Writing Tip of the Week: Have You Ever Had a “Writer’s High”?

I’m an avid runner, and one of the phenomena that can kick in during a solid workout is “runner’s high.” Johns Hopkins explains: “As you hit your stride, your body releases hormones called endorphins.  Popular culture identifies these as the chemicals behind “runner’s high,” a short-lasting, deeply euphoric state following intense exercise.” But is this feeling only available to those who exercise with intensity?  

I believe writers can experience something similar, what could be known as a Writer’s High.  If you’ve ever found yourself writing, losing track of time, and realizing you’ve written thousands of words without thinking about it, that is a Writer’s High.

It’s that moment when everything comes together.  You’ve achieved a Writer’s High when your story, characters, dialogue, and imagination merge into one entity that creates magic on the page.  You’re in a creative zone, flexing your storytelling muscles, so it’s not a chore and doesn’t feel like work.

When the creativity flows, you’re definitely in the Writer’s High zone.  But is it something you can fake until you achieve it naturally?

I believe you can.  Like running, it can take time to reach a Writer’s High, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work and train yourself to focus on a goal and stay tuned into that specific goal until it’s achieved.  And once you lock in and start moving, the runner’s high kicks in after a while, and before you know it, the run is over.

Your writing goals can be like this.  You can train and focus on what you want to achieve; before you know it, the words are effortlessly flowing from your mind to the page.  And you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and a euphoric feeling that you’ll want to have again and again.

And you don’t have to buy a special pair of shoes to help achieve it.

Are you ready to work toward your Writer’s High?

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Quote Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-truth-behind-runners-high-and-other-mental-benefits-of-running

Writing Tip of the Week: Taking Notes While Drafting Your Manuscript

Writing a manuscript for a novel can be a challenging but rewarding process.  Crafting a compelling narrative with dimensional characters and clever dialogue allows creativity to soar out of your imagination and onto that page.  

Even with a strong outline, you may find yourself second-guessing a choice you made, rethinking a chapter, or needing more information about a location or other details.  All of these can be important to creating the world of your story.

After completing my writing session for the day (or late at night, which is my preferred writing time), my brain will run through what I wrote and find new ways or ideas to strengthen my writing.  The trick is NOT to go back and start rewriting what you already wrote.

No.  Your initial goal with your first/rough draft is the get the story on the page, from Chapter One to THE END.  Only then should you scroll back up to the top of your Word document and begin the rewriting process.

What I do is take notes post-writing sessions about what I worked on.  That way, I have the information and ideas available for use later if I decide to incorporate them.  You can use your Notes app on your phone or tablet, a journal, or just a piece of paper to jot things down. 

Here are some notes topics to consider (you can also jot down notes as you’re writing, but don’t go back and fix things yet):

Ask Yourself Questions?

After taking some time to reflect, write down some questions about the section of your manuscript, you worked on today.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  Were there chapters that lost momentum or lacked important information?  What chapters dragged on for too long and why?  Were there character moments that elevated the main characters?  Did story elements get lost at any point?

This is a constructive way to think about possible issues and changes that might pop up during the rewrite phase and allows you to have a reference point once you begin.  It can also help make the rewrite process less overwhelming since you’ve already started thinking about what’s been working and what needs improvement.

Things to Add

Maybe you wrote a great scene with two characters talking in a park.  You realize during your reflection that it was all dialogue and no action or description of the park or what the two characters might be doing.

This is a good place to comment that you must add these elements into the chapter to give the reader more information.

I often find myself introducing characters, then realizing that they are non-descript voids with names and dialogue but no physical traits or clothing descriptions.  This is another thing that can be placed in this category as a friendly reminder to make sure ALL named characters are described in some way.

Things to Cut

Even in a solid outline, things can sometimes not work as well once they’re fleshed out on the page.  Before you highlight and delete these items, note that there may be something that should be cut.

This can also be used if a subplot isn’t working, doesn’t add to the story or character development, or if you feel a chapter drags on for too long and should be cut down.

Things to Develop

If you find that a character takes on a life of their own in your manuscript and you want to give them more page time, make a note to develop the character further.  

You can also include developing the setting and character descriptions here.  When you’re in the zone and writing fast, things can get left out or mentioned and not given more detail.  Anything you want or need the reader to know must be fully realized on the page, so include that aspect here.

Things to Research

Your main character is going to Columbia University!  Great!  What do you know about it?  Nothing!  Time to get on the Google machine or the Columbia University website and start researching.

This can be for anything that needs more information or detail to make things real for your reader.  “Steph got into her car.”  What’s the make and model?  Color?  “He put on boots.” Ugg boots?  Ski boots?  Cowboy boots?  

Doing a little research and fine-tuning can further bring your reader into the story.  Find pictures of the clothing items you’d like your characters to wear and use them for your descriptions.  Same with houses, restaurants, furniture, etc.  Paint a picture with words and bring the reader into that home or campus.

Final Thoughts

This tactic can help you not get sidetracked while you’re doing the work of writing your manuscript.  You will be ahead of the game by taking some time – since you’ll be thinking about it anyway – to reflect and jot down what things to improve, add, cut, or research.  Now, you can dive into your next draft with the necessary knowledge to succeed.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: The Acknowledgements Page

While you probably wrote your novel by yourself, you probably had several people assist you along the way.  If the book gets published – either through self-publishing or a mainstream publisher – there are even more people who become a part of the process.

It’s important to be gracious and thank those who helped take your novel from Word document to published media.  An Acknowledgements page at the beginning or end of your book is a great way to give these unsung heroes the credit they deserve.

The last thing you want to do is be like Herman Munster:

Let’s talk about how to create an Acknowledgements page.

Should You Have One?

If you did everything 100% yourself, you don’t need one.  However, if you really think hard about it, you can probably think of at least three people who helped you along the way that made your book a reality.

If that’s the case, you should write one.  Now, it doesn’t have to be very long.  But giving credit where credit is due is always a nice gesture.  Especially if you want help on future writing projects.

Who to Thank

As you brainstorm who should be in your acknowledgments, think if these possible people:

•          Family and friends who offered support

•          Anyone who read your manuscript and gave you feedback

•          Your editor

•          Your cover designer

•          Your author photo photographer

•          Your publisher

•          Your agent

•          Anyone who assisted with research for the book

•          Any people who inspired you to write the book

If you had direct contact with them during the process, I would consider thanking them.  If you want to go the extra mile and find out who the typesetter was for the book and thank them, go for it.

Make sure to briefly mention what they did for you on the project, too.

Do I Need Their Permission?

If they are a public person with a business that helped you out – like a cover artist or editor – let them know you plan to put them in the Acknowledgements.  Make sure it’s okay with them.  If it is, ask if you can put their website or other social media contact info after their name.  

For friends or family, I would ask permission, too.  Some people may ask you to just use their first name, and others may appreciate the thought but ask for their name to be left out.

Either way, respect their wishes.

If this is a good team, keep them happy for future projects.

Examples

Skim through the books on your shelf, at a bookstore, or at the library.  See how different authors present their Acknowledgements Page.  Here’s mine for my second novel, Midnight House:

Midnight House would not be where it is today without the assistance of my editor, Kathleen Brebes.  Her notes and comments were a valuable resource that helped me polish and fine-tune the novel and its story over the past year.

Thank you, Kathleen!

            I’d also like to give a huge thank you to my good friend and feedback partner, Kevin Klein.  Kevin enjoyed my first novel, The Field, and I was excited to share the second novel in the series with him.  His feedback and opinions helped make Midnight House an even stronger Young Adult novel.

            Thank you, Kevin!

To my cover artist, Steven Novak, who once again took my ideas and brought them to life in another fantastic cover.  Thank you, Steven, for your help and excellent work!  Check out his work at http://www.novakillustration.com/

And to everyone else who asked how the second book was coming along, kept up the encouragement, and dealt with me disappearing to write and edit, thank you for all your support. 

And thank you to everyone for reading Midnight House!

Final Thoughts

Everyone appreciates being acknowledged for the work they did.  Whether your team members played a major or a minor role, taking the time to thank them in print is a great way to support and appreciate those who helped make your dream a reality.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise: A Mundane Task

As writers, we always look for ways to hook and excite the reader.  We want to engage the audience and keep them intrigued by the story from start to finish.  Whether it’s a murder mystery, an action sequence, or a knitting contest, our goal is to keep our readers turning to the next page.

And while creating excitement, conflict, and tension are built into certain events, I wondered this weekend if mundane, day-to-day activities could be written similarly.

  • Pick a mundane task that everyone does (laundry, dishes, paying bills, getting gas or charging your car, etc.).
  • Write it in the first-person POV.
  • Take some time to write out the steps involved in the task in the order that works best for you.
  • Examine the list.  Are there any places where you can add excitement, conflict, or tension?  Where could a problem occur that might prevent you from completing the task?
  • When you set out to write the scene, be as descriptive as possible, making sure to use all five senses to transport the reader to the location and make them feel they are there with you while you undertake this seemingly tedious task.
  • The task should be completed by you as the character by the end of the scene.
  • See if you can write it in 500-words or less.

By taking day-to-day events and finding creative ways to twist them into a compelling narrative, you can enhance your stories and deliver page-turning narratives to your readers.  

If you are working on a story, are there ways to add moments with your character doing day-to-day things that can give us insight into who they are as a person?  Are there ways you can give this run-of-the-mill task a boost by having the character do it uniquely?

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Facing the Ominous Blank Page

Happy 2022, everyone!  I’m sure by now you’ve planned out your writing goals for the new year, but sometimes the most challenging part of digging into those goals is facing the ominous and foreboding blank page.  Whether on your laptop with a blinking cursor, or a pad of lined paper, the blank page is something all writers face, from newbies to seasoned vets.

So, how do you break through the intimidation factor that can occur when staring into the blank abyss?

Fact: The Blank Page is Inevitable

The blank page will always be an ever-present factor in your writing life.  It can’t hurt you.  It can’t harm you.  It can’t do anything but sit there and quietly taunt you.  

Don’t let it win!

You can’t learn to swim unless you get in the water, and you can’t ride a bike without getting on one.  And you can’t conquer the blank page without adding words and conquering its blankness.

Here are a couple ways to defeat it.

Write Anything

Conquer your fear by jumping into the blank page by writing whatever pops into your head.  It can be relevant to your story, but the trick is to eliminate the blankness by adding words to the canvas.  

Write a poem.  Write a thank-you note.  Write a logline.  Just write something to get the words on the page.

Write Down Questions

Your story has a lot of elements.  If you’re having a hard time diving into the meat and potatoes of the writing, write down questions related to your story, characters, setting, etc.  This will break up the blank page and give you story-specific things to think about as you begin your writing process.

Don’t Start at the Start

At this stage, there’s no need to begin your writing project at the beginning.  What chapter, scene, or sequence gets you excited about the project?  Is there a character’s description that intrigues you most?

Why not start there?

It’s all part of the same project, and if writing that piece gets the words flowing, then that’s the best place to start.

Remember, you can always go back and write the beginning later.

This year, fight the good by dominating and defeating the evil and dastardly blank page.  Your creativity is counting on you!

Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Giving Yourself Permission as a Writer

Creativity begins within the privacy of our minds.  We all have thoughts, ideas, plans, goals, and dreams, but not everyone takes those elements and artistically expresses them.  Whether through writing, art, dance, song, or film, creative expression can be a hurdle that prevents many from getting their vision out of their head and into a tangible space.

But why?  Why do creative people often have hang-ups and issues taking what they know in their heads and hearts is a good idea and making it more than a passive internal flirtation with their Muse?  

I think it comes from fear.

Fear that what’s in your head won’t translate to the page on the first try.  Fear that people won’t enjoy or understand your intentions with the creative work you’ve molded and shaped for months or years.  Fear of rejection, of failure, of the unknown.

But you haven’t written a word yet, so how do you know any of the above will happen?

You don’t.

And you won’t know if it will be a success or not until you give yourself permission to get the ideas out of your head.  

Today, I’m going to offer up five statements for you to think about the next time you’re hesitant about bringing an idea to life.  Remember that this initial version of the idea is for your eyes only. Take the fear out of the equation. Know that you and your words are in their own Circle of Trust.

Now, I encourage you, whenever doubt creeps in, or fear enters your mind as you embark on a new creative endeavor, that you say one or all of these statements to yourself to help move your forward in your creative journey:

I Give Myself Permission to…Write Badly with Pride

You can’t edit what doesn’t exist, and every writer has to start their story at some level of quality, so don’t be afraid to write crap in exchange for knowing you can go back and fix it later.  The key is to get the ideas on the page so they can evolve.  

Be proud that you wrote them down and now can make them better.

I Give Myself Permission to…Change Things in the Story That Aren’t Working

Outlines, Beat Sheets, Notecards, and other forms of structuring your story are great but don’t marry yourself to what you planned out 100%.  Give yourself the ability to go on tangents and explore new possibilities, new story arcs, and new character developments.  

A story is a road trip.  You’re going from Point A to Point B, but a few detours to some unknown places can always add to the adventure.  Allow yourself to travel these pathways and see what happens.

I Give Myself Permission to…Challenge Myself as a Writer

If you ever wanted to explore writing in a new genre or medium, do it.  If you write short stories but want to write a screenplay, learn what it takes to format and create a 110-page screen story and make it a reality.  If you are a novelist who writes romance and want to try writing horror, go for it.  

Experimenting and challenging yourself as a writer gives you the ability to stretch your creative muscles. Along the way, you may pick up some writing advice from this other area that can help strengthen the genre or medium you are comfortable in.  

This can also be used as a writing exercise. You challenge yourself to write a paragraph without using a certain commonly overused word like ‘that,’ or even challenging yourself to write stronger dialogue or description.  

I Give Myself Permission to…Accept Constructive Criticism as Helpful

The word ‘Constructive’ is the key here.  If it’s advice or notes that can make your writing stronger, or assist in making your future work better, then add that to your toolbox.  If it’s not something that will help you now or in the future, ignore it. 

I once gave notes to a woman on her screenplay.  She had a Russian character who was always drunk on Vodka.  I said that this was a cliché, and she should consider changing some aspect of the character to make him less of a stereotype.  Her response: “F-ck you!”  Needless to say, that was when we parted ways because this was the least of the scripts issues, and if she was unable to handle something fairly benign, I knew my other notes would not be helpful, either.  

My goal was to help make her script stronger and better, but she was focused on the criticism and not the constructive aspect.  When you receive a note on your work, divorce yourself from being its creator.  Ask yourself if you were reading this as an outsider, would you have the same comment or question?  More than likely, yes. 

Remember: Constructive = Helpful.

I Give Myself Permission to…Have Fun When Writing!

No matter what you write, you have to enjoy the process, enjoy the journey, and enjoy what you’re working on.  It’s reflected in your work.  If you had a good time, invested in the characters and their story, laughed at their jokes, cried with their tragedies, and held your breath while they were in peril, you can bet the audience will do the same.  

Passion can transfer from the page to the reader or from the screen to the viewer, and the more heart and energy and love and fun you put into it, the greater reward it is for the audience.  

If you don’t like your story, figure out why and change it for yourself.  Write the story you want to write, that you want to see, that you want people to enjoy.  

I hope these statements or affirmations give you the permission your need to move past those blocks that plague all writers, new and experienced.  You have a story to tell.  Don’t let fear stop you from making it a reality.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!