Category Archives: Writing & Publishing

The Saggy Middle Blues

Credit: petplace.com

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

Credit: sharepickers.comm

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.

Intro to Novel Writing

This Intro to Novel Writing post is for newbie writers who’d like to take a stab at having the best fun in the world.

Step 1 – Put on Your Thinking Cap

Every successful book starts with a kick-ass idea. Without that, you’ve got nothing. So, how does one come up with that awesome idea?

What best-selling author Stephen King does is to ask the question – what if? He says he then takes two unrelated ideas and sees if he can get them to work. That’s how he came up with the plot of Carrie. Two unrelated ideas – adolescent cruelty and telekinesis. With over 50 published books (most of them best-sellers) his formula apparently works!

You can find good ideas everywhere. Look up unusual and interesting facts, take an actual murder case or an event you’ve read about or seen on television and make it your own. Change the characters and the setting – perhaps even certain elements of the event and throw in some other incidents and voilà – you’ve got the possible foundation for a great story.

Step 2 – Elaborate Your Idea

Now it’s time to do some serious thinking. You don’t want to just copy a story you’ve read somewhere. That would be plagiarism. What you want to do is take the scenario you’ve come up with and figure out who the main characters are (more about this in the next step). Next, it’s time to let your mind wander and wonder:

  • I wonder what would happen to character X if he was an athlete, or an alien, or secretly married to twins.
  • I wonder what would happen if character X spent his/her childhood as a changeling, or his parents were Russian spies, or perhaps he can remember NO childhood. What caused his amnesia?
  • I wonder what would happen if character X was really a fairy or an alien pretending to be a human? Or what if character X had the power to annihilate the world by clicking his fingers – what would happen?

Step 3 – Characters

Novels are populated with people. So you must come up with a main character who the story will be about. For example, J.K. Rowling’s famous series Harry Potter is … about Harry Potter. But Harry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Harry interacts with his friends Ron and Hermione and with his enemies like Voldemort. He has a family, albeit one that hates him, and interests like playing Quidditch and getting into trouble.

So too, must your characters.

Who are the characters that will people your world? Does your main character have a family? Has she lost her family in a vile and cruel way, or maybe she grew up in foster homes. Give her a background, physical traits and a job. Give her likes and dislikes.

Step 4 – Conflict

Interesting stories are full of struggles. If your hero gets the girl right away – where’s the story and why would anyone care enough to read to the end of the book. The characters in your story need to have a quest. There must be something they hope to achieve and there must be something or someone who is always in the way, preventing them from getting to their goal. The bigger the struggle to overcome, the better the book.

Step 5 – Sub-plots

No character in real life or in a novel lives in a vacuum, pursuing just one thing in life. In reality, we might be accountants who enjoy writing the next great novel at night; we might be a mild-mannered journalist by day and Superman by night. So too, your characters. Give them layers – that’s what a sub-plot means. Perhaps your hero is trying a man for murder, but that’s not all he does. He probably has a love life on the side and perhaps it’s not going well, or maybe his mother has upped and married a man who is younger than him and because of that your hero can’t concentrate on the job he’s got to do. Have fun coming up with sub-scenarios.

Step 6 – Read & Write

Read books in the genre you are writing. Romance writers should be soaking up as much romance as they can. If you’re reading about it, that’s fine. If you’re experiencing it, even better. If you enjoy writing thrillers, read them as well. A good writer is a voracious reader. Learn from the books or soak it up through osmosis.

Now comes the toughest, but most fun, part. SIT DOWN AND BEGIN TO WRITE.

Congratulations & Next Steps

If you’ve followed Steps 1 – 6, you’ve generated a few solid ideas and have come up with a plot line or two. You’ve learned a few techniques and you’re raring to get started. Do it. Start writing. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you’d like input from others to find out whether your story is actually interesting: are your words making sense? are your characters compelling? do you even have a plot?

Beyond-the-Lamppost Weekly classes can help you.

You can join the Lamppost Writers Weekly Classes held in Oakville, Ontario. There is something for everyone to choose from. Small classes of not more than 8 students mean lots of individual attention to focus on your writing’s strengths and weaknesses.

OR

Sign up for the 12-week Online Creative Writing Classes. Each week you’ll send me 3-5 pages of your novel and each week you’ll receive in-depth feedback on your work to help you grow as a writer. Also expect to receive a weekly handout to help you understand the intricacies of creative writing.

Writing Fantasy

The biggest Do of writing fantasy is letting your imagination run free – after all, it is a fantasy that you are writing. However, within your fantasy world you need to have some rules. You get to make up the rules, but … you must abide by them – and it must be believable. It helps to make notes on your fantasy world, giving it a history and peopling it with characters so that it becomes real to you. But unless you are writing high fantasy, you won’t need to reach to the level that J.R.R. Tolkein or Georges R.R. Martin went to. (Is there some spooky coincidence to them both bearing the R.R. middle initials?)

Beware Cliches

Whether you are writing high or low fantasy, or even urban fantasy – there are many creatures
that have now become cliches: dragons, vampires, and werewolves are common examples. Does that mean you can’t use them? Not at all. It means you need to find something fresh about them – forget twinkling vampires – Stephanie Meyer beat you to that in the Twilight series, plus that was the weakest point in her book, if you ask me.

World Building

This is the fun part. You get to decide what type of a world it is, whether magic is a natural resource or a treasure that only few can possess. You get to create continents and oceans and people. You are a God, but just like God put certain physical rules into place – you have to do the same. He was consistent. Gravity is something that is felt over the entire world – not just in North America or Asia. In the same way, make sure you remain consistent in whatever you choose.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America‘s website is a resource that all fantasy writers should explore. This particular page (see link above) lists tons of questions which will help you build your fantasy world.

Best Blogs on Writing

I love skimming through the blogs listed below. They kick butt – mine! and force me to get back to the hard work of writing my novel. I’ve listed them in no particular order.

1. http://terribleminds.com/

I have absolutely no idea what books Chuck Wendig writes, and I don’t really care. All I know is his blog is a hoot, but not for the faint of heart. He swears – a lot, but his ramblings on writing – here’s an example: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/08/09/25-reasons-why-i-stopped-reading-your-book/ are on point.

2. http://www.publishingcrawl.com/

This is one of my favorite blogs. They are a group of authors and publishing professionals who break down the profession into easy-to-absorb blog posts. They will also periodically accept queries to critique – although they only choose a few. As a bonus, they have a section entitled ‘Books Discussed/What We’re Reading’ which is great if you’re at a loss for something to read

3. http://queryshark.blogspot.ca/

Literary agent Janet Reid is truly a shark! Make sure you can survive her bite if you send her a query to critique. She’s merciless. But – her comments are on-point, and you can learn plenty from her rantings.

4. http://www.betternovelproject.com/blog/

This blog, run by Christine Frazier breaks down well-known and popular novels like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Hunger Games and studying them to find out what makes them a best-seller.

5. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

No writer can survive without good grammar. It’s a fallacy to believe that your editor will fix everything. If you write ungrammatically, you won’t even be able to get to the stage where you will need an editor. Grammar girl is an indispensable aid.

Read them all, or just one of them. And let me know what you think.