Honesty or Whitewash

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Honesty or whitewash – what’s your drug? My gang of writers know that I seem to be totally incapable of whitewashing anything. I really do feel whitewash is best left for picket fences and buildings in Greece. Knowing the truth about your writing can only help to get you closer to your goal of being published.

My Online Group Experience

Recently, I met up with a couple of writers I had met. Our loose plan was to begin an online critiquing group since I wanted some input for my new story. I had taken a risk, and started a high fantasy story. It’s not my forte, but I thought I’d try something different. My usual style is contemporary fantasy. The online group started out well. They both hacked my story to bits … and they were absolutely right. It was a very early first draft, jammed full of cliches and completely pretentious. In other words – crap. And they were right.

I looked at my work, and realized that the essential bits were good, but everything else had to go. The upshot – I think my new version is working because now I’m writing my own story, not a cliched, watered down version of something else.

But the problem came with reciprocation. One writer accepted her critiques and moved on. The other tried to convince me that since she had worked in a children’s setting before, she knew better. Maybe she did. But having written for one age group does not mean you automatically know how to write for another age group. The bottom line is that if you ask for a critique, you should know how to accept honesty. If you want whitewash, well then – you should go to your mother or some other family member. Needless to say, that online group crumbled.

As writers, it behooves us to take into account what others we trust say about our work. Getting upset initially is natural. But once you get over it, honest comments can become a gift.

What do you prefer – honesty or whitewash?

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest

Dreams, Despair and Depression

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I call them the three D’s of a writer’s life – dreams, despair, and depression. First, you have a wonderful dream of writing a novel. Not just any novel – a bestseller. It will be top of the New York Times Bestselling list, will become a hit movie, and of course you will be the next J. K. Rowling aka the richest person in the world.

Hah. Reality sinks in when you start writing your magnificent opus. First draft, then tenth draft and one day you realize you are in total despair. Your characters hate you, and the feeling is reciprocal. You’ve gone through your manuscript so many times that you can’t see what the story is about any more.

That’s when depression sets in. You will never sell the stupid thing, no one will ever want to read it, and you are a total bust.

How to Help Yourself

Here are a couple of ways to help you hang on to your dream, to kick despair out of your life and to tell depression to take a hike – a really long one, far away from you.

Worm your way into a critiquing group. A good critiquing partner is worth his/her weight in not just gold – make that diamonds. He/she will quite often have far better insight into your own work than you do. It’s a weird phenomenon, but true.

The second way is to join a creative writing class or hire a creative writing coach. My gang of writers at Beyond-the-Lamppost have become sharks … and I love it. They’ve learned to glean not only the essential parts of each writer’s characters, plot and conflict, but they also offer suggestions on how to improve the work, cut out extraneous bits, and craft the work into something that stands out in quality and originality.

How do you deal with dreams, despair and depression when writing?

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Writing out of Sequence

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Does it matter if you are writing out of sequence? Not starting your novel at the beginning, progressing through the middle and finally to the conclusion? Do you jump around and write the scenes that excite and titillate you, make you feel alive and then try and rope the scenes together to make sense?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing.

Advantages to Writing out of Sequence

Crafting those crucial scene allows you to capture your characters’ thoughts and emotions and allows your own thoughts and emotions to flow. When they do -hey, there’s no better time to hit those keys.

Allows you to stay energized and get the best parts of your story down. Why wait, when you can write? Go for it. It can help your story take shape, and/or set it on a path you didn’t think of before.

Skipping ahead allows you to fight writer’s block. Perhaps one character’s needs and actions are clearer than another’s.

Disadvantages to Writing out of Sequence

It makes it difficult to know where to slot your already-written scene in. The scene stands out like a giant thumb, and can drive you crazy trying to figure out how and where to stuff it into your novel.

If you have written all the juicy scenes, it can sap the strength out of your writing. Leaving only transitional scenes to write can be boring, and taxing.

It can be risky. You might not know what to do with the scene once it’s written – it may not fit into your overall plot.

If you are a pantser, this might hinder you since you don’t necessarily know where your plot is heading to.

How do you write – in sequence, or out of?

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you from Writer’s Digest:

Instinctive Writing

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Instinctive writing is like breathing. You do it naturally. If you pretend you are Robertson Davies (who I loathe) and try to write in his literary style (I call it dull and boring) you will fail. Similarly, if you mimic the high fantasy style of Georges R. R. Martin, you are dooming yourself to failure. That’s because you are not using your instinctual way of writing.

Talk to Your Readers

When I started this latest novel, I wanted to write high fantasy. It’s not an instinctive way of writing for me. And what I found was, while the nub of the story was exactly what I wanted – the style sucked … big time. I was copying someone else’s style, and of course, it didn”t work. Only when I used my instinctive style (which is more conversational, and in the contemporary/urban genre) did my story start to pop, and work.

Can Instinctive Writing be Taught?

Yes, I think so. If a writer is struggling and his/her prose sounds stilted – STOP writing immediately. Get a recorder, or your phone and tape what you want to say. Better still, tape yourself telling someone else your story. Chances are the words will flow because you’re allowing your instinctual self to take over. Not thinking about words, and phrases, and sentences – just the story. You can fix the flow later. What you want is the raw emotion and power that flows out of you.

I’ve said this so often I’m sick of hearing it from myself – but, GO WITH YOUR GUT. If you feel a character must say or do something even though it’s not in your plot outline – go with it.

Write the Clichés

Sounds like crazy advice, but this is your first draft and if the cliches allow you to show what your character feels or does – go with it. You can fix up the clichés later.

Stop Line Editing

You can do this later. Instinctive Writing means go with the flow. No over-analyzing and over-thinking. Let your gut take over.

 

 

The Saggy Middle Blues

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Boo hoo – You’ve reached that awful part – the saggy middle of a story where your initial excitement has faded, and the horrible thought that you may actually not have enough material to go on shoves its nasty head at you. And there’s a heck of a long way to go before you can type in those two final words – The End. What to do?

Kill Someone

Not literally – just in your book, silly. Killing someone off always causes chaos, especially if it is someone the reader thought was important. That will wake them up, and you too. Figuring out how to continue will wake you up from the saggy middle blues.

Introduce a New Character

There is no law that says you have to introduce all your characters up front. Let this new and (maybe) creepy character bring some angst and fear to the rest of the cast. Someone that can cause chaos and rev everyone up – including you.

Write Out of Sequence

Fire out a scene that you know you want to write – perhaps a sexy love scene, or a devastating death, or maybe even the climax of the novel. The excitement of writing something fresh and powerful will stab you with zeal to continue your story. Perhaps you’ll start seeing the characters in a different light, or track possibilities that you didn’t think of before.

Character Reversal

One of the best ways to throw your reader off the scent of whatever your writing about is to have the ‘friend’ be actually the ‘opponent’. Take this opportunity to start sowing seeds of doubt.

What do you do to prop up your saggy middle … of the story – that is!

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you from Writer’s Digest:

 

Trusting Your Gut Instinct

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Trusting your gut instinct is not as easy as it sounds. Years ago, when I first immigrated to Canada I worked as a secretary in a big paper company, right in the center of Montreal in the wonderful old SunLife Building. It was a great introduction to Canada, but I hated working as a secretary especially when I got promoted to be the Big Boss’ secretary. That meant I had to make him his daily cup of soup in addition to my other work. Grr, I absolutely detested it.

My Trigger for Change

But one day I visited a school friend of mine who worked at the World Bank in Washington. It was great fun until she made me cry. Yep, she got under my skin and made me feel awful because she made me realize one important thing (which I didn’t want to hear at that time) – I was in a job I hated and which did not suit me and … I could do so much better.

Once I got over my crying jag, I realized she was right. That’s when my gut instinct kicked in. I marched into my boss’ office (I wish I could say I told him where to stuff his cup of soup, but I didn’t) and quit to go back to university and get my Bachelor’s in Journalism.

That was the beginning of my belief in gut instinct. Whenever I’ve used it, it’s never let me down. When I’ve sat there analyzing my actions and decisions, I fall flat. My decision to become a writing coach was based on expertise – yes, but it was also based on my gut instinct that I could do the job. I had the qualifications, the knowhow and the temperament but most of all – my gut instinct told me I would be good at it. And it was right.

What does your gut instinct tell you?

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest:

Sabotaging Yourself and Your Writing

You love writing your novel, yet somehow you can’t stop sabotaging yourself. What gives? Not sure, but I think it’s our innate way of trying to protect ourselves from rejection. Besides, it’s just so darned easy to blame everyone.

Sabotaging Strategies

Blame work and family for taking up so much of our time away from what we want to do – write, write, and write.

Blame agents for rejecting our work, not bothering to read the story, not getting it, and well – why bother if you can’t even get your query by the gate keepers

Blame our critiquing partners for not understanding what we’re writing and refuse to understand how their remarks and suggestions can help improve and texturize your work

Blame distractions like Facebook, email, google and housework.

Blame your own insecurities for not allowing you to pursue your goals of getting your novel published.

Is there any way to get past these sabotaging strategies? Sure. Just like any bad habit, it will probably take you a few months of concerted effort to force yourself to climb the self-esteem ladder.

Success Strategies

Writing books, teaching blogs, podcasts, magazines – there is something for everyone. But sometimes, this can actually be a problem. Too much information can be overwhelming. Troll a few sites, and see which ones appeal to you. Is the language simple and direct? That’s always a good clue.

Writing classes can be the perfect strategy for motivation and to snap the word ‘sabotage’ out of your writing vocabulary – but only if it is the right one for you. Small classes like in Beyond-the-Lamppost work well because the group leader has time for everyone.

Take responsibility for your own actions, and try to manage your time at home and at work. Setting aside a specific time to write – whether it is in the morning or late at night might help to keep you motivated and on track.

What do you do to nix sabotaging yourself?

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest

 

 

 

 

 

Cliches and How to Ditch Them

Cliches creep into your writing without you noticing them. I just started the first draft of a new novel, and discovered that not only was the working title a cliche – the entire piece I’d written was full of them. I counted perhaps four in the first chapter alone. Shocking, but it’s a first draft so who cares? The purpose of a first draft is to get your story down. Finessing comes later.

Once I noticed the amount of cliches, I started to look for them in my student’s work and discovered something noteworthy. You can often ditch cliches and your sentence not only works fine, it sounds better and the meaning comes through even stronger.

You can find any amount of cliche examples if you troll the internet, but here I’ve chosen some examples from work I’ve edited and critiqued. Once these writers realized their attraction to cliches, they ditched them and came up with novel ways of re-arranging their sentences and pumping up the originality

Examples of cliches (with apologies to my students)

He sucked in his breath
Blood rushed to his face
With a deep breath
Chalking it up
Caught in the crosshairs
Blood pounding in her head
Whipped around the corner
Stifling a cry
Heart jumped in her throat
Time stood still
Sweat rolled down my neck
Chin trembled
Breath bursting from puffed cheeks
Chill ran down her spine
The hair on her arm stood up

The problem with cliches is not that the words used are inappropriate – sometimes they can be just the wording you need. The problem is they have become trite through over-use, and it gives the impression that the writer is lazy and un-original.

Once you clue in to your cliched writing, you will discover that it’s quite easy to come up with new ways to say the same thing. Don’t believe me? Try it, and find out.

Aspiring Author Advice from Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher is author of one of my favorite fantasy series: The Dresden Files. He’s also pretty inspiring when he rants. Aspiring authors – read on for great advice I pinched off his Live Journal blog.

The Most Important Thing an Aspiring Author Needs to Know

I’ve been giving a lot of advice on technique in this journal, an introduction to the craft and science aspects of writing a solid story. Now I’m going to briefly venture off into new territory. I thought I’d start by telling you the most important thing you need to know if you want to be a professional author: TANFL.

There Ain’t No Free Lunch.

Nothing worth doing is easy. Nothing worth having comes free. That’s as true in life as it is in your prospective writing career, but I think it’s important enough that it needs to be said.

Writing is a LOT of work. Breaking into the industry is a torment worthy of the fifth or sixth circle of Hell. Face that. Expect it. Deal with it. It’s going to be difficult.

It’s difficult from the get go: you’ve got to work your tail off and give yourself carpal tunnel just to make it to the front of the rope-line outside Club Author. There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get in. There probably aren’t going to be very many people who are actively supporting your efforts. You’ll probably have more than one person say or do something that crushes your heart like an empty Coke can. You’ll probably, at some point, want to quit rather than keep facing that uncertainty

In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important:

THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM.

And a lot of you who read this are going to do it too. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s just human nature. It takes a lot of motivation to make yourself keep going when it feels like no one wants to read your stuff, no one will ever want to read your stuff, and you’ve wasted your time creating all this stuff. That feeling of hopelessness is part of the process. Practically everyone gets it at one time or another. Most can’t handle it.

But here’s the secret:

YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away.

No one but you.

If you want it, you have to get it. You. An author can’t help you. An editor can’t help you. An agent can’t help you. If you want to climb that hill, the only way to do it is to make yourself do it, one foot in front of another, one word after another. It will probably be the greatest challenge most of you have ever faced.

And here’s the kicker: THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING.

If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it: Discipline. You’re going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You’re going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you’re going to overcome it: Confidence. You’re going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you’re going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.

TANFL, guys.

Breaking into the business is a daunting challenge. But you aren’t going to BEAT that challenge. You’re going to transcend it. The very nature of the adversity is going to give you the strength and skill you need to overcome and succeed.

You want in? Here’s what you do:

1) Make up your mind that you are going to protect your own dream. If you’ve got its back, your dream is invincible.

2) Cultivate patience. Prepare for the long haul. Building your skills to a professional level can take years. So can building your professional character.

3) Put your Butt In the Chair and start writing. Period. No excuses. There is no substitute for BIC time. It’s part of the price you pay.

4) When you get done with a word, write another word.

5) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until your dream comes true.

Secret number 2– THE PAIN IS WORTH IT. If it had taken me TWENTY years instead of nine, IT STILL WOULD BE WORTH IT.

Cause here’s what you get: ding.

When it’s all done and you’re holding your first novel in your hand, you’re going to look back at your breaking-in period and wonder what all the drama was about. All the things that wrenched you inside out during the torment will suddenly seem small and unimportant. Know why? Because much like Scott Pilgrim, you have leveled up. Ding.

You’re going to look back at that time with pride, having overcome seemingly impossible odds against succeeding. You’re going to look at upcoming challenges as if they were a bottle of champagne to be savored and then gleefully smashed.

The true reward of breaking into the industry against all the odds isn’t money. It isn’t fame. It it isn’t respect.

It’s you.

It’s confidence. It’s satisfaction. It’s well-deserved pride. Suddenly, the other challenges in your life are going to dwindle as well, because you know you’ll be able to handle them.

TANFL.

Ding, baby. Ding.

Go write.

 

Plotters and Pantsers

Credit: Ann Again

Plotters and pantsers is a literary phrase often used by writers.

I confess I’m a pantser. I’ve tried hard to plot. In fact, right now I’m in the midst of an excellent book on writing called The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. And everything he says makes absolute sense … except for the fact that I find it overwhelming. He’s fantastic; he gives you examples for everything he talks about … but nevertheless, if I was to follow everything he mentions I would go raving mad and totally incapable of writing a single word.

Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files (which I love – please God, let him finish the damn books) has a whole series of articles on writing a novel. He breaks down the craft into more manageable nuggets which I will paraphrase and share in forthcoming posts – sometimes teaching someone else something helps to drill it into your own brain. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

The final person who I’ve looked to for help is Chuck Wendig whose maniacal posts are not just a hoot to read; they actually do help you to understand some of the ways you can improve your writing skills.

But the bottom line is when you are writing your first draft, it’s just too difficult to think of breaking everything down and plotting your story with a mind to symbolism, theme, moral argument, beliefs and values, desire, drive … yikes! I’m already getting a headache.

I think that all comes after you’ve got the essentials of your story down. I start with an idea, and that idea changes many times before I’ve got it down pat. Once the characters have some kind of personality, I let them do the talking, and let them suck me into their world and tell me what they’re doing and what the plot is; what they have to overcome and how they plan to do it. That, to me, is what pantsers do (so called because they fly by the seat of their pants).

Plotters of course plot everything out before they write – and that’s a good thing if it works for you.

Plotters or pantsers – let me know what you are.