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2 Steps: How to Be a Better Writer

Girl


  1. Read a lot.

  2. Write a lot.

Need more to go on?

Okay.

  1. Read many genres, not only your favorites. You can learn something from everything you read, especially what you dislike.
  2. Set specific, realistic, and challenging writing goals. Then hit them.

Rinse and repeat.

Is this blog too short for you? 

Well, this might be the most profound thing you’ve read if you have the balls to act on it.


Question(s) of the day: Do you have the balls? What writing goals do you set for yourself?

One Thing That Will Get You To The Next Level

Working at Desk


 

I’m going to keep this short today.

Not sure if you’ve noticed this by now, but writing a book is really hard.

Like… I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more difficult in my life type of hard.

You need support. Whether it’s a writing partner or a writer’s group – you need someone. Don’t make it harder on yourself by going through it alone. Here’s why a writing partner is awesome:

 

1. You get to talk about writing with them.

This might sound like a joke, but it isn’t. Have you ever tried to explain your novel to someone who isn’t a writer and then watched as a thin film glazes their eyes after 30 seconds of you talking about fixing your problem with chapter five?

Yeah, non-writers don’t care about writing. They might care about you, which obligates them to stay in that conversation about chapter five, but they really have no idea what you’re talking about.

A writer friend would be enthralled to hear all your woes with chapter five. They’re a rare breed. You can bounce ideas off them, vent about anything in your way, and ask for advice.

 

2. Motivation

Writer friends don’t take shit from you. If you say, “I think my foreshadowing in chapter five is a little heavy-handed. I’ve been revising it for three days to try to find a good balance.”

Your friend will say, “You haven’t finished your first draft yet. Cut the shit. Write, don’t edit!” (Or they would say that but in a much nicer way.)

Another great perk about writing partners is they are side-by-side with you, working in the trenches day-in and day-out. (I’m not sure if I’m supposed to hyphenate that, and I’m past the point of caring right now to even Google it. I’ll let the comment section dictate my failing or winning on this front). 

That’s what I need in a writing partner. I need someone who is battling the same monsters so mine don’t seem as big and scary.

 

3. Understanding

Your writing partner can empathize with you. They’ve been where you are, and they actually care (unlike non-writers).

Is this starting to sound like a cult? Anyone else getting that, or is it just me?

Not many writers are blessed to be surrounded by a community of other authors. If you have that, then you’re lucky. If you’re like me where you have to go out into the scary world and find others, let me tell you, it’s worth it when you get someone who is willing to hold you accountable and spur you on to reach your goals.

Because holy crap, writing a book is hard. I want to find every single way I can game the system and make it easier on myself.


Question of the day: Do you have a writing partner/group? If yes, then how did you find them? If not, then what’s stopping you from getting one this week?

 

29 Habits of Highly Successful Writers

Notepad


I like personal development. No, you wouldn’t find me in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble. That’s what Amazon is for. But I do enjoy learning about my craft. About how other authors approach the craft to hone their skill.

Of course there’s no right or wrong way to write. But there are loose guidelines – some similarities between the writing greats. Here’s what I’ve found personally helpful, and the simple habits that some of the most famous authors exercise:

  1. Have a writing nook
  2. Focus
  3. Write down ambitious but achievable goals
  4. Finish what they start
  5. End a writing session knowing what comes next
  6. Eliminate self-judgement
  7. Write first drafts without editing
  8. Edit ruthlessly
  9. Write to express, not impress
  10. Take risks
  11. Stay optimistic
  12. Refrain from comparing themselves to others
  13. Read a lot, and read widely
  14. Work while disconnected from the internet
  15. Be a natural observer
  16. Face the blank page
  17. Write through their fears
  18. Eliminate distractions
  19. Write horrid first drafts
  20. Make time to recharge
  21. Learn from other writers
  22. Be open to outside criticism
  23. Set a high standard of excellence
  24. Write for themselves
  25. Stay passionate
  26. Are consistent.
  27. Pick a time of the day that suits their productivity
  28. Actively work against anything that keeps them from writing
  29. Write

Question of the day: What habits do you cultivate to stay productive? 

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

Beach


Do you have writer’s block?

I do.

I hate to say it. It’s true, though.

There are so many reasons writers get caught in a creative root, my current one is the most embarrassingly easy to identify and overcome.

I haven’t written my novel for over two weeks.

I almost wrote about another subject today because I was ashamed to admit that I have writer’s block.

I have my story outline, know what my next plot point is, know my characters decently well, but still that lingering, looming fogginess consumes my mind when I think about my novel, and it pushes me away from the page.

A few weeks ago there was a family emergency. My wife and I flew down south and took care of a family member in the hospital . Overall, we were gone for about ten days. We were incredibly busy.

Sure, there’s been a lot of life stuff going on. I could have made time for writing. Given the circumstances, I don’t regret it, and I would do it the same way over again.

But now I have writer’s block. Just because I haven’t written in a while. No other reason than that.

The cure? Write again.

Do you find that to be true as well? If you leave your story for a bit, it can become stale, almost uninteresting, difficult to wrap your head around.

It’s a dangerous place to stay for long. Many writers abandon their work when they reach that place.

I’ll outline my plan to conquer writer’s block. I hope that as I conquer my own bout of writer’s block, you find some of my practices helpful for your situation.

 

Read the last ten pages you wrote

That does NOT say “read everything up until the point you stopped.” You only need to familiarize yourself again with a few pages before you left off to see the tone, pacing, climate, etc… so when you begin, you can match it.


If you skip this step, it will likely sound disjointed.

 

Review your next plot point

Look over your story structure and see how far you need to go before you hit your next plot point. Feel free to review your entire structure. Sometimes I take a full day to immerse myself in the structure again before I dive back into writing.

Whatever you’re comfortable with.

 

Spend some quality time with your character

If I leave my novel for a while, I need to be reintroduced to my characters.

Maybe that’s just me, but it feels like seeing a friend again who you’ve lost touch with. You don’t know where to begin, not sure if it was your other friend who just moved to a new apartment or if it was them… should you ask them how the move was or would that be awkward and betray your forgetfulness?

It’s the same with your characters. You need to sit down and talk with them before you jump back into the novel.

Sometimes I free write a scene with that character in a closed space like a coffee shop. Not part of the novel, just a stand-alone piece to help me get reaquainted over coffee. I usually have a sassy person enter the scene and see how the character interacts with them. I explore their thoughts and actions as they react to their surroundings.

I like the freedom to abandon my story structure as long as it’s true to my characters, so the ultimate sin is to forget my character. This is a vital step you cannot overlook — make sure you still feel intimately close to your character before you try to overcome writer’s block again.

If you dive into writing with a vague sense of closeness to your character, I implore you to spend some quality time with them. Reinvigorate what originally interested you about them. It could spark some creativity for the next scene.

 

Begin with a prompt

When I say prompt, I don’t mean a stand-alone story prompt, I mean a paragraph prompt. I use this when I get stuck. I might come back and delete it after it gets me rolling, but you might unearth something unique. I’ll give you a few examples. Begin with a new paragraph that starts like one of these, and then free write within the confines of your current scene. 

1. “She remembered a time when…”

2. “He used to believe…”

3. “His parents used to…”

4. “When she was a child, she used to go to…”

5. “Something seemed off.. He couldn’t tell what it was. It reminded him of…”

6. “She couldn’t believe that…”

7. “Sometimes he would…”

8. “She heard a deafening…”

9. “He couldn’t believe she would…”

10. “It wasn’t like her to think this, but…”

 

Free write

Cast aside your inner editor and write some crap. It will be choppy at the beginning, and that’s okay – expected, actually.


Question(s) of the day: What do you do when you get writer’s block? What stood out to you?

Can You Clean Up Your NaNoWriMo Mess?

Adventurer


Whether you did NanoWriMo or just decided to write a 50,000-word pile of shit and then try to shine it into a pile of gold, this is for you.

Does this sound familiar?

I wrote my first draft pretty quickly and came out

with a huge mess. How to I make sense of it?

I’m not sure I can edit it into something decent.

 

Not everything can be saved

Let’s say you have a white 2011 Hyundai Sonata. It looks pretty okay. But you want to make some upgrades. You can outfit it with some cool features. Upgrade the stereo, suspension, and rims.

But you need to recognize that you can’t turn your white 2011 Hyundai Sonata into a NASA spaceship. If your novel sucks, let it go and start something new.

Don’t try to attach a state-of-the-art rocket to it and expect great things. Your audience will still see a floundering Hyundai trying to be something it’s not. And you don’t want a car with identity issues, do you? 

If you’re too self-biased and think everything you write is amazing, you need to do two things:

  1. Phone a friend. Send your draft to someone who is a talented writer and editor. Someone who would tell you if your draft made them throw up on themselves. You need someone honest, not a yes man.
  2. Read more. The more books you read, the more it will put your measly “skills” into perspective. While I do think I have a unique voice, I’m far outmatched by literary greats. It’s a healthy perspective to have (to not be delusional).

Let’s assume you wanted your novel to be that Hyundai. All you need are some realistic upgrades. Great. A few rounds of editing can do that. 

That’s not too much to ask.

 

Start with plot

If you write your first draft quickly, you’re bound to have awkward wording, character inconsistencies, grammar flubs, repetitious dialogue, and many more things that jump off the page screaming at you: MAKE ME LOOK PRETTY RIGHT NOW!!!!

But you need to have self control.

In the second draft, you need to look at the plot, character arcs, subplots, theme, and foreshadowing. These are the big stuff.

You need to look at the big picture before you edit the details.

Why? Okay, let’s go down this rabbit hole. Let me use a parable. 

Barbie is worried about the disconcerting tinge her arms have taken. Her shirt is too tight, so she can’t really feel her arms. But Ken doesn’t want to be around her due to the fleshy scent emanating from her limbs. So she spends $275 on skincare products and returns her arms to her normal skin color.

The next day Barbie goes to her plastic surgeon and discovers that both her arms are dead. Since her tight shirt cut off blood flow, now both arms needs to be amputated.

Poor Barbie. She should have fixed her blood flow before she fixed her stench. Instead she focused on little things like how grossed out Ken was at her odorous fleshy arms. Maybe she could have saved her limbs if she had been able to look past the gross stuff for a few seconds. 

Fix the big stuff before you fix the small stuff.

It could save your arms.

But in all seriousness, after perfecting the little things in a chapter, how much does it suck if you realize after looking at the big picture that it doesn’t belong and you have to amputate it from your novel. Hours wasted.

And I wouldn’t expect Ken to stick around with your chapters amputated.

 

Set specific goals for each draft

Don’t sweep over your entire manuscript and expect it will be polished.

With each pass-through, focus on something specific like tracking a sub plot to see if it’s as compelling as it needs to be.

I got this editing outline from a reader. I took the liberty of altering it slightly. So, thanks for this template, Kyra!

  1. Set it aside for a few weeks.
  2. Major revision of first draft. Focus on the big picture.
  3. Major revision after using beta reader feedback of the big picture.
  4. Refine action, descriptions, dialogue, characterization, etc…
  5. Line edits. Smooth out sentences, correct errors and inconsistencies.
  6. Copy edits. Correct remaining small wording and grammar errors.
  7. Proofread on paper.
  8. Send to your editor.

 

Although I enjoy the editing process, for me it often feels endless. Having an outline of what the editing process should look like helps me a lot. It gives me peace of mind so I know when I’m truly “done.”

Of course every writer is different. Having an outline happens to help me greatly.

Side note: I didn’t publish a blog post last week because of Labor Day. I was traveling and was with family. And of course long weekends means reading a new book. The Martian is fantastic. My wife got tired of me raving about it between reading sessions. You should buy it and annoy your partner with how amazing you think it is.


Question(s) of the day: What resonated with you? What’s your experience been with editing your first drafts?

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