Writing Advice

Traits of Successful Writers

18 April 2015

From author Bob Mayer:

A story is a living, active world you invent. Imagination is essential.

In some ways a story is like a chess game in that you have to be able to think half-a-dozen to a dozen steps ahead for all of your pieces (characters) while at the same time considering what the other guy might be doing (the limitations of your plot; the point of view chosen to present the story, etc.). You have to pick the successful moves and the correct strategic direction given a very large number of variables. But you are also limited by the personality of the characters you’ve invented—they have to act within the ‘character’ you have given them, much like each chess piece is capable of only a certain type of move. It’s your imagination that allows you to thread the proper path. And in most cases, there are numerous “all right” paths, but one stands out above the others as the “best” path and finding the “best” one is critical.

. . . .

As a writer you will start having dreams about your story and your characters. That’s your mind working even when you consciously aren’t. You will also run into writer’s block, which I believe, when real, is your subconscious telling you to hold until you realize in your conscious mind something important with regard to the story. This is where the “write what you feel” school of creative writing comes in. I believe what they are focusing on is this very thing: the power of the subconscious (90% vs. 10%). It is more than feeling though; it is a large part of your brain and the better you can get in touch with it and use it, the better your writing will be.

Link to the rest at Write on the River and thanks to Joanna for the tip.

Here’s a link to Bob Mayer’s books

‘They,’ the Singular Pronoun, Gets Popular

16 April 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Copy editors might seem like stick-in-the-mud traditionalists when it comes to language change, but when I attended the American Copy Editors Society’s annual conference in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, I found growing acceptance of a usage that has long been disparaged as downright ungrammatical: treating “they” as a singular pronoun.

According to standard grammar, “they” and its related forms can only agree with plural antecedents. But English sorely lacks a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun, and “they” has for centuries been pressed into service for that purpose, much to the grammarians’ chagrin. Now, it seems, those who have held the line against singular “they” may be easing their stance.

“They” most often turns singular in common usage when its antecedent is considered generic, not referring to a single known person. Nearly everyone would find that they can stomach the “they” in this very sentence, agreeing with “nearly everyone.”

Things get trickier when the antecedent of “they” more clearly refers to one person. Areader of this column may not like what they see in this sentence, for instance.

Still, there is no question that “they” is more idiomatic than clunky alternatives that include both genders, as in “he or she,” “he/she” or “(s)he.” All of those seek to replace “he” as a generic pronoun, which has been fading ever since the move toward nonsexist language in the 1970s.

. . . .

In Sweden, similar debates have led to increasing acceptance of the pronoun “hen,” which has been proposed since the 1960s as a gender-neutral alternative to “han” (“he”) and “hon” (“she”). The efforts of those pushing for “hen” will pay off next week, when it’s included among 13,000 new words in the Swedish Academy’s official dictionary.

Lind to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

How to Write A Novel In Eighteen Steps

15 April 2015

From author Cameron D. Garriepy:

  • Draft 50,000 words in two mad months. Convince self you are literary giant.
  • Lose focus, shelve draft for three years.
  • Discover the entire secondary plot is crap. Scrap it.
  • Rewrite over 18 months. 65,000 words of plausible nonsense.

. . . .

  • Decide to publish in six months. Actually tell people that.
  • Get solid notes from beta readers. Rewrite. 82,000 words.
  • Panic. How is the book getting LONGER?

. . . .

  • Read through proof in horror: So. Many. Wrongs.
  • Apply 463* sticky-note edits to proof.

Link to the rest at Cameron D. Garriepy and thanks to Shelton for the tip.

Here’s a link to Cameron D. Garriepy’s books

The secret to writing a novel a month

30 March 2015

From author Shantnu Tiwari, a TPV regular:

Ok folks, so this is Week 2 of Writing with Baby Challenge.

This week, I will give you the secret to writing a novel in one month (or in my case, 20 days). But let me warn you, there is no secret.

Writing with Baby Challenge, Week #2

So this week (over last 6 days) I wrote 5317 words. I’m hoping to average around a 1000 words a day. I use iDoneThis to track my word count- it’s pretty cool. You get an email everyday, and you reply to it saying how many words you typed. Saves the I forgot to note my wordcount excuse.

At this rate, will finish my current book in 2 months, which while slower than my previous pace of a book a month, is still faster than what, 90% of the writers out there.

. . . .

So what’s the secret to fast writing? It’s my secret sauce, which you can have for 6 monthly payments for $99.99!

The truth is, there is no secret. Sure, you can learn tricks like how to type faster. I can type 2000 words an hour (only when I’m in the middle of the book and in full flow). Before the baby, I was writing for an hour and a half a day (in 2 sittings), and easily typed 3-4000 words a day. Since I go for short novels (55-60k) words, that means a whole novel in 20 days.

. . . .

[Some authors] don’t trust their creative side. Their critical side, which is the side that has been trained in school to find fault with everything, to analyse and rip apart rather than build, is the part that takes over. The critical side is never happy with anything. No matter what you write, the critical side will find a fault with it (in the voice of your worst teacher).

If you want to write fast, there are no shortcuts. You just have to trust your creative side, and just damn type

Link to the rest at Shantnu Tiwari

Here’s a link to Shantnu Tiwari’s books

How Do You Find Time to Write?

27 March 2015

From author Jamie Todd Rubin:

From time-to-time, I get asked how I find the time to write. I supposed this is, in part, because of my consecutive-day writing streak (which now stands at 576 days). But I think part of it comes from the fact that I manage to write while working a full time job, while blogging, and while raising a family. The question comes in various forms but it all boils down to the same thing: how do you find time to write?

. . . .

When I started to write every day, nearly two years ago now1, the first thing I did was test my assumptions of what I needed to write.

With respect to time, I used to think that I needed a chunk of time–a minimum of, say, 1 hour, better yet 2 hours–to get any decent writing done. In the past, I’d tried to carve out an hour or two during the day to write. Usually it was very early in the morning, and while it worked for a time, it eventually failed. It fail for several reasons:

  1. I might be able to get up at 4 am a few day a week to get in some writing, but the long days wore on my, and eventually, I’d fail.
  2. When I did fail, I felt guilty for the rest of the day.
  3. Failure one day led to failure another day.

So the first thing I did in February 2013 was challenge my assumption about how much time I needed to write. I decided to experiment. My experiment was as follows:

  1. I would write every day, even if it was only for a few minutes.
  2. I would not schedule a specific time to write, but writing would be a priority for any spare time that I found.

This experiment required that I be able to write from anywhere, which is why, beginning in February 2013, I moved my entire writing infrastructure into Google Docs. Using Google Docs meant I could write from any device, wherever I happened to be. It meant I didn’t have to worry about moving files back and forth across devices. That meant I could spend what little time I had writing instead of copying files and managing versions.

. . . .

With my challenges to my assumptions, and my automated scripts and data collection, I started to write. I wrote every day. Sometimes I’d only write for 10 minutes. Other times, I’d find 3 hours to write. Sometimes I was exhausted, but wrote for 15 minutes anyway. Sometimes, I knew what I was writing was terrible, but that the practice was important, so I kept at it.

. . . .

Over the course of my 576 consecutive day writing streak, I’ve written over half a million words, and sold 11 stories or articles.

Link to the rest at Jamie Todd Rubin

Here’s a link to Jamie Todd Rubin’s books

Writing My Way to a New Self

25 March 2015

From The Opinionator Blog at The New York Times:

I stared at the head counselor with a mixture of defiance, annoyance and heartbreak. She had just informed me that she was demoting me. Gone was the prestige position of senior counselor for a group of 13-year-old girls, and in its place, a midlevel position as a co-counselor for a group of 11-year-olds.

“I just don’t understand it,” she said. “In your letter you seemed like a completely different person.”

Of course I’d been a different person in my letter. I’d been writing.

. . . .

“What happened to that girl who wrote the letter?” she asked.

She’s in here, I wanted to respond. But she only comes out when I’m writing. You thought you were hiring Writing Me. But instead what you got was Actual Me. Big mistake.

For many years after, I assumed all writers were like me, with a secret extroverted, passionate alter ego trapped inside an introverted person who kept to the corners of rooms. A decade later, as I lined up in a university hall on the first day of my M.F.A. program, I made small talk with the woman in front of me. We asked each other politely where we were from, and then I said, “This is like a roomful of people who would all rather be by themselves.”

She looked at me with a puzzled expression.

“You know,” I added. “Writers. We’d rather be writing. Not talking.”

“Oh,” she said, and then started to talk to the person on the other side of her.

It turned out that even in a building filled with writers, I was the quietest, shyest, most introverted of the bunch. I marveled at the writers I would meet, both in the program and in the years after, who were able to write and talk to people. How were they able to quietly observe the world around them while simultaneously participating in it?

. . . .

 That’s when I turned to email. Over the course of a decade, it had shifted from being a quirky way to contact someone before you picked up the phone to being the only way you contacted someone. Now, instead of having to call editors or sources, one could simply email them. And while on the phone I was awkward and stiff, in email I was my charming inner self. The phone meant talking, but email meant writing, and writing was something I could do.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Six Things I Learned While Writing My First Book

23 March 2015

From Lifehacker:

Writing a book will almost kill you. By the end, you’ll be exhausted, brain dead, and filled with a bubbling sense of anxiety. I recently finished up my first book, and here are a few takeaways from the ordeal that can be applied to pretty much any large scale project.

. . . .

Books are complicated things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical manual, non-fiction, or fiction, keeping track of everything requires a lot of effort, which is exactly why special software exists for helping you do that.

After trying out a bunch of different software, I settled on Ulysses (though Scrivener is excellentas well, as is Evernote) to get everything organized. Ulysses has an excellent exporter system where you can define how the formatting works, so it can easily be turned into a Word document with the specific formatting options a publisher needs (and they always want a specific format, regardless of the type of book).

. . . .

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what tool you use, but pick something before you start and stick with it. Be prepared for your notes, outlines, and everything else to become a cluttered, unreadable mess if you don’t create a system for dealing with them ahead of time.

. . . .

A schedule is great, but be prepared for everything you’re doing to take considerably longer than you think it will. This is especially the case at the beginning before you get into the flow of writing.

In my case, this was mostly about formatting. Learning what a formatting a publisher wants and digging through their style guide every other paragraph seriously slows you down. Until you get the hang of it, everything will take twice as long as it should.

Since my book’s a collection of Raspberry Pi projects, it also meant I had to actually make everything in the book, troubleshoot problems, and get projects working properly before I wrote anything. I didn’t think about this in my initial planning phase, and quickly realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough time. I had to redo my schedule completely to accommodate this.

. . . .

There’s a common adage with fiction that you should prepare to “kill your darlings”. It’s about deleting sentences or words you love for the greater good of your work. But it’s bigger than that. In reality, be prepared to kill off full paragraphs and chapters—I cut massive parts out before sending it off for editing.

And that’s just your own editing—your editor will cut even more. As I started getting notes back from my editor, I quickly realized how I couldn’t take any of those edits personally. Obviously a book about a Raspberry Pi is different than a work of fiction here, but the same basic premise remains: you will be ruthlessly edited. Accept it. I was so caught up in writing this book, I often wrote in a weird, privatized little language that was clearly a result of working too hard. By the end, I became the Raspberry Pi: small, low powered, and a bit closed off from the rest of the world. The later chapters made no sense, and the notes sent back to me are best summed up as, “what are you saying here?!”

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Prior to reading this post, PG hadn’t heard of Raspberry Pi. If you’re like PG, here’s a link: Raspberry Pi.

Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

20 March 2015

From author Harry Connolly via Black Gate:

Some writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

. . . .

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

In fact, I shouldn’t even be talking about it here.

. . . .

I’ve put off writing about my attack novel long enough. For this final blog tour entry, I want to talk about that book, why it was absolutely the wrong thing to write, and why it couldn’t be denied.

I can almost pinpoint the day that the attack novel hit me. I was finishing Game of Cages, my second book for Del Rey, when I began to think about protagonists and exposition characters in urban fantasy. They were all Buffy and Giles: young fighters and the knowledgeable elders who told the fighters what to do.

But why did it have to be that way? In the modern day, sensible people don’t solve their problems by strapping on plate armor and a broad sword. They use peaceful means. The law. Diplomacy. Compromise. And yet, ever urban fantasy novel I read — set in major cities around the world — was written as though the characters lived in a lawless world of might-makes-right.

“Only trust your fists. Police will never help you,” is the quote, right? For thriller narratives, it’s a fine thing,*** but did every urban fantasy have to be a thriller of some kind?

At the same time, I was coming across a lot of articles, interviews, and news stories about people treating older women as though they were invisible: actresses who could not find roles to play, wives whose husbands had finally made their fortunes turning them out in favor of trophy wives, and so on.

Taken together, those observations made me want to read an urban fantasy novel with an older female protagonist, a book where the character who knows what needs to be done doesn’t pass that information like a shopping list to a young character. I wanted a book where she does it herself.

Link to the rest at Black Gate and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Here’s a link to Harry Connolly’s books

Stephen King to share writing tips in new short story collection

18 March 2015

From The Guardian:

Stephen King is set to give his first major insights into the writing process since his acclaimed On Writing, in a new collection of short stories due out this winter.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, due to be published on 3 November, will bring together 20 short stories by King, a mix of new writing and work already collected in magazines. But it will also include an introduction to each story by the writer, in which he will provide “autobiographical comments on when, why and how he came to write it”, as well as “the origins and motivation of each story. His editor at Hodder & Stoughton, Philippa Pride, predicted the inclusion would “delight all his readers including those who love his insight into the craft of writing”. A mix of biography and tips on writing, On Writing was published 15 years ago, in 2000.

In the new collection, King writes of how “little by little, writers develop their own styles, each as unique as a fingerprint. Traces of the writers one reads in one’s formative years remain, but the rhythm of each writer’s thoughts – an expression of his or her very brain waves, I think – eventually becomes dominant.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

10 Things to Say to a Writer Who’s on the Ledge

15 March 2015

From author Edie Melson via Novel Rocket:

Writing often feels like a solitary pursuit. Truthfully, it’s the successful writers who know better than to try to go it alone. Writing in a vacuum is not a good idea—for a lot of reasons. It’s easy to lose perspective and either believe what you’re writing is perfect, or worse, that it’s junk. Having others who share the same struggles make us stronger.

Not to mention the fact that they can talk us down when we’re standing on a writing ledge.

. . . .

1. Success has nothing to do with perfection. So often we try to make our writing perfect. It’s fine to shoot for excellence, but perfect is never going to happen. Quit beating yourself up for not reaching it.

. . . .

4. Every writer’s journey is different. Writers are masters a comparison. We try to judge our own worth by what others have or have not accomplished. We need to look within, not without when measuring our success.

. . . .

7. Failure is an option. More often than not it’s also the shortest path to success. Learn from your mistakes, isn’t just a cliché, it’s a truth. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail, learn what you can and keep moving forward.

8.  Sometimes you have to write through the junk to get to the jewels. We all want our writing path to be a continuous, unbroken line of improvement. The truth is far from that. There will be days, weeks, and even months where it’s more of a two steps forward and three steps back.

Link to the rest at Novel Rocket

Here’s a link to Edie Melson’s books

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