Tag Archives: weekly writing tips

Dark of Night Thoughts

sleeping woman small vertical copyFrom time to time a buzzing mosquito of a thought comes to us, perhaps in the middle of the night:  There are so many books out there already.  Authors are even giving them away free.  How can I possibly hope to compete?

We don’t need to compete.  Leave competition to the big publishers to tussle among themselves with numbers.  All we have to do is write excellent books and find a readership, for which there has never been a better time.  Then, whether we publish independently or through a publishing company, our own particular stories will appeal to our own particular readers.

We are all individuals, and if we write honestly, with passion, accomplished storytelling, and a drive to become our best writing selves, we will write good books.

I’m reminded of the stories of Hugh Howey, who published independently, and when his work turned out to be so good that it couldn’t be overlooked, a publisher picked him up. (He keeps his ebooks independent.) And Elena Ferrante, of the Naples Series, who keeps herself to herself and believes that so long as her books are good enough, they will find a readership.

And if, in the dark of night, the number of authors out here still appears daunting, I always think it’s a happy break for us writers that most of us are also voracious readers.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.

Cheers, Mel

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From @yourwritingmuse: I admire the way you create tough short- and long-term goals for your protagonist.

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What if You Caught Some Zzzs, F. Scott Fitzgerald?

CLockforblogginThe archetypical swan-pale writer taps out chapters through the night, whiskey at hand, refusing food and slumber.  It makes you wonder how much more Fitzgerald might have done if he’d put a little bit of that creative genius into living better.  No matter how well we write when we’re feeling crappy, we write even better when we feel well.

But, when we’re looking for more writing time, it’s tempting to take our health for granted.  “I’ll go to bed later.”  “I’ll get up earlier.”  “I’ll lock myself away until it’s done.”  “No time to cook.”  “Walk? When?”  How much better to carve out writing, revising, and publishing time from what doesn’t serve us: repeated email checking, web surfing, online shopping, phone twiddling, and the rest of the close-focus time-eating opportunities offered by the brilliant network of 21st century life.

Of all the assets we bring to the reading world, a writer’s greatest strengths are personality and intellect.  Our minds shine through every word we write.  Getting exercise, particularly walking (see the the New Yorker article on thinking and walking here) improves our thinking.  Eating whole foods, including more vegetables than we ever thought possible, helps our brains operate better.  Getting a good night’s sleep lifts our moods, and helps us see what we can create, how far we can go, and how to live the writing life we desire.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

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From @yourwritingmuse: You take five minutes to brainstorm intriguing settings. KudosYour Writing Muse.

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Designing a Writing Life

“If you don’t desigrobotgardenersmalln your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.  And guess what they’ve got planned for you?  Not much.” –Jim Rohn

Writing out goals shapes my days’ work. It shapes my days as well.  I’m always on the lookout for ways to shake up my day planning and goal setting for this writer’s life.

Last week I sat in the garden, gazing at the overgrown ivy.  I mused on authors’ careers, thinking,  All writers make something out of nothing.  Writers aren’t the only ones who do so, but it’s an exciting thought.  Pretty daring stuff.

And, within the same writing career, it’s an honourable business to work to support the creating of something new, for one’s own work, and for others’ careers as well.

A rough list for creation:  drafting chapters, outlining, goal setting, writing blogs, writing marketing plans, developing any new skill or superpower, such as bookkeeping.

For supporting creation:  typing up, revising own and others’ work, reviewing the week, polishing, marketing, publishing, bookkeeping.

Every profession claims lists like these.  As I try to fit these activities into my week, I can’t help reflecting that’s no wonder some professions come with assistants.

I hope it’s another great writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: You write intriguing dialogue. Great exchanges of power. I want to read and never stop. Kudos from your Writing Muse.

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In the Swim, In Publishing

twofishsmallI hear this a lot: “It’s just not a good time for publishing  any more.  Should have been there thirty years ago.” Anybody who dealt with  getting books published in the 70s, 80s or 90s – or indeed any still earlier decade – probably gives a quiet, slightly mad, chuckle when they hear these words.

Gosh, was it difficult to deal with publishers in the olden days of typewriters and then dot-matrix paper with those damned strips of holes to rip away at the sides.  You had to produce a perfect paper copy, package it and send it away with a self-addressed stamped envelope.  Or with a international reply coupon, if you were mailing to the States, which you were.  And then the threshold guardians of the time folded the  mimeographed purple-bleeding rejection:  “…not suitable for our purposes at this time but we wish you all the best.”  And, you sent your envelopes out one at a time and waited six months, a year or a decade for a reply.  You know what people said back then? “It’s just not a good time for publishing anymore.”

Sure, you didn’t have to think about having an author page or tweeting anything — but writing for shopping newspapers was a recommended starting place, if you were lucky enough to get that gig.

But then or now, best practice comes down to this:  Use the time you’ve got to write a book that is so excellent that your readers don’t want to stop reading it.  And then write another one.  And so on.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel.

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This week from @yourwritingmuse: I love the subtle way you connect the end of a scene to the start of the next. Great rhythms. Your fan, Your Writing Muse

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Celerity on Golden Wings

GoldenbluetitsmallOur writing careers are grounded in persistence, goal-writing, outlining, and head-down
concentration.  But now and then a celeritous writing experience flies in on gilded wings and rewards writers swiftly and surely with a kind of deus ex machina glory of plot and character development, sequel ideas, a better ending, or a fabulous start.

Celerity in writing is a beautiful thing.  From time to time we get a bit of writing time and find it possible to do some big writing job in twenty minutes, or make an important seven-league step in thirty, or finish something we never thought in a million years could be done without weeks of effort and lo!  It’s done in an hour.

I believe this occurs because writers’ minds are jam-packed with the reading we’ve done, the speakers we’ve heard, the skills we’ve gathered, turning the back burners of our minds into stewpots of expertise.  Leave them alone and sometimes our unconscious minds solve writing problems for us.  It’s like having Einstein handle all our relativity theory work while we get the shopping done, the spreadsheets finished, and the lawn mown.

Our minds did the preparation for us, and all we had to do was take action.

Don’t you love when that happens?
I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

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This week from @yourwritingmuse: All is well with your career. I peeked into the future and you’ll love your reviews. Your fan, Your Writing Muse

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Getting Past Editorial: Narrative Structure

“I don’t want to spoil the party, so I’ll go.” –Lennon & McCartney

croppersherosmallOf the three top reasons for rejecting short fiction, the too-slow emergence of the central conflict is the one I note most often.  It was certainly the reason editors cited for rejecting my own work in the past.  Now, I’m writing the same notes next to fully two-thirds of the short fiction submissions I read.  Lack of storytelling structure spoils the party every time.

We all know that in storytelling, composition and structure are vital.  Even those selections that show up in your university text, and appear to be put together with pipe cleaners and cut-out words from the newspaper, are works of structural genius.

Every reader has inside his or her subconscious mind an expert in storytelling structure.  Even a very young reader feels disappointment at the deepest level when writers miss a beat.  On the positive side, since we writers, as readers, are also equipped with the same expert critic, we have probably fewer steps to take than we realize, in order to make our stories work.

But until we do learn how to nail it, our revisions and re-submissions take far too much time.  Once we’ve nailed it, we have uncounted more hours to give to our works in progress.

There are a number of books teaching story structure.  My personal favourites are Vogler’s The Writer’s JourneySnyder’s Save the Cat, and Wiesner’s First Draft in Thirty Days.  These experts, among others, show writers the bones of the stories we love to read and those we love to write.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

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Small Steps, Superb Writing

peacocksmallEven if you’re already a wonderful writer (and you are), you want to keep getting better.  Luckily, that’s exactly how humility — the willingness to keep learning from those around us — repays us. Here are two ways to spend a few minutes learning here and there during your week:

  • Ask questions.  What are the greatest skills poets can teach novelists?  Who has the most fantastic sentence structure?  This novelist wins awards and almost all her work is dialogue, how does she do that?  When should I use
    a series of short sentences?  What figurative language am I using most often, can I widen my repertoire?
  • Write with a Titan.  Find a favourite writer.  Write out a sentence, a paragraph, or more, and analyze the craft involved.  The New York Times article This is Your Brain on Writing explains why spending time in a gifted writer’s mind this way is a worthwhile practice.

The best get even better.  We can develop more superpowers whenever we like.  These are comforting thoughts.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.

Cheers, Mel.

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Notebooks and Novelists

Untitled 2Novelists carry notebooks. It’s a symbol of the job, like a 1940’s journalist’s fedora. So, it’s lucky that we love stationery.  We get to spend lots of time trying new notebooks for size and paper quality and how they fit in our carryall, and whether we want one that is pocket-sized so we don’t have to carry that carryall all the time.  That’s what I call shopping fun.  Especially when it’s clearly necessary to go looking for an ideal writers’ carryall.

All the advice to writers I’ve ever read on notebooks says “Write down your excellent ideas.”  I agree, to a certain extent.  But given our busy lives and writing careers, we must consider that we don’t want a book of ideas so much as we want a book.

What if we jot any random yet great ideas in the back of the notebook, perhaps, but use the front to write outlines and character arcs and lists of 20 ways a turning point might take place?  In that way a notebook helps writers make progress on the present story as well as future volumes.  Ten-minute outlines in a notebook serve us beautifully when we come to draft the next scene.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

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Three Ways to be Brilliant, 10 Minutes at a Time

Untitled-1It’s hard not to feel the pinch of vital activities, pleasant and otherwise, that appear have little or nothing to add to our writing careers.  Our weeks are demanding.  But if we are to be writers, we need to keep our minds engaged with the writing process throughout the busy week, even if it’s only for a few valued moments in the day.

Here are three ways to be brilliant, 10 minutes at a time.

  • Search for an exchange of dialogue. Take out all the thinking this or doing that and isolate the actual dialogue.  Identify and strengthen if possible the shift in power among those speaking, and move the reactions to before and after the dialogue.
  • Take a look at an especially descriptive bit.  If it doesn’t come during a how are we not what we were reflective moment, or during the POV character’s pursuit of his or her goal, consider moving it.
  • Read the first paragraph of your book, your chapter, or your scene.  Find the most vital sentence there.  Figure out how to move it to the start.  Do the same for the last page or paragraph of your book, your chapter, or your scene.  Figure out how to move the great line to the end.

Small but powerful revisions for the work-in-progress gain us steady progress, as we move closer to our writing goals with every busy day.

I hope it’s another brilliant writing week for you.

Cheers, Mel

Small Time Slots and Big Goals

watch4smallcleanThe thought of a full-time writing career is enormous compared with a current work in progress. But that same work in progress is huge compared with the single sentence each of us is going to compose next.

In the same way,  fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like much when we wish we had a whole morning to ourselves to write.  But fifteen minutes is enough time to  outline an arc in a character’s growth, list twenty ways that boy can meet girl, or write five possible opening lines for your next scene, nailing time, place, and conflict. Small steps like these take us towards the great career goal.

In this way we are better prepared to face the hour of drafting, when we get it, than are many writers  who must wrack their brains for a good idea during their drafting time.

All good wishes for your success. Have another brilliant writing day.

Cheers

Mel