Writing Advice

5 Biggest Mistakes When Writing Mental Illness

23 October 2014

From author, doctor and soon-to-be psychiatrist Rosie Claverton:

Madness in fiction, like most things in fiction, reflects and informs the popular view. If we write about terrifying, violent mad folk running about with machetes in our films, books and TV shows, the general public nod at how much that confirms their view of madness and cross the street when they see someone out of the ordinary. Or worse. Much worse.

At the bare minimum, we should get the facts right. Here are my Top 5 mental health myths in fiction that need to be kicked to the kerb.

1) Straitjackets and padded cells are not standard issue

Let’s start with straitjackets. We do not use straitjackets in mental health in the UK. They are cruel and dangerous. Short-term physical restraint is used during a psychiatric emergency and it is tightly-regulated, with training and a mountain of paperwork. If your character is spending time in a mental health unit, they will not see a straitjacket.

A bedroom in a modern mental health unit has more in common with a room in university halls than it does a padded cell.There are certain things which distinguish them – the furniture is usually heavy and secured to the walls or floor, and you won’t find hooks, nails, curtain rails or door handles, because we are safety conscious.

The Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where the most unwell people stay, has a step up in safety features – most notably, a seclusion or low stimulation room. This small room has furniture made of the soft squishy blocks you might see in a children’s play area. The walls, however, are just walls.

Padded rooms do still exist in some facilities. They are for short durations where a person is unwell and very rarely a permanent residence. If your character is spending a week in a mental health unit for depression, they are really unlikely to see one.

. . . .

4) OCD is not about being a neat freak

My husband has OCD. When I mention this to people, I sometimes get the response “your house must be so clean!” Wrong, on so many levels.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves intrusive, unpleasant, horrific thoughts (obsessions) and the felt-necessary rituals to attempt to undo, remove or counteract the thoughts (compulsions). Cleaning, ordering and symmetry can all be compulsions, but they are almost always related to an intrusive thought – for example, “if I don’t wipe the table seven times, my children will die from ebola”.

Not “I like a clean house because I hate clutter”. Or the recent nonsensical trend in dousing children in alcohol gel (hint: it does fuck-all – let them develop an immune system).

And sometimes OCD has absolutely nothing to do with cleaning. Sometimes it’s about checking the door is locked 99 times. Or repeatedly driving the same piece of road to make sure you didn’t hit anyone. Or repeating The Lord’s Prayer over and over again to protect your wife from being raped by a stranger.

It’s not about a bit of spit and polish.

Link to the rest at Swords and Lattes and thanks to Jayne for the tip.

Here’s a link to Rosie Claverton’s books

War on #amwriting

22 October 2014

From Medium:

Writing is like asthma. It used to be cool to be prescribed a blue inhaler and get excused cross-country running. Now, the only exceptional kids are those with fully operational lungs.

I realised the full extent of my hatred for unpublished novelists during an evening of drinking craft beer with a friend. It’s something I like to do, drinking beer, often also tweeting #amdrinking to let my thousands of Twitter followers know that I’m drinking beer because that’s how Twitter works. We wore plaid shirts and talked about craft beer, craft coffee and vinyl. And, after I’d returned from the toilet, he revealed that he wanted to quit being a lumberjack (or whatever it is that he does – facetiming Japanese businessmen) to write a novel. It would be a novel easily translated to cinema, he said. It would be a novel about his boyhood and the middle-class struggles he faced. We’ve all got one in us, he said, meaning a novel. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay for The Third Man, he said, apart from the bit about Switzerland and cuckoo-clocks. That was Orson Welles.

I knew all this. And I told him so. But what I didn’t tell him was that there’s lots of stuff we all have in us, a spleen for example, but decide not to share. I didn’t say that. I only said that his book sounded ‘neat’.

This casual plan for a future novel-writing is indicative of the literary world’s failing health. We must wake to this imminent danger. Soon, more people will write fiction than read it. Much like my parents’ inevitable adoption of Facebook, I dread the day Dad announces he’s writing a novel set in an alternative reality where the Nazis won after all. I’d rather bring up my son in the Third Reich than a world in which nobody reads fiction but everybody writes it.

The internet has mutated reasonable people into wannabe writers. Starting a novel is the middle-class equivalent of getting a fake tan and manicure, sure that you’re only an audition away from pop chart success. I blame JK Rowling, rich beyond our wildest dreams, her origin myth reliant on the image of a knackered Dell laptop in an Edinburgh cafe. It’s like the X Men but if the X Men had convinced themselves of their mutant powers through overuse of the #amxmen hashtag, rather than concrete proof of superhuman ability. We are blind to the harsh truth-light-radiating facts such as ‘half of self-published authors earn less than $500’, facts written about in newspapers by professional writers.

NaNoWriMo’s got a lot to answer for. In 2012, the website says, ‘341,375 participants started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.’ That figure is coming up to 10% of total local election votes cast in the UK’s 2012 local elections. That’s a political party of novelists, if you concede that writing a novel makes you a novelist.

. . . .

NaNoWriMo must be the worst thing that’s happened to literary agents since alcoholic lunches fell out of fashion.

. . . .

Don’t call yourself a novelist unless you’re paid to write novels. You take your clothes off every day but you don’t introduce yourself to strangers as a stripper, right?

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Ben for the tip.

Signing a Publishing Contract

11 October 2014

What to Do Before Signing a Publishing Contract

Column by Brandon Tietz at LitReactor

Writing a novel is damn hard. Selling one to a publisher, in its own distinct way, is even more difficult because you’re essentially convincing a company to gamble on you and your work. This is part of the reason self-publishing is booming right now. Searching for a publisher is both a hassle and a blizzard of heartbreaking rejection, so when you actually do get an offer, it’s a huge moment. So euphoric that emotion can often blind the writer to those important details on what’s on the actual contract. It amazes me how many authors took their time working on their novels only to sign a contract after skimming it once. It’s not an iTunes update, guys…read the damn thing. Here are some key things you should know before signing on the dotted line.

Who Are These People?

I will go on record and say that I have scared away authors from a publisher I went through because it was a sub-par experience. They’re out of business now, if that tells you anything. What I’m saying though is that you should know the publisher before you sign any sort of contract that binds you to them. Now I don’t recommend asking authors whether they do or don’t like the publisher while you’re querying, but after you get the offer, feel free to reach out and get a feel for how they’re handling their business. Unhappy authors are usually a good indicator that you should tread lightly.

****

Conclusion

Don’t be blinded by your contract. Signing a bad one can be the thing that ends up screwing you over for the life of the novel. Do your research, ask questions, and for the love of God, don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you don’t like something. If three author copies sound low—ask for more. If you don’t want your book assigned to a certain designer—ask for an alternative. A contract is an agreement between two parties…not one party telling the other how it’s going to be.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall

Creating Characters and Grading Research Papers

11 October 2014

 

From Roger Colby at Writing is Hard Work

This week has been hectic.

The 11th grade research paper was due and I have been in the middle of grading them. Such is my life.
However, in the midst of this, I have been thinking about what makes excellent characterization as I construct my newest character driven novel series.

In Orson Scott Card’s book Character and Viewpoint, he states that when creating characters, writers must ask three questions: “Who?” “So What?” and “Huh?”

What Scott Card means by this is that we first must answer who the character is, why the reader should care about the character and then finally the writer must remove all doubt about whether or not the reader should follow this character throughout the writer’s narrative.

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I put together a few tips of my own that will address Scott Card’s questions concerning crafting characters, and I hope they help you as well:

Real World Avatar –

I found a neat little feature on Scrivener used for character creation that allows me to insert a picture of my character in order to reference that particular character. This has allowed me to peruse Google images for an actor or actress or even concept art (for aliens) that would be a visual representation of the character I am creating. For my main character I envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch (if my book were a film) and so I inserted a picture of that actor on the character biography page. This helps me answer the “who” because my main character (if my book were a movie) would be played by Benedict as my first choice.

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Curious Development –

The character must have something happen internally to them in the plot that drives us to follow them to the end of the novel. If we do not create these curious developments we will find our readers leaving half-way through the novel to find something else to do. This requires us to create some kind of secret about the character that is only hinted at throughout the core of the plot and then revealed later. This element needs to be a mind-blower, something that probably might be out of character for them, but not enough that it defies logic. Life itself is not logical at times, and if we can translate that to text, we’ve done our job as novelists.

Well, now that I’ve shot out these few tips for the week, it’s off to grading the rest of the research papers. I only have seven left.

Cheers!

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

6 Tips for Writing Minor Characters

28 September 2014

From Writeonsisters.com:

I’m sure most writers know how to craft a major character; they understand the importance of their leads and that they should occupy the most page space. Yet every story needs supporting characters. Today, it’s all about the minor players, those characters we see briefly and yet are so well written they’ll stick with us.

. . . .

Give them a reason for being there. I know it’s tempting to flood your pages with all the colorful characters your mind can dream up, but if characters have no role to play in the plot, they need to go. Remember it can be a small part, or even an addition to the subplot, but they should serve a purpose.

. . . .

Tie them to a fixed place or single role. Context helps readers keep characters straight. If you confine the minor character to a single location or the same job the reader is more likely to remember them. Keep that helpful teacher at school, or make confusion over seeing the teacher in a new context part of the exchange.

. . . .

Although great minor characters help every book, in series books they become an even bigger asset. Put simply, minor characters make your world building feel real.

Link to the rest at From Writeonsisters.com

The Source of Bad Writing

27 September 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

Why is so much writing so bad? Why is it so hard to understand a government form, or an academic article or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?

The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy. Plaid-clad tech writers get their revenge on the jocks who kicked sand in their faces and the girls who turned them down for dates. Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

But the bamboozlement theory makes it too easy to demonize other people while letting ourselves off the hook. In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. The kind of stupidity I have in mind has nothing to do with ignorance or low IQ; in fact, it’s often the brightest and best informed who suffer the most from it.

. . . .

Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The term was invented by economists to help explain why people are not as shrewd in bargaining as they could be when they possess information that their opposite number does not. Psychologists sometimes call it mindblindness. In the textbook experiment, a child comes into the lab, opens an M&M box and is surprised to find pencils in it. Not only does the child think that another child entering the lab will somehow know it contains pencils, but the child will say that he himself knew it contained pencils all along!

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

. . . .

There’s an old saying that for the want of a nail the battle was lost, and the same is true for the want of an adjective: the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War is only the most famous example of a military disaster caused by vague orders. The nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 has been attributed to poor wording (operators misinterpreted the label on a warning light), as have many deadly plane crashes. The visually confusing “butterfly ballot” given to Palm Beach voters in the 2000 presidential election led many supporters of Al Gore to vote for the wrong candidate, which may have swung the election to George W. Bush, changing the course of history.

. . . .

A better way to exorcise the curse of knowledge is to close the loop, as the engineers say, and get a feedback signal from the world of readers—that is, show a draft to some people who are similar to your intended audience and find out whether they can follow it. Social psychologists have found that we are overconfident, sometimes to the point of delusion, about our ability to infer what other people think, even the people who are closest to us. Only when we ask those people do we discover that what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to them.

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

On a Kind of Writer’s Block, On Not Writing, On Refusing to Write, On Freedom

23 September 2014

From author Julianna Baggott:

In the fall of 2003, I was pretty sure my career was over. My third novel had just come out. And I was certain that my publisher had, more or less, fired me. They had a first-look option on my next novel, but it was clear that they would pass and this first-look was a formality.

My instinct was to sit on my hands and refuse to write. It was a gut instinct, really. I couldn’t argue with it rationally. The voice in my head just kept ringing, No. I’m not going to. I couldn’t hand something over. No matter that publishing is an industry and that it’s a large part of how I make a living, I will never shake the notion that I’m creating (hand-stitching, painstakingly) a gift — each time I set out. I didn’t have the heart to make that next gift (even if my head was filling with the hoarded details that I hold onto, moment to moment, as I make my way).

. . . .

My desire to write is often connected to a desire for freedom. I often say that writing with young children was like being a prisoner digging a tunnel with a spoon stole from the cafeteria. There’s was light. Somewhere.

So, eventually, I wrote again. The loophole: I didn’t write as myself. In The Miss America Family, the 16 year old boy who narrates is given advice by his father to always send in the lamb-version of yourself. Let people slaughter that, not you. If you ask me why I write under pen names, I’ll tell you some very smart, practical reasons — that it helps clarify audience for someone who writes across genre, that it frees the prolific writer in some ways — but it also creates a sheep, one small thin veil between the book and me.

Link to the rest at Baggot Asher Bode and thanks to Scott for the tip.

Here’s a link to Juliana Baggot’s books

Future of StoryTelling

20 September 2014

Thanks to Livia for the tip.

George Orwell’s Brilliant Guide to Writing Well

17 September 2014

From George Orwell via The New Republic:

Despite the rank hypocrisy of Orwell’s use of the passive voice, this, “Politics and the English Language,” is one of the most sublimely constructed essays ever published in the English language. I wish The New Republic could claim full credit for this one. But Orwell initially ran the piece in London with Cyril Connolly’s Horizon before publishing it here. The piece perfectly expresses the hardheaded turn that liberalism would take in the postwar years—when it lost all patience with the obfuscations that had enabled utopian fantasies to persist. —Franklin Foer

To mark its 100th anniversary, The New Republic is republishing a collection of its most memorable articles.

. . . .

 This piece originally appeared in The New Republic June 17th, 1946.

. . . .

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to airplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer.

. . . .

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easiereven quicker, once you have the habitto say In my opinion it is a not unjustifiable assumption that than to say/think. When you are composing in a hurrywhen you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speechit is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images dashas in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting potit can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.

. . . .

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for youeven think your thoughts for you, to certain extentand at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Famous Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary

14 September 2014

From Brain Pickings:

“You want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you,” Madeleine L’Engle counseled in her advice to aspiring writers. W.H. Auden once described hisjournal as “a discipline for [his] laziness and lack of observation.”

. . . .

Anaïs Nin was perhaps the most dogged diarist in recorded history — she began keeping a diary at the age of eleven and maintained the habit until her death at the age of 74, producing sixteen volumes of published journals.

It was while writing a Diary that I discovered how to capture the living moments.

Keeping a Diary all my life helped me to discover some basic elements essential to the vitality of writing.

When I speak of the relationship between my diary and writing I do not intend to generalize as to the value of keeping a diary, or to advise anyone to do so, but merely to extract from this habit certain discoveries which can be easily transposed to other kinds of writing.

Of these the most important is naturalness and spontaneity. These elements sprung, I observed, from my freedom of selection: in the Diary I only wrote of what interested me genuinely, what I felt most strongly at the moment, and I found this fervor, this enthusiasm produced a vividness which often withered in the formal work. Improvisation, free association, obedience to mood, impulse, bought forth countless images, portraits, descriptions, impressionistic sketches, symphonic experiments, from which I could dip at any time for material.

. . . .

This personal relationship to all things, which is condemned as subjective, limiting, I found to be the core of individuality, personality, and originality. The idea that subjectivity is an impasse is as false as the idea that objectivity leads to a larger form of life.

A deep personal relationship reaches far beyond the personal into the general. Again it is a matter of depths.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

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