Tag Archives: writing practice

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

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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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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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