A Case of The ‘Friday Giggles’

It’s Friday, the sun is shining, and it’s finally 70 degrees outside! Spring has officially arrived and did I mention, it’s FRIDAY?! Friday always calls for a little fun. We work hard all week and we deserve to let loose a little. Well, Bustle came to the rescue again and gave me just the right amount of silliness I was looking for. Today they talked about some strange habits from famous writers and although it’s mostly entertaining and perfect for my “let loose” Friday attitude, we might actually learn something from it as well.

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  1. Get your cardio on. Many famous authors (like J.A. Jacobs, Kurt Vonnegut, and Haruki Murakami) swear by their workout routine and I couldn’t agree more. I know that when I don’t get at least a little exercise in each day, I feel sluggish and tired. It even effects how I feel the next day, until I get around to working out again. Keeping some sort of physical activity built into your day will only help you to keep on top of that ‘to-do’ list.
  2. Keep busy. Franz Kafka swore by exhaustion. I do like my beauty sleep, but I can definitely see the benefit of keeping a busy and regimented schedule. If you give yourself too much freedom, you will become lazy. There will always be the, “I’ll do it later or tomorrow” excuse. Keep yourself busy with work, hobbies, friends/family so that when you do have time to finally sit down and write- you actually sit down to write.
  3.  Pick up a dictionary.  Anthony Burgess turned to the dictionary to help him write some of his scenes. All writers have at least that one scene that they are really dreading to write. Most of the time because they know it’s going to be a daunting task to get it right. Burgess suggests picking up a dictionary and using the words on a random page to write your scene. Not only is it a fun challenge, but you will end up with a unique scene that you never would have written otherwise.
  4. Stand. Thomas Wolfe, along with many other famous writers, liked to write standing up. Sitting down all day is detrimental to our health, so we should all be trying to stand a little bit more anyways. Plus, standing prevents us from getting too comfortable and forces us to focus on the task at hand.
  5. I’m just going to skip #5 and leave you to our own devices on this one. It’s certainly entertaining nonetheless.
  6.  Find your own space. Maya Angelou rented a hotel room in her hometown on a monthly basis and used it for writing. Sometimes we need to separate ourselves from everything else going on in our lives in order to be completely present and focused on our task at hand.
  7. Get off your feet. Authors such as Edith Wharton and Mark Twain preferred to write while lying down. I can’t think of a better excuse to curl in bed with your writing supplies in tow.
  8. Keep your own traditions. Capote held many superstitions when it came to writing and I don’t think he’s completely crazy for it. Sometimes doing something over and over again a particular way (for whatever the reason may be, or perhaps there’s no reason at all) brings comfort and consistency. If you feel good about your actions (or lack thereof) you will most likely feel more confident about the writing you just produced.
  9. Loose the layers. John Cheever and Victor Hugo did their writing in different stages of undress. Not sure if I would practice this method myself, but there surely is a freeing sensation  about being close to your natural state that could very well carry over into your writing as well.
  10. Travel more. Gertrude Stein and Joseph Heller did their best writing on the move. Seeing new places, people, and things will help ignite new inspiration.  I know that I could definitely do better writing on a beach in the Caribbean…

Write on.

Why Writers Read

One concept that I have mentioned frequently throughout this blog is that in order to improve your writing you need to be reading. Your best learning tool is other authors. The key to successful learning through reading is to venture outside your writing genre. There is so much to be learned from writing that is different from what you normally indulge in and most importantly, what you typically write. I have offered up this advice many times before, but I never really explained why it’s so important. In order to reap all the potential benefits, you need to know why you are doing what you are doing, what the benefits are, how it’s going to help you improve, and what you should be looking out for. It’s easy for me to spit out ‘meaningless’ advice to you, but understanding the advice and how to take full advantage of it is going to make all the difference. Since 2016 is the year of change, we need to start understanding our own writing and why we do what we do on a whole different level.

I have to be honest, I love Bustle. They always seem to have the right advice for me right when I need it the most. The advice they offer up is very accessible and it’s actually fun to read. Once again, Bustle came to my rescue with a recent article about… wait for it… why we should read outside our genre and its benefits. It sums up, for me, the three major reasons we should all diversify our reading list a bit more.

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  1. Reading outside your genre is a form of priceless research.

Successful research takes a mediocre book/story line and turns it into a masterpiece. We all want to believe what we are reading. We all want the story to seem possible- either in our world or in some extraterrestrial universe. Research brings reality to your writing. Just because you write romances, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read some medical non-fiction books or medical thrillers to bring that heart wrenching hospital scene to life. If you write science fiction, try your hand at some romances to learn how to take that budding relationship between your two main characters from platonic to sexual. Learning how other authors describe and present certain areas that you are struggling with is a priceless tool. You can read countless articles on how to make a steamy hot sex scene, but immersing yourself in the literature yourself is the best thing you can do. Not only will you learn things that you should do in your own writing, but you will also discover things that you shouldn’t do along the way as well.

2. Reading outside your genre will reveal your strengths, as well as your weaknesses. 

All authors have their signature writing tone that many of their fans identify with. Having a distinct style that readers can rely on is part of successful writing career. Readers are drawn to your writing for a certain reason and you need to make sure you give it to them every time. Reading outside your genre can put you more in tune with your signature tone, you will quickly realize which authors are similar to you and which must be writing on a completely different planet. You learn what’s working for them and perhaps try to incorporate it into your own writing. Most importantly, you also learn what your own writing is lacking. You likely aren’t going to change your tone completely and I don’t think you should, but incorporating different styles and tones into your stories leads to more layered and entertaining writing and reading. Varying tones can take a one dimensional piece and convert it into a three-dimensional piece of glory. Spice your writing up a bit and throw your readers for a loop every once in a while.

3. Reading outside your genre will teach you different ways to captivate your audience.

As important as a signature writing style is, we never want to become predictable or boring. We don’t want to start every chapter the same way or end each book with the same resolution. Reading different genres teaches you how different authors create exciting scenes, introduce new characters, create tension, and demonstrate emotion. You know, all that important stuff that makes for a great story. There are a million ways to do exactly the same thing, which is what makes writing so awesome. You can essentially read the same scene by a thousand different authors and feel like it’s fresh new content every time. Reading outside your genres teaches you to diversify your writing in a way that will never be coined as predictable.

Write on. Or perhaps this time, read on.

Becoming Your Own Editor

I do a lot of posts about editing on this blog, it’s no secret. To be honest, I have been feeling kind of lost lately because I haven’t done one in a while. There must be something real off in the universe, right? But have no fear, Bustle answered my cry for help this morning. Rachel Krantz reads essay submissions for Bustle and also conducts monthly writing seminars/workshops for their writers and freelancers alike. It is very safe to say that she has completely immersed herself in every part of the writing process, for better or worse. Her last seminar focused on self-editing (insert happy dance here). It is actually one of the more helpful articles I have stumbled upon when it comes to editing, giving me even more of a reason to share it with you.

I don’t want this advice to replace hiring a professional editor. If you have room in your budget to hire professional help, I would still highly recommend it. I’m also in touch with reality enough to know this isn’t possible for everyone, making self-editing one of your prime concerns because you simply don’t have a choice. Whether you are writing a news article, an essay, a short story, or a novel editing can seriously make or break you. You can have an awesome story, but if the reader/editor evaluating your writing can’t get through a few pages (or lines) without finding structural or grammatical errors your writing is automatically going in the ‘trash’ pile. It may not seem fair, but it’s really hard for someone to connect with your writing when all they can think about are the mistakes that keep popping up. Despite if they are easy fixes or not, most editors aren’t going to be willing to work with you if they can’t connect with your story.

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Below you will find some advice from Rachel’s seminar, but you should really check it out for yourself too:

  1. Get your FAME on.

Rachel created an acronym for the process of self-editing before you even start writing, she calls it FAME.

Free Write: Designate a certain amount of time and just sit down and basically barf up your story in any way, shape, or form possible. Just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t stop and most importantly, don’t think. Just write.

Account For Your Details: Look for patterns. Words that repeat themselves and themes that keep reoccurring. Highlight those details.

Map Your Arc: Create a general map of your story. It will be helpful to know where you are starting, what your climax is going to be, and where you will end up.

Expect An Audience: Figure out who your audience is before you start writing. Also, make an ideal word count. Different forms of writing, different age groups, and different genres all have different ‘ideal’ word counts. It’s best to figure that out before you start writing.

2. Embrace the first edit with questions.

How nice would it be to only have to do one edit and then call it a day? That has to be every writer’s dream, right? Unfortunately, your first edit is going to be one of oh, I don’t know… 100? It might be helpful to approach your first edit with some questions in mind, instead of focusing on just finding the mistakes. I bet there are many areas that could still be developed, cut down, or made clearer. Your first edit is the best place to tackle these problems. That’s why Rachel provides key questions on content, form, and length for you to think about. It’s important to get these issues resolved as early as possible.

3. Walk away.

Once you complete your first edit, walk away from your writing for a few days. Work on something else, treat yourself to a reward, or pick up that book you have been dying to read. Give yourself some time to digest all the work you have done so you will be able to come back to it with a clear mind.

4. Conquer the second edit and so on.

During your second edit, make sure to revisit the same questions you asked yourself during you first edit. Make sure you still feel the same way about them. Rachel also poses some new questions for you to think about to make sure you are still following your original intended track.

5. Recruit a friend.

Ask a friend to read it through. A fresh set of eyes can often save your writing. Sometimes we become blind to the one thing that really needs our attention because we are so busy making sure our overall message is delivered. You might even want to give them the questions that Rachel suggests, so they can think about them while reading.

Self-editing is scary, let’s just admit it. But, with a little help from people who have been there we will be able to get through it, hopefully with the same amount of hair on our head as when we started. Write on.

Weekend Writing

Sometimes the urge and desire to write isn’t enough. You have a biting sense to get something out there, but you keep asking yourself what exactly it is you want to say. The best way to get your creative juices flowing is to just sit down and write. You may be asking yourself, “That’s great Sarah, but how am I supposed to write when I don’t have anything to write about in the first place?” Now, here’s the real clincher- that’s exactly the point. Sit down and write about anything. What did you see today on your morning run? What crazy question did your child ask you on the way to school? What was up with that absurd dream you had last week? Did someone at the grocery get under your skin this weekend? Write about it.

Writing sparks inspiration. If you want to write, you need to start writing. Just thinking about it isn’t going to get you anywhere. It can be simple or completely out of this world. You just never know when your ‘ah-ha’ moment will strike. I have a sneaky suspicion that it will most likely happen when you are engaging in the very thing you wish to do- writing.

I came across some really fun writing prompts on Bustle today, all drawn from quotes from Harry Potter (gasp!). If you are having trouble free-styling your own writing, you might want to check them out. Even if you already know what you want to write about, these still might be a fun way to take a break from your work and play around with your writing. You never know what will come of it. And plus, who doesn’t like a little weekend homework, right? 🙂

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#1: “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Writing prompt: Imagine a world where “lost and found” boxes transport people back into their past to find something they lost long ago, like a prized possession or family heirloom.

#2: “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Writing Prompt: Create a character who has sworn her life over to a society focused on doing evil in a world of good. Bonus: Create a foil whom she’ll meet and clash with — but end up falling in love with.

#3: “Turn to page 394.”

—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Writing Prompt: A character has just found an old, abandoned library with every single book thrown off of the shelves, but still in good shape. The only thing all the books have in common is each one is missing its 394th page. What could it mean?

#4: “I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed — or worse, expelled.”

—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Writing prompt: Place a boarding school in your hometown and imagine a group of students conducting the most epic prank to start out the year. This prank could be deadly if left in the wrong hands, so what happens next might not be so pretty.

#5: “Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Writing prompt: Imagine a character that has never stepped outside of her small, isolated town. When a group of strange-looking kids show up in her backyard one night, she’s given the choice to keep living the simple life she’s always known, or follow them into the night. What does she choose, and what motivates her decision?

#6: “The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure.”

—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Writing prompt: But what if it were? Create a world where a controlling government does annual “mind checks” to ensure safety and happiness while looking into human brains. What would happen when a couple of characters rebel against the procedure? Follow them throughout their journies.

#7: “I don’t go looking for trouble, trouble usually finds me.”

—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Writing prompt: Start out with a character who has always had extraordinarily bad luck all of her life. When yet another terrible event happens, explain how she reacts differently for the first time ever.

#8: “Not to be rude or anything, but this isn’t really a great time for me to have a House Elf in my bedroom.”

—Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Writing prompt: Instead of a House Elf, reimagine J.K. Rowling’s quote with a different mythical creature — one that may exist, or one that you’ve created. Why is it a bad time for your character? Is he late to be somewhere, perhaps? Keep the stakes high.

#9: “The prophesy said: neither one can live for the other one survives. It means one of us is gonna have to kill the other in the end.”

—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Writing prompt: Imagine two young twins are told a similar prophesy, or just as threatening by their older sibling as a joke. Only one of them takes it seriously, and as they grow older, they begin to resent each other. Write the story in both of the twins’ perspectives.

Write On.

Excuse #1001

I came across a fun article today on Bustle. It made me laugh, but it also comforted me. The article, by Alex Weiss, talked about the various excuses writers use to get out of writing. It made me laugh because I can recall pretty much at least one instance for each of the ten examples where I had been victim to that way of thinking, not just for writing but for whatever task I may have needed to accomplish that day. The truth to what Weiss addresses in the article is so real that it’s funny. We can all use a good laugh at ourselves from time to time.

I also found the article comforting, which is the main reason I wanted to share it with you all. Sometimes when I feel like I am falling behind in my work or latest project, I get discouraged. I feel like everyone else is getting so far ahead of me and that there must be something wrong with me since I just can’t seem to focus. I feel like everyone else is out there succeeding and accomplishing their goals while I am here just… failing. This is certainly absolutely never the case. In reality, everyone struggles. Everyone has times when they go through every excuse in the book just to avoid doing one simple task. It’s human nature to crash and burn sometimes. It’s our body’s way of yelling at us, letting us know that it can’t keep up and it just needs a little rejuvenation. Failure isn’t the inability to do something. Failure is being in denial- knowing there’s an issue and doing nothing to fix it. We all make excuses, we all fail to complete our “to-do” lists sometimes, but how we pick ourselves up after we fall is what truly matters.

If you fall off the horse, don’t be afraid to get back up. The only way we learn is by making mistakes in the first place. Next time you find yourself with a list of excuses a mile long, take a quick glance at the list below, have a good laugh, and then get back up on that saddle.

  1. You Think Watching An Episode Of <Insert Favorite TV Show Here> Will Inspire You.

We all seek inspiration from our reality and everyday experiences. The strangest thing can ignite our next greatest story idea. So when we are feeling stuck, immersing ourselves in a realm of possibility actually makes sense. But when we do this, it’s very easy to get lost- way too lost. As Weiss suggests, limit yourself to one episode then move on.

2. You Convince Yourself Researching Counts As Work.

Researching is very important, but most research these days consists of one dreaded word: the internet. It’s very easy to become distracted when one click onto Facebook, Candy Crush, or your favorite shopping site can lead to hours of lost time. But hey, you were researching that whole time- right? When you find yourself needing to do some research, allot a certain amount of time for it. If the need pops up during your writing session, mark where more research is needed and keep writing. You can conduct your research after you are done writing.

3. You Must Have Writer’s Block Even Though You Know It Doesn’t Exist.

Your ability to write just doesn’t magically disappear, but sometimes we become convinced that’s the only logical explanation. If you are feeling stuck, instead of gluing your head to your comfy pillow with shame for all eternity, get out and do something. Do something active- walk, run, hike, bike. Or do something creative- cook, paint, draw, complete a quick project around the house you have been meaning to get to. If you exercise your brain in a simple way, your writing ability will “magically” reappear- I promise.

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4. You’ll Never Be As Good As So And So.

Jealousy and envy can sometimes be your own worst enemy. Don’t let someone else’s achievements steer you away from completing your own goals. Each and everyone one of us brings something unique to the table. Your creation will be just as awesome because it’s new, fresh, different, and because it’s yours.

5. You Believe Your Story Stinks.

It’s easy to underestimate the value of our work when editors reject it or it doesn’t sell as much as we thought it would. But, that has absolutely no bearing on the quality of work you produced. Success doesn’t happen over night. It takes a lot of dedication to get your work out there, only to be rejected 99% of the time. But one day, the glue will stick and all those rejections will be beyond worth it. You need to believe in your work before any one else will.

6. Your Day Job Wears You Out.

Having one job is enough, but how about two? Or even three? It’s hard to stay focused when you have a ton of other commitments you need to fulfill in order to survive. It’s easy to push the easiest one aside, which often times is our writing. Find a time that works for you every day to write. If you are too tired after work, try waking up earlier and writing first. Maybe your lunch break works best. Or maybe you just need to devote more of your weekend time to writing- skip Friday nights out and write.

7. Your Grocery List Suddenly Sounds Exciting.

At any given time, we all have a thousand other things we could be doing. Dinner needs to be prepped, laundry is waiting to be folded, the dust is quickly collecting around your house, and that check sitting on your counter desperately needs to be deposited into your bank account. Before you give up your writing time to tackle these chores, ask yourself what accomplishments will make you happier? Writing the next chapter of your book or folding your clothes? Chances are that writing will win every time. There will always  be time to complete some quick house chores, but every time you put off writing you get further and further away from ever starting again.

8. You Miss Your Friends.

When all your friends are out at your local hang-out joint, posting pictures of their drinks and delicious food it’s easy to feel isolated and lonely. But don’t let that feeling trick you into abandoning your work. Learn how to balance both worlds. Only go out one night a week or devote every other weekend to seeing your friends. If you go out every time your friends go out, chances are you are still going to end up feeling pretty crappy about yourself because you still have your failure to write lingering over you. And plus, your friends will understand that sometimes you just need to say ‘no.’ They want to see you succeed as well.

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9. You Just Really Need A Nap.

Especially on that rainy day, a nap is all you need. Sometimes naps are glorious, while other times they can be detrimental. If you are getting enough sleep every night, chances are you don’t need that nap.

10. You’re Terrified Of Finishing Your Story.

Sometimes we put things off because we don’t want them to end or be over. Finishing a book can be a terrifying thing. What will everyone else think of it? What will I do with all my free time? What am I going to write about next? We become attached to our work and we don’t want to see it go. We will actually kind of miss it. But this is what you worked so hard for- to show it off to the world. Your next great story idea is waiting for you. Writing is never over.

Write on.

The Mystery Of It All

The mystery and suspense genre has always been historically popular, there was Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Charles Dickens. The genre has evolved over the years and I have noticed somewhat of a revival, if I dare call it that. It’s not that the mystery genre ever went “out of style.” It just seems like whoever I talk to, whether it’s a publisher, another literary agent, or a client/author, everyone is all about more mystery, more suspense, and more thrill. That’s why I was very happy to see an article on Bustle today about writing tips from Shirley Jackson, a true master of suspense. The article takes inspiration from Jackson’s newest book coming out August 4th, Let Me Tell You– in which the last section is a collection of essays and lectures on how and why she writes. I couldn’t possibly phrase Jackson’s advice any better myself, so here it is:

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1. “The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were.”

2. “All you have to do … is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.”

3. “I cannot find any patience for those people who believe that you start writing when you sit down at your desk and pick up your pen and finish writing when you put down your pen again…”

4. “I tell myself stories all day long, and I have managed to weave a fairy tale of infinite complexity around the inanimate objects in my house…”

5. “A writer who is serious and economical can store away small fragments of ideas and events and conversations, and even facial expressions and mannerisms, and use them all someday.”

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6. “…with the small addition of the one element of fantasy, or unreality, or imagination, all the things that happen are fun to write about.”

7. “Now, no one can get into writing a novel about a haunted house without hitting the subject of reality head-on; either I have to believe in ghosts, which I do, or I have to write another kind of novel altogether.

8. “Using any device that might possibly work, the writer has to snare the reader’s attention and keep it.”

9. “I delight in what I fear.”

10. “All things are potential paragraphs.”

Write On.