10 Tips to Help Writers Stay Focused

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5 Simple Writing Tips

Writing-Tips

(image from https://thecostaricanews.com/top-tips-improve-writing-skills/)

As writers, we’re always looking for tips to improve our craft. Here are 5 simple tips that can give your writing that extra punch.

  1. Know your character’s unique view. How does he or she interact with the world around them? Write through that lens.
  2. You don’t need as many dialogue tags you think.
  3. Don’t forget visceral reactions. Readers want to feel your character’s emotions.
  4. Use figurative language.
  5. Read.  The more you read, the better writer you become.

 

How To Become a Better Writer

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There is so much writing advice out there from people who claim to be experts. As writers, it’s sometimes hard to wade through the information and decide what’s important and what’s not.  Despite the endless pool of writing advice offered by everyone under the sun, one fact remains. Your ultimate goal is to become a better writer.

I’m sure you’ve read and heard a lot of advice about writing. Some advice is useful. Some, not so much. Over the years, I’ve taken all the advice I’ve accumulated and compiled a list that encompasses the six main things that seem to be consistent no matter who is offering advice.

  1. Invest in some reference books. Get a dictionary, thesaurus, and a book on basic grammar. Have them handy and use them.
  2. Expand your vocabulary. I’m not talking fancy, flowery words here. This is more about using the vocabulary you already have and expanding it. For example, how many synonyms can you come up with for the noun plan? There’s program, itinerary, scheme, design, blueprint, agenda, and outline to name a fewStop and think about other words or word combinations and insert them into your writing.
  3. Read. Reading expands your vocabulary and helps you see how words can be arranged to communicate subtleties or express emotions. Read books in your genre and books outside your genre. Listen to the sound of language as you read. Read critically and look upon all you read as a writing lesson.
  4. Take writing classes.  There are a lot of creative writing courses and various writing workshops you can find online or through your local adult education extension programs. Find a few and work to improve your writing.
  5. Make time to write. Choose a time and place, and just write. You can’t improve your writing if you don’t write.
  6. Write for yourself. Write a story that scratches an itch inside you.  Don’t write to please the masses, write to please yourself. If you aren’t fully vested in the story, you won’t survive the criticism that comes with all published work.

Developing an Author Platform

Author Platform : The Indie Author’s Holy Grail Or A Complete Waste Of Time?

So you’ve written your book, spent months revising and editing, and created an eye-catching cover. Now you’re ready to hit that publish button. But wait, how are you going to attract people to your book and get them to buy it?

The answer: develop an author platform.

But what exactly is an author platform?

A platform, simply put, is your visibility as an author. This includes social media outlets, a website, email, networks, and any other unique path you take to put yourself out there.

Building a platform it not about being the loudest self-promoter on the planet. It’s an ongoing process that allows you to stand out among other authors. The best way to do this is to focus on your audience, not on yourself. Your platform is about readership and audience development. It’s about offering new and interesting content. It’s about telling your story, a story that separates you from other writers. A powerful author platform represents an emotional connection between writer and reader.

To become a successful indie author, you have to actively work on building your platform. It takes time, but it is invaluable.

A successful author platform consists of many elements, including but not limited to:

  • A website
  • Focused, quality content, such as a blog or podcasts
  • Social media
  • Associations with writing groups and other authors (your network)
  • Speaking engagements and author appearances
  • Your email list

This foundation is important in productive platform building. As an author, you have to open the funnel and try to capture as many potential readers as possible. Figure out what works for you and what is sustainable then flow with it.

Start with content.

Content refers to print books, ebooks, your website, online courses, live webinars, magazine articles, blog posts, digital downloads, podcasts, videos, and events. Quantity can help you. The more content you have, the more options you have available.

There are many ways to attract new fans. One way is to consider offers people can easily say “yes” to. These might include:

  • giveaways
  • discounts
  • free e-books
  • the first book in a series
  • free workshops
  • free downloadable guides

Freeloaders will never pay for anything, but superfans will pay everything. Everyone else is at some level in between. Offering giveaways and discounts will attract readers from all ends of the spectrum, and could potentially lead to book sales.

If you’re short on content, join forces with other authors, preferably in your genre, to create bundles and box sets or collaborative blog posts.

 

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(Image from Authors-Platform.com)

While we’re on the topic of blog posts, as an author, you should have an author website. However, your website should not be separate from your blog. Your blog needs to be part of your website. Your website is a central hub of information and a place for you to guide your readers. Lure them in with your blog.

Your website should have a clear identity that not only evokes who you are as an author, but also showcases your work.

Your website should include the following:

  • a page dedicated to all of your books
  • individual book pages that feature the cover, a brief description of the book, and purchase links
  • a mailing list sign up form
  • links to social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Youtube, LinkedIn, etc…)
  • about me author page (bio)
  • current blog posts

As far as your blog is concerned, develop a regular posting schedule and stick to it. Talk about what you love. Repurpose things you’ve shared on social media. Feature other writers or books. Be sure to include images that relate to your content. Engage with your audience and gain their attention.

You’ll have much more successful launches if you have an engaged audience. One of the best ways to get people to want to buy your books is to offer them sample sections. An alternative to providing samples is to create short stories or poems that are exclusive to your blog. When you have a book about to come out, show your appreciation by offering your readers a discount or some other promotion.

Along the same lines, set up a newsletter email list. Your email list primarily builds through your website. Offer ebook giveaways where readers have to give their email address to get the free book. Newsletters are much more successful, however, if you offer content other than just book promotion. Post something interesting at least once per month.

People want to hear from you. One of the best ways to do this is through social media. Start an account on each major social media network even if you’re not active on it. Be consistent in how you describe yourself across these accounts.

Social media is about showing up, day in and day out, and sharing who you are to your audience. Share something in your life you do creatively. Offer a snippet for free and include images. Share blog posts on topics of interest. Interact with your followers and comment on their posts. If social media overwhelms you, choose one or two social networks to focus on, and enjoy them.

An author platform isn’t just about establishing an online presence so people buy your books. It’s about making connections. Even though some people may not interact with you or like your posts, they are still watching and will support you.

A successful author platform is the combination of small efforts that are sustainable and purposeful. Build your body of work. Establish a website and an email newsletter. Look for collaborative opportunities and partnerships. Create a network and make connections. Always think about how to get new people in and how to move them to be loyal fans.

Most importantly, be patient. Your platform won’t build overnight; it takes time.

 

Writing the Perfect Scene

We’ve all heard the classic writing advice, “Show, don’t tell.” But according to Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, “Most folks get ‘Show, don’t tell’ wrong because they take it literally rather than figuratively. It’s not about proof (showing sad characters cry) but about causality (revealing why characters cry). Don’t just show readers the effect of emotion, reveal the cause so they can feel it too.”

Swain further said, “Your reader reads first and foremost for emotional stimulation.”Image result for writing quotes by dwight swain

Writers invoke and shape emotions by creating scenes.

A workshop I attended recently by Damon Suede (author of  Verbalize, a new guide to characterization and story planning suitable for newbies and experts, pantsers and plotters) took a different angle to scene writing that I had never heard before. Here’s Damon’s take on writing scenes.

We’ll start by defining what a scene is: A scene is a unit of struggle between opposing forces. Scenes are clear, active steps which create problems and move the story toward its final outcome.

Every scene should lead the character to his or her objective. A character’s objective needs to be challenging enough to sustain your character throughout the story’s length, significant enough to attract character attention and to inspire escalating risks, and relatable enough that anyone can grasp the character’s need to pursue it.

A scene follows the pattern of:

  • GOAL: Specific object that drives action. The immediate gimme-gimme. Make it something you can photograph (e.g. grandkids or a bungalow in the Maldives), but avoid abstractions (e.g. happiness or peace).
  • CONFLICT: Obstacles opposing the goal. Friction between the POV character’s needs and the reality they face. This is not necessarily combat, but a force which must be tackled during the scene.
  • DISASTER: Failure to accomplish the goal. A defeat that ends the conflict. It raises the stakes and derails progress via threats, complication, or impediment. It should demand a decision.

Each scene reveals character tactics. The character makes an offer/demand which is either accepted or rejected, requiring a new offer/demand. For best results, establish time, place, point of view, and context as soon as possible. Identify stakes within the first half-page to engage readers. Keep building to hooks that make readers turn the page.

After each scene, comes the sequel. This is not a sequel as in the next book in a series. This is different. In this case, a sequel is the aftermath. It acts as a transition between two scenes. Sequels are internal and pinpoint character action. They allow adaptation/course correction after interactions to improve the odds of success.

A sequel follows the pattern of:

  • REACTION: Emotional effects of disaster. Use this to reveal character: fear/hope, virtues/failings. Make it believable.
  • DILEMMA: Situation with no good options. Review the options. Amplify difficulty by challenging habits.
  • DECISION: Choosing the best of (bad) options, which leads to new tactics. Demand sacrifice, and make sure this points directly at a new/next goal.

Sequels bridge scenes. Whatever decision the POV characters make initiates a new tactic for the subsequent scene. These tactical shifts allow POV characters to regroup.

The Overall Scene Structure by Better Novel Project

(Infographic courtesy of Helping Writers Become Authors)

Scenes drive the story forward through external action that impact characters (and readers) via tactics and objects. Sequels deepen the story through internal assimilation by characters (and readers) via actions and objectives. You must have both to wring as much satisfying emotion from the reader as possible.

-Taken from Damon Suede’s workshop, Scene & Sequel: the rhythm of fiction

 

 

10 Things to Consider When Writing a Novel

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Writing a book is incredibly hard. There is no magic formula or secret weapon you can use that will miraculously create a best-selling novel. Writing a book takes time. It requires initiative, discipline, and the ability to accept the fact that not everything you write is going to be beautiful.

“Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.” ―Ray Bradbury

But if you seriously want to write a book, nothing will stand in your way. Get out your pen, your laptop, or whatever writing tool you choose and start writing.

But before you do, here are a few things to consider.

  1. Start small. Give yourself short assignments you can easily complete, like a character sketch, drawing a map, or writing 500 words. Take one step at a time. “Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” -E.L. Doctorow.
  2.  First drafts. Your first draft is going to be awful. Deal with it. The whole point of a draft is to get your thoughts on paper. You can clean it up later. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” -Anne Lamott.
  3. Character. Characters can make or break a story. Know your characters, develop them, see them as they are. Dig into their heads and know what motivates them, what scares them, and what their weaknesses are. Make them believable, and make them come alive.
  4. Dialogue. Dialogue reveals more about your characters than pages of detailed description does. Each character should be easily identified by the way they talk. Reveal your character’s voice and let their personalities shine. Include actions and mannerisms.
  5. Plot. Characters drive the plot. Listen to your characters, and your plot will fall into place. Watch your characters move and stay with them. Things will happen to them; they will create their own tension and drama. Push them harder and load them up with problems they have to solve. Give them something to work for.
  6. Setting. Readers what to know about the character’s lives. Every piece of the setting offers a view into their lives. Setting helps the reader see beyond the surface. It reveals personality and values. Let your characters’ lives pour through the setting. Imagine the scene and add as much detail as possible.
  7. Breathe. Self-doubt will creep up on you, but you have to learn not to stress over small things. It’s ok if the story goes in a different direction than you planned. Let the characters take over and go with the flow.
  8. Prepare yourself for failure. Not only will you doubt yourself, others will doubt you too. Not everyone is going to like what you write. Stephen King said, “If you write, someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.” Don’t waste your time trying to please people.Image result for writing a book is incredibly hard
  9. Support. Seek help and support along the way. Fellow writers can give you pointers if you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask. Read books about writing, use reference materials, and take notes. Find a support system to cheer you on. Your spouse, your best friend, or members of your local writing group can be invaluable resources to keep you motivated and get you back on track.
  10. Voice. There are millions of stories out there, and you might be “worried that it’s all been said before. Sure it has, but not by you.” -Asha Dornfest. Find your voice, and tell your story your way.

What are you waiting for? Sit down and write. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank one.” -Jodi Picoult.