Writing Tip of the Week: Setting Writing Deadlines

Deadlines.  We have them at work, and our kids have them for school projects, and the government gives us one to pay our taxes.  Having a set, definite date to aim for with something major can be a great motivator for getting things done.

But are you setting deadlines for your writing?

Even if you’re not planning to publish or send your work to contest, giving yourself a deadline can be a great way to get things in gear and get the writing done.  This milestone can be a moment of celebration and excitement; the novel is done, and I can move forward with my next writing project.

Some people may prefer not to have deadlines.  They allow the Muse to decide when they write and when the project is done.  That’s all well and good.  However, if you want to write a lot and get a lot done and off your To-Do List, I recommend creating deadlines for your projects.

Here are some things to consider when setting deadlines.

Be Reasonable

If you are working on your first novel, setting a deadline of one month maybe a little too intense (unless you’re into that sort of high-octane writing thrill).  Creating a reasonable deadline that is manageable but not ridiculous is the key to making the deadline work.

Maybe you plan to have a six-month deadline for your first novel.  Then once you’ve seen what you can do with six months, shave a month off for the next one.  

I’m sure you’ve seen stories and videos of people who wrote a screenplay in 48 hours or a novel in two weeks, and if you want to aim for that as a personal goal, go for it.  But if you have a day job, kids, a family, and other obligations don’t add to your plate writing a 65,000-word novel in a month.

No one wins in that scenario.

Write It Down

It may sound silly, but writing a deadline down in a notebook, a journal, on a calendar, or on a whiteboard where you can see it as a reminder is useful to keep you mindful of the chosen deadline date.

It is better to have it written down than to make a mental note and forget it.  

You can also use this as a way to mark smaller milestones on your way to the big deadline by establishing smaller goals in the larger timeline. If your goal is to write a first draft of your novel in six months, breakdown ideally where you want to be in the process at the end of months 1, 3, and 5. Fragmenting the larger goal can help make it less daunting.

Beat the Clock

Let’s say you set a deadline of three months to write a play.  Can you finish a day early?  A week early?  Giving yourself personal competition can be a great motivator.  It always feels good to get something done before it’s due, and this is one way to see how much faster you can get the project done before your stated deadline.

Reward Yourself

You finished the novel early!  You did it!  Give yourself time for a reward.  It can be going to a movie, buying a book you wanted, or getting dinner out.  This is another great way to incentivize yourself to set and keep your writing deadlines.

In our world of instant gratification, delaying getting what you want by completing a major writing task first can make receiving that reward all the better.

Stay Positive

Life happens.  If your deadline has to change or you miss it by a week or two, it’s okay.  Keep going and still work to get the project done.  The key is the complete the project.  While the deadline is nice to have, if things prevent you from writing, sometimes there’s not much you can do.

Stay persistent and keep writing.

Have Fun

Writing should be fun, and getting a writing project done should also be a fun process.  Remember that you want to get this novel done to move on to the next one.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the process and the creative aspects of the writing.  You’ll be grateful that you did.

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

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: Setting your 2022 Writing Goals – Part Two

Last time, we kicked off the final month of 2021 by exploring ways to set new writing goals in 2022.  Below are a few more ideas to get your head in the game this coming year.

Always Be Thinking

We are surrounded by people, places, and events that have the possibility of inspiring and evolving into stories.  As you go about your day, observe and later write down what you experienced that was noteworthy.  Did something happen to you at work or school that could be the basis of a storyline?  Did your kid say something funny that would work great in a script?

By being aware of the real world around us, we can create stronger and more grounded stories.   

Work To Write Every Day

To write more, write better, and write longer, you need to make it a habitual ritual in your daily routine.  Whether it’s for 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours, work to fit time into your daily schedule to write.  Even if you write about your day, an experience you had, or on your big writing project, you are still working to develop your skills as a writer.

Numerous websites offer hundreds of writing prompts that can help you focus on what to write if you need assistance.  The key is to commit to writing every day and stick to it.  With each daily writing session, you’ll be amazed at how your writing skills grow.

Here’s a link to an article featuring 100 creative writing prompts from Writer’s Digest.

Have Side Projects Just In Case

I always like to have another writing project or two on the side if I hit a brick wall with my current project.  The solution should never be closing the laptop and skimming through YouTube videos on your phone.  A more productive way to deal with this issue is to have another project you can focus on.

I prefer that the second project is in a different genre and even another medium.  For example, if I’m writing a novel that’s action-adventure, I’ll have a play that’s a comedy to work on as well.  This gives your brain a rest and can actually help you subconsciously resolve issues you’re having with the primary project as you work on the secondary one.

Stay Positive

You’re going to have tough writing days. You’re going to get writers’ block of some kind. You’re going to have personal things pop up that distract you.  But when you’re at the desk, the table, or wherever you write, you have to have a positive mindset.  You will get the writing done.  You will get something on the page.  Even if it’s not quality work, it; ’s still work you completed and can fix later.

Don’t get discouraged with the process.  If you have issues with a story, step back and figure out why.  Write down why you think the story or a character isn’t working (that still counts as writing).  

The key is to not allow negative self-talk and other internal forces to win the creative war.  Push yourself through the blocks, the doubt, and the problems, and you will come out the other side with work you can be proud of.

Stay Focused

It’s hard in 2021 – and soon 2022 – to disappear from the world and just focus on your writing.  It can be hard to shut the world out and focus with social media, the news, COVID, family, friends, work, and doom and gloom seemingly lurking around every corner.

I recommend finding a chaos-free zone where you have your phone off, your wi-fi off, and as few external distractions as possible when you sit down to write.  You can fact-check your story later if you need to.

This is your time to escape the real world and live in your fictional universe with your characters and story.  I can guarantee that you will not miss world peace being achieved or a cure for all illnesses being discovered while you’re hunkered down writing.

Give yourself the permission and the time to focus, and you will be glad you did.

Have Fun!

This is the most essential aspect of writing.  You have to have fun with it. You’re not writing 500-word essays for your high school literature class; you’re writing a novel, a screenplay, a play, short stories, poems, or non-fiction.  This is the fun stuff.  Enjoy the creative ride.

I believe that the passion, excitement, and joy you have while writing translates off the page to the reader or viewer.  Creative writing shouldn’t be a torturous affair; it should be fun, invigorating, energizing.  

While there is plenty of hard work involved, it’s work that should be approached from a positive place, not one of dread or resentment.  Go into each writing session open-minded, ready to write, and have a good time.

I hope these tips help you plan out your writing goals for 2022.  I know that I will make a concerted effort to write every day, complete multiple projects, and stay focused on creating fun, positive, creative writing experiences each time I start a new writing session.

Happy New Year, Happy Writing, and I’ll be back with more articles in 2022!

Book Review Tuesday – Alone in a Room: Secrets of Successful Screenwriters by John Scott Lewinski

No matter what you write, what genre you write, or your writing methods, I feel it’s always good to read about how others in the writing world approach their craft. If you are a novelist, you can still learn from screenwriters. Screenwriters can learn from playwrights. Playwrights from poets. We all have the goals to engage, entertain, and inspire, so exploring how others write in other forms is always a good idea.

Alone in a Room‘s concepts and honesty can be applied to all writers, not just screenwriters. Below is my review of the book:

It took me a while to get around to reading Alone in a Room (I’ve had it since 2004), but the other night I was thinking about the book and decided to crack it open. I wish I had done so a long time ago. John Scott Lewinski’s insights and writer interviews are filled with valuable information for both the novice and pro writer.

While the focus is on screenwriting, any writer can glean plenty of tips and tools to use in their work. Topics include dealing with deadlines, working with a partner, or working on multiple projects at once.

Lewinski finds a nice balance between giving you the hard and ugly truth about being a writer in Hollywood while keeping up the positive encouragement for you to keep on writing. 

I enjoyed this book and am surprised he hasn’t updated it to reflect the current trends in streaming, gaming, podcasts, and other avenues a writer can take. 

Despite the lack of updated material, the book still provides valuable insights and tools that any writer can use.

I recommend Alone in a Room.

What books about writing have you read and recommend? Leave a comment and let me know!

Writing Tip of the Week – Story Structure: The Beginning, Part One

Every story has a starting point, a place where the writer has decided to begin the story and launch the characters into an adventure that differs from the day-to-day normalcy of their lives.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the different aspects of the Beginning, Middle, and End of a story and what components go into each.

Let’s get started.

Where Are We?  Location, Location, Location.

The opening chapter or scene sets the stage for what’s to come.  Give us the location, the time period, and the current circumstances.  Is this a contemporary story?  Are we in Victorian England?  In a galaxy far, far away?  Give the reader descriptors that help orient them into the world of the story.  Your characters occupy a specific space at a particular time.  The beginning is where to establish these things and make sure the reader has a clear understanding.

Read the first chapter of a few novels and see how those authors establish location and time while also moving the story forward.

Who Are We With? Who’s the Story About?

Whose journey are we following?  Knowing your main character and who they are before the Inciting Incident is a key factor to ensure you know how they will react and actively pursue their goals when the new events begin to unfold.  What’s their name?  Their profession?  What relationships do they have?  What conflicts do they have in their lives?  What’s their personality?  

In his book, The Story Solution, Eric Edson lays out nine “personality traits and story circumstances that create character sympathy for an audience” (Edson 14).  These don’t all have to be used, but they are a great way to help your reader/viewer connect with your main character at the beginning of your story:

•          Courage – “brave people take action, and only action can drive the plot forward.” (15)

•          An Unfair Injury – placing your “character in a situation where blatant injustice is inflicted upon her…[it] puts the hero in a position where [they’re] compelled to DO something, take action in order to right a wrong.” (16-17)

•          Skill – “It doesn’t matter what your hero’s field of endeavor might be as long as [they’re] an expert at it.” (17)

•          Funny – “if you can bestow upon your hero a robust and playful sense of humor, do it.” (19)

•          Just Plain Nice – “We can easily care about kind, decent, helpful, honest folks, and we admire people who treat others well.” (19)

•          In Danger – “If when we first meet the hero [they’re] already in a situation of real danger, it grabs out attention right away.” (20)

•          Loved by Friends and Family – If we see that “the hero is already loved by other people, it gives us immediate permission to care about them, too.” (21)

•          Hard Working – “People who work hard have create the rising energy to drive a story forward.” (21)

•          Obsessed – “Obsession keeps brave, skilled, hard-working heroes focused on a single goal, which is enormously important to any story.” (21)

These are just a few points from the book, which I highly recommend. You can pick up a copy at the link below:

Active or Passive Protagonist?

In modern commercial fiction, the protagonist is almost always active.  This means that when things happen, they react and actively pursue a goal.  Mando in The Mandalorian is actively working to keep Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) safe from those who wish to harm him.  Mando’s inciting incident was meeting Grogu; he now has an active goal to protect him.  His actions move the story in a new direction.

Katniss in The Hunger Games actively volunteers her life to save her sister’s during the Hunger Games lottery.  She is actively involved in the decision that launches the story in a new direction.

A passive protagonist just allows things to happen around them, or they don’t do enough to try and fix what’s happening.  Even in disaster movies where the elements are out of the hero’s hands, they still are active in their attempts to save their own lives and the lives of others.  When you watch TwisterDante’s PeakSan Andreas, or Volcano, notice that while what’s happening is out of the main characters’ control, they are still actively pursuing a goal: survival.

What actions can your protagonist take to try and resolve their newfound issues?  What is their active goal, and what steps will they take to reach it?  They can try and fail, but they should be active in their attempts.

Is It Really “The Beginning”?

A story begins at a point that shows the reader/viewer the protagonist in their normal element.  We, as an audience, have to assume that this character existed before this story. We are about to see a series of events markedly different and far more interesting than a typical day in their life. 

You want to give your readers a glimpse of this world before things begin to change and move the protagonist into a new direction that they didn’t see coming.  We need to know who they are before this story starts so we can witness how the events of the story impact and change their lives by the end.

A character’s story is on a continuum.  What we are writing about and what the reader/viewer is experiencing is something out of the ordinary.  Steve Rogers (Captain America: The First Avenger), Elle Woods (Legally Blonde), and Mando (The Mandalorian) all were just doing their normal thing until a new set of circumstances took them to a new level of existence, which is…

What Starts the Journey? The Inciting Incident.

Things are pretty normal for your main character.  They’re just living their life as always when suddenly…something big happens to alter their life for the better or worse.  This is the Inciting Incident, the moment where the protagonist has to begin making choices that will launch them and us into a new storyline apart from what they are familiar with.

Your main character could be all set to go into the boss’s office to get a promotion and get fired instead.  Your main character could find out something devastating about their family that requires them to act and discover the truth.  It can be anything that jolts the main character out of their normal life and takes them on a new path.

Brainstorm some ways a character’s ordinary world can suddenly change and how your character would react to new information and their potential paths forward.

Homework

Now that you have the basics about the Beginning of a story, watch the first 15 minutes of a few movies or read the first few chapters of some novels and see how events, characters, and Inciting Incidents are introduced.  How does the main character react when something new happens?  What’s the first thing they do?  How do their actions at that moment propel the story forward?  What traits from Edson’s book are present in the main character when we first meet them?

Happy Writing, Reading and Viewing, and I’ll see you next week with more on story beginnings.

When You’re Writing, Don’t Be Afraid to Act It Out

To the casual observer, writing can appear to be a low-energy, even passive activity.  But we as writers know that this is not the case. While our fingers may be the only thing moving externally, our minds are alive and active with ideas, thoughts, dialogue, and description that help bring our story to life on paper.  

But sometimes, even in that state of inner active creativity, we can get a little stuck.  Maybe a sequence isn’t coming together as effectively on the page as you want, or there’s an element missing from the dialogue or action.  

When this happens, get out of that chair and work through the scene.  As a writer, you are the creator, director, actor, and stunt coordinator of everything in your story.  It is your job to do whatever you can to get the story right.  And if you have to workshop it in your living room like a play, that’s 100% acceptable.

Here are some ways to do it.

Get On Your Feet and Move

As Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) demonstrates in this clip from I Love Lucy, working through the emotion, the conflict, and the drama of a scene as you write can help you create more realistic dialogue and scenes. 

Reading your dialogue aloud can also be a great benefit to ensure that the characters speak like human beings and not as literary characters on a page (unless that’s the style you are aiming for).  

If you have someone to assist you, you can improvise a scene you’re having issues with and work out what problems you may be having.  Often as writers, we internalize too often.  Getting your story’s words and situations into an external space can help you see them from a better perspective and make more substantial story choices.

Make a Model

Perhaps your story has a big fight sequence or chase that involves several characters and would be complicated to stage at home.  Legos, action figures, water bottles, or even cups can be used to create a mock version of your characters (I suggest labeling the characters so they don’t get mixed up while your working).  You can use boxes or other objects to create the setting, then position your characters accordingly during the sequence.  

In doing so, you can now visually see how things would work, where the character would be positioned throughout the sequence, and how best to end the sequence given your parameters.

Seeing clear visuals can also help you see any problems, so you fix them before writing out the entire sequence.  

Hollywood does this all the time with big sequences using animatics.  While their aim is to save money on costly reshoots, your aim is to save time on headache-inducing rewrites.

Use Name Cards and Drawings

Another method can be used for even bigger sequences like a giant battle or even a murder mystery with a dinner party.  In this exercise, you write the names of all the characters on separate index cards, then use poster board or another large piece of paper to map out what the room or battlefield will look like.  Then you can move the “characters” around and see where they are in relation to other characters and locations.  

In doing so, you can see if there is logic in who is conversing with who, helping who, and fighting who depending on where they are in the diagram.

This exercise was done by the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End for the final battle involving three pirate ships, three crews of pirates, and the main cast.  As they were writing, they used the diagrams to see where characters started when the sequence began and how to effectively move them from ship to ship throughout the battle.

As you can see from the movement of characters in the clip below, this would have been very useful in the writer’s room!

With all three, I recommend filming and talking through each exercise so you don’t forget any details that may change or pop into your head while you’re working.  Once it’s done, and on the page, you can delete the footage, and no one has to know what great lengths you went through to make that big sequence work.

Happy Acting, and Happy Writing!

The Myth of the “Aspiring” Artist

I like to watch interviews with writers, actors, and other people in the arts. I find them fascinating and very educational. One of the things I find interesting is when they have a Q&A with the audience after their initial interview or talk. At the end, there’s usually an audience member who says, “I’m an aspiring writer” or “I’m an aspiring actor/actress.” This has always been a curiosity to me.

The word “aspire” or “aspiring,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “desiring and working to achieve a particular goal: having aspirations to attain a specified profession, position, etc.” I would like to change the thinking about labeling oneself as an “aspiring artist” and show you that the act of creating is not, in fact, what you are aspiring to achieve.

Are You Doing It?

If you are writing, acting, painting, sculpting, writing music, or pursuing any other endeavor, you have moved out of the aspirational category and are now actively doing that particular activity.  If you’re aspiring to write, why?  What’s preventing you from taking those steps toward writing a story, a poem, a play, or a song?  

Nothing.

When we put the word “aspiring” in front of the creative activity we wish to do, there’s the perception that it lends importance to what we want to do.  I don’t believe it does.  If you can do it, don’t dream about doing it, do it.  If you are doing it, you no longer aspire to do the activity because you are actually doing it.

Working Toward an Artistic Goal

If you have mapped out plans to write a novel or a play, are working on an album, or are working on writing and shooting a short film, these are goals within the creative realm you inhabit.  But, again, you are working toward these goals, not just thinking or hoping for them to happen on their own.  

What You Really Might Want…

The truth is that we don’t aspire to be a writer, an actor/actress, a painter, or a musician.  Our aspiration lies beyond that. It lies in our aspirations for success, money, and the ability to quit our day jobs and create full time.  This is what we want.  This is what we aspire toward.

But this should be secondary in your overarching aspirational plan.  Why?

Putting in the time, work, effort, energy, sweat, tears, frustration, excitement, and other emotions that come with creating makes you better at the art you are doing.  Your drive to create should be your focus when you’re starting out.  

Art should be your motivation, not money or fame.

Success is a byproduct of all the time you’ve spent honing your craft on your own, at home, for free.  It’s these thousands of hours of hard work that can eventually get you to where you aspire to be.  

But you have to do the work.

Final Thoughts

Aspiring toward something positive involving your art is excellent, but it should be something you can’t quickly achieve in the present.  You can write right now.  You can paint right now.  You can be creative right now.  It’s the steps after the hard work of creation are done that we aspire to: the published novel, the produced play, the award-winning poem.  

Everyone dreams of some level of success.  But the first step to getting there is to stop dreaming about it and start doing it.

You can do it!

See you next week!

Definition source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aspiring

How Not to Play the Guitar – A Writing Analogy

Happy 2021! I’m sure by now you’ve thought about some goals you’d like to achieve in the new year. Whether those goals are big or small, it’s always good to have something new and exciting to look forward to as the calendar turns back to January.  

For many people, this may involve taking up and new hobby or learning a new skill, which can lead many down a fascinating rabbit hole of reading and research that may not be as productive as they may think.  

Let’s start with an example of this: You want to learn how to play the guitar in 2021.

A great goal. You’ve thought about playing the guitar for a while. You’ve seen people you know, and also famous people do it so effortlessly that you want to enjoy making music as much as they do. You go online and decide to buy several books about playing the guitar.

You wait for the books to arrive, eagerly awaiting the guitar-playing wisdom each book will reveal. Upon their arrival, you read three, and all three present different methods about how to play the guitar.

Now, this whole time, despite having the guitar, you haven’t picked it up once. Sure, you’ve looked at it, thought about playing it, but every time you read a book about playing the guitar and feel confident about playing, you still feel you need to find the “best” way to play.

And so, you read about playing the guitar. And the guitar sits there, alone, un-played.

Now, you’ve finished the books. You’ve highlighted paragraphs, bookmarked pages, told people about the books and how exciting guitar playing is…and suddenly you feel an unforeseen pressure. Not to pick up the guitar. It’s the pressure that with all the tips, tricks, tools, and methods you’ve just learned, your brain is suddenly overwhelmed. 

Now that thing you wanted to do, that wonderful music you wanted to create, your passion for actually learning is stamped out because you spent so long reading and not doing, and you psyched yourself out of it.

This can happen to aspiring writers, too. In fact, anything creative can have the excitement and adventure of discovery killed off by reading about it instead of doing it.  

I’m guilty of this, too.

I’ve written many screenplays and have dozens of screenwriting books. Each one has a different methodology of how a screenplay’s structure is composed. While the outcome is the same – a 110-page screenplay – the rules set forth by each author differ. Read a few of these books in succession, and you’ll be confused and terrified to break the “rules” you’ve read about screenwriting.

Put the books down.  

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you know the basics? Beginning? Middle? End? Do you have characters and a setting to go with those three pieces? A central conflict? If you do, great. Sit down and write it out. No books. No rules. No worksheets.  

Just story.

Now, as you expand and craft the story, if you need guidance about how to craft good dialogue or how to show and not tell, these are when those books can come in handy. They should be seen as reference guides to help your writing, not tutorials on how to write.

We are all storytellers. We know the basics. We’ve seen movies, TV shows, plays, short films, documentaries, and read novels. As a writer, your job is to take what you already know about how stories work and make it your own. 

Much like the guitar analogy, writers must do the work to get the experience. We all start as amateurs or beginners, but you will get better with time, patience, and actual hands-on practice. While reading about it or listening to interviews is fine, don’t let that take away from doing the work yourself. Those books and interviews will always be around.

Whether it’s writing, playing the guitar, sculpting, or running a marathon, take the time to invest your time in learning by doing. Future you will be grateful.

See you next week!

Are You a Writer Who Reads?

I love to read. If I see a book I think I would enjoy, I either buy it or add it to my wish list. My coworker buys me books for my birthday and Christmas. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, I don’t Google it; I try and find a book about the topic instead.  Reading has always played a significant role in my life and my education post-school, and it’s an activity that I enjoy.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I have a feeling King knows what he’s talking about.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take the time to read.  Not books about writing, which I’ll talk about next week, but a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.  

Read Outside Your Genre

If you are an author who writes primarily in a specific genre – Young Adult, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, etc. – I encourage you to read novels that aren’t from your chosen realm. While it’s essential to know and understand your genre’s tropes, themes, and other elements, it’s equally important to see how different genres work within their various story conventions to see what you can learn. You can often glean some new bit of story structure or character development idea from a novel outside your chosen area of expertise.

Read Different Authors 

We often get comfy with a couple authors we enjoy and stick with them. Dare to pick authors you may not be familiar with and read their works as well.  Your favorite author isn’t going anywhere.  

Read Books from Other Decades

We are creatures of habit. Most of the time, if it’s a book that’s a current best-seller, or one on display at Target, it’s the book we grab to read. However, it’s also important to delve into the past and read authors whose work lives long after their passing. The classics have inspired authors for generations, and by looking at these works, you can learn new aspects of storytelling that you can possibly apply to your work.

Read History, Autobiographies, and Biographies

The real world can offer up some great story ideas, and you can learn a thing or two along the way. Real human beings, human behavior, and human drama can sometimes be more engaging and fascinating than fiction, and these types of books can give you a fresh perspective on topics you think you know about.

Read to Learn

As you read, observe how the author crafts their chapters, characters, and story arcs.  Look at how they format certain things.  For example, I’ve seen text messaging and phone calls formatted in many different ways in novels, depending on the author. 

If you found yourself up until 3 in the morning not wanting to put the books down, ask yourself why? What was it about the story, the characters, or the pacing that made you have to keep reading?  These are elements you can analyze and apply to your work as well.  

Always Go with Variety

If you’ve plotted out your 2021 reading list, consider adding books and authors you usually wouldn’t read. Maybe an author whose work you don’t enjoy, or one whose opinions bother you. Look at them less as annoying reading assignments and more like learning opportunities. Each book you open can inform your own writing methodology and how you create your worlds and story.  

And all you need to do is turn to Chapter One and start reading.

As a writer, how do you decide what books to read?  Leave a comment and let me know!

You Finished Your Manuscript! Now What?: Part Three – Feedback & The Final Edit

Welcome back. Now your manuscript is looking good. You’re happy with what you have; you’ve worked out all the problems, did an exhaustive grammar and spelling check, and made sure that continuity is solid throughout the story.  

Now, it’s time to let someone else read your work. I know, I know. This can cause a lot of anxiety for many writers. How will my work be perceived by outside eyes? Can I trust their opinions? Can I trust their judgment? Who do I ask?  

Let’s talk about it.

7a. Finding the Right Feedback Partner

I believe a feedback partner is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re in a writing class, it can be easier to find someone willing to read your work in exchange for reading theirs. But if you’re flying solo, it’s time to look at your circle of friends and see if any of them might be willing to read your work.

I highly recommend not using family members for this process. With family, it can go one of two ways: heaps of praise that don’t help you strengthen the work; or criticism that leads to a rift in the relationship. Best to avoid both scenarios and let them read the work once it’s 100% complete.

Do you have a friend who has taken an interest in your writing? Is there someone you know who has asked about what you’re working on? Maybe you know someone who has read something you’ve written in the past, and their feedback helped improve the work? This is definitely a person to ask.

If they say yes, pay them for their time. Trust me, it’s worth it. Now, they have a reason to sit down and read the manuscript: money is coming! How much? It depends on your budget, but start low and then if you like their feedback, pay them more the next time they read it.  

7b. Tell Them Exactly What You’re Looking For

Once you find your feedback partner and offer them payment, tell them what you want them to do. Be specific. “Here, read this” won’t be helpful to you, and it won’t help them focus on what you are looking for.

You can be general – “Does the story work from start to finish?” or “Did the story hook you and keep you reading?” – or, you can be specific – “When you’re reading, can you see if my main character’s arc is strong enough?” or “Can you tell me if there are any moments that don’t work, and explain why you think they don’t?” By giving your feedback partner goals, they now have things to look for and can provide direct answers to items you may have questions about.

Once you’ve set the parameters, give them a reasonable deadline (2 to 4 weeks), then leave them alone. This can be tough. You want to know where they are, what they’re thinking, and what they think, but butting in can ruin their reading flow and also break their concentration if they are reading when you contact them. If they contact you and give you a general comment (I really like the opening chapters), don’t interrogate them. A brief response is fine, but that’s it.

Your goal once they have the manuscript is to keep them reading.

7c. They’re Done and Ready to Give Feedback. Now What?

I FaceTime with my feedback partner, but you can do a Zoom call, Skype, or a regular phone call. I prefer this to receiving pages of notes from them (unless you specifically ask for that). Schedule 30 minutes for a meeting, and then let them talk first. They will likely give their overall impressions of the work and deliver positive feedback at the outset.  

All good things.

Now, you can dig deeper. Have the initial questions you wanted them to answer ready, and have them delve into those. I like the phone/video chat discussions because you can discuss any issues or problems they had with the story. Staring it pages of notes is impersonal and one-sided. Take the time to have the dialogue.

This is also the time to take off your creative hat and put on your editor hat. You need to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and not get upset or offended if they didn’t like some aspect of the story or didn’t understand something. This is your opportunity to ask them for specifics about why they didn’t like something, why they feel they didn’t understand something, or why it didn’t work for them.

Listen. Clarify. Move on.

If you agree with their view on the specific item, change it. If you don’t, keep it the way it is. But I’ve learned that if you allow your feedback partner to be honest, so they don’t just tell you what you want to hear, they are pretty spot-on with finding issues that need fixing, clarity, or plot holes.

And that only helps strengthen your story even more.

Answer all their questions. If they wonder about something, or a character, or a moment that isn’t clear, write it down to look at later.

Once the session is over, pay them immediately if you are using PayPal, Venmo, or another payment app, process what you’ve heard, then get back to your manuscript the next day.

7d. Putting the Feedback to Good Use

If you liked their feedback, ask them if they want to be your feedback partner. If they yes, that’s great. If not, you have their feedback and can use that to make the next draft stronger. Take the time to go through their comments and see where they can be applied to make the story, characters, other aspects better.

I suggest giving all their feedback strong consideration. Sometimes there’s something in the story we’re holding onto that we really think works, but it falls flat to a reader or takes them out of the story. Be mindful of these comments. If your feedback partner makes it a point to say that something in the story took them out of the story, definitely consider cutting it. It could save your story in the long run.

7e. Back for Round Two, Three, Four…

Once you have made the changes – and probably made more on your own as you went through – send it back to your feedback partner with new questions for them to answer. Repeat the process as many times as you, your feedback partner, and your budget allows.  

BLOGGER’S NOTE: There are editing/feedback services available online that you are free to use if you don’t want to ask a friend. As a self-publishing author with a tight budget, these services can often get a bit pricey, so doing a little DIY for your first few books can be a less expensive way to get the job done. But, if you want to use these services, I encourage you to do so, just do some research to find one that fits your budget and will do a professional job.

8. The Final Edit/Polish

At some point, your manuscript will be done…or done enough. It’s tempting to always want to tinker with a line of dialogue, a description, or other minutiae, but you have to tell yourself that it’s ready to publish at some point.

The way I know is when I stop thinking/obsessing over the story. My mind moves on to other projects, and this manuscript is no longer at the forefront. That’s when I’m pretty sure I’ve done all I can to make this story the best it can be at this time.

It’s time to let go and let others enjoy what you’ve created.

I hope you found these posts helpful. If you are a writer who has any advice to add, please leave a comment.

You can read about my self-publishing experience with The Field by clicking here.

See you next week!