Tag Archives: improve your writing

Writing Backstory Through Dialogue

Backstory is one of the trickier elements of writing. We have to take our readers back in time to let them know some of the past, but how do we do it without interrupting the flow of the story? Jerry Jenkins is here today to discuss one of the more organic methods for including character backstory without grinding the action to a halt.

What are we to do now that the flashback has fallen into disfavor with today’s readers? Apparently they no longer have the patience for a sudden stop in the story so we can show how our character got where she is today.

Used to be you could invent something to remind her of her childhood or her relationship with her father or the first time she fell in love. Then you’d have her daydream or zone out and remember everything about some poignant incident from years past.

Well, I agree that got to be a clichè—always followed by someone somehow jarring her back to the present.

Regardless, we’re writing for people who get most of their information from screens, so what do we do?

Tell Your Story in Order

Gone is the luxury of taking the character (and the reader) back and rendering the old incident the way it happened. Readers want to read chronologically, and they don’t like the story put on hold to accommodate a flashback.

But we can’t ignore the past without throwing character motivation out with the bathwater. Our characters are who they are and do what they do because of who they once were and what happened to them then.

So what’s the solution?

Good news! You can include your character’s backstory without interrupting the flow of your story.

Backstory is the new solution, and I have to admit it’s better. It doesn’t slow the story, doesn’t force us to artificially create for our heroes a block of time during which they relive some powerful past experience.

What is Backstory?

Don’t mistake it for an abbreviated form of flashback. In its simplest form, backstory is everything that’s happened to your character before your novel opens. In essence you’re writing backstory when you identify a middle-aged man as “General so-and-so,” or a young woman as “Dr. so-and-so.”

Such people weren’t born with those titles and the roles they imply, so immediately readers realize these characters have pasts—and they can even imagine what they were like.

Does your character have a scar? That implies backstory. A limp? It will emerge whether it was congenital or the result of an injury or disease, but regardless, that’s backstory.

How to Write Backstory Through Dialogue

Flashbacks are obvious. They scream, “We’re headed into the past!” But backstory sneaks up on you. Use it over a flashback to avoid breaking the flow of your story. I’ve found the best way to manage this is through dialogue.

Backstory example (at an amusement park):

“You’re not getting me on that ride, Madison,” Suzie said, “Don’t even—”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Still having those dreams?”

Suzie looked away. “Not so much anymore, but once in a while.”

“You’d think after all these years…”

“I’d still rather not talk about it, okay?”

“Sure, sorry.”

See all we’ve learned from that otherwise innocuous exchange? Something years ago still causes nightmares. Naturally, we’ll eventually have to pay off on that set-up, and that’s what keeps readers turning pages.

Whatever the trauma was, you can hint at it like this more and more throughout the story, revealing more each time. Eventually something or someone from her past will show up and force the issue—and the whole story will come out.

But you see the difference? It’ll be onstage now, be recounted and explained now. Sure, it happened years ago, but it emerges as part of the current story. That’s subtly using backstory without resorting to flashback.

One More…

One of the best uses of backstory I’ve seen is from the 2016 movie The Magnificent Seven.

Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter and leader of the titular seven. Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a sharpshooter.

They’re strategizing to protect a town and avenge a woman who saw her husband shot to death. Robicheaux nods toward the woman and says to Chisolm, “She’d be about the same age as your sister, wouldn’t she?”

“Uh-huh.”

Robicheaux says, “Just want to make sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us instead of the battle behind us.”

That’s it. That’s the backstory. We don’t know what it means, but we know we’re going to find out. They’re not going to set up something like that and not tell us what happened. We’re going to find that our hero, Sam Chisolm, was once a victim.

Is he really out to protect somebody out of a sense of honor, or is he out for personal revenge? That’s the perfect example.

Tell me in the comments below how you’ll use backstory in your work in progress. And feel free to share a favorite example of backstory you’ve heard or read.

By Jerry B. Jenkins

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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4 Ways to Create (And Maintain) a Writing Habit

When I wrote my first book in 2013, I was newly married and working a full-time job. While writing, that dream of every writer’s heart whispered to me every morning: What if this is what you could do to make a living?

As I’d done for decades, I silenced that voice of hope with a quick and definitive, “Yeah, right. Nobody’s even going to read this thing.”

However, I’d just read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Spurred to fight Resistance, I wrote my 50,000-word book in six months by waking at 5 a.m. every weekday and writing for an hour — whether or not I felt like I had anything worthwhile to say.

I accomplished that by changing my mind-set. What I had once approached as a pastime turned into an obligation. Where once I’d wait (far too long) for inspiration to strike, I found W. Somerset Maugham’s words to be true: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

When I experienced the truth that a writing life is built upon writing—a novel concept, I know — everything changed.

When my hobby became my habit, my identity changed to match my expectations.

I no longer said, “I want to write.” I said, with confidence, “I am a writer.”

It wouldn’t be until years later — after I’d become a full-time freelance editor, author, and ghostwriter — that I’d learn the four-step habit-building process I’d unintentionally worked through.

And that education, ironically enough, would come through a book project I had the glad opportunity to assist with early on in its development.

Atomic Habits (for writers)

The subtitle for James Clear’s Atomic Habits, a New York Times bestseller, is An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Its tagline is “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” Through many well-researched examples, Clear presents reason after reason why a 1 percent change for the better every day is more beneficial than striving for one defining moment, or, worse, stagnating.

He also offers clear steps on the process of building better habits. Essentially, you need to discover your cue, craving, response, and reward. (Atomic Habits goes in-depth on each of these steps, and I recommend picking up the book for a fuller understanding.)

How to create and maintain a writing habit

To transpose his ideas to the writing world, let’s consider how each step could look in your writing life. Each quote below is from “How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick,” an excerpt of Atomic Habits.

1. “The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior.”

Your cue could be the place you write, the music you listen to, or the tools you use.

My cue was just getting myself from my bed to my office chair in less than ten minutes every morning. If I could get myself in front of a keyboard before conscious thought (a.k.a. Resistance) entered my brain, I could convince myself, Well, I’m already here. Might as well write.

Author and podcaster Sean McCabe automates lights in his office to change to a certain color when he’s scheduled time for himself to write.

I highly recommend using one or all of these cues: writing in the same place, at the same time every day, while listening to the same kind of music. As you establish your writing habit through repetition, your body and mind start to correlate that place, that time, and that music with, Well, it must be time to write.

Now, pause here to consider what your cue could be.

2. “Cravings…are the motivational force behind every habit.”

Clear notes, “What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.”

In other words, I didn’t crave getting up at 5 a.m., at least not initially. I craved the sense of accomplishment from being a writer working toward a long-sought-after goal. To be honest, I also craved the moment I’d be able to tell friends and family, “I wrote a book.”

Your craving may be the same, but it could also be to make money or a living through your words, or to earn respect for your opinions or skill.

Now, ask yourself, “What change of state am I seeking as a result of my writing?”

3. “The response is the actual habit you perform.”

Writers ought to have only one response to their cues and cravings: writing!

Of course, being a writer today requires far too many extracurricular activities, like promoting your list or pitching agents, but the habit you must perform without fail to become a writer and stay a writer is to write.

Yet, I’m willing to bet, most of us struggle to do that consistently for a host of reasons.

That’s why following Clear’s four stages of habit-making — which loop back upon themselves — is so helpful.

4. “Rewards are the end goal of every habit.”

Once your cue has led to your craving, your craving has led to your response, your response leads to your reward. You finally get to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

These rewards can take a few forms.

Maybe it’s the endorphin kick when you finally figure out your plot or when one of your characters surprises you on the page.

Maybe it’s the realization that you’re doing what you’ve always said you’d do.

Maybe it’s being able to talk about your work-in-progress because you finally have a work-in-progress.

For me, my reward was Pavlovian. I used Scrivener’s word count goal feature to meet my daily word count goals. Every time I’d cross that number, Scrivener would give me a pleasant ding and a pop-up of congratulations.

Eventually, I craved hearing that noise.

For all of those early mornings, my habit loop wasn’t about writing a book and whatever rewards could come from publication. Rather, my habit loop was much simpler: I just wanted to hear that chime, signifying that I’d met my goal.

And, by just getting 1 percent better every day, I eventually wrote a book, published it, and then turned that work into a career in writing.

That whisper of fear I once had has been replaced with a daily shout of joy: This is what I get to do for a living. (And I have incredible clients to thank for that.)

If you’re ready to transform your writing hobby into a writing habit, I hope you’ll experience the same kind of identity shift.

You’re not going to write.

You are a writer.

By Blake Atwood

Source: thewritelife.com

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What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be this Year? (Let’s Find Out)

We’re already a whole month into the New Year, which can be a tricky time for people as we start to get busier and our carefully made resolutions start to drop off. Life gets in the way, and suddenly our good intentions become just that—intentions. Consider this your friendly reminder to remember what your goals are,

Not only should you remind yourself what goals you’ve set, but you should also try to think about what kind of person you want to be. What kind of writer you want to be. If you decide who you want to become, then you can make sure that all of your actions line up with your aspirations.

So what type of writer might you want to strive to be this year?

(You can pick more than one and mix them up however you like!)

A more productive writer

A productive writer makes the most of whatever time they have. Sometimes that time is four or five hours and sometimes it’s only a few minutes in the pickup zone at school. If you want to be more productive this new year, you’ll want to focus on carving out time in the day for yourself that’s for writing and writing alone.

It can help to have multiple projects in the works at once. If you only have a few minutes, you can continue working out a new idea in your head. If you have hours to yourself, that might be the time for heavy edits. Either way, a productive writer takes every opportunity to get things done.

A kinder writer

If you have the tendency to be hard on yourself, maybe this year is the time to be gentler. Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes you make. Try not to worry about the things that are out of your control, like whether or not you win a contest or how long it takes for an agent to respond to your query letter.

Writing is rewarding, but it’s also difficult. If you get bogged down in the hardships, it’s easy to forget why you started writing in the first place. Remind yourself why it makes you happy by writing what you’d love to read.

A more honest writer

I think we’re all guilty of falling into that trap of writing whatever we think is going to sell well. But the hard truth is, trends change all the time. It’s impossible to predict whether people are going to want to buy stories about vampires, societies in outer space, long-lost royalty, or feuding families. By focusing on what’s best for the market, we lose sense of who we are at our core.

Write what’s meaningful to you. There’s a reader out there for every book. Write for that reader by writing for you first. First drafts are meant to be creative and fun and low-stakes. Once you get into revisions, then you might look at your story with more of an eye toward publishing, but by staying true to yourself, your story will have that special spark.

A more disciplined writer 

Writers are always waiting for that elusive muse to come to them with a full-fledged story, but unfortunately, inspiration isn’t something we can wait for. When so much of publishing is centered around deadlines, we can’t afford to let inspiration come to us. We have to seek it out ourselves.

If you have a difficult time getting your butt in a chair or resisting the temptation of mindlessly scrolling through social media (and I’m guilty of this, too), make this the year you decide to be more disciplined about your writing. Create daily habits, even if it means you only get a little bit done each day. Commit to completing those half-finished projects sitting untouched in your files. You’ll be amazed at how much you can do with a little effort.

A braver writer 

For some, showing work to others comes easily, but for others, the very thought has them crippled with fear. If you write just to make yourself happy and you’re perfectly content to never share it with anyone, then there’s no need to go any further than that. But if you have publishing aspirations of any kind, then at some point you’ll have to take the plunge.

Writing isn’t a solitary activity, though it may seem that way. Once you’ve written a story, it takes a team of several people to help you revise and polish your work, and that requires sharing it with other others. It will potentially be uncomfortable at first, but it will be ultimately rewarding once you’re able to collaborate with someone and make your writing better. Take it step by step. Share your story with a trusted friend first, then work your way to opening yourself up for criticism.

Always work toward the better

No matter what your area of focus is this year, remember that with every word you write, you’re growing as an artist. Practice will never make perfect, but it will get you pretty darn close. Set those lofty goals and do everything in your power to reach them. I know you can do it.

What kind of writer do you want to be this new year? Leave a comment!

By The Magic Violinist

Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Want to Improve Your Writing? Change Your Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Here’s more on understanding point of view)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Janice Hardy
Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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36 Tips for Writing Just About Anything

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

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

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

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

Tips for Writing

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

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

And that’s not all…

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

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

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

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Do You Need a Creative Writing Degree to Succeed as a Writer?

Young and new writers often ask whether they need a creative writing degree in order to become an author or professional writer.

I’ve seen skilled and talented writers turn down opportunities or refuse to pursue their dreams because they feel their lack of a creative writing degree means they don’t have the credibility necessary to a career in writing.

Meanwhile, plenty of writers with no education, minimal writing skills, and scant experience in reading and writing are self-publishing, freelance writing, and offering copywriting services.

It’s an oft-asked question: Do you need a creative writing degree to succeed as a writer? Is it okay to write and publish a book if you don’t have a degree or if your degree is in something other than English or the language arts?

Before I go further, I should reveal that although I did earn a degree in creative writing, I don’t think a degree is necessary. But there is a caveat to my position on this issue: While I don’t think a degree is necessary, I certainly think it’s helpful. I also think that some writers will have a hard time succeeding without structured study and formal training whereas others are self-disciplined and motivated enough to educate themselves to the extent necessary to establish a successful writing career.

Do You Need a Creative Writing Degree?

First of all, a degree is not necessary to success in many fields, including writing. There are plenty of examples of individuals who became wildly successful and made meaningful contributions without any college degree whatsoever: Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Disney, to name a few.

In the world of writing, the list of successful authors who did not obtain a degree (let alone a creative writing degree) is vast. Here is a small sampling: Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, William Blake, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Edgar Allen Poe, Beatrix Potter, and JD Salinger.

So you obviously do not need a creative writing degree. After all, some of the greatest writers in history didn’t have a degree. Why should you?

A Creative Writing Degree is Not a Bad Idea

On the other hand, the degree definitely won’t hurt your chances. In fact, it will improve your chances. And if you struggle with writing or self-discipline, then the process of earning a degree will be of great benefit to you.

A college education might indeed be necessary for a particular career, such as a career in law or medicine. In fields of study where a degree is not a requirement, it often prepares you for the work ahead by teaching you specific skills and techniques and by forcing you to become knowledgeable about your field.

However, there is an even greater value in the the process of earning a degree. You become knowledgeable and educated. You learn how to learn, how to work without close supervision, and you are exposed to the wisdom of your instructors as well as the enthusiasm and support of your peers. College is a great environment for development at any age or in any field.

Earning a degree is also a testament to your drive and ability to complete a goal without any kind of immediate reward or gratification. College is not easy. It’s far easier to get a full-time job and buy lots of cool stuff. It’s more fun to spend your nights and weekends hanging out with your friends than staying in and studying. A college degree is, in many ways, a symbol representing your capacity to set out and accomplish a long-term goal.

Know Yourself

If you possess strong writing skills and are somewhat of an autodidact (a person who is self-taught), then you may not need a degree in creative writing. For some such people, a degree is completely unnecessary. On the other hand, if your writing is weak or if you need guidance and would appreciate the help of instructors and peers, maybe you do need a creative writing degree.

If you’re planning on going to college simply because you want to earn a degree and you hope to be a writer someday, you might as well get your degree in creative writing since that’s what you’re passionate about. On the other hand, if you hope to write biographies of famous actors and directors and you already write well, you might be better off studying film (and possibly minoring in creative writing).

You may be the kind of person who needs the validation of a degree. Maybe you’re an excellent writer but you’d feel better putting your work out there if you could back it up (even in your own mind) with that piece of paper that says you have some expertise in this area. Or you might be the kind of person who is confident enough to plunge into the career of a writer without any such validation.

You might find that time and money are barriers to earning a degree. If you have responsibilities that require you to work full time and if you’re raising a family, obtaining a degree might not be in the cards, either in terms of time or money. You might be better off focusing what little free time you have on reading and writing. But there are other options if you’ve got your heart set on a creative writing degree: look for accredited online colleges, find schools that offer night and weekend classes, and open yourself to the idea that you can take ten years rather than four years to complete your higher education.

Finally, some people have a desire to get a degree but they feel they’re too old. I personally think that’s a bunch of hogwash. You’re never too old to learn or obtain any kind of education. When I was just out of high school, I attended a college with many students who were middle-aged and older. I had tremendous respect for them and they brought a lot of wisdom to our classes, which balanced out the youthful inexperience of my other, much younger classmates. I don’t care if you’re eighteen, forty-two, or seventy, if you have a hankering to do something, go do it!

Making Tough Decisions

Ultimately, the decision rests with each of us. Do you need a creative writing degree? Only you can answer that question.

If you’re still not sure, then check with a local school (a community college is a good place to start) and make an appointment with an adviser in the English Department. If you’re in high school, get in touch with your school’s career counselor. Sometimes, these professionals can help you evaluate your own needs to determine which is the best course of action for you. But in the end, make sure whatever decision you make about your education is one that you’ve carefully weighed and are comfortable with.

And whether you earn a degree in creative writing or not, keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan

Sources:

Most Successful People Who Never Went to College
Famous Autodidacts
 

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Writing Sleuths – Pet Detectives

In a recent fiction novel, a neophyte private investigator (PI) grudgingly took on pet cases, from finding an African Helmeted Turtle to looking for her neighbor’s nasty-tempered dog. Tracking down these lost pets provided funny subplots, although a writer could also build a more serious story starring a PI who specializes in finding animals. This article defines the role of a pet detective, their skill set and tools, and techniques writers can apply to develop such a character.

What Is a Pet Detective?

Pet detectives are trained to find (or enhance the chances of finding) lost or missing pets. They use a mix of profiling, search-and-rescue, surveillance, even grief counseling techniques. They often use high-tech tools, from night-vision binoculars to motion-activated surveillance cameras. Their strategies have reunited thousands of lost pets with their human companions. There are even professional organizations, such as Pet Hunters International and Pet Detective University, that train PIs to become certified pet detectives.

Bloodhounds and other dogs can also be trained to assist pet PIs. Just as trailing dogs like German Shepherds, bloodhounds, and Border Collies can follow a human scent, they can also follow the scent of a pet from something like the cat’s bed or a dog’s favorite chew toy. Also, some search dogs are trained to detect specific animals, such as cats, while others
serve to attract other canines.

Tips for Writing a Pet Detective

If you’re writing a story with a sleuth who finds lost pets, think about the following questions:

  • Does he/she own a search dog?
  • What tools does your pet PI use? For example, night-vision binoculars, motion-activated surveillance cameras, a bionic ear to amplify sounds?
  • In real-life, a pet PI can make a lucrative living, from set fees of $300 to $1,000 a day. Does your character charge similarly? If so, his/her lifestyle will reflect a high income (unless they’re not very good with money or they have other financial obligations).
  • What investigative traits does your fictional pet PI use? As with other PIs, they might rely on their reasoning, analysis of physical evidence, interview and interrogation, and surveillance techniques to recover lost pets.
  • Where did your fictional pet PI learn about animal behavior-for example, in college, in a veterinarian’s office, or while growing up on a farm?

There’s one last point about writing a pet detective: he/she probably has a big heart. After all, animals possess all that is best in humans.

About the Author:

Colleen Collins-Kaufman is a professional PI and multi-published author. She and her business partner also teach online classes for writers developing sleuths and detective fiction. For more information, go to http://www.writingprivateinvestigators.com

Source: freelancewriting.com

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How to Make Your Sentences More Descriptive

Today’s guest post is by Jordan Conrad.

The purpose of writing is to communicate information. This is true for writing of all types—for fiction and nonfiction, for creative and technical, for business and legal.

A work of fiction communicates information by telling a story, while an email to an employee communicates information in a much more direct way.

In either case, the author accomplishes the goal of information sharing by using descriptive language to convey detail.

Here is a passage that isn’t very descriptive:

  • Beth first met her spouse in California.

The sentence is fine grammatically, but it isn’t very interesting. What were they doing in California? How did they meet? Did they fall in love head over heels, or did their relationship grow over time as they got to know one another?

All of these details are interesting—and possibly important.

I will include a caveat, though. You don’t want your sentences to be too descriptive, or they will be equally as boring, like this sentence:

  • When Bethany first met Elijah at a rooftop cocktail party at the Standard Hotel in downtown LA, he was wearing polished leather penny loafers with beige argyle socks, dark-blue jeans from GAP that looked brand-new and a crisp, a white cotton dress shirt that he accentuated with a 1970s-era stainless-steel Tissot Chronograph watch that made him look like an off-brand Bond villain from a film that had been disowned by its director and credited to Alan Smithee.

Who needs all that detail? At some point, you probably thought, Stop telling me what Elijah is wearing; I don’t care anymore.

Good writing is about balance. It is possible to be too descriptive, and your writing will suffer just as much as if you aren’t being descriptive enough. With that cautionary tale in mind, here are a few tips for making your writing more descriptive.

Tools of Description

Verb choice. Selecting colorful verbs is one of the easiest ways to make your writing more interesting. You don’t even have to add extra words; your sentences need verbs anyway, so just choose good ones.

  • Did someone walk across the room, or did they stumble across the room (maybe in a drunken haze)?
  • Did someone laugh at a funny joke, or did they giggle, or chortle, or guffaw?

English is full of descriptive verbs, and they can make your writing more colorful. Be careful, however, not to use verbs that are too uncommon or strange, or you run the risk of losing description and creating distraction.

Eliminate adverbs. One of the oft-cited rules of fiction is that you should never use adverbs. Stephen King once said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

The thinking is that adverbs modify verbs, but your verbs should be strong enough by themselves such that they don’t need to be modified. In other words, to say eliminate adverbs is just another way to say use strong verbs.

Consider this example:

  • A deer ran across the road furiously, and I hit the brakes immediately.

In this sentence, the adverbs are being used to create the effect of descriptive verbs. They act as sprinkles on an otherwise mundane sentence.

Let’s try eliminating them:

  • The deer sprang across the road. I smashed the brake pedal and swerved to avoid it.

The verb choice here puts more detail back into the sentence.

Adverbs also have the tendency to weaken writing by adding unnecessary qualifiers, such as usually, generally, mostly, and oftentimes. In many cases, these words are used to obscure writing, not make it clearer or more descriptive.

Intentional use of adjectives. Whereas adverbs modify verbs, adjectives modify nouns. This is probably the most direct way to make your writing more descriptive, since adjectives exist for the express purpose of being descriptive.

This is where many writers fall into the trap of being too descriptive, though. The cautionary example sentence above contains eighteen adjectives, which is at least fourteen too many.

Stick to one adjective per verb most of the time. Stick to a maximum of five or six nouns per sentence too—any longer than that, the sentence should be split.

Analogies and Metaphors. Comparative language is incredibly powerful in its ability to describe. By comparing one thing to another, you bring to mind everything associated with that subject or idea you’re comparing—and these feelings can be powerful.

Analogies and metaphors are the standard-bearers of comparative language. Analogies help clarify complex topics and make them relatable, and metaphors can add a bit of elegance or flair to your writing.

Consider a famous metaphor from Picasso:

  • “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

The imagery that this evokes in the mind of the reader is deep—in some sense literally. It brings to mind waves crashing over a shore and is much more descriptive than it otherwise could be, as shown in this example:

  • Art makes life more interesting.

In some sense, this sentence says the same thing as Picasso’s quote, but it’s obvious which is more descriptive and meaningful.

As with any bit of description, metaphors can be overused, and they aren’t always helpful. In everyday business communication, it’s probably better to eliminate unnecessary metaphors and other figurative language.

Conclusion

The beauty of descriptive writing is that it bridges genres and mediums. Being descriptive can benefit your business communications just as much as it can benefit your next novel.

Remember, however: good writing and good description is about balance. If you are too descriptive, your readers are likely to get bored or overwhelmed. If you aren’t descriptive enough, you risk boring your readers.

Source: livewritethrive.com

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The Satisfaction of Excellence: The Growth Mindset for Writers

If someone had asked me in my early days as a book coach what quality was most critical to a writer’s success, I would have said perseverance. It was the thing that most obviously separated the writers who made it from those who didn’t. After all, in order to succeed, you have to finish, and in order to finish, you have to stick with it, day after day, month after month, year after year, whether the writing is going well or not. Perseverance trumps procrastination and doubt – the two things that tend to derail a great many writers.

While I still consider perseverance to be paramount, another quality has risen to the top of my list of qualities critical to a writer’s success: the ability to receive feedback.

In my early interactions with a potential client, I can tell what their general stance is on feedback. They fall somewhere on the spectrum from closed and defensive on the one side and open and willing to learn on the other.

CLOSED/DEFENSIVE OPEN/WILLING TO LEARN

Someone who is closed and defensive thinks they already know it all. They are hyper protective of their idea and their vision and if they seek help at all, it is under the guise of wanting confirmation that what they have written is already great. They don’t really want feedback; they want a quick “win.”

But winning is not a place you arrive; it’s a way you behave. And the most successful writers behave with a growth mindset.

That’s the term coined years ago by Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor of psychology and author of the book, Mindset. A growth mindset is the opposite from a fixed mindset. It means you are flexible and open, always willing to learn:

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Here’s what a growth mindset tends to look like in writers:

  • The writer is open to improving. They are not afraid to look at their skills and to assess them. They acknowledge the areas where they could be better. They welcome honest feedback.
  • The writer is willing to learn. They read in their genre to see how writers they admire approach a character or a scene or a structural element. They read books and blogs about writing to learn from wise teachers. They go to lectures, partner with other ambitious writers, seek out a coach to help them get strong.
  • The writer wants to know how their work impacts their readers. They want the outcome to be effective and make an impact. They consider the end-goal of the work, not just how it makes them feel as they write.
  • The writer works hard to bring their vision to life, focusing on the work and not on external measures of success. One of my clients recently finished a draft of a novel; it is her second, and her first did not sell. She was starting to feel closed and fearful about the new book, until she recognized that feeling, and made a switch. She began to focus on what she calls “the satisfaction of excellence.” The satisfaction of excellence has nothing to do with landing an agent, getting a big book deal, or making a lot of money. It has to do with mastering the craft.
  • They are grateful for the chance to write, the time to write, the space to write. They are grateful for the people who support them and for their readers, no matter how small or large the number.

Good writing takes a very long time to develop – 10,000 hours spent trying to spin a tale or an argument, trying to find your voice. Having a growth mindset means that you don’t just sit alone during those 10,000 hours, banging away and ignoring the rest of the world. You seek to get better every time you write. You seek the satisfaction of excellence.

By Writing Coach
Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Why a Serial Might Be a Good Move for Your Writing

Most of us are aware that there’s a strong audience for serial fiction out there. It’s not new. Serial fiction was published in newspapers in the Victorian age, in magazines, and consumed regularly on radio and television. Any series that has a continuing story is, in essence, serial. And the written word serial is gaining ground these days. Some of those authors are famous, some brand new, some indie, some trad-published, and some hybrids. Essentially, authors across the board have jumped on this stage.

If you’ve seen any of the serial outlets, like Serial Box, Wattpad, and Tapas, then you know that there are a range of authors out there supplying this niche with ever new stories.

(Here’s a great article from Den of Geek about some of the best serials out there.)

There are different platforms for this sort of fiction, as well. I’m going to break it into three big divisions: paid, free, and self-hosted.

Paid those big heavy-hitters like Serial Box (Born to the Blade and Tremontaine, for example), Belgravia, and Bookshots (James Patterson’s production). In these, the authors (or groups of authors) are paid for their regular segments.

The next layer down is the sites hosted by a third party, such as Wattpad, Tapas, or Radish. These allow writers of all stripe to post pieces of their fiction, and often allow readers to interact with them (which can be good or stressful.)

There is also the option of hosting your own serial, via a personal web-site or blog. (A good example of this in the Innkeeper Chronicles by Illona Andrews.) I have friends who are on Serial Box and Wattpad, but most of my experience comes from running serials of my own. I currently have three running. Yes, three… and it’s awesome.

First, let me talk about the three I’m doing.

The first of my serials is for my Patreon. Once a month I post a segment from a book that I’m working on (The Truth Undiscovered), usually a chapter of about 3000 words. To keep this one limited to my Patrons, I password protect the pages on my website, and forward the password to my Patrons. The second serial is from a completely different book (In Dreaming Bound) that I’m working on but is posted on my Patreon blog FREE every month, so that anyone who wants to follow that can do so. And the third serial (The Black Queen) is hosted free on my website.

Although I do receive funding via my Patreon serial, I am unpaid for the other two. So why would I do that? Why give away my work for free?

Well, since I started doing this serial work (back in 2016), I’ve had time to analyze what value it has to me. And I have some strong reasons to continue doing it.

1. The serials challenge me to produce regularly.

In the time that I’ve been doing serials, I’ve managed to get the Patreon out on time every month. This means often setting aside my other WIP and digging in for a couple of days to produce and edit those 3000 words, but the fact that my patrons are waiting for it keeps me working. To a lesser extent, the free serials keep me bustling, too. I’ve been publishing two chapters a week on The Black Queen, and that means I have to be sure they’re ready to go up. (Now, these are drafts and will be edited again later, but I do try to get them into readable states before hitting “Publish”.)

2. The serials allow me to connect with readers from different ‘worlds’.

The Patreon series is related to my Golden City novels (a prequel), the Patreon freebie is the sequel to my Dreaming Death novel, and the online freebie is the next book in the King’s Daughter series, following The Amiestrin Gambit and The Passing of Pawns—both of which were also serialized. This keeps me actively engaged with different worlds I’ve created, and with those readers who liked each one.

3. The serials allow me to experiment a little.

Now some people who write serials plot and outline, but others don’t. My two free serials are plotted out, but my Patreon series has been pantsed from one end to the other. It was a choice I made up front—to try something different—and I’ve enjoyed that a great deal. And it’s taught me a lot about chapter structure and planning that I can use in the future. I’m learning some craft in doing this.

4. I get to connect with new readers.

Although my readers don’t often communicate directly with me (as is common on a platform like Wattpad), I do get input. On my webpage, I get to see when the regulars check in on the weekend…there’s Poland, there’s Norway, there’s Germany, there’s UK and Singapore…. I recognize those hits, and I know they’re coming back every week to read.

5. I get to publish my serials as books when I’m done.

Back when I first started my Patreon, I wrote a serial novella for that called “After the War”. It took about seven months to get all the chapters up, but this is the one that hooked me on serial writing. Once it was complete, I edited the manuscript, sent it off to my editor/formatter, and got my illustrator to make a cover. And then I had a book, a nice resolution at the end of the cycle.

But surely there are some downsides, right? Yes, of course there are. Here are some of the things that can crop up.

1. A serial, when published as an entire product, can have overall pacing issues.

There may be chapters that are slower than others. (Have you had a beloved TV series with those two or three episodes per season that you never re-watch?) And when you’re writing in serial fashion (particularly in monthly installments rather than weekly) it’s easy to miss those.

2.  Continuity can be a bug-bear, particularly on the once-a-month schedule.

If you have gaps between writing sections, you may forget a description, a person’s name, and what day of the week it is. For my serials, I usually put the date and location at the top of each chapter (I don’t necessarily include those in the final product, though.) I keep a running Cast of Characters, and when I’m worried, I’ll go back and reread pertinent passages. It’s easy to make a mistake when you’re switching between WIPs.

3. Sometimes life knocks you off schedule.

When my dog had surgery recently, I ran a bit short on my Patron chapter. I published only 2/3 of the chapter, but I explained the situation to my patrons and they were very supportive. When I’m not going to get one of the free serials in on time, I’ll leave a note on my webpage.

4. You worry about plagiarism.

Well, as authors we have to worry about this all the time. It’s the backdrop against which we work. People will steal things off your website and repackage them as their own. So keep your posts with the appropriate dates on them, and make sure you have old copies of your files so that if there’s any problem, you will have those files as proof of your authorship.

Why Ebook Piracy Matters – Jana Oliver

How to Protect Against Plagiarism If You Post Fiction Online

For me the serials have been part of my over-all effort to write faster and to incorporate some new craft into my writing. I will be publishing five 90-100K novels this year, all of which will have been at least partially serialized. I will then start on 3 new serials (again, one for paid Patreon, one for free Patreon, and one for my website) and hopefully keep that ball rolling!

It never hurts to give new things a try.

By J. Kathleen Cheney
Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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