Stephen King is pretty freakin cool…

 

stephen king book

So I recently read Stephen King’s memoir on writing (Stephen King/On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft). He has always been an author that’s intrigued me and after reading this book he does even more.

He’s an author of more than 50 books and all of them worldwide bestsellers. Not many authors can claim that. I thought that I would share a few things he said that spoke to me in his memoir. May I strongly suggest also, whether you’re a writer or just a fan to go pick this book up or order it online. It’s a must have.

From the King himself:

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

Although you’re the creator of your characters, they can actually teach you some unexpected things along the way. According to Stephen, Carrie White, his main character in the book, Carrie, was the one character that taught him things no other did.

“The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a shitting position.”  

“-…but I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.”

“And if you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own.”

Everything matters. Even where you place your writing desk.

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

You have the honor of writing a book, which is what Mr. King calls, “uniquely portable magic.” However, that comes with a seriousness of the responsibility it holds.

“Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again; you must not come lightly to a blank page.” 

“-it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.”

Words, Tense, Averbs…

“Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.”

“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of the full meaning.”

“You should avoid passive tense.”

“The adverb is not your friend.”

Whether you’re a first time author or you’ve written a million books, there is still a small steady fear that whatever your writing is crap and you had no business being an author in the first place. That’s okay. Just don’t let it consume you the writing will be bad if it even gets written at all.

“I’m convinced that fear is the root of most bad writing.”

“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad”, is fearful behavior. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.”

One of your must-have tools…Reading. You MUST read…without ceasing. Second, write. Anything…everything…just write.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

“We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience the different styles.”

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like that phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor”

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.”

Keep it fresh in your mind. Yes, some of us have other jobs, families, or responsibilities, but you MUST forge through with your writing and keep it going.

“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind–they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best–always, always, always–when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.”

“For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.”

“I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader.”

Description is the essence for your reader. That skill does not come overnight to a writer.

“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.”

“Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page.”

“If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.”

“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”

“Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then to get on with your story.”

Dialogue…truth…

“As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty. And if you are honest about the words coming out of your character’s mouths, you’ll find that you’ve let yourself in for a fair amount of criticism.”

“You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have the resonance and realism that Hart’s War, good story though it is, so sadly lacks–and that holds true all the way down to what folks say when they hit their thumb with a hammer. If you substitute “Oh sugar!” for “Oh shit!” because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader–your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story.”

“Everything I’ve said about dialogue applies to building characters in fiction. The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see.”

1st drafts…2nd drafts…and self doubt…

“I don’t believe a story or novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly.”

“With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes to my mind, only looking back to check the names of characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

For all writers, the act of writing is something extraordinary, a feat that cannot be put into exact words, a window that opens to endless possibilities if they can imagine it…

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink up and be filled.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you suffer from F.A.P. ???

Fear and Procrastination. Two nasty little words that obliterate a writer’s craft before it’s completed.

I’ve written blogs before on inspiration and keeping that perseverance going. But what happens when you just don’t think you have it in you to write one more page, write one more word? Just because we’re writers doesn’t mean the words come easy. It’s not like our pens become magic wands, making all our dreams come true in five seconds. So, what if your “small break” ends up being two months of pure nothingness?

You start having that fear creep inside you. That voice that says, “you’ll never get there. You were so close, all that work, and now its just collecting dust, like all your other projects you never finished. Good job, buddy. Don’t quit your day job.”

And there it starts. After fear catches you, then procrastination keeps you. He’s the little thief in the night that watches your every movement until…BAM…he’s in your house while you’re asleep, grabbing all your precious things.


Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”  ~ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield


How does a writer move on from that? At times, procrastination can almost be debilitating. It’s similar to how depression is described in some people, the fear of failure but no urge to be productive. Some of the best pieces of work have never left a writer’s mind because of that robber who steals our time and thoughts. We make excuses saying it’s our spouse, our full-time job, friends, or our kids that need our time more. “Life is just busy right now.” We say to ourselves. “I’m moving, changing jobs, my daughter has basketball practice, I’m getting married, I’m getting divorced, the holidays are coming up, etc.”

FAP


The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.”  ~ Alan Dean Foster


Sometimes, it’s as simple as guilt from a family member. You know the person I’m talking about. The one that says your writing is just a “hobby” and really it should come behind everything else. Before we know it, days, weeks, months, maybe even years have gone by. We feel like we’ve missed our moment.

Other times, it’s the discouragement of comparing ourselves to other writers. “How did Suzy Smith write and edit her 100K word manuscript in six months? She’s going to be published in the Spring!” You gaze at the piles of crumpled paper that surround your desk. The red ink smudged all over your 40K word rough draft that you’ve been working on for nearly two years. “She even has a husband and three kids! She does carpool and works for an attorney! How is that even possible!? I might as well just hang in the towel. If I was meant to be a writer, I’d be where Suzy is at.”

I went through some of this, just recently. Thankfully, I had a fantastic editor who didn’t give up on me. Shout out Katelyn Stark! She showed me that I could do it. I could finish, and that yes, life happens, but not to let it take all the reasons from me that caused me to start writing in the first place. Life is always moving and changing around you. But all you have to do is take that one step. Plug in that USB to your laptop, punch those keys with your fingers, take that paper out of your desk and pick up your pen. You’ll find that when you start again, it’s like an old friend the you thought was gone, but in fact, never left.

This blog is probably the most important one so far that I’ve written. Mostly, because it comes from a very dark place that I’ve been in with my writing. I’ve feared so much of not being able to cut it, never getting published, seeing others around me write faster or better, believing that maybe all the signs I thought I had seen, were just a mistake. Maybe, I really wasn’t a writer. I just got caught up in the moment. Maybe it had been just a lie I had wanted so badly.

I’ve written about patience in the writing industry on my blog. Every part of it is true. Sometimes you must have it with agents, editors, publishers, but more often than you think, we need it for ourselves too. It’s amazing how we start out with this drunk euphoria when we begin a new project. The OOOH’s and AAAH’s of our family and friends. “I can’t believe your writing a book! That’s amazing! This story is fantastic!” How quickly in diminishes once we’ve been at it for a while. The cheerleading that we once were given fades away, and we realize that we need something else to carry us through. Emotions are fleeting. It sound cliché, but still true.

It’s amazing how each one of us have this internal time clock that makes us feel like we need to go faster in our writing. We focus so much on reaching that end mark of success, that we let the joy of writing slip past us. We forget, making it become just another check mark on our list. Just another task we finished for the day. Don’t let it be that!!

I never understood the importance of the question, “Why do you write?” At least not, until recently. What’s the significance of it? I’ll tell you. We need to know and understand what our driving force is to write. This is the key that will deepen ourselves and our writing into breaking free of that dark time of fear and procrastination. We must hold on tight to those reasons of why we write in the first place.


Alice Hoffman “I wrote to find beauty and purpose, to know that love is possible and lasting and real, to see day lilies and swimming pools, loyalty and devotion, even though my eyes were closed and all that surrounded me was a darkened room. I wrote because that was who I was at the core, and if I was too damaged to walk around the block, I was lucky all the same. Once I got to my desk, once I started writing, I still believed anything was possible.” (August 2000)


I write this blog now, in hopes that it will help other writers know that they aren’t alone. If you’re not a writer, you can’t understand the mental battle that takes place every day in a writer’s mind. The fears, the hunger, the courage, and determination that each of us must possess to finish our work.

What separates us from the people who only desire to be a writer isn’t our work or its completion, that it’s published, or that we were asked to be a speaker at a writing conference. Our choice and what we do with it is what divides us. The choice to give in to those dark lies, or the choice to believe that we were created to write something no one else could. No other can write the same words we put on the page. It’s our own distinct and unique fingerprint on the world, whether it get’s published, or simply, that you take a stack of papers from a desk drawer one day and give them to your grandkids to read and cherish. Either way, it’s yours, and yours alone.


I found this great blog article that talks about the daily routines of 12 famous authors. http://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers  It’s pretty amazing to see the differences in what each of them do, and how they find their own success in writing.

Last but not least, I leave you with a few quotes that I hope will encourage you in your writing journey.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Dale Carnegie

“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Japanese Proverb

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out. ” Ray Bradbury

 

Happy Writing Ya’ll!

 

 

 

 

 

9 Things you may not have known about J.R.R. Tolkien…

JRR

Happy Friday!! In honor of Fun Fact Friday, I thought I would end our week with a few little facts about one of my FAVORITE authors of all times, and perhaps yours too!!!

Who doesn’t love Lord of the Rings!?! Who isn’t just mesmerized by the depth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing endeavors? He would definitely be on my list of top people to meet if he were still alive. Just awesomeness…

Anyway, here’s the article I found by Jason Todd. Enjoy!!


In honor of the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, here are nine things about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his work that you might not have known.

He did not write The Hobbit for children

“I am not specially interested in children, and certainly not in writing for them: i.e. in addressing directly and expressly those who cannot understand adult language,” he wrote in a letter. The Hobbit reads like a children’s story because Tolkien had children of his own and was in the regular habit of making up stories for them. Nevertheless, he did not believe in writing down to anyone, especially to children. He took them seriously, even if they were not his main audience.

Though he was a voracious reader, he rarely read the same book twice

In An Experiment in Literary Criticism, C.S. Lewis said that a mark of the unliterary was that they rarely read the same book twice, and that was an accurate definition for Tolkien. “Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper appreciation, for me replaces the bloom on a book, the freshness of the unread,” he wrote. “Still, what we read and when goes, like the people we meet, by ‘fate.’”

He invented more than 14 languages

There’s debate over exactly how many languages Tolkien invented, but he was certainly a lover of languages and started inventing his own at a young age. He used some of his invented languages in his writing, and he also mastered and wrote in extinct languages such as Gothic and Medieval Welsh.

His faith unconsciously seeped into his writing

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision,” he wrote. “That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

In the mind of his creator, Sam Gamgee was the real hero of The Lord of the Rings

“I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.” If you want to understand the books, look at how Sam loves his wife.

He would have felt right at home in the Shire

Perhaps the writer created Hobbits a bit in his own image. “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”

He was a WWI veteran

Tolkien served as an officer in the Battle of Somme, but eventually had to return home when he developed a chronic fever. Several of his closest friends died in the war.

He had a very simple view of the meaning of life

“It may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.”

His fictional world and his real life often intertwined.

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien wrote a story about Beren, a mortal man, and Lúthien Tinúviel, an immortal elf maiden. Lúthien gave up her immortality to marry Beren. Two months after the death of his wife, Edith, Tolkien wrote, “I met the Lúthien Tinúviel of my own personal ‘romance’ with her long dark hair, fair face and starry eyes, and beautyiful voice. And in 1934 she was still with me, and her beautiful children. But now she has gone before Beren, leaving him indeed one-handed.” Tolkien and Edith are buried side-by-side. Below their names on their gravestone are written “Lúthien” and “Beren.”

In 1944, Tolkien’s son, Christopher, was having a rough time in camp with the army. His father wrote the following encouragement, “Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!”

A majority of the quotes from this article are taken from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien.


Happy Friday Ya’ll!! I challenge ya’ll to get some writing done this weekend!!! I know I need to!

Adverbs…NOOOOOOO!!!!!

armadillo

We all have our struggles, our little negative habits or tidbits that we desperately need to overcome in our writing. Whether it be terrible spelling, procrastination (ME, ME, ME!!!), confusion with POV, or…using the dreaded adverb too many times (ME, ME, ME!!).

If you were like me when I first started out, I thought adverbs were fabulous! They helped with description and some just sounded better with the big ‘LY” at the end. Yeah, no. It took a little bit of research on my part, to realize how much adverbs can water down your story and that, they are not, I repeat, NOT your friend.

As Stephen King put it, “I believe the road to Hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” And he’s right. One major reason an agent, editor, or publisher might put your manuscript down and move to another, is if your writing is drenched in adverbs. Here’s a little more on what Stephen King had to say about the adverb and on the simplicity of style.

“Employ a simple and straightforward style,” Mark Twain instructed in the 18th of his 18 famous literary admonitions. And what greater enemy of simplicity and straightforwardness than the adverb? Or so argues Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft (public library), one of 9 essential books to help you write better.

Though he may have used a handful of well-placed adverbs in his recent books, King embarks upon a forceful crusade against this malignant part of speech:

The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came beforeHe closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?

Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.

I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:

‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.

King uses the admonition against adverbs as a springboard for a wider lens on good and bad writing, exploring the interplay of fear, timidity, and affectation:

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild — timidity is the word I’ve used here. If, however, one is working under deadline — a school paper, a newspaper article, the SAT writing sample — that fear may be intense. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.

Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as ‘good’ and other sorts as ‘bad,’ is fearful behavior.

It’s funny to me how Stephen King vocalizes that he believes that “fear” is at the root of most bad writing, when he is in fact, the author of some of the most terrifying stories of all times. His readers will probably agree with me, that in Mr. King’s case, he might have mastered “fear” to his advantage in his incredible writing.

Just remember, that some adverbs are okay when used moderately (or in moderation-see what I did there?). There will be times you catch yourself still adding an adverb where you don’t need it to be. But as you grow, just like trained singers, writers who’ve mastered technique can make magic with their voices, captivating their readers and making them turn pages. Such a writer’s voice can pulse with vitality, swing like music, create all kind of effects inside readers, compel them by sheer syntactical energy to keep turning the pages. It can only do these things, though, when the writer—like all those great writers from earlier eras—has studied, practiced, and mastered the repertoire of syntactical techniques available to those of us writing in English.

Including how to use—with precision, with care, with passion—the adverb.

Happy Writing Ya’ll!!!

Bad Writing Advice from Famous Authors

I came across this article by, Emily Temple, and it definitely caught my attention. As aspiring authors, as well as established ones, I feel we continuously crave the knowledge of writers before us. We wish to know and learn, from not only their successes, but their mistakes as well. I know when I’m in a writing rut, I enjoy finding different quotes from authors to help gain my motivation and inspiration back.

But, did you ever think about those quotes from authors that…well…might not be the best advice or statement? No one ever talks about those, but they’re out there. Here’s some bad writing advice from a few famous authors. Maybe, this will help you on what NOT to do!


Aspiring writers will never tire of reading lists of writing advice from famous authors, whether legendary or living. And why should they? These lists, the most recent of which to bubble up in our collective consciousness being advice from W.G. Sebald, contain countless encouragements, tips, and (in almost every case) directives to get to it and stop fooling about. But even famous authors can lead young writers astray — after all, not every suggestion works for everyone, or every rule for every type of writing, and we find ourselves deeply skeptical any time anyone tell us we must do something (or not do it). As Sebald himself advised, “Don’t listen to anyone. Not us, either. It’s fatal.” After the jump, a few pieces of bad — at least in our minds — writing advice from famous authors, and if you feel so moved, add to our list in the comments.

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” — Saul Bellow

We have found that no one is much interested in our book of half-awake scribblings recounting our dreams.

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you are doomed.” — Ray Bradbury

Tell that to Harper Lee.

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” — Kurt Vonnegut

We happen to like a twist ending, thank you very much. Or at least a story that’s not so boring we know exactly what’s going to happen.

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” — Oscar Wilde

Maybe on a grand scale, but not on a sentence level.

“Don’t try.” — Charles Bukowski

Unless he meant this in the Yoda sense (and he didn’t), we’re not biting.

“Write drunk; edit sober.” — Ernest Hemingway

Well, we can support the latter half of this sentiment, or the whole thing if he meant it metaphorically. Somehow we don’t think he did, though.

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” — George Orwell

Never use anything you’ve seen before? That seems like a tall order.

“Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” and “Same for places and things.” — Elmore Leonard

Of course, it depends on what kind of writing you’re doing, but no descriptions of anything ever? That seems like a sad future of stories in white rooms to us.

“You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.” — Robert A. Heinlein

Well, he’s certainly in the minority on that one.

“Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.” — Henry Miller

We think Miller just didn’t want anyone else to get anything done.

“You’re a Genius all the time” — Jack Kerouac

Now we see what was wrong with Kerouac.

“Don’t have children.” — Richard Ford

Oh, please.

“Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).” — Will Self

Again, we’re on board with the latter half of this sentiment, but advising a writer to stop reading? Maybe it works for some, but we can’t support that as blanket advice.

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.” — George Orwell

But what if a long word sounds better? Also, go read some Nabokov.

“Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it. There are only certain words which are valid and similies (bring me my dictionary) are like defective ammunition (the lowest thing I can think of at this time).” — Ernest Hemingway

The most draconian of the bunch, and very silly.


Hope everyone is having a great week! Happy Writing Ya’ll!!

6 Ways to Hook your Reader from the Very First Line

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I’d like to take a quick second, and wish everyone a great writing conference experience this weekend! Do ya’ll have butterflies yet? Are ya’ll panicking that you forgot to pack something? It’s crazy to think that it’s been a whole year since I was doing the exact same thing as all of you. Like I said before, just relax and have a great time!!! I’ll be thinking about ya’ll! I would love to hear some experiences when ya’ll get back!

So, on to our subject today. Obviously, it’s important to keep your readers interested. Sure, not all of your book is going to keep your reader on the edge of their seat (well, unless it’s an intense thriller or mystery). But, let’s face it, there will possibly be a slow paced part in your manuscript. That’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, you need to make sure that it’s not excessive or lingers throughout your manuscript. The worst thing a writer can do, is fill the pages with words just for a word count. You don’t want your reader to start skipping or skimming over pages. It can happen in all sorts of ways, starting with too much description, or dialogue that doesn’t really have a purpose. With the snap of your fingers, it can cause your reader to sit your book down and move on to the next. Believe me, there are plenty of choices for them out there. Don’t aid them in choosing a different book.

But, before you start worrying about the middle or end of your manuscript, the valleys and peaks of it, you must concentrate on capturing your audience with the first few pages. This is very important as well, when searching for a literary agent. Agents are VERY busy, and if you can’t grab their attention in the first single page, some will simply move on to the next manuscript in front of them.

Something they said at the conference that stuck with me, is that every reader who picks up a book, goes through a process when they’re interest is sparked. The cover or title of the book catches their eye first, then they flip the book over to the back. Still intrigued, they move to the inside jacket flap, and if you’ve hit gold, igniting their interest even more, they begin to read the first page or first few pages. This, is where you get them hooked. So, the question is, how do you do that? How do you capture your readers, whether it’s a literary agent or a bookstore customer, from the very beginning?

I found this article by, Suzannah Windsor Freedom, about how to do just that.


Although I consider myself an avid reader, I must admit I have a short attention span when it comes to getting into books. If you fail to grab my attention in the first few lines, I start spacing out.

Most readers are like me. Most people don’t want to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into a book.

Here are a few things I find annoying in the first lines of a story:

  • Dialogue. Nice somewhere on the first or second page, but not in the first line. We won’t know who’s speaking or why we should care.
  • Excessive description. Some description is good, but not when it’s long winded. Skip the purple prose and opt for something more powerful.
  • Irrelevant information. The first few lines of your story are crucial, so give your reader only important information.
  • Introducing too many characters. I don’t like to be bombarded with the names of too many characters at once. How are we supposed to keep them straight when we don’t know who’s who?

The last thing you want to do as a writer is annoy or bore people. Instead, try one of these 6 ways to hook your readers right off the bat:

(N.B. One of the easiest ways to check out the opening pages of nearly any book you want is with the ‘Look Inside!‘ feature on Amazon.com.)

1. Make your readers wonder.

Put a question in your readers’ minds. What do those first lines mean? What’s going to happen? Make them wonder, and you’ll keep them reading.

2. Begin at a pivotal moment.

By starting at an important moment in the story, your reader is more likely to want to continue so he or she can discover what will happen next.

  • “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
  • “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” ~Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

3. Create an interesting picture.

Description is good when it encourages people to paint a picture in their minds. Often, simple is best so it’s the reader who imagines a scene, instead of simply being told by the author.

  • “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” ~Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” ~Michael Ontaatje, The English Patient

4. Introduce an intriguing character.

The promise of reading more about a character you find intriguing will, no doubt, draw you into a story’s narrative. Most often, this is one of the main characters in the book.

  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” ~Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

5. Start with an unusual situation.

Show us characters in unusual circumstances, and we’ll definitely be sticking around to see what it’s all about.

  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” ~Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
  • Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” ~Julie Buxbaum, The Opposite of Love

6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice.

Open your story with the voice of a narrator we can instantly identify with, or one that relates things in a fresh way.

  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” ~Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief
  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” ~Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants

No matter how you start your book, keep your readers in mind. What will make them want to continue reading? What will potentially make them put down your book?

How does your favorite book open, and what makes it so compelling?


Hope everyone has a stupendous, exhilarating weekend!!

Happy Writing, Editing, Pitching, and Conferencing Ya’ll!!

What should I Blog about??

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So if there are any of you out there, like me, who is a complete rookie when it comes to blogging, this is the article for you! I’ll tell you that before I went to the Writer’s Digest Conference, I had no idea even what a blog was. Apologies, to all you tech savvy people out there, I just didn’t know. My bad.

When I did figure it all out, I was of course, totally overwhelmed in what to do or say in my blog. Yes, obviously, if you’re a writer who wishes to get published in the future, a social media platform is quite important. The more followers, the better. Agents and publishers look at this.

However, I wanted my blog to be more than just trying to accumulate as many followers as possible. Don’t get me wrong, followers are fantastic! Shout out and a huge thank you to all the people who are following me! Ya’ll are the best! But, more than that, I wanted to be able to help other writers in their journey. Share with them tips, information, and my own experiences to help them along the way. I know how much writers blogs and other great writing articles helped me in the beginning, and even still today. Like I said, as a writer, there will always be more for you to learn.

Hope this article by, Amy Lynn Andrews, helps some of you as you embark on writing and blogging! Happy Friday!

How to Decide What to Blog About

Unless your blog is strictly for your own enjoyment, you’re probably hoping to gain readers. So, it’s important to consider what others might want to read.

I’ve been watching the blogosphere for years. Below are five overarching areas that seem to attract the most readers. Below that are some practical tips for choosing your own blog topic.

WHAT READERS WANT

  1. Readers want to solve a problem

What do people get frustrated about? Do you have a solution? This is how my blogging took off. I talked to a lot of bloggers who loved to write but got frustrated with the techy side of blogging. I knew I could help solve this problem by sharing blogging tips, tools and tutorials in a non-techy way.

  1. Readers want to relieve their fears

What are people afraid of? How can you help ease those fears? Maybe you’re a parent who has lost a child. It’s a real and valid fear for a lot of parents. Sharing your story of hope and healing could be very helpful for many people. Or maybe you can offer help to those facing job loss or financial disaster.

  1. Readers want to learn something new

What would people love to do if only they knew how? What do you know that you could teach them? Maybe you’re a whiz at crocheting, you have a knack for writing or you have a unique way of teaching math that makes it easy to understand. A lot of people have projects around the house they would gladly tackle but aren’t sure where to start. Teach them.

  1. Readers want to reach a goal

What are common goals people have? Have you set and reached some significant goals? Can you spell out how you did it and inspire others on their journey? Fitness and weight loss come to mind here, as well as getting out of debt. Pursuing big goals can be disheartening and lonely. Knowing someone else has been there does wonders.

  1. Readers want to be entertained

Do you have a fascinating story? Do you lead a wildly interesting life? Are you outrageously funny? Everyone needs down time and plenty of blogs exist purely to entertain. I’d say this is a trickier path to pursue since there’s no shortage of entertainment to be had on the internet, in magazines and on TV, but it’s doable. The key is providing something totally unique. Of course as a bonus, you could be entertaining and helpful at the same time. For example, if your family raises llamas, talk about how you raise llamas not just that you raise llamas. Entertaining + helpful = a great combination.

Related: How to Blog: Step-By-Step Guide

BLOG TOPIC TIPS

Now that you know what others are looking for, here are some tips to decide where your interests might overlap and therefore make a good blog topic.

Is my blog idea a good one?

This is a difficult question to answer, mostly because it’s the wrong question. Unless your proposed blog topic is of interest to only a couple of people in the world because it’s so specialized, it’s likely a good idea. But two bloggers can have the very same idea, start the same type of blog, at the same time, in the same niche and have very different outcomes. The real question is, are you willing to put in the time and effort to stand out? It will absolutely take lots of both.

Write for others

A lot of new bloggers fail to think beyond their own interests when starting a blog (see above). Your blog should undoubtedly be an extension of you, but if you’re not writing for the benefit of others at the same time, you might as well just keep a diary.

Pick a niche

Instead of just writing whatever comes to mind, try to write around a general topic. (This is called your niche.) Not only will it be easier to stay on task, it’ll be a lot easier for readers to track with you.

While not required, a niche provides focus and direction, making your blog’s purpose easily understood and defined, not only by you, but by your visitors as well.

Is this niche too broad or too specific?

If your blog’s topic is too broad, it’s hard to compete with, and stand out from, all the other blogs and websites in your niche. On the other hand, if your topic is too narrow, the pool of interested readers will be too small to gain any traction.

For example, “photography” is a very broad topic. On the other hand, “photography in 50-Person Town, USA” doesn’t give you a very large audience. “Black and white photography” is better. “Black and white photography in National Parks” is better still. “Black and white photography in Yellowstone” might be even better. The goal is to find a topic with a good number of interested people and plenty of potential subtopics, but a topic that not so many other people are writing about. Do some research and googling to narrow it down.

Is this niche saturated?

Back in the day, when there weren’t so many blogs online, you could almost pick any topic and run with it. Now, not so much. There are definitely niches that are really, really full and therefore, difficult to break into. How do you know? If you can easily find several dozen popular blogs on the topic, you might rethink your topic.

However, just because a niche is big doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to choose it. After all, a large niche means there’s a market for it. Spend time watching the main players. Knowing your way around will help you fine-tune the “thing” that will make you stand out.

Are readers in this niche willing to spend money?

If you hope to generate income, this is an important question. Think about the intersection between your niche and your audience. For example, if you’re hoping to promote high-end clothing products, it’s probably not a great idea to target struggling college students. Another way to look at it: are other blogs in this niche earning money? Finding this out is easier said than done, but keep your eyes and ears peeled. Do those blogs have advertisers? Are the blogs active, engaging and growing?

Do you have plenty to blog about?

Choose a topic that you can write about regularly and indefinitely. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul. If you post once a week, that amounts to 52 posts a year. Three times a week? 156 posts. Five times a week? 260 posts.  And that’s just barely getting started! Don’t choose something so narrow that you run out of writing fodder after only a few weeks or months.

A good way to test this is to brainstorm possible posts or subtopics pertaining to your main blog topic. If you can easily come up with a list of several dozen with additional ideas about how to branch out, it’s probably a good sign. If, however, you can’t think of many, you might need to rethink your choice. Another way to work around this problem is to have  a multi-author blog.

Rock your ninja-ness

If you aren’t sure you have much to offer, I love what Sonia Simone says, “Even if you’re only pretty good, but not a ninja, you’re still a ninja to someone.” Find that thing about which you have a decent amount of know-how and go with it. Chances are there are others who will appreciate what you have to say.

Choose a topic you are genuinely passionate about

If you don’t have a genuine interest in what you’re writing about, it will be a drag and a burden. If you talk about the topic among your real life friends and they just want you to be quiet already, it’s a great topic to blog about.

Choose a niche in which you can be an authority

The key here is to think smaller. I’ve always been impressed with Carrie from Springs Bargains who did just this. She started a deal blog, but instead of starting a general one like so many others, she purposefully targeted Colorado Springs. She is absolutely the authority on deals in Colorado Springs.

“Niching down,” as some say, or, choosing a narrower niche, may have a smaller pool of potential readers, but you might be able to gain a following quicker too.

What kind of site do you wish you could find?

Sometimes a good way to determine a viable blog niche is to ask yourself what you’ve found to be lacking online. After all, if you’re looking for it, someone else might be looking for it too. This is how I started my first blog. Back in 2004, I was a struggling pastor’s wife. I knew I couldn’t be the only pastor’s wife having a difficult time, so I searched online for others with whom I could relate. I couldn’t find any, so I started my own. Another way to look at it: what group is being ignored online?

What’s missing on other blogs?

When I asked this question in 2010, my blog started taking off. There are a gazillion blogs about blogging and making money blogging. What I noticed though, is that a lot of them say things like, “Wanna start a blog? Great! You’ll need hosting and a domain and then here’s how to blog…” Not a lot of them explained exactly how to choose a domain and how to purchase & set up hosting in a step-by-step way. So, even in this huge niche, I decided to tackle the basics where a lot of people seemed to get lost (like I did when I first started!). Find a hole and fill it.

As you hang out in your potential niche, continually ask yourself what’s missing. What are people looking for? What are you looking for? Read comments, get involved in forums, Twitter and Facebook and keep your ears peeled for hints about what people want, but can’t find.

Be different

Bloggers tend to copy what other bloggers do. This is absolutely valuable in many ways, but it’s not so good when it puts your blog right smack in the middle of average. Brainstorm ways to do things differently.

  • Do most bloggers in your niche write long posts? Why not keep yours short?
  • Do most bloggers in your niche write words? Why not vlog?
  • Do most bloggers in your niche post a few times a week? Why not post every day?
  • Or maybe you could start a unique feature or incorporate an interesting twist — something no one else has done or something you saw someone in a different niche do that you think might work in yours.

You may have heard of The Pioneer Woman. Way back when, she was one of many bloggers blogging about their lives as a mom. But one day she started recounting the tale of how her (a city girl) and her husband (a cowboy) met and fell in love. Her readers ate it up. Coupled with her outstanding photography and love for cooking, she subsequently rose to the top of her niche…and the entire mommy blogging world.

What hasn’t been done before? Try it and see if it propels you to the top!

Be flexible

Once you choose a niche, don’t feel like you’re committed to it for life. Blogging is very fluid and changes constantly. Being flexible and taking advantage of ways to be different will serve you well. In fact, expect it.

Be you

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to find a blog you love…and then try to duplicate it. You must differentiate yourself. One of the greatest things about blogs is they afford us the opportunity to get to know the individual behind the blog. Blogging is part of social media because it’s just that—social.

Let your personality come through. If you’re goofy, be goofy. If you’re feisty, be feisty. If you’re contemplative, be contemplative. Your readers will be drawn to what you have to say, but they will also be drawn to who you are. BE YOU.

Resist paralysis of analysis

Many people get stuck at this point in the process because they’re terrified of making the “wrong choice.” While a well-chosen niche is a benefit, one wonderful thing about the internet is how forgiving it is. Don’t be afraid to dive in and figure it out as you go. We all do that. Better to do that than to do nothing at all. Just start. How about right now?

Happy Blogging Ya’ll! And thank you again for reading and following!