accepted!

The more stories or article pitches or book proposals you write, the more chances you have of success. Create a spreadsheet so you can keep track of which stories you’ve sent where, and every time a story comes back, send it out to a new publication.

#3: Facing Rejection Gets Easier

The first few times I got rejection letters, it hurt. I’d written the best novel I could at the time, and I’d spent ages researching agents, composing cover letters, printing the manuscript in the right format, and so on. I thought that if only I could get my novel accepted, I could quit my day job (I have a slightly more realistic idea about advances now…).

But after a few rejections, I stopped minding so much. I started sending out short stories as well as the novel. I began to understand that rejections are simply part of the writing life, and that – while they might be a little disappointing – they’re just one person’s opinion.

Your first rejection will probably hurt. Your tenth rejection might sting. But every time you recover from a rejection and send something out again, you’ll find that those rejections have a little less power over you.

Moving On From Rejection

You might have noticed above that my rejection letters are from 2007 – 2008. I first wrote this post in 2012, and I updated it in 2018 … so what’s happened since?

At the end of July 2008, I left my day job. In September 2008, I started an MA in Creative Writing, and began to work on a new novel (instead of short stories).

My freelancing work – mostly for websites – wasn’t just a great way to make steady money as a writer, it was also a great way to build my confidence. Getting paid on a regular basis felt like a pretty strong validation of my writing!

My novel, Lycopolis, took three years to finish. I did approach one agent and one editor at a conference, but neither wanted to take the novel on. As the months went by, though, I saw more and more authors – new and established – bring their novels out themselves, as ebooks and print-on-demand works. I decided to bypass the rejection game and take the self-publishing route with Lycopolis (2011) and the next two novels in the trilogy: Oblivion (2015) and Dominion (2016). You can find out about all three on my author website.

(If you’re wondering about the big gap between novels, that’s because my daughter and son were born in early 2013 and late 2014 respectively!)

I also started blogging here on Aliventures back in 2009. With my blog and the weekly newsletter, there’s no one to reject my writing – and I usually get lovely comments that help me know I’m on the right track.

Today, writers have a wealth of different options. You aren’t reliant on agents and publishers to get your stories, articles, or poetry out there.

Yes, having an agent or publisher still has many benefits. When I first wrote this post, back in 2012, I’d just finished a book in Wiley’s Dummies series, Publishing E-Books For Dummies, and I certainly appreciated the advance! 😉 (As well as the attention to detail from my editors, and the opportunity to be associated with a major book brand.)

But … you don’t have to be entirely at the mercies of the publishing industry. If you wanted, you could do any of these pretty much immediately:

I’m definitely not suggesting that you should stop (or avoid) submitting your work to agents and publishers. Collect up those rejection slips and be proud: you’ve survived them! The more rejections you get, the closer you are to an acceptance.

At the same time, find a way to bypass the agents and publishers, so you can get at least some of your writing out there to the world. Having an audience – even if that’s just a handful of friends and family – is hugely rewarding, and can help to take away any lingering pain of rejection.

Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, good luck. If you’ve had any personal experience of rejection – or acceptance! – that you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.

Source: aliventures.com

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Good People Making Bad Choices: Could this be your character?

Good people making bad choices is something that many of us struggle to fathom. I mean, surely if they were ‘good’ then they would ultimately go with their better judgement. Good people uphold values such as human dignity, even when it’s tough. World War II was when this phenomenon really came into the public eye, as the world struggled to accept that all Germans were not monsters. In fact, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the person directly responsible for Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, found that many of the war criminals standing before them were mild-mannered, courteous people.

And the moment any psychological phenomenon becomes interesting, writers tend to perk up and listen. Does this relate to my character? Maybe this is why he did what he did? Or if you’re anything like me, how could I tie this into a ‘what if’ question for a future concept? Could it be the something that my readers will mull over long after they’ve finished?

Well, let me tell you a story. Those of you that have heard of Milgram’s experiments on obedience will recognise the scenario I’m about to dramatize (I’ve taken the Milgram’s procedure and brought it to life with the help of some fictional characters), for others, you’re about to discover what the average person is capable of.

When Ben saw the ad for a learner experiment, he read it twice.

“Surely it can’t be that simple,’ he thought, ‘you’re basically getting paid to turn up!”

But that’s exactly what the typed page on the university noticeboard said. Thinking of Emily and their upcoming anniversary, the prospect of some easy cash was enticing.

When Ben turned up, he was introduced to Geoff. Geoff was middle-aged, and kind of mild-mannered looking with his glasses and round belly. The experimenter, this guy tall and serious looking with his white lab coat and clipboard, held out the tip of two straws. It seemed the person that drew the short-straw would be the learner, and the other, the teacher. Ben had never done any teaching, but he wasn’t keen on drawing the short-straw just because…well, it’s the short-straw.

His relief when his red straw drew out and was twice the length of Geoff’s had his tension easing. He gave Geoff an apologetic smile, to which Geoff responded with an affable one of his own. The experimenter, Ben couldn’t remember whether he introduced himself, took Geoff to a chair. Geoff had a few minutes to read a piece of paper before the experimenter strapped him into it.

Geoff looked down at the metal straps holding his arms down, and Ben watched as the experimenter smeared electrode paste before attaching electrodes. “The paste is to prevent burning and blistering.”

Geoff smiled in gratitude. “I have a heart condition, I thought I’d let you know.”

The experimenter continued with the paste and the electrodes. “Although the shocks may be painful, they won’t cause any permanent tissue damage.”

Ben’s shoulders felt a little tense. This was a little more…well…medical that he’d imagined. But the experimenter was calm and collected as he came took Ben to an adjacent room. Ben was confident he knew what he was doing.

Ben took a seat and the experimenter pointed to a dial and some buttons before him. “You’re going to ask Geoff some questions. We want to test his memory.”

Ben nodded. Seemed straightforward enough.

“If Geoff makes a mistake, I want you to administer progressively larger shocks to Geoff each time.”

Ben frowned at the dials. Their descriptors had words like Slight, Moderate, Strong, Intense, Extreme Intensity and Danger: Severe Shock. “Okay.”

The experimenter held an electrode to Ben’s arm. “This is 45 volts.”

The tingling buzz was a shock, but not painful. Ben mentally shook himself, he was being silly. The experimenter knew what he was doing, and this was probably important.

Geoff got the first few questions correct. But then he started making some errors. Very soon, Ben was dialling up to 75 volts and Geoff was grunting in pain. He looked at the experimenter, discomfort making him shift in his seat.

The experimenter made some notes in his clipboard. “Please continue.”

Ben pulled in a steadying breath and asked the next question. At 120 volts, Geoff shouted that the shocks were becoming painful. Uneasiness was making Ben’s hand tremble. He turned to the experimenter. “I think…I think we shouldn’t go any higher.”

“The experiment requires you to continue.”

Ben turned back to the dial. Maybe Geoff wouldn’t get too many more wrong. At 150 volts Geoff demanded to be released from the experiment. At 180 volts he cried out that he couldn’t stand it any longer. Ben was now sweating, each show of pain from Geoff had his teeth gritting and his chest constricting. “We need to stop.

The experimenter shook his head. “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

Ben looked at Geoff, who was now panting. He looked down at his hand wrapped around the dial. It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Geoff continued to cry out at each shock. By the time the dial was at 250 volts, he was crying out in agony. At 300 volts Geoff stopped responding to the cue words. The experimenter told Ben to treat these as a wrong answer.

Ben shot up from his chair. “This is wrong,” he shouted. “We’re hurting him!”

The experimenter’s gaze was steely. “You have no other choice but continue.”

Ben hovered; half standing, wanting to run; half sitting, and hating himself for it. This was wrong. He wasn’t someone that does this to people. What would Emily think of this all?

But he had no choice. The authority figure standing beside him, unyielding and demanding, had said so.

Disgust and dread stung the back of Ben’s throat as he notched the dial up to Extreme Intensity. He pretended he didn’t hear Geoff’s scream as he pressed the button…

Now, I wonder if you’re empathising with Ben’s discomfort, but secure in the knowledge that you would be different?

What Ben didn’t know is that Geoff was a confederate, an actor and accomplice, to one of the most famous experiments into obedience to authority. There was no shock, no pain, no deadly electrical current. The experimenter knew this, as did Geoff.

Ben, on the other hand, had just shown us what the average-Joe was capable of.

When they first devised this experiment, Milgram and his researchers predicted that no more than 20% of normal, psychologically balanced human beings would comply with the direction to continue shocking the learner past 135 volts. They predicted no one would continue past 255 volts.

What they found was that 65% of participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts, and all the participants continued to at least 300 volts. Milgram’s experiment has been replicated in multiple countries, with males and females, and across different settings. Milgram felt safe to conclude that the average person could be directed to commit horrific acts if obeying an accepted authority figure.

Once you’ve processed what this means for ourselves and humanity, you’ll start considering what this could mean for a character and a story world. Did we just witness the birth of a villain? What if Ben was an apprentice, and this was his master? What if his master progressively increased the violence that Ben believed he had no choice but inflict? Ultimately, who would Ben become as he aged, and eventually became a master himself?

Or is Ben going to live with his choices for the remainder of your narrative? What if this was a single event, and Ben went home to Emily and their anniversary? If Ben internalises the decision he made to hurt another, he may not acknowledge (or know) the influence that authority has over us. That would be a tough cross to bear (and yep, a wound was just born!).

If you like the post don’t forget to share it!

By Tamar
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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How to write a book in 30 days: 8 key tips

Annual writing sprints like NaNoWriMo have many experienced and new authors alike testing their limits. Writing a book – a carefully, beautifully constructed book – does take time. Usually, much longer than 30 days. Yet trying this exercise is useful for building discipline, focus and just getting the first draft done. Here are 8 tips to help:

1: Set attainable goals

When someone asks ‘how do I write a book in x days?’ Writers’ reactions are sometimes discouraging. ‘Never write a book with a deadline as small as 30 days!’ Says one Quora user. Reasons you shouldn’t attempt to write a book in such a small time-frame include:

  • Being limited by time constraints could result in low quality writing
  • Producing a first draft may be possible within 30 days but you also need time to revise and edit
  • Burnout is possible if you don’t take sufficient breaks

These are all valid concerns. To work out it you can finish your novel in 30 days:

    1. Calculate how many words you write per minute: Use a free words-per-minute checker such as Typing Speed Test.
    2. Keeping in mind that you will also need to pause from time to time to think what happens next, halve your word count per minute. If you can type as fast as 60 wpm, take 30 as your base rate.
    3. Work out how many words you write per hour: If you can write 30 per minute, you can write approximately 1800 words per hour (assuming you don’t stop to edit or rest). Factor in resting time for a more conservative estimate (e.g. 1000 words).
    4. Work out how many hours you will have to write each day on average over the next 30. If you write 1000 words of draft per hour on a good day, an 80, 000 word novel should take 80 hours of writing to complete.
    5. Eighty hours of writing over 30 days would mean spending an average of 2.6 hours of writing per day. This is a lot when you have other commitments.
    6. Based on the amount of time you have available to write each day, adjust the length of your first draft until you have a word count you can achieve. You can always expand during subsequent drafts. Or write your first draft as a brief, novella version.

If this seems like an impossible task, give yourself more days. Or write some scenes in summary form. You can add connective tissue between plot events (such as scene transitions) later.

2: Set a realistic daily word count target

You might say to yourself ‘I can write for an hour each day, easily.’ The truth is that surprises, last minute obligations and life in general can hijack your writing time. For every hour of free time you have, bank on getting half an hour of that to write.

Start thinking about how you can make your word target attainable:

  • Cut down time taken up by other tasks: Make simpler, quicker meals, for example, and watch less TV – it’s only a temporary sacrifice)
  • Ask for help: Rally friends and family who are willing to help you chase your goal (for example, grandparents willing to babysit if you’re juggling telling your story with parenting)

Once you know exactly which hours you have free, block them out in a calendar. Use a colour that separates them clearly from other events and obligations. Draw an ‘X’ through each day once you’ve reached your word target. The satisfaction of this action (the sense of completion) will keep you motivated to continue.

3: Reserve time for each part of the writing process

The different parts of writing a novel require different types of problem-solving. Sketching characters, for example, is more imagination-dependent, while editing is a somewhat more rational (though still creative) process. [You can create full character profiles in preparation using the step-by-step prompts in Now Novel’s story dashboard.]

When seeing if you can learn how to write a book in 30 days, being structured is key. Divide each writing session into different tasks. Complete different sections of outlining or drafting simultaneously. This keeps the process varied and diminishes chances of getting stuck.

If, for example, you prefer writing dialogue to introducing scenes and settings, leave your favourite part of the storytelling process for the end of each session. This makes your favourite part a reward that you work towards every time you sit down to write.

Writing a book in 30 days - Infographic | Now Novel

4: Maintain a motivating reward scheme

Create a reward scheme for yourself to keep yourself motivated. Big gyms and insurance policies take this approach to keeping members active. Because they understand motivation, how reward-driven we are. Maximize your commitment to your story (and your word count targets) by:

  • Scheduling short breaks as micro rewards for reaching small targets such as completing scenes
  • Scheduling greater ‘bonus’ rewards for milestone achievements such as completing chapters

Rewards don’t have to be expensive, overly indulgent or distracting. Take a walk somewhere inspiring or beautiful, read a few pages from a favourite book or grab a coffee with a close friend. Make your rewards relaxing activities that will help you return to the track renewed and focused.

One crucial piece of advice on how to write a book in 30 days:

5: Make it a game to avoid unnecessary pressure

If you’ve ever watched competitive reality TV, you might have seen cases where the most competitive and committed participant cracked early under pressure. Placing too much pressure on yourself is a fast track to burnout.

Instead, treat writing a book in 30 days as an impossible goal that you’ll see whether you can reach, playfully. It’s crucial that this time is fun and varied. Some ways to make it a game:

  • Enlist a friend to join in the challenge: You can have your own NaNoWriMo any time of year
  • Create engaging prompts for yourself: Instead of saying ‘In this scene, the villain will discover a secret that sets him back’, tell yourself ‘Imagine a villain has just been informed of a development that ruins his plans. What does he discover? How does he react? Write 500 words’
  • Find an inspiring picture via Google images that captures the mood or tone you want a scene to create: Let images (or music) inspire you as you write

Try to write as freely as possible to maximize your speed:

Quote on writing - EB White | Now Novel

 6: How to write a book in 30 days: ‘Write drunk’

The quote ‘Write drunk; edit sober’ is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though it’s not clear whether Hemingway actually said this. Regardless of who said it, the quote does say something true about writing. It’s not that you should write drunk literally. But you should give yourself the freedom to write with that same uncontrolled giddiness. Before you get to editing.

A big part of how to write a novel in 30 days is letting go of complete control. Let the sober editor in you control when the time comes for that. The writing part should involve as little critical interference as possible, if you want to draft fast.

Some ways to ‘write drunk’:

  1. Make the font colour of your word processor match the background. Only highlight and change the font colour back when you reach your target word count. This will prevent you from focusing too much on what you’ve just said as you can’t edit until you reach a point of pause.
  2. Give yourself licence to be bad. Write terribly. Use clichés at every turn. Do this with the understanding that once you have the full draft and you’ve met your targets, you can go through and fix whatever you like.
  3. Leap in anywhere: Just because your novel tells a linear story doesn’t mean you have to be linear in your approach. If you’ve written the start of a scene, skip to the ending if you have an idea where it will go. Put in simple notes for whatever you’ll add later.

On the subject of speeding up, use shorthand in places to keep up your momentum:

7: Cheat and use shorthand

If you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days, you’ll likely only have time to fill in essential details of character, setting and the most important events of a scene. To keep going at all costs:

  • Fill in names of characters, places and other nouns with generic words and agonize over the right choice later (e.g. ‘[Character Y: Add character name meaning stubborn/headstrong here]’)
  • Reduce connecting sequences to basic elements. Instead of describing in detail how the party escapes the collapsing building, write ‘[Party manages to escape collapsing building; minus characters X and Y’]
  • Keep filling in these blanks for moments when you are tired and you need a quick, small win

8: Remember that progress never counts as failure

What people don’t always tell you when you ask how to write a novel in 30 days is that the most important part of this challenge is committing to it and trying.

Determination and dedication will help you make progress. If, by the end of the 30 days, you don’t have a continuous, polished first draft, congratulate yourself for the progress you have made. You have a sturdy skeleton for a book you can turn into a better read.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo or simply trying to get through your draft, try to write an 800 word extract every day for a week in the note-keeping section on Now Novel. That’s 5600 words further if you succeed.

Source: nownovel.com

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Creative Writing Courses. Would You, Should You, Could You?

Hanif Kureishi famously dismissed the teaching of writing, saying that writing a story is:

‘a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.’

(According to Philip Hensher, Kureishi teaches creative writing at Kingston University, ‘ineffectually‘)

We all learn to write. If you’re serious about something, generally you will want to learn how to do it well. I wonder why some writersfeel they need to look down on aspiring writers once they have been published and claim writing is some ‘mystical gift’. It’s not; it’s a skilled craft. It’s one you need to keep learning; you never reach a golden plateau.

Serious writers have always sought and will always seek teachers long before their work gets to an editor’s desk.

In defence of teaching creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut said:

‘A tough guy, I forget which one, is asked to speak to a creative writing class. He says: “What in hell are you doing here? Go home and glue your butts to a chair, and write and write until your heads fall off!” Or words to that effect.

‘My reply: “Listen, there were creative writing teachers long before there were creative writing courses, and they were called, and continue to be called, editors.”’

Ernest Hemingway apprenticed himself to Gertrude Stein; T.S. Eliot to Ezra Pound. Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor took courses at the University of Iowa.  an McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright, Tracy Chevalier took classes at UEA. Kit de Waal studied creative writing at Oxford Brookes. The list is long. Few are the published authors of fiction who didn’t learn their craft.

A writing school formalizes the apprenticeship that, throughout history, has been valuable to artists. But digital technology and the internet means the school can come to the student, extending good schools to those who can’t up-sticks, quit jobs or travel long distances.

Of course, one of the perks of a school is association not just with students but with published writers, and usually, that’s what’s missing on a creative writing course. Ideally, you will want to find a course, or a school, where you can rub shoulders with published authors and of course get personal feedback from a writer whose work you like.

Most writers would prefer to be writing than doing anything else, but many good writers teach. They wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t exciting to watch writers become authors, to learn the skills and craft.

Grace Paley says she likes the company of her students; she says it mitigates against the solitude of writing. But there’s more to it than that.

‘The really good thing about dealing with novice writers is that it keeps you in the mind of a beginner. It is a way of staying honest and preventing complacency and hardness from setting in.’ EL Doctorow.

Wallace Stegner taught Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey to write. Michael Cunningham teaches, as do Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Tobias Wolff, Toni Morrisson, Jonathan Safran Froer, Maya Angelou, Junot Diaz, EL Doctorow.

If I could have chosen any writer as a teacher, it would have been Kurt Vonnegut. ‘Start as close to the end as possible’. ‘Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.’ ‘Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.’

Writers write and teach, and not for entirely altruistic purposes but because as EL Doctorow says; it helps. It helps you, as a novelist, see better sometimes what doesn’t work, and what does.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between teacher and student and although JM Coetzee used this phrase to describe a more illicit relationship between teacher and student, this is a quotation with which my writers are familiar as I have made the observation a few times when working with them:

‘The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons…’ JM Coetzee, Disgrace.

At The Novelry, I am not the only ‘teacher’. Within the community, our writers, some aspiring and some published, teach each other, and that makes it hugely enjoyable.

‘The very best thing you can be in life is a teacher, provided you are crazy in love with what you teach… .’ Kurt Vonnegut.

In Fay Weldon’s recent book of advice to would-be novelists, she pointed out in the first pages that writers need to up their game, as so many are benefiting from creative writing courses. (She, herself, teaches.)

Vonnegut said he wished he had attended a good creative writing course at the beginning of his writing career.

‘To have done so would have been good for me.’

He quoted an author who regretted not having taken a course when he was starting out as a novelist.

‘That would have saved him, he said, the several years he wasted trying to find out, all by himself, the best way to tell a story.’

What should you be looking for in a novel writing course?

You should be looking for a serious course with a community where publication is the acknowledge end-game to ensure you learn good habits and working skills. You should be looking for a real-life working method because it is necessary for all writers, not just those starting out, to keep a backstop day-job to enable you to be free to write what you want. An online writing course, created to offer what school’s offer – a good tutor, the company of working authors – can be just the thing if it gives you personal feedback and attention. You can associate with your peers and ideally better writers, on your own terms in your own time, and that’s my idea of heaven. Solitude, when you have time to write, and support round the clock.

But the clincher, the deciding factor, has to be wit.

Look for a course with nerve. Where determination is matched by good humour.

The Founder of the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa, Paul Engle, told Vonnegut that if they ever got a building, he’d have this motto above the door.

‘Don’t take it all so seriously.’

Enjoy your writing. Learn to enjoy laughing at your own jokes; for that’s what it’s about, day-in, day-out. Good times and bad. When you write, the bad times are at least ‘material.’

 


 

Look to tick these boxes:

 Award-winning published novelist author tutor
 One-to-one classes with the tutor
All materials online
 Personal support
 Writing group support
 Published novelists in group
 Writers online forum
 Events
 Retreats
 Submissions planning
Links with literary agents and publishers
☑ Published students
☑ Enrol anytime

How do the online creative writing courses compare?

Source: thenovelry.com

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How to Nail the First Three Pages

Let’s face it, talking about writing the first pages of a novel is stressful. It can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned writer, because as writers we all know how scarily narrow the window is, and yet we must reach through it, grab the reader, and yank them into the story.

The problem is that writers often think that what pulls readers in is that perfectly written first sentence. The one that proves you’re a wordsmith. Because, of course, being a “wordsmith” is what defines you as a writer.

No, no, no.

What makes you a writer is the focused ability to relentlessly dig deep into your protagonist’s past, unearthing the specific material from which the story springs organically. Because it’s the story itself that makes the words potent. Not the other way around.

In other, um, words, it’s not the words. It’s what the words are saying that yanks the reader in. And what they’re saying comes from the story, NOT from writing technique, reader manipulation, writing rules or, heaven forbid, “love of language,” whatever that means.

The focus on wordsmithing is heartbreaking. It not only keeps writers from getting out of the starting gate, it keeps them from getting into it. Because if you can’t write a perfect opening sentence, what’s the point of writing a second sentence?

Here’s a welcome newsflash: The brain is far less picky about beautiful writing than we’ve been lead to believe. And that’s as true in literary fiction as in commercial novels.

So what does yank the reader in, what hijacks the reader’s brain on that first page, catapulting readers head first into the world of the story?

There are four things we’re wired to look for on the first pages that, in concert, create the world of the story, make the reader to care, and so — biologically — have to know what happens next. Because story isn’t for entertainment. Story is entertaining so we’ll pay attention to it, because we just might learn something we need to know about what makes people tick, the better to navigate this mortal coil without getting clobbered too often.

Here are the four elements that — even when the writing IS lovely, lyrical and beautiful — are what your reader is actually responding to.

What’s the Big Picture?

As readers, we know that a story is about how someone solves an unexpected problem they cannot avoid. That’s WHY we’re drawn to story – we want to see how someone will deal with the kind of problems we so studiously avoid in real life. We crave the “uh oh” that yanks us in. Not a mere momentary “uh oh,” but one that has legs – one that kicks off an escalating row of dominoes. Which is why we need a glimpse of those dominoes, of where this is going.

As one editor brilliantly said recently, “The first paragraph is a promise you make to your reader.” In other words: What is the overarching plot problem?

Here’s what that opening paragraph (sometimes only a sentence!) should convey:

  • What’s the Context? What arena will this play out in? Think of it as our yardstick, our score card. If we don’t know what the specific ongoing problem is, we can’t make sense of what’s happening. We’re wired to look for causality in everything. If this, then that – it’s how we humans turn the chaos around us into a world we can kind of, sort of, navigate. Plus, without a clear context, we can’t anticipate what might happen next, giving us nothing to be curious about, and so no reason to read forward.
  • Where’s the Conflict? Where is the specific conflict? Why is the problem hitting critical mass right now? We want to feel that jolt. That’s what gets our attention (not beautiful writing). Surprise rivets us. Don’t mute it, don’t make it “tepid,” don’t make the reader guess what you really mean – instead, let there be blood. Writers shy away from this, thinking it’s “over the top.” Here’s the truth: Over the top is what we come for. Whether in events, or in the depth of emotion seemingly mundane events can trigger.
  • What’s the Scope? Where will this end? What is it building toward? What is the journey you want me to sign on for? The biggest problem writers have is that they hold back the specifics for a reveal later, thinking that will lure the reader in. Instead it locks the reader out. First, it implies we already care enough to want to know what’s going on. We don’t. Letting us know that Something Big is happening, but keeping it vague, implied, unclear, doesn’t make us curious. It makes us annoyed. Like the writer is toying with us. We can’t imagine what might happen next because we have no idea what is happening now. Or why. So why would we care?

The irony is that writers withhold the very information that would lure us in. Consider these very specific, utterly revealing opening lines:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. From Celeste Ng’s debut literary novel Everything I Never Told You

It was a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost didn’t notice I was being blackmailed. From Becky Albertalli’s YA Simon vs. The Homosapien’s Agenda

Joel Campbell, eleven years old at the time, began his descent toward murder with a bus ride. From Elizabeth George’s thriller What Came Before He Shot Her

Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat. From Caroline Leavitt’s literary novel Cruel Beautiful World

The Takeaway: GIVE IT ALL AWAY! TELL US WHERE WE’RE GOING. TELL US WHAT’S HAPPENING. BE SPECIFIC. BE CLEAR. BE CONCRETE. And yes, I’m yelling, not at you but at that pesky voice in your head that often tells you to hold back, that says somehow holding back makes you a more sophisticated writer. Here’s the truth: giving it all away is not “unliterary.” It’s not clunky. It’s not over the top. It’s not too obvious. It’s the key to grabbing the reader.

The job of the first paragraph is to hook the reader by stoking that delicious sense of urgency. Now you have to follow through in order to hold them.

What Is Happening?

Once we know what the story problem is, we expect that first domino to topple, starting a chain reaction that we’ll ride all the way to the end. So, let the problem begin.

I’m betting that’s a piece of advice you’ve already heard. Leap into action! The problem is it implies that objectively “dramatic” action in and of itself is engaging. Couldn’t be less true.

I remember years ago reading the first pages of a manuscript – it was a historical novel set in the wild west. It opened with a woman trapped alone in a runaway stagecoach. The driver had been shot, the horses were running wildly, madly, the woman was screaming, and did I mention they were galloping along a sheer cliff edge, so at any minute the stagecoach could plunge to the valley below and . . . who cares?

The irony was that the more “specific” sensory details she threw in, the more beautiful her metaphors, the more intricate her rendition of the horror on that poor trapped woman’s face, the more it alienated the reader. I mean, with all those details it started to feel like there was going to be a test or something. Not that the reader wants that woman to die, but sheesh, you don’t actually know her, so your mind wanders toward things you do care about like, hmmm, I wonder if that brownie is still in the fridge, maybe I should just go check?

And here’s the thing, without the aforementioned context and scope, the above is dull, boring, and . . . a brownie did you say?

The Takeaway: Yes, immediate action is required. Something must be happening, absolutely. But action alone – regardless how objectively dramatic – won’t pull the reader in. It needs to be the action that kicks off the overarching problem that we’ve already been made aware of, and as important, it needs to be someone’s problem – which brings us to the next thing the reader is searching for on the first pages . . .

Who Is the Protagonist?

After all, the protagonist is the reader’s avatar in the story, the person in whose head the reader will reside. This is the person who the reader will be rooting for, whose point of view everything will be filtered through.

Make no mistake: everything that happens in the plot gets its meaning, and therefore its emotional weight, based on one thing and one thing only: how it affects the protagonist. Does it get her closer to her goal or further from it? Does it help her or hurt her? And — this is where your story really lies — what specific, subjective meaning is she reading into what’s happening, given her agenda?

The Takeaway: Without a protagonist, nothing means anything, and even the most “objectively” dramatic action falls flat because there’s no story, just a plot — otherwise known as “a bunch of things that happen.” Which is why as readers we want to meet the protagonist on the very first page.

Now comes the fourth element, the one that brings these three elements together and binds them in meaning:

Why Does What’s Happening Matter to the Protagonist?

Right now you could be thinking, Hey, that woman trapped in the stagecoach—I sure know why plunging over the cliff mattered to her. It’s because she doesn’t want to die. Duh! And that’s precisely why that isn’t what the reader is after. Because the reader already knows that no one wants to plunge to their death. So there’s nothing we can learn from that. It’s generic. Ho hum.

Rather, the answer to this question stems from something that writers often don’t focus on, let alone develop: What is the protagonist’s overarching agenda, the one she steps onto the page with?

All protagonists enter the story with an agenda — whether they’re conscious of it or not — and the plot is going to mess with it. The reason what’s happening on page one matters to the protagonist is because it’s going to throw a monkey wrench into their well-laid plan.

Want an example of an overarching agenda? Let’s circle back to the first two lines of Simon vs. the Homosapien’s Agenda: “It was a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost didn’t realize I was being blackmailed.”


That starts with a bang. We have a notion of where it’s going, the scope and the conflict. But the real question is how does being blackmailed affect the agenda Simon had before his dorky classmate Martin threatened him?

Here’s the story: Simon is gay, he’s in the closet, not because he’d get clobbered by anyone if he came out, he just doesn’t want things to change right now, because change is uncomfortable, even good change, and as a sixteen year old he already has enough inherent change in his life, thank you very much. But . . . he’s also fallen in love with a mystery boy, who he met on the school’s online message board. Neither knows the other’s real name. The boy, also in the closet, is Blue; Simon is Jacque. This is the first person who Simon has been able to open up to, and it feels amazing. His goal is to find out who Blue is and hopefully fall into his arms. THAT is the agenda Simon stepped onto page one with, already fully formed.

Martin accidentally discovers Simon’s email chain with Blue and decides to use it to his advantage. Martin wants Simon to help him get the attention of Abby, a girl Simon is friends with. Put in a good word, maybe invite him along when they get together. No big deal.

So why does the overarching plot problem – that Simon is being blackmailed – matter? Because it threatens to derail Simon’s agenda. If word gets out, it might not only spook Blue, but hurt him. And that’s the last thing Simon wants to do. So why not help Martin? Abby will never have to find out . . . right?

And there you have it, hooked and held!

The Takeaway: What’s the real secret of nailing the first pages? It’s this: All stories begin in medias res — Latin for in the middle of the thing, the “thing” being the story itself. So page one of your novel is actually the first page of the second half of the story. Because you can’t “give it all away,” unless you have “it” in the first place.

Which brings us back to where we started. Writing isn’t about starting on page one and wordsmithing forward. Being a novelist is about digging deep long before you get to page one and creating the first half of the protagonist’s story. Only then will you have a story to tell.

By Lisa Cron
Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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4 Steps to a Writing Routine You Won’t Want to Break

Guest post by Emmanuel Nataf

You’ve wanted to write a novel for ages, but can’t seem to ever find the time to start writing. Or maybe you’ve started and just keep hitting walls. Why? For most of us, the answer is that commitments like family, jobs, and life keep getting in the way.

Or, it might be procrastination, and these obstacles are what you tell yourself are the issue. All you are missing is discipline. Every writer has a vision of being able to sit down and write a complete prize-winning chapter in one sitting, but this isn’t realistic. To get a flow going on a regular basis you will need to implement a writing routine.

Forming a regular writing habit builds stakes, holds you accountable to your goals, and keeps you on track as a result.

The reality is, you’re not going to feel like the muses of novel writing are hovering above you and guiding you every time you sit down to write. Building a solid, consistent routine will help you write, and write well, even when you’re not feeling motivated or inspired.

A writing routine will be different for everyone in terms of your environment, time availability, aims, goals — the lot. Even so, if you follow these tips for establishing and, more importantly, sticking to a routine, you can’t go far wrong.

 

1. Schedule your writing time

Try to choose a time and a place so that other things can work around your writing time, not vice versa. This way, you’ll be able to get into the habit of writing — even when you don’t feel like it.

If you wait for this time to come around naturally, especially in increasingly hectic lives, the hours required to achieve our goals of writing a novel or similar are not going to clock in.

We can draw on Stephen King’s wisdom here:

“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop, and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind … I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.”

This time should be non-negotiable. Author and book coach Kevin Johns sees this as such a crucial part of creating a writing routine that he gives it its own acronym: NNWT, or non-negotiable writing time. Even if you can’t write every day like Stephen King, make sure you have time locked in multiple times a week.

Nothing is stopping you from starting right now: literally, open your phone and schedule writing time into your calendar — this will make you stick to it. Put in a realistic amount of time that you know you can afford, make sure it’s more than once a week, highlight it in something bright that you can’t ignore, and set an alarm to remind you.

2. Make this writing time sacred

J.K. Rowling, who knows a thing or two about writing successfully, advises writers to “be ruthless about protecting writing days.” She urges us to guard these moments that we set aside for writing and not to cave in to “distractions” such as meetings or social engagements.

Whether it’s every workday evening from 8 to 10, or three mornings a week starting at 7, don’t let anything get in the way of your writing. You’ve scheduled this time into your life, and it must be granted importance and gravitas.

This also means that writing time is for writing and writing only. Being lax with it will hold back your progress. If you set aside two hours to write, and in that time answer your emails, do a laundry load, and check Twitter, you’ll probably end up doing half an hour of writing, maximum. That would move the needle extremely slowly.

Research and planning should be done outside these hours. Writing time is just that: time to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

3. Quantify your progress

To know the progress you’re making, set yourself a word count goal per day or per week. The power of setting tiny, achievable goals cannot be overstated.

We as humans love having these little wins. Hitting daily goals (like Fitbit step-goals) gives us little boosts — spikes of dopamine — and makes us feel good about what we’re doing. Writing can be frustrating, so word count goals give you control over at least one of the factors of the writing process. That’s why daily word-counts are such a crucial part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) competition.

If you have a particular goal, for example, “I want to have a first draft of my manuscript done in six months,” this would mean working out what this translates to in words per month, week, and day. Track this to stay in line with what you have set yourself.

The fun side of this is rewarding yourself. Crossing things off that calendar, physically printing off pages you’ve written and adding them to a done pile — anything that gives you a sense of public, visible achievement is worth it.

Writing something as long as a novel may often feel like working for a long time with no reward. As a writer, you have to reward yourself when you reach your goals, which is much easier when these goals are concrete and achievable.

4. Publicize it

Your public could just be your friends and loved ones. Purposefully use shame and disappointment for your own benefit by telling them that you’re writing a book. This puts pressure on you, as does publicizing your goals.

If you have something visible, like a calendar that shows your self-set deadlines or workloads, this can help keep you accountable to goals that would otherwise be easy to pretend you never made. Equally, you can tell your friend/fiance/fellow writer that you’re going to write 400 words every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday after work, and get them to check.

Starting a blog and publicizing your progress is another way to give you that extra incentive, as you don’t want to look bad in front of your followers by not meeting your goals .

You’ve got this!

Know what environment you work best in and use this to your advantage. Whether it’s the bustle of a coffee shop or a silent room at home, you know where and when you produce your best work.

Appreciate that these are all estimates, especially if you don’t have a contract yet. A writing routine will give you direction, even if you don’t have an actual deadline. It will help orient you, rather than just writing whenever you feel like it.

Writing is a challenge, but so rewarding. The key is to stick to it. Establishing and dedicating yourself to the process says that you believe in yourself, and that you can do it.

Source: jerryjenkins.com

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Overcoming Creativity Wounds

Today’s guest post is by Grant Faulkner, executive director of Nanowrimo and author of Pep Talks for Writers.

For writers unaware, Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month, where writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It starts November 1. Learn more.


Somewhere deep within most of us, there is a wound. For some, it’s vile and festering; for others, it’s scarred over. It’s the type of wound that doesn’t really heal at least not through any kind of stoic disregard or even the balm of time.

I’m not talking about a flesh wound, but a psychological wound—the kind that happens when someone told you in an elementary school art class that you didn’t draw well, or when you gave a story to a friend to read in the hopes they would shower you with encouragement, but they treated the story with disregard. We put our souls, the meaning of our lives, into the things we create, whether they are large or small works, and when the world rebuffs us, or is outright hostile, the pain is such that it might as well be a flesh wound. In fact, it sometimes might be better to have a flesh wound.

To be a creator is to invite others to load their slingshots with rocks of disparagement and try to shoot you down.

I’ve been hit with many such rocks. Perhaps the most devastating rock was slung by a renowned author who I took a writing class from. My hopes were ridiculously high, of course. I wanted her to recognize my talent, to affirm my prose. I wanted her to befriend me, to open up the doors of her mind and show me the captivating way she thought. I was young, and I walked into her class as if I was a puppy dog, my tongue wagging, expecting to play. My first day of class might as well have been the opening scene of a tragic play.

When I turned in my story for her feedback, not only did she not recognize my talent, but she eviscerated my story. She might as well have used shears. “No shit!” she wrote in the margins of one page. I met with her in her office hours to ask her questions and hopefully make a connection, but she was equally cold and cutting, offering nothing that resembled constructive critique, just the pure vitriol of negativity. She said my story was boring, pretentious. She said my dialogue, which others had previously praised, was limp and lifeless.

That was the only time in my writing life when I felt truly defeated. It was the only time in my life when I was utterly unable to pick up a pen to write anything. I’d been critiqued in many a writing workshop before—relatively severely even—so I wasn’t a naive innocent. But I’d never experienced such slashing and damning comments. I’d always been resilient and determined in the face of such negativity, but this time I lay on the couch watching TV for several days afterward, my brain looping through her scissoring comments again and again.

I hope you haven’t experienced anything like this, but, unfortunately, almost every writer I’ve talked to has a similar story. When something you’ve created—something that glows so brightly with the beauty of your spirit—meets with such an ill fate, it can create the type of wound that never truly closes. You can stitch it closed, but the swelling puss within it can still break the stitches back open. It’s always vulnerable to infections, resistant to salves. Time heals . . . a little, but not necessarily entirely.

The question is how to begin again, how to recover the very meaning and joy that we found in our first stories—to recover the reason we write. It’s difficult. I still see that “No shit!” in the margin and sometimes wonder if I have anything worthwhile to impart, or if the quality of my prose allows me to impart my stories and ideas in an interesting and engaging way. I’ve wondered this even after getting a story or essay published. I wonder if somehow the editor didn’t realize what an imposter I am. I wonder this even now, as I write this book on the subject of writing of all things, a book that has a publisher, a book that has been guided by a fine editor, a book that is sold in stores. Wounds can open when least expected, and from them self-doubt riles with a snarl.

To overcome is to write your story, to believe in it.

There’s no one recipe to overcome a creativity wound, but putting a pen between your fingers and then resting it on a piece of paper is a pretty good start to finding one. Start writing. Keep writing. And the wound will fade and even fuel your work, even if it might not truly go away.

Source: janefriedman.com

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Even if it’s better than creative accountancy, creative writing still needs rules | Creative Writing 101

Subtle but important differences

With an extreme simplification, creative writing can be considered any writing in which authors make things up. It’s sort of like creative accountancy, but with three important differences.

Firstly, your chances of becoming rich with creative writing are slim at best.

Secondly, also your chances of ending up in a jail if you pursue a career in creative writing are pretty slim.

Lastly, creative writing is aimed at a public as wide and eager as possible whereas the gurus, so to speak, of creative accountancy aim at being read by as few people as possible. And the more the reading is superficial and inattentive, the better.

I know, I know. From this point of view, creative accountancy seems a lot more thrilling than creative writing. I mean, with all that money, the ever-looming risk of imprisonment, and who knows what else…

                                       Creative writing and rules. This needs not to happen

 

But the truth isn’t always immediately obvious. And in fact, creative writing offers writers and readers alike the opportunity to experience sheer pleasurewithout having to resort to any illegal substance or activity—of course, apart for those unfortunate people living in parochial parts of the world where books still get banned.

The importance of being contextual

However, creative writing doesn’t mean we can write whatever we feel like without ever having to think about rules, guidelines, and principles.

Essentially the reasons for this are twofold.

First of all, to communicate effectively, we need a web of shared knowledge about how language works in the many different contexts in which we use it. Without this frame of reference, we would be just making noises. For example:

1) Golar sodamet gu luscius

2) Javier dijo asì

3) Jack ate your apple

In (1) I just wrote a phrase with invented words. But even so, these words are not entirely casual. In fact, for example, they follow some principles about ease of pronunciation. Besides, they are arranged in a way that, at least superficially, seems to reflect the English construction of (3).

In (2) we have another perfectly formed phrase. It only happens to be in Spanish–Javier said so. This makes it apparent that the first rule about communication is about which shared language we should use. And only then about the rules we should follow within that language.

3) Here we have a phrase we can process and understand. But only to a certain extent. In fact, Jack could be a horse. ‘Your’ could refer to the reader. Or maybe to an animal. Not necessarily to a human. And so on. This is to point out how a language can never fully express meaning if its users don’t know how it relates to the world.

Constraints who don’t constrain

The second reason we need guidelines and principles, and sometimes even rules, is that even if at times rules can be perceived as unwarranted constraints, they nonetheless spur creativity.

Just think of the way poetry works. Of how poets, who often follow strict rules of composition, manage nonetheless to come up with splendid poems all the time.

At first blush this seems idiosyncratic. But it’s perfectly natural. It’s like with training. If our body never has to face any kind of stress, it gets weaker and less healthy, not the other way around. This happens because even if too much stress can be dangerous, a moderate amount of it is essential to keep us in shape.

And principles and rules represent exactly the literary equivalent of a healthy dose of stress.

In fact, they can certainly be tiresome at times. But they exist for a reason. To help us make sense. And say what we really have to say.

This doesn’t mean rules have to be always observed fanatically. On the contrary, there are times rules must be broken. But we must know them perfectly if we want to know when they are no longer helping us, when they prevent us from saying exactly what we have on your mind.

Some rules are easy to follow. Others are difficult even to understand. Others still seem arbitrary. But if we invest time in learning them adequately, the payoff will be huge.

I mean, our daily word quota isn’t necessarily going to increase, but gradually we’ll acquire the ability to spot all those a passages where rules need to be followed instead of broken out of sheer ignorance. We’ll also get better at spotting those few passages where rules actually are a hindrance.

Source: peterrey.com

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36 Tips for Writing Just About Anything

There’s a lot more to writing than typing words.

Writing well takes years of study, practice, and experience. It requires diligence, attention to detail, and dedication to the craft. Each project has a unique set of requirements and different types of writing have different rules.

For example, when we’re writing fiction, we have one set of concerns (character, plot, and setting, to name a few), and when we’re writing poetry, we have en entirely different set of issues to deal with.

Writing becomes natural with practice, but there are countless elements to deal with in any given project.

Tips for Writing

Here are thirty-six tips for writing just about anything. You can use this as a checklist when you start a new writing project and refer back to it whenever you get stuck. However, keep in mind that these tips don’t address the specifics of fiction, poetry, or nonfiction; they’re general tips for writing anything rather than specific tips for form and genre.

  1. Start with a plan. To reach a destination, you must know where you’re going. We can freewrite in our journals and jot down ideas on scraps of paper, but bigger projects will go more smoothly if there’s a plan in place.
  2. Be prepared. What do you need in order to complete this project? Set up a space and schedule time to work on the project. Gather any supplies, materials, and resources you’ll need.
  3. Eliminate distractions. It’s impossible to write if you’re interrupted or distracted every few minutes. Turn off your phone, close your browser, and let others know you’re working.
  4. Know your audience. This is one of the most common tips for writing, and while it’s not mandatory, it means less revising once you’ve completed your first draft. Are you turning in this piece to an instructor? Submitting it to a magazine? Self-publishing? Who will read it?
  5. Be familiar with your genre. Sci-fi fans don’t want to read a book written by someone who’s never read any sci-fi books. If you don’t know your genre, you can’t possibly know your audience. Besides, if you don’t read a particular genre, why would you want to write it?
  6. Choose a style guide. There’s one style guide for journalism, one for medical writing, and another for everything else. If you’re submitting this project to a target publication or an agent (or if you’re self-publishing it), make sure you know which style guide you should follow.
  7. Brainstorm and outline. Nothing ruins a good writing session like realizing you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish. Take a few minutes to jot down all ideas related to the project, and then spend some time drawing up an outline. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but it will come in handy as a kind of road map.
  8. Conduct credible research. Most writing projects require some research. Whether you need the population of a city or the distance to another planet, check your facts and make sure your logic lines up. Also, make sure your sources are credible.
  9. Take breaks and stay healthy. If you’re writing for long periods, take a ten-minute break every hour. If you’re working on a long-term project, make sure you stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise. It might take time away from your writing, but it will also make your writing better.
  10. Don’t procrastinate, and reward yourself when you reach goals. Writing requires a tremendous amount of discipline. It’s easy to procrastinate if there isn’t a boss hovering over your shoulder and pointing at the clock. Establish milestones for your project and reward yourself whenever you reach one.
  11. Stay inspired. Passion ebbs and flows, and so do ideas. But you can keep yourself motivated by figuring out what inspires you and regularly imbibing in it. Maybe books on the craft of writing keep you excited about your project. Reading or watching movies in your genre might help you stay motivated and inspired.
  12. Think about voice. In writing, voice is the tone of a piece — the author’s unique style. A children’s book shouldn’t sound like it was written by a college professor, and an academic essay shouldn’t sound like it was written by a child. Is your narrative dry, witty, humorous, self-depreciating, or cocky?
  13. Complete a rough draft. While you’re drafting, turn off your inner editor and don’t scrutinize every word or sentence. Let the ideas flow and let the scenes and ideas move forward. You can fix it up later.
  14. Keep it simple: Use clear, concise writing. For some audiences, you might ignore this rule, but keep in mind that the simpler and more accessible your writing is, the more people it will be able to reach.
  15. Use the active voice. Passive voice sounds old-fashioned and outdated. Apply the subject + verb + object construction to your sentences so they are clear and direct.
  16. Use vivid language. Avoid boring, meaningless words (like nice and very) and opt instead for words with pizazz. For example, don’t write very good. Write excellent.
  17. Know when to show and when to tell. The most important parts of a story should be shown. Don’t tell the reader the character was tired if her exhaustion is critical to the plot; show her yawning.
  18. Choose the best possible words. Vivid language helps readers visualize the narrative. You should also choose the most precise, accurate words possible. Don’t say dark red if you mean burgandy.
  19. Let it sit. Once you complete a draft (and after every revision), let your project sit for a while. Short pieces can sit for a few hours. Longer pieces (like a book) may need to sit for a few weeks. Then you can revise with fresh eyes.
  20. Read what you’ve written. Before you revise, save a copy of your original draft and read through the whole thing once. If it’s a book-length manuscript, take notes about major changes that you need to make.
  21. Chop it up. You may need to move large portions of text around. The opening scene might work better at the end. Your thesis statement could be misplaced somewhere in the middle of your paper. Use cut-and-paste with total abandon. Tip: open TextEdit or NotePad in the background and use it to store large chunks of text that you need to move around.
  22. Delete the excess. You may need to delete entire scenes if they are not relevant to the plot. In fact, you may need to delete some of your favorite sentences and paragraphs. Get rid of anything that isn’t essential to the project’s thesis, objective, or plot.
  23. Insert. You may find gaping holes in your draft. Be prepared to add new sentences, paragraphs, even entire chapters.
  24. Rewrite. Depending on how messy your first draft is, you may need to do multiple rewrites. A lot of writers get worn out by this process, but remember — your writing improves with each revision. So dig in and keep rewriting until it feels right.
  25. Edit. Once you have the main structure and concept down, you can edit for detail. This is where you make your sentences clear and concise. Look for grammatical errors, awkward wording, and vague phrasing.
  26. Eliminate unnecessary words. If you can delete a word without affecting the meaning of a sentence, then delete it. Often, articles (a, an, the) can be deleted as can pronouns.
  27. Get rid of the clichés. Better yet, don’t use them in the first place. However, when you’re editing, do your best to weed them out.
  28. Look it up! If you’re not sure about a word’s meaning or spelling, look it up. If you’re not sure whether you’ve structured a sentence correctly or used proper punctuation, look it up. Do not rewrite to get around the rules. Just learn them.
  29. Review the transitions. Each paragraph focuses on a different idea, but each paragraph should also flow naturally from the paragraph that precedes it.
  30. Check for repetition. There’s good repetition and bad repetition. Using the same word or phrase over and over, unnecessarily, is bad. Repeating themes, symbols, and images can be powerful.
  31. Make sure the sentence structures are varied. Sentences should vary in length and structure. Don’t start every sentence with “I” (a common mistake that young and new writers make). Follow long sentences with shorter ones.
  32. Read for flow. After editing, read it again. Does everything make sense? Does the entire thing flow naturally and smoothly? If not, go back and edit some more.
  33. Format your document. Formatting can be done at the beginning or toward the end. I usually format at the beginning, except when writing a long project, like a book, in which case, I wait till the end. Tip: don’t just learn how to format documents; instead, become a master of formatting. For example, if you use Word, learn how to use the Styles feature. You should know how to set spacing, indentations, font face and size, how to align text, and apply bold and italics.
  34. Proofread. No matter how strong your writing skills are, typos will slip past you. When you proofread, you’re looking for basic mistakes and typographical errors. Recommendation: proofread each piece until you can’t find any typos at all.
  35. Get a second opinion. Even though you proofread until you couldn’t find any typos, there are probably a few lingering around. There’s a scientific reason for this, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you get someone else to check your work. If necessary, hire a professional.
  36. Final polish. Ideally, you’ll read through it one last time (after letting it sit again) and you’ll find it squeaky clean. This means it’s done and ready to be served.

And that’s not all…

This list might seem overwhelming, but it covers only the basics. If you’re writing fiction, there is a whole other set of things you need to do. If you’re writing for business or academia, there are additional rules to follow. Remember, there are many considerations for each form and style of writing. That’s why knowing your form and genre is so important.

But these tips for writing are a good start. Not only will they help you write, they’ll help you write well.

Do you have any tips for writing to add to this list? Share any tips that writers can use by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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