Posted in writing advice

Writing at the Holidays: Keeping Momentum Going

The holiday season is here again. Bakers are baking. Shoppers are shopping. And writers, well, we are having an existential crisis.

Writing during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is hard. It’s easy to fall behind. So how do you keep things going when everything else is calling your name? There is no one answer, but here are a few things I’ve tried in the past to keep moving forward without losing what is left of my sanity.

  • Schedule Writing Time

I know I’ve discussed scheduling time before, but it is even more important during the holidays. It doesn’t matter how long it is. Maybe it’s 15 minutes right before bed or 5 minutes while you’re waiting in the school pick-up line. Even if it is only a few minutes, the work you get done adds up. It is better to do a small amount of work than lose all the momentum you worked so hard to gain.

  • Set Smaller Goals

You will not be able to get as much done as you usually do without losing your mind. It’s not going to happen. So, pull back on those lofty goals for a minute and set something a little more reasonable. Try cutting your goals in half, or even a third, until the Season of Giving stops trying to give you a migraine.

  • Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break

Okay. I know this is supposed to be about how to keep writing during the holidays but hear me out. Overly stressed people produce lower-quality work. While being Super Writer may make you feel more accomplished now, future you will pay for it. They will have to do twice as much editing. They may even burn out altogether. Let yourself say enough is enough and stop if you need to. Protecting your mental health and well-being will make you a better writer in the long run. Trust me.  

The holidays are crazy. Don’t be afraid to make some adjustments to take care of yourself and keep what is really important in front of you. . . your loved ones.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Posted in resources, writing advice

It’s All In How You Look At It: A Crash Course in Point of View

Last time, we talked about voice and how we can use it to bring our characters to life. There’s another thing to consider that often gets confused for voice in writing, and that’s point of view or POV.

Point of view deals with the perspective of who is telling the story. There are a lot of subcategories when discussing POV, but to keep things simple, I’m only going to talk about the most basic form for now.

The two most common POVs are first and third person. First-person is telling the story as if you are the main character. It uses predominantly “I” pronouns when giving the main character’s thoughts and actions. “I am doing this.” This can be a bit more immersive for the reader, but it limits you to only being able to focus on one perspective.

Third person uses he/she/they pronouns and puts the narrator outside the action. They are observers looking down on the action and relaying the information to the reader. “She is doing this.” Third person allows you to have more viewpoints and see other parts of the story by involving more characters. Just be careful you aren’t head-hopping, jumping perspective, from one sentence to the next and confusing your readers. 

There is one more POV out there. It’s not seen in many publications, but it can be a fun way for your readers to experience the story as it makes them the main character.

It’s called second person and uses “you” pronouns to make the reader feel like they are the ones doing the action. “You are doing this.” This one can be tough to write in. You have to be careful with descriptions to avoid pulling your reader out of the story. Describing a character that looks completely different from your reader when they are supposed to be the one in the story will break the illusion and ruin the experience for your readers. They need to be as featureless as possible so that the reader can superimpose themselves onto the character.

While POV is not the same as voice, it is just as important. It is the lens through which your reader will experience the story. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different POVs to see which one works best for your style and suits your characters.

Posted in resources, writing advice

What Is Voice?

One of fiction’s biggest trends is having “voicy” characters. But what does that mean, and how does it affect the story?

Voice is not the same as Point of View (POV). Voice makes an author’s writing unique. It conveys attitude and personality. POV refers to who is telling the story. (i.e., 1st and 3rd person)

The two types of voice authors run into most in fiction are character and narrator. Even in 1st person, these are not the same. Character voice will deal with how the character speaks to others. The phrases they use. Favorite words. That kind of thing. Narrator is how they tell a story. While it may be similar, it’s not identical.

Developing both kinds of voice is crucial in developing your overall writing style. Some ways to get into your character voice are to write things as them. Write letters to other characters or journal as your characters. This helps you get into their headspace and understand them better.

Narration has a little more wiggle room. This is where authors can let some of their personality shine a bit more. Keep in mind, some genres have certain expectations. For example, fantasy novels tend to have a lot of descriptions. They have to build a new world in a way contemporary romance doesn’t have to. While world-building is just as important in both, we approach it differently.

One thing you can do to help define your narrator’s voice is to look at popular novels in your genre and see if there are any common themes or traits that pop up. Do they use colloquialisms? Is it shorter one to two-syllable words, or do they like to go for the fifty-cent words with four or more syllables? Whatever the case, your voice is up to you.

The biggest thing to remember with voice is to be yourself. Emulating your favorite authors is great, but if you aren’t true to yourself, it will show, and your writing will suffer.

Posted in resources, writer life, writing advice

Community Connections

Everybody needs people. Introverts, hold your horses. I know what you’re thinking. “No, I don’t. Introverts don’t need people.” I beg to differ. We all need a community that can rally around us and support us in reaching our goals. This is especially true for writers.

While writing is a solo activity, writers can’t succeed in a vacuum. We need people around us to support us in our journey. I don’t care if it is your first book or your thousandth. Having a group of fellow writers that can talk you off a ledge or help you work through the story issues causing chaos in your brain will get you a lot farther, a lot faster than trying to slog through it all on your own.

Writing communities are also a great place to find beta readers and street team members. We need people we can rely on to help us out. I can’t tell you the number of times someone signed up to be a beta reader or help promote my book and didn’t follow through, but do you know who has always followed through for me? Other writers.

We are all in the same boat. We understand how important these things are and will help each other reach our goals.

Fellow authors are fantastic resources. By networking with other writers, you can learn about the latest trends in your genre, best marketing practices, and much more. 

The hardest part about a writing community is finding one, and even that isn’t difficult. Facebook has a wide variety of reader and writer groups. Doing a quick search will yield more results than you can shake a stick at. Look around and see if you find one that sounds right. And remember, just because you join doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Finding the right writing group is like finding the perfect pair of pants. Sometimes you have to live in them for a while before you find the right fit.

NaNoWriMo is another excellent way to find fellow writers. While the event may only be one month out of the year, several groups continue to interact all year long. They even offer home region groups that can meet in person if you do better with face-to-face interaction.

Speaking of face-to-face, don’t forget to check with your local library. See if yours has a writing group. Or even a book club. Telling an avid reader you are working on a novel and would like their feedback is like dangling a seal in front of a Great White. They will jump at the chance to be a part of the process. 

There’s nothing quite like a kick-ass writing community to help you achieve your goals. They offer insight and feedback. They encourage you when you’re down, and they will party like there is no tomorrow when you get it right. Step out on a limb and connect with a community of your own. It is well worth it.

Posted in writing advice

The Power of the Skinny Draft

 There are a thousand ways to draft a novel. They can be broken down by scene, chapter, character. The list goes on. They can be told in order or have scenes shuffled around like a deck of cards. A method I’ve learned about more recently is the skinny draft. A skinny draft is a complete draft that focuses on placing the plot elements in the correct order with minimum description. It can contain dialog and locations, but describing the setting and emotion is left at a bare minimum.

I know what you’re about to say. Erin, aren’t we supposed to use description and emotion in our stories? Of course we are. Those are the things that bring a story to life, but that doesn’t mean you have to have every possible detail in your first draft.

A skinny draft is designed to get you to a completed draft as quickly as possible. A lot of writers struggle with feeling discouraged because of the time it takes to complete their first draft. This method shortens that time and gives you a little shot of dopamine to help you stay motivated.

Another benefit of the skinny draft is the ability to learn more about your characters

and plot without having to sort through a massive word count. This can be doubly important for discovery writers or pantsers. Answering the “what happens next?” question can eliminate the need for as many drafts because the plot is solidified much faster.

While skinny drafts can keep you from writing a bunch of words that end up in the trash can, it is not a method that works for everyone.

I used the skinny draft method on my current WIP. It helped me identify issues a lot quicker, but I found that the overall process is going a lot slower for me.

I am an over-writer by nature. (Remember my friend’s wordy bitch comment?) My style tends to include a lot of fluff that must be cut later, but that is also how I learn more about my characters. It is much easier for me to take stuff out than put it in. Without those details early on, I don’t feel as connected to my characters. This makes it harder for me to keep working on it because I’m not as invested in their journey.

 Regardless of your method, ensuring you get to the end is the most important part.

 How do you do your first draft? Have you tried using a skinny draft? What method works best for you?

Posted in resources, writer life, writing advice

Lessons Learned: Book Signing Events

One of the many things I never thought I’d have to do when I decided to become an author was public speaking. My mentality was that book signings are only for big-name authors. Nobody is going to want a signed copy from a debut indy author. They only want best-sellers. Boy, was I wrong.

I recently did a book signing at a public library near where I grew up. I loved every minute of it, but there were a few things I could have been better prepared for. Here are a few takeaways I have after being a part of my first author event.

BRING MORE BOOKS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED
People love signed books. I thought that since this event was in such a small town, I wouldn’t need very many books. The library was packed to the gills. I could have sold twice as many books if I’d had them. Next time, I’ll double the number of books I take. Turning people away because you are out of books is a terrible feeling.

BE READY FOR SOME NON-BOOK/WRITING QUESTIONS
I’m a prepper. I spent time reviewing interview transcripts from authors I follow to try and see what kind of questions I would have to answer. I wasn’t prepared for the questions about me and my life. People find it fascinating that you were able to write a book and want to know about you. Not just your work.

HAVE SWAG AND TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT
Everybody loves free stuff. Having a few free giveaways on your table is a must. This will help people find your book later if you run out, and it helps promote your brand. Just be sure you tell people you have it before they start coming up. The transition from Q&A to signing was so fast that I forgot to tell people I had bookmarks and pens they could have for free until they got up to the table. It does no good to have swag if nobody knows to take it.

DON’T FORGET TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT
I feel like this one should have been obvious, but I totally forgot it. I introduced myself and gave a bit of my background, but it took somebody asking me what my book was about for me to give the synopsis. Embarrassing, I know. Maybe lead with that one next time.

Author events are a fun way to get your book in front of readers and interact with them. While no two events are the same, it’s always good to cover the basics. Do some prep work ahead of time to be prepared when that inevitable curveball arrives.

Posted in Uncategorized, writing advice

Walk Away: Getting Space From Your Work

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Writing is hard. This is readily accepted, but what many of us never talk about is that it never really gets any easier. We expect more of ourselves as we gain experience and learn more about our craft. This can leave the door open for impostor syndrome to wreak havoc on our writing lives.

This is something I’ve been dealing with lately. My edits seemed to take my WIP farther away from where I wanted it to be. Every time I sat down to write, all I could think about was how god awful it was and how inept I was at fixing it. I was seconds away from setting it all on fire and walking away. That’s when I realized I needed some perspective.

On nearly every project, every writer will reach a point where they want to rip their work to shreds and call it a day. It’s the nature of the beast. So what do we do when we get like this? How can we possibly find a way to pick back up and move forward when we are convinced our work is a steaming pile of cow dung? 

I reached out to some of my friends in the writing community for advice. I asked my personal circle and left messages on several writer community pages I am a part of. Everyone came back with the same basic answers. Space. Recharge. Critique.

I can’t resist a Supernatural reference.

Stepping away from a project is challenging. At least for me. I am one of those 100% completion kind of people. I will spend hours aimlessly exploring one tiny section in a video game. I make sure I find all the hidden items and mine as much XP from it as possible from the game. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it tenfold. There is no halfway. However, there are times when you just need to back away. Set the project aside for a while. And I’m not talking for a few hours. I’m talking days. Months even. It’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in the cycles of fruitless effort that we may as well just sit and bang our heads on our keyboards for as much good as it’s doing us. Getting some space from your work allows you to return to it with fresh eyes and see it in a new light.

This is how I picture my brain.

I know I have referenced the spoon theory in previous posts, but I’m not sure if I’ve told you all about the “hamster wheel.” I often refer to my brain’s ability to function like a hamster wheel. When things are clicking, the hamster is running for all he’s worth without a care in the world. Those are good days. They are productive and leave me feeling accomplished. Then there are the days when I’ve exhausted the hamster. He’s just laying on the wheel, one little leg hanging off the side, gently rocking it back and forth just enough to keep essential bodily functions operational. Anything beyond that is simply out of the question. Don’t exhaust your hamster. Give it a rest and do something else to recharge your brain. Better yet. Try to do something that has nothing to do with books or writing. Watch a movie. SLEEP. Drink a cup of tea on the porch while watching squirrels chase each other. Whatever it looks like, let your hamster rest so he can get back on the wheel and keep running.

Me starting the editing process.

As authors, we spend a lot of time with our stories. It takes an average of three to five years to finish a novel. That’s a long time. Because we spend so much time in these worlds, our perspective of them can be a bit skewed. We know things about our characters and settings that never see the page. It may be useless drabble. Or it could be a crucial piece of their character that informs the overall plot. Regardless of what it is, we are too close to the work and need an outsider’s perspective. Finding a small group of fellow writers to read your work with a critical eye and provide feedback is invaluable. It lets you see where your story stands from a reader’s perspective while having a writer’s keen eye. They can help you brainstorm solutions to problems they find and pick you up along the way.

Regardless of the route you take, give yourself some grace. What you are trying to accomplish is not an easy task. It takes time. So give yourself some space from your work. Recharge your battery, and get some fresh perspective. It just might save your sanity and keep your WIP alive.

Posted in writer life, writing advice

Giving Up vs Getting Smart

I think we’ve all heard the phrase “don’t be a quitter” at some point in our lives. Giving up has this negative connotation attached to it that I tend to agree with. Throwing your hands up in the air and saying “ta hell with it” because something is difficult is never the way to go. But what if you want to explore another path to the same destination?

That’s what I ran into with NaNoWriMo this year. The traditional goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I decided to go non-traditional and set a goal of finishing my first round of rewrites on the manuscript I won NaNo with last year.

It was going to be a heavy lift. I had to remove a POV, add a subplot, and fix a litany of general storytelling issues. The plan was to take the detailed notes I’d compiled during the drafting process and edit as I went. I knew the story well enough to start at the top and make the needed changes as I read through it. At least, that’s what I thought.

A week and a half into NaNo, I realized I was creating more problems than I was fixing. So I had two options; press on to win NaNo and fix it all later, or stop and take everything back to outline to get it right the first time.

I’m very goal-driven. The thought of not reaching a goal is crushing to me, so the idea that I wouldn’t win NaNo was devastating. I reached out to a fellow author friend of mine for advice, and they pointed something out to me. The only reason I was hesitating was NaNo. Not getting through the first rewrite in November wouldn’t impact my publishing timeline. In fact, forcing myself to keep going could do more harm than good because of the additional rounds of self-editing I would need. I wasn’t giving up; I was getting smart.

They were right. Not reaching my goal, while unpleasant, didn’t mean I was a quitter. It meant I was learning more about my writing process and what works best. 

I learned that pantsing of any variety doesn’t work for me. Stopping a process that is not working in favor of a new one, does not mean you quit. It means you learned and adapted. As long as I keep working on my manuscript, I’m not a failure.

Changing course is not giving up. It’s allowing yourself to find the most direct route to your ultimate goal.

Posted in publishing, writing advice

SORTING THROUGH THE NOISE: HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF BETA READER FEEDBACK

The words are a giant blur. You’ve read them so many times that they have burned themselves into the grooves on of your brain. You know the story by heart. Every detail. Every phrase. And therein lies the problem.

We become so close to our stories that it’s hard to see the flaws. It doesn’t have to be on the page. We know the backstory, the nuances. It makes it nearly impossible for us to spot issues because we know it so well. That’s where beta readers come in. A beta reader is someone who reads an unfinished manuscript and provides feedback on the overall story, characters, and so on.

Beta reader feedback is as wide and varied as the individuals giving it. Each reader will each have their own preferences and styles. They will all find different things in your story, and the more betas you have, the more feedback you have to sort through. It can easily be overwhelming. Here are a few quick tips to help make sorting through the muck and mire a bit more bearable.

Give your betas specific questions.

If you ask someone to tell you what they think about the story. They are likely to give you vague answers. “I liked it.” “This character was cool.” While that can be fun to hear, it’s not going to make your story better. Limit the risk of unhelpful feedback by asking about specific characters, settings, scenes… whatever you’d like. Just make sure you provide them with a question that requires more than a one- or two-word response.

Look for common themes.

Somebody once told me that every book is somebody’s favorite. There is also a flip side to that. That same book will be someone’s least favorite. That’s why you can’t take a single comment too seriously. If Sally is the only one that doesn’t like the allegator chasing the protagonist out of the moat, maybe it’s okay to leave it there. But if the vast majority of your beta readers tell you John is hateful in a scene where you want him to be funny, you should probably look at rewriting it. Read through all the feedback. If something is mentioned more than twice, give it a closer look.

Take everything with a grain of salt.

The whole purpose behind this madness is to find the flaws in your writing. Yes, we all want everyone to love our work and tell us how amazing we are, but that’s not what we are doing here. If that’s all you want out of your betas, give your story to a relative you adore and let them give you feedback. They’ll tell you your great, but your story won’t get any better. Understand that you are asking for readers to point out the issues. They will find things they like too, but if that’s all they tell you about, then you are wasting your time.

Beta feedback is hard to manage. That’s all there is too it, but if you take a careful, well-constructed approach, you’ll come through it just fine.

What tips and techniques have you used to sort through the feedback you’ve received? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted in writer life, writing advice

Lessons From Life’s Curveballs

You look at the calendar and see a date circled in big red ink. It’s the moment you’ve been working towards. You’ve dreamed of this moment for as long as you can remember. Your lips curl into the barest hint of a smile. The day is finally here, but it’s not what you expected. Your smile falls along with your spirits as your dreamed of publication date passes you by.

I know this feeling all too well. My original plan was to publish Batter Days in Fall 2020. As you can see, that clearly didn’t happen. A house fire in January 2019 left my childhood home in ashes and my parents homeless. I spent the next five months driving three and a half hours one way every weekend to help them rebuild. That, along with a litany of other unforeseen issues, left me running on little more than fumes. Rewrites took twice as long as I’d expected. Then 2020 happened. Do I really need to go into details? After all of that, this year kicked off with my editor falling through and having to start the search all over again. 

Life has gotten in the way more times than I can count with publishing my debut novel. I’ve had to push things back and rework timelines over and over again. It sucks! There’s no two ways about it, but dealing with these delays has taught me some valuable life lessons.

LESSON 1: EVALUATE YOUR PRIORITIES

Writing is important. Every writer understands that, but there are going to be times in your life that it will have to take a back seat. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean writing isn’t important. Stepping back to take care of family, your mental and physical health, or whatever else may go on is okay. Spend a little time being honest with yourself. Look at what is in front of you and decide what is most important at that moment. It doesn’t mean you’ll be in the same spot forever. Give yourself some grace and focus on what you need most right now. The writing will be there when you come back.

LESSON 2: ADJUST YOUR GOALS

I’m a very goal driven person. Always have been. You put a target in front of me, and I am going to go all out until I hit it. Goals are phenomenal. I’ll be the first person to tell you that, but if I have learned anything in the last few years, it’s this: there comes a time in everyone’s life where you have to adjust your goals in order to better yourself, take care of family, and live a life you can be proud of. Adjusting a goal does not mean you failed. It means you recognize your current situation and reframe your focus. For me, that was pushing back publication. The stress and strain of my self-imposed deadline was detrimental to my mental health. Rather than letting myself wallow in shame for missing my mark, I adjusted my goal so that I could continue to move forward.

LESSON 3: REMEMBER TO BREATHE

This sounds simple. Breathing is automatic. No conscious thought is required for each inhale and exhale, but the breathing I’m talking about is not a simple expansion and contraction of the lungs. I’m talking about taking a moment to center yourself. We get so wrapped up in everything that is going on and what we need to do that we often forget how important it is to just breath. Take a moment. Relax. Regroup. Then get back out there and work to get it done.

Dealing with delays sucks. Having anything in your life derailed is never fun, but if you can take a moment evaluate what is happening and take a step towards a more advantageous future overall, then you’ll always come out a winner.