Tag Archives: writing success

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:

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.

 

Keep Your Muse Well-fed

Keep your muse well-fed, or watch her vanish. She is like a never-ending hunger that needs food but fails to get filled. And that’s good. She, the muse, is what brings that creativity to you. Feed her well.

What is the Muse?

The Muse comes from Greek mythology. They were nine goddesses who embodied the arts and  inspired the creation of literature and science. The muse can descend at any time, and if the recipient is not ready to receive, she will disappear and that inspiration will be lost.

Ray Bradbury, prolific science fiction writer, was a big proponent of the muse. He fully believed that when she descends and gives you the gift –  that story controls you. In a 1980 essay he said, “My stories have led me through my life. They shout, I follow. They run up and bite me on the leg— I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go, and runs off.”

If that’s not the muse, I don’t know what is.

How to Feed the Muse

1. Gather Experiences 

All those adventures and impressions from childhood and beyond should be collected and stored away to be used when needed. Snap up the landscapes, the textures, the foods, the experiences, the flavors to be given new life in a novel of your own.

2. Read Indiscriminately

Those writers who read only one type of genre are starving their muse. Can you subsist on just chocolate? Likewise, the muse is nurtured on every type of novel. Trashy romance or classic Hemingway – they both do their job in providing the variety that the muse requires in order to inspire that wonderful story that lurks within you.

 

3. Cop a Phrase, a Word, a Line

Write down fresh similes, fragments of paragraphs that you enjoy reading, or words that tease your tongue,  and action verbs and adjectives that you wouldn’t normally think to use. Then when you’re stuck, look through these lists and one of them might trigger the right inspiration.

4. Write with Enthusiasm

Writing is a joy, not something that you should feel you’re forced to do. Sit down to your computer with anticipation and wonder about what will come from your mind down and in and out your fingers. Enjoy the sensation of creating.

6. Surround Yourself with Like-minded People

Forget about people who are negative. Surround yourself with other writers who are supportive of you and your craft.

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

 

Curiosity and the Writer

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s what keeps us writers sharp. It’s what motivates us to keep banging on those keys until you get a blinding headache or your keys wear out – whichever comes first. It’s what keeps you up at night trying to figure out your plot line, or whether your sub-plots will work, or whether the whole damn story is worth writing at all.

How Curiosity Shapes a Story

It’s curiosity that makes us wonder where our characters want to go, and what they want to do and leads us to write that gripping story set in some fantastical world.

How to Stimulate Curiosity

1. Start with the the 5 W’s of Journalism – Who ? What? When? Where? Why? How? (yes, I know  ‘how’ doesn’t start with a W, but in journalism circles it’s considered a W!) Ask these five questions to generate curiosity about your characters and they will tell answer. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out.

2. Pique Your Interest –  It just takes a little bit of interest in a subject for the mind to get intrigued.  And the moment you are intrigued is when you become inquisitive and want to find out more. Nowadays, with the internet available at your fingertips, there’s no better time to satiate that thirst.

3. Keep Writing – Keep writing – that’s another way to stimulate curiosity and complete your manuscript! Start off with a great hook – something that intrigues you yourself and sets your mind wandering and wondering. No better way to find out what your story is all about.

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

Strong Female Characters

 

hermioneTen Tips for Creating Strong Female Characters

1. Strong female characters should be people first and female second. The fact that they’re women shouldn’t get in the way of their other traits – whether good or bad.

2. All the women in your novel need not be sexy. Are all your male characters gorgeous with no other characteristics?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

3. Most women are not wispy waifs or voluptuous Victoria Secret models. A woman can be attractive and not fit a stereotype.

4. Just because a woman is competent, strong and independent does not mean she has to be a Plain Jane. Think Buffy, Hermione Granger and Scarlett O’Hara.

5. Making your female character good at stereotypical boy things like an auto-mechanic in order to depict she’s a strong character is a cop-out. Sure, she can be a mechanic if that’s what she likes to do, but don’t do it for reason.

6. A lot of women will probably notice bad skin or frumpy outfits on another woman, but beyond that they won’t scrutinize the other woman too hard. They’re way more likely to notice a snooty expression or a false smile.

7. Not all women want marriage and children. Some want one or the other, some want neither. Likewise, not all women want to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Some want to be psychiatrists or artists or teachers or musicians…or whatever else – just like men.

8. Female characters should probably not be solely motivated by a need to have the approval or attention of a man. Or all men in general, really. Female characters who do this ought to change by the end of the story, and realize that their happiness shouldn’t depend on the whims of menfolk.

9. Avoid overly ‘man-hating’ women. Being empowered doesn’t mean she’s terrible to men just for being men—it just means she’s not stepped on for being a woman

10. Don’t have a female character just to have a female character. Make her a whole person.

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

Real People in Fiction

kim-karMany times your plot might call for using real people in your story – is that kosher? Can you do it without being sued? For example, you might want to use the crazy Hell’s Angel character who happens to live on your street or a celebrity you may have met, or know about. Would you be sued?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

A Short Guide

  • Rule for celebrities are different than for us common folk. Their names and faces are worth money, plus they have the dough to sue you if they don’t like, or object to what you have written about them. If it is a dead celebrity, the rule is different, although there are exceptions (people who have died in California and some other states still have rights or perhaps it is their estates that have the right – you will need to find out about this for sure before you write about someone from such states).
  • Generally, once a person is dead, their rights die with them.spock
  • Generally, you cannot use a live person as a character in your book because it invades their privacy and there is a possibility that they could bring a libel suit against you if you have them (as your character) say or do something that goes against what they might actually do or say in real life.
  • Cameos are acceptable, especially if you use an actual event they attended or spoke at. Anything that you cull from an interview with the person can also be used. You cannot change the facts. If you say that your character looks like Paul Newman in one of his movies, that’s fine.
  • Ordinary people like your weird uncle or crazy aunt also have privacy rights. They may not sue you, but they will despise you and perhaps turn your family against you … or they could lap it up. You never know.

Strategies if you have to use a real person

  • Change their name and details so they cannot recognize themselves
  • Don’t make them look absurd or turn them into criminals. Most people would love the notoriety, but you just never know

There’s no law against using someone’s story to inspire your own. In fact, it is a common way for authors to get ideas. Alice in Alice in Wonderland was based on Alice Liddell as everyone knows and there are so many others.

In fact, we often use anecdotes and stories from our own life to kick-start our novels. And that’s great. It brings a certain veracity to your story. Just remember that there are others who are involved as well who might take exception to what you say – it is part of their life too, after all.

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

Voice in Writing

what-voice-should-use-useVoice is the distinct style that you bring to your writing … and you need it big time. Think about listening to a person who has a boring, flat, monotone voice. Do you phase out and almost fall asleep listening to that person? It’s the exact same thing in a novel. If the voice you choose to write in has no color, no personality and no rhythm, your reader will glaze over and toss the book.

You can develop this voice only by allowing your inner self to run free. If you constantly worry about how someone will judge you by the words you use, you’ll end up getting stuck and your dry and boring prose will show it. Forget about what others think, let you imagination soar and allow your characters to shine through.

Steps to find the right voice for your story:5-steps-to-finding-your-writing-voice

  • Know the genre of your book. After all, someone writing a kid’s book will write in a different tone to someone writing a romance.
  • Visualize the characters. One of my writers (you know who you are) is fantastic at bringing to life old Hollywood characters. When I read her versions of characters like Ava Gardner and Truman Capote, I feel they come straight to life for me. The rhythm, cadence and choice of words are bang on. You can do this by watching, listening and imitating until you get it down pat.
  • Point of View is also important as the entire story unfolds through someone’s eyes and thoughts. Even omniscient voice must have a distinct personality – that of the narrator’s.
  • Choice of words can affect the voice of a story. Teenage girls talk in a particular rhythm and use specific slang. Some of my writers are really good at transcribing this particular voice (you know who you are) and when they sometimes falter and allow their own voice to show through – it is noticeable and jarring.

tonegraphicIs Tone and Voice the Same Thing?

No. Voice provides the personality of the story while tone sets the mood. And this mood is set by the author. It depends completely on whether the author wants the story to unfold in an amusing, grave, edgy, tragic or romantic effect – you get the drift.

Movies do tone perfectly. When you see a movie, you can immediately figure out they way the director wants your mind to work by the way the music builds. Jaws is a perfect example – when that ‘dadadaddadadada’ music starts up, you just know that shark is going to come and do something horrible. We even use that sound effect in our daily life when we want that same effect. That’s the tone of the movie.

Think about these aspects when writing your novel and make sure it is consistent throughout the novel.

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

Writing Festivals

lamppost-4Writing festivals can be fun and good learning experiences for writers. Four of us Lamppost Writers headed out to this past weekend’s Word on the Street Writing Festival in Toronto.

We attended four presentations. Three we found productive, one we didn’t. Read on for some insights.

What Literary Agents are Looking For

olgaOlga Filina of The Rights Factory and Carolyn Forde of Westwood fordeCreative Artists gave us a substantive idea of what agents look for in their slush pile. It largely depends on each agent, so checking out their websites is important.

My Relationship Hurts: Love and Feelings in Literature

Authors Kim Echlin and Trevor Cole led this presentation. This topic was supposedly on romance, but neither author wished to discuss sex in romance. Since both appeared to be literary writers, they both talked around the subject instead of about it. Questions from the audience were lacklustre reflecting the boredom we all felt. The only time the audience woke up was when there was a question regarding a love triangle.

Mr. Cole would help sell a few more books to women if he got off his high horse and realized that women were people too. I found the way he talked about his book and his protagonist who decides to brainwash his ex-wife into loving him again quite offensive, as did my other three companions. To be clear – it wasn’t the subject matter as the way he spoke and his body language and dismissive attitude.

Overcoming the Odds: Long Journeys to Publication

Ann Y. K. Choi, author of Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety and Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door both gave the audience an insight into their road to publication. Ann Choi’s enthusiasm was infectious; Shari Lapena seemed stand-offish and out of touch with the audience.

First Impressions: Manuscript Evaluations

Several first pages from novels were read and discussed by Humber teacher Kim Moritsugu and Dominic Farrell, developmental editor with Dundurn Press. Ms. Moritsugu was excellent and the points she made were well taken. Mr. Farrell, unfortunately, appeared nervous and it was difficult to follow the thread of his remarks.

Would I go again to the Festival? Yes, definitely – but the organizers should ensure that their presenters are vetted so that the audience gets the most of the Festival. 

Memoir Writing

memoirMemoir writing is one of the most popular forms of creative writing, and it can be a wonderful gift to your family and friends.

Your life story is, by definition, a memoir and as such is yours and yours alone. No other author could possibly have written the same story and that’s what makes it unique. But what are the chances of your memoir getting published in a traditional press? Sadly, not very high. And that’s because, unless you have an incredibly unusual life, very few publishers are willing to take a chance on you. After all, why would anyone pick up a memoir by someone who is unknown?

For celebrities however, the opposite rings true. They have a built-in fan base and that’s whykeith there is a flood of mediocre memoirs by celebrities. Because, let’s face it. They may be celebrities, but they may not be good writers.

What can you do to get your memoir noticed?

Write a spectacular memoir that hovers on fiction like The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Reading this memoir is like reading fiction. You keep asking yourself how this could possibly have happened in real life.

Many people like to write about their problems with divorce, drugs, abuse, incest – and this can be a very cathartic experience but it is a difficult genre to sell to a publisher unless you are well-known or have something extremely unusual in your story. That’s why it makes sense to look up memoirists who have written on the same subject. The reason you want to look them up is to make sure your story has a completely different slant.

Read, read, and read some more in order to write well.

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

7 Serious Tips for Writing a Humor-Filled Novel
5 Moral Dilemmas That Make Characters (& Stories) Better
3 Things Your Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish

Follow Bev Bell on Twitter @bev_bell or on Facebook

Complex Vocabulary in Fiction

Credit: mind42.com

Credit: mind42.com

Don’t get hung up on complex vocabulary.

Writing should always be simple and direct. The whole purpose of writing a story is to communicate your ideas to the person who is reading it. So if you confuse your reader with big words, you will be doing yourself a disservice.

Now, you could have a character in your story who is addicted to using big words. You can have fun with a character like this and way back in 1775, Richard Sheridan did

Credit: richardmajor.com

Credit: richardmajor.com

this to great effect in his play The Rivals. His character, Mrs. Malaprop thought she was extremely high and mighty and used words she thought were correct, but were wrong.

Example: Mrs. Malaprop said, “Illiterate him quite from your memory” (she meant obliterate) and “She’s as headstrong as an allegory” (but meant alligator). As you see, the words almost sound right, but are actually nonsensical.

While you don’t want to talk down to your reader, you do want to write in a simple way that is understandable to all. If you read masters like Hemingway and John Steinbeck, they write simple and elegant prose and rarely use complex vocabulary. Learn from them and ditch the big words. They won’t serve you well. You will just come across as a pompous writer who is talking down to the reader.

Learn more through these links to Writer’s Digest:

4 Tips to Improve Your Writing Instantly
Write a Standout Chapter 1
A Writer’s Guide to the Web

Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell and on Facebook