"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Monday, March 26, 2018

Tips for Increasing Your Writing Efficiency and Enjoyment

submitted by Carol Curtis Stilz

Over the past six months I have collected some tips from webinars, workshops, and reading. Many of these tips I shared with my students when I taught writing classes for teens and adults. Like my students, I needed to remind myself of what steps make my writing more efficient and enjoyable. Sometimes the enjoyment comes from meeting a goal or increasing my productivity or tackling a scene that I have put off writing. I’ve structured the remainder of this blog in steps. Don’t dismiss a suggestion until you have tried it at least once. These steps are not the ultimate “how to write” guide. They are intended to offer a buffet of possibilities to make writing for you more fun. Enjoy!

  • Begin with an idea you want to write.
  • Make a mind map around that idea.
  • Write or draw on Index cards for everything that pops into your head. No editing here. Yes, you can use Scrivener or another writing program that allows you to move each idea around, to add and delete ideas too.
  • Write one sentence that defines the story problem.
  • Determine a turning point where character makes a decision that puts him at highest risk.
  • Determine the crisis where the character’s actions seal his/her fate.
  • Determine the ending or resolution of story problem, unless you like to surprise yourself as you write.
  • Determine the beginning that sets up the story problem. You may choose to change the beginning.
  • Create structure by placing index cards in order, making a fishbone diagram, or your idea of outline. This helps avoid the dreaded muddy middle.
  • Remember to give backstory only when it is necessary to the reader or character now.
  • Establish a writing time and place. Once you have found what is best for you, don’t change it.
  • Set a writing goal for the day, number of minutes, number of pages, or completion of number of scenes.
  • Write first think after waking up. I have coffee and feed and pet my cat first.
  • On scratch paper, not your calendar, write things on your mind other than story. I call this monkey brain dump. Put it aside and look at it after you have written for the day. I do this step when sipping coffee.
  • Write in 15 or 25 or 55 minute sprints. Set a time. Hands on keys and write steadily. When time rings, take 5 minutes to stretch, drink water, get in some fit bit steps. Avoid leaving the room if possible, and do not make phone calls, text, email, etc. No outside human contact. Then resume process until you have made your goal in writing for the day, either minutes or pages or scenes. Give yourself permission to write the scene that comes to mind that morning. You don’t have to work in chronological order if that isn’t your style. I call this my “patchwork quilt” process.
  • No editing as you write. Edit after writing sprint, or later in the day, or next morning, or a time and place you set.

Choose the tips that work best for you. Enjoy the process and your success!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Conflict and Motivation by Sherry Roseberry

To my way of thinking, an excellent story plot is a blend of idea, characterization, conflict, motivation and emotion. Any writer worth her salt strives for a perfect mixture. Although, many fail to reach that end.

Some brew wonderful concepts that even Steven Spielberg would be proud to call his own. But, their characters are unsympathetic.

Others write characters to die for, however, the main threads and final wrap up are a little weak.

We’ve all read books that have deep story-lines where we did not bond with the heroine and we wanted to slap the hero. Above all, great characterization is what sells books.

Most of us see conflict and motivation as a sheer cliff we must climb. It is not paramount that a writer comes up with something so complex and intertwined that even she/he has a hard time keeping track of everything. You know the ones....

The heroine’s granddaughter married the hero’s grandfather’s butler who stole the crown jewels and shared the stash with his bride instead of the ex-employer, who is in reality a baby stolen from the gypsies because the Duchess was barren and now, unbeknown to the hero, he is next in line to be the new King of the Gypsies and is about to be kidnapped. Phew! Unless of course you’re hoping to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Use something simple. Example: she hates small towns because she’d been teased/outcast all her life/ridiculed by small minded people/has gone without. She lives for the adventure of being a big city news correspondent.

He has had it with the hustle and bustle of life as a big city doctor. He feels people have lost their compassion for their fellow man. He finds his haven in Small-Town America.

Bingo! Conflict and motivation.

To make things interesting, throw in a few twists and turns such as she inherited the town from an eccentric uncle. She decides she wants to raze some old buildings and replace them with a money-making shopping mall. He’s already in the process of turning the classic structures into a clinic and claims to have bought them from her Uncle before his death.

Not complicated.

It’s like cars. Think of plot lines as the nuts and bolts that hold the body together. Conflict is the engine. Characterization is the chrome-bedecked chassis and motivation the super-duper, steel-belted, road-hugging tires. Now, you have the car of your dreams. Well, almost. You need one more element to make it run. Fuel. And fuel is the emotion. Without it, this baby isn’t going anywhere. With it, she’ll purr like nobody’s business. And an editor will gladly throw money your way. To top it all off, you’ll keep those readers engaged to the very last page, dying for more.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Becoming “Wordsmiths” by Charm O’Ryan

Words—a writer’s best friend. I mean come on, let’s face it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to inform us we’d be staring at a blank screen, unable to express ourselves, unable to tell our stories, unable to make a living without them. And don’t get me started on how silent the world would be if no words existed at all. Not a bad thought for someone who never gets enough silent moments, for sure. But in our world, it is the “written” word I want to speak about today.
And there are so many of them to choose from.

It is the selection of our words and the weaving of them into our characters, our plots, our descriptions, our every-writing moments that makes us into individual authors with unique styles, unique rhythms, and unique “voices”.

My cousin used to write beautiful, near-literary, romance novels. We were long-distant critique partners for over a decade and exchanged emails pretty much on a daily basis. With every typed correspondence we’d share, I noticed a saying always appeared beneath her name: I am a Wordsmith … I beat words into submission.

Though many years have passed by since I read one of her emails, that one sentence has stuck with me. It is the inspiration for today’s lesson. Beating words into submission, stringing them into sentences like an artist mixing paints to achieve the perfect intended color, twisting them into ways that would give readers an unforgettable journey through a story no other author could tell, was something I, too, wished to do.

I wanted to become a Wordsmith.
According to the Encarta Dictionary (English), “Wordsmith is a noun that means: somebody who uses words skillfully, e.g. a professional writer or journalist.” And, in case that escapes any author reading this today, that means me and you. With that in mind, let’s keep looking at words and the way they can, and in some cases, should be used.
Novels and the words we choose. Setting aside style and voice, many of us will use some of the same words. However, genre, as well as time and location the story takes place, will give us diversity…we’ll use words that lean towards the genre we’re writing within.

Examples of genre usage:
Romantic words—a romance writer’s best friend. Let’s see … hmm … simple ones: love, sex, intimacy, climax, passion, embrace, etc. An author of romance may use these terms far more than an author of say horror.

Diabolical words—a horror writer’s best friend. Evil, goosebumps, fear, sliced, diced, hell, demon, Satan, Abyss, etc, are all words most romance writers would not use albeit there are probably exceptions in either case … myself being one, as I like to dabble in paranormal romance.

Military thrillers—F-16 jets, bombs, tanks, firing, guns, smoke, soldiers, cursing, probably aren’t going to mention demons and Satan involved in an evil embrace of climactic passion! I think you get the point.

Examples of time usage:
Ah, how I love historical romance and the use of words that give credence to the time period the story is set within. Unbeknownst, naught, methinks, wondrous, loquacious, Godspeed, nonplussed, vex, milady, milord, all help the reader feel the sense of time and place in history. I have used nearly all of these words, and more, in my first two novels: one set in 1692, the other in 1479 England. Beware, however, that too much of a good thing can also ruin a story. When I wrote my first novel, I wrote the entire thing in Old English. I didn’t realize no one really wanted to read a romance novel written in
Old English, so I learned a valuable lesson. Therefore, remember to have balance between the old and the new when writing in a certain time period. Use enough time-period appropriate words to flavor the story and give the reader a sense of authenticity.

In the pacing of a novel, flowery long-listed adjectives, and words with so many letters one has to get out a dictionary in order to understand what the character is saying and or doing, can often slow down the speed and the tempo of our stories. So be wary of overuse. Sure, a great word once in a while is okay, might give the reader something to think about long after the last page is turned. Slowing them down too much, however, making them stumble over sentence after sentence might just cause them to close the book before they’ve reached chapter two! So keeping the pace of our stories strong and quick is definitely a win, as most readers nowadays like a fast read. Other things like grammar can contribute to this as well. But we’re talking about words here and we’re going to stay on topic.

Authors can even take the liberty of making up our own words. Of course, science fiction writers know this well. They make up their own people/creatures, languages, and worlds. But a uniquely thought up word used in dialogue or a character’s thoughts, can also be pulled off in any genre. In my story, Lillian of the Valley, a long contemporary romance, Deputy Joe almost “Spooged” in his pants. I’ll let you all figure out that one on your own. However, it wasn’t as nasty as you might imagine. Rather than sexual, it was my heroine’s thought after seeing how excited the deputy got when the sheriff gave him an important task. Naughty naughty if that’s where all your minds went first!
Words; so powerful, so descriptive, so breathtaking in their variety and wide-scope of meaning. Search them out; read through the dictionary; let’s challenge ourselves to learn a new word or
two each week. It’s not only fun, but enlightening. A wealthy vocabulary will only strengthen us as writers.

I once went on a venture of writing down words I’d read in other novels or text books, seen in movies, or simply heard in conversations of both stranger and friend. Sure, it took a while. But a jot here and a jot there, and wall-la! I had pages and pages of handwritten words to pilfer through when I needed to be reminded of the variety that existed to meet my writing needs.

Not everyone is a Wordsmith.

Not everyone is a writer.

Garbage cans are filled with people’s attempts to write. Perhaps they are not naturally talented, can’t tell a story if their life depended on it, or they’re just too damn lazy to learn the craft and keep it polished; keep up on what’s expected of an author in an ever-changing world. Home computers have opened the doors to anyone and everyone who thinks they’ll be the next bestselling author. But they’ve also opened the door to a wealth of knowledge our grandparents could’ve never imagined existed. Millions of words and their various meanings are literally at our fingertips.

Yes, a Thesaurus is our best friend.

Okay, seasoned writers, I am aware I used some clichés in this lesson. I did so purposefully. Cliché … I even like that word … it’s got a beauty to it, doesn’t it? Cliché. Say it aloud … “cliché”.

Is there room for improvement? Always.

Can we learn something new? Most assuredly.

Does it hurt to be reminded of things we may think we’ve already mastered? Absolutely not.

Thus, my writing friends, if we aren’t Wordsmiths yet, we will be. Because, as writers, we know that without the ability to manipulate words … sentences … paragraphs … in exclusive ways that convey the beauty of our own unique style, our own exquisite voice, we will not shine bright amongst the throngs of an unruly crowd of mediocre authors and/or author-want-to-be’s.
Words and the way we use them not only separate the failures from the successful, but also place our mark in this old world … OUR words that will be remembered long after we have left it. So what is it we wish to say? Did we say it in a way that clearly defines our intent? Think about these two sentences next time you sit down to write. Whether it be fiction or nonfiction matters not. If we stay true to our voice, our resolve, if we hammer our words into submission to create sentences that engage our readers to continue flipping pages and buying books, then we will have succeeded in leaving our individual messages to not only to this generation, but the next, and all generations yet to come. Happy hammering! (Smile)