Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Nora Roberts to Make You a Better Writer

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Nora Roberts (born in 1950) is one of the most successful authors of all time, having written more than 225 romance books, along with tons of mystery books under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.

Here are six of her wonderful quotes about writing!

1. Action, reaction, motivation, emotion, all have to come from the characters.

I’ve been writing novels for a long, long time, and something that took me awhile to learn was that the best stories are born out of character and not plot. Think about the stories you love to read and the movies you love to watch. The story plays an important role, sure, but isn’t the characters you adore that keep you coming back time and time again? Would Harry Potter have been such a phenomenon if J.K. Rowling hadn’t taken the time to develop all those wonderful characters? Would Stephen King’s books resonate with so many people if the character on the page were ultra bland?

Absolutely not. It’s all about the characters, my friends. Sure, you need a compelling story, you need a concept that has some originality, you need a plot with plenty of conflict and where the stakes are constantly raised, but eventually your reader won’t care that much if they don’t connect emotionally with the main character. And how your characters react to things have to come from a real, authentic place. Don’t just tell us what the character is feeling, don’t say why they are motivated to do something. Show and not tell, and make your characters as three-dimensional and realistic as possible.

2. I generally write a first draft that’s pretty lean. Just get the story down.

Every writer has a different approach to the first draft, and really you’ll learn throughout the years what works best for you. Nora Roberts prefers to write a first draft that’s lean, that gets the story down so then she can get to work on shaping it when she revises. I totally get that. I’ve seen authors who write a short first draft and then build it up in drafts two and three, adding lots of detail and dialogue and even new scenes along the way.

I’m not like that. I like to write a lot in the first draft and then cut back as I revise. Many writers don’t like to cut, but I love it. I would find it difficult to reach a scene that doesn’t work in the second draft but feel compelled to keep it there just because my word count is down. When your word count is high and your novel could easily lose 10,000 to 20,000 words, you never have to think twice about cutting something that shouldn’t be there.

At the end of the day, what Roberts says is true, though, no matter how long your first draft may be: get the story down. Whether that means 50,000 words or 150,000 words. Do what you need to do. Get the story down… and then the real work begins.

3. I don’t think you can write — at least not well — if you don’t love stories, love the written word.

I’ve been obsessed with stories and the written word since I was a little kid, and something tells me so have you. Stories are what get me through everything, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction. And to this day, after how many millions of words of fiction I’ve written, I’m still tickled by the power of sentences and the written word. I love to look back over a new novel or short story I’ve written and find a sentence that blows my mind.

Because here’s the thing — when you get super involved in a scene and the sentences are flowing out of you and the characters are almost talking to you in a sense, some truly magical things can happen on the page. When you’re constantly thinking about your story and editing yourself as you write, the magic almost never comes. But if you calm your mind and let the world of your story take over for a couple of hours, you can end up writing some amazing prose that will show you just how much power you have a writer.

4. Every writer has to figure out what works best — and often has to select and discard different tools before they find the one that fits.

Practice is everything when you’re a writer. Practicing your skills will show you as the years pass what works well for you and what doesn’t. This goes for everything from the writing itself to coming up with your ideas to revising to publishing, and so on. You won’t know what works best in the beginning. All you’ll think about is starting, and hopefully finishing, that latest project. Finishing whatever you started is always a good thing to focus on at the start.

But once you write more stories and novels, you’ll pick up on some tools that work well for you, and you’ll throw away the tools that don’t. You’ll discover the best place for you to do your writing, and you’ll decide the atmosphere you do your best writing in (silence? loud noise? music?). Keep trying different things and see what sticks. Eventually your success will come when all the tools suddenly fit perfectly.

5. I don’t believe for one moment you can write well what you wouldn’t read for pleasure.

This is something important to remember as a writer. Something huge. Would you read your own story if you hadn’t written it? I’ve written lots of books throughout the years, and I can honestly say some of the novels I’ve written I probably wouldn’t seek out at the bookstore, and even if I happened to take it off the shelf and read the first few pages, I’m not sure I’d buy it. The books I feel this way about are the ones I wrote not because I loved the idea but because I thought I might be able to make some money from it or that it might easily get me a literary agent.

You want to always be writing books that you yourself would read for pleasure if you hadn’t written it. That’s the way I feel about the latest novels I’ve written. If you love to write for the young adult age market, like I do? Then read a young adult book here and there. If you write mysteries? Read a mystery from time to time, especially by an author you’ve never heard of. Seek out books to read for pleasure in the genres and age markets you write in and write for.

6. You don’t find time to write. You make time. It’s my job.

You have to always find time to write, simple as that. We all get super busy in our lives. Many of us have day jobs. Many of us have kids and pets and responsibilities. And even though a day has a lot of hours… it really doesn’t, am I right? You wake up in the morning and think you have all the time in the world, but then suddenly you’re making dinner and you’re exhausted and all you want to do is put on Netflix. Suddenly the idea of writing 1,000 words or more for the day seems almost impossible.

But if you want to be a writer, you need to find the time to write. Find the time that works best for you. If you’re a morning person, write after you get up. This works well because then you have the rest of your day to do everything else, and no matter how busy things get, you still got some writing done for the day. I used to like writing at night, but the problem with doing that is you’re more likely to put it off until the next day. When you do it first thing, it usually gets done.

What helps is treating writing like it’s a job. You don’t show up late for your job, do you? You don’t skip your real job for a day. Even if you’re not making a dime from your writing, the way to get it done every day is to show up and treat it like a job. You should feel that way about it, even though for the most part is should feel like play and not work.

So please, no excuses. No delaying. Show up every day to write like it’s your job… and the pages will stack up eventually.

Are you ready to write your novel this year? My new craft book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, will help you along the way!

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Rick Riordan to Make You a Better Writer

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Rick Riordan (born in 1964) is the hugely popular author of the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series.

Here are five of his quotes about writing to inspire you!

1. There are days when I’ll write for 15 minutes and have to give up and move around, and I’ll write another paragraph and give up again. On other days I get intensely focused on the process, sit down at 8 A.M. and won’t get up until 8 P.M.

Doesn’t it make you feel good to know someone as popular as Rick Riordan occasionally has a bad writing day where he has to give up after fifteen minutes or after a paragraph? We get these images in our heads that to be a bestselling author you have to write thousands and thousands of words every single day from 8am to 6pm, but you know what? Nothing is farther from the truth. In fact every successful writer has a different approach to their work, and every successful writer has had days when they can’t get through a single sentence and when they feel like frauds.

Not every day of writing is going to go great, but the road to becoming a successful writer starts with showing up every day. See where the work takes you. Do your best. If you can only get down 500 good words for the day, that’s still a huge accomplishment. Don’t think it’s anything less. If you want to have the occasional inspired day where you work from 8am to 8pm like Riordan sometimes does? Then go for it! There’s no wrong way to write as long as you’re getting some new words down for the day.

2. For me, writing for kids is harder because they’re a more discriminating audience. While adults might stay with you, if you lose your pacing or if you have pages of extraneous description, a kid’s not going to do that. They will drop the book.

As a young adult author, I think about this all the time when I’m working on my latest novel, especially during the revision process. Although you should tell your story the way it needs to be told and not alter it necessarily to suit the needs of your audience, you should absolutely look for sections that might read slow and then ask yourself what needs to stay and what possibly can go.

It’s absolutely true that adults will stick with you longer than kids, but nobody will stick with your book if they find it to be boring. There are a lot of books out there, and your reader will only stick around if they believe you know what you’re doing as the author and they believe you’ve got an engrossing story to tell that won’t let them down. You have to bring it every time, whether you’re writing for kids or adults. You need to grip your reader from the beginning and never let them go.

3. All of my characters tend to be montages of different people I’ve met: little bits and pieces of their personalities put together.

I tend to create characters in this manner too, although sometimes I’ll create an original character out of thin air that really doesn’t feel like any person I’ve met before. Sometimes you want to challenge yourself to get creative with your characters, with how they see the world, with what they’re passionate about and want out of life. It gets dull to write the same kind of person over and over, and it can get tiresome to just think about people close to you in your life you can pick and choose details from.

However, if you’re stuck on what the characters might be like in your latest story, it doesn’t hurt to think about people you’ve met in recent months and see what traits you might be able to use for a story. Sometimes you’ll bump into a person who already feels like a character in a story, so you kind of have to put them into a fictional world. But use your imagination, too. Don’t just transplant somebody into your story using every specific detail about their appearance and physicality and voice and way of speaking. Be like Riordan and use a montage of various people you’ve met in your latest character creation. That will probably be of more use to you in the long run.

4. I’ve always found the second book in a series is the hardest to write.

Now let’s talk about writing series, which Riordan is of course used to, with his hugely successful Percy Jackson series, as well as some other series he’s penned in the last few years. The man pumps out one escapist book after another that kids and adults alike love to read, and one of the reasons they love to read Riordan’s work is that he often writes series. Instead of stand-alone novels, which can be satisfying in their own ways, series offer readers the opportunity to spend time with characters they love for long periods of time. Series, with occasional exceptions, are what truly sell in the world of books.

And for any of you looking to find success, there are worse ways to do so than to write a series. Keep in mind you have to be smart in your approach. You need to find a story that could potentially be a series of three or more books, and you want that story to be so compelling you’ll have the motivation and desire and interest to stick with it and with those characters for many books. I’ve written two trilogies in my life, and both were absolute blasts to write. I was, however, perfectly happy to conclude the stories in the third books, and I haven’t ever attempted a series that went beyond book three.

Having said that, Riordan is absolutely right in that the second book is often the hardest one to write. Book one is hard because you have to establish everybody and make the ending satisfying for the reader just in case they choose to not continue to another installment, but book two is extra hard because now you have to give the readers something they liked before but also take them someplace new. Even more difficult, you have to in many ways top what you did before and at the same time compel your reader by the end to go onto a third book, possibly a fourth or fifth book. When you’re writing a series, book one is important but in some ways book two is even more so because that’s really where you hook the reader to continue… or you don’t.

5. It’s always hard to wrap up a series. The longer I spend with the characters, the more they become like friends.

As I said, I enjoyed writing two young adult trilogies, and I especially had fun with those third books knowing they were the definitive end. But it can be hard to reach the end, as Riordan says, because you’ve spent more time in that world and with those characters. When you write a single stand-alone novel, those characters live with you for a long time, but when you write a series, those characters are with you for years, sometimes decades.

Many authors write in a series they love, and they never stop writing it until they die, only for someone else to pick up the mantle and continue writing more books in that world. I totally get that. If you love writing a series and after awhile those characters become real and almost family to you, and readers out there are loving the series and want you to produce more books, why not just keep going? If there are more stories to tell, and there’s not necessarily a clear endpoint, why not write thirty books in a series or more? That’s kind of the dream for me, really. Although I will always want to write the occasional stand-alone book, my dream is finding that perfect series I could write for decades that readers adore and want me to never stop.

Whatever place you are in your writing life, don’t be afraid of writing a series if you have an amazing idea for something that could exist long beyond a single title. Remember that in the world of traditional publishing, it’s best you only write the first book and try to sell that, rather than write five books in a row and then try to sell the entire series. In the world of self-publishing? All bets are off. Write ten books in a series if you want, and if they become successful, keep going. Whatever you do, don’t write a series only for the money, in a genre you think is popular but you don’t care for that much. Your readers will sniff that out right away.

Instead be passionate about what you write, whether it’s a stand-alone or a series, whether it’s a story written for kids or adults, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Are you ready to write your novel this year? My new craft book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, will help you along the way!

 

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Anne Rice to Make You a Better Writer

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Anne Rice (born in 1941) is the bestselling author of The Vampire Chronicles, including Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned.

Here are four wonderful quotes she’s shared with us about writing.

1. To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.

Every single thing you put down on paper is a risk at the end of the day. You risk making a fool of yourself, and you risk rejection, and you risk failure. These are all reasons why so many writers refuse to ever send out their work and instead prefer to revise, revise, revise, to the point where all they’re doing is switching around words here and there.

I mean, I get it — it feels good to sit with your latest story when nobody’s ever read it. There’s no one to put you down. There’s no one to criticize you. Every time I send out a new short story to literary magazines, I have this ridiculous notion that all of the editors will say yes this time. But then the first no comes in, and then the second no, and then the third. And then a year later you’ve collected twenty rejections and you’re back at work revising the piece in the hopes you can make it better and soon get published elsewhere. When you haven’t sent the work out yet? That’s the magic time. That’s when you can feel free to believe you’ve created the most incredible story of all time, since there’s no person out there yet to tell you differently.

Of course at some point, though, you have to submit the work to editors, and you have to be prepared to make a fool of yourself. It’s totally fine to make a fool of yourself. In fact if you’re writing something too structured and safe, you might fall on your face at some point anyway — because your latest piece won’t end up selling anywhere. So be ambitious, and take chances. You’ll have a better shot at success if you do.

2. Go where the pain is.

This piece of advice sounds almost cruel in a sense, but it’s absolutely true if you want to write compelling stories. You want your reader to flip through the pages and stick around until the end, and the thing is they won’t make it to the end if you write a story that has little pain in it. Conflict is essential in a great story, and so is pain. A story without any suffering in it, whether it’s physical or emotional, might after awhile read like tiresome description.

Of course specific genres like mystery and thriller and horror are going to have lots of pain, and if you write content like that, finding the pain and anguish inside your story and characters is something you’re probably used to by now. But even if you write happier stories for the middle grade and young adult age markets, even if you write adult romance books with happy endings, it’s still important you find at least some aspects of pain in your story.

I have little time for stories where everybody is happy from beginning to end and don’t change at all. Go where the pain is, and your stories will flourish.

3. Obsession led me to write. It’s been that way with every book I’ve ever written. I become completely consumed by a theme, by characters, by a desire to meet a challenge.

The word obsession is typically used as a negative, but it never should be when it comes to writing. Obsession in your writing life is a good thing (well, as long as you remember to take a shower and change your clothes and eat some food throughout your day). There’s nothing that will make your story die on the page quite like apathy. You truly do want to be obsessed, at least a little bit, with your latest project.

This is especially true of writing novels. There have been many I’ve written that I thought about almost daily for years. My MFA thesis novel, which I wrote in 2017 and revised up until early 2020, was something I’d been thinking about doing all the way back to 2005. And the idea for the book I wrote last year, a young adult thriller, I had been thinking about since 2003. That’s a long time for ideas to be simmering in your mind, and my obsession with them finally led me to getting those stories down.

Don’t write something new if it doesn’t obsess you in some way. You should be fascinated by the concept, by the characters, by the theme. You should be interested in doing something you haven’t done before. Don’t repeat yourself. As soon as you find yourself writing the same book you wrote five years ago, it might be time to move on. And if you’re not in love with an idea? Go to your next idea.

There’s nothing worse than being 100 pages into a novel recognizing you don’t really care about the characters or the outcome. Remember, apathy is death to a writer. You want to be obsessed, at least some of the time.

4. The only thing between you and realizing your dreams as a writer is yourself.

Some aspects of the writing life are out of your hands. Want to be the world’s wealthiest author? You can do everything you can. You can write compelling books in popular genres and write to your heart’s content for ten years straight… and still not be wealthy, let alone be published. You can lay on your bed, close your eyes, and visualize millions of dollars dropping from the ceiling… and still not make much money as a writer as the years pass.

But can you find at least some success as a writer if you work really hard year after year? Absolutely! I’ve written twenty books in ten years, and I still have found little success with any of them. And I’m okay with that. Because I love the process, and I believe in my talent, and I know if I continue working hard and keep growing, the dream life of being a successful published author will happen one of these days. The easiest way to fail as a writer is to give up and stop writing. If you keep writing, there’s always going to be that possibility of something happening to you that might even be life-changing.

It’s all up to you. If you want to put in the work for as long as it takes, success can happen. If you don’t want to put in the work, you should probably think about changing careers. There are no guarantees in the publishing world, and you have to be prepared for lots of rejection and failure. You have to be prepared to be told no a thousand times. Keep going anyway. Ignore the haters. Write something out of the box. Learn something new every day.

And you’ll get there eventually.

Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, currently FREE on Amazon through Memorial Day. Pick up your free copy now, and please leave me a review if you can!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Anna Quindlen To Make You a Better Writer

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Anna Quindlen (born in 1953) is the bestselling author of One True Thing, Every Last One, and Still Life with Bread Crumbs, among many others.

Here are four lovely quotes of hers about the writing life!

1. There’s no greater happiness than doing something every day that you love, that you feel you do in a satisfactory fashion, and which both supports and gives you time to support your family. I felt so lucky to have all that.

People ask me from time to time what my perfect life looks like (my parents, usually), and there’s no better answer than what Anna Quindlen says here. To be able to get up every day and work on something you love to do, that you feel you’re at least somewhat good at, and which supports you and your family. That’s a joyful life for any of us, isn’t it? That’s having a job where you don’t have to ever work a single day.

Writing is that happy life for me, and I’m sure it’s also the happy life for many of you. I haven’t been successful enough at writing for it to support me completely, but it’s certainly something I love doing and that I feel I have some talent for. We all have a calling. We all have something we’re pretty good at and that we like to do. The important thing in life is to find that and work hard on it every day until that success ultimately comes. It might take a few years — hell, it might take a couple of decades — but if you believe in something enough and you love it, ignore the haters and any doubt you might hold in your mind and go for it.

2. Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.

Ideas are not set in stone, especially when you’re starting to think about a new short story or novel project. You might come up with one really stellar idea, but don’t stop there. In my early days of writing fiction, I always stopped after getting that first idea. I thought that first idea was enough. But usually you need to dig deeper and find a second idea, a third idea, and then be open to tossing many of these ideas around like pizza dough for a few days, even weeks. You want to elaborate on your ideas and try to come up with something original and compelling that’s never really been done before. What can you deliver to readers that is something uniquely you?

The great thing about ideas is that you can always be thinking about them throughout your day. When you’re at your day job. When you’re eating lunch. When you’re watching a boring movie. When you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. The first goal is to find one great idea. And then expand on that. What kinds of characters could be part of this particular story? What’s a genre that might give this story something unfamiliar and exciting? And what’s a second idea that can be blended with the first to create something spectacular?

Don’t just start writing once you get that first idea. Take the time to consider your ideas and toss them around for a bit until you’re able to develop a new short story or a novel that could potentially be amazing, not just good.

3. I’m sure not afraid of success and I’ve learned not to be afraid of failure. The only thing I’m afraid of now is of being someone I don’t like much.

We’re all going to have ups and downs in our writing career. It will take many of us a long time to find success. I’m in that weird middle ground where I’ve had a little success throughout the last ten years of my writing life — I signed with a literary agent, got an MFA in Creative Writing, finally made some good money as a freelancer — but I definitely haven’t been super successful yet, although I’m still trying, as I’m sure all of you are, too. The key, no matter where you are in your writing life, is not be afraid of either success or failure. You should instead be afraid of being someone you don’t like.

Anna Quindlen has a good point here. Once you become someone you don’t like very much — which might certainly be the case if you hit a lot of success in your writing life early, I suppose — you might lose that side of yourself that got into writing in the first place. You want to pursue success but also not be afraid to fail time and time again. You have to do the work, love the process, finish all your projects, and send them out to be successful. Don’t be afraid of success, because if you work hard and have talent, the success will come eventually. And you’ll deserve everything that comes to you. But don’t be afraid of failure either. Failure is where you learn and where you grow. And in the world of writing, the only real failure is giving up for good.

4. You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.

If you want to be a successful writer, it’s worth finding time every day to write. Even if it’s just an hour or two. Hell, even if it’s just ten minutes! The key to success in writing is practicing your craft seven days a week and taking the occasional risk and finishing everything you begin. You want to write a lot, and you want to enjoy the process. As soon as writing starts to feel like work, you’re in deep trouble. You want there to be a sense of play, always. You want to have fun.

At the same time, you can’t just write all day every day. You can’t sit in dark rooms forever and not interact with people, go on adventures, do new things, get away from your writing desk. There were a few years in the beginning of my novel writing life where the writing was all I did. I basically wrote and watched TV and movies. A lot of my ideas for characters and stories started to come from the content I was watching, so in a way I was basically regurgitating things that had already come before. That kind of lifestyle doesn’t lead to creative work. It leads to mediocrity.

So please, write often, write your heart out, but also don’t forget to live your life. That living part? It will actually make your writing all the richer.

Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, now available on Amazon for just $3.49!

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Robert R. McCammon to Make You a Better Writer

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Robert R. McCammon (born in 1952) is the bestselling author of Swan Song, Gone South, and my all-time favorite novel, Boy’s Life, which changed my life at age fifteen.

Here are four of his wonderful quotes about the writing life!

1. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you ‘sir.’ It just happens.

This theme of losing that magic as you grow older is key to his beautiful, haunting, absolutely enchanting 1991 novel Boy’s Life, which I had to read for my sophomore year English class and which has been my favorite book ever since. This novel was my introduction to the work of Robert R. McCammon, and one that I’ve lent and recommended to countless friends and family members throughout the years. It’s long at more than 600 pages, and not a word of it is wasted. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, whether you’re young or old, if you love great stories, it’s worth checking out.

So much of his book resonated with me, particularly at the age of fifteen, because I was slowly transitioning into that phase of life where the magic has started to dissipate. When you realize much of life is going to be hard and filled with pain and rejection and failure. The novel made me cry and reflect, and I was so thrilled to revisit it for the first time in 2015, right after I turned thirty. I’ve decided I’m going to re-read the book every fifteen years because I very much believe I’ll get something new out of it every time. Reading it as an adult I paid more attention to the craft of it, but I was again overwhelmed with emotion. Something I will always take with me about Boy’s Life is the necessity of holding onto as much magic as you possibly can.

2. It seemed to me at an early age that all human communication — whether it’s TV, movies, or books — begins with somebody wanting to tell a story. That need to tell, to plug into a universal socket, is probably one of our grandest desires. And the need to hear stories, to live lives other than our own for even the briefest moment, is the key to the magic that was born in our bones.

You know what’s one way to hold onto as much magic as you can? It’s reading, hearing, watching, and telling stories, of course. So much of real life can be monotonous day to day, but there’s nothing monotonous about life once you slip into an entertaining story, whether someone else is telling it to you or you’re writing it yourself. I do believe the most magic comes when you yourself are writing a story. When you enter the zone as a writer and transport yourself to the world of your story or novel.

We all need stories now more than ever. They’re necessary, and they do have the ability to work their magic on you, whether the story is set in some faraway fantasy land or set right here on planet Earth. As director Steven Soderbergh said when he won the Best Director Oscar for Traffic in 2001, “this world would be unlivable without art,” and so much of great art starts with a compelling story. Living lives other than your own has the power to bring the magic back, even if it’s just for a little while. Find that magic however you can.

3. Many times you will fail. That is the nature of the world, and the truth of life. But when you find your horse again, will you go back or will you go forward?

Sometimes I wish we could all be confronted with the very real truth about failure when we’re younger. Not that we’re doomed to fail but just that failure is going to happen, and we have to be prepared for it. When I started writing my first novel in 2010 I was so confident it would get me a literary agent, would get me published. And I thought if it didn’t happen, my dreams would certainly come true on my second book. Oh, how beautifully naive I was back then. How little did I realize how much failure I would have to endure to reach the place I am today, where I have some significant success, a much better handle on the craft of writing, but still plenty of disappointing failures.

Failure will happen to you no matter what you end up doing, but failure is certainly something you’ll find yourself pushing up against time and time again as a writer. There’s no such thing as succeeding with every new short story and novel you write. There’s no such thing as magic pouring out on the page every single time. If you’re lucky you’ll find success early in your writing career, but even if you don’t, that doesn’t mean it will never happen for you. Because something I learned a few years into this is that the only definitive way you fail as a writer is quitting. Is giving up. As long as you keep going and improve in your craft and write another new project, there’s a chance all your dreams can come true.

4. Even the most worthless thing in the world can be beautiful. It just takes the right touch.

It’s so true that anything in life that appears to be ugly or frivolous or worthless on the surface can actually be startlingly beautiful. I think about this every time I go for a run around my neighborhood. I look at so many things that 99% of people would ignore or miss, but occasionally I stop for a few seconds to take in a gorgeous flower or a spectacular view or a stunning architectural structure I find to be breathtaking. Doing this even just once a day can bring a little light into your life… and it can bring the magic back, too.

Finding the beauty in the most worthless things is one of the duties of a writer, too. When you’re writing a new short story or a novel, you want to look for those specific details that most people miss. You want to explore ideas and characters and settings many people might find ugly and worthless, and you want to showcase what makes them so goddamned beautiful.

Robert R. McCammon did it in Boy’s Life, and he’s done it in dozens of other novels throughout his long career. If you want to find success as a writer, and if you want to bring the magic back over and over again, it’s in your best interest to do it, too!

Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, now available on Amazon for just $3.49!

 

Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Annie Proulx to Make You a Better Writer

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Annie Proulx (born in 1935) is the celebrated author of Brokeback Mountain, The Shipping News, and Barkskins, among others.

Here are four wonderful quotes she’s shared with us about the writing life.

1. I find it satisfying and intellectually stimulating to work with the intensity, brevity, balance and word play of the short story.

So many aspiring authors push the short story aside to focus on the big kahuna: the novel, of course. It’s the novel that can bring immense change to your writing life. It’s the novel that can bring you fame and fortune, not the short story. At best, that new short story you just finished might find a home in a prestigious literary magazine. Or maybe you’ll write enough stories to compile a short story collection at some point. But you’re never going to get rich writing short stories, and the sooner you learn that the better.

You know what, though? They’re still worth writing anyway. I firmly believe short fiction is where you grow as a writer. Because you’re free to take chances and try different things. When you’re writing a long novel you can take chances, too, but you also have to follow where that narrative leads you and stick to a structure that makes sense. Things don’t necessarily have to make sense in a short story. It doesn’t need a clean beginning, middle, and end. You can try writing it in the second person. You can write in a genre you’ve never attempted before. Writing a new short story is always satisfying regardless of what comes of it in the long run.

2. If you get the landscape right, the characters will step out of it, and they’ll be in the right place.

Setting is something you shouldn’t ignore in your fiction writing, whether it’s a five-page short story or a 400-page novel. A well-chosen setting won’t necessarily help you deliver a great narrative, but it will absolutely enhance the quality of your story in so many ways. Character comes first usually, along with your central concept. You want to think about the stakes of your story and the conflicts and the theme you want to play around with. But setting should be right up there with the initial elements of your latest piece you’re thinking deeply about. Where your story is set tells the reader so much right off the bat. And it helps you navigate the world of your story as the writer, too.

Annie Proulx loves to write about the west, and there’s no way to imagine her classic short story “Brokeback Mountain” set anywhere else but Wyoming. There’s an almost tangible quality to the places that Ennis and Jack roam. And putting those two characters somewhere vastly different in the world would probably hurt that story. So please, whenever possible, be specific about your setting choices. Don’t just throw your characters into Los Angeles or New York or Miami and call it good. Make your setting another character in the story, and your narratives will become richer always.

3. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, ‘Write what you know.’ It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don’t develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.

Agreed. When you start writing, you might want to start by writing what you know. It might be easier to picture something that’s actually happened to you and then translate that experience to the page. My first short stories were all based on things that happened to me, and I liked that element to my storytelling in the early days. I could rely on my memories to get certain characters and scenes on the page.

But the problem with only writing what you know is that eventually you don’t ever grow as a writer, as Proulx points out. You have to at least occasionally write a short story or novel that exists somewhere way outside the realm of what you know. If you fail, you fail. It’s okay to fail. Sometimes you are actually growing in a big way as a writer when you’re failing at something. Write what you’re passionate about and what interests you, and you can even write in the same genre over and over, but take substantial risks occasionally and give us something unexpected. Don’t just write the same characters over and over doing the same kinds of things in book after book. Write something well outside your own experience here and there, and then see what happens.

4. You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.

You might find a trend in the advice among many of our most beloved and successful authors, and it’s that being a good writer always starts with being a good reader. You can’t improve very much as a writer, and you’ll likely struggle finding your voice, if you don’t get your hand on all kinds of books and stories and read, read, read. You want to read things outside of the genre you normally write in. You want to read both fiction and non-fiction. You want to take a chance at times on an author you’ve never heard of, if for nothing else than to see how this particular person tells their tale.

I always learn something when I pick up book and read for even twenty or thirty minutes. You’ll notice a specific way an author uses description or dialogue. You’ll see how this person writes suspense or comedy or romance in a way that’s vastly different than that last author you read a few weeks ago. You don’t want to ever copy what somebody is doing on the page, but especially when you’re starting out, you want to try different things in your writing and see what sticks, see what feels right. You’ll always get some inspiration from those books and stories you’re reading as new ideas are slowly percolating in your mind.

So keep reading and keep writing. Fall in love with the shape of stories and sentences. Fall in love with creating, and you’ll have years of great joy in your writing life to come!

Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, now available on Amazon for just $3.49!

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Jodi Picoult to Make You a Better Writer

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Jodi Picoult (born in 1966) is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including My Sister’s Keeper and A Spark of Light.

Here are five fantastic quotes she’s shared with us that will make you a better writer.

1. I have several writer friends, but I don’t involve them in my work process. I’m more likely to talk about the business of publishing with them.

I completely understand where Jodi Picoult is coming from here. I think it’s important to have writer friends when you spend so much of your days in the dark by yourself typing away on a computer. You can’t just spend forever by your lonesome working on your latest short story or novel. You need to interact with other people who do the same thing, and that’s why an MFA in Creative Writing, or even just having two or three good writer friends, can be so important. You want to feel less alone sometimes, and finding those other people who do what you do always brings lots of joy.

At the same time I agree with Picoult that it can be unnecessary to involve those close writer friends with your specific work process. You don’t need to talk about what you’re working on every time you meet with them and go in depth about your characters and what chapter 17 is like and so on. Talks about the business of publishing certainly has its place, sure, but I have found in the last few years that not talking about writing with my writing friends is usually the best thing of all. To just enjoy each other’s company and gossip and have fun and not feel obligated to talk for hours about the various writing projects we’re working on.

2. On a shelf above my computer are five letters that spell out W-R-I-T-E. Just in case I forget why I’m there. I also have ‘Wonder Woman’ paraphernalia from when I wrote five issues of the comic, and pictures of my husband and kids.

It’s so easy to sit down at your writing desk and do anything else but write. There are so many distractions in our lives that it’s almost a miracle these days when you’re able to sit down, focus, pull up Microsoft Word, and write your heart out. I struggle with it more and more each passing year. The desire to focus and write is always there, but it’s so easy to get distracted by one little thing and suddenly realize an hour has passed you by, and you haven’t written a single word. It’s always so frustrating! You wanted to write 2,000 words between 9am and 11am, and suddenly it’s 10:30 and all you’ve managed is a paragraph.

Some things that help are turning off your Wi-Fi, closing the door so nobody can bother you, and putting your phone in a different room. Another thing that is oh so simple? Putting a note on or near your screen that says W-R-I-T-E. Just seeing that little word will likely give you the motivation to at least get started. What I have found is that once you get started, usually you find the energy to keep going. Getting started on your writing for the day is always the hardest, so once you get past that initial step, the rewards soon follow.

3. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

This is one of the most important lessons you can learn as a writer. I’ve probably said it before, and I’ll say it again and again until it’s drained into your skull: writing a crappy first draft is a hell out of a lot more useful than writing five amazing chapters of a book you never finish. I can’t tell you how many awful first drafts I’ve written of both short stories and novels in the last decade that I was ultimately able to shape into rich and compelling narratives after a few months and a few more drafts.

A really bad page of writing can make you feel lousy, can cause you to think you have no talent, but never forget that a terrible page of writing at least gives you something to work with. It’s a start. You can edit it into something better or find the nugget of the scene that works the best and revise around that. Eventually you might have to cut that entire page completely, but at least the writing of it will have brought you one step closer to something that works as a whole. The blank page does nothing for you, and a bad page of writing will get you where you want to go!

4. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands.

I don’t believe in writer’s block either. I never have. Sure, there have been days when I sat down at my writing desk not entirely sure what to write next, but it was usually a matter of not planning my writing day well enough rather than having no good ideas. Something I learned early on was to always stop your writing for the day at a place where you know exactly what the next scene or the next part of the scene is going to be. That way when you sit down the following day there’s no question of what you’re going to write.

Ideas will come and go. Sometimes it might take you awhile to come up with a really good idea to explore in your next writing project. But try not to ever use writer’s block as an excuse for not getting any work done today. You might think you’re blocked for whatever reason, but usually the reason is something different, most often a mix of distractions, laziness, and maybe not getting enough sleep the night before. We all have days where we struggle getting words down. And it’s okay when that happens. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder. What’s important is that you try again the next day, and the day after that, and keep writing until you reach the end of your latest project.

5. Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it’s all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don’t buy that. It’s a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don’t. Every day I sit down and write.

If you want to be a successful writer, do what Jodi Picoult does: sit down every day and write even when you don’t feel like it. You have to treat writing like a job, not like a hobby. As soon as you start writing only here and there, only when you feel like it, you’re never going to accomplish what you want. You won’t finish that latest project. Thinking about writing a novel? That’s great, but you can’t just think about it and talk about it forever. You actually have to sit down at some point and do it. Not just some days of the week. Every day of the week. You want to pretend like you’re getting paid for each hour you’re sitting there putting words on the page. You want to pretend like people actually are looking over your shoulder, even though you know there’s not.

Waiting for the muse is nice and all, but you need to realize there’s not always going to be a muse. You’re not always going to feel inspired. Sure, the absolute best writing days are the ones where you’re excited and motivated, and your imagination is flowing, and you find yourself writing 2,000 wonderful words in less than an hour. Those are the amazing days you hope for as a writer. But they don’t happen all the time. In fact they happen rarely, at least in my case.

So write when it’s easy, and write when it’s hard. Write through your distractions. Write at least a little bit every single day, and if you stick with the process long enough, amazing things will happen.

Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, now available on Amazon for just $3.49!