Tag Archives: writing practice

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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4 Steps to a Writing Routine You Won’t Want to Break

Guest post by Emmanuel Nataf

You’ve wanted to write a novel for ages, but can’t seem to ever find the time to start writing. Or maybe you’ve started and just keep hitting walls. Why? For most of us, the answer is that commitments like family, jobs, and life keep getting in the way.

Or, it might be procrastination, and these obstacles are what you tell yourself are the issue. All you are missing is discipline. Every writer has a vision of being able to sit down and write a complete prize-winning chapter in one sitting, but this isn’t realistic. To get a flow going on a regular basis you will need to implement a writing routine.

Forming a regular writing habit builds stakes, holds you accountable to your goals, and keeps you on track as a result.

The reality is, you’re not going to feel like the muses of novel writing are hovering above you and guiding you every time you sit down to write. Building a solid, consistent routine will help you write, and write well, even when you’re not feeling motivated or inspired.

A writing routine will be different for everyone in terms of your environment, time availability, aims, goals — the lot. Even so, if you follow these tips for establishing and, more importantly, sticking to a routine, you can’t go far wrong.

 

1. Schedule your writing time

Try to choose a time and a place so that other things can work around your writing time, not vice versa. This way, you’ll be able to get into the habit of writing — even when you don’t feel like it.

If you wait for this time to come around naturally, especially in increasingly hectic lives, the hours required to achieve our goals of writing a novel or similar are not going to clock in.

We can draw on Stephen King’s wisdom here:

“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop, and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind … I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.”

This time should be non-negotiable. Author and book coach Kevin Johns sees this as such a crucial part of creating a writing routine that he gives it its own acronym: NNWT, or non-negotiable writing time. Even if you can’t write every day like Stephen King, make sure you have time locked in multiple times a week.

Nothing is stopping you from starting right now: literally, open your phone and schedule writing time into your calendar — this will make you stick to it. Put in a realistic amount of time that you know you can afford, make sure it’s more than once a week, highlight it in something bright that you can’t ignore, and set an alarm to remind you.

2. Make this writing time sacred

J.K. Rowling, who knows a thing or two about writing successfully, advises writers to “be ruthless about protecting writing days.” She urges us to guard these moments that we set aside for writing and not to cave in to “distractions” such as meetings or social engagements.

Whether it’s every workday evening from 8 to 10, or three mornings a week starting at 7, don’t let anything get in the way of your writing. You’ve scheduled this time into your life, and it must be granted importance and gravitas.

This also means that writing time is for writing and writing only. Being lax with it will hold back your progress. If you set aside two hours to write, and in that time answer your emails, do a laundry load, and check Twitter, you’ll probably end up doing half an hour of writing, maximum. That would move the needle extremely slowly.

Research and planning should be done outside these hours. Writing time is just that: time to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

3. Quantify your progress

To know the progress you’re making, set yourself a word count goal per day or per week. The power of setting tiny, achievable goals cannot be overstated.

We as humans love having these little wins. Hitting daily goals (like Fitbit step-goals) gives us little boosts — spikes of dopamine — and makes us feel good about what we’re doing. Writing can be frustrating, so word count goals give you control over at least one of the factors of the writing process. That’s why daily word-counts are such a crucial part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) competition.

If you have a particular goal, for example, “I want to have a first draft of my manuscript done in six months,” this would mean working out what this translates to in words per month, week, and day. Track this to stay in line with what you have set yourself.

The fun side of this is rewarding yourself. Crossing things off that calendar, physically printing off pages you’ve written and adding them to a done pile — anything that gives you a sense of public, visible achievement is worth it.

Writing something as long as a novel may often feel like working for a long time with no reward. As a writer, you have to reward yourself when you reach your goals, which is much easier when these goals are concrete and achievable.

4. Publicize it

Your public could just be your friends and loved ones. Purposefully use shame and disappointment for your own benefit by telling them that you’re writing a book. This puts pressure on you, as does publicizing your goals.

If you have something visible, like a calendar that shows your self-set deadlines or workloads, this can help keep you accountable to goals that would otherwise be easy to pretend you never made. Equally, you can tell your friend/fiance/fellow writer that you’re going to write 400 words every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday after work, and get them to check.

Starting a blog and publicizing your progress is another way to give you that extra incentive, as you don’t want to look bad in front of your followers by not meeting your goals .

You’ve got this!

Know what environment you work best in and use this to your advantage. Whether it’s the bustle of a coffee shop or a silent room at home, you know where and when you produce your best work.

Appreciate that these are all estimates, especially if you don’t have a contract yet. A writing routine will give you direction, even if you don’t have an actual deadline. It will help orient you, rather than just writing whenever you feel like it.

Writing is a challenge, but so rewarding. The key is to stick to it. Establishing and dedicating yourself to the process says that you believe in yourself, and that you can do it.

Source: jerryjenkins.com

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Should Beginning Writers Imitate the Greats?

Learning often begins with imitation or copying. As babies, we learn facial expressions and gestures by mimicking adults. Children learn to write their letters by copying them from workbooks. And can you imagine a musician learning their craft without first leaning to play other musicians’ songs?

But we rarely explore the question of whether writers should copy the work of great authors as a learning exercise.

Imitation Learning vs. Derivative Works

In the world of fine art and entertainment, imitation is sometimes viewed as flattery, but mostly it’s criticized for its lack of originality. Works that appear to be based in part or in full on other works are called derivative works. Some derivative works are celebrated — for example, writing a variation of an old fairy tale or writing a modernized version of an ancient text. Each work should be judged individually and on its own merit, and opinions will vary.

However, today we’re not talking about the writing that we publish for the world to see. We’re exploring the idea of using imitation strictly for the purpose of study, practice, and learning.

Using Imitation as a Learning Tool

When I was a kid, I often wrote down the lyrics to my favorite songs. I would play the song, pausing and rewinding it every few seconds to figure out the lyrics. Sometimes, I’d write my own lyrics to the tune. I believe this formed the foundation of learning musicality in writing, which I later applied to my poetry. As a young poet, I discovered Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” While I didn’t set out to imitate this amazing poem, I did set out to write a poem that was inspired by it (and somewhat modeled on it). All these years later, I suspect that if I shared that old poem of mine (which was titled “Woman One”), any knowledgeable poet would know that I’d read Maya’s work and was influenced by her.

All of these exercises helped shape my writing skills. When you copy the words that someone else has written, you study them more closely than you would by merely reading them. But notice that none of these exercises resulted in published works. It was a form of study and practice.

Who hasn’t buried themselves in a novel, only to put it down and find the voice of the narrative continuing inside their own mind? Copying a text can have the same effect, but it works faster. It’s a useful way to learn how different authors structure sentences or make word choices.

When I was in a college literature course, we took a test that required us to identify authors’ voices. We were given short excerpts from various authors’ works. We weren’t expected to memorize these authors’ repertoires, but we were expected to absorb their voice (style). A good way to do that is to copy passages from the authors’ writings. The act of typing (or handwriting) their texts helps us absorb it much faster and more thoroughly.

But that’s not all we can learn from imitation. Let’s say you’re a beginning writer with a favorite story. You don’t want to emulate the story or the author, but you want to gain a better understanding of how this author constructs language or how they developed such a distinct voice. Studying the work might not be enough. As an exercise, you might attempt to write a few pages of your own original text in the author’s voice. This would also be a useful exercise for developing voices and distinct dialogue for each of your characters. You could seek out writers and speakers whose style matches the voice you want for a character. Spend some time transcribing or copying the source material, and then practice writing your character’s dialogue in that person’s voice

The Necessity of Learning

There are many ways that authors borrow, build upon, and steal other writers’ ideas. There’s really nothing new under the sun — only old ideas remixed and rehashed into works that feel fresh and invigorating.

But however we gather our ideas or develop our craft, learning is a necessity. We must do the work to develop the skills we need to achieve our goals. For writers, that means studying language, mastering vocabulary, and learning structure and form. Not all writers need to learn through imitation. Each of us has a different learning style, but for those who would benefit from imitation as an exercise, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for skill-building.

Have you ever used imitation to develop your knowledge or skills? What did you imitate and why? Did it work for you? Share your thoughts about imitation as a learning tool for writers by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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How to Break Through a Fiction Writing Block

It happens to all writers. You’re cruising through a story, and all of a sudden you hit a wall. Your characters freeze up, your plot stops cold, and you’re stuck with nowhere to go.

You’ve hit a fiction writing roadblock.

All of your ideas have evaporated and you sit there staring at your screen with a blank look on your face. Where were you going? How did you write yourself into a corner? More importantly, how do you write yourself out?

Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to break through the creative blocks that arise in the middle of a storytelling project. Some of these techniques also come in handy when developing ideas for new fiction projects.

The main thing you need to remember is that hitting a roadblock does not have to mean the end of your story, your fiction writing, or your creativity. You just need to reboot and see your project from a fresh angle.

Breakthrough Techniques

The techniques explained here are sledgehammers. They’ll blast through walls, blow away obstacles, and create doorways that you can step through to reconnect with your story.

Pull Your Characters Out of the Story

Is your character stuck in a situation with no way out? Has your character gone on strike, refusing to take further action? Are secondary characters loitering around with nothing to do? Try removing the troubled character from the story you’re writing and placing them in a completely different situation. You don’t have to write a novel, but sketch some ideas about how your character would behave in various scenarios. Then bring them back to the story you were working on and see if your creative wall hasn’t cracked.

Try Fiction Writing Exercises

Fiction writing exercises provide a constant stream of ideas. You can find websites, magazines, and books that provide activities to kick your writing and your imagination into high gear. Look for exercises that are specific to the problems you’re having. If your plot isn’t going anywhere, find plot exercises. If you are having trouble with dialogue, look for dialogue exercises. I wrote Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises for storytellers who need guidance and inspiration — it has a little of everything and can knock down all kinds of creative walls.

Break it Down

Sometimes we get stuck because something’s wrong with the plot or structure. If you’re writing a manuscript, it will be difficult to see the bones of your story. Convert your manuscript into an outline that lists all major plot points. Then you can more easily see where the story took a wrong turn. If you’re having character problems, create outlines that show character arcs. Keep using these outlines to find and resolve problems in your plot and structure.

Go Deep

Sometimes the biggest problem with a story is that it’s flat. The characters are lackluster; the plot is boring. This is likely because these story elements are underdeveloped — there’s not enough detail or depth. Pause work on your manuscript to work on developmental projects like character sketches, plot outlines, world-building, and research that will add layers of detail to your creative vision, which will then get fleshed out in your writing when you resume work on the project.

Expand Your Vision

Sometimes what’s missing isn’t detail but entire chunks of a story; if your story feels thin, then you can add characters and subplots to plump it up. I had written multiple drafts of a novel when I was struck with a new character. I didn’t think much about it — I just started writing a chapter about her. It became the first chapter of the novel and she became the thread that tied the entire series together. Similarly, you might find that your plot lacks dimension; introducing new story threads and subplots can make your tale more dynamic.

Get a Second Opinion

We all grow blind to our own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you’ve started to think your story isn’t as great as you originally envisioned. Maybe you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong with it, but you’re not sure what. This is often a good time to get a second opinion. A writer friend is ideal for this, but you can also work with a developmental editor or a writing coach. Find someone who you trust, who is knowledgeable about writing (and your genre), someone who will give you honest feedback and help you get back on track. Sometimes the mere act of discussing the project with another person will illuminate the problem and reveal a solution.

Don’t Give Up on Your Story

Storytelling is not an easy endeavor, and the best traits for writers to cultivate are patience and determination. Sure, some stories are destined for the recycling bin. Successful writers produce a lot of garbage before they eke out a gem. But don’t give up on a project when you hit your first roadblock. If you do that, you’ll never get anywhere.

Whether you write yourself into a corner, lose interest in your plot or characters, or get tempted by a newer, shinier idea, stick with your project and see it through to completion. Pay attention to what’s going on when you’re at your most creative and learn how to get into that state on command. Writers need to get to know how their minds work and what brings out the best ideas. This is how each writer develops a reliable set of techniques or a routine that produces good results.

Also, stock up on creativity resources. Look for books on creativity and expose yourself to plenty of art and entertainment. Also, try other creative outlets, such as painting, dancing, photography, or music. Remember that like attracts like, so the more creative you are, the more creative you’ll be.

How do you break through fiction writing blocks? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Why Writers Need Confidence—5 Ways to Boost Yours

I attended a week-long writing workshop once that nearly destroyed my confidence as a writer. Though workshops can be very helpful, it depends on the teacher, and this particular one didn’t know how to guide and motivate writers.

There are many times in a writer’s career when something happens to zap our confidence, and that’s not good, because self-confidence may be the one thing that separates successful writers from those who never reach their goals.

The question then becomes: How do you get that confidence back, or find it in the first place?

What Kind of Confidence Do Writers Need?

First, it’s important to know what kind of confidence we’re talking about here. This isn’t about inflating your ego, bragging, or believing you’re special. In fact, these types of beliefs—often associated with the high “self-esteem”—can actually be detrimental to success.

In a 2013 study, psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues examined the results of the “American Freshman Survey,” which asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers. Results showed that over the past few decades, there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who think they’re “above average.”

These students are also more likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, interestingly enough, even though objective test scores show that actual writing ability has decreased since the 1960s.

A related study showed there has been a 30 percent increase in narcissistic attitudes over the past few decades. Unfortunately, despite popular belief, the “self-esteem” movement that encouraged parents and teachers to tell children to believe they were great no matter what, has not been found to lead to success.

Students who were struggling with their grades, for example, who received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-esteem, were actually found to perform worse. Scientists believe these types of interventions removed the motivation to work hard, which is always necessary for true success in anything.

Instead, the way to bolster achievement is to nurture a form of self-confidence called “self-efficacy.” This is the belief that you can succeed in a specific situation or accomplish a particular task if you set your mind to it—you can finish that novel, self-publish your book, recover from that scathing critique, or create a successful launch.

“You need to believe that you can go out and do something but that’s not the same as thinking that you’re great,” Twenge says. She suggests you picture a swimmer attempting to learn a new skill, like turning quickly. Self-efficacy means the person believes she can obtain that skill if she works hard enough. Self-esteem is the belief that she’s a great swimmer, regardless of whether she learns the skill or not.

Self-efficacy is the type of confidence we need as writers.

Why Writers Need Self-Confidence

Self-efficacy (or self-confidence) effects a number of things that determine whether or not we reach our goals, including one super important thing—how well we learn.

Learning is a huge part of a writing career. Not only are we continually learning how to improve our skills as writers, but we’re also learning about publishing, self-publishing, marketing, building a platform, and more. With each change in the industry or new technological wonder, we have to go back to being students, just to keep up.

Self-efficacy also determines how well we respond to the inevitable difficulties that crop up. In their findings, Tuckman and Sexton (1992) suggested that participants with higher self-efficacy were better at searching for solutions to problems and were more persistent when working on difficult tasks—qualities that writers definitely need. People with low self-efficacy, on the other hand, were more likely to give up more easily.

Albert Bandura, psychologist at Stanford University, wrote in a paper on self-efficacy: “Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave.”

Note the huge implications there – self-efficacy effects how we:

  • think,
  • feel,
  • motivate ourselves, and
  • behave!

And isn’t that everything that’s involved in writing? If any of these things are off, don’t we falter in reaching our goals?

Says bestselling author and speaker Margie Warrell, “It’s been long established that the beliefs we hold—true or otherwise—direct our actions and shape our lives. The good news is that new research into neural plasticity reveals that we can literally rewire our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior at any age.”

That means if you don’t feel this type of self-confidence when facing the page, or considering any other move in your career, you can change that.

5 Ways to Boost Your Writer’s Self-Confidence

There are several practical, realistic ways you can boost your writer’s confidence. (Find more in the free report, below.) Here are five ways to get started.

  1. Don’t Give Up On Yourself

As noted above, those with low self-efficacy give up quickly, while those with high self-efficacy—or self-confidence—continue to work to find solutions. We often put limits on ourselves in terms of how much we can learn—when things don’t go well the first time, we tend to think it’s hopeless.

“[The learning curve] is really steep initially,” says professor and study author Darron Billeter. “There’s some pain associated with it, but we’re actually improving. You’re going to be better than you think you are and are going to learn it quicker than you think you are.”

Here’s where you need to be your own best cheerleader. Tell yourself you can do it, and keep trying.

Here’s another tip: talk to yourself in the third person. Research has shown that you can motivate yourself better that way!

For example: “Eileen, you can finish this novel. Just keep going.” Or, “Adam, just because your first self-publishing attempt didn’t turn out as you hoped, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it better this time.”

  1. Remember that Actions Lead to Results

Too often we think we’re just supposed to “believe in ourselves,” but in truth, it’s when we take clear, concrete action that we boost self-confidence.

Typically when you start anything new—whether that be writing, publishing, or some other related activity—you’re likely to feel unsure about it. Your confidence may be low, and your fear may be high. The important thing is to act anyway. The moment you do, your energy and motivation will increase, which will help you keep going.

Then, with every action you take, your skills will increase. You’ll learn something, and that learning will boost your confidence. So don’t let fear stand in your way—just do it!

  1. Be Realistic About Your Abilities

True self-confidence stems from knowing exactly what your skills are, so you can take steps to improve them.

“Exceptional achievers always experience low levels of confidence and self-confidence,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, “but they train hard and practice continually until they reach an acceptable level of competence.”

For a writer, that means getting those critiques, working with an editor, and being open to improvement. Just be sure to guard your creative self when you’re going about these activities.

Your best approach: always get more than one critique. Submit to contests that supply more than one, or ask two editors to give you a sample edit. That way you can compare and contrast the feedback, ignore the subjective comments, and work on those all the critiques have in common.

  1. Imagine Yourself Successful

This is a type of meditation in which you imagine yourself going through all the steps you need to go through to succeed, and eventually succeeding.

Keep in mind—this isn’t simply imagining yourself with your published book in your hands, or your sales numbers rising. It’s imagining the process you’re going to go through and the hoped-for outcome. Imagining each step puts your unconscious mind to work at making sure you follow through on those steps.

If you want to increase those sales numbers, for instance, imagine each task you’re going to complete to reach more readers.

“If you can’t imagine yourself being successful,” says Hendrie Weisinger Ph.D., “confidence will be hard to come by. Confident people have a history of having playful positive visualizations of themselves in all sorts of moments.”

  1. See Failures as Successes

So your agent wasn’t able to sell your first book. You can look at that as a failure, or you can reframe your view of the event—thus, boosting your self-confidence.

According to the authors of the book, Learning, Remembering, Believing: “If one has repeatedly viewed these experiences as successes, self-confidence will increase; if these experiences were viewed as failures, self-confidence will decrease.”

How can you view what seems to be a failure as a success? Write down everything you learned, including the skills you gained, and realize that even if it didn’t turn out as you hoped, you still pocketed the experience. That means you are, essentially, “more experienced” than you were before, and your next attempt will likely benefit from that experience.

By the way, the more difficult the experience was—writing a novel, publishing a book, launching a book, etc.—the more it may boost your confidence. “The influence that performance experiences have on perceived self-confidence also depends on the perceived difficulty of the task,” the authors wrote, as well as on “the effort expended.”

Stay Confident In Your Ability to Improve

In closing, remember this: you can always learn more and improve your skills, no matter what. Have confidence in that.

“There will always be people smarter, there will always be people richer, there will always be people more competent,” says psychologist Audrey Brodt. “The issue is self-improvement, and that will come if you apply yourself and persevere.”

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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The Winning Edge That Moves Any Writer to Center Stage

Are you a writer who yearns for a shot at the big time?

Do you dream of being in the spotlight – adored by a crowd of raving fans?

Are you looking for that one magic bullet that will make these dreams come true?

Friend, you’ve come to the right place.

But My Dream Seems So Out of Reach

It’s not an impossible dream. After all, aren’t others doing what you want to do?

So how did they start doing it? Does fortune favor the few and overlook the rest of us?

A friend gave me Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way for Christmas. Since I’m a writer, I got lots of books for Christmas. A few weeks ago, I started reading it and this quote leaped off the page, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go.

All too often, it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage.

Think about that for a minute.

Let that sink in deeply.

Audacity.

That’s the secret sauce!

I often wondered how someone like Bruce Springsteen became so popular. I mean, his voice is not the greatest by far. It does have emotion infused into it, though. And the things he sings about are things many people resonate with.

Beyond all that, he had the audacity to believe he would make it big one day.

Why You’re Not Audacious

You might be saying to yourself, “That’s a great idea. I love it. But how do I do it? How can I be audacious? Where do I start? And how do I know if I’m being audacious or just stupid?”

Excellent question.

First, let’s see what’s holding you back.

You don’t know what to do.

When something goes wrong with my car, I’m like a traveler without a map. I have my suspicions as to what the problem is, but until I get in there and fix it, I really don’t know.

Since I’m not mechanically inclined, it’s less expensive to let someone who knows what they’re doing fix it.

That doesn’t mean I can’t learn how the car works.

You know what to do, but you aren’t doing it.

You know if you want to live a healthy life, you need to exercise. But since you don’t like running or lifting weights, you don’t do anything.

You know that if you want to get the word out about your work, you’ve got to write on popular blogs. But you’re afraid they won’t say yes, so you hold back. You could take courses which teach you exactly how to get attention for your work or become a better writer, like Bryan’s Writer’s Toolbox, but then what excuse would we have?

We can plan forever to take the world by storm, but until we do something about it, the world will remain unchanged.

You don’t do enough of what you need to do.

I understand this challenge. I work a full-time job that keeps me away from home as much as 75 hours a week. I write every day but I can’t always finish what I start in the same day. That’s discouraging, so I look at it as building something bigger rather than an all-or-nothing must-do task.

Getting attention is a huge task. It can seem like eating an elephant the way a snake eats a rat. You want to swallow it whole but there is no way in the universe your jaws will open that wide.

After you read this post, you’ll know 7 powerful strategies that will radically multiply your effectiveness as an audacious writer.

Ready to dive in?

Act as if your crazy ideas are possible.

The world of imagination has no limits.

I spent a lot of time with my imagination growing up. I could kill evil wizards with only my human powers. I could enter the deepest caves and find all the biggest treasures in  the universe, despite the efforts of a million enemies I had to fight along the way. I could rescue the most beautiful girl I could imagine and she’d be forever grateful.

The real world wasn’t quite so exciting.

But what if it was?

What if you could vividly imagine yourself winning the big award, getting the national byline, and writing this year’s breakout bestseller?

If you’ll take 30 minutes every day to think deeply about this, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Your mind is a lot like a director making a blockbuster movie. Much of what you can see there is possible in reality. The more detail you can see, feel, and experience, the more likely you’ll be able to make it real where it matters.

Maybe your ideas aren’t that crazy after all.

Talk about your ideas with people you trust.

When my wife and I were dating, we talked for an hour and a half about what our wedding would look like.

We were just doing it for fun. We had only been dating for three months. And honestly, it was too early to tell if we’d really go through with it.

But ten minutes turned into twenty, and then an hour. We talked about how the church would look, what her dress would look like, and how many groomsmen and bridesmaids we’d have. We even picked who we would ask to sing and what songs they would sing.

9 months later, we got married. And every detail matched what we talked about.

Find a friend you can trust and share your dreams. Go in deep about how it will all work, what you want to accomplish, and what problems you’ll face – and overcome. Leave no detail unspoken about.

I guarantee this technique will make your dream come true. Any dream.

Do ten times more than you think you should.

Love to write?

Post every day if you can. At least fill your journal with words every morning and every night.

Share your blog post on social media ten times this month.

Make ten pitches to the biggest blogs in your niche.

Come up with ten ideas for blog posts, books, or courses.

Write ten minutes  longer than you planned to tonight.

When you do more of  what you know you should, great things can happen. People will pay attention. Your books will sell. And you’ll be a far better writer by doing more of it.

Focus more on audacity than talent.

Talent will come by doing.

Growth comes by being audacious.

Go ahead and take that risk that thrills you, scares you, and makes you wake up at night with a cold sweat. Chase that big idea that can change people’s lives for the better. Dare to say what needs to be said – and accept the consequences.

Some may criticize you for it. Every strong stand brings out the haters. Don’t worry too much about it.

Others will cheer.

That’s who you’re writing for – the people who want and need to hear your message. This is your calling. If you don’t follow it, those people will miss out forever.

Can you live with that?

I hope not.

Shout out your truth – and do it proudly.

Be willing to fail until you succeed.

Am I saying you should just act crazy and not worry about the outcome?

Not exactly.

What I am saying is you should show the world the real you. Not the fake you that hides her genius or tones it down for fear of looking like a braggart. Not the fake you that you parade in front of others so they’ll leave you alone. Show us your authentic self – full of passion, ready to love others, and with a world of value to offer.

That you.

Show us the person you are when you’re hanging out with friends and throw off your inhibitions. Tell us your best stories, your most powerful lessons, and your deepest insights.

If you fail being yourself, so what? Learn from it. Refine your message a bit. Chances are you just haven’t found your ideal audience yet.

Keep on trucking.  You’re here for a reason. Don’t rest until you find it.

Then you’ll succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

Treat other artists as peers.

Are you afraid to approach someone who’s had more success than you?

Don’t be.

You’ll find many of them are surprised at the level of success they’ve attained. Some will gladly share what they know with you if you ask.

The key to getting any successful person to talk with you is to approach them as a peer. Your talent has value, so act like it. You’re not a pauper asking for crumbs under the king’s table. Be bold and make your request quickly, confidently, and with full assurance that you’ve got a decent shot at getting a yes.

Maybe you will!

Trust your calling.

I’ve said this again and again. You have a reason for being here.

Maybe you don’t feel like you do.

That’s because you haven’t discovered it yet. No human being is a waste. Sure, we can make bad choices and waste our humanity, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

You’ve got something valuable to share. Somebody needs what you have to give.

Don’t withhold your gift just because it’s not for everybody.

Write from your heart. Be vulnerable. Connect your story with someone else’s by sharing it. Your calling is your responsibility, your obligation to those you’re made to serve.

So serve it up with joy and reckless abandon. The right people will find you at the right time.

I guarantee it.

Now Go Be Audacious

What will you do this week that you know you should but still fills you with fear?

Pick one of these strategies and commit to do it all week. Ask a friend to hold you accountable. Become a better writer, audacious and unstoppable.

Share your commitment in the comments if you dare. We’d love to hear your story and cheer you on!

By Frank McKinley
Source: positivewriter.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

How to Write in a Conversational Style That Will Connect with Your Readers

The other day, I was checking my email when I came across a suspicious looking message. It began with the line, “Dear Sir/Madam”.

The first paragraph read,

Please pardon me if I intrude into your privacy, and may I humbly solicit your confidence in this transaction. I came to know about you in my private search for a reliable and reputable foreigner to handle this confidential transaction.

Wow, that writing sounds like something straight out of a Dickens novel. I quickly clicked delete, suspecting that this was a phishing scam.

You’ve probably received emails like this too. And maybe you’ve also chuckled at their standoffish, overly formal tone. It seems to be a trademark of these types of spam emails.

However, not too long ago, no one would have laughed at that style of writing. It’s the style most people would have used if they wanted to come across as polite and professional.

In fact, your English teacher probably taught you a similar academic style when you were in school. Flowery language. Long paragraphs. Precise grammar. No contractions.

And then came the Internet. Over time, everyone from bloggers to big corporations realized that a conversational style of writing is a much more powerful way to engage and connect with your audience.

Formal writing hides your personality and can make your audience doubt your sincerity. It sometimes comes across as pretentious and is also plain difficult to read.

If you want to connect with your readers and get them to trust you, talk to them as you would to a good friend.

Kurt Vonnegut once observed,

The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child…I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.

The good news is that writing in a conversational style can be a lot of fun. The bad news is that sometimes it can be difficult to unlearn the style you were taught in school.

That’s why in today’s post I’m sharing with you my 8-step checklist to conversational writing.

It’s the same checklist I use to make sure my writing sounds like I’m having a conversation with a friend at the local coffee shop, not like I’m delivering a college lecture or trying to scam my readers out of their life savings.

You can use this checklist when you’re writing a blog post, an email, copy for your website, or, really, anytime you want your writing to resonate with your readers.

The 8-Step Checklist to Writing Conversationally

1. Write to a single reader

The first step to making your writing sound more conversational is to imagine you are writing to a single reader, a close friend, not to a crowd of people.

Compare, for example, the difference between these two sentences:

  1. “For those of you who are interested, you can learn more details here.”
  2. “If you’re interested in learning more, you can get all of the details here.”

It’s only a subtle change, but the second sentence sounds much more personal and friendly than the first one.

I learned this tip from John Steinbeck who advised,

I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

And, yes, that means to never open an email with the words “Dear Sir/Madam”. 😉

Bonus tip:  Think really hard about who your audience is. What are their hopes and fears? What do they struggle with? What kind of jokes or cultural references would make them laugh? After all, you’d probably talk differently if you were having a friendly conversation with a group of retirees at a resort than with a group of young startup founders at a conference.

2. Use the words “You”, “We”, and “I”

Since you’re addressing your reader as an individual, you should use the personal pronoun “you” as much as possible and also refer to yourself as “I”.

Usually, it’s obvious where you can use these personal pronouns. But sometimes it’s a little more difficult to spot.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you wrote a sentence like this, “Often people find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

You could make this statement more compelling by bringing the reader right into the sentence: “Often you might find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

Words like “might” or “probably” can help you qualify the statement so you don’t come across as preachy or lecturing.

In fact, depending on the context of the paragraph, you might want to include yourself along with the reader in the sentence: “Sometimes we might find it difficult to move forward in situations like these.”

This makes you sound even more like a friend to your reader.

3. Eliminate passive sentences

Passive sentences are one of those tell-tale signs of academic and technical writing. If your high school grammar is a little rusty, you can read a quick review of passive sentences here.

Essentially, in a passive sentence, the subject receives the action rather than performing it.

For example, politicians and business executives like to use the passive voice when they want to avoid claiming responsibility for a mistake. They might write, “Mistakes were made.”

It’s a neat little trick because this sentence avoids taking responsibility by failing to tell us who made the mistakes.

Note that you can’t fix a passive sentence by tacking the subject onto the end. “Mistakes were made by all of us” is still passive.

So how to fix it?

Just write, “We all made mistakes.” Now the sentence is active.

If you have a WordPress blog, I highly recommend installing the Yoast SEO plugin. It will point out your passive sentences when you write your posts. If you’re not writing on a WordPress blog, you can use the Hemingway App.

4. Use as many contractions as you can

If you’ve ever wondered what English would sound like if we talked without contractions, check out the film adaptation of True Grit starring Jeff Bridges (Amazon affiliate link). The movie is set in the Old West, and most of the time the characters avoid using contractions when they speak.

It sounds unusual to say the very least. Just imagine if you tried to go a whole day without using a contraction when you spoke. Yup, it would probably be quite difficult.

So if we want our writing to sound like everyday speech and not as if we’re stuck in the Old West, we should use words like “you’re” and “I’m”.

Even if you’re already using contractions in your writing, it’s a good exercise to run through your article one more time to see if there are any more you can add.

5. Engage your readers with rhetorical questions

Imagine you’re talking with a friend. You probably look for cues that they’re listening to what you’re saying. Maybe they nod their head or murmur an approving “mmhmmm”. You might even try to get an immediate response from them by asking a question like, “Don’t you agree?”

When used correctly, questions are a fantastic way to draw your readers into your writing too.

First, don’t go overboard when you use them or your reader might feel like they’ve been hauled into an interrogation. Second, try to avoid lazy, open-ended questions. For example, if you’re writing a recipe post and ask, “Who likes spaghetti and meatballs?”, your reader can sarcastically answer, “I don’t.”

Instead, ask rhetorical questions that have an obvious ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Here’s an example: “Wouldn’t you love it if you got home after a long day at work and there was a warm, home-cooked meal waiting for you?”

One of my favorite ways to turn a sentence into a question is to just add “right?” onto the end. For example: “No one likes waiting in line for hours at the DMV, right?”

6. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short

Long blocks of text are intimidating to read, especially if you’re reading on a mobile device. I try to write paragraphs that are no more than three to four sentences long.

And, hey, that’s usually the way we talk too. Ever heard someone who just talks and talks, never letting you get a word in edgewise, and never taking a breath? It’s exhausting listening to a person like that.

Look through your writing to see if there are any long-winded sentences that you can shorten or divide into two sentences. Are there any long paragraphs that you can separate into multiple paragraphs?

In conversational writing, it’s okay to break grammar rules occasionally. Sometimes sentence fragments can give your writing an added punch.

7. Choose your words carefully

As an extension of tip #6, try to make your sentences as simple and clear as possible by carefully choosing your words.

For example, instead of padding your sentences with extra words like “by examination of the following situations we see that…” you could just write, “The following situations show…”

In his Six Rules for Writing, George Orwell observes,

Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out…Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Additionally, depending on your audience, you can use popular slang to make your writing sound “on fleek”. Yeah, you do need to be careful with that one. It might make your readers roll their eyes.

Remember that the goal is to mimic your voice, not a random teenager’s. Think about what phrases or slang expressions you use when talking with friends or that your audience uses.

Bonus Tip: You can use the Yoast SEO pluginthe Hemingway App, or Readable.io to check your writing’s readability score. A readability score tells you roughly what level of education someone would need in order to read your piece of text easily. A lower level will be more conversational compared to a higher level that would be understood only by graduate students.

Read my post here for more tips: How to Edit Your Writing: An Effective 7-Step Process

8. Become a storyteller

When we talk with our friends, we share stories about our personal lives. Even something as mundane as missing a subway connection can become a story that makes us laugh together.

Sharing personal stories in our writing helps us connect with our readers and show them there’s a human behind the screen. In the digital age, human connections are more valued than ever. That’s why sites like Humans of New York are so popular.

When you use stories in your own writing, make sure that you hone in on a theme that elevates your story from being just about you. A universal and uplifting theme will make it relevant to your readers as well. Show them how the story can apply to their own lives.

I’ve written more about how to tell powerful stories here: 8 Tips from The Memoir Project That Will Make You a Powerful Storyteller

And I recently wrote this post about how you can use stories to illustrate complex and abstract concepts in your writing: The Two Magic Words That Will Strengthen Your Writing

The Takeaway: Inject Personality Into Your Writing

The novelist Elmore Leonard once noted,

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

That’s a good rule of thumb to follow as you edit your article to try to make it sound more conversational. I recommend reading it out loud since you’ll quickly be able to see if there are any sentences that sound unnatural and stilted.

Are you using words that you’d never use if you were talking to your friends? Are there any places where you can include a bit of humor or a story? A funny gif?

Or maybe you can drop some pop cultural references?

For example, all of your friends might know you stayed up late watching the Olympics last week  — why not let your readers know that too? (Well, actually, the men’s curling gold medal match was on way too late even for this night owl, and I had to DVR it to watch the next day. 😉 ).

The bottom line: have fun with it, let your personality shine through, and try to sound like your readers’ best friend.

By
Source: nicolebianchi.com

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The Two Scenes in Your Novel That Will Need the Most Rewriting

Novels are tricky. There’s so much to juggle that no-one gets it quite right the first time round … and most authors end up doing wholesale rewrites, rather than just making a few editorial tweaks.

I’ve come to accept that rewriting is just part of the process of creating a novel. Each time I start work on a new book, I want to be a more efficient writer – and while I have found some things easier, I still end up doing a lot of rewriting and reworking.

Maybe it’s the same way for you.

Whether you’re working on your first draft of your first novel, or you’ve completed a bunch of novels already, there are two scenes that you’re likely to spend a lot of time rewriting:

  • The opening of your novel
  • The climax of your novel

However hard you worked in the first draft, and however much you planned, these are just really difficult scenes to pull off well.

But the good news is – even if your first draft doesn’t quite hang together in these key areas, rewrites can fix anything!

Why Your Opening Scene (Probably) Needs Rewriting

The first scene of your novel needs to do a lot of heavy lifting. It has to get the story going – no mean feat! – and it has to establish your main character(s). At the same time, it needs to set the tone for what’s to come and it has to “hook” your reader.

Plus, unless you draft your book patchwork-quilt style, working on scenes here and there and stitching them all together at the end, the opening scene is probably the very first thing you wrote when you began your first draft. Chances are, your ideas have shifted a bit (or a lot!) since then.

The first scene of my novel Lycopolis went through about a dozen rewrites. I had several completely different versions of that scene – in the very first draft, for instance, I went with an omniscient perspective dipping in and out of all my different characters’ viewpoints. It soon became clear that this wasn’t going to mesh well with the limited close third-person perspective I ended up using for the rest of the novel!

If the current draft of your opening scene isn’t quite working, you might want to ask yourself:

  • Have I started this novel at the right moment? Would it be better to skip the preamble and jump straight into the action? (Or, conversely, do you need to backtrack and start a little earlier?)
  • Does this scene introduce my main character(s)? If not, is there a good reason – or would it be better to start with them?
  • Is there a “hook” in this scene … something that would capture readers’ interest and keep them turning the pages? (It doesn’t need to be something huge and dramatic, unless your genre requires that!)
  • Does this scene fit well with the rest of my novel? You could write a brilliant first three pages for a competition or an agent … but if they seem to belong to a different book altogether, they’re not going to get you far!

Why the Climax of Your Novel (Probably) Needs Rewriting

The climax of the novel is the high point of tension/action where everything comes together. Your protagonist, after the greatest trial yet, finally wins what they were after all along. (Or, in a less happier novel, your protagonist finally fails irrevocably.)

The climax, like the opening, needs to do a huge amount of work. It has to pull together lots of different threads from your novel, and potentially quite a few different characters. In many novels, your hero has to face what seem like insurmountable odds … and s/he needs to triumph regardless. But that triumph must be earned, and convincing.

Invariably, I find that the first time I draft this scene in my novels, it falls a little flat. The action isn’t dramatic enough. The very real possibility of danger isn’t potent enough. The characters don’t struggle enough. With each rewrite, the climax involves more tension, danger and drama.

Occasionally, after the first draft, I find I’ve changed my mind about how it should all end. This happened with my second novel, Oblivion, which took a long time (my kids were both born along the way!) and where I realised that I wanted the novel to end quite differently from how I’d originally planned.

If the climax of your novel isn’t quite coming together, you might want to ask yourself:

  • Is my protagonist struggling (and even suffering) as much as they should here? How could I make this harder for them?
  • What price does my protagonist pay for success? If they haven’t already sacrificed something to get to this point, maybe that should happen during the climax.
  • Have I tied up various loose ends from the novel? (It might well be fine to address some of these after the climax, in the final pages of the novel – but be careful it doesn’t end up dragging on too long.)
  • Does the victory come because of the protagonist’s actions? Be careful if not: if someone else steps in to save the day, or if the protagonist wins through a stroke of luck or an act of God, the climax might feel unsatisfying to you readers.

If you find yourself rewriting your opening scene and the climax of your novel multiple times, don’t be surprised or dismayed – it’s perfectly normal to end up reworking these a lot. Other scenes in your novel might need much less attention, because they’re neither so complex nor so crucial.

With my own novels, I’ve definitely had times when I felt like I would never get these scenes finished to my satisfaction. Eventually I did! If you’re at that stage right now, hang on in there – take a break or get someone else’s input if you can, and then get back to the rewrites. Good luck!

By Ali
Source: aliventures.com

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How to Stay Motivated When You’re Not Making Progress

Writer’s block is real. Every writer, at one point or another, has experienced this debilitating inability to make any real progress in his or her work.

Note: This is a guest post by Jordan Conrad, he’s the founder and publisher of WritingExplained.org. With free articles on English usage and basic grammar, Writing Explained is an essential resource for editors, freelancers, and authors alike. Connect with Jordan on Twitter at @Writing_Class.

Like a 17th century galleon in the equatorial doldrums, we endure a bout of creative stillness, when productivity starves to death in a windless mental seascape where nothing is visible on any horizon.

Well, maybe that’s a little melodramatic. Nevertheless, a lack of progress can be discouraging for anyone, and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the motivation needed to complete a long project.

If you’re not feeling motivated, it’s not a reflection of your abilities as a writer. Creativity can seem to ebb and flow according to its own schedule, and we all have to find a way to cope with the slow periods in anticipation of the next big spark.

What to Do When Progress Eludes You

Let’s take a look at a few ways to deal with writer’s block. Whenever I feel less than inspired, I start here.

I hope you can use these same strategies to stay motivated in your own writing when it seems as if you aren’t making any progress.

Strategies for Staying Motivated

Take it one day at a time.

Try to write every day, even if it’s only a small amount. It doesn’t have to be your best work—you can always go back and revise it later.

Sometimes it only takes one tiny, unexpected breakthrough to get back on track. These breakthroughs will come much easier if you’re actively writing.

Remember that progress is a relative term.

You don’t have to write an entire book in a single day. Progress can be measured in small amounts.

Even if you only write a few words or sentences, you are still making progress. Those are sentences that you hadn’t written at the beginning of the day, so even if it’s only a little bit, you’re that much closer to being finished.

Set manageable goals.

Too often, writers get bogged down by word counts and page numbers. If you wanted to be at 3,000 words and you’re only at 750, those last 2,250 probably aren’t all going to come at once.

Likewise, the page number indicator at the bottom of your word processor window can sometimes do more harm than good. If your page count is far behind where you expected, it might be better not to look at it—or to find a way to turn it off.

You can’t finish an entire project in one sitting, so set small goals for yourself. You’ll get a confidence boost when you achieve them, and that little boost can keep you motivated to reach your next goal.

Try writing 500 words instead of 5,000, or a single page instead of ten.

Try working on something else for a while.

This works best if you, like many writers (including this author), always have multiple projects running at the same time.

Stuck on one project? There are probably five or ten more that could use your attention. Pick one you’re excited about and work on that one for a while. That should get your creative juices flowing again, and you might be able to transfer that excitement back over to the one that has you at a standstill.

The new project doesn’t even have to be in the same medium. Are you also a photographer, a musician, or a maker in addition to being a writer? Take a break from writing and shoot some portraits, or learn a new song, or 3D print something.

Take a break and do something fun.

Your brain is like a muscle—if you strain it for too long, you will use up your cognitive resources. It’s important to take breaks every so often to give your mind a chance to recharge and rebalance.

Try doing something you enjoy, even if it’s not productive. If you enjoy video games, devote half an hour to one of your favorites to reward yourself.

Breaks can quickly become distractions, though, so set strict time limits and stick to them.

You can combine this technique with setting manageable goals to build a contingent reward system that will keep you motivated. Alternate periods of productivity with enjoyable activities, so that you make progress without wearing yourself out. Like a carrot on a stick, contingent rewards can help you boost your productivity without burning out and getting discouraged.

End Note

There are times in every writer’s life where progress seems to come only in short fits and spurts, and projects come grinding to an unexpected halt. This is part of the natural creative cycle for many writers, and it’s usually just a matter of time before the juices start flowing again.

Still, a lack of progress is never enjoyable, and there are strategies you can use to stay motivated when your work isn’t going how you planned.

The above are all strategies I use personally, but there are many more out there. Don’t be discouraged if progress eludes you—if you’re patient for long enough and keep these tips in mind, it’s only a matter of time before you’re up and writing again.

By Bryan Hutchinson
Source: positivewriter.com

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