Tag Archives: DailyWritingTips

Curiosity and Creativity for Writers

Today’s post is an excerpt from my book, Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing, which takes you on a tour through the world of creative writing while offering writing ideas and inspiration. This is from chapter thirty-one, “Curiosity and Creativity.” Let’s find out how fostering curiosity can increase your creativity. Enjoy!

Curiosity and Creativity

Even though inspiration abounds all around us, we writers sometimes get stumped. We search for essay topics, plot ideas, and interesting language for our poems. Unfortunately, our searches don’t always yield desirable results.

But by fostering curiosity, we can ensure a constant stream of creativity. Some of the best writing ideas come from asking simple questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

Most writers are curious by nature. We look at the world around us and wonder at it. Who are these people? What are we all doing here? Where are we heading? Why do we do the things we do? How will we move forward?

Remember how curious you were as a child? Everything you encountered spawned a series of questions because you were trying to learn and understand the world around you. Bring that childlike curiosity back, and you’ll always have a full supply of inspiration.

It doesn’t matter what form your writing takes or what genre you’re writing in. By fostering curiosity, you can create a fountain of ideas.

Below are some questions you can use to get inspired. Mix them up, change them around, and come up with your own list of questions:

Who

  • Who is this about?
  • Who can help?
  • Who is standing in the way?
  • Who am I?

What

  • What is the goal?
  • What are the stakes?
  • What is the underlying message?
  • What if…?

Where

  • Where did it all begin?
  • Where have we been?
  • Where should we go?
  • Where does it end?

When

  • When did it start?
  • When did things change?
  • When will things improve?
  • When will it be too late?

Why

  • Why did they do it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why take a risk?
  • Why are we here?

How

  • How did this happen?
  • How does this make people feel?
  • How does this sound?
  • How will this get resolved?

If you can keep your curiosity on fire and continue coming up with new questions, you’ll find that you can write your way into answers and constantly discover new writing ideas along the way.

As you work through your writing projects, you can also use questions to help you overcome hurdles that are preventing you from crossing the finish line. Not sure how to move a plot forward? Start asking questions. Don’t know how to begin your next poem? Ask questions. Want to write a piece that is informative and entertaining? Ask away.

Throughout time, many great thinkers have used questions to prompt creative and critical thinking. Sometimes, one question will lead to the next, and you’ll end up with more ideas than you thought possible. As long as you keep your curiosity well oiled and let those questions flow, you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration.

Activity

Open one of your writing projects, and make a list of at least twenty questions that get to the heart of your project. Be sure to include a mix of who, what, where, when, why, and how.

As an alternative, try using any of the questions from this chapter as writing prompts. Simply place a question at the top of a page, and then start writing in response to the question.

Do you have any favorite techniques for developing new writing ideas? Are there any questions you ask to get through a project or to come up with new project ideas? What are you curious about? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

From Ready, Set, Write: Getting Ready to Write

Today, I’m excited to share an excerpt from my recently published book, Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing. This is from the book’s introduction. Enjoy!

A Writer’s Journey Begins

When I was a little girl, my mom used to sit, curled up on the couch, with a thick paperback novel in her hands and a big bag of M&Ms in her lap. I’m still trying to quit my candy habit! But books are forever.

My mom taught me to read by the time I turned four. The rhyming stories of Dr. Seuss were among my early favorites. Soon I was devouring Charlotte’s Web and Little House in the Big Woods. Later it was the Narnia books and A Wrinkle in Time. I constantly checked out Where the Sidewalk Ends from my school library. Whenever I asked for new books, my mom would take me to the used paperback store and let me pick out a few. Whenever the Scholastic newsletter came, she let me order a few books from the catalog. And whenever I asked to go to the big public library, she drove me there.

When I was about thirteen years old, something changed. After years of reading other people’s words, I started putting my own words on the page.

They were poems or songs, inspired by the music that I loved and informed by the books I had read. I composed these pieces in my spiral-bound notebook, which was intended for schoolwork. I remember marveling at the words I’d written. I had created something—and I had done it with nothing more than a pen and paper and some words. I was elated. I wanted to write more.

Around the same time, one of my teachers required our class to keep journals. We wrote in our journals for a few minutes every day, and when the semester ended, I continued writing in mine throughout the summer and for years afterward.

I filled many notebooks throughout my teens and early twenties. I wrote about my thoughts and feelings. I explored ideas. I wrote poems and personal essays. I composed song lyrics. Later, I started to tinker with storytelling.

I sometimes hear people talk about what it means to be a “real writer.” Occasionally, someone will say that a “real writer” loves to write, needs to write, or gets paid to write.

I disagree.

I’m a real writer because I write. Sure, sometimes I love it, but not always. Other times, I need to do it, but not always. Sometimes I get paid to write, but that didn’t happen until many years after I’d started writing. There are times when writing is frustrating, exhausting, or just plain difficult. I’ve experienced writer’s block. I’ve struggled with doubt and dismay about my work. I’ve taken long, unplanned breaks from writing.

But I always come back.

Writing is part of who I am. It’s what I do.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, too. At the very least, you’re an aspiring writer. That doesn’t mean you intend to get your name on a best-seller list (although you might). It doesn’t mean you plan to get paid for your writing (although you might). It doesn’t mean you will submit your work and get it published (although you might).

It just means you want to write.

And so you should.

About Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing

As the title implies, this book is a guide to creative writing. It isn’t a book that delves into grammar, spelling, or punctuation. It doesn’t tell you how to become a professional, published author. It does one thing and one thing only: shows you what you can write and how you can write it.

You’ll start by creating a space in which to write. Then you’ll explore various forms of writing that you can experiment with in your new writing space. You’ll answer some questions about writing. You’ll try some writing activities. You’ll learn techniques to help you stay motivated and inspired. Finally, you’ll put together your own writer’s tool kit.

You’ll find questions and activities to prompt a writing session at the end of each chapter. So get your notebook ready.

Get Ready to Write

The more you explore and experiment, the more fun you’ll have and the better your writing will become. Try different forms and genres. Use a variety of tools and techniques. Take risks, and don’t expect everything to come easily, but know that your efforts will be rewarded.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Writing Practice

Everybody wants to know the secret to success, and writers are no exception.

We often talk about all the things one must do in order to become a successful writer. From studying grammar to working through multiple revisions, from sending out submissions to building a platform, writers must wear many hats if they hope to succeed.

However, most of those tasks are irrelevant (and success is impossible) if a writer hasn’t acquired the basic skills necessary for doing the work. There’s no reason to worry about submissions, readers, and marketing if your writing habits and skills aren’t up to the task of getting the project done. You might have a great premise for a story, but if you don’t know how to write a story—or if you don’t have the discipline to finish a story—you’ll never be able to bring that premise to life, at least not in a way that is effective or meaningful.

So it’s essential for young and new writers to develop beneficial writing practices to ensure not only that the writing gets done—but that it gets done well.

Essential Writing Practices

There are many writing practices that you can cultivate. Some will make you a better writer. Some will help you write more or write faster. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them into your writing habits, so you’ll need to choose which ones are best for you and your goals. However, some practices are more useful—and more essential—than others. Below are the writing practices that I have found to be most important for improving one’s writing and producing good work—the practices that are essential for all writers:

Regular Reading

I’m always surprised by aspiring writers who don’t read. I mean, if you don’t read, then why would you want to be a writer? Reading is, in many ways, even more important than writing. It lays the groundwork for everything you’ll write. You’ll learn a tremendous amount of the craft from reading, and if you don’t read, it will show in your work, which will never move past a beginner’s level.

Daily Writing

It should go without saying that if you want to be a writer, you need to do the writing. But many writers spend more time talking and thinking about writing than actually writing. Force yourself to do your writing, even when you don’t feel like it. Allow yourself to write badly, and accept that sometimes you’ll write garbage. Even a short, twenty-minute writing session each day will keep your skills sharp and your writing muscles strong.

Study the Craft

You can learn a lot by reading and practicing your writing, but you can’t learn everything. There are aspects of the craft that you’ll only learn through more formal study. That doesn’t mean you have to run off to a university and take college courses, although doing so will certainly help. You can learn the craft through local or online classes and workshops, by reading books and articles on the craft, and working with other writers (or an editor or writing coach). There is a lot to learn, and the sooner you start, the better.

Revise and Polish Your Work

As you make your way through the writing world, you’ll hear this advice over and over: Writing is rewriting, or writing is revising. A lot of people have the misconception that we writers sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and the words magically flow out perfectly. That’s not how it works. The first few sentences or paragraphs are often a mess. The first draft is garbage. But with each revision, everything gets better. That’s how you produce polished work.

Get Feedback

Getting feedback can be emotionally challenging to young and new writers, who have a tendency to take it personally. Harsh criticism, no matter how constructive, can be a bruise to the ego. But you are not your writing. The criticism is not about you; it’s about your work. And without feedback, it’s almost impossible to get an objective view of your skills and the work you’re producing. Separate yourself from your writing. Take the feedback seriously and be appreciative, because it will help you become a better writer. Apply it to your work.

More Useful Writing Practices

Each writer needs their own practice. Another writer’s daily practice of freewriting for an hour at dawn might not be your ideal writing practice. But as long as you’re willing to try new practices, you’ll find what works for you. Here are some suggestions for writing practices that might boost your skills and productivity:

  • Warm-ups: Many writers find that everything comes out awkward at the beginning of a writing session. A ten- to twenty-minute warm-up can get words flowing.
  • Look it up: When you come across a question, such as a question about grammar or the meaning of a word, look it up, especially if it will only take a few minutes.
  • Network with the writing community: Other writers will keep you motivated. You’ll learn from them. And they can offer support and advice.
  • Freewriting is a good way to warm up at the start of a writing session. It’s also a good daily writing practice during times when you’re not working on a particular project. And it’s a fantastic way to generate raw material that you can use in various projects.
  • Set goals and create a five-year plan, and then revisit your goals and plan annually.
  • Collect inspirational and motivational quotes about writing and post them around your writing desk, or jot them down in a notebook. Review a quote or two before every writing session, or when you don’t feel like doing the work.
  • Study poetry (or literary devices and techniques): These tools are the tricks of the trade, and they will take your writing to another level, from methods for structuring language to using devices like metaphors, this is an excellent way to enrich your work.
  • Finish a project before starting a new one: If you prefer (or need) to work on multiple projects simultaneously (I do), then always keep one project on the front burner until it’s complete. That’s your primary (or priority) project. See it through to completion.
  • Step away from drafts for a while before revising to clear your head so you can return to them with fresh eyes.

What Are Your Writing Practices?

What do you consider your most important writing practices? Are there any essential or beneficial writing practices you would add to these lists? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

7 Sure Signs You Picked the Wrong Freelance Writing Niche

Being vegan in a family of ​very ​carnivorous Texans makes for some extremely awkward holiday dinners.

Don’t get me wrong, though. 

Most of my family is super supportive, and they respect my choice to avoid eating meat or any animal products.

But sometimes, I still have to hear the occasional uncomfortable comment at the dinner table.

​Honestly, these don’t bother me that much. It is what it is, and I’m toooootally down to share stuff like how I get enough protein (maybe it’ll change someone’s mind about their meat consumption)!

But a few years ago, I had an overly pushy family member do something that really bothered me:

“Here, have some of this turkey,” ​he said, even though he knew I don’t eat meat.

To which I replied something along the lines of “No, thanks.”

But he kept pushing. And pushing. And pushing.

wrong freelance writing niche

What I said: “No, thanks.” What I was thinking: “No, and for fuck’s sake, don’t ask me again.”

As if asking me one more mother-effing time was going to make me eat the damn turkey.

I kept saying no, and by some miracle, I managed to keep my cool, and he managed to shut the fuck up.

After all of that, do you think I ate the turkey?

The answer is no. I didn’t. 

No matter how much this guy tried to weirdly pressure me into it, eating that turkey is not something I EVER would have done. 

Because as a vegan, my mind is already 100% made up on how I feel about eating meat. 

It’s not for me.

​What does this have to do with YOU landing freelance writing clients and picking the right niche?

Quite a bit, actually.

Some of you are out there acting like my family member:

Trying to “force meat on a vegan.”

And it’s killing your business.

Let’s start today’s blog post with the #1 sign you picked the wrong niche and an explanation of what I mean:

7 Telltale Signs You Picked the Wrong Freelance Writing Niche

1. Selling to clients – even those with good-sized budgets – feels like trying to sell meat to a vegan.

Whew. As a vegan, I can tell you that this is NOT a good idea.

Read this and let it sink in, friends:

You cannot force a freelance writing client to value what you do.

And tbh, you don’t want those kinds of clients anyway because it’ll always feel difficult.

Example:

When I was doing lots of IT/Tech writing, I noticed that those clients wanted mainly:

  • Website copy
  • Case studies
  • Whitepapers

…Because in their opinion, those things were going to drive the best business results for them.

Which was a problem for me, who wanted to write blog posts.

Now, could I have sat around and convinced these clients to publish blog posts?

Sure, probably.

But I didn’t.

Because clients who are a hard sell are not going to be your best clients.

First, you’ve got to convince them to value what you write.

Then, you’ve got to convince them to hire you.

THEN, you’ve got to convince them to pay you well… for something they don’t really even value.

Friends:

Don’t go for clients who are a hard sell.

Go for clients who already value the specific kind of content you create.

Again, don’t try to “sell meat to a vegan” – only sell meat to someone who eats meat.

2. You notice that most potential clients in your freelance writing niche are broke as shit.

wrong freelance writing niche

If this is approximately how much the shitty “clients” in your niche can afford to pay you… you’ve probably chosen the wrong freelance writing niche.

Here’s something that you might not have thought about before:

A niche could be either profitable OR not profitable depending on who you target.

Think about it…

You can write in the finance niche for some shitty blog that pays pennies per word…

And Sally Jo over there can write in the finance niche for a Fortune 500 company and make hundreds of dollars per post.

So before you write your niche off for good, ask yourself:

Is this really a freelance writing niche problem, or is it a target clientele problem?

Long story short:

Go for clients who have money to spend on content marketing, not broke fucks.

3. Your freelance writing niche is far too broad.

Sometimes, writers email me and say stuff like:

“I’ve chosen a niche and I’m marketing myself, but I’m not getting results!”

To which I reply:

“Hmmm! What’s your niche?”

And they say:

“B2B and B2C Content”

…Aaaaaand there’s the problem.

B2B and B2C means you basically write for anyone and everyone. It’s just a fancier way of saying, “I’m a generalist!”

Seriously, it’s kind of like creating a restaurant in the United States and saying “We serve American food and international cuisine.”

Okay sooo… you serve everything to everyone?

Pass.

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again:

The best, highest-paying clients want to work with writers who specialize.

So, narrow your niche to a reasonable point (like how I teach in my free class over 6,000 writers have taken).

Don’t just write “copy.”

Write blog posts for real estate agents. Case studies for software businesses.

You get the picture.

4.Potential clients in your niche don’t use the type of content you write best to drive business results.

A while back, I thought it would be cool to write blog posts (my favorite type of content to create) for video game companies.

But after doing some research, I realized:

Video game companies, at least the ones I was researching, weren’t driving business results with blog posts.

They were mostly getting the word out about their new games using Twitch partnerships, commercials, etc.

This goes back to the whole “don’t try to sell meat to a vegan” thing.

Don’t “sell meat to vegans.” Sell them vegetables… or, if they’re like me, sell them vegan ice cream.

You have to figure out HOW your client makes money for their business with content, and give them THAT kind of content.

5. You’re not enjoying any of your projects.

I started my freelance writing career in the IT/Tech writing niche.

And while I was able to make decent money doing it, each project felt about as enjoyable as walking around a theme park in a pair of soaked blue jeans.

It’s not that I was incapable of working on more technical projects like whitepapers – it’s just that I was bored to fucking tears each time I tried.

So I had to ask myself:

What do I actually ENJOY?

What would my ideal niche be, considering my natural abilities?

And BOOM.

Just like that, I knew what my new niche was going to be:

Blogging about marketing.

Marketing is something I’m incredibly passionate about and could talk about all damn day, AND blogging lends itself to more creative expression, which is great for someone like me.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.

I’m not saying you necessarily should jump for joy at each freelance writing project you take on.

BUT…

If you’re hating more projects than you’re enjoying, something is wrong.

6. You’re not using your natural abilities when you write.

Some people are great technical writers AND also enjoy talking with clients.

If that’s you, then guess what?

You’d probably really enjoy writing whitepapers, which are technical-ish documents that often require client interviews and phone calls.

But if you’re like me (you hate phone calls and enjoy more creative writing), whitepapers would drive you fucking mad.

Really be intentional about your freelance writing niche choice, and think about what you’re naturally best at.

Every writer out there has some kind of natural ability they can use to their advantage.

Maybe yours is that you are actually great at interviewing clients.

Or maybe you are great at explaining complex topics in an easy-to-understand way.

Or maybe you’re just really fucking funny and that shines through when you write.

Think about what makes you unique, and ask yourself how you can use that to specialize in a niche you’ll naturally rise to the top of.

7. You’ve tried as hard as you can to make the niche work using a PROVEN strategy, and it’s just not working.

This means you’ve already done things like:

And it means you’ve done these things consistently, with a solid niche marketing strategy driving every piece of your plan.

(AKA don’t come to me and say your pitches are not working when you don’t have a portfolio website or your website isn’t properly optimized for your niche!)

Truth is, you might be giving up way too soon on your niche.

I talked to a writer in the real estate niche once who complained that the niche was “not profitable.”

Turns out, they just didn’t have their marketing on point.

…Nothing to do with the niche being “not profitable.”

By Jorden

Source: creativerevolt.com

 

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How Novelists Can Say More with Less

Less is more. More impacting. More riveting. More intriguing. Throughout history, marriages have failed and wars have been won or lost over a mere word or two. Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” Simply stated, as was his style.

I often share with my clients something my eleventh-grade English teacher used to spout frequently: “Say what you mean. Don’t say what you don’t mean.”

The best way to say what you mean is to use only the words you need—the most appropriate words for your context—and discard the rest. Think of the pages of your novel as expensive real estate. Writers who want to write well should aim to be as picky about the words they string together as the foods they eat or the clothes they wear. Pickier.

Bogging Down Your Writing Is a Bad Thing

Your novel’s pacing will be greatly affected by word choice. If you bog down your sentences with unnecessary words, your scenes will drag. In addition, using boring, flat, or weak verbs and adjectives will make the reading dull, no matter how exciting your plot might be.

Take a look at this Before passage and see if you can spot some of the problems. Then read my revision and compare.

 Before:

Suddenly, lightning struck!!! It was so loud and noisy, Debby screamed and lost hand control of her drinking glass, spilling it and shattering it on the Italian stone coffee table. Somehow, the power was gone, a blackout took place, and Debby trembled as she fearfully listened to the thunder rolling in louder in waves than usual. She felt it was so loud, the house began to shake. As if being in the middle of an earthquake. She began to cry and instantly the danger passed and everything was calm.

Debby was still frozen, too afraid to move much. She slowly turned her head to the left and then to the right as she focused her attention on what was going on through the front room window. She heard the sound of a loud vehicle idling outside of her home and that sound grew louder. Approaching the window with caution, she slowly pulled the left curtain open. Her eyes widened as she saw an old run-down rusty car parked out in front of her house. It showed no headlights . . . just sitting and idling with an ominous sound coming from its tailpipe.

A cold draft suddenly made Debby tremble greatly as she began to see what was starting to materialize. Two red beams of light, very small, like tiny eyes, began to glow from within the car where the driver was sitting on the front seat. The glow grew brighter and then she realized suddenly that they were indeed eyes and they were gazing right at her!!! Debby started to gasp for breath and she felt her heart was suddenly stricken with intense pain as if there was a tight grip of a fist around it . . . tightening. As her pain grew, her body began to crouch forward, nearly ripping the curtain off its rod.

Was that exhausting to read? Try this.

 After:

Without warning, lightning struck. Debby screamed and dropped her glass, which shattered on the Italian stone coffee table. The lights flickered out, and she trembled as thunder shook the house as if an earthquake rolled under it. Then, the night quieted, except for the patter of heavy rain and the murmur of distant thunder.

Debby froze, trembling. She turned and peered through the front room window. A motor idled on the street. With barely a touch, she pulled the curtain aside. A badly damaged black-and-white patrol car sat parked in front of her house, headlights off, no red-and-blue flashing lights. An ominous sound came from its tailpipe.

A cold draft tickled Debby’s neck as she watched two red beams of light, like eyes, glow inside the dark car where a driver sat. The glow grew brighter and Debby gasped. They were eyes—and they were gazing right at her.

A stab of pain made Debby clutch her chest. With a cry, she buckled with her fist entangled in the curtain and fell to the floor, the fluttering cloth covering her face like a shroud of death.

The first thing you probably noticed is the word count dropped by about a third. Think about ditching adverbs and replacing weak verbs with stronger ones. Avoid excessive punctuation, such as multiple exclamation marks.

A great way to seek and destroy extraneous words and passages is to use Word’s Find and Replace. Search for it was, there were, ing, and ly. Often a word ending in ing will reveal a wordy phrase, and ly will catch adverbs (we’ll cover pesky adverbs in a later chapter).

Overall, take the time to consider each word you use and see if you can’t come up with a better word, maybe one more colorful or descriptive. A phrase like “It was interesting and I liked it” is not interesting, and readers won’t like it. Write in your unique style and genre, but do it well.

Think of rewriting as creating a reduction sauce. The more you can eliminate those words and phrases that are not rich in flavor, the less you will have in the end. Which is more. And more, in most cases, is better.

What words or phrases do you often use that are superfluous?

Source: livewritethrive.com

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Assessing Yourself as a Writer: Does Your Writing Make the Grade?

By Joyce Sweeney

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: It’s not always clear to know what to focus on to improve our writing, but Joyce Sweeney has a formula to help writers grade their stories. Please give her a warm welcome.

Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her books have won many awards and honors. Joyce has recently switched to writing adult fiction and is represented by Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour agency.

Joyce has also been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years and offers online classes. In 2019, she, Jamie Morris and Tia Levings released Plotting Your Novel with The Plot Clock (Giantess Press). At this writing, 62 of Joyce’s students have successfully obtained traditional publishing contracts.

Joyce lives in Coral Springs with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro.

Take it away Joyce…

Joyce Sweeney

Back when I was studying poetry, I discovered a formula for poetry assessment that caught my imagination. I may have it wrong now, but the idea was that you should assess a poem on four things: idea, music, story and structure. As a fiction teacher, my brain immediately went into overdrive wondering how this might translate and I came up with my similar list: concept, voice, plot and structure.

Then, of course, I asked myself how I measured up in these categories and I discovered something magical. I knew I was born with an A in structure and I knew I had a D in plotting. That discovery alone was gold to me on a personal level and it led to an intensive attempt to ‘raise my grade’ in plotting. Moreover, I knew that my concepts were 50-50 (as were my book sales from project to project) and that my voice was pretty bad on the first draft, but I could always polish it to a good level. In other words, my report card as a fiction writer was: Structure A, Voice B, Concept C, Plot D. And I knew just where and how to do my homework from that day forward.

Since I never have a problem with seeing one case as a scientific study, I decided maybe we were ALL like that. Born with one ‘free ticket’ and one ‘horror category’ with the other grades falling in between. I started assessing the manuscripts I edited on this basis and I realized it’s true. Which means identifying where we fall in these categories and working to ‘bring up our low grades’ was very possibly the Key to Everything in being ‘ready’ for publication. I continued to develop this idea into a workshop and also one of my online classes which is actually Lesson One in the upcoming Fiction Writing Essentials. I think it’s kind of a life-changing thing. So here it is in a very abbreviated version.

Let’s start with voice.

For a definition, voice is the whole way a writer uses language. So let’s say that’s the gift you are born with. In fact, I think a lot of people who choose writing have a fabulous voice and that is the easiest thing for teachers and friends to notice. I’ve discovered that people who have a real way with language, that is to say a beautiful voice, can become very frustrated, because they get standing ovations in their critique groups, they dazzle the crowd, and everyone tells them “you’re there!” when maybe they have not mastered the other elements listed above.

To my horror, I find these are people who might give up too soon. They feel, “I can’t make my writing any better so if it’s not good enough, I’ll quit.” They don’t realize they are polishing the wrong thing. Oddly, people who struggle with voice often succeed, even though they get the most picked on in critique group. Fixing voice is a slow process and these people often feel ‘behind’ the others. But they also stick around a long time, determined to crack the code, and if they are strong in plot and structure, they make it to an editor who will help them out.

Some of my voice tips are: use a narrative voice that works with your natural voice. A lot of MG writers have a YA voice and vice versa. Read poetry. It gives you voice by osmosis. And of course, study the elements of voice.

Plot.

That’s my D. I used to write poems and short stories. You don’t need a lot of plot for that. When I started writing novels, I felt if a character had some kind of epiphany near the end of the book, my work was done. Amazingly enough, I was strong enough in other ways to get published, but my sales were very up and down till I mastered plotting. I studied it so much, I’m now known more for plot writing and plot teaching then anything else.

If you’re weak in plot, you often make it beyond the pitch to a request. They may read beginning pages and keep requesting, because your voice is good. But when they get to the end of the manuscript it’s a no-sale. Plotting is easy to learn and easy to teach. Of all these skills, it’s the most mathematical and logical, so once you get the hang of it (unlike concept!) you’re in business. If you’re strong in plot, you may find that your agent, your editor and some critics are still finding flaws in your books, but they always tell you you gave them a darn good ride. That’s what a plot is. A darn good ride. Studying movies and plays is one great way to work on your plot grade.

So, if plot is the ride, structure is the type of vehicle that takes the ride.

It’s the hardest of these concepts to explain, but concretely, it plays out in things like point of view, length of scenes, story beats and swings. It’s an inner knowing of what the reader wants and needs at every turn of the story and delivering it. It’s often learned more by experience or trial and error and especially from feedback by others, so deliberate study doesn’t always work. If you read to a critique group and they say they didn’t understand something, the event went by too fast. If they’re bored, you went too slow.

Working with structure is like tasting and adjusting a recipe. Often writers who study their craft diligently find structure to be the last battle, the thing they work with agents on in R&R’s. Structure is vital because it delivers the emotion of the story. Like those lucky voice people, I was good at structure so even my first novel, which is VERY flawed, was emotionally powerful and that got me published, possibly too soon. If you’re poor in the category of structure, you hear ‘show don’t tell’ a lot and you very likely have more distant points of view than you should. You are a person who can actually benefit from taking colored markers to a powerful novel to see what the author did and when.

Then there’s concept.

Concept means your story has a clear hook, people can easily grasp ‘what it’s about’, and there’s almost always a visceral reaction when you pitch. People hear your concept and immediately want to read, or feel like that’s the story they’ve been waiting for. Your concept has interesting elements or a great twist on something classic. If you’re great at concept you usually have more ideas than time to write them, you excel at pitching but then find yourself frustrated because after you submit, you get rejected. It just means something else in your execution needs work, but the industry is driven by concept, so if you work hard, you will probably do well.

Now I really want to reach those of you who struggle with concept. Because I think this can really sideline you. Some people work on the same book for years, decades even, improving every element of that same book, but not realizing they are pouring energy into something that will never work. I find this heartbreaking. I know, often your first idea is so close to your heart (and maybe your life story or the story of someone you deeply love) but it just may not be the very best idea for launching into a competitive market.

Since I work with writers over the course of many years, I can tell you, the most successful are always starting a new book. Think about it. When you’re published, you’ll have to do that almost every year. And if you write many books, you eventually learn a lot about what makes a good concept. You refine and adjust so that the things that resonate with your heart also resonate with the collective heart. And then you can sell.

Problems with concept can be, it’s been done too many times before and you haven’t innovated enough, not enough drama or excitement, it’s so close to you, you can’t work with it (like a book that’s a tribute to someone you love). I am here to tell you. I won’t give numbers, but I’ve had some really great sales on some books and some really, well disappointing sales on others. The quality of my writing didn’t vary that much. I just sometimes picked concepts that didn’t excite readers. And this is another area where I’ve really tried to learn. I don’t want to waste all that work and energy anymore. If I shoot an arrow, I want to know there’s a target for it. If you have issues with concept, you may have heard the same criticism about your story many times but you keep saying, oh, that’s them. Or you get those rejections that praise you but say ultimately, they just can’t sell that. Do yourself a tremendous favor and move on.

So right now, just for fun, jot down your own scorecard.

I firmly believe that most writers start out with a clear A, B, C and D. And hopefully as they study craft, some of these grades start to rise. I also believe if you can get to an A in all four you can sell a book. Period. So it’s really worthwhile to look at this honestly, and if you find a category that is holding you back…well now you know just which courses to take and which books to read. Finding these categories and working with them honestly made a huge difference to me as a writer, as an editor and as a teacher. I hope they’ll be just as beneficial to you too!

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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Genre in Writing

This post from December 2016, has been re-edited and re-published in April, 2019.

Broad and Narrow Genres

Since the proliferation of Creative Writing courses in universities in the Anglo world, much has been written and said about “genre” in writing.

Creative Writing contrasts with Nonfiction Writing in the broader sense. The former is the sort of writing that novelists, short story writers and poets employ. Nonfiction includes traditional biographical works, academic texts, journalism, and books on a diverse range of subjects, such as food (recipes), self-help and memoir.

Within fiction, there is a breakdown into specific genres: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, horror, detective stories, action, fantasy and adventure.

Literary Fiction and Commercial Fiction

Literary fiction can be distinguished from commercial fiction, the latter referring to popular “genre” writing that publishers hope to sell to a wide readership. Literary fiction is best defined by contrast with commercial fiction. In the book trade, it is seen as having greater literary merit, focusing on depth of character and a concern with style.

Many writers today are writing for commercial reasons, to be published or self-published in books, eBooks, or online, as quickly as possible. Literary fiction attracts writers who are experimenting with form and interested in lyrical expression and often dark and emotive themes.

The term “creative writing” is more appropriate as an umbrella term for writing that employs fictional devices. This distinguishes it from academic writing, which endeavours to present factual or argumentative texts in an objective framework.  Journalistic writing, too, is based on the principal goal of providing factual information to the public, although there will be some overlap with fiction in its use of devices, such as dialogue and narration.

Creative Nonfiction

Non-Fiction includes traditional biographical works, academic texts, journalism, and books on a diverse range of subjects, such as food (recipes), self help and memoir.

Truman Capote’s nonfiction work In Cold Blood (1966 ) is looked on as the forerunner of this genre in modern times. It is also the ultimate true crime novel. Based on painstaking research and interviews, Capote used the story of the cold-blooded killing of a family in rural Kansas, and his investigation of the crime, as the plot for his novel. It is written brilliantly, employing all the techniques of the best fictional writing: strong characterisation, realistic sounding dialogue, vivid imagery, and narrative suspense, without wavering from the facts. Apart, perhaps from the ending, where he improvises a little; endings are often difficult for this type of factually based writing.

One of the first attempts at a creative nonfiction novel in Australia was Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska (Penguin 1990), in which the author recounts her mother’s life. It is well told but lacks the dramatic, page-turning aspect of plot-driven fiction. A past master at this subjective type of writing is Helen Garner, whose The First Stone is now a classic, as well as a cause of ongoing controversy for student discussion in Creative Writing Courses in Australian universities.

Memoir

Modern Memoir has taken on a slightly different aspect within this recent context. It refers to first person narration that focuses on a particular aspect or period of a person’s life.  Memoir “sticks to the facts” but employs creative devices, such as narrative drive, strong characterisation, vivid dialogue, and dramatised events.

The best memoirs focus on a universal issue or concern that the author illustrates via personal experience.

It differs from fiction, wherein connections are concealed behind invented characters, settings and names. Many writers are wary of “treading on the toes” of living relatives and friends when they recount true events. It is easier and less constricting to create, rather than to recount the facts.

Lee Gutkind, an American author, is looked on as the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction today. He is the editor of a Creative Non-fiction journal and the author of Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Specific Genres

Of course, with fiction, there is a breakdown of genres within the broad genre: science fiction, romance, historical fiction, mystery, horror, detective stories, action, fantasy and adventure.

Here is a more exhaustive list of possible genres from Cathy Yardley’s blog: Rock Your Writing.

Action/Adventure — stories including epic journeys, lots of conflict, high stakes, some violence.
Erotica — stories of sexual exploration.
Fantasy — stories usually involving magic, other worlds, mythological/mystical figures.
Horror — stories that invoke fear.
Literary Fiction — stories with a focus on the quality of the prose over the narrative arc.
Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder.
Thriller/Suspense — stories of high tension that can involve either action or mystery.
Romance — stories about love/intimacy.
Sci-fi — stories usually involving technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds.
Westerns — stories taking place in America’s “Old West,” often with focus on justice.
Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth.  Primary emotion:  hope.

By Anne Skyvington

Source: anneskyvington.com.au

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The Myth of the Natural Writer

There’s a legendary joke about the writing life, often attributed to Margaret Atwood. It goes like this:

A brain surgeon and a writer meet at a party. The brain surgeon says to the writer, “How interesting, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and in fact, when I retire, I’m going to be a writer.”

The writer replies, “Well, isn’t that a coincidence. When I retire, I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

Countless young people want to pursue writing while still in school, but ultimately choose more stable careers (whether brain surgery or accounting or lawyering). Some think they’ll have time to write on the side, but it rarely turns out that way. So, as they near retirement—or when they have all the money or stability they need—then they write their first book. Often, it is unpublishable by traditional standards. Why? Not because they’re bad writers, but they’re emerging writers, despite their age and experience. For most of us, it takes more than instinct or desire to produce a skillful story.

In this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin, Erika Krouse discusses the myth of the natural writer—or the realization that few people (including herself) will be inspired, as if by magic, to produce a story that effortlessly works. She says:

I continued to write the same-but-different novel for seven more years, in seven completely different directions, with seven different middles-to-endings, all ludicrous. It felt like I was shooting one very slow bullet a year, hoping that if I closed my eyes and aimed at random, I’d hit the distant target I had only vaguely envisioned. How was I going to complete this idiot book?

Read her full essay: Plot Structure and the Myth of the Natural Writer (Also, Ducks)

By

Source: janefriedman.com

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Choosing Just the Right Words — Guest: Kathy Steinemann

While I’m recovering from my latest surgery this week, I’m grateful for another guest blog today. Kathy Steinemann is here to talk about word choice, but not in the way we usually think of the issue.

We often talk about word choice in reference to our voice, but choosing the right word can be complex. We need to consider our characters’ voices, which can conflict with our voice, and sometimes we might want to break grammar rules for the sake of voice. In other words, knowing how to apply “the rules” with voice and word choice can require a tricky balance.

The problem increases if we unintentionally choose the wrong word from our brain, whether due to a lack of knowledge or just simple typos. (And typos can get the best of us no matter our knowledge level, so we can’t give ourselves a pass on the issue Kathy discusses in this post.)

Readers won’t trust that we’re breaking grammar rules on purpose if our whole story is riddled with errors. To make a statement with purposeful errors—such as for the sake of a character’s voice—readers have to recognize that we don’t make those mistakes accidentally.

Choosing just the right words requires us to know English usage and grammar rules, consider author and character voice, avoid typos, and of course, possess a large vocabulary so we can pick the best word from our brain. Kathy’s fun post today challenges us to find all the wrong words in an excerpt and then points out why we might choose them anyway.

Please welcome Kathy Steinemann! *smile*

*****

Reader Gripe:
Can You Guess What It Is?

By Kathy Steinemann

~~~~~

W A R N I N G

The following article contains explicit errors.

Reader discretion is advised.

If you continue past this point, your eyes might recover with rest, application of cold compresses, and avoidance of repeat exposure.

Proceed at your own risk.

~~~~~

You’ll see an excerpt below, an excerpt that would frustrate readers. In fact, they might abandon a book containing similar narrative, and never purchase anything else written by an author who is guilty of this no-no.

Introduction to Excerpt:

The following paragraphs are based on sentences and phrases I’ve bookmarked in various novels over the years. Can you find all the errors?

After reading, consider the following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • How many occurrences are there?
  • How would you correct the mistakes?

Excerpt:

(Edited to Preserve Anonymity of Writers)

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity peaked. She opened it and read the message: “Just one weak. Remember the place? I’ll meat you their. Don’t forget the money. I may seam nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach serged. Bile rows into her throat. The next thing she new, she was doubled over the toilet and wretching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and liened against the wall. She was still realing and could feel the vanes in her neck throbbing in thyme with her pulse. The sealing seamed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath wreaked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her rye neck. She needed her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked pail—to pail. How am I going to get threw this?

Did You Find All the Incorrect Homophones?

Homophone: a type of homonym; words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings.

Go back and count them.

You should have found twenty-two. If you didn’t, read it again.

Still stymied?

Read this edited version (mistakes underlined).

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity peaked. She opened it and read the message: “Just one weak. Remember the place? I’ll meat you their. Don’t forget the money. I may seam nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach serged. Bile rows into her throat. The next thing she new, she was doubled over the toilet and wretching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and liened against the wall. She was still realing and could feel the vanes in her neck throbbing in thyme with her pulse. The sealing seamed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath wreaked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her rye neck. She needed her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked pailto pail. How am I going to get threw this?

Here’s One Solution

Pauline stared at the note, curiosity piqued. She opened it and read the message: “Just one week. Remember the place? I’ll meet you there. Don’t forget the money. I may seem nice, but just because I haven’t killed anyone yet doesn’t mean you won’t be the first.”

Her stomach surged. Bile rose into her throat. The next thing she knew, she was doubled over the toilet and retching up her breakfast.

After several minutes, she stood and leaned against the wall. She was still reeling and could feel the veins in her neck throbbing in time with her pulse. The ceiling seemed like it was pressing on her head.

Ugh. Her breath reeked, and all the vomiting had aggravated her wry neck. She kneaded her left shoulder as she looked into the mirror. Her reflection looked paletoo pale. How am I going to get through this?

But Wait; There’s More!

Dialogue, written notes, texts, and emails should emulate the way real people speak and write. The blackmailer might be uneducated—or an educated person trying to seem uneducated. In either case, the note would contain errors.

In fact, it would likely contain more errors than those in the original excerpt.

Another Rendition of the Note:

“Just one weak, remember the place? I’ll meat you their, don’t forget the money. I may seam nice but just because I ain’t killed no one yet don’t mean you wouldn’t be the first.”

It’s time for detective work.

The blackmailer, although clever enough to:

  • mix up homophones,
  • include a couple of comma splices, and
  • drop in a double negative

couldn’t resist proper usage of apostrophes. A detective might consider this a clue that the writer is well-versed in spelling and grammar.

Takeaway:

Research every word you’re unsure of. Readers and editors will lose patience if they have to repeatedly stop and reread sentences.

P.S.

Here are the contextual definitions of the incorrect homophones and their replacements.

  • Peaked [adj.]: pointed, having a peak
  • Piqued [adj.]: aroused, stimulated [And spell it right: piqued, not picqued, which is obsolete.]
  • Weak [adj.]: frail, feeble
  • Week [noun]: seven days
  • Meat [noun]: the flesh of an animal used as food
  • Meet [verb]: to encounter, make contact with
  • Their [pron.]: possessive case of they
  • There [adv.]: in or at that place
  • Seam (1) [noun]: the stitched area that joins two pieces of fabric or other material
  • Seam (2) [verb]: to join with a seam
  • Seem [verb]: to give the impression of
  • Serge [noun]: a type of fabric
  • Surge [verb]: to move suddenly and forcefully upward or forward
  • Rows [noun]: plural form of row: a line of people or things
  • Rose [verb]: past tense of rise: to come or go up
  • New [adj.]: discovered or created recently or for the first time
  • Knew [verb]: past tense of know: to realize, comprehend
  • Wretch [noun]: a person who is unfortunate, despicable, or unhappy
  • Retch [verb]: to vomit, gag, puke
  • Liened [verb]: past tense of lien: to make a claim against property (until a debt or loan is repaid)
  • Leaned [verb]: past tense of lean: to move into a sloping position
  • Real [adj.]: actual, authentic, genuine
  • Reel [verb]: to lurch, stagger, sway
  • Vanes [noun, plural]: short for weathervanes
  • Veins [noun, plural]: the conduits that transport blood in one’s body
  • Thyme [noun]: an aromatic herb used for seasoning
  • Time [noun]: tempo
  • Sealing [verb]: present continuous tense of seal: to fasten, secure, shut
  • Ceiling [noun]: the top interior surface of a room, compartment, cell, etc.
  • Wreak [verb]: to inflict great harm or damage
  • Reek [verb]: to stink
  • Rye [noun]: a grain used for cereal, flour, or some types of whiskey
  • Wry [adj.]: twisted or distorted
  • Need [verb]: to require something essential or important
  • Knead [verb]: to massage or squeeze with the hands
  • Pail [noun]: bucket
  • Pale [adj.]: lacking color, ashen
  • To [prep.]: toward
  • Too [adv.]: excessively, very
  • Threw [verb]: past tense of throw: to toss, pitch, heave
  • Through [adv.]: from first to last or beginning to end

 

By Kathy Steinemann

Source: jamigold.com

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Fixing Split Ends: How to End a Story Perfectly

Some writers know what their ending will be right from the start. Others discover it in the course of writing the story, because even if you have an outline, things change. You get a better idea, or a character becomes more interesting than you expected. But not knowing how to end a story in a way that satisfies you (or an editor) is why many people abandon stories. What keeps going wrong?

Even well-known writers abandon stories sometimes—the feel for the story disappears, or something else seems more urgent.

Some stories are more like exercises—and don’t aim to be polished, finished works.

But if you have stories that you feel are interesting and well-executed (up until the end) and this keeps happening, let’s look at a few things you can do to break that no-ending barrier.

Identify the Problem, Then Troubleshoot:


You got through all the things you wanted to do in the story or novel, and now there’s nothing left to say.

A fairly common problem in writing stories is that the conflict isn’t visible enough. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to identify a conflict, because the focus has been on character.

Suggestions:

  • Look at what your character had to face in the course of the story and ask why and how and what changed because of it.
  • Heighten the difficulties and their implications.

You got to the big climactic scene and you haven’t a clue what to do now. What should happen?

Sometimes you can’t figure out what to do because nothing was really in jeopardy. You’ve given the main character a problem, and you’ve got to the point where the problem drives the action, but what you don’t have is how this matters to the character.

Suggestion:

  • Stop worrying about action and imagine the emotional components that brought your protagonist here. What does this conflict do to your character’s way of life?

The ending is in line with the conflict, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t have a punch.

You’ve avoided doing anything risky or unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that the ending is soft. I’m afraid you’ve got to shake things up completely in order to make this come alive—and the first thing to do is to… change the main character. You might have been coasting here because you haven’t forced yourself to actually imagine someone with different needs from your own.

Suggestions:

  • Imagine someone totally unlike you, who wouldn’t make the same choices you would make.
  • In the first big branch of the story, force your character to choose a dramatically different path from the one you gave him or her. Surprise yourself by figuring out why someone would do that different thing.

Everyone says: very nicely written, nice story; sorry but we’ll pass.

This is similar to the above, only this time the story is good but forgettable—when they put it down they really don’t have anything to hold on to.

Suggestions:

  • Shake up your story.
  • For example, about one-third of the way in, have a catastrophe happen—it can be personal or atmospheric, small or large, but what it does is create a background problem that your foreground problem has to play itself against. This automatically ramps up your story, and it forces you to reconcile both large and small issues at the end.

No one believes the ending. Which is weird, because it actually happened.

Never think that what actually happened makes for a convincing story. You’ve trapped yourself here by falling prey to determinism. The story doesn’t work because there was no free will.

Suggestions:

  • Go back one or two decisions in the plot, and change it. Whatever actually happened before you get to the end, change it.
  • Make yourself think about what’s going on and why; then write what that character would cause or do.
  • Another way to handle this is to switch the characters—have “what actually happened” happen to someone who wasn’t there. That should force you to rethink the narrative arc.

You can’t get a good last line.

What was your story’s opening line? Go back and look at it for a while. Where does that first line suggest the story is going?

Suggestions:

  • In some cases, the first line or paragraph contains the idea for the last line. (This is especially true for short stories.)
  • In other cases, you should pick up on a metaphor or image that mattered to your protagonist in the course of the book.

How to End a Story: More Tips and Tricks

Most of the time, you’ll figure out how to end a story. But what if you have a solid story but no good ideas on how to wrap it up? Nothing works in your head or on paper; you’re stymied. Are there any tricks that can help?

Return to a Backup Point

If you just can’t get it to work, go back a few paragraphs or even a page, throw that out, and start again.

Try not to re-read the part you’re about to abandon. You may have written yourself into a corner. (This can also work if you’ve stopped in the middle of a story, rather than the end.)

It can help to start in the middle of a paragraph, or in the middle of a piece of dialogue—someplace where you can pick up on the action or dialogue. Then see where it goes. You may find that the new version takes you in a slightly different direction.

Write past the End

If you know what you want to do, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like an ending (too abrupt, too inconclusive, etc.), then just assume that really isn’t the ending.

Keep going. See where it really stops. You can try different directions: what happened next, how a character viewed what happened next; what unexpected consequences resulted, etc. Picture characters or setting a week later, a year later, a decade later—does that suggest anything?

Work on Your Closing Line

If you’re stuck trying to get that last paragraph or that last, brilliant line, maybe you can pick up on a symbol or image you’ve used in the story. It can be a tree, a place, a song, a sound—something you may have used without thinking about it too much.

Or it’s something you can go back and develop (and you may find that it adds resonance, too, to the story you’ve already written). Use a recurring image to develop the character’s epiphany or the resolution of the story.

Create Closure

You can also use circularity to bring your story neatly to a close. If you opened with a character driving, for instance, to his/her plot device, you can close with a car scene and some enlightenment that goes with it.

In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, both the first dramatic scene and the closing scene of the novel involve children flying kites: different children under vastly different circumstances.

Add an Aftermath

You can conclude with general consequences after the conflict is over—the world is better; the world is worse.

You can even demonstrate how easily the world got past the private tragedy in a story. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” after the grueling experience of Gregor Samsa’s transformation resulted in his death, the family is rejuvenated. The ending contrasts the new sense of life they now have, outside the constricted apartment where Gregor lived his insect life. They begin to see their futures again, symbolized by the health and vitality of their daughter (her actions are in contrast with their son’s rigid insect body): “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.”

Change Some Choices

Finally, be aware that stories that refuse to end properly may reflect a problem earlier in the story. Perhaps you went in the wrong direction and now the concept is falling apart. Perhaps your character needs to do something different, or the big conflict is the wrong conflict. You may have chosen the wrong point of view, the wrong voice, the wrong central character. What can you change about the story itself that would make you interested in it? What annoys you about the story? Remove it.

Don’t Know How to End Your Story? Keep Thinking!

Maybe you won’t always know your ending right from the start, but if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll find it.

By Karen Heuler

Source: refiction.com

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