Tag Archives: Writers Write

CHARACTER MOTIVATION THESAURUS

A compelling goal is one of the cornerstones of strong fiction, but conveying why the character is driven to achieve it is what draws readers in and makes them care. Explore all angles of character arc by digging deep into what is motivating your protagonist, the obstacles that could stand in their way, and how sacrifices may play a role if the character is to succeed.

ACHIEVING SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT

AVOIDING CERTAIN DEATH

AVOIDING FINANCIAL RUIN

BEATING A DIAGNOSIS OR CONDITION

BECOMING A LEADER OF OTHERS

BEING ACKNOWLEDGED OR APPRECIATED BY FAMILY

BEING THE BEST AT SOMETHING

CARING FOR AN AGING PARENT

CARRYING ON A LEGACY

CATCHING THE BAD GUY OR GIRL

COMING TO GRIPS WITH A MENTAL DISORDER

COPING WITH A LEARNING DISABILITY OR ILLNESS (KIDLIT)

DEALING WITH BULLIES (KIDLIT)

DISCOVERING ONE’S TRUE SELF

DOING THE RIGHT THING (KIDLIT)

EMBRACING A PERSONAL IDENTITY (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING A DANGEROUS LIFE ONE NO LONGER WANTS TO LIVE

ESCAPING A KILLER

ESCAPING CONFINEMENT

ESCAPING DANGER (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING HOMELESSNESS

ESCAPING INVADERS

ESCAPING WIDESPREAD DISASTER

EXPLORING ONE’S BIOLOGICAL ROOTS

FINDING A LIFELONG PARTNER

FINDING FRIENDSHIP OR COMPANIONSHIP

FITTING IN (KIDLIT)

GIVING A CHILD UP

HAVING A CHILD

HELPING A LOVED ONE RECOGNIZE THEY ARE HURTING THEMSELVES AND OTHERS

NAVIGATING A CHANGING FAMILY SITUATION (KIDLIT)

OBTAINING SHELTER FROM THE ELEMENTS

OVERCOMING ABUSE AND LEARNING TO TRUST

OVERCOMING ADDICTION

OVERCOMING A FEAR (KIDLIT)

PROTECTING ONE’S HOME OR PROPERTY

PURSUING JUSTICE FOR ONESELF OR OTHERS

PURSUING MASTERY OF A SKILL OR TALENT

REALIZING A DREAM

RECONCILING WITH AN ESTRANGED FAMILY MEMBER

RESCUING A LOVED ONE FROM A CAPTOR

RESISTING PEER PRESSURE (KIDLIT)

RESTORING ONE’S NAME OR REPUTATION

RIGHTING A DEEP WRONG

STOPPING AN EVENT FROM HAPPENING

SURVIVING THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

TRYING SOMETHING NEW (KIDLIT)

TRYING TO SUCCEED WHERE ONE HAS PREVIOUSLY FAILED

WINNING A COMPETITION

Source: onestopforwriters.com

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Miss Having Coworkers? Here’s How to Start a Writing Group

Writing can be a lonely road.

Though working solo has many benefits, everyone has moments when they wish they could stop by a coworker’s desk to ask a question, get feedback on an idea or simply share a crazy client story.

I worked on my own for several years before going in-house as a staff writer for a personal finance website. And, while I missed the freedom of working remotely, I loved the daily banter with my colleagues. Not only was the camaraderie enjoyable, it often sparked my creativity.

So, when I returned to freelancing a year ago, I wanted to bring a bit of that feeling along with me — and I started a writers mastermind group.

What is a mastermind group?

Napoleon Hill, author of The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich, is largely credited with introducing the word “mastermind” in the 1920s, though the concept has been around far longer than that.

Organized by entrepreneurs across industries, a mastermind is a group of peers who meet regularly to set goals, overcome challenges and use their collective brainpower to accelerate business growth.

Famous mastermind participants include Franklin Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates — even the Knights of the Round Table!

And they’re still very much in vogue today. As the legendary online entrepreneur Pat Flynn writes: “A mastermind group is mandatory to achieve online success… I would not be where I’m at today if it weren’t for the mastermind groups that I’ve been a part of.”

My mastermind consists of five female freelance writers. We meet once a month over Google Hangouts to share highs and lows, resources and encouragement.

I always look forward to our call, as it’s one of the only times I get to have honest conversations about writing with people who understand what I’m talking about. I also learn so much from my fellow group members, and love the support we provide each other.

5 steps for starting a writers’ mastermind group

Becoming part of a writers mastermind can certainly be a boon for your career — and your mental health.

So, rather than waiting around to be invited to one, why not start one yourself? Here are five steps to follow.

1. Outline your goals and rules

The first thing to figure out is what you want to gain from your mastermind. Collect your thoughts in a Google Doc that you can share with potential members.

For example, here was my mastermind’s main goal: “To grow our writing careers while traveling the world — and without going crazy.”

In the document, I also included secondary goals about accountability, perspective, support and inspiration, as well as the proposed schedule and rules. Some examples: “Show up every month (if you miss three calls, you’ll be asked to leave the group)” and “Listen openly and without judgment.”

Though I’m generally not a stickler for rules, I thought they were important to mention. That way, potential members would take the group seriously, as well as understand the type of environment I hoped to create.

2. Determine your meeting cadence

Most mastermind groups meet once a week or once a month.

My mastermind meets from 3-5 p.m. EST on the first Wednesday of every month. Having a regular time makes it easier for us to fit the meeting into our schedules (and to remember when it’s occurring!).

Determining your meeting cadence will also determine your meeting structure. In many weekly masterminds, for example, each member offers a brief update, then one person is in the “hot seat” with the rest of the meeting focused on their business and goals.

Since my mastermind only meets once a month, we all take turns sharing our highs, lows and goals, then it’s an open floor for any member to discuss challenges they’re facing.

3. Choose your tribe

This is the most important step in creating a writers mastermind: Who are you going to invite?

Here’s some common advice for choosing your mastermind’s members:

  • Invite three to five other people: Any more, and your sessions will go too long; any less, and it’ll be overly detrimental if someone can’t make it.
  • Choose peers: Try to find people in similar stages of their careers. If someone’s significantly further along, it’ll probably feel more like a coaching session for them — rather than an open exchange with peers.

In terms of the type of writing your members do, I’ve found it helpful that all of my mastermind’s members are freelance writers. I purposely also chose people who enjoy traveling, since it’s something we can all bond over.

To find my members, I turned to my personal network: Three were writers I’d met at conferences, and one was a friend of another member.

4. Create a shared space

You’re going to need somewhere to record the ideas generated during your calls and continue the conversation in between.

For my mastermind, I created a private Facebook group where we ask questions and share resources. We also have a few documents where we’ve written out successful pitches (though, to be honest, we don’t use this as much as we should).

If you’re not into Facebook, you could do this via Slack or another platform; choose what works best for you.

5. Get going

Now all that’s left to do is get started! It probably won’t be perfect, but you’ll be able to fix any bumps along the way — with the help of your new mastermind buddies.

Or, as those in the tech world would say, “Ship fast and iterate.”

One year into our writers mastermind, we’re still figuring out how to improve our processes. For example, we recently began assigning one notetaker per meeting, since so many good ideas are shared in the moment (and it’s tough to remember them all).

Bumps aside, starting a writers mastermind group was one of the highlights of my year.

It’s been so helpful to chat with these fellow writers; to know they’re on my side when I’m having a rough day (or month), to know they’re there for my silly questions and to know we’re all helping each other progress in our writing careers.

This may be my first mastermind — but I can tell you with confidence it won’t be my last.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

By Susan Shain
Source: thewritelife.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Is It Unhealthy to be a Workaholic Writer?

If you’re a hard-working writer, are you a workaholic?

And if you are, is that necessarily a bad thing?

With all writers have to manage today, including consistent marketing, maintaining an online presence and oh, yeah, writing and editing, it’s important to step back every once in awhile and say, “Am I overdoing it?”

What is Workaholism and How Does it Apply to Writing?

If you’re under the spell of workaholism, you may feel guilty when you’re not working, and tend to neglect your own well-being because you’re over-focused on work.

Not sure if you qualify? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you feel compelled to write or work on writing-related tasks while on vacation?
  • Do you cancel social plans so you can catch up on writing-related activities (such as blogging, posting to social media, marketing, etc.)?
  • Do you regularly engage in writing work during meals?
  • Do you work on writing stuff even when you’re ill?
  • Do you sacrifice sleep or exercise to get your writing work done?
  • Do you feel compelled to work on writing-related activities even when you’re all caught up?
  • Do you feel like your work-life balance is out of whack?
  • Are you neglecting your hobbies and other enjoyable activities so you can get your writing work done?

We’ve all experienced insane working periods in our writing careers, perhaps around a book launch or when wrapping up edits for a publisher. Sometimes, you have to let other things slide to get the writing done or the book out, but then the question is: Do you slow down after that, or do you continue to work at the same pace?

How Workaholism Can Damage a Writer’s Health

The problem with workaholism is the more you work, the less time you have for other things in your life.

That means you’re likely to skip out on important stuff like your daily exercise routine, preparing healthy and wholesome meals, or taking time out to relieve stress. Overwork is also likely to interfere with your sleep, depriving you of that important 7-8 hours you need each night.

All of us can survive a few weeks under these conditions, but longer than that and you’re putting your health at risk. Lack of exercise, grabbing meals on the run, and regular sleep deprivation all increase risk of overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that workaholics experienced more sleep problems than non-workaholics, and were also more at risk for cardiovascular disease. A separate review of 25 studies involving over 600,000 people found similar results, with those working longer hours having a higher risk of stroke.

Workaholism has been linked with an increased risk of mental and emotional health problems, too, like burnout and depression.

Don’t We Have to Work Hard to Be Productive?

There’s no doubt that a successful writing career requires hard work, but there is a fine line between putting in the time and overdoing it to the point you’re no longer productive.

A number of studies have actually linked workaholism to decreased productivity, finding that those who work longer hours typically complete fewer projects. The more hours we work, the less effective the brain is, and we’re likely to make more mistakes that we have to fix later. We also make poor decisions (about plot and characterization, perhaps?).

Worse, workaholism can lead to a drop in creativity—definitely not something writers want. Stress itself is a creativity killer, and if you add overwork to it, your ability to create an original and inspiring story declines rapidly.

In a 2008 study, researchers found that compared with working less than 40 hours per week, working more than 55 hours a week was linked with lower scores on a vocabulary test (bad news for those working with language).

Of all things the mind needs for creative thought, it’s space, and when we fill all our time with work (and other activities, like perusing social media), we fail to give it that space, leading to dull thought.

When Workaholism Might be Okay for Writers

Despite a plethora of research on the potential negative effects of workaholism, we also have some recent studies showing that under certain circumstances, workaholism may not be as damaging as we thought.

What circumstances are those? The main ones involve your attitude about the work: Are you enthusiastic about it? Do you enjoy it? Do you love it?

In one recent study, for example, researchers questioned about 750 employees. They found that yes, workaholism was related to high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol (risk factors for heart disease), but only when work “engagement” was low—in other words, when the employees felt they were wasting their time on projects they didn’t care about.

In those participants whose engagement was high, on the other hand, the opposite was true—they were actually less likely to suffer from these sorts of health risks. These were the participants who enjoyed their jobs, got absorbed in what they were doing, and felt like their tasks were worthwhile.

Interestingly, researchers also found that highly engaged employees:

  • had more support at work and at home for the work they were doing,
  • were skilled at time management,
  • and had a high level of intrinsic motivation for their work—they loved doing it regardless of the outside rewards.

Help for Overworked Writers

Looking at the results of these studies, we can conclude a few things that are likely true for writers.

  1. Working hard at what you love is more likely to help you than hurt you.

When you love writing, you’re unlikely to suffer from negative consequences by spending a lot of time on it, as long as you make sure to take care of yourself and don’t neglect the other things that matter in your life. Indeed, if writing is your calling, you’re more likely to suffer from not pursuing it wholeheartedly than you are from working some extra hours on it.

  1. When writers feel overworked, it likely has something to do with projects other than writing.

I think the reason why more and more writers are feeling overworked these days has little to do with the writing itself, and a lot more to do with the marketing responsibilities we’re now faced with. Most writers don’t like marketing and feel uncomfortable and out of their element when trying to do it, which puts this task squarely in the “don’t like” category mentioned above—the one that can lead to negative health outcomes if we pursue it too heavily.

Yet marketing can take a lot of time, particularly if we’re really trying to get some attention on a book or on our careers in general. There’s not only the work itself, but the education that’s involved—we have to learn how to do it, and since it doesn’t come naturally to most of us, that can take longer than we’d like.

Trying to complete all our marketing tasks on top of our writing can lead to overwork, burnout, depression, and all the other negative effects of workaholism. What are the solutions? Every writer has to find his or her own way, but I’ve found the following five tips to be helpful:

  1. Write first: Since writing is the thing that energizes and engages you, it must be your top priority. Sometimes marketing can take over, but if you find yourself getting depressed or exhausted, take a step back. Return to the writing, and let the other stuff go. You can always get back to it later.
  2. Try to make marketing fun: Instead of feeling pressured to market in certain ways, try to find methods you can actually enjoy. Be open to a wider variety of marketing techniques. This will help increase your engagement so you’re less likely to suffer the negative effects of working long hours.
  3. Always put self-care first: Eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep need to come first. Make these things a priority in your life, and you’ll be more likely to stay productive and creative…and healthy!
  4. Take more time off: America is a country that leaves vacation days on the table. Don’t be a part of this statistic. Make sure you take your vacation every year, and schedule at least one writing getaway in addition to help recharge your batteries.
  5. Find the support you need: Writing groups, book clubs, writing friends, and understanding family members give us the support we need to make sure our lives don’t go totally off the rails, balance-wise. Getting out to lunch with friends, taking the weekend for the family, or enjoying some wine and treats with the members of a book club can be like fresh air on an otherwise busy, busy week. Cultivate these relationships and keep them strong!

Read more about workaholism and how it affects writers, and how you can improve productivity and time management, in Colleen’s book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. Get your free chapter here!

Colleen M. Story
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Finding Writing Inspiration In The Present And The Past

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
~Ray Bradbury, Writers Digest~

When Anne Frank said “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn”, she perfectly summed up why countless individuals turn to writing both as a career choice and a hobby. The USA, in particular, is a writer’s hotspot with more than 44, 000 authors and writers reportedly working in the United States in 2016 according to the United States Department of Labor.

If you are a writer, whether a blogger, freelancer or seasoned novelist, you will know how important finding the right inspiration is. It is easy to write when you are inspired, making the task at hand so enjoyable that you may even find yourself forgetting to eat or sleep. On the other hand, when you are lacking inspiration, you can become so discouraged and disheartened that you can’t write at all.

If you are a writer, whether a blogger, freelancer or seasoned novelist, you will know how important finding the right inspiration is

Take a trip down memory lane

There are numerous ways through which you can find inspiration by exploring the past with reading being just one of them. It is perfectly acceptable for a writer to draw inspiration from reading the works of others.  One activity that can prove to be particularly beneficial is the reading of old books and newspapers. Spending a couple of hours reading through the classic literature of authors such as Mark Twain, Jane Austen, George Orwell and J.R.R Tolkien can you inspire you to greatness, and even if it doesn’t it will end up giving your vocabulary a boost. Visiting your local library to view old newspaper archives is a good way to jog your memory and get your creative juices flowing, especially if you are looking to base your written piece around real-life events.

Looking through old photographs or listening to people telling tales of bygone times are other superb ways of finding inspiration by examining the past. Be sure to harness the emotions evoked by these trips down memory lane as they can turn out to trigger some of your best ideas when it comes to writing a possible award-winning piece.

Looking through old photographs or listening to people telling tales of bygone times are other superb ways of finding inspiration by examining the past.

Embrace the present

As much as we can be inspired by the past, the present can offer its own share of inspiration, often courtesy of modern-day technology such as movies & television, music, and the internet. Many conventional writers think of movies and television as a curse to the creative spirit when in fact they could both spark some pretty good ideas in an artistic mind. Browsing the internet can open up a whole new world of inspiration. There are countless of resources available to aspiring writers on the internet ranging from virtual scrapbooks such as Pinterest to motivational blogs, vlogs and writing communities on various social media platforms and independent sites. Taking the time to read interesting articles and explore new web pages can help you add a fresh perspective to your written work. Whatever research you need to conduct is just a couple of click away thanks to the internet.

Regardless of how much you love writing there will be days that you need added inspiration.  While the above guidelines can help you enter an inspired state every writer has to find his own unique source of inspiration. Don’t feel disheartened if you don’t draw inspiration from any of the suggestions mentioned as true motivation often stems from the most unlikely of sources.

By Jane Sandwood

Source: twodropsofink.com

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How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

So you want to start a blog?

If you’re a writer, it makes perfect sense: You can use a blog to serve as your author platform, market your book or find new freelance writing clients.

But where do you begin? Though you’ve got the writing part down, the rest of the process can be overwhelming. Hosting, themes and all that other techy stuff can stand in your way for years.

Well, today is the day that ends. We’re here to help you navigate every step of starting a blog, from choosing your domain name to publishing your first post.

Here’s how to start a blog as a writer:

1. Pick a domain name

First things first: Where are people going to find you online? As a writer, you are your brand, so we recommend using some variation of your name. To check availability, simply visit Bluehost and click on “new domain.”

Or, search this handy domain-name checker!

https://www.bluehost.com/web-hosting/domaincheckapi/?affiliate=thewritelife/startablogURLbox

If none of the obvious options are available, try tacking a “writer” onto the end of your name, as in susanshainwriter.com. You could also use a “.net” or “.biz” domain, but keep in mind that most people automatically type in “.com” before thinking of other endings.

You can, of course, opt for a creative blog name, but remember that your interests and target audience may change as the years go by. When I started blogging in 2012, I focused solely on adventure travel and named my blog Travel Junkette. Since then, I’ve expanded my niche and recently switched to susanshain.com — because my name won’t change, no matter what I’m blogging about. I wish I’d started out using my name as the domain, and would advise you not to make the same mistake I did.

Once you’ve settled on your domain (or domains, if you’re like a lot of us writerpreneurs!), don’t wait to buy it. Even if you’re not ready to start a blog right now, you don’t want to risk losing the domain you want.

Before you actually click “purchase,” though, you might want to read the next step; we’re going to tell you how to get your domain name for free.

2. Purchase a hosting package

Now that you’ve picked out your domain name, it’s time to choose a web host. Your hosting company does all the technical magic to make sure your site actually appears when people type your newly anointed domain name into their browser. In other words, it’s pretty important.

We use MediaTemple to host this blog, but it’s typically better for blogs with lots of traffic, so you probably don’t need that if you’re just starting out. For a new blog, try Bluehost. It’s used by top bloggers around the world and is known for its customer service and reliability. Bluehost’s basic hosting plan costs $3.95 per month — and as a bonus, the company throws in your domain name for free when you sign up.

Be sure to put your purchase (and all the purchases listed in this post) on a business credit card and keep those receipts; they are investments in your business and are therefore tax deductible.

3. Install WordPress

We’re almost through with the techy stuff, we promise! You have several different choices for blogging platforms, but we like WordPress best. Not only is it totally free, but it’s easy to learn, offers a wide variety of themes, and has an online community and lots of plugins that make blogging accessible to everybody.

You can read comprehensive instructions for installing WordPress on your new blog here. Once you’ve completed that, you can officially log into your blog and start making it look pretty.

Still too techy for you? Try WordPress.com (as opposed to WordPress.org). It’s a cinch to set up, but won’t allow you as much control over your site’s design and functionality. If you choose to go this route, you can skip steps one and two of this post. Simply visit WordPress.com and click on “Create website.” Though the free default inserts wordpress.com into your domain (susanshain.wordpress.com), you can pay to use your own domain (susanshain.com).

4. Put up an “under construction” sign

While working on your blog’s appearance, you might want to put up an “under construction” or “coming soon” sign to greet visitors. You don’t want any potential clients or readers to Google your name and find a half-finished site. (And you may think you’re going to finish setting up your blog tomorrow — but we all know how badly writers procrastinate when there are no looming deadlines!)

To set up a little sign that says “under construction,” just download this plugin. You could even include a link to your Twitter or Facebook page so visitors have an alternate way of getting in touch with you. When you’re ready to share your blog with the world, simply deactivate and delete this plugin.

5. Choose a theme

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Your theme determines what your blog looks like, and you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Yes, there’s a wide range of free themes, but if you’re serious about blogging, the customization and support offered by paid themes can’t be beat.

Here at The Write Life, we use Genesis, which is one of the most popular premium themes available. Another popular and flexible theme is Thesis. For my personal site, I use Elegant Themes, which has a wide selection of beautiful themes at a reasonable price. All of these themes come with unlimited support — essential when you’re starting a blog.

6. Create a header

If you truly want your blog to look professional, it’s worth getting a custom header. You can ask your favorite graphic designer or create something yourself with Canva.

My favorite option? Order one on Fiverr. I’ve had great luck getting headers and other graphics designed in this online marketplace, where thousands of people offer their services for $5 per gig.

7. Write your pages

Though you’re starting a blog and not a static website, you’ll still want a few pages that don’t change. (“Pages” are different from “posts,” which are the daily/weekly/monthly entries you publish on your blog.)

Here are some pages you may want to create:

About

The about page is frequently touted as one of the most-viewed pages on blogs, so don’t overlook it. Include a photo and brief bio, and explain why you’re blogging and why the reader should care. What makes you an expert? How can you help them?

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through — blogging is a personal affair!

Contact

You want your readers to be able to get in touch with you, right? Then you’ll need a contact page.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just tell your readers how best to reach you. Avoid putting your full email address on here, as spambots could get ahold of it. To work around that, you can use a plugin, which we’ll link to below, or simply write something like “yourname AT yoursite DOT com.”

Portfolio

It’s your blog, so flaunt what you’ve got! Show your prospective clients and readers that you deserve their time and attention with examples of your past and present work. You can see examples of great writer portfolios here; personally, I love Sara Frandina’s.

Resources

Do you have a list of favorite writing tools? Or maybe books that have inspired you? Readers love resources pages, and for bloggers, they can also be a way to earn income from affiliate sales. Check out The Write Life’s resources page for inspiration.

Start here

You probably won’t need this at first, but a “start here” page is smart once you have a decent amount of content. It’s a great opportunity to express your mission and highlight your best work, so your readers can see the value of your blog without wading through months or years worth of posts.

Joanna Penn does a good job with hers, encouraging readers to download her ebook and then choose a topic that interests them.

Work with me

If you’re using your new blog to sell your writing services, this page is crucial. Be clear about how you can help people and how they can get in touch with you. You could even list packages of different services, like Sarah Von Bargen does on her site.

Once you’ve set up all your pages, make sure they’re easily accessible from the home page. If they’re not showing up, you may have to adjust your menus.

8. Install plugins

Plugins are great for everybody, but they’re especially useful for those of us who are less comfortable with the technical side of things but who’ve managed to set up a self-hosted blog. Think of them as apps for your blog; they’re free tools you can install to do a variety of things.

Though having lots of plugins can undermine the functionality and security of your blog, there are several we recommend everyone look into:

Better Click-to-Tweet: Encourage readers to share your content by including a click-to-tweet box within your posts; this plugin makes it easy.

Contact Form 7: If you want to avoid putting your email address on your contact page, use this contact form plugin, which is frequently updated and receives good reviews.

QuickieBar: Want to get readers to sign up for your free newsletter? Or want to announce the release of your latest book? This plugin allows you to create a banner for the top of your blog.

Mashshare: These “Mashable-style” share buttons are like the ones you see here on The Write Life. Another popular option is Digg Digg. It doesn’t matter which plugin you choose; it’s just essential you make social sharing easy for your readers.

WP Google Analytics: This plugin tracks the visitors to your site so you can see what people are interested in and how they’re finding you.

WP Super Cache: Another plugin that’s not sexy, but is important. Caching allows your blog to load faster — pleasing both your readers and Google.

Yoast SEO: This all-in-one SEO plugin helps you optimize your posts so you can get organic traffic from search engines.

9. Install widgets

If your blog has a sidebar, you might want to spruce it up with a few widgets, which are small boxes with different functions.

Here are some ideas:

About box

You’ve probably seen this on a lot of blogs; it’s a box in the upper right hand corner welcoming you to the site. Check out Jessica Lawlor’s blog for a simple — yet excellent — example.

Social media icons

Make it easy for your readers to follow you on social media by including links to your profiles in the sidebar. Here’s a basic tutorial for adding custom social media icons.

Popular posts

Once you’ve been blogging for a while, you might want to highlight your most popular posts in the sidebar, which you can do with a basic text widget. We do this here on The Write Life so you can find our most popular content quickly and easily.

10. Purchase backup software

Don’t overlook this important step just because you don’t have content yet! It’s better to install this software early than to start blogging and not remember until it’s too late.

Free options exist, but I’ve never had good luck with them — and for something as important as my entire blog, I don’t mind paying a little extra. (It’s a business write-off, remember?!) Popular backup options include VaultPress, BackupBuddy and blogVault.

11. Start your email list

I know, I know — you haven’t even started blogging and I already want you to build an email list. Trust me; you’ll be so glad you did.

Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, agrees with me. “If I could go back and do one thing differently for my business, it would be starting a newsletter earlier,” she writes. “My email list is THAT important for my business, bringing traffic to my website, buys of my products and opportunities I never could’ve expected.”

Even if you don’t have anything to send, just start collecting email addresses. The best way to entice people to sign up is by offering a free ebook or resource. For great examples, check out The Write Life’s How to Land Your First Paying Client or Grant’s social media strategy checklist.

Our favorite email newsletter platform is Mailchimp. It’s intuitive, fun and free for up to 2,000 subscribers. There are lots of other tools you could choose, though; here are a few more options for building your email list.

Once you’ve created your list, entice your readers to subscribe by adding a subscription box to your sidebar, and maybe even installing a plugin like PopupAlly.

12. Write!

If you really want to start a blog, you’re going to need to… start blogging.

We recommend creating an editorial calendar — even if it’s just you blogging. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can even be scribbled out in a notebook.

What’s important is that you plan your posts in advance, so you can keep track of your ideas and stick to a schedule. It’s also a chance to assess and tweak your content strategy. What do you want to write about? How will you draw the readers in?

Don’t forget you’re writing for the web, so your style should be different than if you were writing for print. Keep your tone conversational, use “you” phrases to speak to the reader and break up text with bullet points and sub-headers. Keep SEO in mind, but don’t make it the focus of your writing.

13. Promote, promote, promote

You’re almost there! Now that you’ve started writing, it’s time to get readers. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for many writers, this is one of the most surprisingly time-consuming aspects of blogging. Though it’d be nice if we could just write (that’s what we love to do, right?), it’s nicer to have people actually reading your work.

One of the best ways to attract new readers is guest blogging on more popular blogs. To help you out, here are seven writing blogs that want your guest posts, plus seven more. (And don’t forget about guest posting for TWL!)

It’s also essential to interact with other bloggers. Share their content with your community, comment on their posts and support them when and where you can. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor!

Social media is another great way to get more traffic to your new blog. In addition to sharing your posts and networking with fellow bloggers, make sure you’re constantly trying to grow your author following on social media.

14. Get help if you need it

If you feel stuck at any point, don’t be afraid to invest in a course or ebook, like these ones:

Sometimes a little outside help is all the boost you need.

Other than that, creating a successful writing blog is about hard work and consistency. Keep posting helpful and engaging content, optimizing it for SEO and sharing it with your networks — and you’ll soon see your new blog start to blossom.

Congratulations, you’ve now officially started a blog as a writer. Guess it’s time to get writing!

Do you want to start a blog? What stood in your way until now?

By Susan Shain
Source: thewritelife.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Should Your Story Have a Happy Ending?

Once upon a time my wife and were doing our second-favorite thing, sitting up late at night reading. Suddenly she yelled something like ARRGH or UGH and threw the book across the room, where the poor thing bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. The cat wisely jumped up and took off for parts unknown, while I was thinking, “She’s between me and the kitchen where all the sharp objects are.”

“Uh, honey, is something wrong?”

“At the end, an atomic bomb went off and they all died.”

“Uh, why did the bomb go off?”

”No reason. Just because.”

She wasn’t kidding. The End. And they all died unhappily ever after.

And I know how she felt because when I was in Junior High I read a novel about hot rodders where, at the end, the hero drives off a bridge, his head collides with his girlfriend’s with a “bone-shattering crunch.” The End. I felt cheated. I went back and read the end again. Yep. Dead as can be. Let that be a lesson to you kids — no racing around in souped-up jalopies.

Let’s talk about what most of us do, and that’s genre fiction. Let’s talk about “. . . and they all died.” Maybe indulge in a little compare and contrast between tales that do not end with everybody dying, that say, yes, Virginia, happiness is possible.

  • Popular memes about genre fiction and how to fight them

Meme Number One — grim stories about the futility of modern life are more true-to-life and realistic because the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.

Meme Number Two — stories about miserable characters trapped in meaningless lives who stay miserable and do nothing about it are somehow more important than a series of paranormal romances.

At their dark, bleeding hearts these memes would have you believe that a happy ending is easier to write, and therefore less worthy. “He stood over the heroine’s body, holding the knife, laughed maniacally and went back to the castle.” That Stephanie Plum is less valuable to readers than the woman at the heart of Gone Girl.

Don’t you believe it.

  • The world is going to Hell In a hand basket

If it is, people have been saying that for generations. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) starring Kevin McCarthy, the hero talks to a psychiatrist about the people in Santa Mira who believe their friends or family members have been replaced by doubles. The shrink replies, “It’s mass hysteria. Worry about what’s going on in the world, probably.” That was 1955 and we’re still here. Remember the kids driving their hot rod off a bridge? First it was juvenile delinquents, then hot rodders, followed by surfers, then hippies and later, slackers, each iteration of youth marking the end of civilization as we know it. If anything, the Jayne Ann Krentz ending, with relatively happy protagonists, is more realistic because we’re still here; Charon is still waiting to take that hand basket across the River Styx.

  • Dark and brooding is more important 

Oh, really? Okay, sales numbers do not always relate to quality — Valley of the Dolls was a huge seller — but you want meaningful numbers? Romance novels account for 29% of all titles sold.1

That’s right, almost one in three books, including e-books, has a lady with cleavage, or a guy on the cover who makes me feel inadequate. Add in thrillers and mysteries and it’s over half of everything sold. That number has held steady for years, and to me that says something. It says that a good story can end happily, and that such stories fill an important need. Note that here I am including a typical Stephen King ending where victory is obtained, but at a cost. This attitude isn’t new, either. Barbara Tuchman’s brilliant The Guns of August was praised, sort of, by scholars as “popular history.”2 It was an instant best seller and continues to sell to this day.

I believe in Story. I believe in laughter. For my money there’s not enough of either one in the world.

First, Story, with a capital S.

The world around us is often chaotic, we humans have a hard time figuring out why things happen and often the answer is simply, “because.” The cliche of the woman holding the body of her husband and shrieking at the heavens, “Why? Why?” is constructed like a flawed pearl around a pebble of wisdom, because often the answer is — just because.

Art, Story, provides a respite from the unrelenting randomness of real life. “Just because” doesn’t work in a novel. How random is life? The chain of causality that led me to writing this essay goes like this: I was in high school, headed for UCLA with my best friend Mark. When he was killed I lost interest in UCLA, went to Cal State Long Beach instead, where I met my wife (the book-thrower) and through her the lady who invited me to contribute to WITS. But is that a story? Of course not. It’s “just because.”

Our job is to layer on structure, to remove the extraneous. (And as a side note, wouldn’t that be a good topic for one of these essays? Do we as storytellers create the structure, or is it always there, waiting for us to reveal it? In a possibly apocryphal story Michelangelo once said the statue was always in the piece of marble; he just had to chip away the part that wasn’t David.) We either make or reveal the structure, and provide a tale to entertain.

Humor, happiness, is hard! You want tragedy? Just open your AP news feed.

Jerry Lewis said in the documentary “No Apologies,” “I see people all over the world desperate for laughter.”3 He was right, and I would add to that they are desperate for simple joy.

He described a plaque given to him by John F. Kennedy that reads:

There are three things which are real:
God, human folly and laughter.
The first two are beyond our comprehension
So we must do what we can with the third.

Here’s the point. It’s important how you feel about your work, and if you’re writing a series about a shape-shifting alien prince, or a detective who indulges in self-deprecating humor, you may feel a nagging sense that literary writers are somehow “better.” Fight it.

In the final analysis, what I’ve always wanted to do is what Don McLean says in, “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” — “maybe they’d be happy for a while.” What I’ve learned, no, what has been driven home to me recently, is just how important that is.

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Why Having Grit is So Important for Writers … and Three Ways to Improve Yours

This is a guest post from Tamar Sloan, registered psychologist, and author of Grit for Writers, plus several romance books.

You can find her website at TamarSloan.com and her blog about writing at PyschWriter.com.au


Writing can feel wonderful. There’s the indescribable sense of flow when the words pour out oh-so-effortlessly, there’s that stroke of brilliance when a plot twist strikes out of nowhere, there’s the feeling of creating something that no one else has before. Every one of those feelings is rewarding … and necessary for our long-term writing mojo. They drive us to keep on creating.

But the road to publication is littered with unfinished manuscripts, dejected hearts, and writers wondering if they should turn around and head home. Success in the writing game is more of a marathon than a sprint, and our motivation tends to wax and wane.

Rejection from agents and publishers, slow sales, negative reviews, and that most insidious underminer, self-doubt, are all hurdles every writer will face.

Despite what some of the loudest voices out there are promising, it’s not an easy industry to succeed in. In a flooded, competitive market, how do you live your passion and keep reaching for your dream?

Grit.

Grit is the ability to stick with things that are important to you—through hell and high water, thick and thin, through thousands of words and hundreds of pages.

Luckily for you and me, grit isn’t simply something you’re born with. It’s more like a muscle. With targeted effort, we can build it, grow it, and benefit from it. And you don’t just have to take my word on this; research has shown that to achieve success (across countless contexts), abilities like persistence and determination are more important than innate talent or intelligence in the long run.

As a writing coach I’ve seen it, and as a writer I’ve lived it: grit is what enables writers to succeed in the publishing industry.

The foundation of grit is the right mindset. Our writing success depends on the framework in which we view ourselves and our writing.

A “gritty” mindset reframes and focuses the thinking we need to adopt, the passion we need to tap into, to keep reaching towards our dreams.

I’m going to take you through three key ingredients of grit. Get these right, and you’ve got a foundation of resilience and willingness to work towards your goals of writing success.

Think about which of these you’re already doing well at … and which you might want to work on during the next few weeks.

Ingredient #1: A Sense of Purpose

We feel a sense of purpose when what we do matters to people other than ourselves.

Our short stories, poems,books, scary, moving, funny, touching fiction are all for the reader, not just for ourselves (otherwise we’d be happy for them to remain in our computers). Ultimately, we create them to entertain, to inspire, to provoke what-ifs, to elicit emotions, to broaden horizons, to challenge perspectives.

That drive is about touching others.

Connecting to why we write allows us to be persistent in our goals and resilient when we experience setbacks because we feel inspired by something bigger than ourselves. Ask yourself—how does my writing contribute to others?

Ingredient #2: Optimism

Optimism is the expectation that tomorrow will be better than today. But grit takes the vague ‘here’s hoping tomorrow will be better’ and moves into the sphere of our control.

Hope within the framework of grit is based on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. And the area that we have complete control of is our perception.

As we experience the ups and downs and highs and lows of any writing journey, it’s important to remember that psychology has consistently demonstrated that how we view a situation will make a difference to how we feel, and how we act.

Optimists – those that hold onto hope – see events differently. What’s more, they see failure differently.

I always encourage people to reflect on where they sit on the pessimism-optimism continuum, and how it makes a difference to their writing success. This type of hope targets our perception and locus of control when it comes to our writing success.

Ingredient #3: Growth Mindset

Discovering and implementing a growth mindset was a game-changer for my writing career.

Those with a growth, rather than a fixed, mindset believe that their abilities can grow with effort. They understand that when they are learning or doing something new and challenging, that hard work can help them accomplish their goals.

Growth mindset is empowering and motivating, and the key to many a successful writer (possibly all?). Ask yourself this—when you last experienced a setback, did you think it was a sign that you didn’t have what it takes, or did you see it as an opportunity to learn?

(For more on growth mindsets, try Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.)

Source: aliventures.com

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Word Choice for Character Strength

Elizabeth Essex

My favorite things about any book is always the CHARACTERS—I like Pride & Prejudice more than Northanger Abbey, because I like forthright Lizzie Bennet more than I like silly but well-meaning Catherine Moreland. But I love Persuasion best of all because I LOVE sweet, kind, thoughtful, long-suffering Anne Elliot.

That is why I believe every word in your novel should serve two purposes:

— to move the plot forward,

— and give greater insight into the characters

so our readers have an authentic and immersive experience—that is, a unique experience that they witness through eyes, ears, sensory experiences and emotions of our characters.

We can achieve this by using “power words,” “scene-themed words,” but more especially “character-themed” words.

Power Words give strong images & associations and drive up tension

Scene-themed words give us the vital information to tell us where and when we are in the story and what’s going on.

Character-themed words give us insight into the mind and thoughts of our characters

But the MOST POWERFUL WORD is one that does double or triple duty in combining all three of these concepts together.

In my first drafts, I give myself permission to write lazily—to give an easy, generic  description, or fall back into cliché—just to get the action of the story down on paper. But once I can see the through-line of the plot, then I like to go back and find opportunities to inject as much POWER, SETTING and CHARACTER into my work as possible.

Let’s look at six specific examples from my latest Highland Brides novel, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Marry.

 Ewan Cameron, 5th Duke of Crieff’s joy was a rare and pleasantly exhilarating thing, like the hot tot of strong Scots whisky he tossed back to celebrate the good news—he was going to be married.

In this passage the character-themed phrase is “hot tot of strong Scots Whisky.” I could have said “he took a strong drink,” or “tossed back a bolt of brandy.” But I chose power words that would also place us strongly in the setting—the highlands of Scotland—and tell us more about the hero’s character—he’s a strong Scotsman through and through.

Note also: I’ve made this phrase punch over its weight by adding rhyme (hot tot) and alliteration (strong Scots) for cadence.

He slitted one eye open to see an auld fellow wearing a weather-beaten face leaning over him, inspecting him like a gralloched deer on a game larder hook.

Our character-themed phrase is Our character-themed phrase is like a gralloched deer on a game larder hook. I could have said (and probably did in my first draft), “like meat on a butcher’s counter,” which was a good, vivid description, but did little to punch up the setting and make the circumstances unique to the hero’s world. You don’t even have to know the Scots colloquial power word “gralloched” (gutted) to get a very visceral, vivid picture that is specific to this hero’s life in the Scottish countryside.

Greer knew she was no conventional beauty—she was too ordinary, too sharp-jawed, too flame-haired to be considered bonnie anywhere but Scotland—but she knew she was loved. Which gave one a different sort of beauty—a beauty that came from confidence in one’s merits instead of solely one’s looks.

In my first draft, I had used the rather ordinary phrase “considered pretty anywhere but Scotland.” But I made the phrase work a little bit harder with the simple use of a setting and character-specific colloquial word, ‘bonnie’ instead. It was a small change, but one that deepened both character and setting.

The lass came over the lip of the ridge like the sunrise—sweeping the glen with light and warmth. Not that he had been watching for her, but the peregrine falcons high on the cliff tops had nothing on him for sharpness of eye.

I could have said ‘the girl’ came over the ridge, but I chose the more colloquial, scene and character-specific word ‘lass.’ And then to describe the way the hero had been watching for her, I visualized his world in the highlands of Scotland, and decided that the sharpest eyes in his world would be peregrine falcons, which are native to the highlands. If this book had been set in the slums of London, I might have said the “cutty-eyed kid men of Covent Garden had nothing on him for sharpness of eye.”

[He was] afraid he would startle her into flight like a deer at the sound of a gunshot.

This character-themed phrase is specific to this hero’s life and surroundings. If this were a contemporary-set thriller, I might convey someone’s startlement differently: “the backfire made her hit the deck faster than a combat medic,” or something that would convey an instantly vivid picture of the character’s world and experiences. And this image from the hero’s background—he has stalked deer in these mountains—gives the strong, power word “gunshot” at the end of the sentence foreshadows that very soon in the book, someone is going to take a shot at this lass. 

 Her heart leapt like a highland dancer.

I could have just said her heart leapt—that would have given me a good visceral reaction. But I wanted to go deeper, and convey that this was a joyous reaction, not a fearful one. So I chose “highland dancer’ to create an uplifting image—all that colorful, pointed elegance—that is specific to the characters and the setting of the novel.

Lesson learned: We use a great many words over the course of a full-length novel—but we want to make them do more heavy hitting, but doubling, and tripling their power by adding scene-themed or setting specific words along with character-themed words that are specific to the hero and heroine’s experiences in their world.

Think about your own work in progress—what unique experiences does your character have that you can use in your story to give your readers an authentic experience? Please use the comments to share an example of before and after from your own work!

If you have questions or comments, I’ll be around to answer them, or you can write me at elizabeth@elizabethessex.com, or find me on Facebook, or Twitter and Instagram as @essexromance.

Wishing you all happy, powerful writing!

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How Long Should A Book Be? Word Count Guidelines by Genre.

A constant complaint I hear from agents, editors, writing teachers, and reviewers is that they see too many manuscripts with inappropriate word counts.

If you’re getting a lot of form rejections or simply silence from agents, reviewers and editors, this may be why.

Word count guidelines have been trending down in the last decade. Most editors won’t look at a debut manuscript longer than 100K words—a little longer if it’s fantasy or a non-romance historical. They were not so rigid ten years ago.

Now publishers—and many readers—won’t take a chance on any long book by an unproven author.

While readers will happily plunk down the big bux for an 819-page book by George R. R. Martin, they’ll turn up their noses at a book that long—even if it only costs 99c—if it’s written by Who R. R. You.

I know the “accepted wisdom” in the indie world is that if you self-publish, you can write whatever the heck you want and people will buy it. But that’s no longer the case. The wrong word count for your genre red-flags you as an amateur, and most readers don’t have time for amateurs.

Not when there’s so much professional-level stuff being self-published.

A decade after the beginning of the “Kindle Revolution,” too many readers have been burned by self-published bloated rough drafts. A reader is not likely to pick up a book that screams “I’ve been writing this in my spare time for the last 8 years and I refuse to rewrite and would never let an editor tamper with my genius.”

So don’t be that guy.

Word Count Guidelines By Genre

Word counts are generally agreed to be the count provided by MS Word’s “Word Count” tool. Some extremely old-school agents prefer that you use the formula of 250 words per page (double spaced, 12 pt. font) and calculate it yourself, which seems a silly waste of time, but always check agent websites for guidelines.

For debut authors, following these rules will seriously improve your chances of traditional publication and/or establishing a readership, no matter how you publish.

In other words, get famous first and break the rules later.

If you are a household name, you can publish a compendium of your shopping lists from the past two decades and your publisher will happily promote it and people will buy it.

Unfortunately, that’s not true for the rest of us.

Here is a summary of current word count guidelines. This is a composite taken from a number of publishing industry websites, so nothing is set in stone. Take these as target word counts.  Some publishers will accept longer or shorter books, so always check the website of an agent or publisher before you submit.

Note I say these are for “debut” fiction. Once you have a loyal fan base, you can break the rules with abandon.

Word Count Guidelines for Debut Fiction

Picture Books—text: 500-1000 words (32 pages is ideal.)

Middle Grade fiction—20K to 40K. (Yes, we all know about Harry Potter. And when you’re as famous as J.K. Rowling you can write MG tomes, too.) “Upper Middle Grade” can be a bit longer.

Young Adult fiction—25K to 80K.

Chick Lit—60K-75K.

Cozy Mysteries—55K-70K. (BTW, Agatha Christie’s mysteries sometimes came in at 40K words. I think we may be going back in that direction.)

Fantasy—90K-110K. Definitely down from the epic tomes of yore. Self-publishers can get away with more. Fantasy readers like big books and they cannot lie. 🙂

Historical fiction—80K to 110K+. (You can still wax verbitudinous in this genre.)

Literary fiction—65K to 100K, trending away from the higher numbers. “Spare and elegant” is the mark of literary chic these days.

Standard Mysteries and Crime Fiction—70K to 100K.

Romance—55K-75K. For subgenres of romance, check publishers’ guidelines. Word counts for specific romance lines can be very strict. Some historicals can be longer, although Regencies tend to be short.

Science Fiction—75K—100K. When there’s world-building involved a book generally needs to be longer.

Thrillers—80K to 100K.

Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance—70K to 90K.

Westerns—50K-80K.

Women’s Fiction—70K-100K. The women’s fiction family saga has gone out of fashion recently, but they’re generally on the longer end.

Around 80K seems to be the magic number for most adult fiction. So if your ms. goes way over that, it may be time to put on your editor hat and get ruthless.

Word Count Guidelines for Nonfiction

Nonfiction books have shrunk drastically in the last decade. A study done last spring showed that the average length of a nonfiction bestseller has dropped 42% in the last seven years.

In 2011, the average length of a best-selling non-fiction book was 467 pages, but that dropped to 273 pages in 2017.

Nonfiction books get queried in the form of book proposals, so you don’t submit a complete manuscript (except for memoir, which you query like a novel.) That’s probably why word count guidelines for nonfiction are so hard to find. I’ve also found wildly different word count suggestions between agencies.

So treat these as word count “guestimates.”

Biography—80K-110K. These can be pretty long. Especially if your credentials are good.

Commentary—40K-60K. Not much info out there about word count guidelines for political and other opinion books. If you have appeared on cable TV news, you can probably get away with more verbiage.

Humor—20K-40K. For humorous memoir, follow memoir guidelines, and for funny novels, follow fiction guidelines, but for books like John Hodgman’s The Areas of my Expertise, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys or the classic 1066 and All That, (only 128 pages and still in print after 80 years) keep it to 40K words or less.

Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction—40K-70K. You’ll probably want to prune a memoir if it goes over 70K. Books in this genre tend to get bloated without heavy editing. Remember you can write many memoirs about different aspects of your life.

Self-Help & How-To—20K-50K. In the age of ebooks, these are getting shorter all the time. My publisher had me cut my book The Author Blog down from 40K.  (And these days some ebook how-to’s are only 3500 words long.)

Travel and Nature—40K-70K A lot of these books blur boundaries with memoir.

What if Your Ms. Doesn’t Fit Word Count Guidelines? 

With both fiction and nonfiction, it’s best to err on the side of brevity these days. To quote Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the Guide to Literary Agents:

“Agents have so many queries that they are looking for reasons to say no. They are looking for mistakes, chinks in the armor, to cut their query stack down by one. And if you adopt the mentality that your book has to be long, then you are giving them ammunition to reject you.”

If your word count goes over the limit:

  • Consider splitting it into two books.
  • Or a trilogy. You’ll triple your income. 🙂
  • Are the extra words in there for world-building? Consider cutting some details and putting them on your blog.
  • Do some ruthless editing. Are you repeating yourself? Can you say something with one word instead of ten?
  • Can you condense some of those conversations with indirect dialogue?

If your word count is under the limit:

  • For literary fiction: Flesh out characters.
  • Thrillers: Weave in another subplot.
  • Crime fiction: Kill off a few more victims.
  • Or…maybe you’ve got a novella.

Novellas are hot.

Yes, old-school Big Five publishers (and Bookbub) still aren’t much interested in novellas, and some agents will reject on low word count alone.

But readers love them! Jane Austen fan fiction authors have been practically minting money with 140-page or less “Pride and Prejudice variation” Regency novellas in the last few years.

And forward-looking agencies like Fuse Literary offer “assisted self-publishing” for their authors to write novellas in between big novel releases. Their Short Fuse Publishing produces digital-first novellas in a number of genres.

For more on the popularity of the novella, check out Paul Alan Fahey’s post for us on the subject. Next June we’ll have a post from actress and bestselling author Mara Purl on the difference between writing a novel and a novella.

What about you, scriveners? Do you have a problem keeping to word count guidelines? Do you tend to write over or under the standard word count? Have you ever turned a long book into two or three?

By Anne R. Allen @annerallen
Source: annerallen.com

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How to Create Convincing Science Fiction Technology

Technology is a vital part of science fiction. Even if your story isn’t about a technological change, differences in technology will define the aesthetic of the setting and the possibilities available to the characters.

So how can you go about imagining convincing science fiction technology?

Why Convincing Technology Matters

Before delving too deeply into this, it’s worth considering why convincing technology matters. After all, other genres get away with making up whatever they like, as happens with fantasy and steampunk. Even some science fiction glosses over the details of technology, apparently treating it as unimportant.

One reason to pay attention to technology is your readers. While there are science fiction readers who don’t care about the details of the science, there are also many who do care. They’re passionate about understanding the underlying principles behind the way a future world works. They have a decent grasp on science and technology, which they will use to critique your work.

You can ignore these readers, but you do so at your peril. They often sit near the heart of fandom and can be among the most vocal advocates or critics of a book. Winning them over will provide you with a valuable support base, and if they don’t like your science then you’ll see it in your reviews,

There are other reasons too, beyond pleasing pedantic readers, reasons that will help you with your writing.

The first is that technology brings the world to life. Think about how much laptops, smartphones, and cars define our modern world. In the same way, the right technology can help to make your imaginary world feel real.

Developing a convincing system of technology can provide great inspiration for your storytelling. The way characters travel can inspire chase scenes. The way they communicate can inspire situations where they become cut off. The way they relate to their technology can shed light on how characters view the world and what inspires them.

Even if the outline of your story is already fully rounded, knowing how the technology works will make it easier for you to tell the story. If you know what makes a spaceship works then you’ll know how it could break down and how the crew might try to fix that. Knowing in advance means that you don’t have to stop the flow of writing to work it out.

How to Create Convincing Technology

The process of creating convincing technology starts with understanding modern technology and science, which means research.

Read up on the state of technology in the area you’re concerned with. What’s out there. How it works. How it’s used. Find out about what’s at the cutting edge, where experts in the field think this technology will go next. Look at how it got to this point, so that you can understand the way it develops over time.

When doing this, it’s important to look at the underlying principles. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning Children of Time is grounded in the fundamentals of evolution, not just the principle of information being passed on in the genes, but the way that this shapes changes over time. Though the evolution is exaggerated, the changes it creates in an insect population are convincing because they’re detailed and grounded in science. The result is an evolutionary pattern that is fascinatingly different from our world.

For most technology, you’ll need to consider design as well as science. A car’s design is about more than just the way an engine works and what makes an aerodynamic shape. It’s about how many passengers are included, where to seat the driver, where to place controls, how the vehicle provides feedback to the driver on what it’s doing, and a thousnad other factors. The same applies to any piece of technology, from a sword to a smartphone. So think about the design of the technology in your story. What aesthetics have shaped it? What issues of practical use? There are dozens of different ways the same tool could be designed, so look for one that says something about the society it’s used by.

While science fiction technology is mostly grounded in reality, it’s always going to depart from our world in some way – that’s what makes it science fiction rather than science fact. When deciding how to deviate from reality, it’s often good to work from the principle of the one big lie. This is one thing about the science of your setting that you’ve made up, like a form of psychic powers or faster than light travel. Readers will accept one or two big lies better than lots of little ones, as the one big lie and its consequences creat a coherent whole.

Work out the implications of your one big lie, including the different technologies that stem from it. Sell it well enough and your readers will believe.

Technology in Context

The way that technology is used is as important as the technology itself. Understanding how your technology fits into the world is vital to making it convincing.

New technology doesn’t start out as accessible to everyone. The Rocketpunk Manifesto blog has provided a simple, handy model for considering how it spreads and becomes more accessible.

First comes the experimental phase, in which the technology is unusual, unreliable, and only in the hands of a select few – think modern spaceflight. Then comes the government / megacorp stage, when the technology is mature and reliable enough to be replicated but costs so much that only huge organisations such as powerful nations can have it, as is currently the case for submarines. This is followed by a stage in which it’s accessible for commercial purposes and private ownership by the super rich, like owning an airliner. Finally the technology becomes available to private individuals, becoming ubiquitous, as smartphones have done in the past decade.

Understanding where on the spectrum your technology falls will help in understanding how it fits into the world you’ve created, how easy it is to access, and what challenges characters might face in getting hold of it. It’s also a useful way of setting limits on a technology, if making it ubiquitous would spoil your plot.

Once you’ve worked out the maturity level of the technology, think about who has it and why. What do they use it for? Why do they use this technology rather than something else?

Consider the consequences of the technology. For example, railways and the telegraph transformed western society. They made it possible for people, goods, and messages to travel at previously impossible speeds. The world became more connected, news travelled almost instantly, and the difference in power between nations with and without these technologies expanded hugely.

Technology can shape society in all kinds of ways. The need for precious metals for microelectronics has led to pollution and the mistreatment of miners in poor but resource rich countries. Those microelectronics have also allowed the internet, making most of human knowledge availalbe at the touch of a button. This has accelerated the pace of technological change, allowed dispersed social movements, fostered relationship between people on different continents…

You get the idea. The consequences of a technology can transform society on every level, and thinking that through makes your technology more real, as well as adding new story possibilties.

Case Study: Spaceships

Spaceship design, as discussed by Dr Nick Bradbeer in a presentation at Nine Worlds 2017, provides a great example of some of these principles.

Spaceships are currently at the experimental phase of maturity, though recent developments are nudging them into the national / megacorp zone. They’re very hard to make and get hold of, and they’re not entirely reliable.

The principles needed in designing a spaceship are similar to those in designing a ship. You have to take into account the ship’s role, its size, and its layout. The role will define what equipment is needed, such as weapons for a fighting ship or storage for a cargo ship. It will also tell you how many crew are needed. These parts together define its size, as there needs to be space both for specialist equipment and for crew facilities, incluing space for sleeping, eating, and recreation, as well as facilities to deal with waste, to create or make up for gravity, for people to do their jobs, etc. The layout is largely defined by finding the most efficient way to put these pieces together, inlcuding protecting people from the heat of engines and efficiently connecting different systems.

Design-wise, a spaceship can be pretty much any shape you want.  This creates freedom to make something that reflects the setting and culture you’re working with.

The big lie for spaceships is usually a faster-than-light drive. This is needed to connect together different places in an interstellar setting, and is such a common big lie that most readers will just accept it in some form.

So the research for spaceship design is a mixture of ship design and cutting edge space technology, combined with whatever design suits your vision.

Building Better Sci-fi Worlds

Whether you’re writing a vast space opera or a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, convincing technology makes for convincing science fiction. And along the way, it can provide you with the inspiration to make deeper, more interesting stories that engage your audience.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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