Writing Advice

Do It/Don’t Do It

23 October 2017


Thanks to Christina for the tip.

PG notes that the message of the video changes after the short Charles Bukowski segment.

Fast-Draft Writing for NaNoWriMo and Every Other Month

20 October 2017

From Writers Helping Writers:

I am an advocate of intentional writing, which almost always means slow writing, but sometimes it makes sense to write a fast draft of a book – if, for example, you are participating in NaNoWriMo, have a chunk of time with few distractions, or have a fast-approaching deadline you are motivated to meet.

Writing fast still requires intentionality. You still need a plan – a clear idea of the point you wish your story to make and a grasp of the best narrative structure to get you there. That is to say, you need to know what you want your reader to walk away feeling after they read your novel and what they will walk away believing about the world or human nature. You also need to know where the story starts and ends and what the reader will be tracking along the way.

Let’s assume that you know all those fundamental elements and you’re ready to write. How do you write fast?

The main idea is this: don’t get mired in too much detail. No long descriptive passages about places or people, no finely wrought dialogue (unless you happen to be able to write that fast), no clever turns of phrases that take hours to hone. Aim to get the bones of the story in place – the character’s motivation, the arc of change, the cause-and-effect trajectory that drives the narrative from one scene to the next – and leave everything else for revision.

. . . .

In NaNoWriMo, fast draft writing may mean sacrificing the NaNo wordcount and not “winning.” Winning NaNo with a manuscript that has to be slashed and burned is going to feel good for about a week, and then it’s going to feel really bad as you struggle to rescue the story.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

8 Styles of Music to Help You Focus While You Write

13 October 2017

From The Write Life:

Regardless of what makes you tick, we all seem to be universally moved by one thing: music.

We use our favorite songs to get pumped up for competition, stay motivated through a workout and drown our sorrows after a breakup.

It’s no surprise we turn to music for inspiration when we’re ready to get creative, too.

“I wrote my first book while listening to the music of Leonard Cohen and Evanescence,” says writer Paula J. Braley. “When I read it over, I can hear the music in my head.”

. . . .

1. Music to get you in the mood to write

For those days when you don’t believe in yourself or anything you’re working on, turn on a get-positive playlist to drag yourself to work.

Mine is called “Girl Power.” I know that’s cheesy.

It’s what I need some days to remind me I’m awesome and worthy of achieving the goals I’ve set.

My “Girl Power” playlist includes danceable numbers like “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I’m also all about feel-good throwbacks like “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry.

Writer and filmmaker Andrew Butts recommends “In One Ear” by Cage the Elephant. “Not only is it a high energy ‘let’s get moving’ song,” he says, “but for creatives, its general message is ‘f*** the critics.’”

That’s a good way to get yourself out of bed and straight to work.

Freelance writer and YA author Lauren Tharp says, “For positive music, I usually turn to ‘Go for Gold’ by Kyle Patrick. Also: ‘Good Day’ by The Click Five.”

Freelance writing guru Carol Tice says her get-positive list “is more old school,” including:

  • “Good Day Sunshine” by the Beatles
  • “I Can See Clearly Now” by Jimmy Cliff
  • “Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing)”

“Seriously” Tice says of that last song, “if you don’t need to get up and dance to that, you’re in trouble!”

She also says, “‘San Francisco’ by The Mowglis cannot be beat for positivity.”

Link to the rest at The Write Life and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Beta Readers Help You

8 October 2017

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Beginning writers have a belief that the more people who read their work, the better their work will be. Of course, that flies in the face of any creation of art by an artist. But the fear is great among young writers, most of who are indie writers these days.

Long term pros? What do they do? Maybe have one first reader, maybe not. Most not.

Why? Because creating original fiction is not a group effort, that’s why.

Thinking you need beta readers is one of the deadliest myths that has come about in this new world.

Where Did This “Beta Reader” Concept Come From?

The easy and honest answer is fear.

But I need to do a little history as I normally do in these chapters.

Back in the pulp era, writers wrote on typewriters. Almost all did single draft and gave the story to their editors at magazines. (A few book houses, but not many. Most novels were published in magazines in the pulp period. Most novels from that period have never seen a hardback or paperback reprint.)

The editor might mark the manuscript up like a copyeditor, adding in directions for layout and such, then send it for typesetting and the story would hit print.

(In case you didn’t know, this marked-up manuscript came to be known as “Foul Matter.” I got many of my “foul matter” manuscripts back after publication over the years.)

As time progressed into the second half of the 20th century, this practice continued. Sometimes a writer would have a trusted first reader, but the longer-term professionals did not. They continued to write clean one draft and give it to their editor for print.

They trusted their own skill and art. And they didn’t allow their editor to touch their stories and most editors didn’t.

But then in the late 1960s and booming into the 1980s and forward came the peer workshop, where a bunch of writers at the same level of skill and lack of publishing credits sat around and critiqued commas. Sometimes at horrid length.

This started to give beginning writers the feeling that if they pleased their workshop, they had a good story. Or even worse, if they took all the suggestions from their workshop and incorporated all the suggestions, they would have a good story.

. . . .

Then in 2010 along comes the indie movement. And beginning writers, being afraid, very, very afraid of god-knows-what, decided that they needed a bunch of readers to make sure their manuscript was a very, very smooth and smelly pile of mush. So they roped in friends and other writers to be “beta readers.”

In other words, they copied the peer workshop experience right into the middle of their own publishing work.

Often a writer could have up to ten “beta readers” on a book, the best way to guarantee that the book will be not only dull, but boring.

But the typing would be perfect. God help a poor typo that slipped through that gauntlet.

And now here, in 2017, as I write this, the concept of “beta readers” makes me shudder every time I type the phrase. I had hoped for a few years it would die off as the really bad idea it is. But nope. It has gained myth status, sadly.

And it now is hurting some really fine writers.

. . . .

Just a few days ago a wonderful writer who I have seen some fantastic work in online workshops, (where I get to see first draft stuff) told me that her most recent book was at her beta readers. Seven or eight of them I think.

I wanted to say that it wasn’t her book anymore, it was “their” book. But I said nothing, just as over the last years since this horrid practice started I have said nothing.

Writing by committee makes dullness. It takes out your writer voice, and often your character voice.

And I honestly have no idea why writers don’t have more pride in their work. That is the aspect of all this that bothers me. No one touches my work. It is my work. Period. Good or bad.

And I am proud of that fact. Good or bad.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Sue for the tip. Here’s a link to Dean’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

My 150 Writing Mentors and Me

2 October 2017

From The Atlantic:

The summer of 2013, I found myself on the phone with Stephen King, listening as he described how he wrote the opening sentence of It: “That’s one that I worked over and over and over.”

Drawing on four decades of work, from Salem’s Lot to Needful Things to Doctor Sleep, the author recounted the arduous way his books usually begin—how he’ll spend weeks, months, sometimes years of nights lying in bed with a laptop, thinking, experimenting, fiddling with the words, until the language clicks. The right first paragraph, when he finally finds it, casts a kind of spell, what King called an “incantation,” that makes the finished story seem somehow inevitable.

As I listened, I thought of my novel, the one I was struggling to write. I was attempting to get beyond the first 50 pages—aiming to write 1,000 words every morning before heading off to work, and often just staring at the screen and feeling seasick instead. My cast of characters had shifted over time, and I’d tried telling the story from different points of view. But what King was saying rang incredibly true: Whenever I felt lost, my opening sentence, which I’d worked and reworked, always reminded me of what the book was meant to be.

I was talking to King because, in the fall of 2012, sensing that my post-MFA plan (finish my novel in a year, get it published, settle into the creative life) might need a little tweaking, I’d pitched a series called “By Heart” to The Atlantic. The formula was simple: Each week, I’d interview a well-known writer about a favorite passage from literature and edit their thoughts into a short essay. In part, I thought that the series would force me to publish regularly (and the extra income wouldn’t hurt). But mostly, I was looking to ask questions I wanted to answer badly for myself. What inspires you? I wanted to query my favorite writers. Where do your best ideas come from? And how do you possibly manage to turn those flashes of insight into something crystalline and whole?

Five years later, I’ve spoken with more than 150 authors for “By Heart”.

. . . .

More than knockout sentences, more than their grasp of human character, more than anything that might broadly be termed “craft,” novelists are masters of one skill primarily. Their genius lies in an ability to suspend their skepticism over the long haul, to persist in the belief that—no matter how hard things get—the work is meaningful, and worthwhile, and will one day pan out.

. . . .

“The job of writing is pretty uphill most of the time,” said Mark Haddon, whose best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time went on to become a critically acclaimed Broadway play, when we spoke:

It’s like climbing a mountain—you get some fantastic views when you pause or when you get to the top, but the actual process can be tough. … I wish I could enjoy the process more, but I think I’ve come to accept that for it to work, I have to be uncomfortable.

What makes the process so difficult? I think it’s the nagging feeling that the words aren’t enough, the painful recognition that your language still falls far short of the beauty and complexity you’d wanted to spill across the page.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

When I’m Writing Fiction, I Cannot Read It

28 September 2017

From The Literary Hub:

As a child, books were your refuge. The entirety of book-world was your tribe. The March family taught you morals; Anne of Green Gables, especially if you were like me, an unruly kid with reddish braids, gave you hope. Maybe Brian Robeson in Hatchet made you believe you could survive anything. The Lord of the Flies let you know that you wouldn’t.

As you grew older, you discovered new books and new ways to learn from them, but that profound connection you feel with them never left you.

What, though, if the joy did?

For life-long bookworms, as many novelists are, becoming a published author is a dream come true. Or perhaps more accurately, a long-awaited arrival. You enter the heart of the tribe.

. . . .

But what if becoming a published novelist was to rob the pleasure that inspired it? What if it was to hamper the act or, worse still, joy of reading?

My second novel, Shining Sea, came out in paperback last month. In the year between the hardcover release and the paperback, I was involved in promoting the novel, wrote a number of short and long-form nonfiction articles and op-eds, wrote some politically oriented speeches, and began researching and making notes for a new novel.

I also read like a coyote loose among sheep. I devoured new releases, explored and fell in love with a whole new (for me) genre, and consumed huge chunks out of my to-be-read pile. I re-read every book I own by Willa Cather, which is pretty much every book by Willa Cather. I consumed any book of fiction or creative nonfiction related to Uganda that I could get my hands on. I strode into bookstores and strolled back out with books recommended by the bookseller. I always am startled when, at the end of the year, I tally my book-buying costs. This year I may need to down a glass of wine first.

In October, after a final loop through California, all of my scheduled book touring for Shining Sea will be done. As much as I enjoy visiting bookstores and meeting readers, I look forward to settling down to the nitty-gritty of my new novel, closing my office door to the world, and turning the notes and random pages and research I’ve amassed over the past year into a carefully crafted whole.

Does this mean my greedy fiction-reading streak will have to end?

. . . .

Kelly Simmons, author of One More Day and the forthcoming Fourth of July, says, “[W]hen I’m writing I can’t tolerate what others might call a guilty pleasure. I’m worried it might seep in!”

I also shy away from reading other people’s fiction when I’m in the thick of writing a new novel. I have to read daily, especially before I go to sleep at night. The idea of not doing so is impossible; I might as well go on a fast—something you would never catch me doing. But while I’m developing the voice of a book, I don’t want to hear someone else’s fiction cadences.

. . . .

The irony! Doing the job I love, although intimately connected to the pastime I love, clearly also interferes with it.

Some novelists do read other people’s fiction while they write. “I always read, even when I am in the thick of my own work,” Marcy Dermansky, author most recently of The Red Car says, “because I need to be reading. It would be too bleak not to be reading; it takes a long time to write a novel.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Teacher Lady vs. Scrappy Writer

24 September 2017

From The Porch Swing Chronicles:

When I retired five years ago, everyone assumed I would fill my time with writing projects. Those who know me well know I’ve been squeezing writing into the nooks and crannies of academic years for more than two decades, and writing full time was something I’d long dreamed of.


I pursued that dream for the first year I was retired, putting writing first. I still taught, but at the community education level where courses lasted only a few weeks and preparation was less intense. For the first time, my role as educator shrank in comparison to my role as writer. I actively sought writing opportunities in old markets and brainstormed new ones, all the while working on my novels and whipping my blog into shape.

It was fun while it lasted.

One Sunday morning, I opened an email that changed the direction of my life — again. The opportunity to teach at a local college came out of nowhere and once more, the role of educator rose to prominence, my writing persona crushed under the weight of textbooks, PowerPoints and student rosters.

Strangely enough, that was okay.

. . . .

Scrappy or not, my writing persona has some commitment issues.

Link to the rest at The Porch Swing Chronicles

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

Starting Your Day on the Internet Is Damaging Your Brain

23 September 2017

From Medium:

I’ve said before the first 3 hours of your day can dictate how your life turns out. And this often begins with the very first thing that you decide to put in your brain. You can either start you day with junk food for the brain (the internet, distracting apps, etc) or you can start the day with healthy food for the brain (reading, meditation, journaling, exercising, etc). When you start the day with junk food for the brain, you put yourself at a self imposed handicap that inhibits your ability to get into flow and prevents you from doing deep work. When you start the day with health food for your brain, the exact opposite happens.

Anytime I start my day with junk food for the brain, the quality of the day goes down. I’m less happy, focused, and productive. I spend a ton of time on the internet and don’t get any real work done. But if I start my day with health food for the brain, I find that my mood is better, I’m happier, more focused and productive.

. . . .

If you woke up in the morning, smoked a cigarette, ate 2 donuts, and washed it down with 2 cups of coffee, it wouldn’t be surprising that your physical performance is subpar. You’re probably not going to go out and run 2 miles or win a prize fight after that kind of breakfast.

But when it comes to our brain, we’re not nearly as mindful about the idea that we should treat the information we consume like the food we eat.

“When you wake up you’re in this theta alpha state and you’re highly suggestible. Every like, comment, share, you get this dopamine fix and it’s literally rewiring your brain. What you’re smart device is doing especially if that’s the first thing you grab when you wake up and you’re in this alpha theta state, is rewiring your brain to be distracted.” — @Jim Kwik

If we start our days by checking email, instagram, or the internet, we keep reinforcing the behavior of distraction until it becomes our new habit.

. . . .

As Mark Manson so brilliantly said, cell phones are the new cigarettes, And a significant amount of what’s on the internet is nothing more than junk food for the brain.

. . . .

When we read on the internet, we tend to scan more than we read. How often do you sit around at a dinner party discussing the amazing article you read on the internet? Almost all of my ideas for what I want to write about have come from books. Almost none of them have come from reading articles on the internet. I’ve even found in my cases that when I read a physical book that I previously read on Kindle, I tend to get far more value out of it.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG isn’t certain whether there is any valid science behind this, but, if so, his brain is in bad shape.

However, he disagrees about getting more value from a physical book than an ebook. For him, the experience is different, but comprehension, retention, contemplation (if it’s that kind of book) are at least as good with an ebook.

What Video Games Can Teach You About Storytelling

15 September 2017

From Writer Unboxed:

It wasn’t so long ago that the venerable and brilliant film critic Roger Ebert condemned video games as something that could never be art. His reasoning was that video games must be won—they’re competitive, points-based, and are… well, games.

Here, if nowhere else, Ebert was wrong. Games don’t have to be about levelling up, shooting bad guys, or amassing points—sometimes, they’re simply interactive experiences, and can tell incredible stories in a way that no other medium can.

Such games can teach us creatives a thing or two about how great storytelling relies on exploiting the medium you’re working with. Just as games rely on sound, vision, and interactivity, books rely on words arranged in a linear order. Writers don’t often think about how they can get the best from this limited form, but they should.

I’m going to look at three video games released in the past decade that I think have told their stories using innovative, unique, and startlingly effective methods that often rely on the kind of emergent, player-driven storytelling only possible in games. From there, I’m going to extract and distil any lessons that I think writers will find useful in crafting written stories.

. . . .

 Dark Souls (2011)

On the surface, Dark Souls looks like any other fantasy role-playing game. There are knights in armour, big monsters, fey women talking about prophecies… But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll uncover a fragmented, vague narrative that must be pieced together by the player. In this sense, the player is more of an archaeologist than a reader, tasked with piecing together clues to learn what your character’s role is in the game’s melancholic world.

As the name suggests, it’s a dark game, but it’s also remarkably intelligent. It explores some heavy themes: human frailty, nihilism, Nietzschean existentialism… and has been read as an allegory for overcoming depression and, conversely, for the futility of human endeavour. How does it manage this?

Well, partly through its vagueness. Dark Souls allows the player only peeks into its rich lore, and it’s up to the player to stitch these snippets together. As such, finding meaning among the clues becomes a subjective and highly personalized experience that each player will have their own opinions on, just as they had their own unique experience playing through the game…

And this leads me to Dark Souls’ greatest strength and to the lesson that writers can take away. Everything in Dark Soulscomes together to complement everything else—the gameplay encourages the same kind of thoughtfulness and patience that the storytelling requires (it’s known for its difficulty, and severely punishes rash or unconsidered moves); the fragmented nature of the plot reflects the central themes of existential anxiety, human compulsion, and confusion; the themes complement the decentralized player character, who, unlike so many protagonists in fictional media (and especially in video games), is not at the centre of the world, or even of the plot. And, to complete the circle, because that plot is not forced upon the player, the world feels real, living, as if it would continue to exist even if the player was not present (which in turn points back to the game’s central themes).

Dark Souls is a lesson in how to craft a world that feels like it’s not reliant upon the plot occurring within it. It is also a lesson in how the various aspects of a narrative can come together to complement one another and render a text utterly cohesive.

One book that achieves a similar feat is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a novel about (among other things) addiction, the empty dangers of entertainment, and the total noise of modern life. Wallace’s anti-entertainment message is reflected in how the book breaks up the flow of the narrative by constantly sending the reader to the back of the book to check endnotes and in how it structures its multiple plotlines in a way that rejects the standard three- or five-act structures of simpler narratives. Similarly, its preoccupation with the deafening noise of modern life is reflected in its ultra-long sentences, its interest in seemingly unremarkable ephemera, and its thousand-plus pages. It comes together, like Dark Souls, as a work of incredible purity.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

There is a small mailbox here.

. . . .

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

Good Reasons for Writing by Hand

11 September 2017

From Self Publishing Advice Center:

This isn’t another one of those ‘how to write’ posts, it’s a post about the actual physical nitty-gritty of how we go about putting our stories down into words.

Lots of writers now use the ubiquitous laptop – some have even found a way of writing on tablets, and others still, as recent discussions following the recent BEA Indie Author Fringe have shown, have been talking about how they use voice recognition software for dictating their stories.

. . . .

When it comes to practicality though, I have always and still do, favour pen and paper. Specifically fountain pen and leather-wrap journal. It’s what works for me.

Of course writing this way is not without its downsides. Principally there’s the typing it up afterwards (‘though this too does have its own pros, but more of that later).

. . . .

The Advantages of Writing with Pen and Paper

  • Accessibility: Take the pen and notebook and you can literally write anywhere, at any ime, and be putting down your story in as short as time as it takes to flick off the lid and turn to the next blank page.
  • Portability: The leather-wrap journal is the ultimate in portability.
  • Power: It never runs out of battery, or crashes.
  • Legibility: You don’t have to worry about the glare of sunlight on the screen.

I’ve been known to write (as those dreams would have it) for hours in my favourite coffee shop or library, or in snatched moments at the end of lunch breaks at work, or on the bus whilst commuting.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing Advice Center

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