Tag Archives: DailyWritingTips

Should Beginning Writers Imitate the Greats?

Learning often begins with imitation or copying. As babies, we learn facial expressions and gestures by mimicking adults. Children learn to write their letters by copying them from workbooks. And can you imagine a musician learning their craft without first leaning to play other musicians’ songs?

But we rarely explore the question of whether writers should copy the work of great authors as a learning exercise.

Imitation Learning vs. Derivative Works

In the world of fine art and entertainment, imitation is sometimes viewed as flattery, but mostly it’s criticized for its lack of originality. Works that appear to be based in part or in full on other works are called derivative works. Some derivative works are celebrated — for example, writing a variation of an old fairy tale or writing a modernized version of an ancient text. Each work should be judged individually and on its own merit, and opinions will vary.

However, today we’re not talking about the writing that we publish for the world to see. We’re exploring the idea of using imitation strictly for the purpose of study, practice, and learning.

Using Imitation as a Learning Tool

When I was a kid, I often wrote down the lyrics to my favorite songs. I would play the song, pausing and rewinding it every few seconds to figure out the lyrics. Sometimes, I’d write my own lyrics to the tune. I believe this formed the foundation of learning musicality in writing, which I later applied to my poetry. As a young poet, I discovered Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” While I didn’t set out to imitate this amazing poem, I did set out to write a poem that was inspired by it (and somewhat modeled on it). All these years later, I suspect that if I shared that old poem of mine (which was titled “Woman One”), any knowledgeable poet would know that I’d read Maya’s work and was influenced by her.

All of these exercises helped shape my writing skills. When you copy the words that someone else has written, you study them more closely than you would by merely reading them. But notice that none of these exercises resulted in published works. It was a form of study and practice.

Who hasn’t buried themselves in a novel, only to put it down and find the voice of the narrative continuing inside their own mind? Copying a text can have the same effect, but it works faster. It’s a useful way to learn how different authors structure sentences or make word choices.

When I was in a college literature course, we took a test that required us to identify authors’ voices. We were given short excerpts from various authors’ works. We weren’t expected to memorize these authors’ repertoires, but we were expected to absorb their voice (style). A good way to do that is to copy passages from the authors’ writings. The act of typing (or handwriting) their texts helps us absorb it much faster and more thoroughly.

But that’s not all we can learn from imitation. Let’s say you’re a beginning writer with a favorite story. You don’t want to emulate the story or the author, but you want to gain a better understanding of how this author constructs language or how they developed such a distinct voice. Studying the work might not be enough. As an exercise, you might attempt to write a few pages of your own original text in the author’s voice. This would also be a useful exercise for developing voices and distinct dialogue for each of your characters. You could seek out writers and speakers whose style matches the voice you want for a character. Spend some time transcribing or copying the source material, and then practice writing your character’s dialogue in that person’s voice

The Necessity of Learning

There are many ways that authors borrow, build upon, and steal other writers’ ideas. There’s really nothing new under the sun — only old ideas remixed and rehashed into works that feel fresh and invigorating.

But however we gather our ideas or develop our craft, learning is a necessity. We must do the work to develop the skills we need to achieve our goals. For writers, that means studying language, mastering vocabulary, and learning structure and form. Not all writers need to learn through imitation. Each of us has a different learning style, but for those who would benefit from imitation as an exercise, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for skill-building.

Have you ever used imitation to develop your knowledge or skills? What did you imitate and why? Did it work for you? Share your thoughts about imitation as a learning tool for writers by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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How to Break Through a Fiction Writing Block

It happens to all writers. You’re cruising through a story, and all of a sudden you hit a wall. Your characters freeze up, your plot stops cold, and you’re stuck with nowhere to go.

You’ve hit a fiction writing roadblock.

All of your ideas have evaporated and you sit there staring at your screen with a blank look on your face. Where were you going? How did you write yourself into a corner? More importantly, how do you write yourself out?

Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to break through the creative blocks that arise in the middle of a storytelling project. Some of these techniques also come in handy when developing ideas for new fiction projects.

The main thing you need to remember is that hitting a roadblock does not have to mean the end of your story, your fiction writing, or your creativity. You just need to reboot and see your project from a fresh angle.

Breakthrough Techniques

The techniques explained here are sledgehammers. They’ll blast through walls, blow away obstacles, and create doorways that you can step through to reconnect with your story.

Pull Your Characters Out of the Story

Is your character stuck in a situation with no way out? Has your character gone on strike, refusing to take further action? Are secondary characters loitering around with nothing to do? Try removing the troubled character from the story you’re writing and placing them in a completely different situation. You don’t have to write a novel, but sketch some ideas about how your character would behave in various scenarios. Then bring them back to the story you were working on and see if your creative wall hasn’t cracked.

Try Fiction Writing Exercises

Fiction writing exercises provide a constant stream of ideas. You can find websites, magazines, and books that provide activities to kick your writing and your imagination into high gear. Look for exercises that are specific to the problems you’re having. If your plot isn’t going anywhere, find plot exercises. If you are having trouble with dialogue, look for dialogue exercises. I wrote Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises for storytellers who need guidance and inspiration — it has a little of everything and can knock down all kinds of creative walls.

Break it Down

Sometimes we get stuck because something’s wrong with the plot or structure. If you’re writing a manuscript, it will be difficult to see the bones of your story. Convert your manuscript into an outline that lists all major plot points. Then you can more easily see where the story took a wrong turn. If you’re having character problems, create outlines that show character arcs. Keep using these outlines to find and resolve problems in your plot and structure.

Go Deep

Sometimes the biggest problem with a story is that it’s flat. The characters are lackluster; the plot is boring. This is likely because these story elements are underdeveloped — there’s not enough detail or depth. Pause work on your manuscript to work on developmental projects like character sketches, plot outlines, world-building, and research that will add layers of detail to your creative vision, which will then get fleshed out in your writing when you resume work on the project.

Expand Your Vision

Sometimes what’s missing isn’t detail but entire chunks of a story; if your story feels thin, then you can add characters and subplots to plump it up. I had written multiple drafts of a novel when I was struck with a new character. I didn’t think much about it — I just started writing a chapter about her. It became the first chapter of the novel and she became the thread that tied the entire series together. Similarly, you might find that your plot lacks dimension; introducing new story threads and subplots can make your tale more dynamic.

Get a Second Opinion

We all grow blind to our own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you’ve started to think your story isn’t as great as you originally envisioned. Maybe you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong with it, but you’re not sure what. This is often a good time to get a second opinion. A writer friend is ideal for this, but you can also work with a developmental editor or a writing coach. Find someone who you trust, who is knowledgeable about writing (and your genre), someone who will give you honest feedback and help you get back on track. Sometimes the mere act of discussing the project with another person will illuminate the problem and reveal a solution.

Don’t Give Up on Your Story

Storytelling is not an easy endeavor, and the best traits for writers to cultivate are patience and determination. Sure, some stories are destined for the recycling bin. Successful writers produce a lot of garbage before they eke out a gem. But don’t give up on a project when you hit your first roadblock. If you do that, you’ll never get anywhere.

Whether you write yourself into a corner, lose interest in your plot or characters, or get tempted by a newer, shinier idea, stick with your project and see it through to completion. Pay attention to what’s going on when you’re at your most creative and learn how to get into that state on command. Writers need to get to know how their minds work and what brings out the best ideas. This is how each writer develops a reliable set of techniques or a routine that produces good results.

Also, stock up on creativity resources. Look for books on creativity and expose yourself to plenty of art and entertainment. Also, try other creative outlets, such as painting, dancing, photography, or music. Remember that like attracts like, so the more creative you are, the more creative you’ll be.

How do you break through fiction writing blocks? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

How to Overcome Perfectionism to Boost Your Writing Productivity

Do you want to boost your writing productivity?

Then ask yourself if any of the following apply to you:

  • You’re very hard on yourself, especially when things go wrong.
  • You spend more time than you should on a task because you want it to be done just right.
  • You have extremely high standards, and will sometimes sacrifice your own well-being to complete a project perfectly.
  • You’re the first to find errors and correct them, knowing that finding mistakes in a completed project will drive you nuts.
  • You tend to ruminate over past mistakes and always vow not to repeat them.

If you found that two or more of these described you, you tend toward perfectionism. If you related to more than that, you may be a full-blown perfectionist.

Now don’t panic. Perfectionists sometimes get a bad rap, but there are good as well as bad things about this trait. You are probably a determined, hard-working person, for example, who is always trying to improve. Your completed projects are most likely of high quality, and you’re probably good at editing your own writing, because you actually enjoy finding flaws and fixing them.

But there’s no doubt that your perfectionist personality is also likely to make it difficult for you to open up time in your schedule to write. Here’s why, and what you can do to boost your creative productivity.

3 Ways Perfectionism Kills Your Writing Productivity

Most writers struggle with time management these days—it’s just hard to find ways to squeeze in writing time with all the other things we have going on in our lives.

Perfectionists struggle more than most for three main reasons:

1. They spend too much time trying to get every project just right, which makes them less productive overall.
2. They fear failure, so they resist starting a project until they feel “ready.” The term for this is procrastination, and it will keep a perfectionist from ever completing a book or other creative project.
3. They are always critiquing. They edit their work as they’re writing it, which makes it difficult to get into a rhythm of creative output.

These three factors slow the perfectionist writer down at every turn. They not only stall his progress on his creative projects, they also slow him down on everything else he does in life, creating an unbearably long to-do list and the feeling of always being behind.

Perfectionist writers often compensate by working harder and longer to make sure everything is perfect, from their next novel to their next blog post to their next email to their children’s homemade lunches, to the point that they eventually buckle under the demanding load. The result can be exhaustion and depression or even a serious illness.

This side of perfectionism isn’t fun—ask those who suffer through it. If you’re one of them, you may be all too familiar with your own tendencies to grade yourself on everything, ruminate over even small mistakes, and resist letting a project go until you’ve beaten it to death.

None of us can really change our innate personalities, though, so what are perfectionist writers to do? Are they doomed, or can they adjust just enough to make more time for their creative work?

7 Tips to Help You Become a More Productive Perfectionist Writer

First, remember the positive side to being a perfectionist. You don’t have to feel badly about this trait. The important thing is to learn to work with it so you can get more writing done. To do that, try these seven tips:

1. Find areas where you can let up: Perfectionists tend to want everything to be perfect. Try to identify projects that don’t matter as much, and practice allowing them to be sub-par. Remember that you want to make time for writing and your other priority projects, so make a list of less important things that don’t need to be perfect and practice spending less time on them.

You’ll probably never feel comfortable letting some projects go before they’re “ready,” but you can get better at it.

2. Realize that your standards are super high: Step back for a moment and realize that it’s likely your standards are super high. There’s no real definition of “perfect” for most of the things you do in life. What’s the difference between a clean bathroom and a perfectly clean bathroom? You can probably tell, but most people can’t. Simply remembering that can help you go easier on yourself.

When you think something is “okay” but not yet “perfect,” realize that “okay” is probably good enough in most cases.

3. Practice being productive: Studies have actually shown that perfectionists are less productive than others. (Read more about productivity in C. S. Lakin’s post, “Boost Your Productivity: Getting to the Core of Your Distractions.”) When you’re agonizing over one project, you’re slowing yourself down and stealing time from the other things you planned to do (like writing).

Make productivity your goal instead, and let your perfectionism work on that for a while!

4. Carry a timer around: One way you can practice being more productive is to carry a timer around with you (or use an app on your cell phone). Give yourself a time limit for each project you take on during the day. Fifteen minutes to write that important email—when the timer goes off, send it! An hour for that work report. Thirty minutes to make dinner. An hour to clean the house.

Push yourself to work more quickly, and adhere to your allotted time. It will be painful, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Go go go!

5. Forgive yourself: Perfectionists are super hard on themselves, ruminating over every mistake. This can create a stressed out mind, which is horrible for your creativity. What you need is to practice forgiving yourself. That typo in your query letter? It’s not the end of the world. That forgotten soccer game? Your child will forget about it (eventually). Your favorite phrase should become, “It’s okay!” Particularly when you’re writing, allow yourself to be just who are you are on the page, flaws and all. You may find it so freeing that your stories become even more imaginative.

(Find a fun way to get past your own perfectionism when writing in Mary Jaksch’s post, “How to Make Writing Easy: One Nifty Tip to Sneak Past Perfection.”

6. Practice fooling yourself: If your perfectionist tendencies make you likely to procrastinate, find ways to fool yourself into getting started. Tell yourself you’ll write for only five minutes, or that this isn’t the “real” draft, but just a “practice” one. Set a timer and don’t allow your fingers off the keyboard until it dings.

Do whatever you have to do to get past that internal editor and start writing.

7. Make failing a game: Perfectionists fear failure. They work to get everything just right so they don’t fail.  Make it a game to see how many mistakes you can commit. Not by faking it, but by trying new things more often. Send out more submissions. Query more agents. Try out more types of writing that are unfamiliar to you. Submit your work to more contests.

Gradually, you may start to have more fun with the whole thing, and failure won’t seem like such a big deal. You may also surprise yourself at the successes you experience!

Boost Your Writing Productivity

Managing Perfectionism is a Lifelong Process. Your perfectionism is probably not going to go away. Remember, it’s okay! In many ways, it can benefit your career. To limit its potential destructiveness on your writing time, try changing just one habit per day. Baby steps are key to gradually allowing yourself to step away from the need to be perfect, and get closer to “good enough.”

As American writer David Foster Wallace said:

If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.

Source: writetodone.com

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4 Easy Edits That Make Your Story Flow Better

As a copy editor, I’ve learned a lot about improving the flow of my own writing as I’ve tweaked the manuscripts of others. Today I want to share five easy edits you can make yourself that invite the reader deeper into the story and provide the impact you want to have.

1. Eliminate crutch words.

Crutch words are words we lean on too much in our writing — used when unnecessary, repeated too often, diluting the point. Like many definitions, it’s easier to understand when you see examples. Here are a few: just, so, definitely, really, very, suddenly, and (at the beginning of sentences), smiled, shrugged, knew, saw, heard.

Adverbs are most often the culprits, but you might wonder what’s bad about knew, saw, and heard. Nothing is wrong with any of these words used well, but we tend to misuse or overuse them. It’s a crutch when you write, “I knew I was going to be in trouble,” when “I was going to be in trouble” is the same thing and a deeper point of view (POV) anyway. The same is true with saw and heard. If a POV character says a bell tolled, we know they heard it.

Bonus thought: Curse words can easily become crutch words too. Make sure you treat each like you would other words; that is, imagine substituting another common word in its place. If it feels overly repetitive, you have too many instances of that curse word — it’s become a crutch and can interrupt the flow of the read.

2. Finish strong with sentences and paragraphs.

Way back when I was in college, I learned about the recency effect. Psychologists have shown that we remember what we heard or write mostly recently better than what’s in the beginning and especially the middle. For this reason, deleting or moving around a few words in a sentence can make a real difference in the impact they have on a reader.

Let’s take a quick example. Which do you think would have the recency effect a writer desires?

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power in it.”

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power.”

“In it” doesn’t finish strong the way “power” does. Ditching those two words can give the sentence the impact it deserves. Here’s another example, with moving words around:

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, regret was my strongest emotion.”

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, my strongest emotion was regret.”

The second clearly lets the word regret linger in the reader’s mind. Look for places where removing a few words or moving them around draws attention to the words you want to echo in the reader’s mind.

3. Substitute action or description for he said/she said.

“I loved him like a brother,” she said. She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Why is she said included? A dialogue is needed to tell us who’s talking, but in this case, the next sentence gives that information. The action fills in that information, so that she said can get nixed and nothing’s lost:

“I loved him like a brother.” She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Sometimes you’ll have a double-hit like the example above, but other times a writer has missed an opportunity to give more information about a character by using he said/she said instead of describing their body language, vocal tone, actions, or appearance. Just compare the strength of these two options:

“I loved him too,” he said. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

“I loved him too.” He clutched his rose tight to his chest, crushing its petals with his grip. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

Door number two, anyone? Simply run a manuscript-wide search for those he said/she saids and see if you want to make any deletions or substitutions.

4. Break up some paragraphs.

When I edit my own books, one run-through always involves putting the book on my e-reader so that I can see it the way a reader would. The prose appears very different in this format than on a computer screen, and it’s easier to see large, clunky paragraphs that need to be broken up.

Your book needs white space — that is, areas without text — to prevent the reader from being overwhelmed with the busyness of the page. Without sufficient white space, reading a book can feel like searching for Waldo; your brain gets overwhelmed.

What’s the right size for paragraphs? It depends. What genre do you write? Historical will have longer paragraphs than thrillers. What’s happening on the page? Description tends to have longer paragraphs than dialogue. Who’s talking? An erudite POV character will have longer chunks of thought than a street thug. So you have to make that call.

Regardless, make sure no page is so overwhelmed with text that it’s difficult for the reader’s eyes to focus.

With so much of writing a book being hard, it’s nice to learn about some easy ideas for improving the flow of your story. These four easy fixes can help you achieve the impact you want to have on the reader.

By Julie Glover
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Deconstructing Best Sellers in Your Niche Genre

I’ve been studying thrillers because I’m about to write a thriller series. Even though I’ve written a couple of novels with thriller elements, I want to nail this genre. I want my novels in this series to fit right up there with best-selling authors.

And that has involved a lot of work. I spent a bunch of money flying to NY to attend Thrillerfest (and I’m so glad I did!). I took a masters class, and all-day ATF workshop (the highlight of the week!), I met with and shmoozed with best-selling authors. I listened to panel discussions. And so much more.

In addition, I’ve been doing hours of research online. I’ve made phone appointments to talk with experts (FBI, ATF, park rangers, lightning experts, etc.). I am heading up to Seattle to scout locations and meet with local ATF special agents and park rangers in Mt. Rainier.

Yes, I take my writing seriously, and that means I do my homework. Before I wrote my latest novel in my Western series, I went to Wyoming to get a feel for Laramie, the state penitentiary, and the environs. I also went to many museums, dug into newspaper archives, and read passages from books that I couldn’t check out and had been written decades ago that shed light on the 1870s (the decade in which my series is set).

One of the most important things a writer can do, and which I’m in the process of doing now, is deconstruct best sellers in her genre.

 

I can’t emphasize this enough. Few writers that I work with ever take the time to do this. Sure, they read mysteries because they want to write mysteries. But they aren’t tearing them apart.

That’s so important to do! Why? Because best sellers in a niche genre have a specific structure.

For example: I took four thrillers that I love, which are very different from one another, and I made a chart and briefly wrote a summary of the first four scene in each novel. I put the novel titles at the top of a sheet of paper and I put scene #1, scene #2, etc. down the left side. Guess what I learned just from this simple exercise?

That those first four scenes accomplish very specific things. That those scenes have specific action and purpose. What did I do then? I plotted out my first four scenes based on their structure. I feel very confident that those scenes I write will be exactly what I need to kick off my thriller.

Do Your Homework!

I’ve written on how to write a sample chapter in your targeted genre. That’s a very helpful thing to do, and that’s my next step.

Think about grabbing a half-dozen novels in your genre and try making a chart, like I do. Here’s what I do when I want to tear apart a genre.

I take pieces of paper and runa vertical line down the middle. On one side I put the scene # and plot summary—just a few sentences to tell what happened in the scene. On the other side facing it I write what the scene did structurally for the story.

If a scene shows the hero working in his job and thinking about how his best friend just got married and he wishes he could find the right woman, I might write “see hero in his ordinary life. Establish his core need for love.” There is no exact way to word this. Just keep in mind you aren’t trying to copy the plot in any way. You just want a feel for the pacing of the story and how complicated it is, when certain plot elements come into play, how many subplots and what kinds there are.

When you study the mechanics of tone, pacing, description, and all your basic elements, the style and voice will fit the genre. With deconstructing plot, you can get a feel for the actual kind of storytelling you need to do.

Many authors use charts to lay out their scenes, and I find them extremely helpful. This is very similar. You may just want to create a brief paragraph summary of each scene in the novel you’re deconstructing, or you may want to go deeper into the details, showing the time covered in the scene, the overall amount of time the entire novel covers, or following subplots. Play around with ideas to find one that works for you.

Because I didn’t want to copy the structure exactly when I deconstructed a novel, I didn’t try to match each scene exactly. I wanted more of a general overview so that the plot I came up with could have room to breathe and grow.

But you might find you want a much closer match. You might, for example, choose a popular thriller and decide to have the exact number of scenes with each scene basically accomplishing the same objectives, aiming for the same length.

There are other ways to deconstruct a novel than the one I use. Example:

Scene #

Chapter

Opening line

Pages

POV

Characters present in the scene

Date

Location

Gist of what’s happening

Conflict

POV’s goal for the scene

Author’s goal for the scene

The reader reads on because…

The scene advances the story because…

Scene/chapter hook

Feeling it leaves me with

Deconstructing can be done with any type of book genre. And it leaves plenty of room for your originality, voice, style, plot ideas. You don’t want to be a copycat. Sure, go ahead and write a mail-order bride historical romance. Yes, there are dozens out there. But they are huge sellers. Thousands of readers want more. There is nothing wrong with adding another one.

How original do your plot and characters have to be? Maybe not all that much. But if you can come up with an interesting scenario no one else has done, some characters with problems and personalities that are fresh and engaging, there is no reason your novels won’t sell up there with all the others.

So spend time on this and really nail your genre. It may take weeks. Don’t rush. Plot out your story, flesh out great characters, and practice writing a scene or two. Be sure to refer to your research chart that looked at the mechanics for your scenes. Show the chapters to critique partners, or find some readers of that genre willing to give you feedback to see if you nailed your genre.

Once you feel you have, you’re ready to get writing that book.

Another thing that helps as you read through these books is to keep a notebook and jot down phrases and expressions, word choice. I found this helpful when doing my historical, as I picked up adjectives and verbs that fit the era. I later did more thorough research online for slang, expressions, and vocabulary for the 1870s West. But even with contemporary novels, jotting down interesting phrasing or words that catch your eye can help spark ideas for your book (without copying them exactly).

Source: livewritethrive.com

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Nonfiction Writers: Beware the Curse of Knowledge

Today’s guest post is excerpted from Writing to Be Understood by Anne Janzer (@AnneJanzer) a professional writer who has worked with more than one hundred technology companies, writing in the voice of countless brands and corporate executives.

Few of your readers care about what you know, no matter how many years you have spent accumulating that wisdom. They care about what they need or want to understand.

You share much in common with your readers: you both live a world with numerous, competing demands on your attention, limited time for “deep reading,” and perhaps a longing for simplicity and clarity.

How do you provide the right amount of information without either oversimplifying the subject or overloading the reader? You’ll have to decide what to include and what to leave out. The more you love your subject, the harder this decision can be.

Beware the curse of knowledge

Think of a well-known, familiar song, like “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Sing it to yourself in your head. Then, find a friend and ask them to guess the song as you tap out its rhythm.

You won’t expect them to get it right away, but you might be surprised and frustrated by how long it takes them to correctly guess the tune rattling around in your head. At least, that’s what psychologist Elizabeth Newton found when she tested this very thing.

In 1990, Newton was a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University. She conducted an experiment in which half of the participants (the tappers) were asked to tap out the rhythms of common songs, while the other half (the listeners) guessed the songs. The tappers estimated how long it would take the listeners to name the right tune.

The people tapping were inevitably surprised by the listeners’ inability to hear the tune that matched the rhythm. It seemed obvious to the tappers. This study illustrates a phenomenon known as the curse of knowledge, or the challenge of getting out of our own heads.

Once we know something, it’s difficult to remember not knowing it. We take our knowledge for granted.

We can spot other people suffering from the curse of knowledge pretty easily. We’ve all seen it:

  • The physician who speaks in medical terms you don’t know
  • The academic author who writes a paper, intended for a general audience, filled with terms that only a graduate student would understand

These people aren’t trying to hoodwink or confuse you. They simply forget that you don’t know what they know. 
It’s much harder to detect symptoms of this tendency in our own behavior. When smart, caring people write incomprehensible stuff, the curse of knowledge is usually to blame. It plagues experts who write for the layperson, or the industry insider addressing an outsider. 
Of course, a few knowledgeable and expert communicators avoid the curse of knowledge with apparent ease, but let’s consider them outliers and confess that the rest of us struggle with it. The greater your knowledge, the stronger the curse.

Nonfiction writers confront this problem in many phases of the work. For example, we cannot proofread our own work effectively because we already “know” what’s on the page. We use terminology that readers don’t know because it is habitual to us. 
You can defeat the curse of knowledge during later phases of the work by enlisting others for editing and proofreading. But you must avoid the curse earlier still, when deciding what to cover and how to approach it. Get outside your own head.

Go wide or go deep

Before you write a single word, you face a fundamental decision about exactly what you want and need to cover. Answer these three questions.

  1. Breadth: Will you cover a single issue or a wide range of topics?
  2. Depth: Should you dive into details? How many are necessary?
  3. Background: How much does the reader already know, and how much will you need to backfill?

These decisions depend almost entirely on your readers. For a distinct, well-defined audience, you may be able to cover a wider range of concepts related to your topic. When addressing a general audience, you may choose to focus on the most important things, and avoid excessive detail.

The final form also matters. A book gives you more room to roam; readers expect a greater breadth or depth of coverage.

If you are expert in a topic, you may choose to cover it in great detail. For example, masterful biographers like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Walter Isaacson do deep dives into their subjects’ lives, creating works that span several hundred pages. If that’s your approach, you will need to dedicate time and effort to maintaining the reader’s interest. The depth of a treatment can narrow the potential audience of readers.

For some books, breadth is part of the essential value, as in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. As the title promises, it describes a massive topic in a slim volume. Tyson went wide, not deep. Writing about complex topics effectively at this level is a rare skill. Tyson deploys analogies with care, frames the content in a human context, and shares his personal enthusiasm and sense of wonder to guide the reader through the universe. The book is a masterful example of writing about a complex and abstract topic.

There’s no easy answer to the question of how broad or deep your treatment should be. It depends on your purposes and the needs of your audience.

Self-indulgent writers include everything they feel like covering. Thoughtful writers who seek to be understood focus on fit and purpose. Sometimes you have to let things go or put them aside for another project. Focus on serving your reader.

Simplicity vs. oversimplification

Designers, businesspeople, and others often refer to of the KISS principle, which is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

As a design philosophy, Keep It Simple, Stupid makes sense. Don’t create systems that are more complex than necessary. However, people mistakenly apply the KISS mantra as a filter in other fields, including political messaging, sales materials, and descriptions of technology.

Simplicity isn’t always the answer. The KISS mantra can become a convenient excuse for hiding complexity that you would rather people not see, such as:

  • Removing transparency from investments, because investors don’t need to know the possible risks
  • Not disclosing details of policies because voters won’t bother with the fine print
  • Not communicating to patients the complete range of treatment options available or the potential risks of a recommended course of action, for fear of delaying the preferred course of treatment.

Taken to the extreme, the KISS mantra shields us from the complexity that we should understand. 
Certain readers crave simplistic explanations or easy answers that spare them the cognitive work of understanding things that don’t hold their interest. Others, however, may suspect that you’re hiding important details or talking down to them.

When explaining complicated topics, beware of the boundary between simplicity and oversimplification. 
We want to believe that the world is simple enough for us to understand. We like to think that we don’t need layers of experts arbitrating between reality and ourselves, but when we ignore the true complexity of situations, we can inadvertently mislead readers.

Sabine Hossenfelder has heard some pretty wild theories about physics—hypotheses that she believes arise from the oversimplification of scientific topics for the general public. Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and writes about physics for publications like Forbes and Scientific American. She is also author of the book Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.

Her insight into the dangers of oversimplification, however, arises from years spent running a “Talk to a Scientist” consulting service, which she started as a graduate student and still maintains today on her blog, BackReaction. For a small fee, members of the public can pose questions about physics, neuroscience, geology, and other topics, or submit their own ideas about physics. Those theories are creative, interesting, and often not grounded in scientific reality.

She blames this, in part, on the tendency of journalists covering the field to simplify the message so much that they mislead readers.

In describing the experience of running the physics help line, she reports, “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that journalists are so successful at making physics seem not so complicated that many readers come away with the impression that they can easily do it themselves. How can we blame them for not knowing what it takes if we never tell them?”

Deciding what to include

Deciding what to cover and what to leave out challenges everyone. Writers, speaking coaches, and others share their advice about striking the right balance.

When you’re an insider in an industry, seek advice from those who are outsiders. Just make sure you find the right people to ask.

Linda Popky could be considered a Silicon Valley insider. She was named a Top 100 Women of Influence by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, and works with tech companies as the founder and president of Leverage2Market Associates. She’s also the author of the book Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing That Matters.

When writing about topics in which she has expertise, Popky takes care to counteract her insider status. “There are two dangers to knowing your subject matter well. First, you think everyone else knows it already, and as a result, no one understands what you write. Or, you think that nobody knows this stuff, and you go into excruciating detail.”

She handles the situation by finding other people to give her an outsider’s perspective. The key, says Popky, is getting feedback from the right individuals. “You need people who understand the audience and provide the right level of feedback at the right time. Find individuals who can express themselves and identify when something doesn’t work for them. They need the honesty to say if something is confusing.”

Source: janefriedman.com

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Learn How to Write and Finish a Novel

According to Kurt Vonnegut, “The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.” If this is true, then nothing makes for more mature souls than writing a novel, a form that particularly requires perseverance and patience. Though there are no hard and fast rules for how to get from the first draft to bookstore shelf, these guideposts on how to write a novel will help you find your way.

 

01. Give Some Thought to Plot.

 

Writing a novel can be a messy undertaking. The editing process will go easier if you devote time to plot in the beginning. For some writers, this means an outline; others work with index cards, putting a different scene on each one. Still, others only have a conflict and a general idea of where they plan to end up before diving in. If you’ve been writing for a while, you already know how your brain works and what kind of structure it needs to complete big projects. If you’re just starting out, then this may be something you’ll learn about your writing process as you revise your first novel.

 

 

02. Get a First Draft Down.

Though it is a good idea to test your idea out on other writers, resist getting feedback on the writing itself at this stage. Focus on getting the complete story down on paper instead. If you have trouble with writer’s block or tend to let, projects stall, NaNoWriMo might be helpful. Other writers maintain a regular schedule and spread the writing out over a longer period of time. Still, others enroll in novel classes, which provide weekly deadlines and community.

 

 

03. Be Prepared to Revise.

 

At a reading for his first book a few years ago, novelist Dominic Smith commented that the one thing he wasn’t prepared for in writing a novel was the amount of work between first draft and published book. In one way, this is heartening. However inspired you might feel while writing it, the first draft will probably be bad. It will be clunky, disorganized, and confusing. Entire chapters will drag. The dialogue will be unconvincing and wooden. Rest assured that it’s this way for everyone. And like writers everywhere, you just have to roll up your sleeves and get to work rewriting it.

 

 

04. Solicit Feedback.

When you think it’s time to start contacting agents, get feedback from writers you trust. Don’t be surprised if they send you back to your desk for another draft. Address any large structural problems first, and then go through the book scene by scene. Anytime you have a question about whether something is working, stop and see what you could do to make it better. Don’t just hope the reader won’t notice. If you want your book to be good, revise with your most intelligent, most thoughtful reader in mind.

 

 

05. Put It Aside.

If you find yourself banging up against the same problems with every draft, it may be time to work on something else for awhile. Sixteen years elapsed between the first draft of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the published version, for instance. Katherine Anne Porter likewise took years on some of her most famous stories. If you find yourself losing your way, go back to the fun parts of writing. Create something new; read for fun. With each new project you take on and each book you read, you’ll learn new lessons. When you come back to the novel — and you will come back — you’ll see it with more experienced eyes.

By
Source: thebalancecareers.com

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Elements of Suspense: The Cliffhanger

Once upon a time writers actually left their characters hanging from cliffs. In the early days of movies, when theaters ran serialized episodes of a story, a cliffhanger ending was a good way to ensure viewers would make the effort to come back next week. The same was true for serialized novels run in newspapers and magazines. Writers intentionally left characters hanging (not necessarily from a cliff) to entice readers to purchase the next installment.

Today’s readers and moviegoers may roll their eyes at Pauline hanging by her fingertips from a cliff, but the cliffhanger technique is still very much in use. If we change the definition of cliffhanger from:

a situation of imminent disaster usually occurring at the end of an episode of a serialized film

to the broader concept of:

a moment of unresolved danger or conflict

then a cliffhanger can happen anywhere a writer needs to crank up the tension. The key here is unresolved. Something is left hanging.

Consider the commercial breaks in a typical detective show. When do the breaks happen? Just after some new evidence is discovered that threatens to take the investigation in a whole new direction. Viewers are left hanging during the commercial, wondering what the hero will do with the new information.

In a similar vein, writers use the cliffhanger technique at the end of a chapter, scene, or beat to keep readers turning pages.

How to use the unresolved tension of a cliffhanger to increase suspense in your manuscript

  1. End a scene in the middle of danger. The tried and true cliffhanger ending—a bad thing has happened and the character is left some kind of danger at the end of a scene. You might switch to a different set of characters in the next scene and leave the poor hero hanging for a scene or two, or you might continue the action in the next scene. Either way, the reader must keep reading to find out how the situation is resolved.
  2. End a scene by hinting that a bad thing is about to happen. The doorknob turns… A shadowy figure appears in the window… The heroine hears the voice she’s been dreading for pages… This is similar to number one, except the danger is only implied, leaving the reader to imagine all sorts of horrible things that are about to ensue.
  3. End a scene by hinting that a bad thing might be about to happen. A subtler variation of number two. Instead of the heroine hearing a voice she recognizes and dreads, what if she hears a voice she doesn’t recognize? Is it a friend or a foe? The reader doesn’t know until they read on.
  4. End a scene on an ambiguous note. Instead of making it clear exactly what happened and how that affects the main character, try leaving things a little less clear. Sometimes a writer can accomplish this simply by backing up a few sentences. Instead of ending the scene with the sleuth deciding she needs to question the shop clerk, back up a few sentences and end with the information that could be interpreted to mean the clerk was guilty.

The cliffhanger technique isn’t just for the end of chapters or episodes, however. You can use subtle touches of cliffhanger anywhere in your story.

  1. End a conversation with a tantalizing bit of information. Imagine the sleuth is talking with an informant who tells him about a new clue that’s come to light. But instead of giving all the details right away, the informant says, “I found something in the wall of the garage. You’d better come take a look.” The sleuth will naturally ask for details, but the if informant refuses to give them, both sleuth and reader will be dying to find out what’s been unearthed. Ratchet up the tension further by forcing the sleuth to finish his current task before he can go take a look.
  2. Leave a character in a high emotional state. Tension is not only created by external danger. Sometimes the conflict is within a character.  Examples: The hero gets word his wife has cancer while in the middle of a meeting, or the heroine has an argument with her fiancé but has to break it off to interview a key suspect. These bits of unresolved life issues can add tension even when they have nothing to do with the main plot.

Bottom line: Look for places in your story where you can leave a situation unresolved, however briefly. Closure is important at the end of story, but unresolved tension is what keeps the reader turning page after page to get there.

By Lisa E. Betz
Source: almostanauthor.com

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How to Talk About Policing In Crime Fiction

A few weeks back, I was drinking with some buddies at a writers’ convention when I felt a tap on the shoulder.

“I want to introduce you to a fan,” someone said.

Like any dignified author at this stage of my career, I whipped around so fast that the Brooklyn Lager bottle nearly flew out of my hand. A man in his sixties stood before me with his hand out—square-jawed, clear-eyed and firm of grip, in a well-tailored suit. He looked like exactly the kind of well-respected man who smiles and says “I don’t read novels” when I meet him in other circumstances. Exactly the kind of reader I’ve been trying to win over for most of my career. A prosecutor, I was told. Even better! Someone who had been in the trenches and would appreciate the nuances and shades of gray I tried to bring out in my novels.

“I just want to see you people get it right,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Thank you.” You people?

“Every week, I never miss the show.”

“Oh, that’s terrific.” I nodded. “Glad you like it. I’ll tell my friends who work on it.”

Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then went back to our conversations. And quietly, I laughed at myself. Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-cop by any means. In fact, I wanted to be a police officer for most of my childhood. And I don’t even think it’s enough to say, as many leftists like myself grudgingly do, “the police have a tough job.” There are parts of police culture that I don’t just respect, I envy. The hard work, the diligence, the ability to knock on doors day and night and talk to literarily anyone. And the humor. For Christ’s sakes, no one tells darker jokes or can make you laugh harder than an honest cop after a few drinks.

I have more than a few good friends who I revere in various police departments, and truth be told there have many years when I would have had a very hard time doing my job without them. Their stories need to be told, and I’m proud to have been among the people telling them, and grateful to have had the opportunity.

But those aren’t the only stories.

***

About a month after the writers’ convention, I had lunch with a guy I know named Sundhe Moses. We met at Junior’s, on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, near the housing project where he grew up. Sundhe spent 18 years in prison for allegedly shooting and killing a four-year-old girl as she roller-skated past a building in Brownsville. Earlier this year, Sundhe’s conviction was overturned and his name was cleared. In the decision, the judge cited the involvement of one Detective Louis Scarcella, who Sundhe said had coerced him into making a false confession by beating him and choking him. Scarcella denied doing any such thing, but it’s worth noting that twelve other convictions have been overturned so far in cases where the same detective is said to have abused defendants, fabricated confessions, and—this is true—used the same crack addict-prostitute as a key witness in six separate investigations.

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

Now it just so happens that I’m about to publish a novel about a cop who may be a serial killer. Such a thing is possible. A former California police officer named Joseph DeAngelo now stands accused of being the Golden State Killer, responsible for at least a dozen murders and more than fifty rapes over a forty-year period. And there are other cases around the world, including the infamous 10 Rillington Place killer John Christie, a War Reserve police officer who raped and strangled seven women in the 1950s.

But my novel, Sunrise Highway, isn’t really about that kind of individual pathology. It’s about how the rest of us could allow it to happen, in smaller ways, by being complacent, self-satisfied, or comfortable with the status quo. Making the decision not to ask the wrong questions at the wrong time, because it would unsettle the system and make our lives more complicated.

I wanted to tell a story about the pathology of a system that would not only permit a criminal to survive within it, but to rise up and get promoted as a leader (obviously, that couldn’t happen in, say, politics or corporate life). Yes, there have been books, a few movies, and a couple of TV shows like The Shield about individual dirty cops, but those are the exceptions. Most audiences want the lines between good and evil to be drawn clearly, and they want the heroes to trail no shadows in their wake. I wanted to write a book that asked some tougher questions about the world we’re living in.

“It’s not just the Scarcellas doing it on their own,” Sundhe told me. “A lot of other people have to be involved when there’s an injustice like this.”

I think it’s no accident that there’s never been a long-running TV show (at least none that I can think of) about a lawyer or a cop who defends the innocent and gets them out of jail. People want familiar stories after a long day at work and they certainly don’t want to be lectured. And I don’t blame them. I’m not in the business of lecturing anybody or showing them the light anyway. What I do want to do is give you something you’re not expecting, a suspenseful story from an angle that you might not have considered. And if you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good. And getting down to the reality of that can be as riveting and scary as Silence of the Lambs.

If you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good.

At the end of our meal, Sundhe, who is writing a book about his experiences, started talking about the difference between real life and what you see on the screen.

“You know what’s funny?” he said as the waitress dropped the check next to the pickles and cole slaw. “The other night I was watching a horror movie with my girlfriend. Can’t think of the name but there was all this tension in it because the killer was stalking this woman and her daughter.”

“Yeah?” I shrugged and picked up my water, thinking it could be one of a thousand films.

“And then at the end, just when you think they’re going to escape, he kills them both.”

“Ha.” I put down my glass. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“No.” Sundhe nodded. “And my girlfriend hated it. Because she didn’t think that’s how it was going to be. But sometimes life is like that. You don’t always get the ending you want.”

Source: crimereads.com

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LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD

“The sooner growing older is stripped of reflexive dread, the better equipped we are to benefit from the countless ways in which it can enrich us.” ―  Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

Time to Tell the Stories

Don’t tell me I am too old for that.

I know how it feels, perhaps you do too……to be 60, 70, or even 80, reminding yourself that you can no longer do what you once could, wondering if you should even try.

It is instinctive, I suppose, the need to push back against those perceived limitations. Accepting that ‘age-based’ prognosis feels so much like giving up, as though my forty-year-old mind is surrendering to my eighty-year-old body. After all, I arrived at retirement years ago knowing there were still things to do, feelings to experience, mysteries to explore…along with the surprising realization that there were stories I wanted to tell.

Scratching the Writing Itch

To be sure my literary adventures, the stories I wanted to tell, have taken me down roads less traveled, but that has been the beauty of it. In this day of high-tech, low-cost Print-on-Demand publishing my storytelling efforts have not been held hostage by agents, publishers, critics, or my modest bank account. I am writing to please myself…and thankful for the opportunity to do that, even when I am my harshest critic.

Yet those less-traveled highways offer their own storytelling choices. One fork in the road may have me creating a warm and fuzzy, happily-ever-after tale, while the next one leads to twists, turns, and dangerous intersections…where unseen troubles may lurk.

Late-Life Fiction

Perhaps you can guess which path my late-life travels have taken.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davis I call it Late-Life Fiction. It’s an obscure corner of the storytelling universe that feels like home to me.

In the course of twelve Tanner Chronicles books, my fictional friends have faced a litany of October and November challenges…good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. Still, like real life, a healthy dose of caring love can soften even the harshest trauma. Consider, for instance, stories that include:

* Returning to the scene of an earlier desertion
* Wooing the stroke-stricken lady who was his high school crush
* A Second Chance pursuit has men playing with guns
* The down and out couple who are Going Poor together
* An infatuated pair too timid to take a relational chance.
* Life, love, and frustration with an Alzheimer’s spouse
* Life partners lost and found
* Second loves found, then lost

Even the longest journey may begin with a single stumble.

The November Adventure Stories

I have spent the last couple of weeks exploring the possibility of a new ‘November adventure’ story. In the process, I have paused a time or two to ask myself if I am on to something real. Or is the story I have in mind more apt to be cataloged under ‘Adult Fantasy’? In that case, I probably ought to turn up my oxygen, lay back, and chill out.
We all understand, of course, that ‘adventure’ is a relative term. I know beyond a doubt that the septuagenarian friends whose story I will be telling are more timid than bold, and more tentative than confident. But they have been around the block a time or two, and are the sort who keep trying, even in the face of long odds.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisStill, the questions remain. Can I imagine, and then tell, a convincing story about a handful of seventy-five-year-olds who are inexplicably convinced that they still have things to do, to see, to learn, and become?

Am I the only one?

Before long the next round of questions had bubbled to the surface. Am I the only November remnant, male or female, who harbors childish notions of how much potential Becoming remains at my age? Am I whistling in the dark …unwilling to face the reality of a worn-out, used-up life standing at the edge of a steep and slippery slope?

Of course, it is an ego thing …telling a tale about old folks who are unready to cash in their chips so soon, reluctant to discard the dreams they have nurtured for so long. From beginning to end my goal will be storytelling, not literature. I aim to make it quality storytelling.

Once Upon a Time, We Were…

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisAny story that deals with what my creaky old friends can still do, and not do, will necessarily include age-appropriate depictions of the dynamic, idealistic young men and women they like to believe they once were.

Will I be able to put into words the challenges my November Knights and their ladies face? Will their geriatric capabilities be enough to win the day?

How about telling your own story?

Now or Never

What if you are among the multitude of October wannabe writers, most of whom do not share my unorthodox interest in Geriatric Adolescent fiction? Let’s say that your sort of story takes you somewhere else. Well, my friend, you are in luck. For no matter what you write, today’s self-publishing universe has a place for you.

First, however, let’s begin with this bit of cold reality. The latest numbers I have found indicate that more than 700,000 different e-books were self-published in the US in 2016. That’s right……a couple thousand a day, every day of the year. That, my friend, is serious competition, which ought to temper anyone’s expectations of finding an audience. Of course, your book might be the one that rises above the crowd, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

In my aging mind, the best approach to that reality has been to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, and take pride in my creations. At the end of the day, if they make a dollar or two, that’s great. If they don’t, I am still left with what I wanted.

I have charged ahead knowing that everyday people in every corner of the world are writing and self-publishing a growing tide of novels, family histories, family adventures, self-help manuals, even coloring books. Best of all in my tired old eyes, publishing an original novel in e-book and paperback formats and scoring your own Amazon Author’s page can be done for next to nothing. I have done that twenty times, beginning at age sixty-nine. You can too.

Rattle Those Bones

What’s in your closet?

Forty-five years ago our family moved to England so I could write the novel I knew was in me. We spent most of a year there, living out my foolish notion that serious writing required an exotic locale. Turned out that Winchester filled the ‘exotic’ bill much better than my original typed manuscript, which lay on a closet shelf for more than forty years before I resurrected it, whipped it into shape, and self-published it three years ago. As literature, it may have left something to be desired. As a memento of a particular time in a special place, it means a great deal to me.

By the time I was through with that project Roma was suggesting that we create a new story, recounting our family’s English adventure…the life we lived there, the sights we saw, the mistakes we made, and the life-long friends we met. The two of us spent a few months creating the story, before ordering five copies of the handsome paperback edition for Christmas gifts. Our total investment, from beginning to end was $37.00.

Is This the Day?

What is your life calendar telling you?

I cannot in good faith recommend late-life writing and self-publishing as the means to strike it rich. Yet, as an affordable and satisfying creative experience, it hits all the right notes for me.

Storytelling has allowed my June/July mind to engage with my October/November body, as I depict the forces of late-life playing in the lives I am creating.

That has worked for me.

Hopefully, others will find my results worth reading.

By Gil Stewart
Source: twodropsofink.com

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