Writing Advice

My Husband Read a Story I Wrote … Here’s What Happened

10 June 2019

From Medium:

I felt the power of the undertow as soon as he began to talk. That suffocating sinking pull to make it better was filling my chest, my lungs. I was drowning in it.


This time, though, I wasn’t going down. It took me 22 years of this relationship to get to this place, to become this honest, and I just couldn’t go back. I knew that going down this time may mean never coming back up.

I’ve written many personal stories about my life, my relationships. A few have been about me and my husband, the hard parts. Until a few days ago, I hadn’t let anyone read any of my stories because of how difficult it’s been for me to be honest. Facing that honesty on a daily basis is much scarier than just setting it free with a publish button and then walking away until I’m ready to come back. It’s been a way to maintain control over it, over my feelings, my fears.

It was time, though. I had been talking with my therapist for weeks about the dread I felt every time I thought of friends and family, especially my husband, reading my work. He hits closest to home because he IS home. If he rejects me, it feels like game over. I had to let my therapist read it if I was going to figure this out. So I held my breath and handed her my phone.

First, I let her read the story that was worrying me most, “When I say NO, I don’t mean asking until I say YES” (below). It was so nerve-racking, but her response was so positive, our talk was so inspiring, that on a whim… I let my husband read it too.

Link to the rest at Medium

The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work

9 June 2019

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Template is an ambiguous term in writing. It can refer to a writer’s personal style sheet used when developing a story, tools for brainstorming, or worksheets to figure out various plot and story arcs. However, it can also refer to an exacting form that promises the perfect story by following blindly along.

When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.

. . . .

Cooking is a forgiving skill. If the recipe calls for half a cup of tomatoes and you like tomatoes and put in a whole cup, odds are the meal still turns out yummy. But baking is hardcore. Add too much salt and your dough fails. Whip cream too long and it turns to grainy mush.

Writing is not dissimilar. Great stories contain similar elements, but how we mix them results in completely different tales. When we treat writing like an exact science, with every beat measured to the page and every major turning point exactly the same, the story suffers.

Instead of a delicious mental meal, we get generic packaged cookies. They might not be terrible, but they don’t make you want to eat more than one, and they taste like dozens of other bland, generic cookies on the shelf.

. . . .

The danger of writing templates is that instead of finding the right details for the story we’re trying to tell, we’re looking for details that fit a particular template at a particular time. We think, “This is when something has to die,” and twist ourselves into knots forcing it in. Or we think we need an emotional character arc when no arc is needed. We add mentor characters who have no business in the story, and rely on cliched characters to fill roles a checklist tells us we need.

When we’re cooking a novel, those literary ingredients are mixed to flavor the story in the way we want to tell it. But when we’re baking with a template, we’re adding ingredients exactly as the recipe states, even if the story suffers for it. Templates far too often force us to bake a cake when we really want to make a scone.

When you understand how to tell a compelling story, you know what aspects of storytelling to use to create the desired emotional response from your readers. You pick and choose the details, beats, and turning points that serve your story, and ignore the aspects that don’t.

. . . .
The difference between story structure and a writing template is this:

  • Structure uses proven story constructions that humans have used since stories began.
  • Templates suggest the only way to write a novel is to follow an exact plan to the letter.

Using a structure that suits your personal storytelling style to help keep you focused and give you a foundation on which to build a story is a good thing. It’s a tool, nothing more.

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

So, Listen, the Thing Is

3 June 2019

Link to the rest at xkcd

Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer Review – How to Write Clearly and Stylishly

30 May 2019

From The Guardian:

When a book manuscript has been revised and approved by the editor, it goes to a copy editor, someone who, in the words of Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer, “is to prose what a cobbler is to shoes: a mender”. The relationship between author and copy editor can be a testy one: emotions can boil over about the necessity or otherwise of certain commas, let alone word choices and sentence structure. Veterans of such skirmishes on both sides will enjoy learning of the spectacularly prima donna-ish writers Dreyer mentions (anonymously) here.

. . . .

Dreyer promises to reveal “some of the fancy little tricks I’ve come across or devised that can make even skilled writing better”, and does so with accuracy, style, and a humour that is slightly relentless.

The advice begins by challenging the reader to stop using words such as “very”, “really” and “actually” for a week, which will make you “a considerably better writer than you were at the beginning”. This seems a rash promise, and the rhetorical and rhythmic usefulness of such words is not here admitted. Dreyer does say he’s not asking you to stop using them altogether, but then adds in a footnote: “Except for ‘actually’, because, seriously, it serves no purpose I can think of except to irritate.” Actually it does, as an intensifier intended to signal surprise or disagreement. What’s more, Dreyer’s use of “seriously” here works in exactly the same way, but perhaps that is his little joke.

. . . .

Luckily, Dreyer himself is quite liberal on what really count as rules anyway. He disposes adroitly of superstitions against splitting infinitives or starting sentences with conjunctions, or in favour of avoiding the passive voice – and, unlike most who rail against it, he actually knows what the passive voice is. (“If you can append ‘by zombies’ to the end of a sentence,” he says usefully, “you’ve indeed written a sentence in the passive voice.”) On the other hand, there are some things he insists on, and righteously so. “Only godless savages”, he observes, do not use the Oxford or serial comma.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Ian Fleming Explains How to Write a Thriller

28 May 2019

From The Literary Hub:

There is no literary spy—and perhaps no literary character, full stop—more famous than James Bond, which should already be enough of an argument for any aspiring writer, but particularly any aspiring writer of thrilling tales, to seek advice from his creator, Ian Fleming.

Luckily, I recently stumbled across an essay by Fleming, aptly entitled “How to Write a Thriller,” which appeared in the May 1963 issue of Books and Bookmen, only a little over a year before the author’s death.

. . . .

The craft of writing sophisticated thrillers is almost dead. Writers seem to be ashamed of inventing heroes who are white, villains who are black, and heroines who are a delicate shade of pink.

I am not an angry young, or even middle-aged, man. I am not “involved.” My books are not “engaged.” I have no message for suffering humanity and, though I was bullied at school and lost my virginity like so many of us used to do in the old days, I have never been tempted to foist these and other harrowing personal experiences on the public. My opuscula do not aim at changing people or making them go out and do something. They are written for warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, airplanes and beds.

I have a charming relative who is an angry young littérateur of renown. He is maddened by the fact that more people read my books than his. Not long ago we had semi-friendly words on the subject and I tried to cool his boiling ego by saying that his artistic purpose was far, far higher than mine. He was engaged in “The Shakespeare Stakes.” The target of his books was the head and, to some extent at least, the heart. The target of my books, I said, lay somewhere between the solar plexus and, well, the upper thigh. These self-deprecatory remarks did nothing to mollify him and finally, with some impatience and perhaps with something of an ironical glint in my eye, I asked him how he described himself on his passport. “I bet you call yourself an Author,” I said. He agreed, with a shade of reluctance, perhaps because he scented sarcasm on the way. “Just so,” I said. “Well, I describe myself as a Writer. There are authors and artists, and then again there are writers and painters.”

This rather spiteful jibe, which forced him, most unwillingly, into the ranks of the Establishment, whilst stealing for myself the halo of a simple craftsman of the people, made the angry young man angrier than ever and I don’t now see him as often as I used to. But the point I wish to make is that if you decide to become a professional writer, you must, broadly speaking, decide whether you wish to write for fame, for pleasure or for money. I write, unashamedly, for pleasure and money.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that one of the less-observed benefits of the easy and inexpensive path to self-publishing that ebooks present is the ability for an author to write what he/she wants and how they want, then send their creation out into the digital world to see what readers like it.

Of course, gaining attention for a book is not an easy task, but such has always been the case. In traditional publishing, the large majority of manuscripts submitted have been and are rejected. Under the traditional regime, that meant that a book would never have a chance of reaching an audience, regardless of how receptive that audience might be towards the book. Most traditionally-published books are financial failures. A relatively small portion of the books a traditional publisher releases actually provide material support for the entire enterprise.

With self-publishing, a book without a clearly-obvious and commercially-sized audience has that chance. Or to be more precise, a book without a commercially-sized audience as perceived by a traditional publisher has a chance.

Critics contend that most self-published books are trash. PG responds that, for him and a great many other people, most traditionally-published books are trash.

And over-priced trash to boot. At least, self-published trash won’t cost more than the average American worker earns in an hour.

PG also suggests that the economic realities that govern traditional publishing mean that traditionally-published books must always appeal to mass markets. (Or at least what a handful of residents of New York City who possess relatively exotic backgrounds compared to the rest of the country perceive to be mass markets. Remember, most traditionally-published books are financial failures.)

PG also notes that the personal characteristics of the most frequent readers of traditionally-published books tend to mirror those of the employees of large publishers who select which books will be published – white, female, college-educated (in the case of publishing employees, usually from quite a narrow slice of colleges, to be more precise), on the upperish side of middle-class or at least expecting to reach that class as they mature (similar to their families of origin).

The scary part

22 May 2019

From Nathan Bransford:

I recently finished a new novel, and I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty scared!

I don’t feel like people talk about this part of the process very much.

Whenever you hear writers talking about struggles and failures, they’re often discussed when it’s all over, after that person has already gone on to find success. Those struggles are contextualized as a dramatic interlude in an otherwise nice, neat, inspirational narrative that culminates with someone overcoming those obstacles and roadblocks.

I see very few people talk about this part, while they’re actually in it, where you’ve finished something and you have literally no idea what is going to happen with it. No idea whether it’s going to be a success or disappear into a drawer never to be heard from again. No idea whether there will be a happy ending for all those struggles and whether it will actually feel worth it in the end. The part where you’re just plain vulnerable.

. . . .

More than any other book I’ve written, and I’ve written… uh… *counts on fingers* seven now, this novel was personal. I followed my own (possibly insane) artistic vision no matter where it took me. I tried to trust my instincts. I slogged away for years even though the plot was insanely difficult to execute.

More than anything else, I wrote this one for me. I gave up blogging for a while. I kept going even when I thought I was crazy and even in the face of negative feedback. I had to get this thing out of my system.

Was that the right move? Should I have tempered my instincts? Did I write something the market doesn’t want? Did I go too far against the grain? Did I not listen to other people enough? Was the whole thing several years of misguided work?


. . . .

Does following a more meaningful writing process mean I’m on the right track?

Like I said, I have no idea. But I do know that I feel better about this one. I distantly trust that I’ll still feel good about it even if it ends up in a drawer, because at least I wrote this for the simple personal satisfaction of having pulled it off.

Still, that doesn’t blunt the creeping terror of having spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on a single project and facing having it come to very little or even nothing. It doesn’t dull the pain of the prospect of it disappearing, to not have it validated by the external world, especially when there are bills to be paid and when, in the end, I think most writers just want to be seen and to feel that profound, primordial satisfaction when someone reads your book and actually likes it.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The True Cost of Multitasking Isn’t Productivity—It’s Mental Health

21 May 2019

From Zapier:

When I set out to write a piece about multitasking, my goal was to review and present some scientific studies showing exactly how multitasking impacts productivity. Because it definitely impacts productivity, right? I hear that all of the time.

As it turns out, I couldn’t find much to support that claim. In fact, I found one study that showed multitasking actually makes people more productive.

What I did find, though, was that even if multitasking were to impact your productivity, it would be the least detrimental of its side effects. The true costs of multitasking are to your mental health, happiness, focus, and ability to learn new things. So the real reason you shouldn’t multitask isn’t that you want to get more done. It’s because you’re looking after your well-being.

. . . .

We often think of multitasking as doing more than one thing concurrently: Watching YouTube videos while chatting with friends on Discord (one of my teenage daughter’s favorite activities), or driving while talking on the phone.

Multitasking is both doing multiple things at once (like driving and talking on the phone) and alternating between different tasks instead of finishing one and moving on to another (like responding to emails incrementally while working on a larger project).

. . . .

We’re all splitting our time between larger, higher priority tasks and consistent interruptions from lower-priority, less time-consuming to-dos that arrive via email, text, instant message, and face-to-face interruptions.

. . . .

The time it takes to stop doing one task and focus on another is best measured in milliseconds.

That’s what several researchers found while studying the impact of task switching. They tested a variety of different types of task-switching activities and found that it rarely takes longer than two seconds to perform the mental control processes that are required to switch from one task to another.

But that seems to conflict with the statistic I’ve seen cited frequently that says it takes 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption.

That’s because the 23-minute statistic is often cited incorrectly.

It comes from a research study conducted by Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Klocke. In their study, 48 participants had one main task to focus on, but they were also directed to deal with other tasks as they came in (i.e., interruptions via email).

When interrupted, an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds passed between the moment of interruption and the point where participants resumed working on the main task. So the 23 minutes isn’t the amount of time it takes to refocus after switching tasks; it includes the time it takes to complete the task that interrupted you.

And though a 23-minute pause due to an interruption isn’t an insignificant amount of time, the researchers discovered something interesting. The people who were interrupted managed to complete their main tasks in less time than people who weren’t interrupted—and with no measurable difference in quality.

“Surprisingly, our results show that interrupted work is performed faster,” the researchers write. “We offer an interpretation. When people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted.”

. . . .

“Interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price,” they write. “After only 20 minutes of interrupted work, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort, and pressure.” So it’s quite possible that you can multitask all day long with little to no impact on your productivity or the quality of the work you produce. But behind the scenes, all of that multitasking is likely taking its toll on your overall mental health and wellbeing.

Additionally, Gloria Mark conducted a subsequent study that found that even if multitasking your way through interruptions makes you more productive, you’re likely to feel as though you weren’t productive.

And feeling less productive, Mark found, also takes a toll on your mental health. The second study found that people who felt they’d been productive over the course of the day reported having more positive moods at the end of the day. But the more often people were interrupted by emails, switched tasks on their computer screens, or participated in face-to-face discussions, the more likely they were to report feeling that they hadn’t been productive.

. . . .

[T]he Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Cynthia Kubu explains that by multitasking, “we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn. Attention is essential to learning.” So regardless of your productivity while multitasking, it’s likely that you’re not growing in your skills.

. . . .

[A] 2012 study found that people were less likely to multitask and experienced less stress when they didn’t have access to email. Another stufythree years later measured the stress levels of people who had unlimited access to their emails one week against their stress levels another week where they were only allowed to check their email three times a day. “During the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than during the unlimited email use week,” researchers found. Then, in 2017, researchers looked at the impact of push notifications. With push notifications disabled, participants were much more likely to report that they felt less distracted and more productive. Additionally, 11 of the 30 participants reported they felt less stressed with push notifications disabled.

. . . .

Another study led by Gloria Mark even found that technology’s frequent interruptions train us to self-interrupt.

. . . .

And once we’re stuck in this cycle of self-interrupting, it stresses us out to not check in. This point comes from research conducted at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight. Researchers found that people get an average of 65-80 notifications on their phones every day. When participants had access to check those notifications as often as they wanted, they felt “stressed, unhappy, interrupted, and non-productive.”

On the flip side, when participants were asked to turn their notifications off completely, that also caused stress. People reported feeling anxious and worried that they were missing something important.

Link to the rest at Zapier

The OP includes links to a variety of apps and computer settings that can control how often and when notifications pop up on your computer, tablet, cell phone, etc.

So, here’s a question: Do serious authors tend to multitask or not?

If authors don’t multitask, are there particular practices they employ to deal with interruptions generated by their connected devices?

PG is not the type of writer that most of the visitors to TPV are, but when he’s working on a complex legal document, he shuts off or ignores almost everything else.

If he takes a writing break, he may check email and/or text messages to see if anything pressing shows up, but when he starts writing again, everything else is minimized or taken off his screen entirely.

It does help that PG works at Casa PG instead of the busy offices which characterized his earlier professional and business life, so his only non-digital interruptions are from Mrs. PG who is usually writing when PG is doing the same thing.

Deconstructing ‘I Wrote a Thing’

18 May 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

For every essay and article I write, my process is the same. There is contemplation and research, writing and rewriting. Each piece is fact-checked for accuracy and read out loud for rhythm, sent to a first reader or two for critique, and rewritten and polished again before I finally hit “send.”

And when it is done, I paste the link into a tweet and wrestle with the impulse that never goes away—the instinct to announce my work to the world with the words, I wrote a thing.

Spend any amount of time on social media and you will see a lot of I wrote a thing. Men use it, but, according to my entirely nonscientific observations, women use it more, announcing our work in our native tongue, the universal female language of self-deprecation. I wrote a thing employs the funny, ironic, humblebrag shorthand that is common across social media, but it also evokes a familiar posture: that of a woman trying to make herself as small as possible—a woman standing with her head down and her chin tucked against her chest, hands clasped behind her back, and toe twirling in the dirt, saying, “Oh, this little heap of words here? It was nothing. No big deal. Just, you know, a thing! So maybe read it? Or don’t! Whatever!”

Maybe it’s a generational problem, and the kids today don’t struggle with reflexive self-effacement. I suspect that it’s gendered, and I wrote a thing is born of women being told, overtly and implicitly, that our stories do not matter—not the stories we write, which are still not reviewed as frequently or taken as seriously as men’s books, and not the stories we tell, which are still too often met with skepticism and shrugs.

. . . .

It feels strange to announce, plainly, Here is an essay, or, This is my novel, when we’ve been told all our lives not to brag and not to boast—until the six weeks prior to a book’s release, when our publicists beg us to do nothing but brag and boast. It feels unnatural, and if you could peek into any woman writer’s inbox, you’d probably see agonized queries from her peers: “I just got a starred review from PW. Should I tweet it?” or, “I just got a rave in the Times. Is it going to look weird if I put it on my Instagram more than once? How much is too much? Are you sure this is okay?”

Self-promotion feels weird, and risky.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t believe that he has ever told any author, “overtly” or “implicitly” that the author’s story doesn’t matter.

Outside of the world of traditional publishing, PG doesn’t believe that he has ever heard or observed anyone else conveying that message to an author.

Various pursuits and occupation require different personal characteristics and aptitudes. Some people who have great natural talent in a field of endeavor don’t have the personal characteristics necessary to rise to the top of that field.

If someone is afraid of flying, regardless of whatever talents they possess, they are not a good candidate to become a pilot.

If someone can’t stand being involved in a contentious situation, they are not a good candidate to practice most types of law.

Ditto for fainting whenever being exposed to blood and the practice of medicine, fear of dogs and animal training, fear of fire and firefighting.

Of course, there are degrees of fear or other personal characteristics and many people are able to overcome their fears or reticence or anxiety and succeed in a field that once seemed impossible to enter.

Perhaps writing about fear or otherwise sharing it is a part of overcoming that fear. PG hopes the author of the OP falls into that category.

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