Tag Archive | tips for writers

The Writing Process- Are You Doing It Wrong?

There are unlimited books, blog posts, webinars and podcasts on the subject of how to be a better writer. Advice on how to plot, to develop characters, or to nail the perfect dialogue…the list is infinite. There is no shortage of instruction on “how to” write a novel.
But one thing no one can teach you, is what your writing process should be. Because the way each writer goes about the process of actually writing is as unique to the individual as are fingerprints.

Plotter or Pantser? Or Planser, Maybe?

Of course, there are similarities. But even the two main designations of “Plotter” and “Pantser” fall short of describing most authors, many of who profess to be a combination of the two. Then there are the linear writers, who write a story chronologically, and the non-linear writers who craft the scenes according to which ones they are most excited about or inspired by, and assemble them into a coherent timeline later.

But other than that, processes can vary tremendously from one writer to another, and sometimes from one project to another. There is no one right way to craft a book or story, so each writer’s personal process must be respected.

Writing Quirks

Some like to sprint, others don’t. Some are obsessive about keeping to a certain word count per day or each writing session, while some, like me, write by scene. While having word count goals may be the motivator that gets some writers going, others are just as motivated by finishing a scene, however long or short it may be.

One author friend confessed to me a writing habit that made me realize just how individual our “process quirks” are. She was discussing a WIP (work in progress) with a friend, who kept asking her what was going to happen further on in the story, plot wise. The author knew everything about her own story, every plot point, the ending, etc. But she refused to fill her eager friend in on the details, because if she talked to anyone else about her story, she’d “feel” as though she’d already written it. She was afraid she would lose interest and momentum in the story by discussing it with others, thus jeopardizing her ability to write the story as she envisioned. For some writers, discovering the story as it is being written is their process.

Some other “quirks” of the writing process might be:

Listening to music while you write
Having to sit in a certain room or chair
Needing a particular snack or beverage before you begin
Re-reading the previous chapter before you start
Never reading the previous work you’ve done on a book until it is finished
Discussing each step along the way with a trusted friend or critique partner as you write
Not discussing the book with anyone until it’s finished
Write out scenes or outlines long hand
Use note cards, post-its or storyboards to plot

Respect The Process!

So, while it’s fine to discuss with others how your personal writing process works, keep in mind it may not work for others. So many factors come into play—personality, level of experience, living situation, time constraints, and energy level, to name a few. We don’t have to approve of or understand other writer’s processes, but we should respect them.

Because, unlike the (so-called) writing “rules”, a writer’s process is very personal. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to write. Some methods may seem more or less productive than others, but we all must find our own way to the end of our writing projects. Personally, I think it’s amazing how we can all end up at the same place (completed books) via so many different ways of writing.

What are your writing process quirks? Has anyone ever criticized your writing process?

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Are Newsletters On The Way Out?

The warning signs are everywhere. “Newsletter fatigue” is setting in among readers as authors (and well, pretty much every business on the internet) inundates their inboxes with special offers. Yet, authors are still being told by every marketing guru out there that a newsletter to your fans is a must. But how effective is it as a marketing strategy?

Gold Fever

I’ve heard the mantra since I got serious about becoming a published author years ago. “Your mailing list is gold. They are your fans. They want to hear from you.” I believe the essence of this is true, in theory. If someone signs up to be on your mailing list, they are agreeing to hear from you, right?

Not always.

Part of the problem is the sheer number of authors using this tactic has overwhelmed the market. It’s no longer new, or unique; pretty much every author has a newsletter sign up on their website for which they actively seek subscribers, promising freebies, exclusive content, and other goodies in exchange for their coveted email address. So the competition factor has forced authors to be more creative in enticing readers to sign up. Just liking your books seems to be the last reason readers sign up these days.

More Free Stuff!

Another common way to get readers to sign up is mass promotion, or cross-promotion. Promotional companies or groups of authors offer gift cards or other prizes to readers in exchange for signing up to the mailing lists of several authors listed on their promotion. This seems to work, and sounds like a great way for readers to find new authors. But when the main motivation for someone signing up is a prize, and not you as an author or your books, will they stick around and actually read your newsletter? Or will they opt out the first chance they get, or worse, put your emails into spam?

Speaking of Spam…

I have been getting occasional emails from authors I have never heard of, spamming me about their book. I couldn’t figure out how that was happening when I had not signed up for their newsletters. But today I saw a conversation on Facebook where another author received over sixty (!) unsolicited emails from other authors spamming about their books. The thread was long as others commented they, too have been inundated with unsolicited emails from authors. Somehow, author newsletter swaps are occurring and getting into email lists. These kinds of abuses are precisely why readers are getting fatigued.

Sending your email to someone who never asked for it is spam, plain and simple, whether you do it directly or through a co-opted swap. It is also illegal and likely against the Terms of Service of your email service provider.

Another reason you want your list to be comprised of engaged readers is the fact that maintaining a list can be costly. Most email services charge when you get to a certain number of contacts or send out a certain number of emails. Which is disheartening when you find the open rate is small compared to the number you are mailing out and paying for. Some authors go through periodically and delete contacts who don’t open the emails, but apparently some email platforms allow reading without fully opening, so they may be purging engaged readers. There is no definitive way to tell for sure if the newsletter is being read. So, rather than having tons of subscribers who may or may not care to be on your list, wouldn’t it be better in the long run to cultivate a list of readers who really do want to hear from you?

The Struggle Is Real

Email itself has become a necessary evil in our lives. It’s a struggle for many to keep up with. I have a friend whose little red dot on her phone says she has over six thousand unread emails! I’m sure she is not alone, and some of those unread emails may well be from some of her favorite authors. (I am one of those who obsessively clears my emails, so no red dots for me. But I still struggle with reading them all in a timely manner).

No doubt newsletters still work for many, but there are challenges. If you end up with a certain percentage of loyal readers who really do read and respond to your email newsletter, then it will be worth it. Just don’t engage in abusive practices, or expect miracles from your newsletter. It is just one tool in your marketing arsenal. Like anything else, it all boils down to discoverability and engagement.

When you find that, it truly is gold.

 

 

 

 

Making Peace With Unfinished Stories

How many unfinished stories does the average author have?

I recently took inventory of all the stories I’ve written, and was surprised to find how many I had started and not finished. I have published three novels so far, so finishing a draft in general is not a problem for me. Some stories seem take hold of me and I can’t rest until they are done, and others, not so much. But that pile of unfinished manuscripts has been staring at me almost as hard as my TBR (to be read) pile, and it made me wonder if there was a common thread, a particular reason why those stories didn’t get finished. Was there something wrong, or is it normal to have a backlog of unfinished work?

The Consensus
I polled several authors, both traditionally and indie published, and their answers surprised me. Just as every author’s writing process is different, so is their approach to finishing drafts. Here’s what I found:

Some or none? A few authors said they always finish what they started, but the majority did have at least some unfinished drafts, with the average being around 4-5. One prolific author had twenty-four drafts set aside.

Plotter or pantser? Some voiced the thought that having unfinished stories may have to do with being a “plotter” or “pantser” style of writer, but I saw no discernable trends in that regard.

Will they go back and finish? Most planned to finish their stories at some point, but some chalked it up to learning their craft. Only one person reported they had deleted their old drafts. Several authors mentioned having gone back to old manuscripts and rewriting them into successful books. Personally, I agree with keeping everything─you never know what might work in the future and there could be gold in those old manuscripts.

Does it bother them? Having unfinished stories has been bothering me, so I asked if others felt the same. Again, it depended on the author’s perspective. A few said it bothered them to have the unfinished stories, but others said they kept their main focus on what they were currently working on and had no time or energy to worry about anything else.

Why didn’t you finish? Many reported they loved their unfinished stories but set them aside for more saleable projects. For example, they got a contract on an earlier work, or had to keep working on a series, got an idea for a currently popular genre, etc. You have to go where the money is! But some authors said that certain stories just won’t come together, no matter how much you love the premise or the characters. It doesn’t mean the story is hopeless, though. Ideas for the stalled story could still come at any time.

 

The Conclusion
This exercise did tell me a few things about myself as a writer. First, I’m not alone or abnormal. Not finishing a draft or not using a completed draft is a natural part of the business. As long as you keep working, keep moving forward, it’s all just your body of work.
Taking time to examine my unfinished stories helped me in other ways, too. I was able to discern the common themes running through my work, and see the development of my voice. I can see how I’ve progressed with plotting and character development.

So I’m not as worried now about those languishing drafts, but sometimes the characters of those unfinished works start prompting me to get back to “their” story. I feel so guilty─I have let them down! But I guess I’ll just have to make peace with the fact I may never finish them all, and that’s okay.

How many unfinished stories do you have? Does it bother you?

 

The Four Elements of Writing

The four elements: earth, water, air and fire

Authors, here’s a tip you may not have considered:

Are there elemental forces influencing your writing? How can you use the concept of the four elements to enhance your stories?

 

Elemental, My Dear

The concept of The Four Elements is an ancient one. Though it varies in different cultures, the most common elements are Air, Water, Fire and Earth. While we may not take the four elements as seriously today as we used to, the basic concepts have endured and can still be applied to gain understanding of a subject. Here’s a summary of the most common descriptions of each element:

Air– Thought, communication, intelligence, the power of the mind

Water– Emotion, healing, the feminine aspect

Fire– Passion, purification, destruction, the masculine aspect

Earth– Physical, grounding, growth, material world

 

On Trend

Currently in Young Adult, Paranormal Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy genres, there are so many stories featuring “Elementals”, (people or beings with special powers corresponding to an element) that it is almost a subgenre.  The idea of wielding power over nature is appealing, and it’s interesting to see how different authors twist the concept. But you don’t have to use the elements in a literal sense, to gain understanding or benefit. Here’s how I use the element’s influence in my stories:

 

Setting- physical location where the story happens (place), corresponds to Earth. This grounds the reader.

Ideas- the communication of the story (words, dialogue), corresponds to Air. This speaks to the reader.

Emotions– the theme and feeling of the story (characters) – corresponds to Water. This makes the reader feel.

Action– what happens (plot) – corresponds to Fire. This drives the reader to finish the story.

 

Keeping the four elements in mind while writing can help to achieve balance in a story.  Have you used the concept of the four elements in your work?

 

 

 

How To Survive A Negative Critique

Grrrrr.......

Grrrrr…….

You’ve finally finished that first draft. Congratulations! After months or even years of work, you’re ready to allow another set of eyes to read your precious words. You know it’s not perfect, and will likely need revision. But you’ve read it over and over, tweaked it and revised it, and now you need feedback in order to take your WIP or, Work In Progress, to the next level.
Test Drive Your Work
Finishing a first draft of a novel is a big accomplishment, but it’s only the beginning of your project’s journey. Having someone, and ideally, several people, read your draft and provide feedback is the logical next step whether you plan to self-publish or submit your manuscript for publication. There is only so much the creator of a story can see, and what is on the page may limited or confusing to a reader. Think of it as a test drive for your novel, before it goes out on the open road.
Have your significant other or family and friends read it, if you want, but in most cases their feedback will not yield the kind of constructive criticism you need to improve your work. The relationships color their feedback, and it may be overly positive or overly critical, or even benign, depending on the dynamics. It may be actually easier to take criticism (until you have developed a thick skin) from professionals (such as editors) or colleagues (critique partners), because of the distance and limited relationship.
Once you get the feedback from whoever has read your manuscript, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Even if they are a professional, it is only their opinion. You should consider all feedback, but it does not mean you have to use every single suggestion.
Look for trends or commonalities in the feedback. If a certain word, sentence or scene bothered several people, it needs to be addressed.
Read all comments or notes, but don’t try to fix anything right away. Let it marinate for a few days if possible.
Thank everyone who gave you feedback either in person or via email or message. Taking time out to read and give feedback is a kind thing to do for someone and takes effort.

 

The Down Side
But what if the feedback was mostly negative?
The first thing you should do is allow yourself to react. Politely thank everyone, as stated above, and then go somewhere alone to vent. Feeling hurt? It’s normal. Angry? Also normal. Allow yourself to work through all the emotions. You were brave and put yourself out there, and now someone has stomped on your dreams! Cry, yell, draw rude pictures of your critique partners and throw darts at them. Write a letter explaining why they are wrong, and then burn it or rip it up. Get all the bad feelings out before talking to anyone about how the feedback made you feel.
Then let it go for a few days. Your ego is bruised and sore, so let it heal. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the hurtful critique was spot on or off base. It doesn’t matter if you think you can fix it or not. All that matters is gaining some perspective about your work, and restoring your confidence.
Learning Curve
Writers feel things more deeply than most people; that’s often what prompts them to write in the first place. It’s a great thing to be emotional when creating, but editing and revision is a totally different skill set. It takes practice to turn off the emotional side and look at your work objectively, as others do. So venting after a disappointing critique or review may help to get you back in balance so you can be objective about the feedback.
The bottom line is, it’s your story, and you must ultimately decide how to use the feedback, positive or negative. Sometimes it’s just the reader’s personal preferences filtering their comments. The more you write and get feedback, the more discerning you will be at accepting/rejecting and using feedback.
Then you can polish that baby till it shines, and unleash it on the world!
And then there will be reviews, but that’s a whole other subject…

What To Do If You Hate Blogging

Cute Little Girl Typing On Vintage Typewriter Keyboard

What? You hate blogging? That’s okay. Writing and maintaining a blog is not for everyone. It can be a lot of work, and many writers feel it takes away from time they could be working on other writing projects. However, I believe it is one of the best tools for writers available, and here’s how you can still learn from it, even if you never blog.

In Favor of Blogging

I have learned so much from the almost three years I have been writing my blog posts. A recent post on Anne R. Allen’s blog, explains why blogging is still one of the best things an author can do, including 10 ways blogging can help your career. Whether or not her post inspires you to start or revive your own blog, there is still something to be learned. For example, how having a blog helps to get your name recognized by search engines. Connecting on social media is fine, and a following can be built using whatever social media outlet you prefer. But if you don’t have an actual website, a blog is a great way to get your name out there.

Another aspect of blogging I’d like to add is, since you’re in control, you can discuss any topic you like. This will help attract followers who like what you like. I enjoy discussing New Age/Supernatural topics from time to time, and I’m also a big fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. A friend of mine, Tasha L. Harrison, is passionate about diversity in books, and romance novels in particular. So she addresses that topic in some of her posts. Anyone who has an interest in the subjects you discuss may become a new follower, or a fan of your books, and hopefully, a friend.

If you are a new writer, you don’t have to blog about the subject of writing. In fact, it is probably better if you hold off on that until you have more experience. But you can talk about certain aspects of your journey, as I have on such topics as writing a first draft, how lack of confidence can affect your writing, trends you notice in the marketplace, etc.

Targeted Learning

It is okay if you still find blogging is not for you. What you can do then is learn from other writer’s blogs. There are tons of blog posts about pretty much any topic you can think of, especially writing tips. If you are a new writer, blogs can be a great educational tool. Supplement your craft studies and conference going by subscribing to the blogs that speak to you. That is what I did, and it was easier to learn that way, in small doses, than to try to get through an entire book of writing instruction.

Build Your Own Reference Guide

Here’s my tip: subscribe to the writing tips/instruction blogs that you like, and they will send you an email when they post. If they are discussing a topic you want to read later, or feel you may need to refer to at some point, move it to a file in your email. For example, I have files broken down by topic: Plotting, Character Development, Dialogue, etc. I also have files pertaining to marketing and the business side of writing, such as: Formatting, Web Design, Covers, Advertising, etc. I have amassed a trove of information, available at my fingertips whenever I need it.

My Favorite Blogs

I have a few blogs I subscribe to, but I also find relevant posts through social media. Writers are great about sharing helpful information on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. You can also bookmark posts you find by searching on a particular topic. How cool is that? Anything you want to know can be found in a few keystrokes.

Here are the blogs that I subscribe to for writing tips and instruction:        

Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Kristin Lamb’s Blog

Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Jami Gold’s Blog

 

What blogs do you subscribe to? Do you enjoy writing your own blog, and has it helped your career?

 

 

 

 

All About Chemistry- Do Your Hormones Determine Who You Love?

Let's get physical....

Let’s get physical….

Is sexual attraction and falling in love due to our body chemistry more than anything else? I read a book a few years ago that answered that question in an interesting, and plausible way. Entitled, Why Him? Why Her?, written by Helen Fisher, this book explained how and why certain hormones affect our personalities and our attraction to others.

I found it interesting because it was based on science, and was surprised to find it startlingly accurate. The author, Helen Fisher, PhD, is a Biological Anthropologist, and according to the bio on her website:

“She is a Senior Research Fellow, The Kinsey Institute, member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site Match.com. She has conducted extensive research and written five books on the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality style shapes who you are and who you love.”

So, Ms. Fisher knows a thing or two about her subject matter. She breaks the personality types into four distinct groups, based on hormones. While we all have many hormones in our bodies, most people have more of one hormone than the others, which influences their desires, motivations, and behavior, because the body seeks the “reward” of their particular influencing hormone. The four groups and their hormone of influence are:

Explorers– Dopamine, the hormone of sensation seeking

Builders– Serotonin, the Calming hormone

Directors– Testosterone, the Systemizing hormone

Negotiators– Estrogen, the hormone of Connectivity

All four types are explained in detail- what motivates them, how they interact with others, even negative traits. There is a personality test of multiple choice questions you can take to determine which you are, and most people fall into two personality types, with one being more prominent than the other. For example, you might be an Explorer/Director, and your mate may be a Builder/Negotiator.

The book goes into detail about how the various types might clash, and how to work through it. It helped me to understand, in retrospect, some of the difficulties I had with my first husband who was most definitely an Explorer type, while I was more of a Negotiator. He was constantly seeking adventure and the next new thing, while I was more introspective and wanted a safe place to create. He thrived on being under pressure, where I sought to avoid disruption. Turns out we were hardwired that way.

I thought this concept might be useful to writers in regard to character development. One of the reasons I have always loved reading and writing is my interest in human nature. What causes people to do the things they do? What motivates one person is a deterrent for another. I enjoy finding possible explanations, especially when they are based on measurable science.

book

If you have a chance, take a look at Ms. Fisher’s website and/or her books. The books are easy to understand, with case studies and plenty of information for follow up, if you choose to learn more.

It has been said you can’t really choose who you fall in love with. Your body really is pre-programmed to seek out certain types of people, whether you know it or not! At least if we have an understanding of how it works, we can improve our chances of making it last, and getting to our own HEA (happily ever after).