Tag Archives: writing tips

Travel & Writing

It’s that time again! This Saturday, I will be leaving on a jet plane and heading on a month-long backpacking trip to South Africa and Spain. Not to worry, friends, while I am not the greatest at following a blogging schedule (read: I suck pretty hard), I am planning on uploading a few photo journal posts throughout my trip. Minimal effort for me, good travel photos for you!

But now: the point. Traveling so soon has me in a travel mood. Consequently, being in a travel mood puts me in a writing mood. Why, you ask? Shouldn’t I be YouTube spiraling and watching every video I can find on my backpacking destinations?

Yes, I should, but instead, I feel so inspired. For me, traveling has a huge impact on my writing and is definitely the pick-me-up I need when I feel uninspired. In fact, there are huge benefits for writers who travel, even if it’s only for a couple days away.

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African Sun, here I come!

Traveling Calms You

While this may not be the case for everyone, traveling can be calming. For me, it’s waiting in an airport and people watching. It’s sitting on a beach with a book and having absolutely no plan for the day. It’s waking up on any random day and asking a travel companion “what are we doing today?” knowing that we could do anything we like or nothing at all.

Travel has a way of relaxing people, even on the busiest of city streets. And guess what? Being relaxed is a great way to write. Ideas form easier, the words come smoother, and writing seems less like a chore and more like a spa massage.

Besides, have you ever tried writing while stressed out? Yeah, I’ve gone on DELETE-EVERYTHING rampages too…

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So beach. Much calming.

Traveling Exposes You to New People & Different Cultures

My absolute favorite part of traveling is the new people I meet and the interesting cultures I experience. Living in Canada, sometimes it’s easy to forget that people all around the world live in a completely different way than I do. Beliefs, traditions, and existences vastly different from our own occur EVERYWHERE, and it’s a pity not to experience them.

But why is this beneficial for our writing? Two reasons. Number One: characters are the soul of our writing, and what better way to create interesting characters than to meet interesting people? Number Two: a huge aspect of the fiction industry is the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, and while it may be hard to travel to the moon or Westeros for inspiration for your next novel, a quick flight to a foreign country could inspire the location of your next piece.

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Oh, what’s that? The scene of your next novel?

Traveling Enhances Your Prose

Speaking of locations, traveling allows you to better describe the setting of your story. Novel set in a windswept, mountain town? Time to see the Rockies or the Alps. Medieval, seafaring city on the ocean? Round trip to Croatia. What about the desert? Egypt it is.

I find it way easier to more accurately describe the setting of my novel if I’ve actually been to a place that has a similar landscape. Besides, that’s why I take so many photos. When I get home and I’m working on setting in my prose, I can look at the photos and remember not just how a place looked, but also how a place smelled and felt.

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A great setting for a novel… Or just a good place to write it!

Traveling Puts Life (and Writing) in Perspective

One of the best feelings traveling gives is the feeling of being small and insignificant.

Sounds depressing, right? Well, hear me out.

In our everyday lives, it’s really easy to get wrapped up on everyday things: wake, eat, drive to work, do work, eat lunch, do work, come home, make dinner, watch Netflix, drink wine, sleep… The cycle goes on and on. Worse: we toil over the news, toil over social media, toil over whatever drama Sassy Sally or Donald Downer is conjuring up.

But when you travel, that cycle gets interrupted. You experience new and exciting things. Best of all, traveling helps you put your whole life into perspective: you realize that there are billions of other people on this Earth, and their lives can be extremely different than yours. Further, these people exist without being influenced by your life (or Sassy Sally’s drama) whatsoever. To me, that’s really humbling, and when I’m in a writing rut, it comforts me to think that somewhere out there, there are people facing life in all its forms, and suddenly, my life doesn’t seem so overwhelming, and I can get back to what I find important.

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Oh, how small we really are.

Story Ideas Can Strike at Any Time!

This one is self-explanatory. With travel opening up the world to you, it also opens your mind to new story ideas. These can come while people watching at the airport, overhearing a discussion at a restaurant in Bangkok, or in the bush in Mozambique, waiting for a lioness to show her face.

In a world of 8 billion people, there are at least 8 billion stories, and by traveling, you give yourself the opportunity to one you may not have heard before.

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So, get out there, writer! Experience something new! Where are your favorite places to travel for writing inspiration?

 

My State of the Union Address (Why I Quit Writing)

The long and short of this post is that I’d like to say that 2015 was a mess: a good mess in some ways, and a terrible, pull-my-hair-out-and-cry mess in others. I’ve debated about doing this blog post for a while because I’m not really sure what will come of it, let alone where it will go or what it will and will not talk about. But I’ve decided to just do it (in lieu of the freelance editing I *should* be doing, lol) because I think I owe some people an explanation (and a blog post or two) and I definitely owe myself the release of saying some things and letting them go.

So, without further ado, this is my February 2016 State of the Union Address, the state referring to my state (more mental state than anything, as my hobbit stature leaves little to be desired) and the union being my writing career.

Also, I’ve been watching the US primaries on TV a lot lately, and I’m quite political at the moment. But that’s for another post…

First things first, let’s paint the scene: it’s March 2015, I’m working a 9-to-5, I’m getting paid well enough, but my contract is ending at the beginning of April and I know I’ll be flung into the jobless abyss soon enough. But that’s okay! I have a novel releasing in May and dreams of being self-employed as a freelance writer and editor while continuing to work on my fiction career, so I’m hopeful.

Spring 2015 comes, and I’m in the thick of doing final prep for my debut novel “The Black Oracle“. I’m working tirelessly at a freelance writing career, making modest returns but ultimately working more hours than I’m being paid for. At one point, I calculated I was working for $5.00 Canadian an hour after all was said and done — and that was when I was being paid… (We won’t mention the guy who commissioned work and then, when payment time came, disappeared off the face of the world). But again, it’s okay! This is what being a struggling artist is all about, right? I’m happy (tired, but happy), and I feel like I’m moving in a direction that I like, and at the end of the day, I’ve always said I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable. And to prove that, I take a trip to Calgary the week before my release date to celebrate.

And then it’s release day! Copies of “The Black Oracle” arrive at my house, purchase links go live online, and to top it off, an agent (yes, a REAL, live, accomplished agent! THEY EXIST!) responds to a query for a separate novel and says she’s interested in reading it in full. Five days later, I’m at my book launch event, and friends and family and even people I don’t know are buying my book, and even though I’ve only had one hour of sleep (‘cuz I partied a touch too hard the night before), it’s a success!

Needless to say, I’m on top of the world. My dream is coming true right in front of my eyes, and I’m doing everything I said I was one day gonna do. Take that naysayers!

But at that moment, that’s where everything started to fall apart.

I can’t pinpoint why it happened, but it started around June. For lack of a better word, I started to become depressed. This isn’t a woe-is-me post, and I promise I’m not going to focus on this for too long because the POINT of this post is still to come, but the truth is, I just wasn’t happy anymore. After the initial sales bump of The Black Oracle’s release, sales fell drastically. No one was reading my book, few people were reviewing it (even when I was offering it for free), and I fumbled on marketing the book (mostly because I just didn’t know what to do). Further, the agent decided she didn’t want to represent my next novel (which is completely okay!), and the signings I went to depressed me more than anything. For most of them, I sat in the back of a bookstore while customers avoided eye contact and my cookies (who avoids cookies, though, for real?).

This feeling peaked in July after the final signing I went to. I carried my box of books into the store in the pouring rain (pathetic fallacy, much?) and literally did not sell a single copy over the two-hour signing. To add insult to injury, the manager of the store came up to me after the signing was over and told me that I should be more interesting. As an introvert, not only do I not know how to be more interesting, but I wasn’t even sure what that would mean (“Should I dance? Do readers like it when authors dance?”).

Besides, was I not interesting enough already?

The next few months were hard for me. I stopped marketing completely. I stopped looking for freelance work completely and watched my income plummet. I couldn’t write anything, and when I tried, I just made myself angry, like delete-my-document, throw-my-laptop angry. I remember one day talking to my mum on the phone and practically crying.

On top of it, I was for all intents and purposes unemployed. I was unproductive and unhappy. I focused on side projects and watched them crash and burn. I was ashamed and upset and embarrassed for myself and for my work. I was a failure, and I felt like I was wasting time on something that I had a hard time identifying with anymore. I was ready to give up writing.

And then I did.

One day, I just decided to stop. I had some writing-related obligations, some of which I finished, others which I flubbed on entirely. But in essence, I had given up. I wasn’t going to write anymore. I didn’t want to write anymore. I stopped writing completely and became focused on getting a full-time job (the one thing I SWORE I would never return to).

And in a way, giving up was exactly what I needed to do.

*Cue turning point in post. I apologize for the dramatics.*

In that moment, quitting was good for me. I broke away from writing. I didn’t touch it for four full months (after writing non-stop since I was 15, that was a big thing). I moved back in with my parents. I redecorated my childhood bedroom. I decided to start tutoring French and English as a way to create income while I waited for a full-time job (okay, my mum encouraged me, but we made it happen).

And then all at once, the tutoring became the full-time job. I was making enough money to pay the bills (yes, I live with my parents, and I pay bills…). I was tossing around the idea of travelling again and moving out again and starting a business and hiring employees. I noticed my mood was improving (being on unemployment insurance is soul-destroying), and I was enjoying myself more, and I was allowing myself to do things that I hadn’t done in years because I had been so fixated on becoming a full-time writer.

But what was troubling was that I was surviving. I had gone four months without writing, and of course I missed it, but what I didn’t miss was the pressure. I didn’t miss advertising my book and my “brand” to every available ear and eye. I didn’t miss tirelessly emailing reviewers and scouring websites for someone–anyone!–to care about what I was doing. Most of all, I didn’t miss the pressure of writing for some magical, probably non-existent audience that would propel me to the status of full-time writer.

And all of this was troubling because it meant that maybe I could survive without writing. That maybe I was more than my writing.

That maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer.

So, I gave myself a window. I said, “Michael, go back. Write something. See where it goes. If you’re happy, keep going. If you’re not, stop.” I was giving myself the freedom to give up again if I wanted to. I was allowing myself to be creative without worrying about what audiences or editors or literary agents would think.

I was allowing myself to have fun again, something I hadn’t done in years because I had been so obsessed–nay, sick with the pressure of taking my writing and making money on it.

Because what I realized during that time was that I didn’t need to make money on my writing to be successful. I could redefine what success meant to me. If success meant that I never published again but I could have fun doing what I loved doing, then that’s what I was going to do. If success meant writing for myself and not giving a flying f*ck about what would sell or what was marketable or what was interesting (I’m still not over it, bookstore manager!), then that’s what I was going to do.

In short, the purpose of my writing had shifted over the course of 2015, and the focus on the financial side of the arts industry was robbing me of my creativity and depressing me because I was equating sales numbers and review counts with my definition of success. Once I took the money out of the writing equation, once I had stopped freelance writing and editing (minus a few good, reputable contracts), I was left with just the thing I loved in the first place.

And that thing was writing.

So, I’m glad I quit writing. I’m glad I gave up. Quitting writing gave me the opportunity to start to rebuild myself and rebuild my life. I guess the purpose of this post is to say that if you’re in the place that I was at (Editing Note: “In the place that I was at” is sloppy, but I think I’m gonna leave it to make a point), in that place where everything feels hopeless and you’re ready just to give up on your dreams (writing or unrelated), honestly, just do it.

Just give up.

Because if you love it enough, it will come back, and if it doesn’t, maybe it was never meant to be.

Thanks to everyone for sticking by me the past year, and thanks for reading this if you made it all the way through the post.

As per 9gag community etiquette, here’s a potato. Sorry for the long post.

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The 7 WORST Cliches in Young Adult Fiction

Also check out the 8 WORST Cliches in Fiction. Because cliches are everywhere, and acknowledging that we have a problem is the first step to recovery.

I’m going to start off by saying I love Young Adult fiction. I grew up on Young Adult fiction, and I still read Young Adult Fiction (yes, I know I am a grown man, but I make my own money now, so I do what I want).

However, there are certain things about Young Adult fiction I just can’t stand. Yes, I understand there is an unofficial formula. Yes, I know there are things every Young Adult novel MUST do. And yes, I know *not* adhering to certain expectations will cast your novel into the world of unsold oblivion.

But, seriously. There are some things that just. gotta. GO!

“I Love Him. I Hate Him.”

Okay, listen, this isn’t high school. Except… yes, it is.

The point is, we get it. Being a teenager is tough. Your hormones are out of control, you’re feeling things you’ve never felt before, you probably smell, but you won’t realize you smelled until you reach twenty and get a whiff of teenagers.

I digress.

Relationship drama was and is the most annoying part of high school, was it not? Two people who love each other but don’t love each other and then decide they can’t be together for whatever reason but then get back together anyway because they can’t stand being apart.

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Just stop. It’s done. We all lived high school. We don’t need any more YA lit to recount those experiences. Write about something else.

Related: The Love Triangle

Team Edward or Team Jacob? Team Gale or Team Peeta?

How about Team Stop-It-Already! I understand love triangles make things interesting. I understand from a marketing perspective it’s a good way to polarize readers, fuel passionate discussion, and ultimately get hype about a book. But it’s old now. It’s overused and boring.

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In fact, trash stereotypical love altogether. I want to read a YA novel that *doesn’t* focus on it for once.

It’s the End of the World!

This one is ironic for me, isn’t it? Yes, my novel “The Black Oracle” takes place *after* the end of the world, but no: it is not *about* the end of the world.

In any case, dystopias are getting a little out of hand. And I love dystopian literature which is why I’m particularly against this cliche. It’s like they’ve taken the same story over and over again and recycled it for more $$, and that’s a terrible reason to write a dystopian novel (or three. See below).

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So, I revise: dystopias aren’t the worst. They’re actually pretty awesome. We just need something new every once in a while. Or for at least the next ten years.

Related: REBELLION!

The worst cliche within the cliche of YA dystopia (cliche-ception?) is the fact that main characters have to rebel against the dystopian society they’re living in. When it was done in the Hunger Games, it was pretty cool. And then it kept happening, again and again like a bad cold that keeps returning.

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And the whole “reluctant hero” thing? Ugh. I’m sick of main characters who are tossed into a rebellion and the whole time they’re like “but what if I can’t be a good rebel? Waahh”. Well, move over then. Let a passionate character who actually wants to overhaul society be there.

First Person, Present Tense

I walk into the room and pick up the book on my nightstand. The cover is glossy, the words protruding from the page like uneven pavement. I open the book and glance at the first page. I release the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Oh no, I think, not another one.

The novel is in first person, present tense.

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You wanna know what my biggest qualm with first person, present tense is? Besides the fact that it is terribly limiting, and it generally makes me detest main characters, it is also horribly contrived. Who *actually* speaks or thinks in the way main characters in first person, present tense main characters do? Do teenagers really think in metaphor? Do they play around with sentence structure and randomly use enormous words to demonstrate their authoritative command of English prose?

No. No, they don’t. Write in third person already, and I won’t spend the entire novel thinking about how unrealistic a character is.

The Trilogy of Three Books that Could Have Been Better as One

The title says it all. If I find out a YA novel is part of a trilogy, I’m turned off. I see the appeal (mainly because it drives people to buy more than one novel), but good things don’t always come in threes. Why stretch out the plot over three novels and fill space with drivel when a writer can compose one single awesome novel?

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In fact, I wrote about this at a length in another blog post. I feel like there’s a pressure in the industry for authors and prospective authors to write three novels, and I don’t think it’s right. I believe in writing a trilogy because an idea is too long or too all-encompassing to cram into one novel. Don’t stretch it out for the sake of making more money. While we’re at it, stop dividing final movie adaptations into this part one, part two bullcrap!

The Hunky Male is Hunky… and Also Magical

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I just don’t get it. Sure, hunky men are fine, and they get readers all hot and bothered, but why do they need to have magical powers or be super sexy aliens from the planet Frion sent here to make human girls squeal?

It’s just annoying. And a little condescending. Is a man not attractive unless he’s got magic powers? Isn’t that an odd commentary about the state of male-female relationships?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. Just make the love interest normal or write him out completely.

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What are your least favorite cliches in YA books?

How to Write a Novel that Will ACTUALLY Be Worthy of Publishing

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So, you say you have a dream, Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. of prospective fiction (or nonfiction) writer. Well, so do I, and so do millions of others around the world. That is to write a book, but not just any damn book: a book that will be good enough to publish.

Seems like a pretty simple goal, right? In today’s day and age, there are a billion ways to see your work published: paperback, hardcover, ebook, literary magazine, traditional publishing, self-publishing, hybrid publishing, serialization, writing your novel on your arm and reciting it in the subway (okay, maybe not that one…)

Since publishing a book is easier and more accessible than ever before, it’s important to know how to write a novel that’s worthy of being published.

Read Widely

“This is a given,” you say. This is what got you into wanting to write the most epic, mind-shattering, life-changing fiction in the world in the first place. It’s amazing though how quickly reading gets shut out of life after a 9-to-5 job, commuting, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, and meeting word counts consumes all your time.

Trust me, I’m guilty of putting reading at the bottom of my priority list. I find it hard to find time to read, but it really is necessary for a successful writing career. Reading allows writers to become fluent in their craft. It allows us to see what works for other authors, and what could work for us. It allows us to stay on top of what’s happening in the publishing industry and to analyze those happenings and apply them to our own career.

And you MUST read widely. Don’t only read the genre you write. It’s tempting to say, “Oh, well, I only write fantasy, so I’ll read myself silly with George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien and Terry Pratchett”. Read everything. Read contemporary and young adult and romance and how-to manuals about square dancing and cat-sitting.

The classics are also a must — and believe me when I say that you won’t detest them as much as you did when you were forced to enjoy them in high school.

Learn How to Write & Edit Like Mad

Writing without knowing anything about the craft is like scuba diving without an air tank. It’s like running a marathon without proper shoes. It’s like driving a car with your eyes closed (which I do not recommend, to be clear).

You need to invest something into your writing, and I don’t mean that you have to toil and toil over plot points and character development and 100,000 cat videos on YouTube (though, that’s all included). You’re going to need to get control of your grammar and the conventions of your genre. You should invest in a style guide and maybe even read a few how-to‘s and don’t-do‘s. There are millions of resources online and at your local bookstore, and if your interested in improving your craft, I’ve already written a post with tips.

Even when you’ve mastered all those semi-colons and romance novel tropes and Oxford commas, you must still edit. All manuscripts go through a revision process, sometimes upwards of ten times, and if self-publishing is the right route for you, it is ESSENTIAL that you hire a professional editor to prepare your work for publication. There’s nothing more terrible than a novel that has grammar, spelling, and plotting issues (except maybe driving with your eyes closed).

Don’t Follow Trends

Are vampires and zombies cool anymore? No, it’s dystopian fiction and Fifty Shades of Too-Embarrassed-to-Be-Caught-Reading? Well, then.

Following trends doesn’t work. By the time you write something that follows a trend, polish it, and publish it, chances are that trend will be on the way out or already gone. Besides, it’s even worse when a writer writes something in order to try to capitalize on the bee’s-knees-du-jour, and it’s so blatantly obvious that they did that they write garbage. These novels lack originality and personality.

So, screw the trends. Write something that feels right for you, and maybe you’ll grandfather (or grandmother) your own trend. Talk about mind-shattering!

Know When It’s Crap

Ah, my USB. It’s a place where all the magic happens — and also the place where manuscripts go to DIE! Truth be told, not all of you work is meant to be published. Sometimes we write something full of cliches and plot holes and enough literary conventions to make Shakespeare hiss in territorial protection.

And that’s okay! You’re allowed to write crappy every once in a while. I did it. I have a manuscript that’s been edited multiple times but is now enjoying retirement in my “Nice Try” folder. I even have a nice disclaimer on the front page that says “In the event of my death, DO NOT publish posthumously”. It’s that crappy.

How do you know when it’s time to let go?

  • You’ve Lost Interest. That initial spark is gone, and writing the piece feels like drinking three-week-old urine with ground up ceramic. Yeah, that feeling.
  • You’ve Written Yourself into a Hole. This is the hardest time to let go. This happens when your plot is so mangled that it’s unrecognizable. It’s unfocused and messy, inconsistent and terrible. Sure, you could edit, but is it worth it? Maybe let it be for a while and come back later.
  • You’re Not Ready. We all need the opportunity to fail. Sometimes what you write is just the trial edition. You can’t run a marathon without training. You need some practice runs, so to speak. It’s important to know when you’re writing a practice run, especially if you’re just starting out and writing your first novel.

How do you know when something you’ve written is worthy of publication? Do we ever really know?

5 Tips to Writing a Successful First Draft (Even if it Sucks)

To date, I’ve completed 4.5 first drafts. I say 4.5 because I have 4 manuscripts of novels that are at various points of editing and publishing, but I also have a fifth manuscript, a contemporary YA that’s on vacation. I say vacation because it’s nicer than saying on hiatus or abandoned or acknowledging that I *may* not be ready to complete it yet.

In any case, writing a first draft is a complicated and emotional process. It’s complicated because you don’t know what you’ll end up with once you start. It’s emotional because of how invested you become: in the story, in the characters, in the frustration that the “art” you’re creating may be nothing more than a carefully-crafted piece of crap.

But worry not: all great literature had to start off as crud. In fact, all those bestsellers you admire yet secretly envy on your bookshelf were probably rejected multiple times.

So check out these 5 tips for completing your heap of crap!

Plan — Or Don’t!

Some writers are planners. Some writers are not. I am a hybrid of the two: I start off by letting things just happen, and then I start to outline, flesh out characters, and plan scenes. I’m a like a liger, if you will. Magic and all.

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It’s up to each writer to determine what works best for them. Planning can help focus a story, but it can also sap it dry of all its intrigue and leave the writer uninspired to get it finished. I find that when I plan too intensely or too early, this happens to me. Remember that vacation my .5 was on? Yeah… I planned too early. It’s like all the magic is gone, and writing it feels like homework. When that happens, it’s best I back away for some time.

But some writers are the opposite. If they have no plan, they have nothing to hold them to their goal of writing a novel. There are a number of methods out there including chapter-by-chapter breakdowns, pre-completion synopsis writing, and the Snowflake MethodChuck Wendig has a great list of methods to plan your novel.

Don’t Edit

Seriously. DON’T. Put down your red pen. Editing is the kryptonite of writing a first draft. I never do it unless I want to end up in the oblivion of perfection-seeking and aimless toiling. The number one way to self-sabotage your work is by primping and probing too soon. It’s like taking a baby out of their crib, plopping them in the driver seat of a car, and expecting them to win the Indy 500. It will be disastrous simply because they’re not ready.

The same is true for your novel. Your first draft is the infancy of your novel, and should you helicopter-parent too soon, you will experience an adolescence of bad attitude, screaming matches, and underage drinking. You need to give your first draft some space to breathe. Allow yourself to be creative and get your ideas down before you start picking and pulling it apart.

Just Keep Swimming

When it comes to writing a first draft, perseverance is key. It’s easy to entertain an idea, to write the first ten pages of a piece, to daydream about characters and betrayals and plot twists. Heck, it’s fun even! But when the novelty wears off, the only thing that will see you through the middle-manuscript blahs will be your determination to get that sucker finished.

For me, weekly writing goals work. Do I always stick to them? Haha… no. This last week alone I had a writing goal of 2500, and I only made 1600. But, you see, even though I didn’t make my writing goal, I still wrote. I still persevered. I am still determined to complete my manuscript. In fact, my writing goals are more like guidelines. 1600 words is better than none at all, and if I make even half my goal of 2500 words this week, that is 3000 words closer to a completed first draft.

Allow Yourself to Suck

You suck. I suck. Everyone sucks.

Seriously, the first draft sucks. There’s no getting around it. There’s no way to sacrifice a lamb to the demi-gods of the Sahara and write a perfect first draft (but if there is, hook a brother up!). So come to terms with it. Digest it, and make it part of your writing routine. Allow yourself to suck, and writing your first draft will go smoother, I promise.

In fact, once you liberate yourself, you may find that you don’t suck as much as you feared after all.

Expect to Rewrite

If you haven’t realized this by now, I’m sorry to break this to you: your first draft is NEVER the one you show the world. Wallow in self-pity now, aspiring writer, because if you want this, you’re in for the long haul. Even if you manage to nab an agent or an editor off of your first draft alone, they will insist you edit. In fact, my first novel has gone through 12 edits, and it hasn’t even been released yet.

But this isn’t a terrible thing. Your first draft is crap, remember? The only way to make it into gold is by editing. Essentially, the first draft is only half of the task of writing. Editing is where you get to show the reader your storytelling prowess and wow them with your spit-shined, immaculately-constructed prose.

How do you get through a first draft?

5 Ways to Stretch Your Word Count

writing

This time last year, I thought my newest New Adult speculative fiction work-in-progress about the collective subconscious and evil corporations was finished and ready for the world. Since then, I have gotten sidetracked by the release of my first novel entitled The Black Oracle and by the launching of my full-time writing career. During all this time, I have been on a steep learning curve, growing exponentially in the world of writing, publishing, and editing. It wasn’t until I *actually* went to prepare my New Adult speculative fiction novel for publication that I realized I had a problem: the word count of 50,000 words was too short.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. In fact, I’ve already heard it from my critique partner. “When your novel is done, it’s done“. That is to say that once a piece is finished from beginning to end, and it has been edited to the point of being ready for publication, it’s silly to go back. It is what it is, so to speak, even if it is a little short.

But that didn’t stop me from doing research. In fact, Literary Rejections has a fantastic post about standard word counts for all genres, and they peg the average for New Adult at between 60,000 and 80,000 words. “Be the rule, not the exception,” they advise.

And whether or not writers want to admit it, word counts count, and editors and agents judge you on them every. single. day.

So that’s when I decided to pump 10,000 to 15,000 new words into my New Adult speculative fiction novel. Currently, I’m trudging through it, daily word count goals slowly driving me insane. It isn’t easy to add more words to a novel that I thought was finished. I needed a plan. Luckily, I was able to find 5 tricks that help to stretch word counts without adding mindless filler and unproductive storytelling.

Explore Backstory

For me, this is going to be one of the best ways to gain a few thousand words. Writers spend a lot of time fleshing out a character’s past experiences and thinking about how those experiences lead them to their actions within the story. The problem: much of this backstory stays with the author. These character sketches don’t always make it to the finished product.

But why not? Why not make those experiences available to the reader?

Write a good flashback. Have a character tell a story about a past event. Have your main character reflect back on a past event. There are many ways to weave backstory into your plot without writing entirely new scenes and without info-dumping, and doing so is a great way to increase your word count.

Slow Down the Pacing

I must admit, I am a fast-paced sort of writer. I don’t like writing filler scenes, and I don’t like taking my time. I want the action to happen, and I want all my storytelling to be as productive as it can possibly be.

Downside: I write shorter manuscripts. It’s not a crime since some of the bestselling books of all time have been short, but it definitely makes me a touch insecure when I read about word count expectations. So when writing, I try to keep mind to slow my pacing. One of the techniques I use is to plan out my scenes before I write them. Without a plan, I could probably write an entire novel in ten pages (a crappy novel, no doubt).

Secondly, I aim to slow my pacing through my word choices and sentence structures. We live in a society where a lot of description in prose is frowned upon, and though I don’t go all Tolkein-esque and spend pages upon pages detailing trees and rocks, I use my sentences to better flesh out ideas and settings. A longer word count is just a happy by-product of that process.

Develop Your Characters

One-dimensional characters are often the death of a potentially great novel. No one likes to read a character that has no goals, no genuine emotion, no life. The best ways to develop your characters are to give us access to their thoughts and dreams, give them a backstory (see above), and give them reasons for being in your story.

Again, by-product: all of this character development takes a time, thus stretching your word count.

Write a Subplot

This is my favorite word count stretching technique. I love subplots. LOVE. I would write an entire novel of subplots if I could. There’s so much freedom in taking a character and developing their actions into a quasi-separate story. And then when the subplot mixes and mingles with the main plot? Gold. GOLD, I TELL YOU.

Check out this cool post on the different types of subplot and how they can seriously enrich and advance your story.

Make Things Complicated

Last but not least, stay away from easy. This technique sounds like a given, but believe it or not, a lot of authors fail to make their stories complicated and thus interesting. Some stick to the A-event + B-event = Conclusion model, and this is terribly boring.

Give your reader something more. Add additional events to your plot-development equation, ones that make the main character work for their reward. If the story is straightforward and predictable, the reader will also find it straightforward and predictable. Add some uncertainty. Add some misunderstanding. Add some betrayal.

All of this will help to enrich your story and yes, stretch your word count.

Got any techniques for increasing your word count? Do you even bother to try to meet industry or self-imposed word count standards?

9 Tips to Improve Your Writing

One of the hardest things about being a writer is knowing when you’ve reached that elusive status of being a good writer. Scratch that: the hardest thing about being a writer is knowing when you no longer suck.

You see, bad writing is everywhere nowadays. With the exploding self-publishing industry, anyone can become a published author. Anyone. Have good books been self-published? Of course, but bad books have been published tenfold, and this excludes all the times that a big press has released a poorly written book (in the name of business, of course).

So, how do you avoid being a bad writer? Well, the answer is simple: hard work. And while you’re at it, pounding away at your keyboard and going for that eighth cup of coffee, incorporate these tips.

coffee

Yeah, I’d go put the pot back on. You might be here a while.

Write Often and Diversify

A writer who doesn’t write is a person who is just… well, a person. To be a writer, you must write. Yes, that means you must sit down with notebook and pen, keyboard and screen, arm and permanent market, and create something. But you mustn’t only strive to write as often as you can. You should experiment with differently genres and mediums to see what works best for you. If you’re a poet, try a short story. If you’re a novelist, try articles or essays. There are so many ways writers can practice and hone their craft (freelance writing, blogs, social media), and there’s a seemingly endless stream of topics to write about.

Read. EVERYTHING.

Just because you’re a science fiction writer, it doesn’t mean you should only read science fiction. Just because your a short story guru, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up poetry. You should read things you would never think to read, and the classics of each medium are a must. Don’t only stick forget nonfiction and media though. Read newspapers, online journalism, blogs, the backs of cereal boxes. The more you immerse yourself in writing, the more natural it becomes — and the mind has a way of imitating things it likes.

Subscribe to a Style Guide

I know, I know. Why would you want to buy something that reads like a grammar textbook? Yes, I’m aware that writing is an art, but you also must realize that this art has rules. Buying a style guide is a way of learning about those rules. I like the Chicago Manual of Style, mainly because it is the predominant style guide in North America, but there are loads of others. If it is your dream to write professionally, whether it be fiction, freelance, or nonfiction, you should get yourself  style guide. Regardless of which guide you subscribe to, the key is to be consistent.

Look at how pretty it is!

Look at how pretty it is!

Use Prompts and Exercises

I’m not big into writing prompts, but I do admit, they’ve gotten me a few cool ideas. Do a quick Google search, and you’ll see that there are hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS of prompts to get you in the mood (not that mood). I’m all about those writing exercises though. Whenever I’m trying to get a new idea, I love a good free write. Whenever I’m trying to flesh that idea out, I make mind maps and pretend conversations with my characters. Exercises and prompts are also good ways to counter that writer’s block.

Focus on Openers

There’s a reason why openers are called hooks. The purpose of the opener is to entice your reader, pull them in, and then trap them so they won’t think to run until it’s far too late. From my experience as an Acquisitions Editor, I reject a lot of work because of weak openers. Put simply: I reject things I’m not excited to continue reading. It doesn’t matter if your middle is spit-shined, bacon-wrapped, chocolate-dipped literary gold. No one will get to it if you don’t give them a reason to hang around.

Do Things that Inspire You

Sitting around the house all day won’t inspire you enough to be excited about your writing. Well, it might, but you might also find you need something more. Travel, discover your city, visit museums and art galleries and after hours nightclubs (creeper protection not included). Don’t be afraid to do things out of your normal because it’s in these situations where we grow. Besides, new experiences are always great sources for writing material.

Find a Friend

Writers need criticism. Do they always want it? No, but after a while, a writer realizes that the best way to grow is to embrace criticism and STOP writing it off as useless hatred (haha, see what I did there?). I’m serious. Go find a writing partner, ideally someone who reads a lot and perhaps writes quite a bit too. Most importantly, you want this person to be honest with you. You want them to give you notes about what they don’t like and what needs to change, and you need to TAKE THEIR CRITICISM AND USE IT. Is all of it useful? No. Some of it, you may veto (I’ve done so from time to time). But if you’re ignoring 95% of all the criticism you receive, the problem *may* not be your writing partner.

Edit Ruthlessly

Whether you have a writing partner or not, a first draft is NEVER an acceptable manuscript. You should cut things. You should add things. You should eliminate all cliches, most adverbs, and flowery prose from your work. Once you think you’re done, take some space. Give yourself a week or two, and return to hack away some more. It’s not over until you’ve mistakenly cut off a limb.

Wait, you’re not done. Remember the style guide we spoke about? Go read it. Brush up on your grammar, go back, and copy edit the crap out of your work.

Don’t Try So Hard

My final piece of advice is quite simple: don’t try so hard. Revel in the simplicity. Be concise, and say what you mean. I’m sorry to tell you, you will not be another Hemingway. Before you sulk, you will not be another Hemingway because there is only ONE Hemingway (and spoiler alert: he’s dead). But you’re you! Isn’t that enough? Take pointers from the greats, but don’t steal their style. Yours may still be a ways away, but it’ll come.

But leave out those damn adverbs.

5 Reasons Why I Leave a Book Half-Read

It’s happened again. I’ve fallen out of love. Well, actually, I don’t think I was ever in love, but after 200 pages of George RR Martin’s A Clash of Kings, I’ve decided to take some space. I mean, I think it’s better for the both of us. I need to answer some very serious questions: Who am I? What do I want? More importantly, what don’t I want, and right now, that’s this.

It’s nothing personal against George RR Martin. I read A Game of Thrones two summers ago and I loved it. I will, however, say that it took me a long time to get into it. Say, 150 pages? But I just can’t do it this time. So, that led me to think about why. Why do I ditch books halfway through? It seldom happens. I honestly think I’ve only ever done it to about a dozen books, but is there a formula?

I strove to find out.

I Hate the Characters

I’m not going to lie, this doesn’t happen very often for me, but when it does, it’s a huge turn off. And I don’t mean the good hate. Think Joffrey from Game of Thrones. That’s good hate. It feels good to hate him. You watch the show or read the book just so you can see what he’s going to say or do next so that you can get angry and want to strangle the poor kid.

I’m talking about the other hate. In this circumstance, I can’t stand a character. It started happening with Harry Potter circa The Order of the Pheonix. Harry became whiny and annoying and acted like the whole wizardly world was against him and that made me want to reach into the pages and give him a smack across the face. Now, in that situation, I didn’t stop reading, but it definitely slowed my pace down. I was happy when he stopped being such a suck in the subsequent books.

joffrey

Where’s the Plot?

I understand the lack of plot for artistic reasons (think Catcher in the Rye), but unless you’re JD Salinger or F. Scott Fitzgerald, you best have a point. I can’t stand getting halfway through a story and realizing that it isn’t going anywhere. It’s like seeing a car crash happening in slow motion. You know what’s going to happen, but you trudge on thinking that you’re wrong, and then you get to the final scene and–

Nothing. There’s just a whole lot of nothing.

And the worst part is that I sometimes don’t even see this coming until it’s too late. I’m invested in the characters, and I just need to know. But if I had some foresight or if I had bothered to read reviews of the book on Amazon or Goodreads, I would put the book down.

Three Words: TOO MUCH DESCRIPTION!

This is the number one culprit. If I decide halfway through a book that I don’t want to read it anymore, ninety percent of the time it’s because there’s too much description and I’m bored: too much description of the setting, too much description of objects. And the worst: too much description of past events and back story.

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Too much description has sealed the fate of quite a few books that I’ve decided not to read: Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson, Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick, and most recently A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin. That’s not to say that I won’t return to these books. This happened to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy at first, and I ended up finishing all three eventually and loved them. This is just to say that I won’t read these kinds of books right now. I need time to engross myself, time that my life just doesn’t have right now. I’m too busy a person for a book to spend hundreds of pages describing trees and rocks and lineages.

Maybe I’ll make reading these books my retirement task.

The Writing is Full of Errors

This one is self-explanatory, and this often leaves a book unread before I even start reading. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen to big name authors, but a lot of indie authors that have piqued my interest have sealed their fate with spelling and grammar errors. Sure, they happen, even with a professional editor. But when it’s clear to me that there has been no editor, none at all, I’m out. I won’t buy.

The Writing is Just BAD

Thankfully, I have yet to read a book where the writing was so bad that I stopped reading. There have been cases where the writing isn’t my cup of tea, per se, but I normally trek through, especially if it promises to be an easy read.

However, bad writing has stopped me from buying a book outright. Think the Twilight Saga or the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (Gray? What country is this?). I picked up the books in a bookstore just to see what the hype was about. At around five to ten pages in, I would decide the writing was crap and the books wouldn’t be for me. I know sometimes this is an unpopular opinion (sorry Twi-hards!), but as my mom always says: Life is too short to read a bad book.

CoK

So, with that in mind, I extend my apologies to A Clash of Kings. This isn’t working out for me, and I’m thinking I should leave before one of us gets really hurt. Maybe we can try to make this happen some other time. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.

What makes you stop reading a book? Reply in the comments.

15 Thoughts Every Writer Has When They Aren’t Writing

Not being able to write is a sad fact of life for a writer. There’s laundry to do, there’s food to cook, there’s sleep to be had. Worse, I have this pesky illness that eats up a lot of my time. I toil day in and day out to keep it at bay and under control. Sometimes, it creeps into my evenings, just when I think I’ve escaped. Worse, the horror of it all often keeps me awake at night and the dread fills my dreams with terror and sadness.

Oh, I’m not sick… I have a 9-to-5 job.

In any case, the truth is that my job isn’t that bad. I love the people I work with and to be honest, the job in and of itself is mostly an enjoyable and painless experience. But what I’m getting at is that I often feel like I don’t have a lot of time or energy at the end of the day to do what I really love: writing! Instead, I’m left repeating the same thoughts over and over again in my head as I toil through things that I would rather not do if it meant I had more time to write.

Here are a few of those thoughts:

1. “Today is the day. I’m in the mood to write, I’m excited for where story is taking me. I just have something to do first. But if I get through it quickly, maybe I can squeeze in a half-hour of writing.”

2. “And I’ll have to remember to work in this new development I’ve just thought up. It’ll completely change everything and set the story on the right track!”

MB002

3. “Ahhh! This task is going to take longer than I thought it would. Guess I should write this idea down before I forget it.”

4. “Okay, I have no pen. I guess I’ll just have to remember. Repeat something three times and it becomes a long-term memory, right?”

5. “And I’ve forgotten this life-changing development…”

6. “Task done. Time to sit down and write. Oh, wait, I should probably do this other time-consuming task while I have a little free time.”

7. “It’s okay. No need to get stressed out. Just relax. You can finish this quickly and then get to writing.”

8. “I think I just did this task wrong. Ughh.”

fml

9. “Okay, seriously. Just relax. On-the-ball Olivia said it wouldn’t take long. Just focus and get it done and then all the leisure time shall be MINE!”

10. “Wait. I think I’ll watch some Netflix first. There’s that new movie I’ve been so excited to see. It’ll get me back in the creative mood.”

11. “Time to download some new music. I can’t write without some fresh inspiration to get the juices flowing.”

12. “And I’ve just received the email I’ve been dreading. Writing. Delayed. AGAIN.”

13. “Done. Now I’ll creep a little Facebook to calm me down. That email got me a little worked up.”

14.

"Such a cute kitty. Whose little cute kitty are you?"

“Such a cute kitty. Whose little cute kitty are you?”

15. “Okay, plug in the USB, open the manuscript I’m working on, and…

I don’t even feel like writing any more.”

How I Kept the Fire Burning

This is a response to my previous blog post about getting in the mood.

Well, let’s just say I got in the mood. I tried to push myself to keep up with a manuscript that just wasn’t coming. I was getting frustrated and a tad depressed that I was making time for writing and then feeling like I was wasting it because nothing was coming out. And if I did write something, I didn’t like it. I just couldn’t get the mood right.

But then it hit me. I was in the shower one morning and I was tormenting over another writing “session” where I managed a whopping word count of 110 in three hours when I had a stroke of inspiration: a new story idea waltzed into my head. Angels starting singing and music started playing and I couldn’t get dressed fast enough so that I could get back to my damned laptop and write some of the stuff down.

So, humans of the planet Earth, I have a confess that I’m excited to share but I’m also a little ashamed of: I kept the fire burning by, in essence, having an affair. Yes, I have started a second manuscript: a young adult paranormal novel. Now, I know that is a touchy field. Young adult has been a little over-saturated lately and any mention of young adult paranormal automatically screams Twilight (bleh!) but I can assure you, I have something that I am happy with and I am excited to be writing it. In fact, I managed to hammer out a little over 8000 words in two weeks. How’s that for a fiery romance?!

2 hawt.

2 hawt.

Now, I have no intention of abandoning the first manuscript, partially because I have 15,000 words there and also because I really do like the story. But I’ll be honest, I’m okay to put it on the back burner for a bit and take a break while I work on something else. It’s not you, it’s me, right?

No, it really is me…

I am somewhat of a planner, and by that I mean that I do a lot of romanticizing about ideas before I get the chance to write them. Needless to say, this is the first time I’ve been so struck by an idea that I’m willing to abandon another one mid-first draft so I can work on it. And to be honest, I kind of like it. It’s a kind of exhilaration I’ve been missing in my writing lately because I haven’t given myself the freedom to just go with the flow and write what feels right to me at the moment. I guess the motto strike the iron while it’s hot has some merit to it after all, huh?

But there is one downside that I didn’t anticipate: the worry. Since I’ve now left one project to work on another, I essentially have two projects on the go. I guess my fear is that if this second manuscript fizzles out like the first one did, I have two work-in-progresses that are not completed. I understand the notion of going where the wind takes me, but I’m also paranoid I won’t get either of them done. Publishers work with full manuscripts after all.

But I guess I can relax: with The Black Oracle coming out next year and a second book (hopefully) to commence the publishing process soon after, having two projects that are not yet completed isn’t so bad. The publishing process has so far proved to be a long one (though, definitely enjoyable) so I guess I do have quite a bit of time.

Have you ever left one project unfinished to pursue another?