Writing · Writing Guide

Don’t Go Chasing Synonyms, Please Stick to the Words and Phrases You’re used to.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of article writing and editing for clients.  I have been pulling out my thesaurus a lot, which always makes me think about times I’ve seen words in sentences where they don’t belong.

I have spent a fair amount of time in online writing communities and writing-based roleplay communities.  For some reason, in many of these groups, the need to sound “smarter” tends to become highly valued.  A lot of the writing eventually evolves into over-written, flowery prose that is both difficult to read and often the synonyms are used incorrectly.  Big words don’t always elevate the quality of your writing, and if they are used incorrectly, they actually might make you look more like an amateur.

This is why I advocate for using words you are familiar with when you are looking for a synonym.  There is something to be said for using a simple word, rather than a complicated one.

Good writing should be both descriptive and accessible.  Synonyms are often words with similar meanings, but that does not mean they are completely interchangeable.  So it’s something to watch out for, as you try to find the right words for your writing.  More flowery words, or bigger words, does not necessarily mean better.

If you do have a “big” word that you love, you can make it understandable by ensuring that the sentence it is in has contextual cues so that your reader can figure out its meaning.  Imagine if you read a book where you either had to constantly re-read paragraphs or pick up the dictionary every other paragraph.  It would take you out of the magic and deeply impact your love of the story.

By sticking to the words you know and trying to make your writing accessible, you will find you are able to offer a seamless experience to your readers.

 

Writing Guide

Ways to Quiet Your Inner Editor

It generally takes me about a week to quiet my inner editor during NaNoWriMo.  For the first week, I fight with her a lot.  She tends to want me to go back and fix plot ideas, weird sentences and anything else she can think of.  I have learned one thing from her, listening to her is the quickest way to stop myself from getting my writing done.  I’ve also watched a lot of friends become crippled by their inner editor, so they don’t make their daily word counts and end up quitting before they make that one week mark in NaNoWriMo.

So I decided to share a few handy tools to circumvent your inner editor.

ILYS

Ilys is a great website that even lets you test drive their software. When using their software, you set a word count goal and then it brings you to a screen where you can only see single letters as you type them.  You cannot see if you have made errors and you cannot go back and fix them if you did until you hit your word count goal.  This is a great way to set a word count goal and just go for it.   It basically forces you to complete your writing without any sort of editing.  You also cannot see the errors, so it may make you less anxious about making them.

The trial account allows you to write up to 10,000 words before signing up for a member account.  When I looked into a paid account, it was only about 10 dollars a month.

Write or Die

Write or die is a program that sometimes scares me.  When I first used it, the program would actually delete everything you had written if you waited too long to keep writing.  Write or die now comes with several different options, and you can also try out the service to see if it is the kind of app that will motivate you.

You can still set the app to erase your writing if you pause for too long.  You can also ask it to provide negative reinforcement.  When I stopped writing, the app played horrible, off-key violin music until I started writing again.  You can also set it to reward you, if you buy the program, and it will provide positive feedback as you hit your writing goals.

Both of the apps are great ways to break things up and force yourself to write!  Are there any other tools you use to get yourself writing?

 

 

NaNoWrimo · Writing · Writing Guide

Plotter or Pantser – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

The first time I “won” NaNoWriMo was in 2013.  I read No Plot?  No Problem, created characters, and did my best to create a semi-coherent sci-fi book.  It was called “Equilibrium” and it was a meandering mess.  It was not a total failure though, I learned my first baby steps to writing a full-length novel that year.  I also learned I was a planner, not a “pantser.”

What is a Pantser?

A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants.  They don’t need an outline, they just write what comes next.  They start their journey at the beginning and they sail on until they meet their destination.

Even though I’m a planner, I do have pantser moments, where the characters go left instead of right, and I have to figure it out as I go.

What is a Plotter?

A plotter is someone who plans their story out in advance.  They might write it chronologically, or they might skip around, because they have an outline.  I love a good outline.  I like to know where my story is headed and what I need to write next to get it there.  There are lots of ways to outline a book, I tend to use Scrivener to do mine, and go scene by scene.  I try to hit major plot points, like the inciting incident, pinch points, midpoint and finally the climax, as I plot.

This year I’m going to try to plot out my story by “beats.”  It’s very similar to the way I’ve outlined in the past, and you can find lots of “beat sheets” online that give you an idea of when to hit what points in your story.

So, are you a pantser or a plotter?  Have you tried both, or only one?  

Writing Guide

Establishing a Daily Writing Habit

When people find out I’m a writer, I often have people tell me that they want to write a book too.  A lot of them don’t, but I think it is partially because they are not sure how to set goals that will help them get closer.  Setting small, but achievable goals is a great way to make progress when writing.

In the past, I have made the mistake of setting high daily word count goals, usually something like 3k or more.  The problem with setting a high goal, is if you don’t make that goal, it’s easy to give up.  I’ve found that 500 words a day is something I can achieve, and when I hit that goal, it’s actually easy to keep writing.  This means that I generally write more than 500 words.

I think 500-1000 words is doable for most people.  Many professional writers actually write between 1000-2500 words a day, and consider themselves accomplished for the day.

When my goal was high, if I didn’t make my daily word count, I felt discouraged.

But, here’s the thing.  If you hit your goal every day and your goal is small, it still builds up.  In a month, 500 words a day becomes 15,000 words total.  That’s 180,000 words a year.  It may not be fast, but you also have to consider your time constraints.  A lot writers have many other jobs they fulfill.  I’m a fast typist, so I can usually write 700-1000 words in a single writing sprint.

500 words will usually take anywhere from a half hour to an hour for most people, especially if you quiet your inner editor and just write.  Doing so daily, you will often find you write more than your prescribed word count and that after a few days have passed, you’ve made some real progress on your writing project.

What are your writing goals?  What is your daily writing habit?  Do you often make your goals or do you struggle with them?  I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.

NaNoWrimo · Writing

Intro to NaNoWrimo – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

The moment October 1st hit, the thought “You need to start planning for NaNoWriMo” hopped into my mind, because it confirmed that November is just around the corner.

If you are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, this post is a quick introduction to get you up to speed.  I decided I would post a blog each Monday this month to give my readers tips and tricks about participating in this event, based on what I’ve learned over the last three years.

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, since November 2013.  NaNoWriMo is an annual event where writers commit to write 50,000 words in a single month.

First of all, head on over to nanowrimo.org and sign up!  The great thing about the website, is it will give you a place to keep track of your novel’s details and word count.  You can also add friends (aka Writing Buddies) who are participating and track each other’s progress once November starts.  I tend to be a competitive person, so if I am falling behind and my friend is killing it, seeing their word count grow motivates me to keep working on mine.  My screenname on nanowrimo.org is freudianslipped, feel free to add me if you are participating this year!

Every Monday for the next month, I’ll be covering topics related to NaNoWrimo, and here is what I’ll cover:

Oct. 10  – Plotter or Pantser?  Do you like to outline, or would you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go?

Oct.17 – Writing Sprints.  What are they and how can they help you make that daily word count goal.

Oct.24 – Write-ins.  Whether you are going to a coffee shop, or participating on Twitter, these can be a great way to get writing.

Oct. 31 – Keep Going!  Ways to help you catch up if you fall behind in November.

 

Are you participating in Nano?  Is this your first year or are you an old pro?  I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

Writing · Writing Guide

5 Ways to Stay Creative

  1. Keep a Pinterest board for inspiration

When I see prompts, pictures or other things that spark an idea in my head, I usually save it to one of my pin boards, either for writing ideas or story inspirations.  Pinerest boards are great to look at when you get stuck and want to feel creative again.

2. Schedule time for your creativity

I know it sounds like this goes against the way we typcially picture creative types, but I promise having a routine can really boost your creativity.  If you schedule a time each day to write, paint, create, you will start to find you no longer need to wait for the muse.  You can work without her.  I think you will find that the work you produce when you are not inspired is likely as good as what you created when you thought you were inspired.

3. Be patient

Sometimes, especially for writers, you need to sit and think for awhile before a creative idea can form.  Matt Fraction calls this kind of moment “Catching Butterflies.” This is where you just need to sit, think and make sure your mind is not distracted by facebook, or the laundry.  It may look or feel like you are not doing anything, but the wheels are turning and things are happening as long as you are not distracted.

4.  Don’t force it

If you’ve sat down to catch butterflies for two hours and have nothing to show for it, it is probably time to change tactics and give your brain a break.

My best friend has a thing called a “Meta” list.  On that list she puts all the things she can’t quite process yet, but still needs to think about.  It’s sort of like putting your creative problem on the back burner for a bit, allowing your unconscious mind to work through what your conscious mind isn’t ready to tackle yet.  So switch gears, find another task to work on, and go back to your project after you’ve taken a break and washed a floor or folded that laundry you weren’t thinking about earlier.

5.  Follow people that inspire you.

Social Media can be full of posts that drag you down, but there are lots of tools and places to find posts that lift you up or get you thinking.  If you follow posts that make you feel depressed or like you are not doing enough creatively, unfollow those pages and seek out the kinds of content that make you want to do something new or make more of your art.

 

What are ways you stay creative?  I’d love to hear what you do when your mind/muse just won’t help out.

 

 

Writing · Writing Guide

A Goal is a Dream with a Deadline

I am not great about setting goals.  I mean, I do set them, but I am the kind of person that will easily be distracted from the things I am pursuing.  The thing is, without a goal a dream is just that, something intangible and not achievable.  The goal is the thing that gives you a map to work towards, a way to get to that dream.

I’ve met lots of writers who have said something to the effect of “I could have a story published if only I had all the time you have.” or “I could have a story published if only I didn’t have other obligations.”

I do not have a 9 to 5 job, but I don’t lack for distracting obligations that would love to keep me away from the writing desk.  Writing gets done thanks to dedication and goals, not thanks to a wealth of time (though that may help).  Many hugely successful writers were not able to sit at their desks all day, but they still managed to write and finish their stories.  This is because of dreams, deadlines, and dedication.

If you aren’t sure how to start or what kind of goals a writer should set and how to go about being successful at them, here are some tips for you.

Set a daily word count goal

It doesn’t have to be an ambitious goal like 1000-3000 words a day, it can be something small like 200-500 words a day.  It adds up quickly if you stick to doing it each day.  In a week, 200 words a day will equal 1,400 words.  500 words a day will equal 3,500.  You do not have to set goals that are hard to achieve in order to be successful.  Set a goal that you know you can accomplish and then see if you write more and need to set your bar a bit higher.  There are lots of word trackers out there, but my favorites are from Svenja Gosen, who has several available here.

Treat writing like a job

Don’t get me wrong, writing should still be fun, but if you treat your writing like you are a professional, you will get very different results than your friends that treat it like a hobby.  I still write for fun, but I also have set hours each day during the week that I devote to my “Job.”  I show up on time and I do my work.  For some, this will mean writing for 30 minutes each night, uninterrupted and not distracted.  For others it will mean spending a few hours doing writing sprints each day, working toward their goals.

Give yourself a deadline

Make a deadline and do your best to stick to it.  Tell others about your deadline, so that they can help hold you accountable to it.  Your deadlines may shift, mine almost always do.  If you write shorter fiction, find places to submit that have deadlines that you can’t wiggle around.

Be accountable to someone

This can be a writer’s group, a group of friends, or just someone on the internet.  Just make sure it’s someone who knows what you are working on and will expect you to finish it.  You should do the same for them.  I have a group of women (including my best friend) that I email when I want to do writing/work sprints, most of them are working on their PhDs.  We might be doing different work, but we are excellent at making each other accountable and cheering each other.  Writing can be lonely work, and sometimes a good “Hooray” or a good kick in the pants can be just what you need.

Writing Guide

A Guide to Writing Werewolves based on Real Wolf Packs

For the last few years, I’ve dug into a lot of research on wolves for a werewolf book I want to write.  It’s been both interesting and alarming to see how much actual pack culture is different from the tropes we see in movies and TV about werewolves.

Typically in werewolf media, we see a pack that is led by an all-powerful Alpha Male.  He’s stronger and meaner than the other werewolves and that’s why he’s the go-to leader.  He knows how to get the job done.  Though many people believe by default this is also how wolves act in nature, that is not the reality of the situation at all.  Wolf packs are usually led by an Alpha pair, who are a mated male and female wolf.  In some cases, the female wolf will actually be the more aggressive of the two and the one that tends to keep the pack members in line.  This is not necessarily the female establishing her dominance, it’s more similar to the way your grandmother might keep you and all your cousins in line at a family gathering.  The mated pair that leads the pack more or less serve as the “parental” units of the pack.

A single male alpha as the lead of a pack is just something that has been fabricated over the years, and is likely more of a reflection of human culture, than that of wolves.  I’ve gotten to the point that when I see this trope reinforced over and over again in TV shows and movies, I have a hard time watching them.  This trope also tends to make it easy to exclude or leave out female characters, since male characters tend to be the central focus of the trope.  Female wolves are essential to the pack’s life, and therefore I think it would be good if fiction also reflected that.

Packs also share other similarities with human families, as many smaller packs are just the mated alpha pair and their cubs.  As I mentioned before, packs are often like human families, whether related or adopted, and function in somewhat similar ways.

In the wild, packs will fight for territory sometimes, especially if food becomes scarce in one area or if another pack seems to be dying out.  Packs can die out for a variety of reasons, including harsh winters, fighting with other predators, cubs being eaten by competing predators. These are things you can think about as you craft your werewolf story.

Obviously, fiction does differ from reality, but many of the tropes that surround werewolves are both erroneous and create stories where female viewpoints often get lost or are nearly non-existent.  If you are looking to do more research on wolves in the wild, there are a number of books written about wolf packs, especially those in Yellowstone.  Yellowstone also releases a yearly fact sheet about the packs in their area, that gives an account of how many wolves are in their packs, what sizes they are, what color their coat is, etc.  The Yellowstone wolves tend to be a unique opportunity for humans to closely monitor and learn more about wolves, since they were only recently re-introduced into the park and there is so much activity in Yellowstone.

Writing Guide

Don’t dabble – Tips To Stay Committed To Your Writing

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite authors for self-help, Gabrielle Bernstein, posted a video about staying on course for what you want.  At the bottom of her post, she had the option to tweet about it and the tweet basically said: “Stay committed, don’t dabble.”  This concept is something I’ve talked a lot about with those in my little circle of productivity, the group of women that I email and do writing sprints with.  The truth is, I used to dabble a lot.

This was both in and out of writing.  I’d start a book, or write in online communities and happily proclaim I was a writer, despite the fact that I had no goals with my writing and I rarely finished anything.  I dabbled in writing.  There were no stakes with my writing, I did not take it seriously.  I dabbled in other things too, which took my time and attention away from the writing I did.  Part of this was due to the fact that I struggled to say “No” to people.  If someone wanted my time, attention and help, I would bend over backward and put my own projects aside for months on end.  There are times I still say “Yes” when I should say “No.”

This leads us to what I really wanted to talk about, how to stay committed and avoid dabbling, for writers and artists.

1. Learn when to say “No.”

Successful people know when to say “No.”  They have learned to say it with conviction.  I do my best to think very consciously when people ask me to work on projects with them. I often get asked to proofread things for friends, or to help them with their own projects.  I will say “Yes” only if there is a reciprocal relationship when it comes to helping with these friends, or if I believe editing their project will help me become a better writer.  It sounds harsh, but it also isn’t fair for them to expect me to beta/edit chapters upon chapters without some kind of give/take.  I also will take on a project here or there that I just really have an interest in.  Some of my friends are brilliant writers and I aspire to be more like them, so helping them would also warrant a “Yes.”

2.  Practice makes perfect.  Take your practicing seriously.

If I had a dime for every time someone said, “Oh, I like to write.  I could be a writer just like you if I had all the free time you have.”  Though I may have a flexible schedule that allows me to devote a lot of time to writing, that would mean nothing if I was not devoted to the practice.  I write nearly every day.  I manage my own schedule and I stay committed to the work I want to do.  I read books, I write, I read more books and I work to improve my writing.  Publishing credits are not something a magical fairy bestows on you and leaves under your pillow as you sleep.  You get the by writing often, sharing your work with others for eyed back, learning how to be a better writer, and then sending that work out into the world.  If you have a day job, commit to a word goal or an amount of time you will write each night.  There are writers who got published with small word count goals like 200-500 words a day.  If you write every day, those words add up quickly to short stories and novels.

3. Set goals and deadlines.

Every short story I’ve submitted has a deadline of some sort.   Usually, it’s a date by which you must submit your story.  You can set your own deadlines and I suggest having them somewhere they are easily visible.  I usually post my long-term goals up on my wall and keep daily and weekly goals in my bullet journal.  Deadlines give you something to work towards and they encourage you to finish your projects.

4. Finish what you started.

This does not go for every project and you will get to a point where you can identify when it is time to set a project aside and work on something else.  That being said, you still need to finish things.  I have not been great about finishing some of the novels I’ve worked on, but I’ve finished many short stories and comic scripts, even if they all did not make it to publication.  If a writer has 100 unfinished short stories, they aren’t likely going to be able to find a place to publish them, but if you keep finishing projects you can find a way to get them out to the world, either by finding a traditional publisher or through self-publishing.  If nothing is finished, there’s nothing to publish.
If writing is truly something you want to do, stay committed.  Don’t dabble.  If you keep at it, I am sure you will find a way to get what you want to say out to the world

Book Review · Writing

Review – Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

I’m a fan of Steven Pressfield’s books on writing and creating.  If you have not read them, his books “The War of Art” and “Turning Pro” are amazing and their influence literally changed my life as a writer.  I went from haphazardly writing stories that I never finished, writing whenever I felt like it, to treating writing like a real endeavor that I wanted to pursue.  They are perfect for the artist/writer/creative types who just can’t seem to get their fire going.  If you suffer from chronic writer’s block, I definitely recommend picking them up.  Pressfield refers to that sort of stuck-ness as the Resistance and shows you how to beat it and move beyond it, for the most part.

The first two books in the series teach you how to become a professional and practice the right habits to become more successful as a creative person.  His third book in the series, “Nobody wants to read your sh*t” takes you in a slightly different direction.  In this book, Pressfield talks about how you shape a story, what you need to have in your story and why concept and genre are important.  This book is very much one where you can learn the rules of writing a story, and then later break those rules.

Pressfield also outlines things in a very simple fashion and revisits the lessons he has taught throughout the book.  Not all of his anecdotes were interesting to me, but I greatly prefer being taught things with a story alongside them, so it still worked.

When I started this book, I thought there might be some magical tidbit of information about how to get people to read my writing.  Instead of a fancy how-to guide on getting people interested in your story, Pressfield teaches you the basics of writing a good story, one that will satisfy the reader and make them want to read more of your work.

This book also reminded me that good writers are always learning.  Writing a good story is not an accident, as so many people who are not writers might think.  It’s intentional and a significant amount of work goes into such a story.

If you are a writer/artist, especially one at the beginning of your career, I would definitely recommend picking up all of Pressfield’s books on the subject.  This third installment was a quick read, just as the other two were, so they are worth both the investment and the time it takes to read them.