Mini Book Reviews: The False Prince & Re-Reading

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So I’ve found that now that I’ve been reading more, I’ve really enjoyed the mini-book review system in which I give a little blurb about everything I’ve read over the past thirty days. Hopefully you lovely readers enjoy the system as well.

Now I’ll admit I’ve been a little negligent with the mini-book review system as I failed to post one last month, largely due to the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of re-reading as of late. In honor of The Hunger Games movie release, I re-read the trilogy in March, and now as Insurgent by Veronica Roth will be released in a DAY, it goes without saying that I spent time this month re-reading Divergent. (If you’d like to see my review, I posted it a while back here).

However! Divergent wasn’t the only book I read this month as I was fortunate enough to see an ad for The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen, which lead me to track down the online sample, which lead me to promptly buy the book. All very fortunate indeed, because I loved it.

Firstly! The summary from Goodreads:

"THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end. 
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king's long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well. 
As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.
An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats."

Besides the action and fabulous pacing, what I really loved about The False Prince was Sage—the first-person narrator. It can be very difficult to pull off an unreliable narrator convincingly, especially in first person, but Nielsen nailed it. Sage is witty and admirable, but flawed and makes more than a few face-desk-worthy mistakes, and to top it off, there are twists that I really enjoyed.

For all those reasons and more I highly recommend it.

What have you read/re-read as of late? Anyone else re-reading Divergent in anticipation of Insurgent? 

Do You Read What You Want to Write?

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"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."—Toni Morrison
I'm sure most of you have heard that Toni Morrison quote, or some variation of it before, and I think there's a lot of truth to it.

Looking back at all of the manuscripts I've written, there's certainly a noticeable pattern as far as themes, elements, and style go, largely because I write about topics I like to read about. I suspect that most of you writers will find the same in your work, if you haven't already.

And let's face it—the reason why this tends to happen is pretty obvious: very few writers want to spend months or years writing a novel they aren't particularly interested in. We write what we want to read.

But what if we reverse that sentence? Most writers instinctively write what they want to read, but do you read what you want to write?

Since the beginning of my novel- writing days, I've written YA novels. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that that was the age group I enjoyed writing for. But initially I didn't read very much YA.

Honestly, it pains me to think about it now, and it's not like I didn't read any YA...I just didn't read nearly as much as a YA writer should. And I know some writers avoid reading novels in a similar genre while they're writing (that's another post all on its own), but in general, it's important for writers to read the genre they're writing in. Widely.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way—and sort of my accident—because once I really delved into YA books, something weird happened: my writing started to improve. Quickly. I learned different techniques and stylistic options I never realized were available to me. I learned about pacing and character development and voice and the sheer variety of novels out there.

I learned about how I should be writing. And as an added bonus, I came to realize just how much I loved the genre I was writing in.

This point is this: it's just as important (if not more so) to read what you like to write as it is to write what you like to read. Don't neglect your genre. There's always more to be learned.

Do you read what you like to write? Why or why not?

How to Finish Writing a Novel

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So the other day, the lovely @j_a_bennett brought up an interesting topic on her blog—namely, finishing a novel from first draft to polished prose.

I know a lot of writers who struggle with this—especially when they haven’t fully completed a novel before. And let’s face it—finishing a novel from start to finish isn’t easy. It’s difficult enough to put together a coherent first draft and even harder to take that first draft and transform it into a fully revised, layered story.

But truth be told, I feel like finishing the first book is more of a mind game than anything else. If you have a pattern of not finishing, it can sometimes be difficult to overcome that little voice that says the reason you haven't finished a novel is because you can't (which isn't true, by the way. The little voice lies). It’s often a matter of self-confidence, of fighting the underlying doubts that tell you inevitably something is going to happen to keep you from completing your story—whether it’s a gaping plot hole, loss of inspiration (or interest) or something else.

There are a million and two reasons to stop writing a novel. When battling these doubts, what you need to find is the one reason to ignore everything else and write it anyway.  

For me, finishing a novel from first draft to last revision takes two very important things:

  1. You have to LOVE your book. Really. You're going to be working on that baby a long time. If you don't love it, it's going to get exhausting very quickly, and another shiny novel idea may very well pop out of the blue and rip your attention away.

  2. Patience/perseverance. I know technically those are two different things, but they go hand-in-hand. You don't need to survive just one round of revision—but anywhere from 3-10+ drafts, and that's before you even try to get it published.  Not only that, but you need to be patient with yourself. You need to accept that you’re still learning, that it isn’t going to be perfect, and that it’s ok.

There’s a third thing too, that mostly ties in with the second point—understanding and acceptance. I’ve talked about this before, but not every novel you write is going to get published. Not every story is meant to be released to the world—some of them are meant for you, the writer, to learn from.

You need to understand that you may very well spend a couple months or even years working on a novel that will sit in your desk drawer. You need to understand that it’s only natural to write two or three (or five or seven) novels before you’ve developed your writing skill enough to be ready for the publishing world.

You need to understand that if you really want to be a writer, you’ll need to go through this process many many times. And sometimes you’ll get tired. And sometimes you’ll get bored. And sometimes you’ll wonder if you’re wasting your time with your current WIP and if you should start on something else or if you’ll really be able to survive a couple rounds of revision.

And all of that is ok.

Love your book. Have patience with the process and with yourself. Push through the obstacles, both mental and physical, until you have a gleaming, fully polished novel.

Then go write another one. You are a writer, after all.

What tips do you have for completing a novel? 

How (Not) to Write Great Characters

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It’s no secret that characters can make or break a story. A poorly written or else unlikable character can bog down an otherwise interesting story and truly interesting characters can improve an already enjoyable story. Although it’s relatively easy to identify a well-written character, it can be significantly more difficult to figure out how to write one.

So without further ado, I give you ten foolproof secrets to writing captivating characters. You can thank me later.

10 Secrets for Extraordinary Character-Writing Success*:

  1. Don’t introduce any characters in the first chapter. When a reader picks up a book, they aren't immediately ready to meet a new character. The most important thing is to ground them in the world of your book. Spend the first chapter describing the grass, the political system, the language and laws, but don’t even THINK about introducing a character until the second chapter (you’re thinking about it, aren't you? Stop that. Stop that right now).

  2. Epic. Names. No one wants to read about a character named Jimmy Brown. Horationitus Mooncloud Bloodbone on the other hand, makes for a very interesting character name. Bonus points if you can’t pronounce it.

  3. For character inspiration, consult Stereotypes-R-Us. Readers are already accustomed to seeing stereotypical characters, and thus are immediately attracted to them. Don’t shy away from using stereotypical characters—embrace them like a baby panda cuddling with its mother. There’s no faster way to scare readers away than writing characters who break the mold. 

  4. Make your villain bald. With a (preferably twirly) mustache. No one will take him seriously if he has a full head of hair and no mustache to twirl around his finger while coming up with a maniacal plan to destroy the world with his death ray (because every villain worth his salt has a death ray. It’s part of the job description).

  5. Make your hero flawless. Unless your protagonist looks like a child of Persephone, has a genius IQ and a heart of gold, your readers will immediately reject him. The hero must be perfect in every way, because no one wants to read about a character with actual flaws.

  6. Only bad guys make mistakes. Just like the real world.

  7. Include a Mary Sue in every novel you write. As they say, write what you know—and who knows how to write you better than you do? That’s what I thought.

  8. Make sure everyone sounds the same. You don’t want to confuse your readers with varied voices. If you take away all of the dialogue tags and you can’t tell who says what just by the way they say it, then you know you've succeeded.

  9. Use cardboard cut-out minor characters. They’re not really important, anyway, so no need to bother developing them. Besides, you don’t want them to distract your readers from the main plot and the other, more important characters like Horationitus.

  10. Kill them all in the end. You don’t want to leave your readers lying awake at night wondering about your characters’ futures, do you? I didn't think so. Spare them the worry and just kill them all off in the end. As a bonus, it makes for a memorable last page. (As a double bonus, give Horationitus some epic last words).

*= Oh, the sarcasm! Please don’t do any of these things. Your readers (and Horationitus) will thank you.

So there you have it—the secrets to writing brilliant characters. What would you add to the list?

Writing Discussion: The Good, The Bad and The Tortuous

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Not too long ago I turned the tables over to you lovely readers and asked whether or not you would publish traditionally if you had the chance. As the discussion there was absolutely fantastic, I’d like to extend another invitation for discussion.

This time, it’s about writing.

As a writer, it goes without saying that I (usually) enjoy writing.  Turning a wisp of an idea into a fully plotted, tangible novel is an incredible experience and I love so many things about it—from discovering new characters and worlds to surprising yourself with an unexpected plot twist, to watching a skeletal first draft develop into a complex, nuanced novel—writing can be truly amazing. This is the good.

But writing can also be an excruciatingly difficult experience. There are days—weeks, even—where it’d be easier and more enjoyable to sit through 48 hours of Teletubbies re-runs in the desert while attempting to find a particular grain of sand (don’t ask why there’s a television in this desert. There just is.) than to write a single paragraph. Or sentence. Or word. This is the bad.

There are moments when you look at the WIPs you’ve been slaving over for the last x years and wonder if you’ve wasted your time, if you’ll ever get published, if it’s worth spending another minute trying to do this writing thing. There are times when you’ve rewritten a manuscript three times and you think you’re finally finished, only to receive an edit letter or critique that requires you to rewrite it again. Then there’s rejection. Form “thanks but no thanks” letters. Manuscripts piling up in your drawers. Amazon e-books that don’t sell.

This is the tortuous.

No, writing isn’t all mounds of sugar, rainbows and bunnies, but to me, the good far outweighs the bad. I’d happily slog through a couple more decades of doubts, rejections and shelved manuscripts just to experience the joy of discovering a new story and meeting new characters and knowing those words marking the page are mine.

There’s something special about that. Something I won’t ever give up.

What do you think? What are the good, bad and tortuous parts of writing that you’ve experienced?

A Lesson from Bestsellers: Write Whatever You Want

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Not too long ago I wrote a post on What Makes a Book a Bestseller, and with The Hunger Games breaking all sorts of records in the box office, many people are left wondering what will be the next big thing.

Although fans would most certainly disagree, many have called The Hunger Games the next Twilight, and others have speculated what the next Hunger Games would be, but I think if bestsellers have taught us anything, it's that very rarely is there a next x (where x is a previous franchise, anyway).

Allow me to explain. If, for example, the fan base behind a non-Twilight vampire series exploded, meriting a debut on the screen and ridiculous merchandise sales, then yes, it might be appropriate to call the new phenomena the next Twilight. But as it is, The Hunger Games is about as similar to Twilight as Edward Cullen is to Mad-Eye Moody—both are fictional characters with recognizable names, but there ends the similarities.

Now I'm aware that when people refer to a phenomenon as the next x, they aren't referring to the similarities between the two, but the popularity of the franchise. That's fair, but comparing the two, at least to me, indicates some sort of lumping together (i.e.: Twilight and Hunger Games), which isn't fair to either book.

Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games are all their own separate entities. They were bestsellers for various reasons, none of which include their authors trying to write the next x. Time and time again when successful authors have talked about their experience writing their book, by and large they have talked about writing the story—their story, the story that only they could write. The point wasn't to be hugely successful or write the next big thing, the point was, and always will be, to write the book that demanded to be written.

And that is a lesson that all of us should remember.

The next hugely popular book won't be the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Twilight— it'll be the next it. It'll be its own thing with its own synthesis of ideas and characters and the right combination of word-of-mouth and captivating story. It'll be the book that the author had to write, the book that they pounded into the page over the course of years, the book that the author never equated with the other bestsellers because it is its own it.

The bestsellers are telling us something, and it's not just that vampires and magic and dystopians are popular— they're telling us to write the story that you want to write and worry about the rest later.

Or don't worry about it at all. Who knows? One day your book may be the next it.

What do you think? Have you learned any lessons from the bestsellers? 

Why Tough Critiques Are Exciting (To Me)

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I’m a quirky sort of writer. Aside from being a perfectionist and overly detail-oriented, I’m also a rather competitive person. Not so strange, I know, until you consider I’m competitive with myself.

This will make sense in a moment. Bear with me.

Last week, fellow awesomesauce writer/twitterer Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse) wrote a post about taking criticism gracefully. I recommend the post both for its insightfulness and his masterful way with dry wit and humor, but I digress.

The post reminded me that taking writing criticism gracefully has never been much of a problem for me—and that’s not because I have the patience of a Tibetan monk (I don’t) or because I’m a particularly graceful person (let’s not even pretend). The reason I’ve been able to take much of the writing criticism I’ve received in stride is, in fact, largely due to my competitive nature.

You see, when I receive a manuscript or chapter from a critique partner dripping with red ink, I don’t see it as a mountain load of work (even though, let’s face it, it usually is) or as another chore I have to now complete. To me, a manuscript that’s been ripped apart by my most difficult and nit-picky critique partner is a challenge. The red ink dares me to be better and the notes are arrows giving me a not-so-gentle nudges to a much improved manuscript.

When I see weaknesses pointed out in my WIP, something riles up inside me challenging me to do better, to be better, to make this WIP the very best it can be. I “compete” so-to-speak, with my desire to submit the manuscript for publication now now now and the part of me that is exhausted from years of work on a single story with the perfectionist, challenge-seeking part of me that loves nothing more than to rip the weaknesses out of my work until I’m confident it has reached its potential.

I also adopt the same attitude when critique another writer’s work—to me, when a writer hands over a chapter or manuscript for critique, they’re challenging me to find the weaknesses (I know that’s not actually the case, but try telling that to my competitive side). This can sometimes make me a rather nit-picky critique partner, but I digress.  

Now that’s not to say that I don’t get tired of doing revision after revision after revision only to have a critique partner tell me that it’s nowhere near ready. That’s not to say that sometimes I don’t feel like Sisyphus, forever pushing that boulder up the hill, with no end in sight. That’s not to say that sometimes this writer thing doesn’t feel ridiculously hard and I wonder if I’ll ever get published at all.

We all have those moments at one time or another. But that’s when we have to ask ourselves what kind of writer we want to be: one who buries his head in the sand and ignores the need to improve, perfectly content with his current writing ability or one who strives to continuously be better.

I for one choose the latter, even when it’s the more painful and exhausting option of the two. And a good critique partner can certainly help you get there.

How do you handle tough critiques? 

How to Use Timers to Be More Productive

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So the other day I was twittering with fellow tweeple @RaiscaraAvalon when it was discovered we share a rather unexpected similarity, namely, the use of timers.

My first experience with consciously writing on the clock came with the Twitter hashtag #wordmongering, in which writers get together at the top of every hour and write as much as they can for thirty minutes, then share their word count results and pass around electronic goodies and bubbles of happiness.

Something about being aware of the ticking clock and knowing I only had thirty minutes to write really gets my fingers moving. I’m racing against the clock (and other writers) to get the most words down I can.

This ticking clock experience was amplified when I started using Write or Die, which literally has a timer in the corner of the application that shows the seconds and minutes slipping away as you work (it also has a running word count meter in the opposite corner that I personally find both encouraging and motivating, but that’s another matter entirely).

Point is, timers are a great tool for forcing you to focus on a particular project—whether it’s writing, editing, brainstorming, etc. All you have to do is decide how long you’ll be doing said activity (I find that thirty minutes is a good amount of time for a focused sprint), turn off all other distractions (yes, that means Twitter, too), set the timer and go.


By turning on the timer, you are making a silent contract with yourself to dedicate that set amount of time to do whatever it is you’re setting out to do, and nothing else. No checking Twitter, or e-mails, or tumblr or Facebook or taking phone calls or getting a snack. If you absolutely must stop for some reason (like, say, if your house is on fire), pause the timer and come back to finish the sprint later (unless your house actually is on fire, in which case completing your sprint should be the last of your worries).

The great thing about timers, however, is that they’re multifunctional. Not only are they a great tool for forcing you to focus for a certain amount of time, but they’re fantastic for cutting down on daily distractions.

It’s important to note that some amount of daily distraction isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we all need to take breaks throughout the day, and sometimes there’s nothing better after a particularly exhausting writing sprint than watching some mind-numbing YouTube videos or snickering at random tumblr GIFs or sharing your half-coherent thoughts with the Twittersphere. It’s only when we slip into relaxing-distraction-seeking mode and suddenly its 10 PM and you still haven’t finished that chapter you were supposed to write today and the laundry is piling up and you forgot to eat dinner, that it can become a problem. And that’s when the timer comes in.

It’s very easy to say, “I’m only going to spend fifteen minutes on Twitter,” then realize an hour later that you still haven’t finished your work. As they say, time flies, especially when you’re procrastinating (or something like that).

Believe it or not, it’s significantly harder to claim that time ran away from you when you set a timer for fifteen minutes and it beeps incessantly until you turn it off, thus letting you know you have spent your permitted fifteen minutes and now it’s time to get back to work.

Be warned: setting a timer means you’re serious. It means you actually only want to fifteen minutes on Twitter and after that you’re actually going to go back to work. It means you really intend to spend thirty minutes adding to your manuscript, and nothing else. It means you understand that your time is limited and you want to make the most of it.

You don’t have to use a timer to be productive, but if you’re serious about using your time wisely and hunkering down and focusing on your work for a period of time, I highly recommend it.

Or you can go check Twitter for fifteen more minutes.

Do you use timers to be more productive? Have you used it while writing? 

Writers: Would You Publish Traditionally if You Could?

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Imagine for a second that you've been offered representation for your novel. Although you know having a literary agent doesn't 100% guarantee that you'll be published, let's say this particular agent is very confident that your book will sell to one of the Big Six and your odds of being published are pretty good. Your initial reaction, I imagine, is pretty darn happy, but now you're faced with a choice.

You see, you have a good manuscript in your hands; one that you're pretty certain will sell. If you accept the agent's offer of representation, you will enter the ranks with other traditionally published writers. If not, you can take the title of self- published writer.

So let me ask you, my fellow readers: would you publish traditionally if given the chance?

It's a bit of a weird question, I know, and five years ago if you asked any writer, the answer would be a resounding: well, DUH. But nowadays the answer of how to publish isn't so cut and dry. More stories surface every day about writers who, when faced with the decision, choose self- publishing rather than going traditional. There are the Amanda Hockings and J.R. Konraths of the world who have made bundles through independent publishing and more than a handful of writers who have been able to make a living off self- publishing.

And yet, traditional publishing is still a very viable option, because while to some writers the how of getting published doesn't matter, to others it does. Then there's also the matter of all the work that goes into publishing that writers have to tackle largely by themselves when they choose to self- publish, that others would rather let a traditional publishing house take care of.

Some believe that there's more money to be made through self- publishing and others through traditional publishing—and still others don't care about the money either way: they want to see their book on the shelves (or in the case of self- publishing, they just want to be published one way or another).

When it comes to how to publish, I truthfully don't believe there's a blanket right or wrong answer— it most certainly depends on your goals as a writer (more about that in this post).

So I'm curious. If the aforementioned hypothetical situation happened to you, what would you choose? Would you accept representation or choose to brave the waters of self- publishing?

Time and Priorities for Writers

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So the other day I wrote a post about Why I'm Glad I Joined Twitter in which I basically wrote 500 words about how awesome Twitter is, especially for writers.

However. As awesome as Twitter and other social media sites (hello tumblr and Facebook) are, there is one very scary danger that we writers are particularly vulnerable to: the Time Suck of Doom.

All writers have their own time management challenges. Many of us have a full time job, or are full time students, or full time parents or some combination of all of the above, and then on top of that we're writers and we're putting together a book (or books) and maintaining a blog and popping in to Twitter and Facebook and tumblr to try to keep our web presence from shriveling up and dying, all while trying to remember to eat three square meals a day and keep a healthy lifestyle (oh, and someone needs to do laundry. You should probably get on that).

Point being, writers don't often have an abundance of time— and we rarely have any time to waste.

So when you consider just how easy it is to fall into the trap of spending hours scrolling through your Twitter/tumblr/Facebook feed (what I like to call the Time Suck of Doom), social media can be just as dangerous as it is useful.

Truth is, too much of anything can be a bad thing, and social media is no exception. For writers, our number one priority (after family, bills and remaining generally healthy) must be the writing. It doesn't matter what you're writing, what matters is that you constantly improve it, add to it, practice it until you have a finished manuscript (or four), and then when you've completely polished it and are ready for publication, you keep writing.

Because for writers, there is nothing more important than improving our writing skill. Because yes, the connections you make through social media are fantastic and yes, a web presence is important for writers in this day and age and yes, you do find some really incredible and useful links through social media, but the writing must always come first.

So next time you catch yourself surfing the web/streaming videos/playing XBox when you know you really should be writing that book/blog post/poem/short story, remember what your top priority is as a writer and get back to work.

You can tweet about it later.

What do you do to fight the Time Suck of Doom?

Why I'm Glad I Joined Twitter

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Roughly a year ago (on April 10, 2011, to be exact), I did something I never imagined I would do: I created a Twitter account. Had you told me just a few weeks before that fated day that a year from then I’d be an active Twitter user, I would've thought it a joke. Me? An active Twitter user? Funny.

Well. After reading post after post about how it takes about three years to build a solid platform, I took a leap, figuring I might as well try it out for a couple of weeks before I decide it’s not for me. I made a pact with myself that if I reached 150 followers, I’d finally start that blog I’d been putting off for so long.

I didn’t really expect to meet my goal, especially not in a couple of weeks. But I did. And something weird happened: I realized I actually liked Twitter. A lot.

Because for every “my cat just threw up a magical hairball on the carpet” tweet, there were three of these:

Because I was suddenly able to connect to a whole community of wonderful writers I never knew existed.

Because I was discovering incredible new books and blogs daily.

Because people like @taherehmafi post tweets like this:

Because hashtag groups like #wordmongering motivated me to keep writing.

Because Twitter is more than just a site where people post about their ferrets and one-eyed gerbils; it’s a place of connections, of relationships, of sharing things that make us laugh and cry and smile and think and feel.

A year later I am convinced more than ever that Twitter is a fantastic resource for writers, and I couldn't be happier with my decision to join the party.

Do you have a Twitter account? If so, are you glad you joined? If not, why not?

Why Writing Through Resistance is Essential

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As a writer, you'll soon find there are good writing days and desperately bad writing days. We all love the good days—the moments when the words come easily and the new pages stack up quickly and you look at your fresh words with a smile and a dash of something else—pride.

When we think about writing, those are the days we like to remember.

But then there are those other days. Those awful periods when every time you look at the page you feel the powerful need to do something else—anything else. Check Twitter. Play with your Pandora settings. Scroll through your tumblr/Facebook feed. Check Twitter. Find a snack. Read that blog post. Check Twitter (someone could have @ mentioned you in the last thirty seconds, right? Right).

Then slowly, painfully, you drag yourself back to the page. Stare at it for a while. Write a few words and remember you haven't checked your e-mail in a whole hour. Check Twitter.

You get the idea.

Point is, writing isn't always easy or fun or even remotely enjoyable. Sometimes it's downright hard—so difficult, that even the most unpleasant of tasks sounds easier. All writers experience this at one point or another, and sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break. But sometimes even after your break, the words continue to fight you every step of the way.

And that's when you have to put the proverbial gloves on and get to work.

Because no, writing isn't always easy, but you knew that when you decided to do this writer-thing and you chose to pursue it anyway. Because the successful writers are the ones who don't give up, who write through the resistance, through the rejections, through the exhaustion and doubts and fears.

If you really want to do this writer-thing, you have to accept that that thing called writer's block isn't as much of a block as it is a ball-and-chain, a weight that makes every new word difficult to reach, that resists forward motion.

But it's not impossible to write through it. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. And there's a certain amount of gratitude you get from writing through the resistance because no, the words aren't perfect, but they're there. You put them there, even when you wanted to give up. They're yours.

So next time you're staring at a blank page and the resistance makes finding the words a battle, remember this little nugget of wisdom (via

"Don't get it right. Just get it written." James Thurber

Then get back to work.

What do you do to help break through the resistance?

How to Make Your Readers Believe Anything

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I’ll admit the title sounds a little ominous, like I’m about to spill the secrets of world domination, and in a way I suppose I am—dominating the world of literature, at least.

Regardless of however the title may or may not sound, I’m not really referring to mind control—I’m referring to suspension of disbelief.

As writers, you have the unique ability to make anything possible. You aren’t bound by laws of physics or reality or even time—whatever you can imagine, you can create on the page. Dragons, zombies, angels, horned beaver-goats—writers set the rules to the worlds that they create.

But as Aunt May so famously told a young Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility.

With every book (or series) you write, you set up the rules of that reality. Whether it’s literary fiction, epic fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc., it’s your job as the writer to establish some form of boundaries and guidelines. In the Harry Potter series, for example, J.K. Rowling established early on that even the most powerful wizards prefer performing magic with wands, while in Eragon (Christopher Paolini), magic was performed without the use of any wands whatsoever and in The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson), magic could only be performed with the aid of the rare Godstone.  

The key is to set up rules that fit with whatever genre you write in. Readers of fantasy expect a certain amount of, well, the fantastic—whether its dragons, magic, elves, all of the above or something entirely different—there are expectations within the genre that you as a writer in that genre have to adhere to. If The Lord of the Rings ended with an alien invasion or a stampede of pink squirrels made of sugar, readers would riot because it completely breaks the rules that J.R.R.Tolkein so carefully established.

Beyond world rules however, writers have the important job of ensuring that their characters don’t act out of character, and thus break the readers’ suspension of disbelief. If Katniss, for example, started flirting with Cato because he was cute, or Harry Potter decided to join Voldemort and become a Death Eater, to say that they’d be breaking character would be a huge understatement.

There are two very simple things writers must do to ensure suspension of disbelief:

  1. Set up the rules. Establish (or hint at) world rules quickly, as well as the rules (or personalities) of your characters.

  2. Stick with them.

It’s ok to occasionally break a rule, but make sure it’s justified—establish a new rule that renders the broken rule obsolete, or give a character a motivation for his otherwise unbelievable action, but make sure it’s fully explained in your book, or risk losing that suspension of disbelief.

Have you ever read a book that shattered your suspension of disbelief? What do you think caused it? What’s your favorite example of suspension of disbelief? 
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