New Year, New Writing

I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season and a very happy new year! I cannot believe it’s already 2016, where does the time go (like, for real)? The start of each year gives everyone the perfect opportunity to take a moment out of their busy schedules to reflect on what has happened over the past year, what they accomplished, what they didn’t get to do, and what they want to change for the coming year. This is a really great time for writers to sit down and think about where they want to go with their work. Are you  happy with your current success? Do you need to make any major changes to make yourself more successful? Is there something new you have always been dying to try? Do you want to write more or less? Do you want to try your hand at shorter or longer works? The new year isn’t just the perfect time to reinvent yourself, it’s also the perfect time to reinvent your writing.

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If you are looking for a little new year inspiration, I came across a fun article on Business 2 Community this afternoon that gives some ideas for writer’s new year resolutions. Hopefully these suggestions will help inspire you to make your own changes. Change is the only way to continually see the results we want. If we become stagnant and comfortable, soon enough our ‘luck’ will run out.

  1. Write that ‘thing’ you have always been talking about. 

The best new year’s resolution for a writer is to stop talking and start writing. We all have that something that we have always talked about writing, but for whatever reason we haven’t picked up the pen yet. We may have even written countless other stories in the meantime, but that one project just can’t seem to make it’s way to fruitation. Think about what’s holding you back and throw that negativity out the window. 2016 is all about action and change, make it happen so you can move onto the next thing on that growing bucket list of yours.

2. Visit the places you write about or want to write about. 

The best way to effectively write a scene, chapter, or story is to write from experience. Plan a couple vacations or day trips this year to visit those places you write about. Spend some time writing in those places as well. Visual inspiration is often just the thing we need to bring our writing to life.

3. Read a book that has had a big impact.

Pick up a book that has made a difference. Read a book that has changed history, that has left many readers talking years after it’s publication. Think about why this particular book was so successful. Become part of it’s history and use it to create your own.

4. Learn a foreign language. 

This one is certainly a daring and daunting task, but one that could change the course of your writing forever. Learning how other languages construct sentences, how they use different words, and how they express emotions can open up countless new avenues for your own writing. You don’t need to become fluent is the language, just familiarizing yourself about a particular language’s ‘rules’ will teach you a lot in itself.

5. Study your own writing. 

Look back at what you have written over the past year and learn from it. Is there a particular mistake you catch yourself making over and over again? Are there certain words you use too much? Do you find all your characters to be eerily similar? Make note of the things that have worked well too. Your biggest teacher is often yourself.

Here’s to another great [writing] year! Write on.

Make Criticism Feel Good

One of the hardest parts of writing is the criticism that naturally comes along with it. Perhaps this even holds some of us back a bit. Writing makes you vulnerable. The whole point of writing is to pour your heart out onto the page (for days, months, or even years), put it out there for the world to see, and then wait for the reaction. We all hope for stellar reviews across the board and thousands of copies to be sold. But the reality is that no matter how perfect your writing is, there is always going to be someone who just doesn’t like it. It’s very hard to please everyone and that is one of the first things you need to accept if you are going to have a fulfilling and successful writing career. But, it’s not easy. Those comments hurt and often stick with us for years to come, popping into our mind most often at the worst possible time. Writing isn’t just about becoming a better writer, it’s also about becoming a better version of yourself. Writing teaches us many things and how to handle failure and negative criticism with class is just one of them.

I was so happy to see an article about criticism on Elite Daily yesterday- especially at this time year. Things are starting to wind down and we are starting to look into next year. We start setting our goals for the upcoming months, goals that most likely include more risk being taken and pushing yourself farther than you ever done before. With bigger risks often comes bigger criticism. But don’t worry, it’s not all bad. These pieces of criticism will most likely yield your greatest lessons. Here’s a few things that Merylee Sevilla has learned about enduring criticism.

  1. Critics will always exist.

There is always going to be someone out there that has something negative, no matter how big or small, to say about your work. The most important thing to remember is that they are criticizing you based on their own opinion. There are still many other people out there who absolutely love what you are doing- focus on that.

2. Grow tough skin.

Don’t let other people’s negativity get to you. Instead of feeling down or discouraged, use their criticism as energy. Energy to become a better writer and to perhaps win them over the next time around. Turn negativity into positivity.

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3. Learn how to become innovative.

There’s a lot of criticism out there about not being ‘original’ enough. It’s really hard to be original. With the ease of the internet, more stories are getting published each day than ever before. Take your focus from trying to be ‘original’ and start being ‘innovative.’ Put new spins on stories that have already been done, break the rules a little, and aim to surprise your readers. Innovation is a much more realistic and just as effective goal.

4. Just go for it.

Your biggest regret will be holding back. If you are afraid to publish a story because of the possible criticism that might come along with it, you are missing a huge opportunity. A negative comment might hurt for a few days but the pain of a missed opportunity will never go away. Be brave, be bold, and publish your work as you imagine it to be.

Write on.

Writing To Thrill

It’s almost Halloween! I love holidays and getting in the ‘spirit.’ The Guardian featured an article this morning by author Matt Ralphs about writing tips for thriller/horror novels. It was just so fittingly perfect that I needed to share it on my own blog in order to deck it out with some holiday cheer. Writing to thrill isn’t easy. If you do it wrong then all you are left with is a rather boring and uneventful story. If your readers aren’t shaking in their own shoes (or socks) then you are most certainly doing it wrong. People read thrillers to be scared, for the action, for the suspense. A disconnected story line, minimal suspense, and no lingering questions just won’t cut it. Here are a few tips to ensure that your next thriller won’t be your last (insert evil laugh here).

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  1. Fear is diverse.

If you really want a unique story, search for a unique fear. The “go-to” fears include death, pain, and the paranormal. These subjects can easily be overdone and even bordering on cliche. There are so many other phobias and outlandish fears out there, why stick with the mundane? Separate yourself from the pack from the very first sentence.

2. Write from experience.

The key to writing to thrill is authenticity. People need to believe what is happening in order to be scared. If you write from experience and recall every thought and feeling you had at that moment, your writing becomes most genuine. You aren’t imagining what is happening, you know what is happening.Remember a time that you were scared or spooked out and write with that emotion.

3. Understand the science behind it.

Fear is an interesting thing and does some interesting things to our bodies. Do some research on fear before you sit down to write. Having real life knowledge of what it chemically does to our bodies will allow you to write a more effective and believable story.

4. Learn from others. 

Do your homework. Read other thriller and horror novels and find out what makes them so scary. What made you jump a little in your chair and why? You can also venture outside books to other resources like movies. Seeing the fear played out might help you notice something that hasn’t occurred to you before.

5. Tailor your space to fit your writing.

Being scared is all about the senses. Write your stories in a place that gives off a spooky ambiance. Feeling the scene for yourself will help you portray it better to your readers. Write a story about a location you can easily get to. Dim the lights when writing. Or listen to some creepy music.

6. Know ‘the killer combination.’

Character, peril, and location all work together to create scary scenes. Create at least one likable character, transport your reader into the middle of the action, and picking an obscure location builds the most suspense and yields the most investment from readers.

7. Tension is key.

Don’t lay all your cards on the table from the very beginning. Hint at things, but keep them hidden. Readers like to have an idea of what is going to happen, not when it’s going to happen. Keep them on their toes till the very end.

8. Make sure the tension pays off.

Don’t build up suspense to nothing, readers will surely be disappointed. If you work so hard to keep the tension brewing, make sure to give the readers what they want. A failed end will result in a failed book.

9. Look to history for ideas. 

History is filled with spooky stories and unexplained events. Sink your teeth into history and soak up the inspiration. You don’t need to write a historical thriller in order to seek ideas from the past.

10. Let the reader do most of the work.

Our imaginations are crazy things. We don’t need too much detail in order to start conjuring up the craziest scenes in our own heads. Be subtle and don’t give too much away. The readers will scare themselves.

Write on.

Purposeful Writing

Everything we set out to do in life has a purpose. The purpose of getting in our car in the morning is to go to work. The purpose of going to our children’s sporting events is to show support. The purpose for pushing yourself out of bed for that morning run is to stay healthy (and maybe so you won’t feel so guilty about that candy you ate the other day). Writing is no different. Every time we set out to write a new novel or story, we need to have a purpose- a goal. When you work towards something in particular a certain passion and dedication comes out that you may not even realized you had. The end seems more tangible, something that you can reach rather than just a figment of your imagination.

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In a recent article on The Huffington Post blog, Paul Bishop talks about just how simple this goal can be. When you initially think of what a writer’s goal should be our prestigious side comes out. Bestseller lists, writing awards, six-figure publishing deals, and producers wanting to turn your book into the next summer blockbuster movie are just a few things that come into our mind. Yes, all these things would be nice but what about everything else that gets you to that point? What about writing in the moment? What about sitting down and pouring your heart out the page, smashing it to a billion small pieces, and patching the story back together to make the best possible product? What about producing work that you are most proud of?

Goals don’t need to be outrageous. Simple goals are often the most rewarding. The next time you sit down to write, think first about why you set out to write this story in the first place. Was it to bring light to a certain issue? Was it to express the endless creativity that flows through your brain daily? Or was it simply to just produce the best possible work you can at that moment? Keep your goals within a realistic reach and stay true to them. If you end up on the bestseller list, nominated for multiple awards, flush with cash, and collaborating on a movie well then just look at where all those simple goals led you! Success is measured by what you set out to do, not by how famous you have become in the process of doing so.

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One of Paul’s ‘successful’ writer friends also gave him some writing advice. I share a lot of advice on this blog so I am sometimes hesitant to overload you with more tips that may or may not be useful. But, his advice is fresh and new. He talks about things we often don’t hear very much about:

Never use a dollar word when a nickel word will do. Don’t use “cacophony” when “loud” makes your point.

Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Short chapters.

Never over describe a room. Pick out one feature and move on.

The same applies to what a character is wearing.

Use dialogue to drive your story.

Cut exposition to an absolute minimum.

Simplify your plotting, then simplify it some more, then some more. If a reader has to backtrack to figure out what was going during their last reading session, you’re doing it wrong.

I really enjoyed his words of advice because he is talking about writing for the masses. You don’t need to use impressive words, create deep imagery, or calculate elaborate sentences to write a bestseller. Readers aren’t looking for that. What they are looking for is accessible and entertaining stories. The best way to write a story geared towards readers is to stick to those simple goals. Focus on writing the best story you can, not about which synonym for ‘loud’ you are going to use. Write on.

Keep On Writing

It’s very easy to stop writing. When you have a few weeks of a hectic schedule, hit a hard writer’s block, or have lost faith that your writing will ever “succeed” it’s easy to quit. Your frustrations and outside pressures cloud your head and sometimes it just easier to give up. You are probably thinking that I am going to tell you not to do this and that you shouldn’t let a few rough days, weeks, or months keep you from completing what you have set out to do. If that’s what you are thinking… you are right! But, I don’t want you to keep writing just so your book, novel, memoir, short story, or poem gets finished. I want you to write because it’s healthy. There are many health “fads” out there right now to help you reach your optimal physical health. There’s Crossfit, obstacle course runs (warrior dashes, mud runs), Beachbody workouts (P90X, Insanity), Shakeology, and paleo diets. What about our mental health? Our brain, soul, and mind are the most important aspect of who we are. If we aren’t in a good mental state, how can we be expected to care for our physical bodies?

I came across an article today on The Huffington Post blog that highlighted three benefits to writing. Each one of them proves that the act of writing may be one of the best things we can do for our mental health. It’s really that simple and us writers have the advantage on this one.

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Writing allows you to express feelings. At the end of each day, we should all really sit down and write- even if it’s just for a few minutes. There are so many thoughts and emotions that we experience each day that we never share with anyone else. These feelings can easily bottle up inside of us and possibly one day explode. If something pissed you off that day, write about it. If something made you smile, write about it. if something reminded you of a bad memory, write about it. If you finally accomplished a lifetime goal, write about it. Expressing your emotions for yourself is one of the purest forms of therapy. There’s no one there to judge you and your thoughts can be completely uncensored. Who knows, you may even ignite inspiration for your next book. That jerk who cut you off this morning may just be your next blessing.

Writing is also an easy way to commemorate your life. If you write about your challenges, successes, obstacles, and accomplishments bit by bit your legacy will be forever preserved. You may not think that you have a whole lot to offer anyone else, but the truth is that you actually do. You have a whole lot to offer. No one else out there has lived the same life you have, but there are people out there who have had similar experiences or are going through something similar at the moment. You never know who your writing will inspire or help through a rough time. Even if it’s just one of your children or grandchildren, your writing will never see a better purpose.

Writing gets your creative juices flowing. When you sit down to write, you never know where you are going to end up. Writing about a simple trip to the grocery store could lead you to Mars having dinner with an alien family. You might discover your next story idea, a new interest you never knew you had, or it just might clear your head and leave you with a blank slate to take on the next day. The more you write, the more ideas that will filter in and out of you brain- for better or worse.

Never underestimate the power of a couple words. Write on (and don’t stop).

Creative Writing Tracks 101

You can read my advice and the articles I find all day long, but that doesn’t mean you are going to become a better writer because of it. You need to practice your skills, keep learning, and interact with other writers. Whenever I see a great development opportunity, I like to mention it here. You never know where you will find your next “A-HA” moment.

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This time I came across two different writing “tracks” offered by Mediabistro. Full disclosure, they do cost money and they aren’t cheap ($999 to be exact). One focuses on novel writing, while the other one is for magazine writing. Each track consists of 3 different courses: 4 weeks of writing basics, 6 weeks where you choose a specialty you would like to focus on, and a 6 week workshop where you get expert advice/feedback. It seems like there is a ton of great advice packed into four months, so maybe that price tag is worth it (or maybe a whole new wardrobe is more worth it…). If you have never taken a writing class or had the opportunity to interact with a writing professional, this might be something to save up for. I have no idea what the class actually involves, who the “experts” are, or what people who have previously taken the class have to say about it. If you are seeking an intensive and structured writing course, this may just be for you. Mediabistro is a very reputable resource, so it’s definitely worth looking into. Learn on. Write on.

The Value of a Memory

We talk often about why we write, how/when we write, and how to write. But what about the value of the act of writing? Why do something if we don’t understand it’s importance and benefits? An article in The Courier-Journal captured exactly why writing is extremely important and moreover, how it benefits the writer themselves.

Angela Burton teaches ‘Oh, I Remember’ writing workshops in retirement homes in the Louisville area and the classes are quickly spreading. This is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time and it really made me think about why we should all be writing. Seniors in the retirement home meet weekly, bringing along their weekly writing assignments. They use the class time to read their writing to each other. Most of the stories are about their childhood, people who have long passed on, places they have visited, losses they have endured, and historical events they have witnessed.

Many of these seniors feel isolated, alone, and segregated from the life they used to have. Most of them feel like they no longer have a purpose and that their life is already over, even though they are very much still alive. The act of writing and sharing lets them relive their happiest moments, process the loss they still feel, and learn new facts about their friends. At the end of the day, writing is therapeutic, relaxing, and rewarding. These seniors feel like they are leaving something behind, that otherwise would be lost. They feel as if they still have something to contribute to society.

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For me, that perfectly captures the spirit of writing. Writing is meant for communication, for preservation, for learning. We write to share our stories, whether they are figments of our imagination or real life events. We write as therapy to make ourselves feel better, whether it is an e-mail that never gets sent, a poem about a life event, or a novel length memoir. Writing is an accomplishment, something to be proud of. Our sense of purpose is never clearer then after a heartfelt and honest writing session.

The effects these writing classes are having on these senior citizens emphasizes why we all need to be writing. The next time you pick up a pad of paper and pen or sit down at your computer, just stop to think for a few seconds. Think about why you are doing this and how it makes you feel. Take that knowledge and treasure it for your entire life. Never let it go and never stop writing. Write on.

Keeping The Memory Alive

Author Warren Adler attributes memory to be the key to novel writing. Many writers depend on their memory to help spark ideas, describe scenes, and add a sense of reality to their fictional writing. Especially as an author ages, memory becomes even more important. When a key component to your life’s work starts to slip, it’s a devastating reality you won’t be able to erase.

To combat the looming memory loss and to keep his memory active, Adler talks about his daily exercises in a post on The Huffington Post book blog. Most of his memory exercises take place in the morning. Before he even gets out of bed, Adler practices his recall. He tries to recall every detail he can remember, starting with his earliest memory. He remembers his earliest sights and feelings as a baby. He recalls close family relatives, such as grandparents who have long passed away. He remembers what they looked like, what they wore, their mannerisms, and their persona. Adler recalls their addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, etc. He also vividly remembers their houses, all the small details- the smell, the sounds, the décor, even the layout to the rooms and furniture. He does the same for past girlfriends, old friends, and even recalls every teacher he ever had. Adler simply relives his life every morning with just his memory- sharpening it by the day.

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Adler points out that this is an exercise that works for him, though not scientifically proven. It’s an interesting method and at any age, one worth trying. As Adler mentions in his post, the brain controls everything. We must exercise it as much as possible, especially when our work depends on it. Write on.

Remember Why You Write

Starting your writing career is hard. You are always kept wondering if you are ever going to be good enough, when that first big deal will come, and if writing will ever be something you will be able to do full time. But the truth is, writing is hard and it seldom gets easier. Every stage of your career has new and different challenges to overcome. Just when you think you are comfortable, another road block emerges. Successful author, Holly Robinson, talks about this phenomenon in a recent article on The Huffington Post book blog entitled, “Why It’s Harder To Write The Next Book Than Your Last– And How To Keep Writing Anyway.”

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Robinson explains that with each book she writes it actually gets harder. She is always worrying about disappointing her fan base, her next advance, and what publicity she will be able to land. Despite all her success, she still worries if she is going to continue to make it in the publishing world.

We all can’t relate to Robinson’s challenges at this point in her career, but what we can relate to is why she keeps writing. Robinson makes a realization that I think all writers and authors need to make at some point in their career to be successful, “I write because writing is the thing I love to do.” We can’t succeed in a writing career without first realizing why we write. When you put your own work on the line for the whole world to either criticize or love, the reason you started this all in the first place needs to be ingrained into your soul. You started to write because you love it, because it keeps you sane, because you can take any figment of your imagination and turn it into reality. You started this journey for you and if anyone else happens to join you for the ride than you are one step further than you ever imagined you would be.

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Robinson ends her article with a wonderful summation of how writers, new and experienced, need to remember always to write, “”Write your story for yourself alone; pour your heart out on the page.” Write on.

Write Your Heart Out

The majority of my posts focus on writing longer works of non-fiction or fiction- novels or even short stories. But, most writers do not just write novels and/or stories. Most writers try to write all the time, which is hard to do when you are only writing longer books. Therefore, many writers are contributing columnists to some type of magazine or newspaper or have their own blog. It’s no surprise- writers like to write and to be writing all the time.

The more you write the better you will become. Writing a bunch of novels may have the same effect in the very long term, but many writers want improvement right now. They want to build skills that they can transfer over to their longer works and use to produce their best possible product. My suggestion, for the most accessibility and practice, would be to start your own blog and just write. Write about anything- it could be serious or funny, pointless or meaningful. Write about what you love or whatever is on your mind at the moment you sit down at your computer. Don’t over think anything and just write.

An article from the website, Business 2 Community, was recently published by Stacey Miller. She touched on ten important content factors writers should focus on whenever they write about anything in any form (novel, short story, blog post, or newspaper article).

Stacey gave ’10 Content Writing Fundamentals,’ all of which we should practice every time we sit down to write. The more we write, the more good habits we will learn:

1)      Make content habitual, not just an occasional activity. Write all the time. Every day you should write something– a story, an explanation, or some form of review.

2)      Be focused on your topic while being brief. All content pieces need a specific goal, achieve that goal in the shortest period of time. If you take too long to get where you are going, you might not have an audience once you finally get there.

3)      Use everything and anything to gather better information. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations while traveling, read comment sections, or listen to pundits. You need to get your own content and you need to get a lot of it in any way possible.

4)      Do not get bored of your topic. If you are bored the reader will be able to tell and mostly likely will become bored his or herself.

5)      Use colloquial terms. Do not use too much excess jargon. Explain your content with the simplest terms and get to the point. Make your writing relative enough that anyone can pick it up and get at least one thing out of your work.

6)      Be original. There is so much content available to us with the internet that sometimes this can prove hard to do. If you search anything, you will probably find an article about it from ten different perspectives. But, it is also easy to take a completely different perspective or spin on content that might already be in front of you. Originality is the essence of content. If you do use other sources, make sure you mention them.

7)      Use your audience to shape your content. Read things and listen to people that are similarly interested as you regarding specific subjects and topics. Figure out what they are interested in superficially and use that to form your content.

8)      Use visuals, “visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text alone.” Content will be more successful with imagery and is much more powerful that way.

9)      Have a good headline. A great headline will generate more readers, “a good headline presents a mystery that can only be solved by reading further. It is persona, insightful and shareable.”

10)   Make your content an experience. Using descriptive words and entertaining stories might not be enough to gain a loyal readership. Maybe you should include photos or GIFs in your work- anything to keep readers coming back.

This is just a brief, general synopsis of what Stacey said. There is a lot of other great information in her article, so I suggest you check it out yourself.

All ten points are spot on with what all writers should preach and the truth is we have something we can all work on. I know for myself that I should take some of these to heart and practice them, especially #10. Write on.