#WritingTips: 6/25/19

There are times when I try to give advice to authors and I feel like I’m failing. I know “time” is hard to negotiate between “real life” and our make believe sessions at a pen and paper (or computer, etc). The real question is, “Is this your real life? Or is it a hobby?” The question lingers overhead like a giant thought bubble taking up the space of breath between me and said author.  Do you think I don’t understand? Oh, I do.

Accountability: Own it. Whether it’s a mistake, a failure, a success, a lie, a truth … just own it.

If I don’t make time to write, that’s on me. No one else. I choose to not make that time. No one else but me owns my time.

You say, “it doesn’t pay the bills.” No, it doesn’t. Not yet. Because you’re not taking inventory and ownership of it. Trust me. I run a small press. No one is making a living off of this. Whose fault is that? Mine, theirs, ours. When my brain wants to explode and I shut down? I own it. When they need a break and life overwhelms? They own it (most of them, anyway). We all do the best we can.

Let’s finish with the coddling, now.

Only you can sit and write your story down. You have to do it. You have to push through the dry spells, the hectic life, the exhaustion, the depression, the loneliness, and the mania.

Make. It. A. Habit.

Give yourself a set amount of time a day. Most of us have a certain period (night, day, morning dump, etc.) where we are unbothered and can jot down a few words. Carry a notebook with you and jot ideas down. Seriously, this isn’t hard. Grab a napkin. Grab an old receipt. Keep all your notes in one spot and keep them organized. Maybe an index card box? A shoe box with cardboard dividers? An accordion file … whatever.

You have to believe you want to do it, in order to be motivated. You have to be your own cheerleader.

Stop listening to everyone else and listen to YOU. Are you proud of your progress? Are you proud of your growth? Are you proud of your words? If not, work for it. Earn your own approval. Stop wallowing in self-deprecation and make yourself worthy of YOU.

What I can do is give you the tools you need. What you can do is use the tools.

Now, stop what you’re doing and give me 100 words.

WRITING: Make a Plan

One of the things I do with new clients and/or authors is have them take me through their process. Some authors are “Pantsers” and others are “Planners”. Regardless of what your process is, you need to have a plan for when the story gets long enough. Keeping everything in order is a huge task. There are several ways I teach the process because everyone is different. Some are OK with hearing the explanation, others need to see it.

Stick with me a few min’s here while I go through a couple of steps. If any of them help you, please comment and let me know! I always like to hear feedback so I can continue to get better and help more authors!

Map One

The picture above is what I call “sorting it out”. Notice they are all chaotic and out of sorts? That’s OK. It’ll make sense to you once we go further. For those of you who say this is a lot of work? Trust me. For authors/writers whose thought process is all over the place, this is a good tool to use to learn how to sort through the whirlwind of ???’s they have bouncing around an overactive mind.

So, you have this amazing idea, right? Great!

Now, what you want do is throw the thoughts out like darts. Get them all out! You can use different color pens, different symbols, etc., to keep things in order and to differentiate. Stars can be characters or minor details, the pink circles can be larger ideas you want to connect (the lines) so you know how to put it all together when you begin to write.

Once you’ve done the sorting (think laundry!) you can move onto one/more of the next process:

This map is where we begin to streamline and make sense of the chaos. Remember! More experienced writers may not need to sort the dirty laundry. It’s fine to start where you feel comfortable and what your skill level allows. A lot of my clientele say, “I have this concept but I have no idea where to go with it!” In those cases, we need to analyze how much of the story we really have to work with before we start throwing words down.

As much as it’s important to “just write” it’s also important to have a direction. Many new writers can get hung up on details, or not having an end in sight. It’s similar to being tossed in a city you’re unfamiliar with then left to find your way home. It can be daunting and discouraging. Taking an author by the hand and helping them to sort through the storm while encouraging them to listen to their own inner voice is the best assistance you can give them.

Now, on to the next step:

Map Two

Take all the “darts” and start arranging them by importance to your story. Answer the “W” questions, figure out the “How” and develop your “Resolution”. Once you’ve completed a portion of these things, you should-in theory-have a great foundation for your piece. If you want to stop and jot some words down, this is the best time to do it. It’s fresh in your mind, the creative juices are going, and you’re developing ideas you may want (or have forgotten) to integrate.

SUGGESTION: Fill in the blanks with pencil so you can erase/change/alter.

Do you have a story you’re stuck on? If so, do any of these maps help you? If you use the techniques, I would love to know if they helped/hindered you! Comment below and let’s write!

Stay tuned for the next tutorial and more “maps” for getting the story out. If you like what I have to say, you can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.

Discussion: Word Count VS Word Quality

One of the things I encounter a lot when I’m mentoring, or speaking to new authors, is the question, “What’s the average word count for _____?”

It’s not uncommon for new authors to face this daunting question, then fashion their work according to the rule of “word count”. My answer, however, never changes. I tell the, “Focus on the quality of the words, not the word count.”

I know there are naysayers out there who firmly believe in stringent rules for word counts. A novel must be over 60-75k words. Unless it’s in the Fantasy genre. Then we aim higher for 90k words. While these are fair goals to shoot for, it can start to hinder progress. If the author is caught up in shaving, or padding their story, the story itself suffers.

An author needs to be focused on things like character development, story development, timelines, grammar, and plot. Without these, who cares how many words are in between the front and back cover? I’ve encountered a fair amount of books where the story idea is a fantastic one, but the execution is flat. There’s nothing worse than getting your reader hyped for a cool plot then leaving them high and dry.

Essentially, when you put the time into the elements which make a story great, you establish trust between yourself and your reader. They know, no matter how thick, or thin your book is, they are in for a ride. And to be fair, you should always label your book in the correct category once it’s complete. Readers are very particular. When they purchase a book and expect a novel but only get 20k words, they get upset, too. Imagine you’re on the best date of your life, and right in the middle of it, the person turns and says, “I have to go.” Kind of the same thing, here. Especially if they are paying the price of a novel.

Another thing to consider, is editing. Once your story goes to an editor, they will decide whether your story can best be told without the padding, or if it requires more words. The best exercise you can practice, is to audit the words you use.

Ahh, now there’s a word we don’t see often. We all know what editing is, but what is auditing?

For me, auditing is when you take stock of the words you’ve used and ask yourself this question, “Is this a powerful image?”

You want your readers to use all five senses when they read your story. We all have our own ideas of: beautiful, smells bad, dark, ugly. To be honest, it’s all perspective. Why leave it to them to interpret? Instead of saying, “It smelled bad.” Drag the reader kicking and screaming into it with you! Only – you have to be careful. Do not overload them with adjectives. This is what it means when editors say, “show, don’t tell.”

Simple examples:

Instead of, “There were a lot of trees.” 

You could say, “It was a lavish treeline.”

Same amount of words but paints a better picture.

I hope this has helped you in some way. Let me hear your thoughts! Going forward, I’m going to post some exercises, more tips and tricks, as well as anything else I can dig out of my box of treasures. I hope you’ll interact  and share with me. Let me know how something has helped you in the comments below!

lisa
A WOMAN and CREATOR, WEAVER OF DREAMS, TELLER OF TALES, with an IMAGINATION AS DARK AS A RAVEN’S EYE, THE LIBRAE, THE ORACLE … SHE IS; THE HUSHED WHISPER AMONG THE GRAVES, THE CORRUPTOR, THE HERETIC, THE DARQUE HALO

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