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.
- Invest in some reference books. Get a dictionary, thesaurus, and a book on basic grammar. Have them handy and use them.
- 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 few. Stop and think about other words or word combinations and insert them into your writing.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make time to write. Choose a time and place, and just write. You can’t improve your writing if you don’t write.
- 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.
One Stop For Writers has a bunch of useful information for writers. It’s definitely worth checking out.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The first week of 2018 started off with a bang (literally and figuratively speaking). I finally finished my latest project, which is now in publication stage. Launching a new book is always exciting, and when you finally see it in print, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of your book in your hands. That feeling never subsides, no matter how many books you write.
But before you can celebrate the release of a new book, you have to finish writing it.
I read posts in writing forums all the time from writers who have difficulty finishing the book they’re writing. They have so many ideas and start a ton of projects, but have a hard time finishing any of them. It takes discipline and pushing your internal editor aside to get it done.
An informational meeting I attended recently focused on that exact topic. During this meeting, I jotted down a list of rules to follow that I think will help struggling writers finish their first draft. If this is you, I hope you will find this information useful.
- Ditch the negativity. You can’t go into writing with the attitude that you won’t finish or it’s too hard or no one will like your work. Ignore your inner demons and write.
- Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Start by getting your ideas on paper. Anne Lamott said, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” Your first draft is supposed to be messy. Just get it written.
- Send your internal editor on vacation. I know it’s tempting to edit your work as you go. Believe me, I do it too. But if your goal is finish the manuscript, stop worrying about it being perfect and get the words on paper. You can leave a sticky note or a quick sentence to remind yourself where you left off, but NO EDITING ALLOWED! Go back and fine tune it later.
- Lock yourself in your room and put a do not disturb sign on the door. I don’t mean this literally. I simply mean to tell your family and friends that you love them then give yourself that alone time to write without distractions. Get off social media and turn off the TV. Absorb yourself in your ideas.
- Pre-plan. Have your story map, outline, character sketches, etc…ready before you start.
- Believe in the magic. Go in with the idea that your plan will work. Stick to the rules and stay positive (see rule number 1).
- Recruit a cheering squad. Set up a support system and make yourself accountable to other people. Only choose people who will motivate you.
- Create a great writing space. Clear the clutter, get comfortable, and have everything you need accessible.
- Feed your brain. Eat protein and high energy food. Stock up on those protein bars and have them handy.
- Take a break. Stop and stretch every 45 minutes. Get the blood pumping. Take a quick bathroom break, walk a few laps around the room, or stretch for a minute or two. Then go right back to writing.
- Set yourself up for success. Every time you push yourself, you create new neurological pathways in your brain. When you constantly stay in your story, you will get better and faster, and your story will become tighter. Set daily writing goals and stick to them, then reward yourself.
- It’s ok to get stuck. If you do get stuck, move away from the computer for a minute (see rule number 10). Concentrate on a scene with a particular character. Write a placeholder and move on to the next scene or chapter. Leave headers for each chapter then add details. Make notes of what you’d like to see happen. Time yourself – give yourself 20 minutes of hands on the keyboard. You’ll soon find yourself writing for much longer than that. Refer back to your map, outline, or other pre-writing notes. If all else fails, ask a friend to help brainstorm.
- Celebrate success. Yay! You did it! Now crack open that bottle of wine and celebrate. You worked hard, and you deserve it.
Now that your draft is finished, walk away from the keyboard for a few days before you go in to clean up the mess. Cleaning up the mess is an entirely different blog post.
You can do this! Just keep writing.
I don’t know about you, but writing the novel is the easy part, compared to writing the book blurb. How do you take a 100+ page novel and condense it to fit on the back cover of a book? And how do you make it intriguing enough to get people to want to read it? Writing a book blurb has always been challenging for me, but I recently took several classes on this topic and learned a few things that you might find helpful.
The blurb on the back of your book is all about the journey. Who is your protagonist? What is his or her goal? What problems are they up against? Readers want to discover this journey on their own. Give them a glimpse inside your book that draws them into the character’s world.
There are three main elements to a good book blurb.
- The setup. This is the underlying theme of the book, the problem. For example, “She was kidnapped not once, but twice, and now someone wants her dead.”
- The capture. This is the backstory, the kickstart, the conflict. The capture tells the reader about the hurdles the character has to get over to meet their goal.
- The intrigue. Leave the reader with a question. Will the character succeed or fail?
When writing a book blurb, always remember to include the name of the protagonist, what the protagonist wants, and how the protagonist got in this situation. What is the connection between the protagonist and the antagonist? What are the main events that kickstart the story? What is the first main event that stops the protagonist from moving forward? Also, make sure the tone of the blurb matches the tone of the book. If the book is dark, emotional, mysterious, then the blurb needs to be too.
Be careful though, because a book blurb is not a synopsis or a summary of your book. Blurbs should be around 200 words and should focus on the struggle. A blurb is not a detailed description. A book blurb is also not an endorsement. Testimonials should not be included in your blurb. If you want to include them before or after the blurb, that’s fine, but they should not be present in the blurb itself.
For more information on this topic, visit the following sites:
With the current chaos going on in my life right now (new job in a new grade level in a new school, getting a new AC unit installed in my house, going solar powered, working on new WIP, etc…), I haven’t written a new post in a while. My brain has been going 100 miles an hour lately, and I haven’t been able to put anything comprehensive down on paper in weeks. Let’s see if we can fix that today.
Although I’m not a traditional romance writer, about a year ago, I became a member of my local chapter of RWA. This fabulous group of people consists of all walks of life, and not all members are romance writers, myself included. Men and women, both published and non-published, make up this group: Indie authors, traditionally published authors, screenwriters, teachers, students, former attorneys and active military members, technology gurus, mothers, fathers, real-estate agents, and even a woman who writes for Harlequin and had one of her books turned into a movie. Needless to say, the writing expertise within this group is pretty well-rounded.
I originally joined this group for the insights they offer about the craft of writing. Regardless of genre, the information obtained from the many seminars I’ve attended through this group have helped me become a better writer.
The last seminar I attended focused on archetypes. For those of you who don’t know what that is, an archetype is a pattern of behavior that is universally present in characters in classic storytelling. It can be better summarized as the universal personality traits of a character. These personality traits are pretty standard, regardless of whether it is a character in a movie, book, or play or a person in real life. As I review each one, you’ll probably get images in your head of people you know or literary/ movie characters you’ve seen or read about who portray these characteristics. Let’s get started, shall we?
There are female archetypes and male archetypes, some of which are interchangeable. Every archetype has positive and negative personality traits, but the best characters do not fall under one specific archetype. They are made up of a combination of these traits.
I’ll go over the female archetypes first. There are 8 main ones.
- The Boss. This girl is a real go-getter. She climbs the ladder of success. Queen Elizabeth is a good example.
- The Seductress. She’s an enchantress. She charms those around her to get her way. Scarlett O’Hara is a classic seductress.
- The Spunky Kid. This is a woman who is gutsy and true. She’s a loyal friend to the end. Pretty much every character Meg Ryan has ever played can be classified as a spunky kid.
- The Free Spirit. This is a person who is an eternal optimist. She dances to her own tune. Phoebe from the TV show Friends nails this archetype.
- The Waif. She is the damsel in distress. Sleeping Beauty, Bella from Twilight, and Audrey Hepburn to name a few.
- The Librarian. She is controlled and clever. She doesn’t have to be a bookwork or a scholar though. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Belle from Beauty and the Beast are librarians.
- The Crusader. She is a dedicated fighter. She has a cause and fights for the greater good. Katniss from the Hunger Games and Wonder Woman are crusaders. Go girls!
- The Nurturer. She is serene and capable. These are people who nurture the spirit of others (can be animals and plants too). One person comes to mind with this one: Julie Andrews. She played a nurturer in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.
Let’s move on to the male archetypes now. Again, there are 8 main ones, and you’ll find that some are similar to their female counterparts.
- The Chief. He is a dynamic leader and wants to be in charge. He is goal oriented and has time for nothing but work. Michael Douglas in Wall Street or Captain Picard from Star Trek exemplify this archetype.
- The Bad Boy. He’s dangerous to know simply because he walks on the wild side. Danny in Grease or Prince Harry would be considered bad boys.
- The Best Friend. He’s sweet and safe and never lets anyone down. Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted and any Tom Hanks character.
- The Lost Soul. This man is a tormented being. He’s a recluse and lives in solitude. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and Wolverine are lost souls.
- The Charmer. He’s a smooth talker. The fairy tale Prince Charming. George Clooney plays these characters. Jack from Titanic was also a charmer.
- The Professor. This guy knows all the answers. The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, Frasier, and Sherlock Holmes are considered professors.
- The Swashbuckler. This is Mister Excitement. He’s an adventurer and often breaks the rules. Indiana Jones and Han Solo are swashbucklers. (Hmmm, Harrison Ford seems to play these characters a lot). Maverick from Top Gun is also a swashbuckler. I would say Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean is too.
- The Warrior. He is a noble fighter who acts with valor. Superman and To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch are warriors.
You’ll notice that some of the female/ male archetypes are similar. And there are some male characters who fit into the female archetypes and vice versa, like nurturer. Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Mrs. Doubtfire, played by Robin Williams, are both nurturers although they are male characters. The best characters are dynamic and complex. They don’t fit into one generic mold. They are a combination of one or more of these archetypes, just like each one of us is.
This is a guideline only. Not every character you write will fit perfectly into a specific archetype, but neither do we. As writers, we are observers of life. Use the people around you as inspiration.
I attended a seminar recently with author Sophie Jordan. The session was entitled, How to Take a Good Book and Make it Great. She offered a lot of worthwhile information to consider when writing a novel, and I’m going to share some of those ideas with you. Hopefully you will find them helpful.
- The craft. Build your craft by reading and writing. Write distinctly, read books on writing, and designate time for writing.
- The voice. Your voice evolves as you write. Own it and be conscientious of it.
- The market. Read everything you like and everything the world is talking about. Stay up to date on what’s hot in the market. Watch the latest movies, mini-series, and TV shows. Stay informed.
- The id. Write like no one’s reading. Write what’s deep within you. Fantasize, break away from the guidelines. Find that pleasure principle and entertain yourself. Your audience will be there.
- The identifier. Make the reader identify with the hero/ heroine. Make the characters bad, but not too bad. Give them redeeming qualities to make them likeable. Bad choices make good stories, but the characters must have a reason for making those bad choices.
- The concept. Take a familiar concept and turn it on its head. Think: If your book was a movie trailer, what three or four sentences would you get out of it?
- The beginning. Pull the reader in within the first ten pages. The beginning should be memorable and have high impact. Make the shit hit the fan right from the start.
- The black moment. Make bad things happen. Make the character’s goal seem impossible to achieve. Create that moment when all is lost, that moment when their is no chance they will ever meet their goal.
- The love scene. If your book has a love scene, make it uniquely personal between the characters.
- The dialogue. Dialogue must reflect the characters and build their relationships. It should expose them.
- The ending. Let the reader know what happened to these people. Give them that breath of fresh air.
- The packaging. What do people see when they look at your book? They will judge your book by the way it is packaged.
Sometimes as writers, it’s hard to create the perfect pace in our stories. I attended a writing workshop recently and learned a few things about pacing. Here’s what I walked away with.
- Impose a deadline. Your characters must have an urgency and a time constraint to accomplish their task. Give them a timeframe.
- Up the ante. Make the task harder, danger greater, or stakes higher. Challenge your character, create tension and throw things at them that get in the way.
- Create a mystery. Leave open questions. Create doubt and uncertainty. Why was he here? What was he doing with that person?
- Swap point of view. Change the voice. Alter from heavy to humorous.
- Leave white space. Keep paragraphs short. Vary sentence length. Create chunks.
- Create an unsettled feeling. End chapters by leaving readers on edge. Make them want to know what’s going to happen next.
- Interlock episodes. Every scene connects to the other. Dive into important stuff and make each scene action or emotion related. Description and action must flow. Don’t write a scene readers will skip. If it’s not important, don’t include it.
- Introspection. Put your reader into the thick of your character’s emotions. Climb inside the character’s head and pull the reader in with you.
- Punctuation power. Make punctuation pull the flow of the story. Dashes quicken the pace, semicolons slow the reader down.
- Ignore the noise. Make the writing yours and be your own voice. Don’t compare yourself to others. Be true to your own stories.