Writing Prompt #4

You’ve heard a particularly unsavory rumor about your best friend. What  is the rumor? Who is spreading it and why? Is the rumor true? What do you do about it? Write at least 250 words.

If you’re feeling brave, share your writing in the comments. If not, feel free to discuss the exercise.

What Are You Writing Problems?

No, really. I want to know. What are the parts of writing that are difficult for you? What has been difficult in the past? I want to know what your struggles are, so that I can address your needs. Let me know what your challenges are in the comments, and we can discuss them.

5 Ways to Stay Sane When Your Plot Changes

Improve Your Writing By Sticking To an Idea

You’ll sit down to write, and things are going well. You’ll pause to think, and you come up with a great new idea that will make your story better, so you scribble a note on the margin of your outline. You start working on your new idea in, and then Bam! You get another idea.

Well, the last one is panning out well so far, and this new one just makes it all flow better, so you cross out a few lines on your old plan, draw some arrows on your outline, and start moving towards the new idea. Then you get this other great new idea, but now you have to stop. You’ve changed so much that you can’t even see the story for all the changes.  Your draft is a mess of dead ends leading nowhere, and you can’t even remember what you were trying to accomplish with it in the first place.

This changing and rechanging of plot ideas has happened to me many times, and I’m sure it’s happened to you, too. I like to think of changing plots more as evolutions of the story, but it doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s going to happen. You can count on it. If it already has happened to you, then bet that it will happen again. No matter how much plotting or pantsing you do, your story will undoubtedly change in some unexpected way. So what can you do about it to keep yourself from screaming?

1. Take a Break

You may be itching to get to work on your shiny new story ideas, but that may not be a good plan.  If you’ve had several changes to your original plan, your head is probably spinning, and it may be time for a break.  When we’re writing, we love creativity, but maybe your mind has been stuck in inspiration mode.  Writing is a delicate balance between creativity and logic, and you may be in creative overload.

If you think you really need to change your story, you may be right, and some time away from your draft might give you a bit of perspective to make the right decision. It probably is not a good time to start writing when the wheels are still spinning, and so is your head, so get some air, take the afternoon off, do whatever you have to do to clear your mind.

2. Revisit Your Original Idea

Usually when I’m having idea overload on a particular story, I find that the changes usually center on some problem I have ignored or avoided. It’s easy to jump into new ideas when you’re coming up with your story, and there is even a lot to be said for working it out as you go, but maybe your subconscious is telling you that there is a problem and it’s trying to come up with solutions. I would caution you not to assume that there is a problem, but this is a great time to look for one. Usually I know exactly what it is if I’m being honest with myself. Is the idea flawed? If so, then you may need to look at some of your new ideas or come up with other ones to solve the problem. Once you’ve identified the issue, you can think through your options for fixing it.

3. Weigh Your Options

If you’ve determined that there is a problem or that the story can be improved, chances are that you have identified several ways to improve your story. Sometimes deciding is tricky. You may have two or three great, but totally different ideas that might all work, and in that case, you may have to go with whatever excites you. In these situations, I try to think about what feels most natural for the story, what is the closest to my original concept of the story, and whether the new idea is really a new story that I’m forcing into this context or if it truly does fit. You still may have trouble deciding, and at that point it may be wise to discuss the ideas with a writing buddy or trusted friend. He or she may be able to shed some insight. Also, keep in mind what is usually done in your genre.  Would this new idea change the genre, or is it overdone in your genre? Maybe you are trying to conform to your idea of what the story should be like when your idea is totally different. Don’t make changes for the sake of someone else. Make changes that will truly benefit the story.

4. Go with It

Once you have a fair idea about what you want to do, you have to go with it.  Find what you can get excited about and write that sucker! It can be scary to commit to one idea, but you’ll never finish if you don’t, so work on sticking to the idea.

5. Stay the Course

While you’re writing, particularly something long, such as a novel, you may have more ideas as you work. Start thinking through your ideas again like you did before, but don’t change anything unless it’s addressing a problem. Of course we all want to listen to our great ideas, but if you change the story too many times, you’ll never finish, and you’ll find yourself writing a completely different novel.  Solve major problems, such as ones that mean the plot cannot go on, if you need to, but try not to resist changing as much as possible and just write.  Make notes of your ideas, finish the draft, and then weigh your ideas. You can review your ideas later, and if any of them seem particularly good for the draft you finished, you can add them in after you finish to help flesh out the story.

If you keep trying to make too many changes while you write, you’ll keep rewriting your scenes and never get to the ending. You’ll end up with a messy draft with major holes from each change you made, and it will make editing the draft more difficult. Besides, you never really know what will work for your story until you get to the end anyway. Push for finishing, then address your new ideas.

Have you had a plot change on you while you wrote? What did you do about it? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

Writing Roundup – The Best Writing Advice This Week

Here’s a list of some of the best writing articles I’ve seen this week:

Tuesday Tip on Write of Passage – This is a great resource for new novelists all about starting your novel. This post includes background information on what is needed in a scene and a helpful lists of things you shouldn’t do at the beginning of your novel.

The Craft of Voice – Guest post on Vine Leaves Literary Journal by JJ Marsh – This is a great beginner’s introduction to Voice including tense and point of view. Check it out if you’ve ever been confused about these topics.

How to Write a Book: The 5 Draft Method – Jeff Goins on Goins Writer – This article breaks down the 5 draft method for writing a book. This can be really useful if you’re starting a novel or another long project and you’re unsure just how all those drafts will work.

One Surprising Way to Write Better – Emily Wenstrom on The Write Practice – Surprising, but valuable advice on the importance of rest to writers.

Have you seen any great articles this week? Share a link in the comments.

 

Tomorrow is Positive Thinking Day

Improve Your Writing

Writers can be a particularly negative bunch. My draft sucks. I was rejected again. My editor wants me to change too much. No one wants to read my book. My beta readers didn’t understand my plot.

There are so many negative experiences in writing, especially when you factor in criticism and critiques, but letting those negative thoughts take over your writing holds you back. When you think negatively, you expect failure, which teaches you fear.

Fear is often the number one reason writers struggle to create. Fear holds you back from writing something wonderful, or it can keep you from writing altogether. Banish negativity and fear with positive thinking.

Positive thinking is a powerful tool in writing. With so many writing fears, it can be a huge factor in your success. In honor of positive thinking day, we need to practice thinking positively and see how it affects your work. We’re going to work on pushing through all those negative thoughts because what you’re doing is worth it.

Understand Your Fears

Before you can tackle your fears, you need to understand where they are coming from. What are the negative thoughts about your writing that keep coming back to you? When do you have most of your negative thoughts? Is it when you’re writing or before you start? What do the negative thoughts focus on? Is it your abilities? Is it your chances of publication?

Once you understand the nature of your thoughts, you can focus on eliminating their impact on your work. For positive thinking day, I want you to take the fears you’ve identified and do three specific exercises that will help you work though your fears.

Here’s your homework:

1. Every time you have a negative thought, doubt, or fear about your writing tomorrow, think of two positive thoughts about your work. Maybe your dialogue is a little rough, but I’m sure you have an awesome concept and a great protagonist that make you want to keep working.

2. Think of three key reasons why you want to write. Write them down on a piece of paper and hang it above your writing space. If you’d prefer, you can also type it and make it your desktop on your computer.

3. Think of three reasons why the manuscript you’re working on is worth finishing. If nothing else, think about the practice you’ll get from completing it. Make a plan to help yourself combat the negative thinking as you work on your draft. Write down at least two things you can do to make finishing easier on yourself. It may be ignoring your own criticisms while you finish your first draft, or maybe it’s talking to a supportive friend. You might work on a skill or anything else you think will help you. Once you have your plan, try to put it into action for long-term success.

Let’s talk about your homework in the comments. I want to hear about you positive thoughts, your reasons for writing, and how you intend to finish your manuscript.

Improve Your Writing With Two Simple Exercises

Improve Your Writing

I’ll bet you didn’t know that was a thing. I didn’t until recently. Still, when I heard about it, I immediately thought about swapping ideas can benefit writers. We tend to be a solitary bunch, especially since our work requires us to think alone, and people can be a distraction. Many of us, including me, are introverts, and we don’t want to share our ideas with others, but it can benefit your work to change your process. In honor of the holiday I have two exercises for you to try:

When you’re facing a creative block, swapping ideas with another writer can be a great way to generate exercises for writing practice. You can take turns suggesting exercises for the other and give them a try. It’s always fascinating to hear the ideas of others, and it may lead you to come up with new approaches or topics you hadn’t considered before. Talk to another writer or even a creative friend. Come up with five prompts or ideas each and swap. Try writing about your favorite idea from your friend’s list. If you enjoyed the exercise, do it again.

Another time it can be beneficial to swap ideas is when you’re working on a difficult draft of your manuscript. Maybe you’re stuck, or you’re unsure what’s missing from the writing. Try talking through your ideas with another writer or creative friend and listen to his or her feedback. He or she may have some great ideas that could help you work through your block.

Lets discuss your practice in the comments. Which exercise did you do, and how did it go? Did it help you? 

11 Essential Traits of Talented Writers (And How to Learn Them)

Be a better writer

I’ve heard many times the argument over whether writers are born or made. Can you teach someone to write, or is it inborn talent? I think that argument is too simple. I think the question should be what is talent, and how do we foster it? I’m not talking about knowledge of story structure and principles of grammar. I’m talking about the intangibles that make great writers great:

1. Love of words

I think this is common sense. A passion for words is the most important requirement for writers. You won’t get far in putting words on paper if you can’t stand them. Talented writers are lovers of words and communication. They appreciate the nuances of how words convey meaning. They are never satisfied with a decent word when there is a better one, and they have a good understanding of when there is a better one, even if they don’t know what it is yet. They are unafraid of playing with sentence structures and never doubt the power of language.

As a writer, studying words and grammar is a necessity to the craft. You must understand how to use words and language effectively to convey meaning. Make a study of the works of other writers.  Look at how Nabokov plays with language in Lolita. Learn about how Shakespeare crafted at least 1300 new words and many phrases when existing ones did not fit his purpose, which we still use today, by the way.

2. Love of reading

Good writers are made from good readers. I haven’t heard of a successful writer yet who hates to read. How can a writer grow and learn if she isn’t concerned with the works of other writers? How can a writer build on the work of past writers if he never reads them? How can she know a good story if she never experiences them for herself?

Reading makes writers better. It stretches us and teaches us. It gives us successes and failures that are lessons. We learn about the elements of a story and about how words work together to tell it. Reading teaches us about genre, about conventions, about how to take valuable risks. It teaches us about compassion and emotion and how words can convey feeling. Reading is essential practice for a writer. Read everything you can. Read fiction, drama, poetry, nonfiction, manuals, textbooks, anything you can get your hands on. Read widely. Read to learn. Pay attention not only to story, but to how the writer accomplished his or her task.

3. Curiosity

One often-overlooked trait of good writers is insatiable curiosity. Writers must ask questions and love learning to generate ideas or to decide how to present them correctly. They must be open to new ideas.

Question everything you know. Ask questions of everyone you know. Don’t accept something because it’s common knowledge, or because others say so. Be passionate about learning and follow your interests to new ideas.

4. Tough skin

Even the best writers face criticism. It is impossible to be universally liked, and taste is a fickle thing. You will fail as a writer, and you will have successes, but understand that your successes can often feel like failures when you listen to the criticism. Good writers may listen to criticism, but they move past it. It doesn’t hold them back. The best writers learn that they can’t please everyone and don’t try to appease everyone. They have learned that for a work to be a success, it must please one person, and if it please others along the way, so be it.

Get used to readers not appreciating your work. Learn to understand the difference between criticism to help your work and criticism due to taste. Ignore the latter. Taste is fickle, and when people don’t like your work, that’s their problem. Learn to accept valid criticism about how to make your work better from editors and other writers. Practice by finding beta readers, critique partners, and writing groups.

5. Stamina

Writing isn’t a quick way to earn success. The act of putting words on the page, one after another, takes time and effort. Writing a story can take hours or days, and a novel even longer. Then there’s editing. Then there’s the wait for submissions. During the process, no one will tell a writer that his or her work is needed. No one says, “Writer, I think the one thing missing from the world is your novel.” The writer must motivate herself to finish. He must work tirelessly on a manuscript with no promise of success. She must lock herself alone in a room and writer. Oh, and did I mention that writing is lonely? You have to be okay with being alone with your own company for a long time.

Write when you’re tired. Write when you’re lonely. Write when you’re sad. Write when your story is driving you crazy. The only way you’ll be a writer is to write. Put in the long hours and the hard work, and you will see the benefit of practice. You will benefit from completed drafts. You’ll learn a lot about the process.

6. Daring

Good writers take risks. It isn’t about what is popular or what will sell. Writing is about telling a story and doing what needs to be done to make it work. Good writers take risks with plot, character, setting, grammar, and every other element of a story. They play with language and structure and make it work for them, rather than chaining themselves to outmoded conventions that do nothing for the work. Good writers understand the rules, and break them. More importantly, they understand when to break them. They don’t take risks for risk’s sake, but they are unafraid of the risks when necessary.

Don’t break rules for the sake of breaking them, but don’t be afraid to break rules when it will help your writing. Don’t shy away from subjects because they may hurt feelings. Don’t stay away from topics because you’re afraid of how you’ll be perceived. Learn when taking risks is beneficial. The best literature does not exist because it was easy or safe to write. It is great because it challenges ideas or challenges readers. Sometimes it challenges the writers.

7. Emotional strength

Good writers are unafraid of good stories, even if they are painful to write. They don’t shy away from the difficult ones. In fact, they embrace them. They don’t worry about what the public or their families will think if they write on certain topics. They don’t worry about perceptions, they simply create their art.

They have the emotional strength to subject themselves to sadness and fear. They brave the darkest places in their own minds if it means they can create a better story. They test their own emotions and capture them for audiences.

Try writing about your person traumas. Write about what scares you. Write about what makes you sad or angry. Those are the subjects that you can write well about because you are passionate about them. Don’t write something because it’s easy. Stay away from writing something that doesn’t challenge you. Write what challenges you. When you leave your work, you should be emotionally drained, but you should be proud of the challenge of tackling your own monsters.

8. Understanding of human nature

Good writers have a finely developed sense of the essences of human nature. They understand how people act and react. They understand tensions under the surface. They recognize subtleties of character and speech. They understand that when faced with a decision, humans make said decision one way because that is how their natures allow them to react. Writers don’t look at the other humans in their life merely as company and entertainment. They dissect interactions. They watch. They listen. They learn, then they create.

Spend time watching and listening. Don’t always be the first to jump into a conversation. Try to understand what lies beneath the surface of each person you meet. What are the struggles that challenge each person? How do underlying tensions affect his or her behavior? Make it your goal to study people. Ask them tough questions about the meaning of life, about love, about emotions, about perspectives. Get to the root of human nature.

9. Desire to improve

A good writer understands when her skills are lacking and attempts to improve them. He understands when a story isn’t quite right and tries to find the solution. The act of writing is the act of constant growth and change. Writers want to adapt to become better and look for ways to grow. They seek feedback. They try to learn from mistakes. They want to discuss craft with other writers in hopes of learning the secret to success. Good writers are never stagnant.

Make an effort to figure out what you are weakest at in writing and try to improve it.  You may need the help of a writing partner to help find your weaknesses. You may need to work with a mentor or take a class to improve. Whatever the struggle, don’t just accept it and move on. Make it your goal to learn how to improve.

When you’ve written a messy draft that feels like a failure, learn from your mistakes. Figure out how you can improve it or write a better draft next time. Don’t simply accept your failures. Learn to improve on them.

10. Have a persistent skewed vision of reality

Good writers tend to ignore the realities of life in favor of creating good art. Sure, there are bills, and the chances that art of any kind will earn enough money to live off are slim, but it doesn’t matter. The chances of being published are slim, and the chances of a book selling once it is published can be even slimmer. They believe that if they just take a chance and put in the effort, it will be worth their while. It doesn’t matter what past results were. They keep trying. The world needs their work, even though no one will say it.

I’m not saying to quit your job and stop paying bills. I am saying that good writers work past those setbacks in order to become great writers. You may have struggles, but you have to focus on writing. To a great writer, none of those struggles matters. Here’s why:

11. They need to write

Great writers are the ones who write because they love it. They don’t do it for money, though most admit it would be nice. They don’t write to amass followers or to become famous.

Great writers write because they love it the act of creating a story. They love to examine people and express the nature humanity. They love to represent culture. Their brain comes up with stories and they can’t shut it off until they tell it. They may agonize during the process of putting words on the page, but when they finish, they agonize until they can start again.

Sure, it’s probably accurate to say that writers are masochists who enjoy suffering, since writing can be a very unpleasant task; however, true writers know that they would go crazy without it. They don’t care if it hurts. They don’t care if they won’t be successful. They write because they need writing. They believe that the world needs writing.

If you don’t feel the need to write, put down your pen. Shut down your computer. Stop. Don’t bother. Writing should be done out of a need and a passion and not for any other reason.

If you need to write, then do it. Don’t make excuses. You won’t be happy until you do. Make an effort to work at it. Give writing everything you’ve got. That means working at it until you think it will make you crazy. That means dedicating your time to improving. That means doing everything in your power to become a successful writer. It will be difficult, but if you’re truly passionate, it won’t matter.

I’m not saying that if you do all these things you’ll pick up these traits. I’m not saying that if you pick up these traits you’ll be successful. There are many factors that play into a writer’s success. I am saying that if you make an effort to improve as a writer, particularly in these aspects, you will be a more successful writerYou will learn to be a better writer in the process, but whatever you do, don’t ever stop trying to learn. None of the best writers ever gave up on improvement. Do your best to foster a life of literary growth, and you will be a better writer.

What are your thoughts on the traits of successful writers? Do you have any other ideas? Do you have tips for improving as a writer? Share them in the comments!