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.

The nine main stereotypes of writers – with cats

Ha ha ha. Yup. This is pretty accurate.

The Cat's Write

There are so many writing stereotypes out there. For example, when most people picture a writer they imagine a poor-coffee-loving-intelligent-but-crazy-bohemian-hermit who spends their days dreaming up fantastical worlds and despicable murders. It may shock some people to learn that some writers love the sun, prefer to be outdoors, and actually, NO, they don’t know a single thing about how a computer works, but if you need help with anything Microsoft word related – well you’re in luck! (Another stereotype?? Whoops).

Here are what I think are the nine main stereotypes of writers:

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A Story Has To Be Told

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What does it mean to tell a story?

8d0768a7eb6b307c17ac99cf1e51fda2Stories from various cultures have been passed down from generation to generation, some through oral tradition, some recorded in writing. The idea of story is what being a fiction writer is all about.

How many of us have sat around a campfire telling scary ghost stories, or been to family gatherings where Uncle Bob tells stories from his childhood or his military days?  Humans live for stories.  We read them, tell them, watch them on TV or the big screen, and create our own.  It’s what we do. As writers, we see stories all around us.  Our creative minds develop stories and create characters to act them out.  Story is the essence of writing.

Writing has always  been a part of my life. As a child, I loved creating stories and making images_image001up characters. I wrote short stories, drew illustrations for them, and shared them with my friends. I kept a journal full of song lyrics I liked and wrote daily diary entries to reflect on my thoughts and feelings from the day.  When my family would go on vacation or day trips, I brought a journal with me and kept track of the activities we did and the cool things I saw. It was rare to see me without a pencil in my hand.

In Jr. High, my love for writing branched out beyond short stories and personal reflection. I was introduced to the research paper and began a love affair with poetry. I received several awards for research papers I wrote and explored the various elements of poetry writing.

6b3f787c675a9d0f9fed539245a6cd68My freshman year of high school, I had several poems published in my high school’s literary magazine. I even earned a college scholarship for a poem I wrote that was later published in a national poetry collection.  During this time, I also began playing around with writing fiction. I started off just creating stories in a notebook, most of which I don’t even have anymore. By the time I graduated, I had several notebooks full of stories I had created. The Scrubs series began in one of these notebooks.

I started the series in college, as a hobby more than anything. Back then I wrote only for myself, so the entire story was kept hidden from anyone else’s eyes. Over the years I added to it, changed it, and deleted unnecessary scenes and characters. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I mustered up the nerve to let a dear friend of mine read the entire series.  She, and several others, finally convinced me to publish it.

The Scrubs series has grown with me. I wrote the four books during different stages of my life. Scrubs was written mainly during my college years. I wrote Sand & Sutures after I was married and while I was raising two young children.  Beyond the Hardwood  and Center Stage (both currently in revision) were written together, during a time in my life when my kids were teenagers and making their transition into the adult world. The different stages in my life are reflected in the different books. As I grew, my writing and the characters grew with me.

To this day, I still create stories in my head. These stories have to be told. I write them down, sometimes at 43763c356be7ce026300a41e61d94196inopportune moments, and refine them into full-blown novels. Some ideas are more vivid to me than others, but when I sit in front of keyboard to write, the characters come alive and the story develops on its own.

I wish I would have kept some of the stories I wrote when I was younger. Those journals were full of ideas, and I probably could have used some of them to generate more novels.

Happy writing!

 

Lost Inside My Head

brain slugWhy do I get my best writing ideas at the most inopportune moments?  Someone should invent a device that transcribes writer’s ideas into meaningful notes so we don’t lose the great ideas we come up with.  I guess this is why I carry a notebook and pen around with me everywhere I go. But it’s not the ideas I get when I’m ready for them that I’m talking about.  It’s the ones I get when I’m driving or in the shower that I can’t write down–those are the ideas that seem to get lost inside my head somehow.  It’s not until weeks later when the lightbulb comes on, the idea comes back to me, and I find myself saying, “Oh yeah.  That’s what I was going to do with that scene.”

Brain to Books Cyber Convention

books to brain

As an author participating in the 2016 Brain to Books Cyber Convention, I was asked to post answers to these interview questions.  So…I’m going to expose a bit of myself here and do my best to answer them.

1. Describe your favorite scene in your your book and tell us why it’s your favorite.

My favorite scenes in Scrubs involve the interactions between Randy and his best friend, Jim Ryan.  Their relationship was fun to write and their friendship is inspiring.  They have unconditional love and support for one another.  They stand together through the worst times and celebrate each other’s successes.  They joke around, as friends do, yet can have a serious discussion all in the same breath.  I love their conversations.

2. Which of your characters, do you relate to the most (or) who is your favorite character and why?

The character in Scrubs I relate to the most is Jane.  She went through some hardships in her life, but with a little love and encouragement, eventually found her strength and overcame those obstacles.  She’s a sensitive, emotional woman who is strong when she needs to be.

My favorite character is Jim.  He’s a fun-loving surfer wannabe medical student who has a snarky disposition, a sharp tongue, and is an all around laidback guy.  He speaks in surfer slang, which took quite a bit of research for me to create, but in the end, he’s a fun character.

3. “Story” has always been the center of all human cultures. We need it. We seek it out. When we lack it, we invent it. What does “story” mean to you?

Story means expressing thoughts and imaginings people can relate to.  Story is showing emotion and displaying the human side of characters.   Story is allowing your imagination to run wild and creating characters and scenarios that you not only enjoy writing about but that readers will also enjoy reading.

4.  What story has recently inspired/moved you?

I’ve had several stories/ books over the years that have inspired me.   Back in Junior High, I enjoyed The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  To this day it has stuck with me because the characters were easy to relate to.  They were “real” people encountering “real” situations and I found myself rooting for them.  I recently reread this book, and it still moved me.

Several years ago I read Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz.  This is one of my favorite books  Although the chain of events in the story are pretty unlikely to happen, the author made them feel real.  I was able to follow the characters throughout and experience emotions right along with them.

The most recent book that moved me was The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.  I think each of us has gone through some sort of emotional confusion both characters experienced in this book.  I felt the heartache and joy they felt.  This was a moving love story that touched my heart.

Star Wars.  I saw the first movie when it first came out in theatres.  The characters tell the story and the story evolves with the characters.  I’ve followed the series over the years, and recently watched the latest movie.  I still love it, and will always be a Star Wars fan.

5.  Characters begin with their strengths and weaknesses. Many authors reflect their own strengths and weaknesses in their characters. What are some strengths and weaknesses that you relate to, and how have these traits influenced your characters?

I’m an emotional person.  I’m also an introvert who is highly driven and sets high standards for myself and others.   In fact, I’ve been told I’m too hard on myself.   I don’t like drama, try to avoid conflict, and don’t dwell on the past or let hardships drag me down.  I relate to characters who have struggles, but at the same time aren’t afraid to admit their fears.  They take action to overcome their problems and are motivated, driven, and don’t give up easily.   Just as people in real life learn and grow through interactions and relationships they have with other people, the characters in my stories learn and grow, either outwardly or internally, because of personal encounters with other characters.

When I write, I create my characters first.  I get into their heads, think how they think, and envision the world through their eyes.  A bit of me is in each of my characters.  Randy, for instance, doesn’t like conflict and is a highly driven, goal oriented guy.  Although he does encounter struggles, he doesn’t dwell on them.  He pushes through or works around the problem and tries to find a solution.  Unlike me, he’s social, but tends to keep his emotions hidden from others around him.  He only shares his deepest thoughts with people he’s closest to, which makes him hard to read sometimes.  Although Jane is emotional like me, much of her personality is the complete opposite of mine.   She’s a social butterfly and openly speaks her mind.  Jim is sarcastic and enjoys life to its fullest.  Bruce processes things internally and won’t let life’s circumstances stand in his way.  Mandy has random tendencies, much like me, and Sarah is quiet and shy.

My characters tell their own story, and the story evolves through them.  They build on their strengths and learn from their weakness.

5.  What did story mean to you as a child?

Character.  Imagination.  Creativity.  Adventure.  From childhood, I loved to read and write stories about imaginary places, people, and things.  I created stories in my head and on paper and even acted out adventures with these characters I created.  Whether watching movies, reading books, listening to music, or writing, I’ve always had a story in my head.