Writing Advice

Writing Your Way to Happiness

23 January 2015

From The New York Times:

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.

The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.

. . . .

In one of the earliest studies on personal story editing, researchers gathered 40 college freshman at Duke University who were struggling academically. Not only were they worried about grades, but they questioned whether they were intellectual equals to other students at their school.

The students were divided into intervention groups and control groups. Students in the intervention group were given information showing that it is common for students to struggle in their freshman year. They watched videos of junior and senior college students who talked about how their own grades had improved as they adjusted to college.

The goal was to prompt these students to edit their own narratives about college. Rather than thinking they weren’t cut out for college, they were encouraged to think that they just needed more time to adjust.

The intervention results, published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, were startling. In the short term, the students who had undergone the story-changing intervention got better grades on a sample test. But the long-term results were the most impressive.

Students who had been prompted to change their personal stories improved their grade-point averages and were less likely to drop out over the next year than the students who received no information. In the control group, which had received no advice about grades, 20 percent of the students had dropped out within a year. But in the intervention group, only 1 student — or just 5 percent — dropped out.

. . . .

Much of the work on expressive writing has been led by James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. In one of his experiments, college students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day about an important personal issue or superficial topics. Afterward, the students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center.

“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said Dr. Pennebaker. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The Philosophy of Being a Hack

22 January 2015

From author Russell Blake:

Early into my career I decided that I was going to write a lot. As in, seemingly impossible amounts, as my differentiator.

The reason I decided on that strategy, which many novelists believe is one that can only produce dross, is that when I looked at past generations of writers whom I admired as being particularly skilled, most of them came out of journalism. Why is that important?

Because journalists are always writing. That’s what they do. Before television taught entire generations to stare mindlessly at a screen, people read, and that required a lot of written content creation. Enter journalists, who produced much of it.

Writers in the old day became proficient at writing because they wrote a tremendous amount. They got lots of practice. And practicing, they improved.

I’ve been averaging about a novel every five weeks since I started self-publishing 37 months ago.

. . . .

Somewhere along the way the popular wisdom changed. The speed with which a publishing house could comfortably schedule a print run and a promotional push, which happened to be about once a year per author, defined the accepted speed with which a novel, and I mean a good novel, could be created. Any faster was crazy talk.

. . . .

Talent only takes you a little ways. It’s effort that takes you the rest of the distance.

. . . .

And a final observation: my average novel takes me between 150-200 hours for first draft. If you work 12-15 hour days and don’t screw around, you can quickly see that what might take someone who only has a productive hour or two per day will take a lot less time for someone willing and capable of working marathon hours. Now, I could divide those hours up and spread them across several months, but it wouldn’t make the draft any better. Same with second draft, which generally takes about 100 hours. I could make the whole process of creating a book take six months to a year, but the quality wouldn’t be any different, assuming I’m competent for sustained bursts. So the notion that the quickly produced novel is lacking somehow is actually based more on the limited ability to imagine serious application, than it is reality. Same number of hours. Just condensed into far fewer days. Or put another way, hyper-efficient use of time.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a business where there’s so much poor advice or lousy, limiting thinking than the writing business, nor so much misinformation. Good and commercially successful novels have been created in short time-frames for as long as there have been writers. Consider A Clockwork Orange, or The Running Man, or Mickey Spilane’s I, The Jury, A Study In Scarlet,Farenheit 451, Casino Royale, and on and on and on. To claim or believe that it can’t be done is akin to stubborn insistence that the earth is flat. Believe it at your peril – it’s your career, not mine.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Here’s a link to Russell Blake’s books

Avoiding Premature Publication

17 January 2015

From author Ann Warner via Romance University:

Forgoing the traditional imprimatur of agents or editors, authors who self-publish become the ones responsible for judging the quality of their work. The problem is that after passing through the creative maelstrom required to write a novel, the author’s judgment about the quality of their story is likely to be flawed.  Rightly or wrongly, the author may be convinced that her story is

A. So wonderful it would make Hemingway weep

B. So dreadful it’s not worth even a penny

C. Probably good enough

A and C are by far the most dangerous choices, because they are likely to result in premature publication.

On the other hand, if the conclusion is B, and the writer overcomes her discouragement, she may then begin to look for ways to improve the story.

I didn’t begin writing fiction until my mid-fifties, when my position as a director of a hospital toxicology laboratory ended abruptly with the closure of the laboratory. While trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life, I received a surprising nudge from my sub-conscious to try writing a story.

When I finished that story, it was, in my opinion, most definitely an A. Every one of its 125,000 words was perfect. Had self-publishing been a viable option at that time, I would have chosen it. Immediately.

But self-publishing wasn’t yet easy, something that was lucky for me, because the novel was most definitely not an A. I began to recognize its B status after a friend read the book (or perhaps only a few pages) and then brought me flowers and congratulated me profusely on writing it. Only later did I realize she’d said nothing about whether it was any good. I still feel an immense gratitude to her for so gently bumping me back to reality from my first novel infatuation daze.

. . . .

I talked a professor into letting me take a senior writing seminar in the MFA program at the university where I was a faculty member. Not necessarily a path I recommend.

I joined RWA and began attending my local chapter’s meetings and writing workshops.

I searched out other writers to serve as critic partners in person or on the internet.

I began querying agents and publishers and learned to cope with the subsequent deluge of rejection.

Most importantly, I started reading books and articles on writing craft, noting specific suggestions I could begin using as I started working on another novel.

. . . .

I gleaned a number of specific suggestions that I began applying during my revision process and while they may seem simplistic, I discovered they had a dramatic effect on the quality of my writing. They included:

Avoid overuse of names in dialogue: “Yes, Cassandra, I see the whale.” “Oh, I’m glad you do, Jonah.” “Of course, Cassandra, I’ll just move out of the— eughhhh!” Etc, etc.

Avoid dialogue tags like she screamed or he yelled in favor of the simple he said/she said and limit modifying adverbs (e.g. she said coaxingly, angrily etc.). Instead “show” these attributes by writing robust dialogue.

. . . .

Storytelling, you see, is a right brain, creative activity. Whether it can be learned is an open question, but it can certainly be enhanced, and I have a two-fold recommendation to help with that enhancement.

First, teach yourself to pay attention to those flickers of inspiration presented to the conscious mind by the unconscious through dreams, daydreams, or random thoughts.  The trick is to catch those quick glints before they fade, and then make a note. Otherwise, they will fade, and you will forget. Guaranteed.

Link to the rest at Romance University

Here’s a link to Ann Warner’s books

The Productivity Hacks I Used To Write A 93,000-Word Book In 6 Weeks

15 January 2015

From Business Insider:

Last week I published my first book, “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!”

. . . .

I took book leave in May 2014 and I turned in my first draft in the middle of August 2014.

. . . .

The book is 93,000 words long, so I wrote, on average, 2,447 words a day.

This speed floors people, so I thought it might be useful to share some productivity hacks I discovered while I was writing.

I went to bed and got up at the same time every single day for the whole six weeks. I went to bed at 10:30 p.m. and got up at 6:30 a.m.

I had long, lazy mornings. After I woke up at 6:30, I would brew a cup of coffee, make breakfast (fruit-and-vegetable smoothie), and read Business Insider, The New York Times, and Twitter. I would lounge for as long as an hour. Then I would walk to a nearby park and meditate on a bench for 10 minutes. Then I’d walk home and start working.

. . . .

I caffeinated — for a while. At the beginning of the six weeks, it would take me three cups of coffee to get through the morning and a Red Bull to get through the afternoon. But after about two or three weeks I didn’t need the caffeine anymore. I went back to one cup in the morning with my news reading.

. . . .

I quit drinking. I love a good martini and will drink a bad one if you hand it to me. But during my book leave, I found that even having one drink in the evening would greatly slow me down the next morning. I couldn’t afford that, so I quit drinking. My sleep was better. My concentration sharper. Words flowed easier.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

How Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith Use Technology

15 January 2015

From Flavorwire:

Chapter 17: Margaret Atwood

At age sixteen, Atwood seemingly out of nowhere realized she wanted to be a writer, and with the decision made, she never looked back. The origin story is simple: One day while walking home from school, Atwood was struck with an idea. “I wrote a poem in my head and then I wrote it down, and after that writing was the only thing I wanted to do.” This also marked the moment that she became more high-minded about her reading, although to this day she still enjoys a good murder mystery in her down time.

. . . .

Atwood is steeped in classic literature, but she also appreciates more contemporary media. She sees the Internet not as the writer’s enemy, but simply as the next medium of expression in a line of them dating back to handwritten letters and the telegram. Atwood keeps a frequently updated website, created a stand-alone website to experiment with marketing and audience engagement for her novel The Year of the Flood, and for a while kept a blog on WordPress (not updated since 2012). “I particularly like Twitter,” she says of the platform on which she has almost half a million followers, “because it’s short and can be very funny and informative.”

Atwood has also shown an eagerness to experiment with her fiction online—“I always try everything,” she says. She wrote a short story for the digital-only publisher Byliner in 2012, then upon seeing its popularity agreed to continue the story, turning it into a serialized novel on that site. She incorporated feedback from published chapters into the direction of subsequent chapters. And—no surprise—she received much of that feedback via Twitter. She also collaborated with another author, Naomi Alderman, on a zombie novel called The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, distributed on the self-publishing app Wattpad.

. . . .

Chapter 18: Zadie Smith

Smith also attributes her slow progress in part to her habit of starting every working day by reading what she’s already written, editing as she goes, before adding new text to the novel. “It’s incredibly laborious,” she says, “and toward the end of a long novel it’s intolerable actually.”

The bright side of this approach is that when she reaches the end of the novel, she’s done with it: “If you edit as you go along, there are no first, second, third drafts. There is only one draft, and when it’s done, it’s done.” It’s an approach that a writer of a century ago wouldn’t recognize as physically possible—it’s an option only available to the writer in the age of the computer.

When she’s writing, Smith prefers a small room with little natural light, the blinds drawn to close out the daylight. Books are strewn across her desk. She generally does her best work in the afternoons. She makes great effort to restrict her access to the Internet during her writing hours. Smith, in fact, does not believe in the redeeming qualities of the Internet as it exists today (Web 2.0, social media, etc.).

On a personal level, she finds the Internet dangerously addictive. Smith joined Facebook and quickly quit it, horrified by its ability to eat up her time. “With Facebook hours, afternoons, entire days went by without my noticing,” she says of her time on it.

Link to the rest at Flavorwire


14 January 2015

From author Elle Casey:

When I first started writing three years ago, I put my publishing schedule together each year in January. But last year it didn’t work out so well. After several troll attacks that really had me questioning why I bothered to do some of the things I do, I took a step back from writing, from promoting, from pretty much everything involved in publishing books. As a result, I finished fewer novels than I had originally planned. It was a frustrating time for me, but with time came the ability to let it all go.

So now, I’m on a roll. I’ve figured out my publishing schedule through the end of 2015 already, and for the last 8 days, I’ve written over 6,000 words a day. It feels great. I guess the only thing getting in my way is that thing that distracts every writer. I call it … SQUIRREL!

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank page to a writer. Even for someone who’s prolific, a writing goal set for the day is an obstacle to get over. That’s where the squirrel comes in to make things even more difficult.

Today I was typing out my first paragraph of the day, and it crossed my mind that I hadn’t checked on the health of a friend of mine who had a fall off his bike. I thought I should probably stop writing for a minute and send him a text.


. . . .

The writer’s bane is a bunch of wild squirrels. The only way to manage them is to herd them into a little corner of the room and deal with  them after the word count is done.

Link to the rest at Elle Casey and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

Here’s a link to Elle Casey’s books

The Shapes of Stories

6 January 2015

Why We Write, Why We Stop, and How We Can Possibly Restart and Keep Going

5 January 2015

From author Julianna Baggott via Writer Unboxed:

I put out a call on Facebook a few days ago, asking writers who aren’t writing, why they aren’t writing.

. . . .

Most of the people wrote in saying that time was the issue. I’ve given a lot of advice in the past on creating time, on reserving your freshest brain cells for your own work (and committing to that), on reclaiming your muse time (down time while showering, gazing, waiting for kids to get out of practice, commuting) — I have a very specific speech for this alone.

But the fact is that when juggling the demands of a very, very busy life, sometimes there simply isn’t enough time. And the novel, in particular, is so architectural burdensome and, early-on, so ungainly that it’s very hard to work on it in small increments. This is why artist colonies exist and why some writing professors simply don’t write until summer hits.

. . . .

But what happens here is that the desire to write when you know you won’t really have the time and head space to do it is painful. It’s an ache. And sometimes the only way to make it not ache is to shut down your desire to write. Stop the wanting. If you practice this, however, this tamping out of the creative impulse, you’ll perfect it. And once shut off tight, it’s hard to open again. There’s been a breach of trust inside of yourself.

. . . .

Sometimes I can’t move forward because I have too many almost finished projects or fifth-draft disasters or it’s-so-close-but-this-bucket’s-got-a-hole novels on my desk. I try to head into something new, but I’m entangled by the complex pulley system of weighted failures (or near misses).

Should you go backward and rededicate yourself to finishing all of those projects? I’ll say this. One reason companies fire a CEO is that a new CEO will come in and clean-house on projects that have been draining resources (in our case the resource is time). The old CEOs sometimes can’t cut a project loose because they feel like they’ve already invested too much (both resources and personal investment) to let it go. (This is discussed in the book Thinking Fast and Slow, which wasn’t about writing.) But this is where the phrase about good-money-after-bad comes into play. In some cases, it’s better to stop pouring time into a novel that’s not working. It’s a drain on your resource of time.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed and thanks to Scott for the tip.

Here’s a link to Julianna Baggott’s books

25 Must-Read Tips on Plotting from Top Authors and Editors

22 December 2014

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Plot is story; story is plot. Without something happening, your characters aren’t pushed to grow and you can’t show their carefully crafted complexities.

With a well-formed plot, you pull in the reader with flawless tension handling, robust arcs, and vibrant themes.

. . . .

1. Structure is required in all of art. Dancing, painting, singing, you name it–all art forms require structure. Writing is no different. To bring a story to its full potential, authors must understand the form’s limitations, as well as put its many parts into proper order to achieve maximum effect.

K.M. Weiland, Structuring Your Novel

. . . .

5. The fix for most script problems is to give serious attention to the movement from one narrative moment to the next. The easiest way to understand what a narrative moment is, is to ask two questions: What does this action or this line of dialogue force the audience to question? How does that information relate to previous questions raised by the story?

Clive Davies-Frayne, Why I Don’t Read “How To” Screenwriting Articles Anymore

. . . .

7. Plotting with mini arcs can be a handy tool to break your novel into smaller, more manageable pieces that keep the story moving and the ideas coming.

Janice Hardy, Plot Your Novel With Mini Arcs
8. As you are working out the plot for your book (or, for you pantsers, as you are trying to figure out what happens next,) make a list of all the things that could happen next.

Kara Lennox, The Plot Fixer #8 – Is Your Plot Too Predictible?

9. Make coincidences add complications, not take them away.

Jami Gold, The Green Lantern Movie: How *Not* to Plot a Story

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Figures of Speech

22 December 2014

From Silva Rhetoricae:

Like wildflower seeds tossed on fertile ground, the figures of speech, sometimes called the “flowers of rhetoric” (flores rhetoricae), have multiplied into a garden of enormous variety over time. As the right frame of this web resource illustrates, the number of figures of speech can seem quite imposing. And indeed, the number, names, and groupings of figures have been the most variable aspect of rhetoric over its history.

. . . .

Schemes and tropes both have to do with using language in an unusual or “figured” way:

Trope: An artful deviation from the ordinary or principal signification of a word.Scheme: An artful deviation from the ordinary arrangement of words.


“I work like a slave” [trope: simile]

“I don’t know if I’m working my job or my job, me” [schemes: antimetabole, ellipsis, personification]

Categories of tropes and schemes.

Click on a category to see specific figures of speech, or proceed directly to the tropes page or the schemes pages to see them all. To see other organizational methods for the figures of speech, click here.

Kinds of Tropes

  1. Reference to One Thing as Another
  2. Wordplay and puns
  3. Substitutions
  4. Overstatement/Understatement
  5. Semantic Inversions

Kinds of Schemes

  1. Structures of Balance
  2. Change in Word Order
  3. Omission
  4. Repetition

Link to the rest at Silva Rhetoricae and thanks to Bridget for the tip.

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