Writing Advice

Writers on the pain of hindsight in publishing: ‘It’s like a bad breakup – you have to move on’

25 November 2015

From The Guardian:

My first book came out a year ago. It wasn’t a bestseller, and it wasn’t intended to be one. In Spite of Oceans: Migrant Voices is a quiet book of short stories based on real, everyday family lives. The stories are about how people deal with the messy stuff life throws at them; about relationships coming together, or unfolding, or crumpling under the tension of it all.

Over the course of the last year, I have started to feel out of sorts about the book. Several copies of it lie in my hallway cupboard, next to a box of old doorkeys, unintentionally kept over the years.

The problem is that I have had too much time to think about it – hindsight has got the better of me. I know the book is not awful, because it has been well-received and some objective readers have enjoyed it. But inside I feel it’s not brilliant – it’s not bad, it’s no big deal, it’s just OK. Which isn’t quite good enough. I keep thinking I could have done better, written better. If only this, if only that. Don’t we all feel that way when we’re striving to express something we care about?

They say hindsight is a wonderful thing. As a writer, however, it’s irritating, an itch in an awkward place. Hindsight does no favours for those who are naturally self-deprecating. Even though your work is already published, a writer can never quite draw a line and accept that something is finished. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied,” Zadie Smith wrote in her rules for writers. You self-indulgently edit and edit, tweak and tweak all the time in your head, and it’ll never, ever be perfect.

. . . .

Stephen King wrote: “I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write.” Self-doubt is heightened by procrastination. This kind of hindsight lodges itself in your mind like a relative who drops in uninvited and then stays far too long. How, then, to say enough is enough? How to tell hindsight to get the hell out? How to move on?

I asked seasoned writers for advice. I have learned that it’s OK to feel weird about your book, and that many writers are at odds with what they have written after it is published. But I also learned that you have to move on, because if you don’t it will consume you. In three words: get over it.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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Writing more than ten books in a series and staying fresh

23 November 2015

From author Toby Neal:

Staying fresh while writing more than ten books in a series has been an organic evolution for me. There have been two points when I thought I was done with Lei Crime Series. The first one was right after book 5, Twisted Vine, when I’d wrapped up all the subplots and had my main characters back together. I’d planned to end the series there…but I felt too sad at the thought of leaving them, and knew I wanted to see them grow together as a couple.

So I came up with a new subplot that took another four books to complete.

After Rip Tides, #9, I was once again pretty sure this particular vein of gold was played out. I’d explored the character development arc I’d set out to: the process of healing and overcoming child sexual abuse by one brave woman and the man courageous enough to love her through it. They’d vanquished their enemies and were setting up house and raising a family.

It was getting boring, as a happy, fulfilled life is meant to be. And boring just doesn’t work in the crime genre.

. . . .

Through all of this, I’ve dug up some applicable nuggets for anyone attempting to write a long series and stay fresh doing it.

  • Write an archetypal main character, and preferably secondary characters too.Doing this will hook readers and generate lots of great mine-able material.
  • Develop a big, strong, overarching character development arc. I had that, and it took the first five books to achieve. After that, I did another, smaller arc. And then another. All of them still fit under the original, main umbrella.

. . . .

  • Change up POV. I’ve always tried to keep my readers guessing with changes of POV in my books, but recently I found that writing first person in my main character’s head made for a totally different kind of writing and reading experience than the usual third person. Changing up the POV you usually write in can breathe life into a character that’s getting tired, because you see and experience that character differently.
  • Take risks. I’ve begun killing off more important characters with much pathos and heartbreak, and pushing my comfort zone with the subjects I’m tackling. I experimented in Red Rain with setting AND POV, even writing about some very difficult subjects set in a different country. I believe it’s resulted in my best writing to date.
  • Put topics out to readers. They can’t tell you how to keep the series fresh, but they can tell you what they want more of. My readers have been awesome, contributing mystery topics, character names, what they hope will happen to characters, and more. Share your struggle with your readers. They might just have a key that gets you unstuck and back to the page with renewed vision.

Link to the rest at Toby Neal

Here’s a link to Toby Neal’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

20 misused English words that make smart people look silly

19 November 2015

From Quartz:

We’re all tempted to use words that we’re not too familiar with. If this were the only problem, I wouldn’t have much to write about. That’s because we’re cautious with words we’re unsure of and, thus, they don’t create much of an issue for us. It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client reports), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.

. . . .

Affect vs. Effect

To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s start with the verbs. Affectmeans to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.” As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

Lie vs. Lay

We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you liedown and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lieis something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay. It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

. . . .

Ironic vs. Coincidental

A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck). Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In his famous short story The Gift of the Magi, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental.If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

. . . .

Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseousmeans causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea. So, ifyour circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’mnauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

Comprise vs. Compose

These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language.Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

A Writer Who Moves, A Mover Who Writes

18 November 2015

From author Katy Bowman via author Sarah Selecky’s blog:

I write a lot, mostly about movement—how to move, and more specifically, the biological need for movement—nutritious movement. Nutritious Movement describes not just the movements we need, but also the frequency at which we need them—not for flat abs and a well-toned butt, but for our basic biological systems to function well.

. . . .

While I would never claim to be a good writer, I am certainly a very productive writer, and a successful one in terms of readers reached; my work has motivated hundreds of thousands of people to move. I believe this is because, whether good or not, my writing is authentic. I’m a so-called expert in movement science—our need for movement—and I believe my message is heard (and my posts are read, and my books are sold) because I haven’t decreased my own frequency of movement in order to write about the human need for it.

. . . .

Culturally, we still hold the belief “Nature” that the relationship between time and productivity is direct. As if writing consists solely of the output of words, your typing speed being the indicator of how long it would take to write a thousand-word word article (ten minutes) or a novel (one week). But of course, time spent coming up with ideas and themes, and organizing and reorganizing these threads in our minds, is also “writing.” The trouble is, we’ve come to see sitting at a desk as an integral part of the writing process. We imagine the mulling, the idea-forming, the organizing, the process—the creativity—can occur only when the butt–chair circuit is closed. I (and researchers) have found the opposite to be true: movement can be a conduit for creativity.

The chair, so intertwined with our humanness these days, has become, in our minds, tangled with our writing process. And so we sit and sit and sit, diligently attending to our process, when what we think of as our process is probably less tied to sitting, and more related to the passage of time. Sometimes you just have to wait for the next idea. While the waiting seems to be, at least for me, part of the writing process, sitting still while waiting doesn’t have to be.

. . . .

I’ve found that I’m not just passing time creatively when I’m moving,but that movement actively helps my work in two ways. Like you, I have many other obligations beyond writing. I have work and household errands, and a family to tend to. And so I’ve learned to accomplish some of my mindless tasks with movement—a walk to the post office to mail out review copies of my books, for example—during my work/writing time. The break from my screen coupled with movement-based tasks gives me both time to format great ideas and more time to write them down once they’re flowing.

But not only can you do much of the “background” work of writing while doing big movements away from the desk, you can also move while you write. I write every day, often for hours, and I know I’ll suffer some biological consequence if I keep still during my writing time. So I move in subtle ways that don’t require me to move away from my keyboard.

Here’s what an hour of me writing dynamically looks like (sped up because who has an hour to watch someone else work?)

Link to the rest at Sarah Seleky and thanks to Adrienne for the tip.

Here’s a link to Katy Bowman’s books and a link to Sarah Selecky’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

When Writers Face the Deadly Saying… “What’s the Point?”

16 November 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

A couple people got angry at me in letters because I told them that following sales numbers (the number of books you are selling or what Amazon list you are on) is an addiction.

A deadly one to your writing and your career for the long term.

So what are the first signs you are into the deadly part of this addiction?

Easy. When you are sitting at your computer, your creative voice really, really wants to write a certain story or a new book in a certain series, and you hear yourself think, “What’s the point? It won’t sell.”

Oh, oh…

Tust me, folks, I am not immune from this in the slightest. When I realize that one of my books or series is selling better than others, and yet I am firing up a book that is in the poor-selling series, I hear myself ask that question.

How I get around it is tell that tiny part of my critical voice that is trying to stop me that maybe this book in this lower-selling series will be the one that explodes. That answers the question, “What’s the point.”

And makes the critical voice crawl away whimpering.

But realize, I’ve been doing this a very long time, I never read reviews of my work, and I do not follow any sales numbers or bestseller lists. Yet this still creeps in at times because one of the wonderful things we have about this new world is immediate information on sales.

. . . .

So how exactly does this kill your writing and career?

A thousand ways with a thousand cuts, actually.

If you listen and act on the question, you won’t learn, you won’t write anything except stuff that you think will sell and chances are it won’t, or at least not for long.

And the first time you write a couple things you don’t like just because you think they will sell and they don’t live up to some made-up expectation your critical voice has put on the project, the “What’s the Point?” question gets so loud, you can’t hear yourself think, let alone write.

Coming back from a life event is never easy, and you feel behind, so what’s the point of even starting? So you don’t do anything, because something might happen again to stop you.

You are too old (by some made-up yardstick in your head…I heard a 28 year old say this once) so it’s better to not start.

And so on and so on.

This question, when you hear it, is your critical voice trying to stop you. It is mostly triggered by watching your own numbers, reading your own reviews, or comparing yourself to someone else’s numbers or success.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Why Are Some People Late Bloomers?

11 November 2015

From Later Bloomer:

Does another “30 under age 30” achievement list make you wonder if you’re doing life wrong?

Does a story about a grandma who ran her first marathon in her 80s make your day?

If you’re a “late-blooming” adult, like I am, you’re not alone. We’ve got some exceptional company!

I’m not talking about people who started early and kept going, like Picasso, Kurosawa, or Joyce Carol Oates.

. . . .

At age 10, Linda Bach stood by, helpless, while her father die of a heart attack.

She vowed to become a doctor so she could save other lives. At age 20, she graduated at the top of her college class with a microbiology degree and applied to medical school.

During her entrance interview, she faced a panel of six men. Their first question—did she plan to marry and have children?

“Yes,” she answered. “After I finish school and establish my practice.”  One of the examiners said under his breath, “God, I’d hate to be your kids.”  She didn’t get in.

. . . .

Linda Bach entered medical school at the age of 46. She is currently a doctor in private practice. Her story is told in Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women by Prill Boyle.

. . . .

Savant Daniel Tammet speculates that an intersection between talent and delayed opportunity causes late-blooming:

If you’re born in a very poor environment, where you’re not given books and you’re not given good education and then subsequently doors are closed to you that are open to others who perhaps don’t have your talent…I could well imagine that throughout our history there are people who have come into their own relatively late in life.

. . . .

Carl Jung wrote, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” A brave statement, but sometimes we do become what was done to us, a state known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Institute of Health defines PTSD as

an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

Psychotherapy recognized PTSD in the aftermath of Viet Nam.  But PTSD doesn’t affect only veterans of war or victims of atrocities.

Children can develop PTSD after experiencing physical or psychological abuse or even playground bullying.  PTSD symptoms can surface after learning about a traumatic experience second-hand.

The numbness, anxiety and emotional emptiness that characterize PTSD will kill the joy, passion and excitement necessary to bloom early.

Link to the rest at Later Bloomer and thanks to a person whose email PG deleted too quickly for the tip.

The 37 Basic Plots, According to a Screenwriter of the Silent-Film Era

5 November 2015

From Salon:

In his 1919 manual for screenwriters, Ten Million Photoplay Plots, Wycliff Aber Hill provided this taxonomy of possible types of dramatic “situations,” first running them down in outline form, then describing each more completely and offering possible variations. Hill, who published more than one aid to struggling “scenarists,” positioned himself as an authority on the types of stories that would work well onscreen.

Advertising Hill’s book in a 1922 issue of the Scenario Bulletin Digest (“A Magazine of Information and Instruction for the Photoplaywright”), the manual’s publisher, the Feature Photodrama Company, offered hope to screenwriters feeling stuck for inspiration who might be willing to send away for the volume:

A few hours’ study of this remarkable treatise ought to make it an easy matter to find a cure for your “sick script”; to inject new “pep” and suspense into your story or safely carry it past a “blind alley”; it gives you all the possible information an inspiring [sic] scenarist may require.

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


I Write Short Books On Purpose

20 October 2015

From author Rebecca Rogers Maher:

As a reader, I do a lot of skimming. Especially in contemporary romance, where word count requirements often lead to long stretches of info-dumping that don’t need to be there. Or because characters are endlessly explaining ideas or emotions to themselves that have been obvious to the reader since page one, and which most real human beings would have understood a hundred years ago. When I see that in a book, my brain shuts off. Because it’s already been said. Seven or eight times. And I don’t need to hear it again. So I skim.

I end up skimming at least half of most of the books I read.

Which always disappoints me. As a reader, I want to be pulled so hard into a story that I can’t stand to miss a single word. As soon as it becomes possible to skim, as soon as that thought occurs to me as a reader, the story is lost on me.

. . . .

I know that personally, there is constant pressure on me as a contemporary romance writer to pen longer books. It’s taken as gospel that readers want 90,000-word stories, and that may be true. Longer books do sell more copies. They feature a certain type of pacing that readers are used to. It’s a pacing that allows you to relax and float along, which is what many readers come to the romance genre to do. I get that, and I respect it, but it’s not what I come to romance for, personally. As a reader or as a writer.

I’m not in this for passive pleasure. When I write a story, my deliberate intent is to provoke. I want you to feel bothered when you read my books. I want you to be awake and thinking. I want you to be moved.

. . . .

Jane Eyre, for example, tells the story of Jane’s moral development from childhood to adulthood. Her romance with Rochester is only part of that story. It takes forever before we even meet him.

That would never, ever fly today. We’re supposed to meet the hero on page ONE.

Okay. So we meet the hero on page one. Immediately, that becomes a book about the relationship between the hero and heroine. That’s the primary focus. I’m fine with that, because it’s interesting. But it’s not 90,000 words worth of interesting.

Link to the rest at Rebecca Rogers Maher and thanks to Kay for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rebecca Rogers Maher’s books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Dumbest Mistakes New Authors Make

19 October 2015

From Writer Unboxed:

Think of your favorite author. Now think about how much better they are at their craft than you are. Wrong, they’re even better than that (and if we’re honest, you’re a lot worse). Fear not, though. Just because you’re currently a worthless hack who couldn’t write a good grocery list, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a haunt slushpiles for eternity. Even literary giants like Hemingway, Rowling, and Tingle all went through the same growing pains you’re going through. They learned from their mistakes. Now you can learn from their mistakes, too. Here are the most common mistakes new authors make.

Beginning in the wrong place. A lot of newbies have perfectly good stories, but don’t start them in the right place. Where’s the right place? I recommend you begin writing in a nice coffee shopso everybody can see what a busy and creative author you are. It’s the perfect atmosphere to pen the 10,000-word prologue about your protagonist’s great-great-grandparents.

. . . .

Not using all of the senses. Writers lean too heavily on sight when writing descriptions. You’ve got five or six senses, make sure to give each of them something to keep them interested. For instance, taste and smell are drastically underused. Babies stick damn near everything into their mouths, so we humans are hard-wired to evaluate things based on flavor.  This works great for food and sex scenes. I don’t recommend describing firearms this way, however.

Writing unlikeable characters. Nobody wants to spend four hundred pages with a big jerk. Give readers someone to root for! To make your characters likeable, do what you do in real life; make your character suck up to people, doing whatever anybody asks them to do. Have them pick up neighbor’s dog poop. Make your protagonist wash that pretty girl’s car (yeah, she’s dating that other dude, but she’ll come around). Who couldn’t like and respect someone like that?

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

Sharing your words

19 October 2015

From author Matt Gemmell:

There’s a lot of vulnerability that comes from sharing creative output with others.

I published a piece earlier this year on what blogs are, and the main argument was that the terminology we use (like “blog”, or “post”) is trivialising and self-limiting. In some ways it’s a follow-up to an earlier piece on getting rid of dates in your URLs, where I make the related argument that they imply ephemerality, and carry a certain sense of amateurishness. They harbour an excuse, before there’s even been an accusation.

I think that self-esteem is a critical issue for writers.

Putting your words in front of others – in whatever form – is a frightening thing. We’re all self-conscious about what we create, and we fear judgement and mockery. Those of us who have a mostly science-centric background also struggle with questions about the legitimacy of creative work. We feel pretentious, self-possessed, and incredibly uncomfortable about using the “a”-word: art.

The consequences are predictable and pernicious.

We keep our words to ourselves, afraid to share them even though we crave the validation of someone else’s approval. Or when we do finally find the courage (or desperation, perhaps) to expose our work to a wider audience, we hide behind anonymity, or pseudonyms.

Link to the rest at Matt Gemmell and thanks to Allan for the tip.h

Here’s a link to Matt Gemmell’s books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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