How to Remain Sane While Writing

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Writers have an interesting job, to say the least. We use every spare moment we can manage to sit in front of the computer (or typewriter, for the few who still use it, or pen(cil) and paper) and write until we've developed severe cases of tendonitis or carpal tunnel, and then keep writing anyway. We daydream about imaginary worlds and cry when we kill of characters that don't actually exist except in our minds and stories and we spend months or years slaving away at a manuscript that may never see the light of day.

We say things like, "Yes, it's a gorgeous day outside, but I must write this chapter," or, "Wow, I'm starving and haven't eaten in six hours BUT THIS SCENE. I MUST FINISH WRITING IT." Then we give our stories to other people and hope that they tear it apart (yes, hope) so that we can sew it back together (into hopefully something even better) with trembling fingers and bruised egos. Then, when all is said and done, we torture ourselves over writing these nightmarish things called a synopsis and query letter and we send them to professionals or we upload them online and bite are fingernails down to little nubs.

Yes, we writers are an interesting lot. Some may even say we're masochists (and who knows? They might be right).

But while a writer's number one goal is to improve his or her writing, remaining sane is also somewhat (ok, really) important. So here are some tips on how not to go crazy while embracing the life of the writer.

  1. Go out. It's very easy for writers to adopt some hermit-like qualities while in the midst of writing a book. I often have to remind myself (and have others remind me) to go out and breathe some fresh air and have a change of scenery. You'll be glad you did, especially when you don't go stir-crazy.

  2. Don't look back. After you send a query or partial or full manuscript to an agent or publisher or critique partner/beta reader, it can be very tempting for writers to glance back at what you wrote. You think to yourself, one little peek won't hurt, then—BAM. You find a typo. ON THE FIRST PAGE. Oh and that sentence makes no sense. And that paragraph is stupid. And, and, and...

    Don't do this to yourself. What's been sent has been sent. No go write something else. Read a book. Anything. But for the love of all things fluffy and adorable, do NOT look back.

  3. Stop comparing. I'm relatively sure every writer has fallen into this trap at least once (I know I sure have), but there are absolutely no positive results from comparing yourself to other writers. It doesn't help you in any way to remind yourself that Christopher Paolini wrote and published his first book when he was fifteen or that you could write a better book than Twilight (or any other published book out there). It doesn't help you write your next book and it doesn't help your confidence, either. So stop it.

  4. Keep writing. When you've received well over a hundred rejection slips— keep writing. When you've trunked your third novel and you wonder if you'll ever be published— keep writing. When you have someone reading your WIP and you're terrified they're going to hate it— keep writing. Nothing reminds you better why you're subjecting yourself to this emotional roller coaster than finishing another novel. Than working on the next WIP.
As someone very wise once told me, "Keep doing it for yourself and eventually someone else will catch on."

What tips do you have for remaining sane while writing?

Writers: Do You Keep a Journal?

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I've always been slightly envious of writers who could maintain a journal. Journal-writing just seemed like a very writerly thing to do (to me, at least)—as natural as, say, a cook keeping a running cookbook.

So when my feeble attempts at maintaining a journal (and there have been many) fell flat, I felt a little silly. I was a writer, for crying out loud. Why was it so difficult to think up of a couple entries a week to document my life?

I think the conclusion I eventually came to was that while I had no problem spending hours a day in made-up worlds, torturing my characters or writing blog posts, for that matter, I just didn't find writing about my day, or week, or whatever span of time, nearly as interesting. I'd write a couple journal entries over the course of a few days, then get distracted, and, ultimately, bored.

As much as I wanted it to be, journal-writing just didn't come naturally to me. It was something I had to force, something that I didn't want to force. I conceded to trying to write just a couple entries a year (and sometimes less...oh well).

Maybe in the future I'll be able to maintain a journal or maybe I'll forever be one of those writers who just...doesn't. But while writing a journal isn't something that works particularly well for me, I know there are many writers out there who swear by it, who find writing the entries cathartic, or who just enjoy having something to look back on later in life (which I completely understand—it's one of the main reasons I still hope to one day pick up the habit of writing journal entries).

There is a lesson in all this, I think, namely that even the most basic of writing habits doesn't work for everyone. You see, that's the great thing about writers (well, the great thing about everyone, really)—we're all so diverse and interesting and what works for one writer doesn't necessarily work for another and that's ok. It's something to be celebrated, even, because how boring would it be if everyone worked exactly the same way?

We all think, speak and process the world in different ways, which is what makes our writing so unique. And I wouldn't want it to be any different.

Do you keep a journal? Why or why not?

On Writing and Publishing Trends

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When thinking about publishing, it's hard not to mention the market and the various trends that inevitably appear in the reading/ writing world. With Harry Potter came various books about witches and wizards, with the rise of Twilight came the explosion of paranormal novels, especially those involving vampires and creatures of the like, and now more recently with the success of The Hunger Games , dystopian novels have become very popular.

So when slaving away at their WIPs and rummaging through bookstores, writers often wonder how much they should be paying attention to the market while they write their books.

While I think it's important for writers to be aware of what publishing trends are rising in the book market (and, conversely, what is becoming more difficult to sell), and while I think it's especially important for writers to be well versed in their genre, I truly believe that it's far more important for writers to write the stories they want to write regardless of what's going on in the market.

Hear me out. The state of the publishing market is something that is completely out of the writer's control. What's more, it's a well-known fact that what is popular today probably won't be the hot in-thing in five years. That's not to say it won't be selling then, but publishing trends only last so long.

Writing a book, meanwhile, takes an excruciatingly long time. Even if you're a ridiculously prolific writer who can pound out a first draft in a month and revise in three and you either a) self-publish four months after writing the first draft with a fantastically revised novel  done in record speed or b) manage to find an agent and land a publishing contract immediately (which usually takes time), in the case of the self-published writer it takes time to build buzz for your book, and in the case of the traditionally published writer it can take up to two years (or more, even) just to get that story on the shelves. By the time that novel is released (or really builds up buzz), who knows what the market will look like?

Then of course, there's the opposite problem of writers who write to a trend that already passed because they love the genre and spend time worrying about whether or not it'll be able to sell. Again, the state of the publishing market is something out of our control. The energy spent worrying about the trends could be spent bettering your book, instead.

Look, I'm not an agent or a publishing expert, nor will I pretend to be. But from what I understand, (and I could be wrong here) if you're looking to publish traditionally, very few agents are going to turn down an excellent story that they absolutely love just because you "missed the boat" so-to-speak, as far as trends go. And by the same token, very few agents (or publishing companies) are going to pick up a mediocre story that was written quickly just to fit the current market.

And I suspect it's not all that different for self-published writers: a good book is going to sell regardless of publishing trends and a mediocre book that fits the market, well, not so much.

In short, I think it's important for writers to be aware of the market, but it's far more important for writers to focus on writing a fantastic book. If you can manage that, your book will find a place in the market regardless of what the trends look like.

Now it's your turn: Do you think writers should write to the market? How important is it for writers to be aware of the publishing trends?

Would You Write If You Were Never Getting Published?

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It's no secret that most writers write with the goal of eventually getting published. Regardless of whether the goal is traditional or self publishing, many writers toil away for years all the while reaching for the title of published author.

And it's a fair dream—an exciting, if not slightly nerve-wracking one, to think of hundreds or thousands of people reading the story that you wrote. The story that you spent years of your life writing. The story that would not exist if you hadn't written it.

But I've seen this question asked before, and truth be told, at the beginning of my journey as a writer, I didn't want to answer it. I saw writers ask, "Would you keep writing if you knew you were never going to be published?" and I thought, well I'm not going to answer that because I am going to get published.

Well it's been years since I've first seen that question and I'm still not published, but the question has never really left my mind. And I think the reason I didn't want to answer it at first was because I wasn't sure I would keep writing. Without the dream, I thought, what was the point?

Years and many archived manuscripts later, I think I've come to terms with the question. Because no, there isn't any guarantee that I'm ever going to get published (traditionally, anyway) and I've come to realize that I'm ok with that. Sure, it's still a dream I hold on to and I truly believe that with enough patience and hard work, any writer can see their dream realized, but there isn't ever a 100% guarantee unless you self-publish (and even then, there's no guarantee that it'll sell).

So now when I see the question "would you keep writing if you knew you were never going to be published?" I think I can answer with a yes. Because no, I probably wouldn't put as much work and time into each story as I do now, but I truly don't believe I would stop writing altogether.

Because writing is more than just chasing the dream: writers write to discover the story, to create new characters and worlds and turn our experiences into words on the page that we can read over and over again and share with others (even if, in the case of the never-published writer, "others" is just a handful of friends and family).

Because yes, every writer hopes to one day get published but that's not the only reason we write (or at least, it shouldn't be)—we write because we love it. Because there's something truly special about translating experiences into words, about using just the right combination of letters to create pictures and emotions in our readers.

Because a writer without words is like a bird without wings. Because published or not, writing is what we writers do.

Now it's your turn: Would you keep writing if you somehow knew you would never get published? 

Writing Dangers: Shiny New Idea Syndrome

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So that wonderfully fantastic thing happened again when one of you amazing people suggested a topic that I could have sworn I’d covered, except it turns out I’d only ever touched on, because when talking about discipline, one of you lovely commenters (you know who you are—thank you!) posted this:
“I don’t know if you’ve ever discussed this already, but one thing I thought might be interesting, is your views on when to start new stories. Such as, you are working on one novel and have another great idea. Do you keep finishing the first one and then work on the second even if your enthusiasm dips or do you start the new one immediately and use that enthusiasm to your advantage?”
I think this is a fantastic question because there is little doubt in my mind that most writers (if not all) experience what I like to call Shiny New Idea Syndrome at one point or another throughout their writing careers.

For those of you who aren’t acquainted with this beast, Shiny New Idea Syndrome occurs when you’re in the middle of a WIP, and suddenly—BAM—a brand new tantalizing idea sneak-attacks you and starts whispering things like, don’t you want to write me? or hey, hey, why won’t you take a break from that other story and try something new? You know you want to, and makes you wonder why you’re even bothering with this other WIP when that Shiny New Idea is so much better.

Once Shiny New Idea Syndrome has attacked, a writer is faced with two options: continue with the first WIP and remember the Shiny New Idea for a later WIP, or put the first WIP aside and start writing the Shiny New Idea immediately.

As our fantabulous commenter mentioned, some writers worry that if they continue with their first WIP and leave the Shiny New Idea for later, their enthusiasm for the new project will fade, making it more difficult to write later on. And while this is a perfectly legitimate fear because yes, that does tend to happen with some ideas, I truly believe that if when the time comes to sit down and put the Shiny New Idea to paper, you’re no longer excited about the project, then it probably wasn’t a strong enough idea to be written into a novel in the first place.

I’ve talked about this before, so I’m not going to go into detail again, but in short, writing a novel is a very involved process that takes huge amounts of time, and if you can’t maintain enthusiasm for a new project idea while finishing a WIP you already started, then chances are you would have found it difficult to maintain that enthusiasm through the long months (or years) it takes to write and revise and revise and rewrite and edit a novel.

If, however, you do finish the first project and the Shiny New Idea is still there, tapping you on the shoulder and demanding that you get to work, then I’d say that’s a pretty good sign that you have something good on your hands. Something that isn’t just a fleeting temptation. An actual, lasting novel-worthy idea.

Because the real danger of the Shiny New Idea Syndrome is this: oftentimes writers find when they switch projects to satisfy a Shiny New Idea, part-way through that new WIP another Shiny New Idea comes along that’s so much better than the one you’re working on now, and before you know it you’ve started four new projects and haven’t finished anything.  I hear about this from writers all the time, especially new writers who haven’t finished a project before because Shiny New Idea Syndrome is a sneaky little thing.

That’s not to say that Shiny New Idea Syndrome doesn’t ever give you good ideas—it can certainly drop a perfectly sound novel-worthy idea into your mind. But I truly believe the first test of its novel worthiness is whether or not you can sustain that new-idea enthusiasm even if you don’t immediately begin writing it.

Because a truly novel-worthy idea will still be there waiting for you when you finish your first project.

So that’s my take on Shiny New Idea Syndrome. What do you think? If a Shiny New Idea hit you while working on a project, would you continue with the first project or start working on the new one? Have you ever experienced Shiny New Idea Syndrome?

Writers: Undisciplined Need Not Apply

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There's a funny little truth about writing that people tend to forget: namely, that no one is forcing you to write. Writers don't write because someone is holding a gun to their head demanding that they write another novel (at least, not a literal one... I hope). Even writers who write for a living have the option of not writing and getting a job doing something else, if they really wanted to quit.

By and large, however, especially for unpublished writers, we write because we want to. Because the thought of not writing is more painful than forcing ourselves to sit down and actually get words on paper. Because we are, to our very cores, writers.

Sounds great, doesn't it? We writers have the fantastic opportunity of doing something that we love whenever and wherever we want for (nearly) free, with only time constraints and life things to get in the way.

But there is a downside, namely, that no one is forcing us to write.

Allow me to explain. In a normal nine to five job, if an employee decides that they don't feel like working, or they're too tired to work, or too stressed out, or whatever it may be, most times said employee can't just decide not to work, at least, not for very long. Most bosses don't care if you had a rough night and would rather sleep in and enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee or tea instead of getting up early for the job. As a contracted employee, you have to work. Period.

But when it comes to unpublished writers, that's not exactly the case. There are a million and two reasons not to write: you're too busy, too tired, too sick, too exhausted from your other job/ school/ parenting/ all of the above, or you just can't think of anything to write today. Especially when your writing isn't paying the bills, it can be difficult to find motivation to continue.

In short, writing requires a huge amount of discipline.

Writing is a choice. A passion. And it's a lot of work that often goes unrewarded and mostly unappreciated for years. This is something you have to accept when you set out to be a writer. It's an unavoidable truth, and without enough discipline, chances are you won't last.

I'm not saying that to be mean; it's just the truth. I see writers all the time who say they can't write because they've been hit with a terrible case of writer's block, or because they're not in the writing mood, or a hundred other reasons. And that's all good and well for a day, maybe two, but when you allow those excuses to accumulate, you'll soon find it's been a couple months and you haven't made any progress in your writing at all, and where has the time gone?

Discipline isn't optional for writers — it's a necessity if you hope to ever take your writing seriously. Because the only one demanding that you write is you, and if you don't keep yourself motivated, if you don't keep yourself writing, you may soon find that you've lost time you could have used to improving your craft to no one but yourself.

What do you think? Am I overstating how important discipline is for writers? How important is discipline to you?

Do You Listen to Music While Writing?

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So, even though I have over 600 songs in my iTunes library (an amateur collection compared to some, I know), when writing, Pandora is my best friend. Usually.

I’ve heard some writers say that they need absolute silence while writing, while others swear by writing to music. Some have writing playlists and others like myself prefer a more eclectic mix, depending on what’s being written.

For any of you who’ve read my blog for more than a couple of weeks, it probably comes as no surprise to you that my music-listening habits depend largely on the writing session. While first-drafting and trying to spit out as many words as my fingers will allow in a crazy, half-hour writing sprint, I usually turn Pandora on and listen to my Shinee radio. 

Shinee is a Korean band, so the station is filled with mostly Korean pop, which is helpful for two reasons: firstly I don’t understand most of the words, so it doesn’t interfere with my thought process (most, because I’ve discovered many Korean bands like to sing parts of their songs in English or throw random English words into their songs…go figure), and secondly the upbeat music helps me to keep a quick writing pace.   

Naturally there are downsides to using Pandora while writing, namely when a particularly distracting song comes on and I have to pause my writing to skip the song (or worse—when I run out of skips and have to listen to it anyway or else switch to an English-speaking station), and I’ve come to realize that if you listen to a song enough times, regardless of the language, your brain will start to learn the lyrics (or at least mine does), so I do occasionally find myself singing random Korean-sounding words while I’m supposed to be writing. Oops.

However, as you might imagine, when first-drafting a particularly emotional or intense scene, it can be a little difficult to focus in the right mood with happy Pop music in the background, and that’s when I either switch to a rock station or write in silence.

When I’m not first-drafting, and I really need to focus on choosing the right words, I tend to prefer silence (although there are exceptions). In those instances, any type of noise can be distracting, especially if I’m already struggling to put words down. This also applies to editing—listening to music while editing is very near impossible for me, regardless of the language of the music. Silence (or near-silence) is a must while editing.

So those are my music-writing-editing habits. But I’m curious: do you listen to music while writing or editing, or do you write in silence? Why?

Do You Read Your Old Writing?

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Sometimes, when I’m between WIPs and books and blog posts and I find myself drumming my fingers on my desk and spending way too much time checking Twitter /tumblr /Facebook /Twitter /e-mail, I go through my documents and start pulling out some of my old writing.

And sometimes, it can be embarrassing encouraging to see some of my writing from last year or three or five years ago, because it gives me a pretty good idea of how much my writing has improved over time. And sometimes it’ll remind me of the ideas I had and inspire me to write something new and brainstorm with new WIP ideas and play with words for a while.

But other times I look at my old writing and remember why I put it in the (virtual) drawer to begin with.

As writers, unless we experience some sort of computer (or non-computer) related catastrophe that destroys all archived copies of our writing, we’ll always have the files waiting to be opened again. And as we writers tend to be a perfectionistic bunch, it can sometimes be a little painful to venture into the database of our previously archived writings.

But I think there’s a lot that can be learned from occasionally looking back at where we started with fresh, more experienced eyes. Because while the flaws in our writing from a couple years ago may stand out as if a neon sign was pointing at them and dancing around in little circles, flaws in our writing from, say, yesterday, are much harder to find. And although we’d like to think that we’ve improved so much from our archived writings that we won’t find any of the same mistakes, chances are that’s not the case, regardless of how much we’ve improved.

Being aware of the flaws in our writing from a couple months or years ago can help us not to make the same mistakes again when we work on a new WIP. And even if we don’t go through our old work with a fine-toothed comb to try to pick out all the little mistakes on the page, just knowing what elements didn’t work in an old WIP can make it infinitely easier to avoid them in our newer manuscripts.

So next time you’re between WIPs and books and blog posts and you find yourself using the interwebs to entertain you for a while, take a couple minutes to go through your documents and pull out some of your old writing. You never know what you might gain from the experience.

Do you read your old writing? If so, does it help? If you don’t, why not? 

Why Writers Must Be Observers

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Contrary to popular belief, a writer must be more than a person who just writes. Of course writing is our primary goal, but in order to write authentically, we must first be vigilant observers. All the time.

You see, we writers have a pretty unique job; we are tasked with a mission to bring the impossible to life on the page, to create stories that pluck our readers from their everyday lives and to bring attention to details of the world around them that ring perfectly true. 

But in order to achieve that, we must first observe the world around us. When there’s a wicked thunderstorm and the trees are bowing to the wind and the claps of thunder and lightning send most people searching for their flashlights, the writer should be listening and watching very carefully, while asking, how would I describe this?

When overwhelmed with emotion—whether it’s happiness, anger, frustration or something else—writers must pause and pay attention to exactly how they feel so that when their characters experience the same emotion, it can be described with authenticity. A great example of this is one of my favorite passages from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

“Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.” (Page 213-214)

I know that seems like a pretty depressing favorite passage, but the reason it stuck out to me so much is because when I read it for the first time, I nodded along and thought, yes, it’s exactly like that. Granted, my way of thinking when upset is pretty different from Hazel’s (the POV character), but the clenching of teeth and looking up at the ceiling and swallowing when your throat is so tight it’s painful are all things I’m sure many of us have experienced when trying not to cry.

Another (lighter) example from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi:

“Every butterfly in the world has migrated to my stomach.” (Page 155) 

This example is less literal than the first, but I think we all know the feeling Juliette (the POV character) is referencing.

Our goal as writers is to take every day real things and translate them into words that remind our readers of that exact moment. That ring true and honest and have them nodding along and saying yes, that’s it, it’s just like that. But in order to do that we must first pay attention to everything, all the time, and take mental (or real) notes as we move through our lives and experience the world.

Then after observing, we translate those moments back into words so that we can share them with someone else.

Have you ever encountered a sentence or passage that felt exactly right? 

Blogging, a Year Later: Thank You

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Roughly a year ago (on May 6th 2011, to be exact), I did this thing where I started a blog. It was very tan and red then, and the banner wasn’t half as attractive (think: block of red with white text on it) and there was a hugenormous picture of books in the background because I like books.

Roughly a year ago I put up my very first post ever, in which I rambled a lot and might have said something about tying the metaphorical manifestation of writing to a chair and shoving Ritalin down her throat and I might have mentioned brownies a couple of times. I’ll admit it was a strange first post.

I bring this up because a year ago when I launched Writability, I never imagined that twelve months later I’d have over 100,000 pageviews and so many amazing followers. And I’m not saying that to brag—I just want to thank you guys, because after putting up my first post I thought, well, if one person reads this and likes it, it’ll be worth it, and well…you’ve made this experience more than worth it.

I’ve learned so much from this blog, from the fantastic discussions with you amazing commenters, from forcing myself to think up three posts a week, even when I was sure I wouldn’t be able to think of anything.

If you’re new to this blog, then I want to welcome you and say thanks for stopping by. I hope you stick around enjoy interacting with the Writability community here as much as I do.

If you’ve been a follower and you’ve joined the discussion, then I want to thank you for your wonderful support. Your input, advice and opinions have made this experience an incredible one. An extra thanks to Daniel Swensen, Jennifer Bennett, Susan Sipal, Matthew Rowe and Jeremy Feijten for being such awesome and active community members.

If you’ve been a follower and you haven’t really commented before, I want to thank you for your silent support, and I hope that you’ll join the discussion someday soon.

In short if you’re here, reading my words, then you have my gratitude. All of you are amazing, so thank you. Thank you.

In celebration of Writability’s first birthday I’d like to share with you the top five most popular posts thus far, as chosen by your fantastic support:

  1. Why Writers Must Read
  2. 5 Writing Myths
  3. What Makes a Great First Sentence?
  4. Writing Quickly: A Secret Strategy
  5. How to Finish Writing a Novel

I couldn’t have done it without you guys. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

The Value of Reading Your WIP Out Loud

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I’d always heard it was good for writers to read their work out loud, but the value of doing so didn’t really hit me until I really started delving into revisions.

With my first few WIPs, I actually read my work out loud as I was writing the first draft…to family members. It became this sort of thing with my family where I would read the draft (often a chapter at a time) up until the point where I’d stopped writing and they would look at me and say and? And I would shrug and say, I don’t know. That’s where I’m at. Which was usually followed by get back to work.

While I now cringe at the thought of reading the first draft to anyone, I’ve since learned that reading subsequent drafts out loud is especially helpful after you've done a couple of rounds of revision and your eyes start to glaze over when you try to read your WIP again.

You see, most of us know that if you read something a certain amount of times and you become familiar with the text, your brain starts to skip over things. It stops noticing typos and awkward sentences and words that you’ve used way too many times and when “it is” should be “it was” or he accidentally becomes she.

When you read your work out loud, however, you start to notice those things again. You’ll stumble over a sentence and squint at it and realize just how awkward it sounds, or you’ll be reading a sentence about your male protagonist and say, “then she went” and realize—quite suddenly—that your mistake just changed the gender of your main character. And while your brain may forget that you’ve said a certain word too many times, your ears will notice when you say gaze again and again and again.

 The best part? You don’t need to read aloud to anyone in particular.

You can read to your dog, your fish, your one-eyed gerbil Alfredo, or your child’s collection of stuffed animals. Bonus points if you can drag/bribe/coerce someone into listening to your story as you read it out loud, because then you can gage their reaction during various parts of your WIP (did he fall asleep during your action scene? Laugh at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny? etc.), but if not, it’s ok because the exercise is really for you, anyway.

Reading your work out loud allows you to pick up on inconsistencies, breaks in flow and all those little errors that your brain decided to ignore while you last read it. As long as you don’t mind looking slightly crazy while reading to an empty room (or not), I highly recommend trying it out.

Have you ever read your WIP out loud? If so, was it helpful? If not, why not? 

How (Not) to Write a Novel

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It seems that everyone is writing a novel (or planning to/thinking about writing one) these days. With the age of personal computers and other computing devices booming, it’s not uncommon to hear about so-and-so’s Aunt Gilberta who’s going to write a soon-to-be bestselling novel about her enlightenment on the human condition.

But for every writer who is toiling away at their computers every day, pouring their heart and soul into their manuscripts, there are many more staring at their computer screens, wondering where to start.

And thusly I introduce to you fifteen easy steps to writing a novel:
  1. Open up a Word (or other word processing document). Once opened, stare at the abyss that is the blank, white screen for at least a full minute. Think about the enormous task you have ahead of you and how you have to fill not only one of these screens, but somewhere around 300 of them. Stare some more.

  2. Check Twitter. And Facebook. And tumblr. And Twitter again. Spend at least an hour checking your feed and reblogging/retweeting/sharing interesting/funny/adorable posts with your fellow followers/fans/friends. The last thing you want is to neglect your social media presence while working on the book.

  3. Check your e-mail. You forgot to check it in step two. It’s ok. Nobody’s perfect.

  4. Stare at the blank document again. Crack your fingers (if you do that sort of thing). Stretch a little and run your fingers over the keyboard. Breathe.

  5. Decide you’re hungry. How are you supposed to write if all you can think about is food? Go treat yourself to a Starbucks. Or a brownie. Or whatever suits your fancy.

  6. Call your Mother and tell her about the amazing book you’re writing. Hell, call all of your relatives and tell them about it. Oh, and that girl you used to talk to in high school—she should know, too. In fact, why don’t you post about it on Facebook? Then everyone will know about your masterpiece.

  7. Pack up your laptop and bring it to the nearest café. That’s what writers do, right? They bring their laptops to cafés and crank out works of literary genius.

  8. Check your Twitter and e-mail again. It’s been too long since you last checked it. What if the Twittersphere had collapsed in your absence and left a horrible, gaping black hole on the internet that sucked everything else into it? Oh, it’s still there? Good. Carry on.

  9. Stare at the blank document again (again). This time it’s real. You can feel it—the inspiration is reaching towards you through the coffee-saturated air and jazzy music. The people are all watching. The next words you write will go down in history as pure genius.

  10. Write the title. Aha! You’ve started! And the title—its sheer brilliance brings tears to your eyes.

  11. Write “Chapter 1.” Ok, ok we’re getting somewhere. Chapter 1. Now the first words, those beautiful first words…

  12. Type “It was a dark and stormy night…” All brilliant novels start on a dark and stormy night.

  13. Stare at the (not) blank document. Drink some coffee. Stare some more. Type a sentence and delete it. Type “the” and delete it. It must be perfect, perfect…

  14. Realize you’re hungry again. I mean, it’s dinner time so you should probably go home and eat, right? Right.

  15. Congratulate yourself on a hard day’s work. No one really writes more than a couple sentences a day anyway. Besides, you can’t rush genius.
Sarcasm and false advice aside (and pretending none of us have ever done any of those aforementioned steps *ehem*), there are really only three steps to writing a novel:
  1. Write
  2. Revise
  3. Repeat
And that’s all there is to it.

What steps would you add to the NOT list and what (real) tips do you have for novel-writing? 

Voice: You Are Not Your Characters

Photo credit: Zabowski on Flickr
For much of my journey as a writer, I was aware of this thing called voice. I knew what it was, for the most part, and the theory behind how to develop it (that is, write and read a lot). I knew that an author's voice was different from a character's voice, but it wasn't until I started writing in first person that I came to realize that one can overpower the other.

In my case, my writer voice was way overpowering my character's voice (a problem, especially in first person) and this revelation forced me to stop and rethink how I view voice.

You see, your writer voice develops naturally over time—it's something that threads together with every word you write and every sentence you read. It evolves gradually, naturally into something that is you, into your mark on the page.

But the character voice — that's an entirely different battle, because your character's voice is not the same as your voice. Not even close.

I've been following John Green's "Only If You Finished The Fault in Our Stars" tumblr, and oftentimes people have asked him why he had Hazel or Augustus (the book's two main characters) say or think something. The most popular of these questions was why Hazel states at the beginning of the novel that V for Vendetta is a “boy movie,” and whether he believes V for Vendetta to be a "boy movie." I found part of his answer particularly interesting (and relevant, so bear with me):

"I am not a sixteen-year-old girl with stage IV cancer named Hazel Grace Lancaster, so I did not call V for Vendetta a boy movie. I was writing from her perspective, and it’s really important to note that it’s not necessarily my perspective. So I think HAZEL (at least beginning of the novel Hazel) would consider V for Vendetta a boy movie. I generally do not attach gender to films or other works of art, as it seems like a weird thing to do."

What he's hitting on here is golden advice for any writer: we are not our characters. I mean, we are in the sense that we create and develop them, but by no means are we them (because if we are, we have a new problem, namely, that you're writing a Mary Sue into your story, which is an entirely different post (and problem) on its own).

Your voice — that is, the voice of the writer — must be different from your characters' voices (unless you're writing an autobiography, in which case, carry on).

For me, that revelation meant having to rewrite my WIP while constantly asking myself if this is something my protagonist would think or say. I won't pretend it wasn't a lot of work, but I came out of it with an entirely new perspective on developing and writing characters.

How do you develop character voices? Have you ever found your writer voice was overpowering your character voice? How did you fix it?
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