Tag Archives: writing critique

Capturing an Unhappy Relationship: A Writer’s Roadmap

Relationships are a complicated beast, and if you write romance like me, then you’re wed (pun intended) to the HEA (happily ever after) ending. But the reality is, we have a divorce rate of around 1in 2 marriages; so as much as it’s fun to delve into the romanticised ideal of soulmates wandering hand-in-hand into the sunset, the challenges of relationships can just as equally lead to hearts broken and relationships fractured.

Which is what this week’s article’s about.

Capturing the unwinding of threads of a relationship is complex. Just like the real world, our characters have a history of weaving those threads together in little steps and big steps, usually with the intent that their fabric will be as tight as Egyptian cotton. But people evolve, circumstances change, and sometimes a relationship isn’t strong enough. Usually these ruptures don’t happen quickly; they involve little tears and big tears over days, months and sometimes years.

If you’re looking to capture this heart-breaking (or cathartic) process in your story, either with your main characters or with those memorable secondary characters (your MC’s parents, best-friends or children), then consider these four predictors of relationship breakdown (they are a wonderful way to capture ‘show, don’t tell’ and to create some interesting moments into your story):

  1. Contempt

Far more toxic than frustration, contempt is a virulent mix of anger and disgust which involves seeing your partner as beneath you. Apart from its direct consequences of either belittling or angering a partner, contempt involves one character closing themselves off to their partner’s needs and emotions. If you constantly feel smarter than, better than, or more sensitive than your significant other, you’re not only less likely see his or her opinions as valid, but, more importantly, you’re far less willing to try to put yourself in their shoes to try to see a situation from their perspective.

If one or both of your characters are contemptuous of the other as they interact, you’ve just captured one of the cornerstones of an unhappy relationship. Consider these examples:

  • Jane sends Jo a list of groceries for tonight’s dinner. When Jo gets home, Jane realises that Jo picked up self-raising flour instead of plain flour. Jane becomes frustrated, asking Jo what sort of idiot doesn’t know the difference between the two. She even posts it on Facebook so her sisters can see what she has to live with.
  • Barry is organising his next fishing weekend with his two sons. Daria laughs as they are packing their tackle boxes, pointing out to their sons that she caught the biggest fish last time she went out in their godforsaken tin-can-of-a-boat.
  1. Criticism

Like contempt, criticism involves turning a behaviour (something your partner did) into a statement about his or her personal character (the type of person he or she is). As many of us have experienced or observed, fault-finding and belittling behaviour adds up. Over time, darker feelings of resentment and contempt are likely to brew.

  • Alex has a habit of leaving her cereal bowl—soggy, uneaten weeties and all—on the coffee table every morning. Sam makes sure she makes note of it each day as she collects them, pointing out what a lazy and inconsiderate partner Alex is.
  • After a sleepless night, Jake overheats baby Bobby’s mashed pumpkin. When Bobby spits it out and starts screaming, Sally scoops him up, shouting over the top that when it comes to parenting Jake couldn’t raise a sweat let alone a child.
  1. Defensiveness

Defensiveness involves a sense of protectiveness and guardedness about our thoughts and feelings. A character who is being defensive will often play the victim in tough situations with their partner; at times that may be justified, others not so much.

  • A couple are late to a cousin’s wedding. Ashleigh is the first to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” as they slip into a back pew.
  • Jane is online to her best friend, typing furiously that she never got a chance to tell her husband about the dint in the car door because all he does is watch YouTube. If he gets upset about it, he can’t say she didn’t try to tell him.
  1. Stonewalling

If your character can sense an argument brewing, they feel the tension tightening between their shoulders, notice their voice amping up a few decibels, and their response is to shutdown or walk away, you’ve got a stonewaller. Stonewalling can be just as toxic for a relationship as criticism or contempt because it keeps your characters from addressing their underlying issues. When perspectives don’t get a chance to be explored, then frustration is likely to morph into resentment.

  • Ian and Sarah are arguing about their credit card debt. When Ian asks Sarah exactly how much those shoes cost, she turns and walks away. Picking up her phone, she retreats to the bedroom.
  • During a parent teacher interview, Jacqui suggests that maybe their son isn’t succeeding in math because of the children he’s sitting next to. Her husband, Jed, rolls his eyes at the teacher, shifts his seat forward, and tells the teacher that their son just needs more challenging work as he’s obviously bored. Jed starts enquiring about extension work.

John Gottman, the guru of relationship therapy and founder of the Gottman Institute, has said that these four factors are tell-tale signs that all is not well with a married couple. In fact, when the frequency of these four behaviours are measured within the span of a 15-minute conversation, Gottman and his fellow psychologists can predict which marriages will end in divorce with striking precision.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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Top 3 Reasons Censoring Your Writing Is Holding You Back

There will be tough love today, and even a bit of cursing. If it’s too much for you, feel free to leave now.

Do you worry what others think about you? Do you sit at your computer screen, paralyzed to type what you desperately want to say for fear of what your mom, husband, brother, friend, or best friend from second grade might say? Truth is, most of our family and friends won’t read our books or give them much thought. We only THINK they will.

Stop censoring yourself!

Maybe you have shared your writing and been burned, relationships severed, friendships or family relationships strained or even ended. It’s terrifying, all those what if’s.

Others people’s problems are other people’s problems. Don’t take that shit personally. #WriteWhatScaresYou

Fuck that shit. As Cheryl Strayed says, you need to write like a motherfucker. What does she mean by that? Does she mean to write with papers everywhere, cartoon balls of trash flying across the room, keys tapping to the beat of Copacabana? (Let’s hope not. We’ll never get that song out of our heads.)

No. She means that you need to own it. Own your shit. Write your shit. Ignore the voices of others, get in your head, your heart, grab your soul and write the shit out of that shit. This resonates with me because that’s how I wrote Broken Places (my latest release) and Broken Pieces. Let’s deconstruct.

Censoring Your Writing 

Why are you censoring yourself? If I came up to you, stood over your shoulder, read your latest paragraph, and told you, “You can’t say that!” what would you say to me? Because if you said that to me, I’d tell you to go the hell. Not only because this is my book, but because who are you to tell me what to write? Isn’t this my book? My work? My story? My name?

This person telling you what to write — does their name go on that book cover? Are they the ones spending countless hours writing and rewriting the work? No. So, fuck em.

I get it, though. People attempt to tell us daily what we should or shouldn’t write about, right? It amazes me, to be honest, that others who don’t know our story, or who think they know our story intimately but can’t possibly because they don’t live in our heads and don’t feel our emotions or live our lives, want to censor us for what we may or may not say. What makes them so scared? That’s the real question, isn’t it?

Scenario #1:

I shared a Brené Brown quote the other day about having courage and vulnerability when sharing your story, and someone replied that when she’d done so, people had chastised her, she’d lost good friends (and even family members) because her truth upset them too much, so she’s done. She’s ‘taking a break from truth.’

This saddens me deeply. I’m not judging her — she’s had enough of that. What saddens me is she’s allowing others to make that decision for her, letting them dictate what is okay or not okay to share, because they are embarrassed she shared her abuse story; now others know and can’t deal, which is another form of censoring her and shaming her for something she didn’t do.

Censoring: The Loop of Shame

When someone abuses us, we often don’t tell because we are ashamed. When (or if) we do tell, we are shamed because it’s embarrassing and shameful to us — what child (in many of these cases, as was the case with me) wants to say that an adult used our body for physical pleasure? It’s sick and twisted, and yet here we are, alone, forced to wrap our young, innocent minds around these confusing acts, with nobody to talk to, nobody to help us understand that we did nothing wrong.

Fast forward to adulthood: we choose to write about it as a form of catharsis, healing, therapy, or simply sharing so others will know they are not alone, only to have our loved ones shame us for sharing, or further chastise us for going public in some way. Shaming a survivor is one of the most selfish acts there is.

We survived the abuse — dealing with your discomfort isn’t our issue. It’s yours. If you can’t get over yourself, oh well. Survivors don’t have to accept that. We have a basic human right to speech. We have a right to tell our story.

Scenario #2

One fellow, T, shared his story in a public Facebook post, and with his permission, I’m sharing his story here with you today. T’s sister immediately chimed in to scold him for ruining the family name, embarrassing her, accusing him of lying, of creating current drama when all that happened in the past, and on and on. I complimented T on his courage and she came after me, warning me to “keep my mouth shut, to stay out of their family business, etc.,” even though this was all on his public wall.

What I love about the survivor community is that we support each other, and we understand that many people don’t understand that we have a right to tell our stories. We don’t do it for pity or attention (more on that in a moment), but as a way to heal and bond with others who have also survived, and to help educate non-survivors what it means to live the lives we do, to deal with all this on the daily.

Real or Imagined Censorship and Risk

Sure, there’s risk involved in opening up those dusty doors of honesty. I’m not immune to the coughs and sputters of family and friends, even strangers who may or may not judge me for my words, or who place blame on me for their behavior. I’ve been called a liar, an opportunist, one person even went so far as to accuse me of ‘prostituting myself for profit and attention,’ and I’m told often to just move on (as if I haven’t).

I find it interesting that people equate sharing my story with victimhood, or ‘being stuck in the past,’ when that’s not the case at all, yet they are determined to tell me that yes, that must be so. It’s sadly comical, the judgments people make about survivors.

Truth is, those are not my issues.

Scenario #3

I wrote a guest post recently as part of my Broken Places blog tour and the host shared it, as hosts kindly do. Someone on Twitter replied that basically I am ‘playing the victim’ by sharing my story, that I’m somehow magically compelling people to “feel sorry for me.” Fortunately, people supported me without me saying a word (I don’t respond to those types of comments). If you know me at all, you know that I am anything but a victim…yet, these comments aren’t uncommon for survivors.

I’m not offended. I’m not religious. If anything, I want to thank this person for reinforcing I’m on the right path to help remove the stigma of childhood sexual abuse (or any abuse survivors) have to face. This person is a light for me — further helping me realize I still have a lot of work to do. In a strange way, I find comfort knowing my advocacy work is not done, and I have many more people to reach with my story, giving voice to others’ stories, and sharing my platform so other survivors can share their stories.

Ignorance needs an audience so sexual abuse survivors have one, too.

By
Source: rachelintheoc.com

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How to Show and not Tell Intelligence

Although the concept of intelligence and what exactly it means for a person to be intelligent are the subject of considerable controversy and debate, it’s widely accepted that intelligence is valued in our society. In fact, if you’re a sapiosexual, you find intelligence as the most sexually attractive feature in a prospective partner. I’m not going into the evolutionary theories for this (including that intelligent men have a higher sperm count and women intuitively understand this and so are drawn to them), so you’ll have to take my word for it. Intelligence is attractive, and a trait we see in many a hero (and villain in fact). In the landscape of writing, this is a trait you can harness to add layers to your character.

Although every psychologist who has endeavoured to define intelligence has come up with their own definition, intelligence is broadly understood as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment. The key as a writer is to create a character who presents as intelligent in a plausible manner. Sure, you can slip in their above average IQ scores as they munch over breakfast, or point out they have seven PhD’s, but what if your character is an adolescent? Or what if they live on the planet X where IQ tests aren’t used because the sentient species have acknowledged the limitations of cognitive testing?

What if you want to show, not tell?

Well, you’ve come to the right blog post. I undertook some research, and along with my professional understanding of intelligence (IQ testing is a regular part of my practice in schools), I considered it in terms of character development. If you’re looking to craft an intelligent character, then check out the following traits (quick caveat: they don’t all have to be present for a person to be considered intelligent, but each of these traits are understood as strong indicators of above-average cognitive capacity):

High Verbal Functioning

People with a high IQ have strongly developed verbal skills. Your character is likely to be able to verbalise meaningful concepts and express themselves articulately and maybe even eloquently. This means dialogue, internal and external, is going to be important in representing an intelligent character.

Strong Reasoning Capacity

A person with high intelligence is able to detect underlying concepts and relationships, and use reasoning to identify and apply rules. Abstract thinking is a strength, as is attentiveness to detail. Many detectives in crime novels demonstrate strong reasoning capacity, and every time they solve the murder by linking the dots that seem to live in different postcodes we’re wowed by their intellect.

Good Memory

Intelligent people not only notice this nuanced information in life, but they also maintain this information in conscious awareness. This process, which requires attention and concentration, allows them to manipulate and play with said information in their mind. I’d rather not recollect the amount of times I’ve looked like I’ve lost valuable IQ points because I can’t remember the of age of my firstborn child!

Fast thinking

Smart people are fast thinkers. They can do all of the above, and they do it quickly. They are able to scan information accurately, make decisions, and implement those decision rapidly. These characters will drop one-liners in the blink of an eye, or be the first to recognise that the name of their victim isn’t on the list of missing people following the earthquake that levelled New York.

 

But it’s important to note that high intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean your character is any of the following;

Emotionally Intelligent

Emotional intelligence; the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, is quite different to cognitive intelligence. Whilst people who do well on standardized tests of intelligence tend to be more successful in the classroom and the workplace, emotional intelligence is correlated with better social relations, better family and intimate relationships, and better psychosocial wellbeing.

Think of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory—with his borderline autistic tendencies, he’s an accomplished physicist, but he’s socially inept and emotionally naïve, which has been mined over 11 series of hilarious interactions. It’s worthwhile to consider whether your character has both of these qualities.

Wise

You’ve probably heard the saying there’s knowing that a tomato is a fruit…and understanding a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad. In the same way, intelligence (knowledge of information and using it adaptively) isn’t necessarily wisdom (the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, and insight). Your character may have acquired the knowledge (impressively and quickly), but wisdom is the proper use of that knowledge. Whilst trawling the internet I found this little nugget: Intelligence is knowing that Frankenstein was the doctor. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein was the monster.

Nice

Just because your character is smart, it doesn’t mean they’ll be nice. In fact, intelligent people can be less trusting and less compliant with rules (think of Tony Stark in Ironman; he’s brilliant, but socially irreverent to the point of egocentrism). Intelligence can give rise to suspicion (and if were to extrapolate that, to conspiracy theories), selfishness (you just need to read Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene to know selfishness is smart), and subversiveness (which could be a good thing in your story, but also may make them unlikeable).

Emotionally Stable

Intelligence doesn’t equate with emotional stability, in fact, it’s possible that higher IQ is linked with higher incidents of some mental health diagnoses (including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia). Although the link isn’t clearly understood, it’s probably not important to our story building motivations. What is important, though, is to understand that your character may be in the top two percent of the IQ bell curve, but their physiology and environment (e.g. a traumatic childhood) will also play a factor in their emotional life.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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The Surprising Truth About Split Infinitives

Here’s a secret: I’ve never been explicitly taught not to split infinitives (or to not split infinitives?). Surprise!

If that statement’s a shocking pronouncement, or if it makes no sense at all, never fear. Let’s take a step back and look at the long, illustrious history of split infinitives.

What is an infinitive?

First off: what’s an infinitive?

When you use a verb in a sentence, you conjugate it—that is, you change its form to match the subject and the tense. The infinitive, though, is the original form of the verb, before it’s changed to fit into a sentence.

Here’s an example:

Infinitive: to snuggle
Conjugated: I snuggle, you snuggle, he snuggles, she snuggles, we snuggle, they snuggle

The funny thing about the English language is that the full infinitive of a verb is always two words: it always includes the word “to.” Without the “to,” it’s called the bare infinitive.

And that’s where all this trouble starts . . .

What is a split infinitive?

It’s exactly what it sounds like:

Want some examples? Try these:

I want to really understand what you’re saying.

She got a new alarm clock because she’s trying to not oversleep every morning.

Or this famous example:

To boldly go where no man has gone before. —Star Trek

Why shouldn’t you split infinitives?

There’s a long-standing, often-repeated rule in English that thou shalt not split infinitives. It’s generally taught in schools and many grammar nazis uphold it with unswerving fervor.

It’s a pretty archaic rule. Most scholars trace it back to the early 19th century, when modern English grammar was still being invented. Some guy named Henry Alford (who wrote the book The King’s English) decided that since you can’t split infinitives in Latin, you shouldn’t be splitting infinitives in English.

Here’s the thing: infinitives in Latin are just one word. It’s impossible to split a Latin infinitive because there’s nothing to split.

It may be an old, oft-cited rule—but it’s also pretty baseless.

When should you obey the rule?

Before we abandon the rule completely, let’s talk about the times when it’s helpful. There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Take a look at this example:

He’s going to nicely, sweetly, and unexpectedly ask her to the prom.

That’s four words between “to” and “ask.” By the time you get to “ask,” you’ve almost lost track of the sentence completely. Let’s move some words around:

He’s going to ask her to the prom nicely, sweetly, and unexpectedly.

Beware of cramming too many words into your infinitives. That can get clunky, messy, and confusing fast.

On the other hand, let’s take another look at our original examples. If we were to rephrase them, we’d lose some meaning:

I really want to understand what you’re saying.

Sure, you might really want to understand, but that’s different from really understanding. One means to have a true desire to understand; the other is to want a deep, thorough understanding.

She got a new alarm clock because she’s trying not to oversleep every morning.

“To not oversleep” puts firm emphasis on her action, which we lose with this arrangement. She’s trying to NOT OVERSLEEP, okay?! Stop giving her a hard time about her mornings!

To go boldly where no man has gone before.

This loses the elegant ring of “to boldly go.” Would “to go boldly” ever have become such a famous phrase? We’ll never know.

To split or to not split? Don’t worry

Splitting infinitives doesn’t generally hinder comprehension unless you’re trying to cram fifteen words in (don’t do that!). So split away!

Enjoy being able to slowly chew your dinner! Take time to really think of your fabulous story ideas! Make it your mission to boldly go where no man (or woman!) has gone before.

And if grammar nazis or English teachers give you trouble, feel free to confidently whip out your knowledge of the history of the English language and defend your split infinitives.

Do you feel passionately about split (or not-split) infinitives? Let us know in the comments.

By Alice Sudlow and Liz Bureman
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Grammar Rules: Capitalization

Proper capitalization is one of the cornerstones of good grammar, yet many people fling capital letters around carelessly.

Not every word deserves to be capitalized. It’s an honor that must be warranted, and in writing, capitalization is reserved only for special words.

Most of the grammar rules are explicit about which words should be capitalized. However, there are some cases (like title case) in which the rules are vague. 

Capitalization of Titles

There are several contexts in which we can examine capitalization. When writing a title (of a blog post, for example), almost all the words in the title are capitalized. This is called title case.

Title case is used for titles of books, articles, songs, albums, television shows, magazines, movies…you get the idea.

Capitalization isn’t normally applied to every word in a title. Smaller words, such as a, an, and the are not capitalized. Some writers only capitalize words that are longer than three letters. Others stretch it to four.

There is an exception to the rule of using lowercase for short words in a title: Words that are important should remain capitalized, even if they are shorter than three or four letters. For example, the word run is only three letters, but if it appeared in a title, it would be capitalized, because it would be the verb (or action) within the title: “Would You Run for Office?” Similarly, important nouns (subjects of objects of a title), such as me, would retain capitalization: Marley and Me.

There’s no fixed grammar rule for which words aren’t capitalized in a title, although they tend to be smaller and less significant words; you should check your style guide for specific guidelines to ensure that your capitalization in consistent.

Capitalization of Acronyms

Every letter in an acronym should be capitalized, regardless of whether the words those letters represent start with capital letters:

  • The acronym for Writing Forward would be WF.
  • WYSIWYG is an acronym that stands for what you see is what you get. Although the words in the original phrase aren’t capitalized, every letter in the acronym is capitalized.
  • Most people use acronyms heavily in text messaging and online messaging. In common usage, these acronyms are rarely capitalized: omg, btw, nsfw. However, if you were using these acronyms in a more formal capacity, they would be entirely capitalized: OMG, BTW, NSFW.

First Word of a Sentence

As I’m sure you know, grammar rules state that the first word in a sentence is always capitalized.

Capitalization of Proper Nouns

To keep things simple here today, we’ll refer to a noun as a person, place, or thing. You need not worry about the other parts of speech because only nouns are eligible for perennial capitalization.

There are two types of nouns that matter in terms of capitalization: proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns are the names of specific people, places, and things. Common nouns are all the other, nonspecific people, places, and things.

When considering whether to capitalize, ask whether the noun in question is specific. This will tell you if it’s a proper noun, which should be capitalized, or a common noun, which remains in all lowercase letters.

Proper Noun Capitalization Example

The word country is not specific. It could be any country. Even if you’re talking about the country in which you live, which is a specific country, the word itself could indicate any number of nations. So keep it lowercase because it’s a common noun.

Conversely, Chile is a specific country. You can tell because Chile is the name of a particular land in which people reside. When you discuss the people of that land, you won’t capitalize the word people. However, if you’re talking about Chileans, you definitely capitalize because Chileans are a very specific people, from a very specific country, Chile.

Hopefully that makes sense. If not, keep reading because I’m about to confuse you even more.

Capitalization of Web and Internet

Have you ever noticed the word Internet capitalized? How about the word Web? The linguistic jury is still out on these newfangled technology terms, but generally speaking, the Internet is one great big, specific place. The Web is just another word for that same place.

Wait — what about websites? Do they get capitalized? Only if you’re referring to the name of an actual site, like Writing Forward.

Capitalization of Web and Internet is not a hard and fast grammar rule. Lots of people write these words in all lowercase letters. If you’re not sure about whether to capitalize these words, check your style guide.

Common Capitalization Errors

Folks often think that capitalization should be applied to any word that’s deemed important. Here’s an example:

We sent the Product to the local Market in our last shipment. Have the Sales Force check to see if our Widgets are properly packaged.

It’s not uncommon, especially in business writing, to see nouns that are crucial to a company’s enterprise capitalized. This is technically incorrect but could be considered colloquial usage of a sort. Unless it’s mandated by a company style guide, avoid it.

Here’s correct capitalization of our example:

We sent the product to the local market in our last shipment. Have the sales force check to see if our widgets are properly packaged.

Now, in a rewrite of the example, some of the words will be again capitalized, but only if they are changed to proper nouns (names or titles of things and people).

We sent the Widgetbusters (TM) to WidgetMart in our last shipment. Have Bob, Sales Manager, check to see if our widgets are properly packaged.

What about Capitalization for Job Titles?

Ah, this one’s tricky. Job titles are only capitalized when used as part of a specific person’s title:

  • Have you ever met a president?
  • Did you vote for president?
  • Do you want to become the president?
  • Nice to meet you, Mr. President.
  • I read a book about President Lincoln.

Again, this has to do with specificity. “The president” or “a president” could be any president, even if in using the phrase, it’s obvious by context who you mean. However “Mr. President” or “President Lincoln” are specific individuals, and they call for capitalization.

Grammar Rules!

Do you have any questions about grammar rules regarding capitalization? Any additional tips to add? Leave a comment!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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How to Write a Book in 100 Days

Let’s start with the obvious: You don’t know how to write a book. I’ve written seven books, and I don’t really know how to write a book either. I have a process that works, sure, but with writing, as with many things in life, it’s always when you think you know what you’re doing that you get into trouble.

So let’s just admit right now, you don’t know how to write a book, and definitely not in 100 days, and that’s okay. There, don’t you feel better?

How to Write a Book in 100 Days 2

There’s this one moment I think about all the time. I had just finished work—I had this horrible desk job at the time—and as I was getting ready to go home, I felt this urge come over me to become a writer. I had felt like I wanted to become a writer before, for years actually, but in that moment, it was all-consuming. Have you ever felt like that before?

And so, instead of going home, I got out a blank piece of paper, and I stared at it. I stared at that blank piece of paper for a really long time. Because I was looking for a book. If only I could come up with the perfect idea, if only I could write a book, then I’d finally feel like a writer.

But I couldn’t think of anything, or at least nothing worthy, and after staring at that blank piece of paper for an hour with nothing, I gave up. In that moment, I felt like I was further from my goal to become a writer than I ever had be. I was so discouraged.

I was discouraged because I didn’t know how to write a book.

Honestly, I might still be there today if I hadn’t had a few lucky breaks and several mentors to teach me the process of how to write a book.

13 Writers Who Finished Their Books in 100 Days

You might say you’re not able write a book in 100 days. You might worry that you’re not able to write a book at all. But I don’t believe that. I honestly believe that everyone can write a book, and I’m not just saying that. I believe it because I’ve done it.

In fact I wrote my first book in fewer than 100 days. I wrote my latest book in just sixty-three days.

I’m not alone, either. I’ve worked with hundreds of other writers to write their books, too. Here are just a few:

Fall 2017 Cohort

These writers are just a few who finished their books in our Fall semester of the 100 Day Book program.

Stella Moreux had been “marinating” on an idea for her “southern fried” fantasy novel for more than three years, but it wasn’t until she signed up for the 100 Day Book program that she seriously started writing it. “I won’t mince words when I say this was hard,” Stella says in her post about the writing process. “However, I would not trade this experience for anything. I survived and finished! The 100 Day Book Program is a challenge but worth it!”

Jodi Elderton had written short stories, but never a novel, and with almost two jobs and young kids, she worried she never would. But she says, “This program made it doable, if you stick with it.” By the end, she finished her novel and said to her writing community, “We made it!” Read Jodi’s full story here.

Rita Harris had an incredibly hard year. After committing to writing her novel, she says she had a marriage breakdown, sold her house and moved, and then had a health scare. Any one of those things could have derailed her writing process, but she kept going, motivated by the writing team she had surrounded herself with and the accountability she agreed to. Despite everything, she finished her book, “something which I doubt I would have had even without the life challenges I faced during the course of my writing if I had not enrolled in the program.” Read her story of determination here.

Karin Weiss‘s novel, A Roaring Deep Within, had been languishing half-finished for years. When she began the process, she thought it would be easy, mostly rewriting, but the process proved much more difficult than expected. What saved her was the writing community in the 100 Day Book program. “I found there a ‘writer’s community,’” she says, “that was available night and day that gave me support and motivation to keep going when my energy dragged, or when I felt discouraged at a tough point in my writing.” Read more about how Karin finally finished her novel-in-progress here.

Spring 2017 Cohort

These writers are just a few who finished their books in our Spring semester of the 100 Day Book program.

Sef Churchill decided to write her book in 100 days “on an impulse one Thursday night.” She followed our process, and by Sunday had committed to an idea. How did it go? “Now I have a book,” she says, “a book which before that first Sunday, I had not even dreamed of.” Check out the 10 lessons she learned about the book writing process.

Ella J. Smyth wrote two of her Romance novels (two novels!) in a little over a 100 days. She talks about her experience, and the power of accountability, here.

Nathan Salley set aside one day a week to write his book, and in that restricted amount of time he was able to finish his book in less than 100 days. You can read about Nathan’s experience (and his next steps into publishing) here.

When Margherita Crystal Lotus told me her sci-fi/fantasy mashup novel was going to be over 100,000 words, and that she was going to do it in 100 days, I had a few doubts she would be able to finish it in time. But she did finish in time, a few days early in fact. And now she’s about to publish the finished book. You can read more about her novel The Color Game here.

Kira Swanson rewrote her novel, which she finished in NaNoWriMo, expanding it from a 70,000-word first draft into a 100,000-word second draft. She recently pitched it to agents and had five of them ask to see the finished manuscript. You can read more about her novel revision experience here.

100 Day Book Challenge Performance

Sandra Whitten was feeling lost and unprepared in the midst of her first book. But after she signed up for our course, she began writing every day for the first time and finally finished her book. You can read more about Sandra’s experience here.

Fran Benfield said that before she signed up for our program, she was “drowning in a sea of words” (I can relate to that feeling!). But she did finish, and found her voice through the process. You can read about how she wrote her memoir here.

Uma Eachempati had been wanting to write about her father’s experience as a prisoner of war during World War II for years. She finally finished it in August, writing it in less than 100 days!

Doug Smith told me he had been thinking about his idea for a novel, Phoenix Searching, “for more years than I care to admit to.” By following our process, he finally finished his novel in May! “What I thought was a long shot,” he says, “turned out to be totally doable.”

These writers have finished their books in less than 100 days, and the reality is you can too. You just need to have the right process.

How to Write a Book in 100 Days: 5 Steps

What did these writers do differently? How do you actually write a book in 100 days? There are five steps:

1. Commit to an idea.

Having an idea is easy. Committing to an idea isn’t, especially if you’re like most writers I know and have dozens of them!

The first step to writing a book is to commit to executing—no matter how you feel about your writing during the process, no matter how many new ideas you come up with in the meantime, no matter what other important things come up. You have to commit to finishing no matter what.

2.  Create a plan.

I’ve found that the people who have planned are much more likely to finish their books. A plan doesn’t have to look like a detailed outline, though, so if you’re not into plotting, that’s okay.

Here are a few things your plan should include:

  • Word count. How long will your book be? (Here’s a word count cheat sheet.) Divide that by how many days you have to write: e.g. there are about 71 weekdays in 100 days.
  • Intention. Where will you write each day? How long will you write each day? Visualize yourself writing there for that long.
  • Publishing and Marketing process. Not because you need to know that now, but because by thinking about it and visualizing it, you improve your chances of actually getting there.

If you think through each step of your book, from your initial idea through the writing process to the publication and marketing of your book, you’ll be much more prepared when the writing goes wrong (because it will).

3. Get a team.

Most people think they can write a book on their own. Most people think they don’t need support or encouragement or accountability to write a book. And that’s why most people fail to finish their books.

That was me. I used to think that I could do it own my own. Honestly, I thought I had no choice but to do it on my own. And I failed again and again and again.

Don’t be most people. The great writers throughout history wrote in the midst of a community of other writers. You need a community, too.

A team might look like:

  • A writer’s group
  • A writing course or class
  • An editor or mentor

When you get stuck, as you inevitably will, it’s your team who will help you get unstuck. Don’t start writing your book without one.

4. Write badly every day.

Your first draft will not be perfect. Far from it. You may not be able to stand how bad your writing is. Your sentences might come out as deformed monsters. Your story or logic might go off on strange tangents. You may feel like everything you write is stupid, shallow, and boring.

Write anyway.

It always starts out like this. Writing is iterative. Your second draft will be better than your first. And your fifth draft will be better than your second.

Write badly all the way to the end. You can fix it later.

5. Get accountability.

I had been writing my latest book for two years, two unproductive years of feeling bad about myself all the time for not writing. This was my seventh book. I should have known how to write a book by now. I didn’t.

It took two writing friends calling me out (see step 3) for me to finally realize I needed to take drastic measures.

And so I wrote a check for $1,000 to the presidential candidate I disliked the most (this was during the 2016 election), and gave it to a friend with orders to send the check if I missed my deadline. I’ve never been more focused in my life, and I finished my book in sixty-three days.

Pretty good accountability, right? Most writers need deadlines and accountability to stay focused and do the hard work of writing.

You Can Try to Do This on Your Own, But You Probably Won’t

Have you ever tried to write a book and failed? I have. Many many times over. My biggest mistake was trying to do it alone.

Honestly, it wasn’t until I hired a coach and found a writing mentor that I finally finished my first book.

If you want to write a book, I would love to help you. Right now, for a limited time, you can join the 100 Day Book program. Over the course of 100 days, I’ll guide you through the writing process, and by the end of the 100 days, you’ll have a finished book.

So many writers have finished their books in this program (including the writers above), and so can you. If you want to join the program and finish your book in 100 days like the writers above, you can sign up here.

Have you finished writing a book? What was the most important thing that enabled you to finish? Let us know in the comments!

By Joe Bunting
Source: thewritepractice.com

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4 Lies That Are Keeping You From Writing a Book

There is a book inside you.

There has to be. Why else are you reading a post about writing a book?

lies 2

Getting that book out, of course, is the extremely difficult part. The words don’t come out as we imagine. The time to write shrinks as life gets busier.

And so many questions vex us — so many lies that we tell ourselves to avoid the challenge ahead.

But you have to write your book. It’s one of the greatest driving forces in your life.

4 Lies That Stop You From Writing Your Book

Before you can get started, you have to confront and reject the four lies that have probably been keeping you from writing the book of your dreams. Tackle these lies head-on, and replace them with the truth:

1. It has to be long

How long should a novel be? Is there an exact number of words or pages for it to be a success?

This question can certainly stop us in our tracks. The idea of writing a novel always seems enormous, like climbing the world’s tallest mountain.

Yet there is no rule about how long the book has to be. That’s up to you.

Sure, there are genre-specific suggestions about word counts. The good news is that most of them are lower than you might think! Especially if you are a new author, agents and editors want to see how much story you can tell with fewer words, saving on publishing costs.

There is no absolute book length that works. Of Mice and Men is 30,000 words long, while A Game of Thrones is 300,000.

It’s up to you and your creative process, so don’t let false expectations and fear tell you that your book won’t be long enough to count.

2. I have to have the story figured out

This lie is a crippling one. It demands perfection even before we’ve started.

Yet it is impossible to know exactly how our stories are going to go before we’ve written them. Every attempt at a story runs into surprises and roadblocks. Our plans, no matter how exhaustive, always fail to materialize just how we thought they would.

This is completely natural — and it’s really, really good!

Yet our inner perfectionist makes impossible demands. It suggests that deviating from your plan is somehow failure.

But this is a lie! Creativity is deviation from the plan! It is finding solutions when logic and order don’t work!

So while it is extremely wise to have a plan, and know where your story is generally going, don’t give up on your book dream just because you haven’t created it yet!

3. I’ll start but I won’t finish

My favorite Shakespeare play is Macbeth, which features one of my favorite storytelling devices: the self-fulfilling prophecy. By resisting the witches, Macbeth brings about his own tragic doom.

Unfortunately, this trope extends into real life, especially with artists like us. We long to create, but fear that we lack the discipline or talent to finish something good.

So we give up before even starting. Hence, the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t let this lie seduce you. It  is especially seductive because it delivers a sense of false control: “If I don’t start, then I won’t fail,” the thinking goes.

To fulfill your dream of writing a book, you have to commit to finishing, no matter what. Even if you fall off the wagon for a season, you can still get back in the writing groove.

But you have to get started first.

4. No one’s going to read it

This is similar to the previous lie because it speaks a prophecy that we fulfill on our own. “No one’s going to read it, so I just won’t write it,” we think to ourselves.

What a tragic lie! Our struggling self-confidence produces tangible failure, all by doing nothing!

We can’t know who’s going to read or buy our book yet. We just can’t. By the time we’ve finished writing it, our life situation will have changed because time rolls on.

I will say this, though: Very few people actually fulfill the commitment to write a book.

Most hem and haw, mumbling about “wishing” and “someday.” Very few actually do it.

By writing a book, you will attract readers to yourself, especially if you serve those readers along the way.

One popular way of writing a book is to blog it, as Andy Weir did with The Martian. One chapter at a time, he posted to his website and slowly gathered a following. While he is certainly a rare and privileged case, it shows how giving and serving with our writing can solve our readership problem.

Commit to Your Book

There’s a book inside of you. That’s why you’re on this website, looking for help with your writing.

So commit.

Whether it’s 100 words a day, 500, or 1000, commit to working on your book every day.

Join a community, like a local writer’s group, Becoming Writer, or the 100 Day Book Program. Hold yourself accountable by joining other writers with a similar dream as yours.

But whatever you do, own the reality that you are a writer with a dream. There is a book inside of you that is longing to be written. It won’t be easy. It never is.

But it is beautiful and totally worth it.

So commit to your book today, and begin the journey that will change your life forever!

Have you committed to writing your book? Share how you’re keeping up with your commitment in the comments below!

By David Safford
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Is It Okay To End A Sentence With A Preposition?

Occasionally, we grammar enthusiasts need to take a step back and lighten up a little bit. While there are some grammar rules that are hard and fast (I’m looking at you, comma splice), sometimes there is wiggle room (like the controversial claim that you can split infinitives). Today, we’re tackling another wiggly rule: is ending a sentence with a preposition okay?

Well, guess what? I’m here to liberate your pens and tell you that it’s okay for your protagonist to ask her cheating boyfriend who he was just with.

What Is a Preposition?

First, a quick review: what is a preposition? These cats explain it pretty well.

cats

To sum up:

The prepositions above show the cats’ locations in space. Let’s add to the fun with these prepositions that show location in time:

I fed the cats at seven this morning.

Pamela will clean the seven litter boxes in the evening.

After you pet the cats, wash your hands before you eat, please.

Is Ending a Sentence With a Preposition Bad?

Recently, we talked about the “rule” that you shouldn’t split infinitives and why it’s really okay.

The bottom line: a few centuries ago, when our grammar was a murky mess, some outspoken grammarians decided to apply Latin rules to English, regardless of whether that was a sensible choice.

In this case, dramatist John Dryden was the first to take up the pen against ending sentences with prepositions, way back in 1672. He claimed that since you can’t end a sentence with a preposition in Latin, you shouldn’t do it in English, either.

The Problem With Following the Rule

English isn’t Latin, though, and we structure our sentences very differently. It’s easy to construct perfectly logical and grammatically sound sentences whose only “fault” is that they end with prepositions.

Plus, when you try to “fix” these sentences, you can end up with some pretty crazy twists, like this quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill:

“This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put!”

And as we recognize how arbitrary and baseless this rule was to begin with, we’ve moved away from strictly adhering to it. So if you’ve ever written yourself into a corner fretting over the preposition rule, breathe deep.

It’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition.

That being said, there are a few caveats.

When It’s NOT Okay to End a Sentence With a Preposition

If the meaning of the sentence is still clear without the ending preposition, then remove it.

In my hometown in the hills of western PA, it’s not uncommon to overhear someone on the phone asking, “Hey, where are you at?” “Where are you” doesn’t need any clarification, so cut that “at.”

Then again, it’s also not uncommon to overhear someone refer to a group of people as “yinz guys,” so I’d hardly claim my hometown as a beacon of good grammar and usage.

However, if the preposition is key to the sentence’s meaning, and moving it would cause unnecessary written acrobatics, it’s fine to end your sentence with the preposition. For example:

Carla wanted to run, but her feet refused. What was she waiting for?

Rewriting that last phrase would completely convolute the prose. No one asks, “For what was she waiting?” Come on now.

Ditch Dryden (Or Don’t)

Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition? Yep.

Is this claim controversial? You bet.

Still . . . maybe it’s time to rethink how much we pay attention to those Latin-obsessed 17th century introverts.

Have you heard the “rule” (*cough* myth) that ending a sentence with a preposition is a grievous error? Do you ever end sentences with prepositions? Let us know in the comments section.

By Alice Sudlow and Liz Bureman
Source: thewritepractice.com

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How to Publish a Short Story: Write Your First and Second Drafts

Two weeks ago, I urged you to come on a publication journey with me, one where I walk you through the process of planning, writing, and submitting a short story. This is the second post in the four-part series on how to publish a short story. By the end, you’ll have a story ready to send out to publications!

If you’re a little late to the party, never fear! You can still participate. Look back at the first two steps and then join me back here.

This week, we’re going to concentrate on writing and the first edit.

NOTE: Throughout this series, DO NOT post your work in the comments. I’m going to ask you to submit to a publisher at the end of this series, and posting it here would be considered publishing it. Our Becoming Writer community is a great place to workshop your story before you submit it.

Writing Your Story

By now, you should have a publication in mind and have the answers to a couple basic questions. Maybe you brainstormed or did a full outline. Bonus points if you’ve got a draft! (But don’t worry if you don’t.)

Now pick up the pen and write the thing!

This series is focused on how to submit stories and isn’t meant to be a masterclass in short story writing, but I’ve tried to include as many basics as I can. For further information on writing shorts, check this out.

If you’ve got a draft already, this post will still be useful to you, so don’t skip reading it!

3. First Draft: Write in One Sitting

Smile. This is the fun part.

Short stories are meant to be consumed in a single sitting, so it makes sense to write them in one. This isn’t as daunting as it seems. You’ll find your enthusiasm will drive you to the end and the story will flow much better.

Sit down and write. Write quickly. Write badly. Just write.

This is not the time to worry about your word count. Wait, what? I know. I told you to pick out a publication and they’ve given you a word count to stick to. Ignore that for the moment.

Right now, your job is to tell your story. The story will let you know when it’s finished. Overwriting is fine, and actually encouraged, at this stage. On the opposite end, if you’re lacking in words, that’s okay, too. You can always fill in more description later.

For now, just let it flow.

But do remember the four questions I gave you the last time and keep them in mind as a roadmap for going forward. Don’t worry if you get a little lost or off-track. Sometimes stories insist on a life of their own. Don’t panic. That’s normal.

4. Break Time

When you’ve written the last word and are riding that rush of excitement, I need you to do something vitally important: TAKE A BREAK! This is so important, I’ve included it as one of the steps instead of simply mentioning it in passing.

Put the story away and out of your mind. I recommend a three-day hiatus at this stage. That’s just enough for you to forget what you wrote and why you wrote it that way, but not enough time to lose interest in the story.

Don’t look at it. Don’t edit it. Don’t even think about it.

Read a book, get some sleep, or work on another story. Fight the urge to edit right away!

5. Second Draft: Get Critical

This is the less fun but crucial part. Your first draft is not perfect.

Say it with me now: MY FIRST DRAFT IS NOT PERFECT!

You’ve had a break and hopefully you’ve forgotten why you loved this specific turn of phrase or that overlong description. Now you’re going to get brutal. You’re going to cut, add, and rearrange with all the mercy of a general on a battlefield.

First things first: Make sure your story is a story! This might sound obvious, but sometimes it’s not.

When I first started writing shorts, it was all nonsense. Halfway decent prose, but utter nonsense. There was no point. There was no character development. There was no climax. It took a long time for me to realize I was getting rejected because I hadn’t written a story.

A short is different from a novel. You don’t have time to ramble. But a short story is still a story and needs to read like one. It must contain all the elements I mentioned mine lacked. And it must have a beginning, middle, and end.

Here are a few short story fundamentals to achieve that goal:

Elements of a Short Story: What Should Be

  1. Start with action: No overly complicated scene setting or a ton of character inner musings needed. Get the story moving.
  2. Show, don’t tell: Telling seems like a good way to get to the point, right? Nope. A short story is still a story, not a sequence of events spat out in synopsis form by a robot. This happens, then this happens, and finally this happens, is an outline, not a narrative.
  3. Good pacing: Good shorts don’t spend too much time on description and rush through the action. They flow well from one scene to the next and none of those scenes are unnecessary.
  4. Climax and efficient build up to it: Every single word in a short story needs to drive the reader to the climax. Move toward that climax efficiently. If there’s something that doesn’t serve this purpose, chop it. And make sure your climax is in there!
  5. Satisfying resolution: Your ending must wrap up your story. It needs to be clear, there can be a twist or surprise (but make sure that surprise isn’t coming out of nowhere), and there needs to be a change from the way things were in the beginning.

Common Short Story Mistakes: What Shouldn’t Be

  1. Overcomplicated plot: Again, keep it simple. Shorts revolve around one central theme, action, upheaval, or event. If you’ve got a bunch of B plots, your story probably isn’t suited for the structure of a short.
  2. Too much backstory and world-building: Only tell us what we need to know, when we need to know it. You can know every little detail about your character’s third-grade experience or the ecosystem of your fictional planet, but is it necessary for your reader to know? This is a general rule when writing, but especially so for shorts. You don’t have the space to tell us everything. Stick to the point.
  3. Bad dialogue: This is one of the things I see the most with short stories. One way to fix this is to read your dialogue aloud, preferably with a partner. If it sounds funny coming out of your mouth, it’s not right. Remember, people rarely use another person’s name when talking to them and contractions are your friend.
  4. Head hopping: Stay in one point of view. There’s not enough time or space in a short to skip around.
  5. Abrupt ending: Make sure you haven’t just cut off your story to stay in the word count. (The climax is not the ending!) Take us all the way through.

Write, Write, Write!

For the next two weeks, concentrate on getting through the first and second drafts using the tips above. This might get frustrating at points. You may want to give up. Don’t. You’ll get through it.

And most importantly: Your writing DOES NOT suck! (We all need that little reminder now and then.)

Still wondering how to publish a short story? Don’t worry. In the next post, I’ll go over getting feedback and the nitpicky edits of the third draft. Soon, your story will be publication ready!

Which short story elements do you think you do the best? Which do you think you need to work on? Let me know in the comments.

By Sarah Gribble
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Style Guides: Essential Writing Resources for Professionals

When we’re writing, we run into a lot of technical issues. Where do the quotation marks go? When is it correct to use a comma? How should titles be formatted?

Some of these questions are answered by the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But other questions are not addressed by grammar: there’s no official rule for how to format a title.

We writers need trusted resources that we can use to resolve all these issues, especially if we want to produce work that is both grammatically correct and stylistically consistent.

That’s what style guides are for. Style guides answer grammatical questions and provide guidelines for consistency.

What is a Style Guide and Should I Use One?

A style guide is a manual that establishes rules for language (including grammar and punctuation) and formatting. Within academia, these guides also provide standards for citations, references, and bibliographies. Many disciplines have their very own style guides, such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

These manuals promote proper grammar and ensure consistency in areas where grammar is unclear. Style guides answer all those burly writing questions that are absent from the rules of grammar: Did you use a serial comma in the first paragraph, but leave it out in the third? Have you used italics in one post to refer to a book title, but in another post used quotation marks?

Basically, a style guide is an all-purpose writing resource.

If you’re serious about writing, then you should definitely use a style guide. Since a style guide’s primary function is to render a work consistent and mechanically sound, every project will benefit from its application. That includes creative writing, freelance writing, and blogging!

In many cases, a style guide is not only appropriate, it’s mandatory. If you’re writing for submission, it’s a good idea to check a publication’s submission guidelines to see if they require writers to use particular style guide.

By establishing standards, a style guide will help you streamline your work. Once you are accustomed to using a particular set of guidelines, the writing process will flow more smoothly, because you won’t have to stop and deliberate on grammar and style. Your readers will be pleased too, since inconsistency causes confusion.

Which Style Guide Should I Use?

There are lots of different style guides, from the The AP Stylebook to the The Chicago Manual of Style. Which one should you use?

In many cases, the matter of which style guide to use is not up to the writer. As mentioned, publishers will provide guidelines explaining which style guide is required.

Most newspapers adhere to The Associated Press Stylebook on Briefing on Media Law (often called The AP Stylebook), whereas a small press publisher might ask you to use The Elements of Style (often referred to as Strunk and White). Professors and teachers generally require students to use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition.

What about freelance writers, bloggers, fiction writers, and everyone else?

writing resourcesThe most popular style guide for general use is The Chicago Manual of Style, and this is also the style guide commonly used for manuscripts (i.e. novels and anthologies). Many other writing guides are based on Chicago or will defer to it for any areas of style that they do not specifically address. It covers formatting, includes rules for good grammar usage, and provides a roadmap that ensures your work is mechanically consistent.

For general use, Chicago is by far one of the best writing resources on the market, and for me, it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made for my own writing career.

Do you use a style guide, and if so, which one? Are there other writing resources that you can’t live without? Share your favorites in the comments.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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