Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Madeleine L’Engle to Make You a Better Writer

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Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) wrote the timeless A Wrinkle in Time book series, along with countless other novels, poems, plays, and short stories.

Here are four wonderful quotes she shared with us about the writing life!

1. With each book I write, I become more and more convinced that the books have a life of their own, quite apart from me.

There are a lot of signs that tell you if the writing is going well on your latest novel project. One is that you actually look forward to writing the book every day rather than dread it. When you’re excited to write that next scene, that next chapter, you’re probably producing some good words every day.

Another sign is that the drafting itself goes by pretty fast. You’re not sitting at your chair for five hours struggling to get out sentence after sentence. If you’re flying through your 2,000 words every day, then you’re doing something right.

Another way you know what you’re writing is good, potentially great? When the world of your book truly begins to have a life of its own quite apart from yourself. When the story and the characters begin to feel real to you. When you find yourself constantly thinking and dreaming about that new book you’re writing.

The more real it all feels, the better your work will be, and the more your eventual readers will fall in love with what you’ve created!

2. The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.

People ask me all the time how I’m able to write young adult fiction when I have many years separated from when I was an actual teenager. I’m lucky in that I’m a teacher and I’m able to interact with kids around the same age as the kids I write about in my fiction, so listening to them speak and watching them interact with others certainly helps me find that authenticity.

But another reason I’m able to write teenagers well is that just because I’m in my thirties now doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what life was like at sixteen or seventeen. I still have clear memories from that time of things I saw, things I felt, friendships I made, dreams I couldn’t shake.

Sure, some of the specific details have faded, but so much is still there in my memory that I absolutely feel confident in writing characters of that age. The older you get, the more ages you’ve been, never forget that — and you shouldn’t hold any fear about writing characters of a different age ever.

3. Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.

I see this quote often from so many talented writers, and it’s expressed so much because it’s so damn true. The worst thing you can do as a writer is sit at your desk for an hour or longer just thinking, pondering, procrastinating. You might not be exactly sure how to start that next scene, so you tap your fingers against the desk trying to come up with that perfect opening sentence or line of dialogue or whatever.

This is all a waste of time, I’m telling you. Sure, when you’re not writing, you should be thinking about your latest project and where you hope to take it in the next scene or chapter, but when you actually sit down to write… write. Don’t think too hard. Don’t second guess yourself.

The inspiration doesn’t come if you’re just sitting there. The inspiration comes as you begin writing and exploring your story and characters. If you mess up, fine — you can fix it later. Just get started on the writing and the rest will take care of itself.

4. A book comes and says, ‘Write me.’ My job is to try to serve it to the best of my ability, which is never good enough, but all I can do is listen to it, do what it tells me and collaborate.

Here’s the truth when you’re a dedicated creative writer and novelist for life: some books simply demand to be written. Lots of ideals swirl around your head for weeks, months, maybe even years, but the ones you have to write are the ones that never go away.

I recently wrote a novel I had been thinking about doing for twelve years. Yep, more than a decade. For the longest time I thought about that idea, and I was scared by it, terrified actually, so year after year would pass and I would never attempt it.

Finally, when I was in my third year of my MFA in Creative Writing program, I needed to write a thesis novel, and I decided it was finally time to put that story on paper. I was still scared to do it — terrified, actually — but the required thesis project gave me the kick in the ass I needed to face my fear and write the book. If I didn’t do it then, I was never going to do it. So I wrote and finished the book, spent more than two years revising it with the help of many people — and I’m now I’m querying it to literary agents!

Sometimes it’s necessary for your mental health to finally put that idea to rest in book form. Once the story is written, that initial idea doesn’t bother you anymore, doesn’t keep you up late at night. Find those books that need to be written, and give them your all every time. Yes, they might never be good enough. Yes, you might struggle a bit along the way.

But if the idea is strong, and if you serve it to the best of your ability, there’s no telling how much success you might have in the future!

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Ursula K. Le Guin to Make You a Better Writer

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Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018) was the celebrated author of the Earthsea fantasy series and countless other acclaimed novels.

Here are six wonderful quotes she shared with us to help your writing!

1. My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.

What an astonishing quote this is. I’ve never really thought of the imagination in this way before, and I love it. Because what Le Guin is saying here is absolutely true: your imagination gives you the world, it allows you to see things most people don’t, it allows you to truly surrender yourself to everything the world has to offer.

But at the same time your imagination often forces you to become exiled from the glorious world we live in because you’re spending so much time in dark rooms creating fictional stories and characters that don’t exist. You’re using things from the world, from your life, in your storytelling, but you choose to not engage with the world in a way when you’re writing, instead choosing isolation and the blank page.

I believe this way of living is a noble one, a worthy pursuit, even if it makes all of us a little bit foolish. You have to go after your passion, and if that means taking a step back from the world from time to time and letting your imagination become center stage, then so be it.

2. There’s a good deal in common between the mind’s eye and the TV screen, and though the TV set has all too often been the boobtube, it could be, it can be, the box of dreams.

What a golden age of television we’re living in, isn’t it? I’d actually call it an insane golden age because there’s just so much incredible content out there and so little time to watch it all. Every time you feel you’re making a little bit of progress with a few new shows watched from beginning to end, ten other good shows have dropped on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu and now you’re even further behind.

Movies will always be my number one source of storytelling, they’ve been my number one since childhood, but I absolutely believe that to be a great writer you need to do your fair share of both film watching and TV watching, especially in 2020. It’s my philosophy that you should read a little every day, watch some content every day, and write a little (or a lot!) every day to do good work.

Don’t feel like you should spend less time watching TV. Watch more of it if you want! Try different genres, try shows you know nothing about. You can learn so much and be inspired by great television content.

3. As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope.

I do believe many people out there lose sight of their imagination as they get older. If they’re not doing work in a creative field, if they’ve hit some unfortunate struggles, if their childhood is in many ways a distant memory, the imagination can sort of go away, never to return.

And that’s a pity. Because keeping your imagination soaring every day, no matter what you do for work and what kind of life you’ve made for yourself, is super important. Your imagination keeps you happy, ambitious, passionate, loving. And it absolutely helps you achieve compassion and hope for the future. Imagination is something we hold onto dearly as children, so why is it so many adults push against it and focus instead on pessimism and cynicism?

As writers it’s pivotal you hang onto that imagination of yours and keep it working for you all hours of the day and night. The best authors out there have wondrous, vivid imaginations, and if you want to keep up, you have to keep your own imagination sharpened throughout your life as much as you can.

4. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.

This is honestly the most difficult reality of having a novel you’re written go unread. You spend months, sometimes years, on a novel project and give it everything you have. You give it your whole heart and hope it might touch other hearts along the way, too.

But then you query your novel… and no literary agent takes it on. Or you sign with a literary agent… but he or she can’t sell the novel to anyone. At a certain point, if you want to be traditionally published, that manuscript you adore might have to go back in the drawer, and you’ll be forced to start another one.

That book that’s in the drawer is still a part of you and your imagination, but it truly is little black marks on wood pulp without readers, without an audience. And that painful reality can get to you after awhile. Just remember that whether you self publish the novel at some point or get representation for a different novel in the future, there might be life for those unread manuscripts of yours one day.

5. It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music.

I honestly can’t imagine what life would be like without music. A great song can lift me up and give me confidence for the rest of the day. A song I loved long ago can instantly take me back to a time from my childhood with just a few simple chords.

Better yet, music is simply critical to being a good writer. I know of writers who write in silence, and I understand that to a degree. For me I love to listen to film scores as I draft a new short story or novel. Film score puts me in a mood to write the best story I can. I often go with something that fits my genre, and nothing has ever helped me write more words and better words than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor.

The same way music goes with movies so well, I do believe music goes well with the writing life. The right music at the right time will give you the inspiration you need to be more productive for the day and give you the images and feeling you need to get the best scenes possible down on paper. So think about listening to more music when you write. You might find yourself improving your skills in the process.

6. The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.

This quote makes me think of something Julia Roberts says in the 2013 film August: Osage County: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” There’s so much truth to these quotes, isn’t there? That a big part of why life remains so exciting and filled with possibility is that uncertainty of what comes next, that hope for something better.

I often joke that I never would have gotten started as a writer if I could have seen the future back in 2010. If I could have seen that throughout ten years I would write twenty novels and dozens of short stories and ultimately not have much to show in terms of publishing success or career growth. Writing is hard, after all. Really hard. And when I got started I thought it would take me two books to get an agent and a publishing contract. Maybe three.

But no — here we are ten years since I wrote my first novel, and although I’ve had glimpses of success here and there, I still don’t have any traditionally published books in the world. I’m not sure I would have had the strength and the drive to do what I’ve done if I had known from the beginning I was going to struggle for this long.

However, at the end of the day, that uncertainty makes the whole journey with it, doesn’t it? Because who knows what might come six months from now or a year from now… even a single week from now? Everything can turn around with the right project at the right time with the right person who believes in you, remember that.

So no matter how hard you’ve been working toward your dreams and sometimes think about quitting, keep going anyway. Keep fighting. Something truly exciting could be just around the corner.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to read about my Editorial Services.

 

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Harper Lee to Make You a Better Writer

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Harper Lee (1926–2016) was the celebrated author of the award-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here are five wonderful quotes she shared with us about the writing life.

1. So many writers don’t like to write… I like to write, and sometimes I’m afraid I like it too much, because when I get into work, I don’t want to leave it. And as a result, I’ll go for days and days and days without leaving my house.

Let’s be real for a second: a lot of us love the idea of writing. We love to think about writing and talk to people about writing. We love to spend months and months thinking about that story or novel we can’t wait to eventually put on the blank page.

But the truth of the matter is that writing is really, really hard, so many of us steer clear of it as much as we can, and only when we can’t stand the procrastination anymore that we finally sit our ass in the chair and put some new words on the page.

Yes, writing is often hard, and yes, it can sometimes be a slog. But when the writing is good? When your imagination is fired up and you have a handle on your story and your characters? There’s no other bliss quite like the actual writing. You can escape your life and the world you live in for a few hours… or a few days if you want!

When you find yourself loving the process enough to not step away from the writing desk, that’s when you know you’re doing great work.

2. I’m a slow worker; I’m, I think, a steady worker.

One of the hardest things about being a writer in 2020 is having such easy access to social media to see how much faster it’s taking for other writers to find success. You’re slowly working away on a new manuscript, and boom, there are five more authors you follow on Twitter who just signed new big publishing deals or landed new literary agents.

It’s easy to see the success of others online and think you’re a failure. That you’re not good enough. That you’re not fast enough. You’re thirty, forty, fifty years old, still without a book deal, and you wonder if all your effort has been for nothing.

Take a breath. Calm down. Relax. It’s okay if you’re not a writing superstar by the time you hit thirty. I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and now at the age of thirty-five, I still have no traditionally books in the world or much that I’ve written that truly qualifies as a success. And you know what? I’m okay with it. I’m slowly but surely working toward my dream because I know one day I’m going to make it. I don’t care if it takes another ten years and lots more manuscripts. I don’t care if I’m working a little bit slower than everybody else.

Don’t feel like you have to be a fast writer to be a success. As long as you put in a little bit of work every day and stay consistent, you’ll be well on your way to a completed manuscript and potential success in the near future.

3. Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

If you take away no other pieces of advice from others, it should be these: stay consistent in your writing, like I just said, and finish every writing project you start.

Writing takes a lot of time and effort. Trust me, I know. And to this day I’ll be about halfway through a new novel manuscript and think it’s a mess and that it sucks and nobody’s going to read it and I’m a fraud and maybe I should just stop and start something else. I feel this all the time, and you’ll feel it, too.

Even scarier? That moment before you begin a new writing project, particularly a novel. You stare at that blank page knowing you have to fill up 200 of them, 300 of them, maybe more, and how in the world are you going to do it? It can be a terrifying prospect, even if you’ve written a novel before. And it’s made even worse if that first day you don’t get very many words down.

But do it anyway. Be courageous. If there’s a project you believe in, don’t put it off another month or another year. Find a window of time and just get started, even if that means a couple hundred words a day. Begin that project you believe in and see it through no matter what!

4. It was something I never expected to — I never expected the book would sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers.

What never fails me to fascinate me about Harper Lee is how brilliant and beautiful To Kill a Mockingbird is and yet she never went on to publish another book (yes, Go Set a Watchman, I know, but that doesn’t really count). She didn’t expect To Kill a Mockingbird to sell. She didn’t expect it to be so universally acclaimed and win the Pulitzer Prize. She didn’t expect it to be a bestseller and be made into an Oscar-winning movie.

It was all clearly so overwhelming to Lee that within a few years after her book’s publication she pulled away from public life and, while she may have written more material in the decades to come, she never opted to have any of it published. And I always tend to wonder if To Kill a Mockingbird hadn’t been such an instant smash if she’d maybe had a few more quality books in her.

I don’t know about you but I would be sort of terrified to have my very first published novel be received on the level of To Kill a Mockingbird. It would be so surprising and thrilling and chaotic I’m not sure I would have the ability to write and publish another book for a long, long time. Look at John Green, who was a prolific author of young adult novels before The Fault in Our Stars was released, and he’s only managed one more novel in the past eight years. Look at Gillian Flynn, who still hasn’t published any novels in the eight years since the release of Gone Girl.

There’s good and there’s bad to having a runaway bestseller. The truth is you can’t really think about the potential success while you’re working on a project. You have to just write the story you’re passionate about and go from there. Whatever happens after that? It’s sort of out of your hands.

5. Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.

When it comes to the writing life, especially if you’re at the start of it, you’re going to get advice every which way you turn. Friends and family will tell you things. Other writers will give you advice about how to write a novel and how to get your work published and so forth. You’ll go online and read mountains of advice there, too.

I think it’s important as a writer to see what’s worked for other writers before you and get a sense as to how you can do your finest work. You can’t always write in a bubble, after all. The first draft is all you, but when you get into revisions and the eventual publishing sides of things, you’re going to want to take advice from others and get lots of help wherever possible.

Harper Lee is right in that everyone can easily receive advice but it’s only the wise that actually profit from it. It’s not enough to just read tons of advice and then see what you remember or don’t remember. You have to implement the best pieces of advice you see or hear and find sooner than later what works well for you.

Writing is a difficult and lonely life, but there’s also a tremendous community for you out there, both in person and online, where you can learn more about the craft and be inspired and find ways to improve your skills each and every day.

Take in as much advice as you can… and then use it! If you’re smart about the way you take advice from others, there’s no telling how great your writing can be in the months and years to come.

Want to take your writing to the next level?

Click here to find out about my Editorial Services.

Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Dean Koontz to Help You Write Your Novel

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Dean Koontz (born in 1945) is the bestselling author of such novels as Watchers, Intensity, and Odd Thomas.

Here are six wonderful quotes from Mr. Koontz to inspire your writing!

1. Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.

Isn’t that the truth? I can’t tell you how many days I feel both pleasure and pain as I work on my latest novel. When you get in the zone and the characters start taking over and you suddenly begin speeding through pages and pages of content, writing is pure pleasure. It’s the best. On the best of those days, writing can become an out of body experience!

But then of course there are days where it takes twenty minutes just to write a decent sentence. Where nothing is gelling. Where you think you’re the worst writer in the world. Sometimes both of these things happen on the same day. But that’s the glory of writing. If it were super easy, everyone would do it. It’s the mix of the pleasure and pain that makes it worth doing always.

2. Books were this wonderful escape for me because I could open a book and disappear into it, and that was the only way out of that house when I was a kid.

Sometimes when you write fiction for so long, you almost forget the kind of effect your work can have on your readers, especially children. I remember so many days spent indoors when it was raining or snowing outside curled up with a good book. And even though I didn’t travel much as a kid, books could take me to amazing places, both real and imagined. I was always enamored by how transporting a book could really be.

Don’t forget about that power in your writing. Don’t lose sight of the tremendous ability you have to transport hundreds and thousands and millions of readers to new places. Keep in mind many of your readers are having a hard time and just want to escape. Let your book be that escape. Let that person reading your book feel really good for a few hours, and maybe a little bit less alone.

3. Every book has some real life in it. I was never pursued by an evil twin clone, but everything else in MR. MURDER was pretty much out of my own life.

They say to write what you know, which I believe is only halfway true. Yes, your writing might come easier and the ideas might come faster if you strictly write what you know, what experiences you’ve had in the past, what people you’ve come in contact with. But that can become dull after awhile, especially if you have ambition to write more than one novel. You want to think outside the box and go to new places. You want to take chances as a writer and not just do the same old thing.

At the same time though, no matter what novel you’re writing or what genre you’re attempting, it’s important to bring some elements from your life into the work itself. Even if the protagonist is nothing like you, and the setting is somewhere you’ve never visited, it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle in some details of your own life in places throughout the narrative, when it comes to supporting characters or plot twists or dialogue or whatever. Always use a little bit of yourself and your life, that’s perfectly fine. Just don’t use only what you know and what you’ve been through.

4. I never discuss a novel while I’m writing it, for fear that talking about it will diminish my desire to write it.

I get it, I understand. You’re writing a novel, you’re working hard, and you want to tell everybody about it. You want to tell your parents, your partner, strangers on the street. Anyone who’ll listen. Writing is done all by yourself, after all, and you feel it’s helpful and motivating to tell other people, writers and non-writers, about the latest project you’re working on!

Don’t. I’m telling you. Dean Koontz is right in that it’s best not to discuss your novel while you’re writing it. Once you finish the first draft, then fine, go nuts, tell everybody you know about it. But it’s true that if you talk to people about your novel while you’re drafting it, it’s possible your desire to write it might diminish. This is especially the case if you get a lack of interest from the people you’re talking to about it. A shrug of a response. Somebody saying, “That sounds kind of stupid.” All it takes is a single person putting doubt in your mind to throw you off course.

So let the first draft be a secret. Keep that first draft only to yourself!

5. Some days I’m lucky to squeeze out a page of copy that pleases me, but I get as many as six or seven pages on a very good day; the average is probably three pages.

There’s something I find helpful and normal about Koontz’s writing process, and there’s something I find a little wacky. He’s talked in interviews about how when he’s drafting a new novel he works ten hours a day on it, seven days a week. That is crazy. I can’t even imagine sitting in front of a computer for that long, let alone working on my newest novel all that time. I aim for 2,000 words a day when I’m writing a new novel, and to do that I often need two to three hours. Sometimes four on my most trying of days.

But ten hours? Huh? What confuses me even more about this is Koontz apparently gets as many as six or seven pages on a very good day of writing, the average being closer to three pages. So — wait. He writes for ten hours and gets three pages? The only thing that makes sense about this is that maybe Koontz revises as he goes along, writing a page of content and then spending lots of time revising that page until he gets it to his satisfaction.

You should absolutely aim for a minimum of three good pages of writing every day when you’re drafting a new novel, preferably more. But don’t feel like you need to write for ten hours a day seven days a week. None of us has time for that, honestly. Three hours, even two hours, is often enough.

6. If I drive myself to the brink of my ability, then I don’t get stale or bored.

As soon as you find your work becoming stale or boring, you’re as good as dead as a writer. If all you do is write stories that are super safe and similar to each other, you have to eventually ask yourself why. Are you afraid to take a chance? Are you scared to attempt a new genre?

Now’s the time to experiment and try different things. And not just that — you want to always be driving yourself to the brink of your ability. If you’re not good at writing description, attempt more description in your latest novel. If you’re terrible at dialogue, write lots and lots of dialogue. If there’s one idea out there that truly frightens you, that intimidates you, make that the next book you write.

You want to constantly be growing as a writer. If you write the same kind of thing over and over, and don’t step outside your comfort zone, you’ll never improve, you’ll never have much success. The work will begin to grow stale, and you’ll become disinterested in the writing process. And your readers will see it!

So surprise your readers, and yourself. Make a conscious effort to push yourself to the brink of your ability, and there’s no telling how much success you’ll be able to achieve.

Want to improve your skills as a writer and earn some income in the process?

Check out my new book How to Find Success on Medium.com: 100 Tips & Strategies to Make a Profit with Your Writing, now available on Amazon!

Posted in Writing

5 Simple Ways to Trim Down Your Writing

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In almost all of your writing, you’re eventually going to want to trim it down.

How much varies from case to case, sure, but almost always you reach a certain point in a project where you’ve said too much and it‘s in your best interest to cut it back even five to ten percent.

This goes for novels. Personal essays. Screenplays. Research papers. And definitely short stories. In short fiction every word truly counts, so it’s in your best interest to cut the piece down as much as you can.

I’m in the revision process of a new short story at the moment. The first draft came in at 5,040 words. I wanted to get it under 4,000 words. Yep, I wanted to cut more than twenty percent of the story. Last year I had success with two short stories that came in under 4,000 words (while a story from 2016 I adore that’s a whopping 6,500 words still hasn’t been accepted for publication).

I’m currently on the third draft of my latest story, and it’s at about 4,200 words. I’m going to shave off 200+ more words no matter what it takes. And you know how I’m going to do it? By continuing to implement five simple strategies that work for me every time.

Yes, no matter what kind of writing project you take on, there are five simple ways to trim them down considerably…

1. Delete any sentence that doesn’t add substance.

This is the strategy you should start with. If your project is going on too long and you want to shave off some words fast, a great thing to do is go through it slowly and study each of your sentences. Many of the sentences that can go you’ll recognize instantly. Other sentences that can go won’t be so obvious on your first read-through, and you might want to go through the manuscript a few more times.

I don’t start submitting a short story to literary magazines until I’ve revised it five times, at least. Usually it’s more like seven or eight revisions. And whenever I return to a story that keeps getting rejected, I look at the word count and wonder what I can do to shorten it by even 100 or 200 words.

Often there are sentences in your work that don’t need to be there. That don’t necessarily add any substance. That’s telling rather than showing. That repeats something that was already said five pages before. You want all of these to go. You want your piece to be as clean and compelling as possible.

2. Remove all your adverbs.

You read that right. I know you don’t want to. I know you’ve heard over and over again that adverbs are bad, that the road to hell is paved with adverbs, but it’s all true. At least 95% of your adverbs should go. Preferably 100% of them. Adverbs weaken your writing, and they often tell your reader things far more often than they show your reader things.

And you know what’s great about cutting all or most of your adverbs? You can shave your word count down considerably! You can go through your manuscript page by page and search for all those pesky little “-ly” words that shouldn’t be there.

Even in novels, when you have lots more white space to work with, you should cut out most of your adverbs. They rarely serve a purpose.

3. Put extra focus on any block paragraphs.

This goes for any kind of writing project you take on. Block paragraphs aren’t much fun to read. They’re often stuffed with long, arduous sentences that should be shaved down. There’s usually too much description that goes on and on and on. You might think your reader needs to know every single little thing you add to the paragraph that goes on for a page and a half, but really, do you really need it all?

When you’re trying to shave down your word count, a simple strategy to take on is to go through your manuscript page by page and pay particular attention to any paragraph that goes on longer than, say, seven or eight lines. And certainly any paragraph that goes on for longer than ten lines.

Read those sentences extra carefully and ask yourself if you need everything. Could you at least shorten some of the sentences? Are there details you could cut by even a few words? A win is getting a fifteen-line paragraph down to twelve lines. Or ten lines. Or even less!

4. Trim down paragraphs where three or fewer words carry over to the next line.

Here’s an excellent trick I picked up a few years back from a screenwriting book, of all things. A screenplay should rarely go over 120 pages, so the authors talked about how if you’re at 125 pages or 130 pages, the easiest way to cut the work down is to look for words carried over from a previous line and trim enough words to eliminate that extra line.

You can use this strategy in all the writing you do, including non-fiction writing, short story writing, novel writing. I use this strategy all the time. It’s gotten to the point now where I actually get uncomfortable any time I see a single word straggler on its own line.

So, for example, when you see any paragraphs like this in your Word document…

…you want to do everything in your power to bring those four lines down to three. See how that straggler word “ask” looks awkward and gives you all that white space to the right of it? It doesn’t look great to begin with, and it gives you an awesome excuse to cut down the paragraph by a word or two.

In about ten seconds I read through the paragraph and found an easy way at the top to cut out three words. The paragraph now reads better, cleaner. And there’s not that icky “ask” in a fourth unnecessary line.

You’ll be shocked at how many words you can cut from your manuscript if you start looking for those stragglers on every page and eliminate all of them. Depending on the length of your project, it’s often hundreds and hundreds of words. And your manuscript is improved in the process. It’s a win-win!

5. Cut every unnecessary word.

This is the last of the strategies you should take on. I’m talking, the very final read-through before you start sending out your work. The last thing you should do is go super slowly through the manuscript and look for any potential words you can cut. I’m talking every “the” and “at” and “a” or whatever. Pay close attention to each of your sentences and see if there’s a way to trim it down even by a single word.

I started doing something last year with my short fiction that seemed to work wonders, since both pieces eventually ended up being published in fantastic literary journals. After I went through a few revisions and felt like there was nothing left I could do to improve the stories, I printed them out. Printing out your work and doing one final edit by hand makes a huge difference because often you miss certain things when all you’re looking at is a screen.

For each story I spent about one hour and slowly went through it sentence by sentence with a pen and made note of any paragraph or sentence or word I thought could go. This final step I took shaved off an additional 200 to 300 words, getting each story down to the precise length I wanted it to be.

And you know what happened next? Both of the stories were accepted for publication within weeks, not a few years like some of my other stories.

So give any or all of these five strategies a try in the weeks to come.

They’re all fairly simple, after all. There’s no big mystery behind any of them, and what’s great is that if you implement these strategies more and more, they’ll come to you naturally.

You’ll automatically look for sentences that can go, and adverbs, and block paragraphs, and those straggler words carried over from the previous line, and any unnecessary word that shouldn’t be there.

You will see all of it, and you’ll be able to take a writing project that’s decent or good… and make it great!

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5 Quotes by Jeff Kinney to Make You a Better Writer

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Jeff Kinney (born in 1971) is the bestselling author of the hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Here are five excellent quotes about writing from Mr. Kinney that will inspire your creativity!

1. I never thought I was writing for kids at all. It really shocked and unsettled me to hear kids were buying the books. If I’d known I was writing for kids, I might actually have spelt things out a bit more, and that would probably have killed the appeal.

This quote was such a revelation to me. You look at the huge juggernaut of a franchise that is Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you assume Jeff Kinney started the whole thing wanting to make an impression in the children’s book market. The fact that he didn’t even necessarily know he was writing a children’s book at first is kind of remarkable, but it does explain why those books are so popular!

Because Kinney wasn’t writing those initial stories thinking about the potential kid readers and what he needed to include to appease them or entertain them. He just wrote stories that amused him, plain and simple, and then was later amazed to find the intense love of his work from children all around the world. Kinney is right: he might have changed the tone of the stories a bit more, might have spelt things out more, if he knew kids were going to be his prime audience. His lack of fixation on the market of his books actually helped him in the long run.

2. My advice to authors would be to try to do something original rather than to try to anticipate what the market is looking for.

You hear this from authors all the time, most especially the bestselling authors. It seems like counterintuitive advice to be a successful writer, doesn’t it? To write something original and interesting to you rather than something you believe the market at large is anticipating in the months or years to come? The truth is simply yes, you’ll have more success if you write what compels you and not what you think people want to read from you, not what you think will give you money or awards.

Now, this is not to say you should avoid thinking about the market at all. You should do your research. You should read a lot of books in your genre and outside your genre that were published in recent months by major publishing houses. Study what different writers do and how they achieve their stories. All of this will help you considerably, and likely inspire you, too. But don’t copy others. Don’t just do what other writers are doing. Be yourself, and tell a story that’s wholly you.

3. Routine can stifle creativity, so I try to jolt myself into new modes of thinking.

There are two kinds of routines to keep in mind, one that will help you with your writing and one that likely won’t. The first routine that will help you is finding time every day to sit down and write. Whether it’s in the morning or afternoon or late at night, it doesn’t matter. Find what works best for you. Try to stick to that routine of writing every day as much as possible. This kind of routine will help you tremendously in the future.

The second routine that won’t necessarily help your writing, however, is doing the exact same things day after day in the rest of your life. To go two weeks straight and not have a single day out of the ordinary. To go on no adventures. To never jolt yourself out of the familiar and do something scary and new and different. New experiences of all kinds will inspire your writing tremendously… and they will likely make you happier, too!

4. Most of my latest book was written longhand, in messy handwriting and violent strike-throughs. I’ve got whole pages where there are only two or three usable words. But I got the job done, and I made another deadline.

The truth is you should approach your writing in any way you want. Most of us write the first drafts of our short stories and novels on the computer. I find this way to be the easiest because I can immediately scroll up to a different page to read something if I need to. I can delete or add or change something within seconds. I’m not organized enough to write something by longhand, and I’m definitely too lazy to write longhand because then I would have to transfer all the words to the computer! Plus, I have horrible handwriting. My students make fun of it constantly.

But writing things longhand can help you in other ways as a writer. I like to write ideas in longhand always. I’ve tried writing ideas on a Word document, but it never feels right. I like to have a journal to jot things down whenever I feel like it.

Another way writing things longhand helps is during the revision process. I love to print out my work at least once and take revision notes. You truly do see mistakes and problems more easily on a printed page than you do on the computer. So don’t disregard longhand completely, even if you write most of your work on the computer like I do.

5. If there is any message in the ‘Wimpy Kid’ books, it is that reading can be and should be fun. As an adult reader, when I see an obvious moral lesson to be taught, I run in the other direction… Kids can sniff out an adult agenda from an early age. I’m writing for entertainment, not to impress literary judges.

You always want to write the best stories and novels and books you can. You want to always be improving. You want to always be growing. You don’t want to be an average writer. You want to be a great writer.

But never forget that a large part of what you do should be to entertain the reader. I don’t care what genre it is or what kind of story you’re looking to tell. There should be a level of entertainment value for the reader, and not an obvious moral lesson or an attempt to impress literary judges. If you try do either of those latter things, your readers will likely put your book down and run the other way.

Your focus should be on the story, plain and simple. You want to tell it the best way you can. And you want to make it propulsive, compelling reading that keeps people flipping through the pages. Tell your readers a damn good story… and you’ll never let them go!

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A Dozen Quotes by Stephen King to Help You Write Your Novel

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Stephen King (born in 1947) is one of the bestselling authors of all time, his novels having sold more than 350 million copies worldwide.

Here are a dozen inspiring quotes from Mr. King to help you write your novel!

1. Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

Here’s the honest truth about writing, especially novel writing: you’ll never finish your projects if you wait around for inspiration. If you wait around for a visit from the muse. Some writing days are better than others. Some days the words fly off your fingertips and other days you sit there struggling to write a single decent sentence.

If you really want to write your novel this year, you need to think of the writing process like exercise, like a job. You can’t just write when you feel like it. You can’t revise your first perfect chapter to death. You have to keep writing, even on the days you don’t feel like it. You have to get up every day (or at least five days a week if possible), sit down at your computer, and put a significant amount of words down on the page. That is how you’ll reach THE END. That is how you’ll write many, many novels in the long run.

2. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

If you’re interested in writing novels, you should be interested in reading novels, too. You should want to kick your feet up after a long day and immerse yourself in a book for a while, not immediately want to put on some bad reality show and completely turn your brain off. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to scroll mindlessly on your phone, a lame TV show playing in the background, but if you’re serious about being a writer, you need to get serious about reading, too.

Honestly, if you have to force yourself every day to read even for ten to twenty minutes, you might be in trouble when it comes to your novel writing. Because reading and writing absolutely do work in tandem to grow your skills. You want to read everything you can get your hands on. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read in genres you’re unfamiliar with. Read authors you’ve never heard of before. It all helps, I promise you. If you do both long enough, your writing skills will improve, and you’ll come to enjoy reading more than ever.

3. Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.

How convenient would it be to take a walk on down to Story Central, hand over a few bucks, and then come on home with a couple of exciting, original, nifty story ideas you can use for your next novel? Unfortunately ideas don’t work like that. Ideas really do come from anywhere. Sometimes you find a nugget of an interesting idea from a film or TV show you’re watching or a book you’re reading. Sometimes a real-life experience inspires a great idea. Sometimes ideas drop right out of the sky and hit you square in the face.

Stephen King is right: your job isn’t necessarily to find the ideas but to recognize them when they appear, especially the ones that come out of nowhere. Many writers have an idea journal exactly for this reason, although in my opinion the best ideas — the ones you should truly stick with for the long haul — stay put for good and practically beg to be put down on paper. One of the best things you can do if you’re strapped for ideas? Live your life to the fullest. Travel and be spontaneous. Get outside the house whenever possible. You’ll be shocked to find how many story ideas fall into your lap when you’re doing something out of the ordinary.

4. I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.

I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and I still often pull a chair up to my writing desk feeling a little bit, or a lot, of fear. I’m not so much afraid that the writing I’m about to do is going to be bad — if any of the writing in your first draft is bad, you just make it better later during revisions — but I’m instead afraid I’m going to fail again. I’ve written so many books throughout the years that ultimately went straight into the drawer, never to be seen again. I’ve put my heart into projects that for whatever reason never worked out.

The truth is you should have a little bit of fear during the writing of a novel. A little bit of fear is normal. If you’re not afraid at all, and you’re completely confident every step of the way, your latest manuscript might actually not be everything you hope it to be. It might be too safe. Or it might be too similar to other things you’ve written before. You want to take chances in your writing always, for better or for worse. Have some fear about the latest novel you’re taking on, but don’t be afraid when it comes to the writing itself. Do your best, and fix what doesn’t work later.

5. When I’m working I work every day — three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean. So if the manuscript is, let’s say, 360 pages long, that’s basically two months work.

People are always in awe at how prolific Stephen King has been for going on fifty years now, but when you break his schedule down day to day, he’s not doing anything extraordinary. He’s not sitting at his writing desk from 8 to 5 writing dozens and dozens of pages. He’s prolific do to his consistency. His ability to write a specific amount of words and pages every day all year long. Not nine hours a day. Not five or six. Often three to four hours a day, sometimes less.

I always say this to people who want to write their first novels: decide on a word count, and stick to that word count every single day until you reach THE END of the first draft. My word count when I’m writing a new novel is always 2,000 words a day. Often I aim for 100,000 words for a new novel, and if I write five days a week, that’s 10,000 words a week for ten weeks. Yep, in just ten weeks (and often less) I have the completed first draft of a novel. King often writes his first drafts in about two months… and you know what? So can you! Aim for at least 1,000 words a day and stick to that schedule as long as you need to.

6. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

This happens almost every time you get deep into a new novel project. Sometimes it’s page fifty. Often it’s page 120 or 170 or something like that. For me it’s always a chapter near the middle of the manuscript when I feel I’ve lost my way… and the book is not coming together the way I was hoping for. I think to myself, this is shit, this is terrible, I should abandon this novel and start something else. Why, oh why, am I such an awful writer?

We all feel like this at some point during the novel writing process. It’s okay. It’s totally normal. The important thing is to keep going even when you feel your writing is terrible, even when you don’t feel like continuing. Because it’s absolutely true: sometimes you are doing good work even though you feel like it’s crap. I wrote a short story recently I thought was one of the worst things I’d ever written… and then it went on to sell to a prestigious literary magazine within weeks, much to my delight and surprise.

You just never really know. Often you’re too close to the material. Often what’s on the page doesn’t exactly match what you had in your head, so you think what you’re doing doesn’t work. But often, especially after you’ve completed a few revisions, those words on the page are working beautifully. You just don’t know it yet.

7. Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut pages and pages of great writing from one of my novels for a single basic reason: the scene or scenes didn’t need to be there. As much you adore the language you use in a specific scene, as much as you love the pacing and the drama and the humor or whatever it may be, if the scene doesn’t further anything in the story, it oftentimes needs to go.

On my MFA thesis novel my advisor suggested I cut an extremely long 82-page sequence from the middle of the book. I refused at first. That was weeks and weeks of hard work I’d be throwing away. Pages and pages of solid writing. But within days I realized she was right, that this sequence slowed down the pacing and felt in many ways unrealistic, and so one terrible Monday morning I sat at my writing desk, selected all seven chapters, and deleted them. It was about 26,000 words of writing, much of which I liked a lot, completely erased from the novel, never to be seen again. This is an extreme example, of course, but if you’re going to make it as a novel writer, you need to make the hard choices at times. You need to kill your darlings, always, if doing so better serves the story you’re telling.

8. There’s nothing wrong with writing any of these things [sci-fi, romance, mystery, etc.]. What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing circle colleagues.

Stephen King is right about a lot of things, and he’s definitely right about this one: never write something, especially a novel, just to impress other people, whomever that may be. You might love young adult fantasy, for example, and want to write a wildly romantic and ambitious story in that genre, but you ultimately think people might look down on a story like that, so you write an adult literary novel instead about an aging couple dealing with a divorce. You write the second book because you feel it might impress more people, especially those important figures in the publishing industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What you want to learn sooner rather than later is that you should focus on writing the stories that fascinate you, that excite you, that make you want to sit down at the writing desk every day. I’ve written in a few different genres throughout the years, but what I’ve come to realize in the last five years is young adult suspense is my sweet spot. I offer some literary qualities in my work, I write a lot of LGBTQ characters, I sometimes write supernatural and sometimes write pure realism, but what I know for sure is if I’m going to spend a year or longer on a new novel, it has to be something I care about and want to have some fun with. So write what you want to write. Don’t ever write what you think you should be writing.

9. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

Stephen King has an excellent section in his 2000 craft book On Writing all about description, which I turn to often because, frankly, I’m not great at writing description. It’s one of my skills that year after year has only slightly improved with all the novels I write and all the books I read. I don’t know if it’s a matter of not having enough tools in my vocabulary or what, but when it comes to things like setting, I always struggle with description.

But one thing I do know for sure is you never want to overload your prose with too much of it. You don’t want to describe every detail of what your main character looks like. Don’t tell us everything he or she is wearing. You don’t want to be in the middle of a strong scene of drama only to pull back and give the reader a block paragraph of description all about the house your two characters are standing in. You want to sprinkle your prose with description here and there, but never too much. Remember that you want to leave some of the description to your reader’s imaginations. Give them enough for them to clearly picture the scene but often no more than that.

10. The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.

Like with description, backstory is something that’s necessary in your fiction, particularly in a novel, but, also like with description, you don’t ever want to go overboard. Yes, your characters have been through a lot in their lives before we meet them on page one. If you introduce a fifty-five-year-old female protagonist on page one of your novel, you’re going to need to sprinkle some backstory here and there throughout the manuscript to tell us who she is. It’s important we know where she’s been before in order to get us on board with what she’s going after now. Backstory serves an essential purpose of most forms of storytelling.

But King is right in that most backstory isn’t very interesting to your reader. What’s often much more interesting is the story you’re telling that’s taking place now and what’s going to happen in it next. Backstory should serve a role in helping flesh out your main characters and give us some necessary context as to the choices they’re making and what motivates them and why they feel the way they do, and so on. But don’t overload the reader with too much backstory, the same way you shouldn’t ever overload the reader with too much description. Give the reader a little bit of both throughout your novel when they’re needed, and you’ll have a better chance at success.

11. When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.

The simple truth is you’re going to make lots and lots and lots of mistakes in the first draft of your novel. You can’t expect perfection. And you shouldn’t along the way stop the writing process to go back to revise earlier chapters, no matter how much you want to do so. The best thing you can do is constantly look forward every single day and keep writing until you reach THE END. Feel free to make mistakes. Feel free to write a new scene that popped into your head the morning of. You can always cut it or change it later. Try to write the best first draft every time, but always keep in mind you’re going to make it better in revisions.

Because when you’re writing your first draft, you truly are just scanning and identifying the trees. It’s in the revisions that you finally are able to step back and look at the entirety of the forest. Finishing the first draft is a milestone, a huge achievement. It’s a time to celebrate. You should give yourself a month or longer away from the manuscript, so you can let it rest at the same time you’re resting, too. And when you come back to it, one of the best things you can do is read the entirety of the novel in one sitting. Finally, what’s working and what’s not working will become so very clear to you. And as you begin your revisions, you’ll have a stronger focus on what you need to do to make your work better.

12. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

Finally, it’s important to remember that writing can oftentimes be a lonely job, especially when there’s no one out there who believes in you. Yes, you might be a confident, motivated person who doesn’t need anyone else to be on your side. You might know for sure you have what it takes to write a novel and have that novel eventually be a success. A little bit of confidence is helpful in any line of work you do, and it’s especially helpful for novel writers.

But you still need to find one or more people out there who believes in you. Having people who believe in you keep you more on track with your writing, keep you staying strong on your worst days when you feel like a failure and feel you’ll never be able to finish your latest project, let alone ever see the day where the novel hits bookshelves. Hopefully your family believes in what you do, and the person you share your life with, too. If they don’t, find those people who do. Join a writing community, online or in person. Sometimes all you need is one great writer friend to keep you motivated. I have a few of them, and they continue to inspire me every day.

Writing is a lonely job, after all. It’s a lonely and difficult life, really. You’ll have weeks, months, years, where you feel like nothing is happening. Where all you see is rejection. Where you start to wonder if all of the hard work has been for nothing. Well, you know what? Tell yourself this, always: the hard work has been worth it, and you’re continuing to grow and improve with each passing day. You’ll find the right project eventually, and soon the whole world will see and appreciate your talent. Because you’re a writer, damn it. And you always will be.

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