Monthly Archives: March 2016

When to Stop Editing

It’s tough enough to start writing a page, a chapter, a complete novel. But what’s even more difficult is to know when to stop editing your work … and it’s as important as writing the entire manuscript.

Trust Yourself

download (3)You have an inner voice – I call mine Beverley 1 (and this other Beverley is much cleverer than me). I trust that other ‘person’ implicitly. You might have other names for the inner voice: gut, instinct, feelings, urges, intuition. Trust it.

Having said that, that inner voice can only be fostered and cultivated by reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing. If you have a piece of your earliest writing, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Your voice will have matured, the way you string words together will have improved, your choice of metaphors and similes will be less clichéd and so on. That inner voice will show you your weaknesses and yes, your strengths too. It will also let you know when you’ve done enough. Trust it.

Enough is Enough

Leave tinkering to the tinkers. If you have the perfect Goldilocks i.e. it is just right – leave it be. Chances are your goldilocksintuition is correct. If you want to save deleted scenes go right ahead, but save them in another file. Once you are rich and famous and have a magnificent website that thousands of fans click onto, you can showcase those deleted scenes and your fans will love you. Until then, leave well alone.

Recognize the Good, Ditch the Bad

Sometimes, as an author, you’ll find your story just doesn’t work. Something seems to be inherently wrong with it. No amount of plotting, planning, changing or editing can make the darned thing work. Time to let it go. Start fresh. Look for other ideas that are workable. You job as a writer is to come up with something unique, fresh and yes, marketable. If it smells like barf, it probably is.

Scrutinize All Parts of Your Novel

A novel must contain certain essential elements for it to work such as plot, setting, characters, dialogue and conflict of course. Does your novel have this? Analyze your work, pretend to be a coroner and do a little post mortem on the story. Are your characters lively, interesting? Is your plot gripping? Honest? Does your conflict work? If yes, it’s time to stop fiddling and work on your query and synopsis.

Listen to Your Readers

listenIf five out of the six impartial (family doesn’t count) and trustworthy people who read your story point to the same problem – you have a problem. If they all concur that the story is good to go, it’s probably time to lay down your pen. Leave your novel alone for a few weeks. I find this painfully difficult, but in truth, it works. You will be able to come back with a fresh and discerning eye.

An Agent or Publisher May Think Differently

Hooray! You have an agent or a publisher. All those worries you had before will probably return to haunt you. Agents and publishers are notorious for changing or editing a novel to suit what they deem to be correct. It is up to you to decide/argue/reason/debate with the agent or publisher as to how the story should unravel.

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Deadlines

deadlinesWhy bother with deadlines if you’re writing a story? It’s understandable if you have a publishing date, or a contest you want to enter or even a class you have to hand a story assignment into. But if not, why bother?

Why? Because a writer without deadlines is looking for trouble.

Without deadlines, you could tinker with your work forever – oh, this ly-adverb must go; let me layer this description just a bit more; my character is too flat; my plot too thin; my ending too weak.

“You fail only if you stop writing” — Ray Bradbury

No one – no one is ever finished. That’s why you need deadlines.

You also need deadlines because life gets in the way – there’s a dog to be walked, work to be done, dinner to think of, kids to yell at – laundry – the list never ends.

How do you impose deadlines on yourself?deadline

It’s easy enough if someone gives one to you – a publisher, for example or an agent or a creative writing coach who is a bit of a bully. But since we don’t have that option right now, how in the world do we keep yourself motivated and on track?

First, there are some things to consider when you are setting a goal and deadlines for yourself. They don’t have to be set in concrete but it’s wise to know your strengths and weaknesses:

  • Do YOU work better under pressure? Or do you work better when you have all the time in the world? In my case, it’s the former. The more I have to do, the more I can do. The less I have – well, I become a giant pudding and can’t do anything at all.
  • Second thing to consider: do you prefer to work in short bursts – perhaps scribbling a page here and there or do you like to sit down by your computer every morning at 9 a.m. with a coffee and then let your muse descend.

oh-no-i-missed-the-deadlineIf you’re taking writing seriously, then once you institute a deadline, it’s doubtful you’ll be willing to miss it. Why?

Because it will make you feel like crap; anxious, moody, unpleasant and whoever you are with will tell you to go to hell or meet your deadline because you’ve become unbearable.

That’s where a writing schedule comes in. This can be as little or as much as you need or want. I always say you should write an absolute minimum of 500 words. What’s that? 2 double-spaced pages? If you really want to be a writer – then that’s your minimum. Or spend a minimum of a half-hour going over your work. That’s not a lot.

How much time do you spend on TV, surfing the Internet or playing Words with Friends online?

Take half an hour away from that and here’s what you can do in that short time:

  • Pick out stale and clichéd phrases and things that don’t make sense
  • Plot your arc
  • Think about your ending
  • Think about sub-plots
  • Names for your characters – I find that really big. If you’re writing a contemporary novel you really can’t have a name like Dottie or Beatrice or something ancient like that. Names date a piece. If you’re writing a fantasy kick-ass chick novel – very popular these days – you’ve got to have a strong female name.

Another way to stick to a deadline is to JUST WRITE. So many writers think way too much – about their plot, their characters, the colour of their character’s hair, ad nauseum. Just wing it. Start. You can revise as you go along.

Do deadlines work for you?

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

 

What to Write Next

So you’ve come to the end of your book and are staring at the blank computer screen, wondering what to write next. It’s a difficult choice. Should you stick with what you have a natural talent for, or should you veer off on to new territory?

If it is too overwhelming to consider writing a new story or you have no ideas to draw from, consider a writing prompt. It might help. Or, take a look at your favorite novel booksand try mirroring it for a bit. Change the characters, the setting and soon your creative juices will start running and voilà you’ve got a brand new story on your hands.

If you choose the wrong scenario, you could end up wasting time and getting frustrated with your efforts. Depression and drinking will set in – not a good combination.

Factors that can help you to decide what story idea to pursue next:

Is Your Premise Strong?

If your premise is weak, you won’t get far. The same holds true for a great premise which leads nowhere. You want characters that don’t just populate the novel, but enhance it and bring it life.

  • What are they looking for?
  • Who’s against them?
  • What type of life are they living?

Love the Whole, Not Just Parts

So you have a great character, or a terrific premise. It’s not enough if the reason they’re doing what they’re doing does not make enough sense or is not juicy enough to carry you through 80,000 words. Your story must have the depth, emotion and high stakes to carry the novel to its logical end. You may love the interaction between your two main characters and with others, but unless you can give them problems to sink their teeth into, it will not be interesting enough.

Will you get bored with them halfway through?

Blow Your Mind

downloadIs this story clawing to get out? Do the first words flow out of you with a mind of their own? If you are struggling to see them clearly, you have a problem. If they jump out fully formed like Athena did from Zeus’ forehead – chances are you have a winner. If you just feel lukewarm and have no passion for the story, look for something that will drive you to staying up late and just getting all those thoughts down as quick as you can.

Vibrant Characters

Do your characters have vim and vigor? Are they unique, memorable? Will the reader understand them and/or care? Do they have major stakes in the game? Who else will be affected?

Does the Story Feel Right?

Sometimes we get so attached to a story idea, we feel we must go with it. After all, we’ve invested time in thinking about plot, characters and the obstacles they must overcome But, listen to your inner self. If your instincts tell you this is not the right book for you, go with it. Choose another story idea that has more meat on it, or to which you more suited.

*******

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

 

Revising Your Manuscript

the davidLook to Michelangelo for the best advice on revising your manuscript. Apparently,  when asked how he had sculpted his masterpiece of a sculpture – The David, he said, “I looked at the stone and removed all that not The David.”

Sound advice we can use in revising our manuscripts by taking out everything that is not meant to be in there.

Where to begin?

I find that having a synopsis actually helps your revision because you can see your plot arc and know whether you have a solid story or not. Give the manuscript one good read and identify the main points in order to refresh your memory. It may be your story but it’s surprising how much you do forget.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Are you sure your opening paragraph, your first page—indeed, your first chapter captures the reader’s imaginationimages and pulls them into the story? If you do nothing else, make sure this is as polished as it can be. If it doesn’t grab you, it’s not going to grab anyone else.

I’m assuming by now you have made sure that the individuals who populate your novel behave according to their character. This is something you should have worked on previously. With revision, you want to pick out the most blatant faults and make sure they’re all tidied up.

Logically Speaking

Does your story make sense? This is particularly true if you are creating your own world as in fantasy or historical fiction. In fantasy, your world has to have rules and you must abide by them. In historical fiction, your story must be correct according to history. You can take liberties with certain aspects as whether a historical figure visited a certain place or said something to a particular person. But, for example, you can’t change when the first World War took place or which side won.

Culling Words

Go over your words with the proverbial fine toothcomb and cull words that are non-essential. Here’s where you’re going to remove phrases like: at this point in time, actually, really … excess adverbs and any clichés you can spot.

This is also the time to make sure that your language matches your time period and your genre. For ex: the 50-year-old person in your book would not say “Yo, bro – whas up?” That might be a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture.

Check whether your sentences are too long. If they are, now’s the time to break them into two and re-write them so they are easier to follow.

Shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs and some white space helps people to read more easily and prevents eye fatigue. Check for repetition as well. You want a happy reader, not a bored one

Consistency

images (1)With a spell-checker, thesaurus and dictionary at your fingertips, there is absolutely no excuse for wrong spellings, poor grammar and insipid words. Check punctuation and capitalizations as well.

Make sure your pronouns are clear. Do you know which he or she you are referring to? Check dialogue tags; check when there are no dialogue tags – is it clear who is talking?

And of course ensure that you are writing in the active voice. Delete or re-word any passive scenes or sentences.

Once your manuscript is accepted, the Publisher will have a copy editor but in order to get to that stage your manuscript needs to be in the best condition it can possibly be.

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced 

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Writer’s Block

calvinWriter’s Block? Did you say you have Writer’s Block? Any of you get that? So what do you do then?

Ah – then that’s the time to let your Inner Brain – I call mine Beverley 1 (because I think Beverley 1 is smarter than Beverley 2 – that’s the physical me.) It knows more things than I do and can work on multiple problems at the same time.

And it works best at night – while you are sleeping. Here’s my tip for when your brain can’t come up with any new ideas or your story is limping along with no destination in mind. Forget about it. But before you do it, tell your Inner Brain – your Beverley 1 – the problem and be consistent about what you want.

And that comes to another point. Don’t get trapped in writing just one imagesbook. Don’t get me wrong. Finish your book. But every now and then think of something different. Daydream. Put pink and yellow together, dots and stripes, elephants with T-rexes. All I mean by that is try different things – in your mind.

While you are sending out queries for one book, you can be working on another and letting your Inner You consider plots for novels to come. That way you always have something on the go. And perhaps if the publishing world doesn’t want a middle-grade book on dragons because that was big last year and is no good this year, perhaps they’ll be interested in the literary fiction you’ve just finished.

Be prolific. The more you write, the more you will be able to write. Use your imagination or lose it.

What do you do to beat writer’s block?

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com