Tag Archives: writing practice

How to Restore Your Love of Writing

When the money doesn’t come flowing in or when the market ignores your book, it’s easy to lose the joy in writing. Fortunately, you can get it back.

What Rewards are Writers Seeking?

In almost everything we do, there are two types of rewards involved:

  1. Extrinsic rewards are those we get from the outside world, including money, recognition, prizes, and praise.
  2. Intrinsic rewards are those we get from inside ourselves, including a sense of accomplishment, personal satisfaction, mastery of a craft or skill, or simply the pleasure of pursuing something we enjoy.

Though both methods can be effective when you’re pursuing a goal, it depends on what kind of goal it is. Some research has suggested that extrinsic rewards—particularly money—may in some cases be detrimental to creative goals.

In one experiment, for example, scientists asked elementary and college students to make “silly” collages. Teachers then rated the projects based on creativity, and found that the students offered money came up with the least creative results.

In another related study, researchers asked creative writing college students to write poetry. One group was given a list of extrinsic reasons for completing the project, including making money and impressing teachers. The other group was given a list of intrinsic reasons, including self-expression and the enjoyment of playing with words.

Twelve independent poets then judged the poems. Results showed that participants given extrinsic reasons to write not only wrote less creative poems, but also created less quality work than those given intrinsic reasons.

“The more complex the activity,” wrote lead author Teresa M. Amabile, “the more it’s hurt by extrinsic reward.”

Researchers have some theories as to why this may be:

  • Extrinsic rewards may make us feel less autonomous in pursuing the activity, and lead us to believe we’re now controlled by the reward, making the activity less enjoyable.
  • Rewards encourage us to complete the task as quickly as possible to receive the reward, and to take few risks, reducing creativity.
  • Extrinsic rewards may simply make the task seem more like a “job.”

Signs You’re Thinking Too Much About Extrinsic Rewards

To discover if extrinsic rewards are causing you to lose the joy in writing, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What are you thinking about when you’re writing?

While writing, do you notice thoughts like, This book isn’t going to be as good as my last one? Do you worry the reviews will be lackluster, or that this book won’t get the green light from your publisher? Are you secretly hoping this book will the one to garner you the publishing rewards you long for?

All of these types of thoughts are centered on extrinsic rewards, and even if they occur only sporadically during your writing time, they can derail your focus and sap your motivation. When you find yourself thinking something like this, let the thought go and bring your focus back to the story, alone.

2. How much pressure are you feeling?

Perhaps you’re trying to “write quickly” so you can get more books out there and make more money. Maybe you’re trying to please an editor so you can hang onto a multi-book contract. Maybe you’re trying to prove that the time you spend on writing is really worth it by getting the story done and published, already.

Feeling stressed and pressured quickly takes the joy out of writing, and stress and pressure usually come from focusing on outside rewards. Try to think back to why you started writing in the first place, and see the blank page as a place for fun.

3. How do you feel about yourself as a writer?

It’s amazing how many of our feelings about ourselves as writers are tied up in outside approval. When children create, they do so simply for the fun of it, until they start to get the idea that it matters what others think about their projects.

If you’re feeling down about your writing or about your ability as a writer, you can probably trace it back to something outside yourself—a bad review, negative comment, lost contest, or publishing rejection. Remind yourself that the emotions you’re feeling are because you are seeking approval outside of yourself.

When to Use Extrinsic Rewards to Your Advantage

Sometimes extrinsic rewards can be beneficial to a writer. Think about those writing-related tasks you don’t usually enjoy. Scientists have found that extrinsic motivation works most effectively for them. So if you don’t like promoting your work, for example, you may find more success by providing yourself with extrinsic rewards each time you complete any marketing-related task.

Put together a successful book launch? Give yourself a weekend away. Update your website? Take yourself out to dinner. Write a series of guest posts? Get yourself that new outfit you’ve had your eye on.

“External rewards can be a useful and effective tool for getting people to stay motivated and on task,” says Kendra Cherry, author of Everything Psychology Book. “This can be particularly important when people need to complete something that they find difficult or uninteresting, such as a boring homework assignment or a tedious work-related project.”

Restore the Joy in Writing

If you’ve lost the joy in writing, it may help to remind yourself of the many intrinsic rewards you receive by doing it. Here are just four examples:

  1. Writing promotes healing self-expression.

In one 2005 study, researchers found that those individuals who had experienced an extremely stressful or traumatic event who wrote about the experience for 15 minutes four days in a row, experienced better health outcomes up to four months later than those who didn’t write.

“When we express our feelings honestly,” says writer Nadia Sheikh, “we are better equipped to deal with them because we actually know what we are feeling instead of denying it….we feel more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we understand them more clearly.”

  1. Writing creates personal satisfaction.

How many people can say they’ve actually completed a poem, short story, or novel? As writers, when we finish a project, there is a blissful sense of satisfaction. We may re-read the words later and wonder, “Where did that come from?” or “How did I do that?”

This sort of satisfaction seems to be even more delicious when the project is difficult. If you had to bang your head against the wall to get through the middle of your novel, but then you figured it out and finished it, that creates a feeling that’s hard to match with any other sort of activity.

“An immense amount of pride and self-satisfaction follows a completed, perfected, edited, and published novel,” says bestselling novelist David Perry.

  1. When writing, you can create your own world.

For some writers, the craft provides a sort of sanctuary, a place to go no matter how chaotic the outside world may become. For others, this immersion into another world stimulates a state of “flow”—that sense of being completely absorbed and lost in one’s work to the point of losing track of time, which has been linked to increased happiness.

“Writing is like being in a dream state, or under self-directed hypnosis,” Stephen King says. “It induces a state of recall that—while not perfect—is pretty spooky.”

  1. Writing makes us feel more like ourselves.

Writing can bring us peace, and make us more comfortable with who we are. That may be because it helps us understand ourselves and others, because it relieves stress and anxiety, or because it allows for that self-expression that helps us make sense of our own jumbled thoughts.

Freelance writer and sci-fi/fantasy storyteller Rand Lee said it well when he wrote:

“I have to face the appalling truth that I have to stop worrying about fame and fortune, and focus upon writing pieces that, first and foremost, produce within me a sense of wonder and delight. Rereading my works with this in mind renews my enthusiasm for the creative process and gets me back in the saddle.”

What rewards do you enjoy from writing?

By Colleen M. Story
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

All About Productivity

Productivity is a key concern of Bang2writers. It’s not difficult to see why: procrastination is a huge problem for writers. It’s easy to get stuck in a non-productive rut. We are daydreamers after all!

So, if you’re a hobby writer wanting to turn pro, or a pro wanting to get more done, you need to learn how to boost your productivity. Luckily, we at B2W Headquarters have put together this handy round-up to help you make the most of your writing time.

1) 11 Habits That Can Transform Your Productivity

Create good habits. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?? Yet it’s something many creatives struggle with. Working for yourself, sometimes with little to zero pay, can damage productivity and good habits. HERE are some tips to help stay on track.

2) The Weird and Wonderful Habits of 20 Famous Writers

Want to know which famous writer you are most like when it comes to crazy writing habits? Maybe you want to adopt the habits of a writer you admire to help increase productivity? CLICK HERE.

3) 6 Tips for Boosting Writing Productivity

HERE are some more ideas for improving productivity. The key? Work smarter not harder!

4) 1 Simple Tip to Help You Get More Writing Done

What is ‘dead time’? How can you use it to get more writing done? Don’t let time control you, control time. You might not have a Tardis or a Time-Turner but you do have control over a lot more of your time than you think. Find out HERE.

5) 5 Steps to Beat Procrastination and Stay Focused

Here are some great procrastination busters. No one EVER said ‘I wish I had procrastinated more’! HERE are the steps you need to make sure you won’t regret *not* making the time to create that wonderful work bubbling inside you.

6) How to Get Writing Done, According To 20 Famous Authors

The best way to get stuff done? Learn from the masters – and mistresses! – in the know. Check out these tips, HERE.

7) How to Stop Wasting Writing Time Procrastinating Online

 Did you watch last night’s episode? Yeah, there was a huge argument in an online writing group about that show, did you see it? Blah, blah, CONCENTRATE! To learn how to avoid getting distracted during times allocated for writing, CLICK HERE.

8) How to Improve Your Focus as A Writer

With so many distractions it can be difficult to focus. HERE are some great tips for keeping your eyes on the prize.

9) 12 Unusual and Achievable Productivity Hacks for Writers

Turn an old tennis ball into a car key holder, use your cat as a winter hat. We all love a fun life hack. HERE are some cool productivity hacks to try out today.

10) How To Set Meaningful Goals And Stick To Them

Productivity isn’t about just throwing spaghetti at the wall. Creating meaningful goals means you’re much more likely to stick to them! Find out why, HERE.

Last Words

I hope you enjoyed this round-up on productivity. No more excuses. Get that wonderful work finished and out in the world for others to enjoy. Laser focus!

By Lucy V Hay
Source: bang2write.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Good People Making Bad Choices: Could this be your character?

Good people making bad choices is something that many of us struggle to fathom. I mean, surely if they were ‘good’ then they would ultimately go with their better judgement. Good people uphold values such as human dignity, even when it’s tough. World War II was when this phenomenon really came into the public eye, as the world struggled to accept that all Germans were not monsters. In fact, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the person directly responsible for Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, found that many of the war criminals standing before them were mild-mannered, courteous people.

And the moment any psychological phenomenon becomes interesting, writers tend to perk up and listen. Does this relate to my character? Maybe this is why he did what he did? Or if you’re anything like me, how could I tie this into a ‘what if’ question for a future concept? Could it be the something that my readers will mull over long after they’ve finished?

Well, let me tell you a story. Those of you that have heard of Milgram’s experiments on obedience will recognise the scenario I’m about to dramatize (I’ve taken the Milgram’s procedure and brought it to life with the help of some fictional characters), for others, you’re about to discover what the average person is capable of.

When Ben saw the ad for a learner experiment, he read it twice.

“Surely it can’t be that simple,’ he thought, ‘you’re basically getting paid to turn up!”

But that’s exactly what the typed page on the university noticeboard said. Thinking of Emily and their upcoming anniversary, the prospect of some easy cash was enticing.

When Ben turned up, he was introduced to Geoff. Geoff was middle-aged, and kind of mild-mannered looking with his glasses and round belly. The experimenter, this guy tall and serious looking with his white lab coat and clipboard, held out the tip of two straws. It seemed the person that drew the short-straw would be the learner, and the other, the teacher. Ben had never done any teaching, but he wasn’t keen on drawing the short-straw just because…well, it’s the short-straw.

His relief when his red straw drew out and was twice the length of Geoff’s had his tension easing. He gave Geoff an apologetic smile, to which Geoff responded with an affable one of his own. The experimenter, Ben couldn’t remember whether he introduced himself, took Geoff to a chair. Geoff had a few minutes to read a piece of paper before the experimenter strapped him into it.

Geoff looked down at the metal straps holding his arms down, and Ben watched as the experimenter smeared electrode paste before attaching electrodes. “The paste is to prevent burning and blistering.”

Geoff smiled in gratitude. “I have a heart condition, I thought I’d let you know.”

The experimenter continued with the paste and the electrodes. “Although the shocks may be painful, they won’t cause any permanent tissue damage.”

Ben’s shoulders felt a little tense. This was a little more…well…medical that he’d imagined. But the experimenter was calm and collected as he came took Ben to an adjacent room. Ben was confident he knew what he was doing.

Ben took a seat and the experimenter pointed to a dial and some buttons before him. “You’re going to ask Geoff some questions. We want to test his memory.”

Ben nodded. Seemed straightforward enough.

“If Geoff makes a mistake, I want you to administer progressively larger shocks to Geoff each time.”

Ben frowned at the dials. Their descriptors had words like Slight, Moderate, Strong, Intense, Extreme Intensity and Danger: Severe Shock. “Okay.”

The experimenter held an electrode to Ben’s arm. “This is 45 volts.”

The tingling buzz was a shock, but not painful. Ben mentally shook himself, he was being silly. The experimenter knew what he was doing, and this was probably important.

Geoff got the first few questions correct. But then he started making some errors. Very soon, Ben was dialling up to 75 volts and Geoff was grunting in pain. He looked at the experimenter, discomfort making him shift in his seat.

The experimenter made some notes in his clipboard. “Please continue.”

Ben pulled in a steadying breath and asked the next question. At 120 volts, Geoff shouted that the shocks were becoming painful. Uneasiness was making Ben’s hand tremble. He turned to the experimenter. “I think…I think we shouldn’t go any higher.”

“The experiment requires you to continue.”

Ben turned back to the dial. Maybe Geoff wouldn’t get too many more wrong. At 150 volts Geoff demanded to be released from the experiment. At 180 volts he cried out that he couldn’t stand it any longer. Ben was now sweating, each show of pain from Geoff had his teeth gritting and his chest constricting. “We need to stop.

The experimenter shook his head. “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

Ben looked at Geoff, who was now panting. He looked down at his hand wrapped around the dial. It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Geoff continued to cry out at each shock. By the time the dial was at 250 volts, he was crying out in agony. At 300 volts Geoff stopped responding to the cue words. The experimenter told Ben to treat these as a wrong answer.

Ben shot up from his chair. “This is wrong,” he shouted. “We’re hurting him!”

The experimenter’s gaze was steely. “You have no other choice but continue.”

Ben hovered; half standing, wanting to run; half sitting, and hating himself for it. This was wrong. He wasn’t someone that does this to people. What would Emily think of this all?

But he had no choice. The authority figure standing beside him, unyielding and demanding, had said so.

Disgust and dread stung the back of Ben’s throat as he notched the dial up to Extreme Intensity. He pretended he didn’t hear Geoff’s scream as he pressed the button…

Now, I wonder if you’re empathising with Ben’s discomfort, but secure in the knowledge that you would be different?

What Ben didn’t know is that Geoff was a confederate, an actor and accomplice, to one of the most famous experiments into obedience to authority. There was no shock, no pain, no deadly electrical current. The experimenter knew this, as did Geoff.

Ben, on the other hand, had just shown us what the average-Joe was capable of.

When they first devised this experiment, Milgram and his researchers predicted that no more than 20% of normal, psychologically balanced human beings would comply with the direction to continue shocking the learner past 135 volts. They predicted no one would continue past 255 volts.

What they found was that 65% of participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts, and all the participants continued to at least 300 volts. Milgram’s experiment has been replicated in multiple countries, with males and females, and across different settings. Milgram felt safe to conclude that the average person could be directed to commit horrific acts if obeying an accepted authority figure.

Once you’ve processed what this means for ourselves and humanity, you’ll start considering what this could mean for a character and a story world. Did we just witness the birth of a villain? What if Ben was an apprentice, and this was his master? What if his master progressively increased the violence that Ben believed he had no choice but inflict? Ultimately, who would Ben become as he aged, and eventually became a master himself?

Or is Ben going to live with his choices for the remainder of your narrative? What if this was a single event, and Ben went home to Emily and their anniversary? If Ben internalises the decision he made to hurt another, he may not acknowledge (or know) the influence that authority has over us. That would be a tough cross to bear (and yep, a wound was just born!).

If you like the post don’t forget to share it!

By Tamar
Source: psychwriter.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

My Map to Immersion

I’ve always loved maps. My earliest memories of map-reading are from family car-trips. My dad would reach into the (gigantic!) glove compartment of our ’68 Chevy Bel Air, and hand back the newest neatly folded roadmap of Michigan from his (gigantic!) pile of maps to my sister and me (hey, anything that quiets backseat rowdiness). He religiously picked up the AAA’s latest version from his insurance agent, whose office was a stone’s throw from his barbershop. (In his defense, those were days of growth for American infrastructure.)

My sister and I would pore over the map, pointing out the odd town names of the Mighty Mitten, and giggling over the absurd trips one could make between them: from Bellevue to Belleville (in our Bel Air!); Pontiac to Cadillac; Bad Axe to Hell; Podunk to Jugville; and even Colon to Climax (a very pleasant 30 minute ride, I swear).

Beyond the giggles, I found it all enthralling. I mean, let’s face it, Michigan has an alluring shape. Not to mention her 3,288 miles of shoreline (second only to Alaska). I remember studying the coasts, the islands, and the towns at the extreme tips of peninsulas—places like Northport, Mackinac, Copper Harbor, and Whitefish Point, and wondering how it would feel there—to be surrounded by nothing but water and forest. I’ve since been to most of the places I wondered about. And though a rare few failed to live up to the expectations of youth, most have exceeded them, and several have become favorite getaways.

My love of maps has undoubtedly contributed to my enduring love of my home state. But I can see that my love of maps also provided a natural lead-in to my love of reading.

And I’ve also become convinced that a line can be drawn from my love of maps to my current life as a writer. Allow me to diagram my case.

A Tolkien of My Affection

As some of you may know, I write epic fantasy, and cite Tolkien as a guiding star among the constellation of my inspirations. Before reading Tolkien, I’d been captivated by a middle-grade book by Dirk Gringhuis called The Young Voyageur. My parents bought it for me in the gift shop of the restored Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island (one of those intriguing map dots I mention above). The entire inside cover of the book is a map of the Great Lakes, marked with all of the French and British forts along the shores, and charting the protagonist Danny’s travels, covering hundreds of miles of shoreline and rivers… in a canoe!

Many of the places Danny found himself were places I had visited (thank you, history-buff parents). As I read I found myself referring to the map often. I also remember going to our family encyclopedias to look up French Voyageurs (thank you, “go-look-it-up-yourself, kid” parents). And I clearly recall finding an image of an early French map of the Great Lakes much like the one at the top of this post. I was predictably fascinated, trying to reconcile rivers and landmarks, marveling over how it might have been drawn at the time that it was. All of which put me right into Danny’s shoes.

I’m not sure how long it was after reading The Young Voyageur that I discovered Tolkien (thanks, Mr. Raymond!), but not more than a couple of years. I remember stumbling upon the map at the front of The Hobbit before I started it, and loving the tiny trees of Mirkwood and the drawings of the Misty Mountains. Closer study revealed the tiny dragon drawn above the Lonely Mountain and the spiders embedded in the forest. Then there was that heavy line from top to bottom demarking, “The Edge of the Wild.” Whoa.

There was so much to be gleaned. Which only served to fuel my fervor for the story.

The whole process started over again with The Lord of the Rings boxed set, except this time I didn’t need to stumble upon the map. I immediately sought it out, and was delighted to find the map expanded to reveal Middle Earth in its glorious entirety. It was an enticing indication of how far the story would expand, and I endlessly dissected it, referring to it almost comically often as I read.

Undeniably Tolkien’s maps played a role in pointing me down the storytelling path.

Connecting the Dots

Though I’ve always loved them, lately maps have been even more on my mind than usual. It started with WU’s own Tom Bentley, who’d come across an excellent essay on books with maps by Sarah Laskow. Tom rightly surmised that I’d be of the map-geek persuasion, and kindly passed it along. A few days later a dear friend reached out to me with a question about my latest manuscript, which she is kindly beta-reading. The question was about the locations of two port cities. Her confusion was understandable, but it made me realize that a glance at a map would’ve easily answered it. But I hadn’t provided one.

Over a decade ago I read a piece by fantasist Joe Abercrombie about why he hadn’t included a map for his debut, in which he says, “I want a reader to be nailed to the text… not constantly flipping back to the fly-leaf to check just how far Carleon is from Uffrith, or whatever. The characters often don’t know what’s going on. If they don’t have a conveniently accurate map to hand, why should the reader?”

Abercrombie’s piece contends that our stories should be compelling and self-explanatory without visual aids. Plus, not being trained cartographers (Joe and I and most other writers), our efforts can potentially open us to a level of scrutiny that’s often irrelevant to the story. At the time of reading it, I’d already tried my hand at mapmaking. Extensively. And in my less than stellar results I immediately saw his point. Besides, agents and editors to whom we submit will consider no such supplement.

I determined then that, in spite of my love of maps, the story would have to stand on its own. And I simply stopped drawing them.

Finding the Way Back to Maps 

“One of life’s great treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books), is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. A writer’s map hints at a fully imagined world, and at the beginning of a book, it’s a promise. In the middle of a book, it’s a touchstone and a guide. And at the end, it’s a reminder of all the places the story has taken you.”—Sarah Laskow, from her essay, How Writers Map Their Imaginary Worlds

In the interest of full disclosure, there have been occasions when a reader has requested one, and I’ve sent along my old original map (redrawn by my talented brother-in-law from one of my crappy attempts). Also, full disclosure: Abercrombie’s recent books have maps, though I’m not sure if he changed his mind or was pressed to it by his readers or his publisher.

But generally speaking, I’ve chugged along through six manuscripts without the inclusion of maps. The world of my story has since expanded well beyond my old maps’ borders. Though my story-world is roughly based on the Black Sea and Aegean regions and the Danube River Valley, a real map would never suffice as a stand-in.

My story-world is fairly vast, with a wide variety of topography. There are smoky villages and teeming cities; rocky peaks and round, green mountains; thundering seas and calm blue lakes; vibrant young pine forests and aging oak woods. And yet most every square mile of this fictional realm has remained crystal clear to me. I often struggle to recall the names of minor characters and other details, but I have almost perfect recall of the place names, along with a mental image of each.

It was Laskow’s quote above that spurred me. I finally attempted a map of the entire area of my current story-world. The endeavor has awoken something deep and old inside of me. Something enduring. I am relearning something about myself. True, as a storyteller, maps can show you how to put things in context. They can help you keep your storyline straight and true, even if they’re never meant to be shown to readers.

But more than any of that, maps are an invitation to wonder, and an incitement to imagine.

[As an aside: these days, with so many tools available online, there’s no excuse to avoid making maps, if only for your own use. I used a fantasy mapmaking website called Inkarnate. My attempt is far from complete, and the scale still feels off (reminding me of Abercrombie’s warning). But making it was easy and fun. I’ve put it on my website, if you’re curious.]

Whether you’re a map lover like me, or are just looking to be reawakened to wonder, I encourage you to give story mapmaking a try.

Charting a Course to Fiction

I’m certain that my work will have to continue to stand on its own without any visual aids. But I’m glad I found my way back to my love of maps.

I can more clearly see the path that brought me here. It was about more than a boy learning to read a map. It was about finding where I was and imagining where else I could go. Which is only a short trip to wondering what it might be like there. Then just a step to imagining what might happen next.

Isn’t that what fiction is—mentally conceptualizing the world through an invented scale, then conveying that concept via the written word? Placing yourself on the page, then visualizing the ability to move within it, and then finding your way to a new and unknown experience?

It certainly has been for me. I believe that my love of maps provided a model for what followed in the pages of my story beyond. And in the pages I continue to produce. Maps have provided the very genesis of my ability to immerse myself in story. I consider it a wonderful gift.

Which direction do you fall when it comes to book maps? Do you love maps? If so, can you draw a connection from that to your love of fiction?

Wishing a happy Thanksgiving to the Americans among you. I hope everyone safely finds their way to a blessed holiday among family and friends.

By Vaughn Roycroft
Source: writerunboxed.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Writing for Audiobook

Do you love audio books?  Maybe you like to devour the latest epic fantasy novel while you’re on an equally epic road trip, or let a new thriller by your favourite writer entertain you during a boring but necessary house clean. Maybe you have a child who adores the Harry Potter books but is not quite up to reading the last two on his or her own – how excellent to have Stephen Fry do that job instead. I’m of a generation that used to enjoy radio serials – in New Zealand we had one called Portia Faces Life (Portia was a lawyer whose personal and professional lives were both complex.) Another was Doctor Paul: A Story of Adult Love, which I suspect couldn’t have been so very adult, or my parents would not have allowed me to listen to it on days when I was home from school sick.  I also remember the evening book readings on radio, in particular Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a night plagued by fearful dreams after listening to The Speckled Band.

Fast forward to the present day. Technological advances have transformed our world, both for good and bad. The publishing business is no exception. I’ve been a published writer for twenty years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see almost all my novels published not only in print and ebook formats, but also as audio books. Up until this year, the books have come out first in print and ebook, and have later been produced as audio books, often with a different publisher. The audio books have proved popular with readers, sometimes outliving the print editions. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me in this time-poor society! Audio books allow multi-tasking in a way print books and ebooks don’t. This year I’ve been writing a novel specifically intended for audio book production. This was something new for me, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

As a reader, I value the effective and original use of voice – my favourite writers of fiction all use voice cleverly to help convey the mood and meaning of their story, to give it a unique shape and character. I try to do the same in my own writing, and increasingly I develop structures around voice. This particular story is an expansion of a novella already written and published. The story, Beautiful, is based on the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and my version is written in first person from a single point of view. My narrator is not the heroic young woman who is the protagonist of the original tale. My character is not human. The story I created for her has its roots in the fairy tale, but moves far beyond it. Because I had worked hard to develop this character’s striking and unusual voice, I believed the story was particularly suited to audio book production. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

I generally read my work aloud to check that rhythm and flow are OK, and I knew that would be especially important this time around. Reading aloud helps you to hear what is clunky, what is repetitive, what is long-winded, and also what soars, what soothes, what makes a strong and powerful statement. It highlights bad pacing and stylistic errors such as oft-repeated words, sequential sentences with the same structure, lack of variety in sentence length and so on. I was happy with my manuscript as submitted, but as I hadn’t done a straight-to-audio book project before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The editorial notes I got back were overall positive, but it was clear I still had a few things to learn about writing for audio book.

I had not considered how my word count would equate to the time taken to narrate. My editor pointed out that a certain section of the book, in which not much action occurred, added around 7,000 words, and that this would take 45 minutes of audio. I was shocked! His request that I tighten up that part of the story seemed entirely reasonable, and I did so. In retrospect, I think I was lucky that they accepted a ms that was (drops voice to a whisper) nearly 20,000 words longer than the contracted word count.

Some things simply don’t work in an audio book. My character can read and write, but in a very limited way. At one point in the book she’s writing place names on a map, in company with another character who can draw but not write. In the text, the place names are spelled correctly when our narrator is saying them aloud: Queen’s Castle, Troll Cliffs, and so on. But as she writes them on the map she spells them as a small child might do: Kweens Kasl, for instance. In an audio book the misspellings would sound exactly the same as the correct names, and would therefore be nothing but a stumbling block for the person narrating, and meaningless to the listener. I changed them back on request.

I’ve realised while working on this project how much I care about the way my stories sound, whether read aloud, or as imagined in the mind of the reader. I’m sure that comes first from my lifelong love of traditional storytelling which has a rhythm and flow all its own. And it comes also from being a musician since I was very young – if you love music as well as writing, the patterns of the first make their way into the second. Now I’m waiting with eager anticipation to find out who is chosen to narrate my book.

Some of you may have narrated your own audio books. Some of you may have published your own. I’d love to hear your experiences with audio book writing and publication.  Please share your successes and challenges in the comments section. Or tell us about your favourite audio books and why you love them!

By Juliet Marillier
Source: writerunboxed.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Why Is Writing So Difficult? Here Are 3 Reasons Why

Writing is hard. Even the best writers think so.

Hemingway once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Anything that requires bloodshed is not easy — trust me, I’ve had children!

I’m the type of writer who agonizes over word choice. I read and reread my writing until the words lose meaning. I edit pieces a dozen times before I’m ready to publish.

My husband, who is also a writer, can craft a thoughtful piece in about 30 minutes. He may make a few errors, but he doesn’t sweat them.

My writing process is a teeth-gnashing-and-wailing situation while his is a Sunday drive.

It makes me wonder — why is writing so much harder for some of us?

Here are the three main reasons why writing is more difficult for some writers.

1. Crippling perfectionism

Try telling a perfectionist “done is better than perfect.”

They’ll say nothing’s better than perfect, that’s why it’s perfect!

The problem is, it’s nearly impossible to produce anything perfectly. Trying to do so will usually result in one perfect sentence in a piece no one will ever read.

Perfectionism is exhausting. Even when you try to make things perfect, they don’t end up that way. You just wind up annoyed and overwhelmed by the process. Sometimes you can be too burnt out to even start because you know that it will end in tears. That’s the worst thing about perfectionism — it can stop artists from creating anything at all.

There is no cure for perfectionism that I’ve found. The only way to get through is to slowly desensitize yourself. Allow your work to see the light of day regardless of whether it’s perfect or not. Show it to a trusted friend who you know will be supportive before releasing it to the masses. Put a limit on your edits or a timer on your revisions and make yourself stop once time’s up. Get comfortable being uncomfortable with your finished work.

One piece of advice that helps me is to tell myself I can always release a second version and there are no completely finished works. Keeping this in mind allows me to publish things while calming my inner panicked perfectionist.

2. Inconsistent writing schedule and being out of practice

Those of us who wait for our muse often get stood up.

Muses are notoriously fickle, flaky, and uninterested in inspiring us mortals to finish our projects. Waiting on the perfect time, the right mood, or the retrograde to end may lead to not writing as much as we’d like. Or at all.

We end up thinking about writing, wanting to be writing, dreaming about writing, but not actually putting pen to paper or hands to keyboard very often. Days, or even weeks, may pass between writing sessions.

Being out of practice or inconsistent with your writing schedule is a big reason for writing feeling difficult. When I wrote for 30 minutes each day, one of the biggest benefits I found was that writing got a lot easier. During the first week or two, thirty minutes would result in a few paragraphs. Near the end of the 30 day experiment, I was writing almost 1000 words during my half hour sessions.

Think about this: When you were a kid regularly playing on the playground, you could fly across the monkey bars with ease. Go to playground and try the monkey bars now as an adult. It’s insanely difficult! Your grown up body isn’t used to moving that way so it takes time for your muscles to remember what to do. You may not have the strength to make it past a few bars.

The same goes for writing. If you don’t use it, you lose it. The only way to keep your writing muscle strong is by actually exercising it. Doing so makes the whole process feel easier.

Set a goal of writing each day, for any amount of time, and see how much progress you can make.

3. Lack of confidence and fear of failure

It can be hard to stand behind your work.

What if people don’t like it? What if they call you the two most dreaded words a scribe can hear — a bad writer?

You’ll get over it, I promise. The thing about opinions is that everyone has one and they aren’t always true or helpful.

Some of the world’s most beloved writers were considered bad because they didn’t follow traditional grammar rules or couldn’t spell like Faulkner and Fitzgerald. Some of today’s most popular writers have been roasted by critics for “bad writing” like Stephanie Meyer. Even if you write something terrific like JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you still can’t please everyone. Her work was rejected at least 12 times!

Did it hurt these writers feelings that others didn’t like their work? Sure, I imagine it did. But they didn’t let criticisms or lack of confidence stop them from creating.

Good writing matters, but not as much as you might think. If you can make people feel things with your writing, it doesn’t matter if it’s technically perfect.

People are imperfect judges of everything. One person’s masterpiece is another person’s meh-sterpiece. Don’t let potential haters get you down. If you write for yourself first, you’ll always have at least one fan.

One of my writing mottos is “feel the fear and do it anyway.” I’m always scared to share my work, but no matter the reaction I’m always glad I did. And, as a bonus, every time I put myself out there, it gets easier to do it again.

You’re not alone

Writing is not for the faint of heart. Creating anything takes courage and optimism. If writing is hard for you, remember it’s hard for a lot of us. The important thing is to show up, sit down, and try.

You don’t have to reach any milestones to become a writer — as soon as you start writing, you are one.

By Erin Sturm
Source: thewritelife.com

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How to write a book in 30 days: 8 key tips

Annual writing sprints like NaNoWriMo have many experienced and new authors alike testing their limits. Writing a book – a carefully, beautifully constructed book – does take time. Usually, much longer than 30 days. Yet trying this exercise is useful for building discipline, focus and just getting the first draft done. Here are 8 tips to help:

1: Set attainable goals

When someone asks ‘how do I write a book in x days?’ Writers’ reactions are sometimes discouraging. ‘Never write a book with a deadline as small as 30 days!’ Says one Quora user. Reasons you shouldn’t attempt to write a book in such a small time-frame include:

  • Being limited by time constraints could result in low quality writing
  • Producing a first draft may be possible within 30 days but you also need time to revise and edit
  • Burnout is possible if you don’t take sufficient breaks

These are all valid concerns. To work out it you can finish your novel in 30 days:

    1. Calculate how many words you write per minute: Use a free words-per-minute checker such as Typing Speed Test.
    2. Keeping in mind that you will also need to pause from time to time to think what happens next, halve your word count per minute. If you can type as fast as 60 wpm, take 30 as your base rate.
    3. Work out how many words you write per hour: If you can write 30 per minute, you can write approximately 1800 words per hour (assuming you don’t stop to edit or rest). Factor in resting time for a more conservative estimate (e.g. 1000 words).
    4. Work out how many hours you will have to write each day on average over the next 30. If you write 1000 words of draft per hour on a good day, an 80, 000 word novel should take 80 hours of writing to complete.
    5. Eighty hours of writing over 30 days would mean spending an average of 2.6 hours of writing per day. This is a lot when you have other commitments.
    6. Based on the amount of time you have available to write each day, adjust the length of your first draft until you have a word count you can achieve. You can always expand during subsequent drafts. Or write your first draft as a brief, novella version.

If this seems like an impossible task, give yourself more days. Or write some scenes in summary form. You can add connective tissue between plot events (such as scene transitions) later.

2: Set a realistic daily word count target

You might say to yourself ‘I can write for an hour each day, easily.’ The truth is that surprises, last minute obligations and life in general can hijack your writing time. For every hour of free time you have, bank on getting half an hour of that to write.

Start thinking about how you can make your word target attainable:

  • Cut down time taken up by other tasks: Make simpler, quicker meals, for example, and watch less TV – it’s only a temporary sacrifice)
  • Ask for help: Rally friends and family who are willing to help you chase your goal (for example, grandparents willing to babysit if you’re juggling telling your story with parenting)

Once you know exactly which hours you have free, block them out in a calendar. Use a colour that separates them clearly from other events and obligations. Draw an ‘X’ through each day once you’ve reached your word target. The satisfaction of this action (the sense of completion) will keep you motivated to continue.

3: Reserve time for each part of the writing process

The different parts of writing a novel require different types of problem-solving. Sketching characters, for example, is more imagination-dependent, while editing is a somewhat more rational (though still creative) process. [You can create full character profiles in preparation using the step-by-step prompts in Now Novel’s story dashboard.]

When seeing if you can learn how to write a book in 30 days, being structured is key. Divide each writing session into different tasks. Complete different sections of outlining or drafting simultaneously. This keeps the process varied and diminishes chances of getting stuck.

If, for example, you prefer writing dialogue to introducing scenes and settings, leave your favourite part of the storytelling process for the end of each session. This makes your favourite part a reward that you work towards every time you sit down to write.

Writing a book in 30 days - Infographic | Now Novel

4: Maintain a motivating reward scheme

Create a reward scheme for yourself to keep yourself motivated. Big gyms and insurance policies take this approach to keeping members active. Because they understand motivation, how reward-driven we are. Maximize your commitment to your story (and your word count targets) by:

  • Scheduling short breaks as micro rewards for reaching small targets such as completing scenes
  • Scheduling greater ‘bonus’ rewards for milestone achievements such as completing chapters

Rewards don’t have to be expensive, overly indulgent or distracting. Take a walk somewhere inspiring or beautiful, read a few pages from a favourite book or grab a coffee with a close friend. Make your rewards relaxing activities that will help you return to the track renewed and focused.

One crucial piece of advice on how to write a book in 30 days:

5: Make it a game to avoid unnecessary pressure

If you’ve ever watched competitive reality TV, you might have seen cases where the most competitive and committed participant cracked early under pressure. Placing too much pressure on yourself is a fast track to burnout.

Instead, treat writing a book in 30 days as an impossible goal that you’ll see whether you can reach, playfully. It’s crucial that this time is fun and varied. Some ways to make it a game:

  • Enlist a friend to join in the challenge: You can have your own NaNoWriMo any time of year
  • Create engaging prompts for yourself: Instead of saying ‘In this scene, the villain will discover a secret that sets him back’, tell yourself ‘Imagine a villain has just been informed of a development that ruins his plans. What does he discover? How does he react? Write 500 words’
  • Find an inspiring picture via Google images that captures the mood or tone you want a scene to create: Let images (or music) inspire you as you write

Try to write as freely as possible to maximize your speed:

Quote on writing - EB White | Now Novel

 6: How to write a book in 30 days: ‘Write drunk’

The quote ‘Write drunk; edit sober’ is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though it’s not clear whether Hemingway actually said this. Regardless of who said it, the quote does say something true about writing. It’s not that you should write drunk literally. But you should give yourself the freedom to write with that same uncontrolled giddiness. Before you get to editing.

A big part of how to write a novel in 30 days is letting go of complete control. Let the sober editor in you control when the time comes for that. The writing part should involve as little critical interference as possible, if you want to draft fast.

Some ways to ‘write drunk’:

  1. Make the font colour of your word processor match the background. Only highlight and change the font colour back when you reach your target word count. This will prevent you from focusing too much on what you’ve just said as you can’t edit until you reach a point of pause.
  2. Give yourself licence to be bad. Write terribly. Use clichés at every turn. Do this with the understanding that once you have the full draft and you’ve met your targets, you can go through and fix whatever you like.
  3. Leap in anywhere: Just because your novel tells a linear story doesn’t mean you have to be linear in your approach. If you’ve written the start of a scene, skip to the ending if you have an idea where it will go. Put in simple notes for whatever you’ll add later.

On the subject of speeding up, use shorthand in places to keep up your momentum:

7: Cheat and use shorthand

If you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days, you’ll likely only have time to fill in essential details of character, setting and the most important events of a scene. To keep going at all costs:

  • Fill in names of characters, places and other nouns with generic words and agonize over the right choice later (e.g. ‘[Character Y: Add character name meaning stubborn/headstrong here]’)
  • Reduce connecting sequences to basic elements. Instead of describing in detail how the party escapes the collapsing building, write ‘[Party manages to escape collapsing building; minus characters X and Y’]
  • Keep filling in these blanks for moments when you are tired and you need a quick, small win

8: Remember that progress never counts as failure

What people don’t always tell you when you ask how to write a novel in 30 days is that the most important part of this challenge is committing to it and trying.

Determination and dedication will help you make progress. If, by the end of the 30 days, you don’t have a continuous, polished first draft, congratulate yourself for the progress you have made. You have a sturdy skeleton for a book you can turn into a better read.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo or simply trying to get through your draft, try to write an 800 word extract every day for a week in the note-keeping section on Now Novel. That’s 5600 words further if you succeed.

Source: nownovel.com

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All the King’s Editors—Jim Dempsey

Jim’s post is part of the “All the King’s Editorsseries, where an editor from the Writer Unboxed contributor team edits manuscript pages submitted by a member of the WU community.

Each participating editor approaches a submission in a unique way, and speaks only for him or herself.

Remember, editing is as much art as science, and your take on the passage may differ. If so, feel free to join in the discussion at the end, but above all, be kind.

If you’re interested in submitting a sample for consideration, click HERE for instructions.

 

This is a short piece, and doesn’t need much of an introduction since it’s a prologue.

A prologue should give a sense of the story and hook the readers. As an editor, I have to ask if the prologue achieves at least one of those goals. As a reader, I ask: why start the story here and not with chapter one? In other words: do we really need the prologue? Let’s see …

[1] I took my life today. [2]

It was not an easy decision to make. There were numberless countless pros and cons that I had to consider. There always are when it comes to suicide. In my case, the pros outweighed the cons for the simple reason of being unable to because I couldn’t take living anymore. I couldn’t take hearing about all the reasons why we need to live in the moment or why we should cherish life while we can. People might talk a good game, but they don’t mean one word of that the bullshit that comes out of their mouths. [3]

The cold, hard truth is: the powers that be don’t like having blood on their hands. So they package little white lies inside easy-to-remember slogans to make us feel good about ourselves and make them feel content in believing their hands are clean. We end up feeling so good that we don’t recognize the deception taking place nor do we call them out on it. Instead, we turn the other cheek when tragedy strikes, and we go about our lives, taking solace in the fact that we had nothing to do with what had transpired. [4]

I am no stranger to this behavior. I am well acquainted with it and have been for as long as I can remember.

Even then [5], as When I stood [6] in the darkness of my room, I thought about all the people who’d flitted in and out of my life. The self-absorbed monsters that took advantage of me for as long as they liked and cast me aside when they grew tired. If only they knew the pain they’d inflicted was nothing compared to then would pale in comparison to what was taking had taken place above their heads them. [7]

At that point, I’d say the only thing on their minds was the free beer they‘ve been were consuming. The fact that it was after ten on a school night didn’t stop the beautiful creatures from senior class coming out to play. If it’s a weekend and you’re alone with large quantities of liquor, you can bet on half the senior class showing up and taking over your house for as long as they want. Either that or for as long as your neighbors can stand listening to them act like the total idiots they are. [8]

I can’t help but think about what will go through their minds after they find my body. Will the sight of death force their eyes wide open? Will the burden of guilt prompt them to admit their misdeeds? Will they feel anything at all? Whether they do or don’t, it doesn’t matter. They’re better off without me depriving them of their so-called happiness.

I wish I could have said the same about the people who used to stare at me from the framed picture on my nightstand. They were, by all appearances, a family of four enjoying a summer day at Carolina Beach, hoping to look back with fondness on a moment forever frozen in time. They had no way of knowing a medical diagnosis would turn their perfect world upside down. They thought it would never happen to people like them.

Then some smug little shit who didn’t know the first thing about medicine took what they never dreamed of hearing, and summed it up in one sentence: “It appears Nathan has a pervasive developmental disorder.” [9] – and caused tTheir lives came to come crashing down around them. From then on, everyone blamed Nathan for the events that followed that little announcement. I don’t blame them for thinking he ruined everything. It’s what I do.

No, that’s wrong. It’s not what I do. It’s what I used to do. For some reason, I keep forgetting I’m dead. It must be the shock. [10]

NOTES

  1. The text was originally in italics, but I changed that. No need for another font in a prologue. The prologue should be similar in look and style to the rest of the novel.
  2. Excellent first line, and leaving it as a paragraph on its own adds more impact. It will be very difficult for readers not to move on to the next line.
  3. For me, this paragraph was a little too long for two reasons: i) it’s better to keep the opening flowing, especially after the precision of that first line, and ii) this didn’t sound like the voice of a young person, and the approximate age of the narrator in this case should be clear quickly (so we realize this is a young person who has taken his life). It can be tricky for an editor to tinker with first-person voice, as it’s like dialogue and the characters should be able to have their unique ways to talking, but the narration became more succinct later and, after I’d read the whole piece, the tone in this paragraph seemed out of place when I read it back again.
  4. I think we could lose these two paragraphs and keep the prologue focused on Nathan, on his specific feelings (more on that later). The mention of the powers that be and so on are too general, too broad, and makes him sound paranoid, so I would only keep this in if that paranoia is a big part of the story.
  5. It’s not clear when this “then” refers to. It could be back as long as the narrator can remember. A new paragraph helps to separate these two thoughts, and changing “even then as I stood” to “When I stood” makes that moment clearer.
  6. For a while, I thought about the verb “stood” here. I wondered if someone in this position would just stand there in the darkness of the room. Wouldn’t you sit? Lie on your bed? And then I thought: standing there would be pretty odd, weird even. But we’re not dealing with someone who cares about that, and I think imagining someone standing in the middle of a dark room doing nothing but thinking paints the perfect picture for this situation. It’s not a “normal” situation. It’s odd. It’s weird. That’s what’s so intriguing about this opening. And “stood” is perfect here.
  7. This sentence wasn’t so fluent. I had to read it a few times to understand it. For example, “above their heads” could have been metaphorical instead of literal, and having that double meaning could be great, but those kinds of tricks shouldn’t get in the way of clarity. And since he’s already dead, the “was taking place” needs to change to “had taken place,” and then the “at that point” in the next para is also clear.
  8. I think most people know or can imagine how teenage parties can get out of hand, so you don’t really need this, and it’s already clear that Nathan doesn’t fit in with this crowd, doesn’t see himself as one of the “beautiful people.” Again, it’s too much of a generalization while this should focus more on Nathan.
  9. Making this is a new sentence adds extra emphasis to this point and to the diagnosis from the smug little shit.
  10. I have my doubts about whether the author needs this last line or not. I think ending on “I keep forgetting I’m dead,” is a stronger ending, but maybe it’s too much. “It must be the shock” sounds a little glib; it lightens the mood, which could work too. I’d have to know the tone of the rest of the story to make a final decision, but maybe the WU community could weigh in with their thoughts too. Either way, it’s a great last para.

When I first read this sample, I thought immediately of “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold. And that has a prologue.

Here are the first two lines:

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Note the third word: was. That past tense is almost lost as you contemplate Salmon as a name. And then that killer—pun intended—second sentence.

Our sample above has that great hook too. As I mentioned, you can’t help but continue to the next line.

The second paragraph of “The Lovely Bones” gives us more details of the narrator. We get her favorite quote, which she hopes will make her sound literary. She’s in the chem and chess club, is bad at cooking class, and her favorite teacher is Mr. Botte, the biology teacher. He is not her murderer, she says, and then tells she tells us who is and how he did it.

We get all that by page two. By telling us all this, she’s saying that this is not going to be a murder mystery, it’s something else. You have to read on to find out. And that’s when you learn this is a story about how this young girl’s family struggled after her death.

What do we know about the narrator of the sample above? That he’s young, has a “pervasive developmental disorder” (the author of the sample had included a note to say that the narrator was autistic), he’s an outsider, he has a least one sibling, and he feels he is to blame for his family’s troubles. And he’s now dead.

These are all important details, but I wonder if they couldn’t come out elsewhere in the story. They seem too general to me when what we really need here are details that no other character in this story could tell us. It would be great to get specific examples of how that autism diagnosis affected him and his family. Relate one representative scene where the family blamed him. Or describe the particular event that tipped him towards considering suicide. We don’t need a lot (a prologue should be short), but specifics would boost this prologue from good to great.

That’s what makes Sebold’s prologue great. She gives us the details of Susie’s short life and how she died from Susie’s perspective. We need more of Nathan’s perspective here, to know some things that only Nathan knows.

That’s not to say this should follow some formula or should copy  “The Lovely Bones.” This is a different type of prologue anyway. Sebold’s sets up the story that will follow, while the example above starts in media res, showing us a dramatic event—the suicide—from later in the story and, I’m assuming, chapter one will take the story back in time to show us how Nathan came to that point.

But it’s the details that makes Sebold’s prologue work so well.

And a prologue has to work well. Here’s why.

Many publishers see a prologue and are immediately turned off by it. Their reasoning is that you should start the story at the start of the story, and prologues tend to mainly be backstory (as appears to be the case here too).

When considering writing a prologue, you have to ask if you can’t fit in those backstory details elsewhere, without having to shoehorn them in, of course. You have to ask if the readers really need this information up front, before the story proper starts. Only then do you need a prologue.

Readers are wise to prologues too, and many people just skip them and go straight to chapter one where they know the story really starts.

In fact, one simple way to test if your prologue is really necessary is to rename it as chapter one. If the story still flows, then you don’t need a prologue.

Prologues have been debated long and endlessly in the literary world. We’d need to know more about how this story develops to say for sure if the prologue is necessary or not. The first and last paragraphs certainly hook the reader, and there’s some great writing in between too. I’d just like to know more specifics about Nathan, to get a more detailed look at his unique view of the world. Then I’d be convinced this prologue needs to stay.

What are your thoughts on prologues? Do we need them or are we better off without them? Have you ever skipped a prologue and gone straight to chapter one?

By Jim Dempsey
Source: writerunboxed.com

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How to Nail the First Three Pages

Let’s face it, talking about writing the first pages of a novel is stressful. It can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned writer, because as writers we all know how scarily narrow the window is, and yet we must reach through it, grab the reader, and yank them into the story.

The problem is that writers often think that what pulls readers in is that perfectly written first sentence. The one that proves you’re a wordsmith. Because, of course, being a “wordsmith” is what defines you as a writer.

No, no, no.

What makes you a writer is the focused ability to relentlessly dig deep into your protagonist’s past, unearthing the specific material from which the story springs organically. Because it’s the story itself that makes the words potent. Not the other way around.

In other, um, words, it’s not the words. It’s what the words are saying that yanks the reader in. And what they’re saying comes from the story, NOT from writing technique, reader manipulation, writing rules or, heaven forbid, “love of language,” whatever that means.

The focus on wordsmithing is heartbreaking. It not only keeps writers from getting out of the starting gate, it keeps them from getting into it. Because if you can’t write a perfect opening sentence, what’s the point of writing a second sentence?

Here’s a welcome newsflash: The brain is far less picky about beautiful writing than we’ve been lead to believe. And that’s as true in literary fiction as in commercial novels.

So what does yank the reader in, what hijacks the reader’s brain on that first page, catapulting readers head first into the world of the story?

There are four things we’re wired to look for on the first pages that, in concert, create the world of the story, make the reader to care, and so — biologically — have to know what happens next. Because story isn’t for entertainment. Story is entertaining so we’ll pay attention to it, because we just might learn something we need to know about what makes people tick, the better to navigate this mortal coil without getting clobbered too often.

Here are the four elements that — even when the writing IS lovely, lyrical and beautiful — are what your reader is actually responding to.

What’s the Big Picture?

As readers, we know that a story is about how someone solves an unexpected problem they cannot avoid. That’s WHY we’re drawn to story – we want to see how someone will deal with the kind of problems we so studiously avoid in real life. We crave the “uh oh” that yanks us in. Not a mere momentary “uh oh,” but one that has legs – one that kicks off an escalating row of dominoes. Which is why we need a glimpse of those dominoes, of where this is going.

As one editor brilliantly said recently, “The first paragraph is a promise you make to your reader.” In other words: What is the overarching plot problem?

Here’s what that opening paragraph (sometimes only a sentence!) should convey:

  • What’s the Context? What arena will this play out in? Think of it as our yardstick, our score card. If we don’t know what the specific ongoing problem is, we can’t make sense of what’s happening. We’re wired to look for causality in everything. If this, then that – it’s how we humans turn the chaos around us into a world we can kind of, sort of, navigate. Plus, without a clear context, we can’t anticipate what might happen next, giving us nothing to be curious about, and so no reason to read forward.
  • Where’s the Conflict? Where is the specific conflict? Why is the problem hitting critical mass right now? We want to feel that jolt. That’s what gets our attention (not beautiful writing). Surprise rivets us. Don’t mute it, don’t make it “tepid,” don’t make the reader guess what you really mean – instead, let there be blood. Writers shy away from this, thinking it’s “over the top.” Here’s the truth: Over the top is what we come for. Whether in events, or in the depth of emotion seemingly mundane events can trigger.
  • What’s the Scope? Where will this end? What is it building toward? What is the journey you want me to sign on for? The biggest problem writers have is that they hold back the specifics for a reveal later, thinking that will lure the reader in. Instead it locks the reader out. First, it implies we already care enough to want to know what’s going on. We don’t. Letting us know that Something Big is happening, but keeping it vague, implied, unclear, doesn’t make us curious. It makes us annoyed. Like the writer is toying with us. We can’t imagine what might happen next because we have no idea what is happening now. Or why. So why would we care?

The irony is that writers withhold the very information that would lure us in. Consider these very specific, utterly revealing opening lines:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. From Celeste Ng’s debut literary novel Everything I Never Told You

It was a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost didn’t notice I was being blackmailed. From Becky Albertalli’s YA Simon vs. The Homosapien’s Agenda

Joel Campbell, eleven years old at the time, began his descent toward murder with a bus ride. From Elizabeth George’s thriller What Came Before He Shot Her

Lucy runs away with her high school teacher, William, on a Friday, the last day of school, a June morning shiny with heat. From Caroline Leavitt’s literary novel Cruel Beautiful World

The Takeaway: GIVE IT ALL AWAY! TELL US WHERE WE’RE GOING. TELL US WHAT’S HAPPENING. BE SPECIFIC. BE CLEAR. BE CONCRETE. And yes, I’m yelling, not at you but at that pesky voice in your head that often tells you to hold back, that says somehow holding back makes you a more sophisticated writer. Here’s the truth: giving it all away is not “unliterary.” It’s not clunky. It’s not over the top. It’s not too obvious. It’s the key to grabbing the reader.

The job of the first paragraph is to hook the reader by stoking that delicious sense of urgency. Now you have to follow through in order to hold them.

What Is Happening?

Once we know what the story problem is, we expect that first domino to topple, starting a chain reaction that we’ll ride all the way to the end. So, let the problem begin.

I’m betting that’s a piece of advice you’ve already heard. Leap into action! The problem is it implies that objectively “dramatic” action in and of itself is engaging. Couldn’t be less true.

I remember years ago reading the first pages of a manuscript – it was a historical novel set in the wild west. It opened with a woman trapped alone in a runaway stagecoach. The driver had been shot, the horses were running wildly, madly, the woman was screaming, and did I mention they were galloping along a sheer cliff edge, so at any minute the stagecoach could plunge to the valley below and . . . who cares?

The irony was that the more “specific” sensory details she threw in, the more beautiful her metaphors, the more intricate her rendition of the horror on that poor trapped woman’s face, the more it alienated the reader. I mean, with all those details it started to feel like there was going to be a test or something. Not that the reader wants that woman to die, but sheesh, you don’t actually know her, so your mind wanders toward things you do care about like, hmmm, I wonder if that brownie is still in the fridge, maybe I should just go check?

And here’s the thing, without the aforementioned context and scope, the above is dull, boring, and . . . a brownie did you say?

The Takeaway: Yes, immediate action is required. Something must be happening, absolutely. But action alone – regardless how objectively dramatic – won’t pull the reader in. It needs to be the action that kicks off the overarching problem that we’ve already been made aware of, and as important, it needs to be someone’s problem – which brings us to the next thing the reader is searching for on the first pages . . .

Who Is the Protagonist?

After all, the protagonist is the reader’s avatar in the story, the person in whose head the reader will reside. This is the person who the reader will be rooting for, whose point of view everything will be filtered through.

Make no mistake: everything that happens in the plot gets its meaning, and therefore its emotional weight, based on one thing and one thing only: how it affects the protagonist. Does it get her closer to her goal or further from it? Does it help her or hurt her? And — this is where your story really lies — what specific, subjective meaning is she reading into what’s happening, given her agenda?

The Takeaway: Without a protagonist, nothing means anything, and even the most “objectively” dramatic action falls flat because there’s no story, just a plot — otherwise known as “a bunch of things that happen.” Which is why as readers we want to meet the protagonist on the very first page.

Now comes the fourth element, the one that brings these three elements together and binds them in meaning:

Why Does What’s Happening Matter to the Protagonist?

Right now you could be thinking, Hey, that woman trapped in the stagecoach—I sure know why plunging over the cliff mattered to her. It’s because she doesn’t want to die. Duh! And that’s precisely why that isn’t what the reader is after. Because the reader already knows that no one wants to plunge to their death. So there’s nothing we can learn from that. It’s generic. Ho hum.

Rather, the answer to this question stems from something that writers often don’t focus on, let alone develop: What is the protagonist’s overarching agenda, the one she steps onto the page with?

All protagonists enter the story with an agenda — whether they’re conscious of it or not — and the plot is going to mess with it. The reason what’s happening on page one matters to the protagonist is because it’s going to throw a monkey wrench into their well-laid plan.

Want an example of an overarching agenda? Let’s circle back to the first two lines of Simon vs. the Homosapien’s Agenda: “It was a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost didn’t realize I was being blackmailed.”


That starts with a bang. We have a notion of where it’s going, the scope and the conflict. But the real question is how does being blackmailed affect the agenda Simon had before his dorky classmate Martin threatened him?

Here’s the story: Simon is gay, he’s in the closet, not because he’d get clobbered by anyone if he came out, he just doesn’t want things to change right now, because change is uncomfortable, even good change, and as a sixteen year old he already has enough inherent change in his life, thank you very much. But . . . he’s also fallen in love with a mystery boy, who he met on the school’s online message board. Neither knows the other’s real name. The boy, also in the closet, is Blue; Simon is Jacque. This is the first person who Simon has been able to open up to, and it feels amazing. His goal is to find out who Blue is and hopefully fall into his arms. THAT is the agenda Simon stepped onto page one with, already fully formed.

Martin accidentally discovers Simon’s email chain with Blue and decides to use it to his advantage. Martin wants Simon to help him get the attention of Abby, a girl Simon is friends with. Put in a good word, maybe invite him along when they get together. No big deal.

So why does the overarching plot problem – that Simon is being blackmailed – matter? Because it threatens to derail Simon’s agenda. If word gets out, it might not only spook Blue, but hurt him. And that’s the last thing Simon wants to do. So why not help Martin? Abby will never have to find out . . . right?

And there you have it, hooked and held!

The Takeaway: What’s the real secret of nailing the first pages? It’s this: All stories begin in medias res — Latin for in the middle of the thing, the “thing” being the story itself. So page one of your novel is actually the first page of the second half of the story. Because you can’t “give it all away,” unless you have “it” in the first place.

Which brings us back to where we started. Writing isn’t about starting on page one and wordsmithing forward. Being a novelist is about digging deep long before you get to page one and creating the first half of the protagonist’s story. Only then will you have a story to tell.

By Lisa Cron
Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Mindfulness for writers: A beginners guide

The first time I remember using the art of mindfulness I was in an extremely stressful meeting with a drug addict.

At risk of losing her children, the woman’s behaviour had become loud and abusive to everyone, including me. Threats were made and accusations were thrown. After one particularly volatile, screaming outburst aimed at me, I felt an acute sense of fear wash over me and grip my heart like a vice.

My breathing became more rapid and my fight or flight response kicked in – the door to the meeting room had never looked so inviting.

But I was a professional. Someone who was part of the team supporting the children in our school. We were their voices when they couldn’t be heard. Walking out would let them down. It would let my headteacher down.

I clasped my hands tightly under the desk and focused on my Moleskine diary. Trust me to seek solace in a notebook! My heart was thudding so loudly I thought the lady next to me must be able to hear. Heat rose from my chest and up into my face. Tears burned my eyelids and I blinked furiously.

I kept my gaze on that Moleskine and nothing else.

It dawned on me that I had to take control. With much difficulty, I attempted to regulate my breathing. I closed my ears to the rest of the room and counted each and every breath. Gradually my heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace and the pain in my chest subsided.

I talked quietly to myself – repeating the word ‘breathe’ over and over in my head. What was said during the meeting at that point, I have no idea. Nearly three years later, most of the meeting is a blur, to be honest.

But the memory of my body’s response will never leave me.

The Power of Mindfulness

At the time, I didn’t know that I’d practised a simple form of mindfulness. What I did know was that counting my breaths and focusing my mind on the rise and fall of my chest saved me from a professional disaster. It also began my journey into meditation and a greater desire for overall wellbeing.

But what exactly is mindfulness? And, as writers, how can it benefit us? After all, we don’t often find ourselves in situations like the one mentioned above, so is it something we can use?

Well, to put it simply, yes.

Mindfulness is used by many people for many different reasons. You don’t have to be religious. You don’t have to follow a specific programme. It really is what you make it. There is no right or wrong way to do it. All these things make it very appealing and very easy to start.

All it requires from you is a little bit of your time. Time to focus on the present moment when things are feeling overwhelming or stressful. Time to focus on the present moment without judgment.

For writers, we can focus heavily on things that have happened in the past that we may still feel discouraged and upset about. Or we worry about where our writing is going in the future and whether we’ll ever be published in one form or another.

Mindfulness enables us to eliminate the thoughts about the past and the future, and simply focus on the now.

So What Exactly Is It?

Mindfulness is focusing your attention on the present moment. It uses what you’re directly experiencing via your senses to focus your mind on what is happening right now, rather than what has happened in the past or might happen in the future.

It can also be influenced by your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions. You stop judging yourself for the way you feel and simply feel it. You begin to notice what your body is telling you and start to create space between you and your thoughts.

When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, you find somewhere quiet to sit and focus your thoughts on your breathing, creating that gap between your thoughts and emotions. When those negative thoughts start to invade, you bring your focus back to your breathing to calm those emotions down.

For writers, it can help us with the feelings of overwhelm, doubt and fear that we all experience from time to time. Instead of worrying about what might happen with your manuscript, you focus on what you can control today, right now. You are mindful of the experience of writing and all the emotions that come with it.

How Can I Do It?

As previously mentioned, there is no ‘right way’ to be mindful. It depends on your personality and how you like to adopt a mindful approach.

Personally, I use meditation every morning to ensure I practise my mindfulness in an organised way (yup, I’m a nerd). Before I begin the day, I sit at my desk, close my eyes and focus on my breathing. When my mind wanders, I gently coax it back.

This useful infographic can show you other ways to be mindful, if meditation isn’t for you or you want to try something new.

Mindfulness

From Visually.

Humans are goal-orientated creatures and writers often have many goals. It’s easy to get sucked into thinking constantly about what the future holds for your writing – I know I do. Mindfulness can stop the constant pull towards worrying about the future and lets us focus on what we can enjoy right now.

It also enables us to enjoy the process of writing itself – with all the emotions that go with it. You can become fully immersed in your book and just enjoy the ride you’re on. By realising that it’s okay to have these range of emotions, you can focus your thoughts on your breathing when times get tough.

Creating that gap between your thoughts and reality can help you rationalise your emotions.

It will feel hard at times and your thoughts will sometimes seem to constantly invade your focus, but you’re training your brain to be mindful – these things take time and practice.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

As well as encouraging us to enjoy the writing process for what it is, mindfulness has many overall benefits too. They include:

  • A greater sense of self-awareness.
  • An understanding that there are choices in how to respond to thoughts and feelings.
  • Feeling calmer and less stressed.
  • Helps you cope better with difficult or unhelpful thoughts in all areas of life.
  • Encourages you to be kinder to yourself and to accept that negative things happen to everyone.
  • You show greater compassion for yourself and others.

Scientific research also shows that mindfulness is linked to improved creativity and that long-term use of the technique leads to a change in overall happiness and wellbeing.

It really shows you that you are in control.

And that sense of control leads to greater confidence and improved self-esteem. So not only will your writing improve, you’ll soon be singing about it from the rooftops!

Summary

People can often turn their noses up at mindfulness as it sounds a bit ‘out there’ and something that people who ‘chant stuff’ might do. But actually, that isn’t the case at all. It can have so many benefits for writers both for their craft, but also for their general mental health and wellbeing.

Taking the time to focus on the present, even if it is only for a few minutes each day, can make you a stronger, more confident writer who can tackle the setbacks that come your way.

You can begin to approach those setbacks with an understanding that, by gradually detaching emotions from them, you can only learn and improve and become a better writer because of them.

Don’t shy away from becoming a mindful writer. It may just be the most positive step you take this year.

Further Reading/Sources

  1. 6 Ways Meditation Can Help Improve Your Writing.
  2. Getting Started with Mindfulness – mindful.org
  3. Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World – franticworld.com

Source: thingsthatgobumpwhenyouwrite.com

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