Posted in Writing

5 Words You Should Add Variety To When You’re Editing

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There’s a lot you need to keep in mind when you’re editing your work.

You want to make sure your writing flows, that the pacing is strong, that your paragraphs and sentences make perfect sense for the reader.

Your storytelling and your characters come first, always, but once your work is at a level you’re happy with, it’s important to take a few more passes at your manuscript to make it even just a little bit better.

Changing or deleting specific words and phrases will improve your writing tremendously. You know what else will help, too? Adding variety to the words you use often.

I just finished one last draft of my newest short story, and part of the editing work I did was locate specific words I use often in my writing and give them some variety so I wasn’t ever using the same kind of word over and over from the first page to the last.

What are those words I use often, and that you might use often, too? Let’s discuss…

1. Look

Here’s a word I use more than almost any other. All right, maybe not more than “the” and “a” and “it,” but you know what I’m saying. My characters look at each other so much of the time. They’re always looking. And in some ways this is a word I’ve come to despise because I see it so often in my work.

There are two strategies I take when it comes to the word “look.” I first search for the word from the beginning of my manuscript to the end and see if there’s any uses of it I can delete completely. Often half or more I can cut.

But sometimes you need to explain to the reader what the character is looking at, so it needs to stay. But this doesn’t mean you only have to use “look” every time. Try some of these alternatives as well…

  • Peer — I use this one a lot. It’s always an effective alternative that basically means the same thing.
  • Glance — I use this one if the character is only looking at something or someone for a few seconds.
  • Stare — And I use this one if the character is looking at something or someone for an obscene amount of time.

And then occasionally I’ll use something like “darted his eyes” or “narrowed her eyes” or “averted her gaze,” but these always sound awkward to me so I allow myself exactly one use of each in anything I write and no more.

2. Sigh

Here’s a word I can never get enough of. If I can get through an entire chapter in one of my novels without a single use of this word, I feel like a champion. It’s the easy go-to word to break up dialogue or show that a character is feeling something.

Ultimately it’s a pretty generic word that doesn’t mean a whole lot, so in the case of “sigh,” you should avoid it as much as you can. I would say you should only have one use of it in every few chapters if you’re writing a novel and maybe two uses of it total if you’re writing a short story.

Are there other words you can use for “sigh?” Sure, there are. First, you can rephrase the word so instead of saying “he sighed,” you can say “he released a loud, angry sigh,” just to give it more detail. But even that isn’t great.

Sometimes I’ll use these alternatives, too…

  • Groan — It kind of means the same thing, but it’s slightly more angry.
  • Gasp — I’ll use this word if the character is surprised by something.
  • Exhale — This one is even more ambiguous than “sigh,” but at least it’s something different.

I actually didn’t realize how often I had my characters sighing until I searched for the word, and I was mortified. So mix this one up as much as you can.

3. Smile

It’s hard to admit how often I have my characters smiling, but if they’re not sighing at something or looking at somebody, they’re most definitely smiling. It’s an easy word to use to show that your character is happy about something. You have your character smile, and the reader understands how they’re feeling.

The problem with having a character smile too much (and the same goes for having a character cry too often, too) is that the expression gets old really fast for the reader. The character smiles four times in a single chapter, and they start to read like a robot.

You want to mix it up, so here are some other words you can use at times…

  • Grin — It basically means the same thing, but if you really need to have a character smile twice, on, say, the same page of your manuscript, have her smile first and then grin second.
  • Beam — I use this one only occasionally if the character is really, really happy, just because the word can read awkward in a context that doesn’t make sense.
  • Smirk — This word is a specific kind of smiling — something that’s kind of mocking or condescending — so like with the word “beam,” you’ll want to use it in the right context.

Like with all of these words, you want to keep “smile” to a minimum if you can. Instead of choosing the easy way by including this basic word, show why your character is happy through other details and descriptions whenever possible.

4. Turn

Something else my characters do all the time? They’re turning! He turns around here and she turns toward something there, and there’s just so much turning. Why can’t my characters just face forward for once?

The thing is that throughout your story you’re going to have characters occasionally turning toward things, there’s no way around it. The question then becomes, do you have to use the word “turn” every single time?

Of course not. There are other words that add variety, like these…

  • Move — This is the obvious one, where instead of writing “he turned around” you can say “he moved the other way” or something simple like that.
  • Spin — I’m not ashamed to say I use this one sometimes, too, although it does sound a little silly, so I would keep it to a minimum. Saying a character “spins around” has an almost child-like quality, so I wouldn’t use it in a scene of high drama or terror.
  • Twist — Here’s one I also use maybe once or twice in a manuscript, although, like with “spin,” it does sound a bit awkward and almost archaic if not used in the right context.

Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t only use “turn” over and over again. Some readers might not catch all your uses, but others will.

5. Walk

Here’s the final big one. The dreaded word, “walk.” Your characters are often coming and going, right? So how else are they usually moving but walking?

Of the five words I’ve gone into, this is the one with the most variety. Let’s discuss a few of them…

  • Run — Here’s the easiest alternative to “walk,” to show the character is moving fast.
  • Sprint — Use this one if the character is running really fast.
  • Race — Sometimes I’ll use this if I’ve used “run” or “sprint” too much in a scene.
  • Amble — I’ve always loved this word. It means to “walk casually” basically.
  • Roam — This one is kind of like “amble” and means “to drift.”
  • Saunter — This one is also kind of similar to “amble” and can be used instead of “stroll.”
  • Traipse — This word is a bit more specific, so I allow myself only one or two uses of it in a manuscript. It means “to walk wearily.”
  • Step — Here’s an alternative to “walk” I use often, especially if two characters are standing close to each other and one of the characters moves just a tiny bit closer to the other.
  • Move — Of course you can on occasion just use this word if you’ve used “walk” too many times in a scene.
  • March — This one always reads awkwardly to me, so I’ll only use it if it makes perfect sense for the context of a scene.
  • Make Her Way — Also kind of awkward, but you can use it maybe once to mix things up.
  • Perambulate — OK, that’s a joke. Don’t use it!

On and on and on… you see what I mean. There are ten or more examples I didn’t even go into, so, yes, there are lots of ways to say a character walked from place to place.

Although you shouldn’t use a new alternative every time, there’s simply no excuse to only use “walk” all throughout your manuscript.

Add variety to common words in your writing, and your work will improve every single time.

Again, I know it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal if you have one too many uses of “look” or “sigh” or “smile” in your writing. If a reader catches two examples of “turn” or “walk” on a single page, that person will probably not even notice, and if they do, they probably won’t care.

But it absolutely makes you stand out from the crowd if you pay close attention to small details like these and make the effort to take your writing from a nine to a ten, always.

You want to be published, right? You want to find success. Add some variety to the words you include in your writing, and you’ll be well on your way!

Want to start making some money from your writing?

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 Quotes by Alice Munro to Make You a Better Writer

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Alice Munro (born in 1933) has written multiple award-winning short story collections like Dear Life, Runaway, and Too Much Happiness.

Here are five of her marvelous quotes about the writing life!

1. I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.

Honestly any fun hobby you partake in can work its way into your storytelling. Anything you’re interested in or passionate about can play a role in the occupation of your next protagonist or be featured in a pivotal scene at some point during a narrative. The problem is that many of us don’t have time for activities like bridge and tennis. I enjoy playing golf, but when you play eighteen holes it sort of turns into your entire day. And in twenty novels, let me tell you, there hasn’t been much about golf ever written.

So do what makes you happy and then maybe feature some of that stuff in your stories, but if you don’t have a lot of time, sometimes all you really do need is a few precious minutes to stare out your window and dream. Dream about potential stories you could write. Dream about characters. Dream about possibilities. Living your life helps with your writing, but so does sitting in a dark room and just looking out the window. Do what you need to do to make some good ideas start flowing, and you’re well on your way.

2. Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory, an anecdote, but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story.

I’ve never heard an author express this particular thought before, and I’m so happy to finally find it because this happens all the time. I’ve written a lot of books throughout the years and I would say about half of them started with a memory or an anecdote, or a personal experience that had some kind of long-lasting effect on me. I even wrote a novel once that’s a borderline autobiography disguised as a work of fiction, with just enough thrown into its story to make it an experience different from my own.

The trick is that even when you get super personal in your storytelling, you need to eventually, after you’ve completed your first draft and you’ve spent months and months revising and editing and tightening and polishing, forget all about that initial idea. You in no way want to be married to that memory or anecdote to the point where you move some things around in your story or change scenes and character arcs. Let the story take you where it wants to take you. And just let whatever started the story in the first place slip from your mind.

3. Some of the stories I admire seem to zero in on one particular time and place. There isn’t a rule about this. But there’s a tidy sense about many stories I read. In my own work, I tend to cover a lot of time and to jump back and forward in time, and sometimes the way I do this is not very straightforward.

Alice Munro is certainly one of the most famous short story writers of her generation. In her long, celebrated career she’s never written a novel — what is often thought to be the standard of fiction writers — and has instead embraced the short story art-form her entire life. And when it comes to the short story, so many people think the only way to write it is to zero in on one specific time and place.

I’ll admit that’s the way I write most of my stories. In a dozen or more I’ve written in the past few years, most of them focus on one character in one place in a very short window of time. Part of me worries if I open up the story even a little bit, it’ll turn into a novel, because so many of my short story ideas in the past have ultimately expanded to novel length.

But the truth is you can write your short fiction any way you want. Munro liked to cover a lot of time and jump forward and backward. She likes to avoid being completely straightforward in her storytelling, and you know what? That’s what makes her work so groundbreaking. You’ll never get anywhere as a writer playing by the rules and doing what’s expected of you. Try something outside the box and maybe that will be the story that gets a fast sale and publication!

4. Why do I like to write short stories? Well, I certainly didn’t intend to. I was going to write a novel. And still! I still come up with ideas for novels. And I even start novels. But something happens to them. They break up. I look at what I really want to do with the material, and it never turns out to be a novel.

This is so interesting to read because I’m the polar opposite. I’ve started short stories before that ballooned from five thousand words to fifteen thousand words and then later became novels. I’ve sat down in the past to write a flash fiction short story that eventually became a seven-thousand-word behemoth.

Munro, on the other hand, has at times sat down to write a novel and then found that the narrative simply worked better in the short story format. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s important as a writer to designate how long your story should be. Not everything should be a novel. And there are certainly many kinds of stories meant to be written in a shorter format.

Take advantage of the short story format to experiment and try new genres and new ways of writing. You might not want to take a big chance on a novel for six months or longer, but you can certainly take a big chance on a short story that only takes you two weeks to write. Again, your story idea should tell you how long it wants to be, so embrace whatever length that next narrative of yours is intended to be.

5. I’m always trying. Between every book, I think, ‘Well now, it’s time to get down to the serious stuff.’

Ain’t that the truth? And how inspiring is it to hear this from Alice Munro, one of the most celebrated short story writers to have ever lived? I’m usually feeling the way she does about 200 pages into the first draft of my latest novel, when it’s not quite matching the initial vision I had in mind, when I’ve screwed things up big time three chapters in a row. I think to myself, I’ve failed, it’s over, maybe I can fix some of this in revisions… and next time I can get down to the serious stuff.

We all want to grow as writers. We want to improve in our craft. We want to get down to the serious stuff sooner or later. Sure, the book or short story we’re working now is fun and all, but don’t worry — we’re going to try harder next time and get more serious. What we’re writing now isn’t very literary, but the next one will be. What we’re writing now is more of a popular kind of entertainment, but that next one I write next year will be the one that’s finally embraced my critics and audiences alike.

Keep telling yourself this as much as you want, but here’s the reality: whatever project you’re working on right now is the serious stuff. If you’re dedicating part of your day to a new creative endeavor that comes from your heart, that you feel passion for, that you hope to one day enter the world for people to see and feel, you’re already being serious. Just because you’re not writing the world’s most literary novel doesn’t mean that entertaining fantasy story you’re writing now isn’t doing serious work.

If you’re working hard on your writing every day and doing everything you can to improve, if you’re getting rejected a lot and feeling failure often, if you’re getting up each morning and trying again anyway, you’re a serious writer, and you’re going to make it one day. Just believe in yourself and keep going.

Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Toni Morrison to Make You a Better Writer

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Legendary author Toni Morrison (1931–2019) wrote the classic novels Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Song of Solomon, among countless others.

Here are six of her wonderful quotes about writing!

1. If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

This is Toni Morrison’s most famous quote about writing, and it’s easy to see why. It’s without question one of the most important pieces of advice you can give to any aspiring writer. It’s what everybody with a book inside of them should hear. When you go to the bookstore and look for a specific kind of book but can’t ever find it? Then you’re going to have to get comfy in a chair, pull out your laptop, and start writing.

There are so many reasons to write, and often you’ll have so many great ideas for potential books to put down on the page. You should go with the idea that’s personal, that’s close to your heart, that compels you to no end, but one other thing you should ask yourself is, has this particular book been written yet? If the answer is yes, still write it if you want, but if the answer is no, then it’s the one you have to write — simple as that.

2. The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.

Here’s another quote to haunt you for a little bit. What Morrison is saying here is so true. Many, many writers can put themselves on the page easily and make the familiar work well for the reader. Often what’s most fun to write is what you know well, that you don’t have to put a lot of hard thinking into and that you can put your own unique spin on.

The challenge of writing comes when you write about other people not very much like yourself. When you take a few scary steps into the strangeness. Going outside your comfort zone is essential if you want to grow as a writer, and the sooner you learn that, the better. You want to occasionally explore a character you haven’t spent much time with in the real world. You want to attack a genre you’ve been frightened by for years. You want to tell a story at times the world doesn’t expect from you. If you fail, you fail. No big deal. Pick yourself up and try something different. But if you succeed, there’s no telling how exciting your future possibilities as a writer will become.

3. I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in the subway, where you can’t do anything anyway.

One big problem with being a writer in 2020 is always having something to cure your boredom. You get bored for five seconds, and then you immediately pick up your phone and scroll through Twitter or turn on the TV and put on another episode of that show you’ve been bingeing. Even when you’re stuck at home all day, there’s no excuse to be bored. As long as you have a phone and a TV nearby, you have thousands of entertainment options right there at your disposal.

The problem with this is that boredom significantly helps you as a writer. Even just five to ten minutes of staring out a window, maybe some soft music playing in the background, will relax your mind and stir up your imagination. Whenever you’re stuck on something in the latest story you’re writing, boredom will help you every time. You have to clear your mind and think of other things. Go for a walk without your phone. Take a hike, get out in nature. Think of your phone as the creativity killer, and let boredom enter your life from time to time, I’m telling you!

4. Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.

Books should tickle your curiosity the same way they do for me. Books should be everywhere in your life, ready at a moment’s notice to be pulled off the shelf. Even in this modern age of technology and streaming services and endless screens that clutter up our lives, books still have a tremendous power that can’t be ignored.

Morrison’s books have helped change the world in countless ways, and she’s just one single writer. Imagine what you could write and work on this year that could change the lives of even a few select people who eventually read it. Tell the story that has the ability to let people reflect on their own lives and maybe think a little differently about something. Never forget how a dusty hardback or softcover book can still move people in an extraordinary way.

5. I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can’t teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort.

Many writers have to be teachers, it’s just the way it is. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who can make enough money from their writing to pay the bills and be well off, you’re going to need to find a day job that allows you to get by. And teaching is such a natural profession for writers because you get to teach other people what you love and you often get breaks that allow you to work on your latest projects. Especially at the college level, teaching can be a job that works really well with your life as a writer.

But when it comes to the actual teaching, Morrison is right: not everything can be taught, and the sooner you learn that as a teacher, the better. If you’re teaching a fiction workshop to fifteen students, a few of those students will have the vision and talent (and work ethic, I’d also add), but many of them will not. Some things in writing you either have or you don’t, that’s just the way it is. But almost everyone has the ability to tell a good story if given the necessary guidance and comfort that all teachers can give. It’s a matter of tapping into what potential each aspiring writer has.

6. My world did not shrink because I was a Black female writer. It just got bigger.

This quote in a way goes back to the first one. This quote says that what makes you unique will make you stand out the most. If you feel like you’re different, embrace that difference and share your personal stories with the world. Just because you’re a black female writer doesn’t mean you have a limited audience or that not a lot of people will want to read your work. The same goes for if you’re a gay person or a trans person or a person with a disability.

Whatever it may be, be you, and have the confidence to give your voice to us. You have no idea how many readers out there needed to hear the words of Toni Morrison. Her novels have shaped our world since her first book The Bluest Eye was published fifty years ago, in 1970. She was probably told no a number of times. She probably had some struggle getting her words published no matter how much she believed in herself and her stories. But you know what? She persevered and she shared stories that were uniquely her own and she became one of the most celebrated authors of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

You don’t want to just write something that everyone else is writing. You don’t want to contribute a generic story to an already super popular genre or age market. Think outside the box. Reach deep within yourself and find that thing about you that you believe might limit your audience in some way or might shrink your world. The sooner you realize that thing will actually make your world infinitely bigger, the better chance you’ll have at being a successful, celebrated, and happy writer.

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Posted in Writing

Why You Need to Avoid Writing One-Dimensional Characters

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Strong Characters are Everything When It Comes to Writing Excellent Fiction.

And you have to take the time to develop them in ways that make them realistic, dynamic, and completely three-dimensional for your readers.

Focusing so heavily on my characters was something I never used to think about much, and instead, I mostly let the story rule the day. Yes, I tried to always give my characters specific qualities and traits. Yes, I even tried to make my supporting characters who only appear in a few scenes pop off the page for the reader.

But it wasn’t until I thought critically about how to give my characters more life on the page that my writing started to take shape in ways it never had before. Because you have to remember how important character is. It doesn’t matter how exciting your plot might be or how much of a hook your high concept might have. Character should rule the day always, not the story.

Here’s something you can do that might help: when you think of each of your characters, not only the protagonist, as in a way having a camera pointed at him or her, as being the center of his or her own universe, you begin to understand as a writer the necessity to not just put all the hard work into developing your main character to a reasonable degree and then merely sketching the side characters.

Once you put hard work into developing all of your characters in ways where you understand their viewpoints, their motivations, their desires, and what’s keeping them from their goals, in one scene after another, your fiction becomes incredibly richer.

Having better characters helps your fiction in so many ways. The dialogue becomes stronger. The conflicts become more dynamic. And your characters slowly begin to take on lives of their own, which is exactly what you want to have happen!

Each of Us is the Protagonist of Our Own Life, and You Want to Think This Way about Your Fiction, Too.

It’s such a weird way to think, isn’t it? Yes, we care about other people. Yes, we do things throughout our days for others. Especially in times like we’re in right now, we’re spending a whole lot of time thinking about family and friends and trying to be as selfless as we possibly can.

But essentially from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we are the star of the show. The camera is pointed at us every second of our lives. We are living our own story, and we don’t have the kind of access to other lives as we do to our own.

This is why fiction is so important as an art-form. And it’s why you have to give all your characters, not just some of your characters, their time to shine. That includes your supporting characters. That includes your antagonist.

That includes the character who has exactly one scene and three lines of dialogue in chapter twenty. Even characters with tiny, tiny bit parts in your stories should have a viewpoint that makes sense for the reader and that comes from a place of reality.

It might not be easy for you to develop your characters perfectly in the first draft — trust me, none of us gets it right in the first draft — but when you go about the revision process, pay close attention to how your characters act and behave, not just how the protagonist acts and behaves.

I had a literary agent once give me a super helpful exercise to go through my latest work-in-progress and look at each scene from the perspective of every character that plays an important role in that scene. That’s right — every single character.

The exercise was difficult and time-consuming, and it even frustrated me at times, but I believe going through this process made the novel all the better — and it will absolutely help your short story or novel, too!

Here’s the truth of the matter: it’s not enough to see the world of your story only through your protagonist. Yes, even if your book is written in the first person.

Just because there’s one central viewpoint in your story doesn’t mean all the other characters should be vaguely drawn on the page. Make them specific. Understand their point of view. Give them life!

Start looking at the world through all of your characters, and there’s no telling how much your fiction will improve.

Want to start making some money from your writing?

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 Quotes by George R.R. Martin to Make You a Better Writer

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George R.R. Martin (born in 1948) is the world famous author of A Song of Fire and Ice.

Here are five of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. The odd thing about being a writer is you do tend to lose yourself in your books. Sometimes it seems like real life is flickering by and you’re hardly a part of it. You remember the events in your books better than you remember the events that actually took place when you were writing them.

George R.R. Martin definitely brings up an important point about the writing life: a lot of life is going by in front of you as you spend days and months and years spent inside dark rooms creating your stories. This is the only way to do it, really. You can’t live your life 99% of the time and then focus on your writing just 1% of the time. You’re going to have to sacrifice some of that real life of yours and spend it with the characters of your latest story if you want to find success in your writing endeavors.

But, you know, there’s such a rush in writing that you probably won’t feel you’ve missed out on too much. Sure, it’s important that you step away from the writing desk from time to time to live a little and be with family and friends, but writing can be so exhilarating that losing yourself in a world of your own creation is often a wonderful way to spend your time. You’ll often be happier in the long run, and you’ll produce some tremendous art in the process.

2. With a book I am the writer and I am also the director and I’m all of the actors and I’m the special effects guy and the lighting technician: I’m all of that. So if it’s good or bad, it’s all up to me.

I complete understand where he’s coming from here since I’ve made films and written books. One short film I made in college had a crew of about twenty people, and the success of that particular piece was due to the hard work of so many individuals, not just myself. Any major theatrical film you see? There are literally hundreds of people working on it, from the casting to the filming to the editing to the sound and music. You see that “A Film By” credit all the time, but seriously —a film is made by way more individuals than the director.

A novel is different. You really are the writer and director and editor. You’re the star, and if the book doesn’t work at the end of the day, there’s not anyone else to blame but yourself. Sure, everybody should get help with their writing. You should get beta readers along the way, and later in the process, if you’ve had some luck and success, you’ll have a literary agent and an editor go through your manuscript and help you make it better. But the final decisions you make about your manuscript? That’s on you.

3. One of the big breakthroughs, I think for me, was reading Robert A. Heinlein’s four rules of writing, one of which was, ‘You must finish what you write.’ I never had any problem with the first one, ‘You must write’ — I was writing since I was a kid. But I never finished what writing.

I truly believe that the difference between an amateur writer and a real writer is the ability to finish things. If you’re serious about writing, you need to finish everything you start. That goes for poems and short stories, and yes, it absolutely goes for novels. Now, if on occasion you begin a novel that in the days to come you just know in your gut isn’t working and will never work, that’s one thing. Many award-winning talented writers have abandoned novels before, including Stephen King, including Michael Chabon. I’d bet even George R.R. Martin himself has abandoned something major in his long writing career (let’s hope it’s not those final two A Song of Fire and Ice books!).

The problem begins when you start abandoning everything. You start one new writing project after another, but you never finish anything because halfway through every project you suddenly get an amazing idea for something else, and so you immediately flock to that. Again, I understand this. That happens to me on almost every novel I write. I’ll be sixty pages into the first draft when another idea, a better idea, hits me from every angle, and I want to go after it.

You need to push against that tendency. You need to treat that other shiny idea as something else, as something you can pursue in the months down the road after you’ve finished what you’re working on now.

4. Start with short stories. After all, if you were taking up rock climbing, you wouldn’t start with Mount Everest. So if you’re starting fantasy, don’t start with a nine-book series.

What an excellent point this is! In some ways I feel I started writing novels too early. I wrote three short stories in 2009 and one more in early 2010, and then, boom, I thought I was ready to write a novel. Looking back I think continuing with short stories for another year or longer would have helped me tremendously when I later attempted my novels. Sure, you might not have a chance at financial success from writing short fiction, but writing short stories absolutely helps you find your voice, which is super important.

Write short stories to learn how to create a schedule for yourself and set deadlines. Try to write a short story in two weeks, 500 words a day. Then try to write a short story in one week, 1,000 words a day. Learn what it takes to write a lot of words in a short amount of time. Send out your work and try to get published in literary magazines. See what writing of yours is working well and what isn’t. Read a lot. Study a lot. And keep thinking of ideas that would make for great novels. Prepare yourself with the writing of short stories, and you’ll have more success with novels later!

5. When I’m writing from a character’s viewpoint, in essence I become that character; I share their thoughts, I see the world through their eyes and try to feel everything they feel.

This is essential in all kinds of stories you write, but it’s especially important when you write a story or a novel in the first person of your protagonist. You have to remember in this form of writing that you are not the main character. Your own voice can come through in some ways at times, but that character on the page is someone else, and their voice needs to be front and center.

Are you writing a similar character to yourself? Are you writing a character who’s wholly unlike you? Are you writing a character of a different gender? Are you writing a character who’s a lot younger than you or a lot older than you? Are you writing a character who shares different political beliefs? Are you writing a character that has a completely different worldview?

All of these questions need to be taken into account as you write your character and become that character, and that also goes for third person, too. Even in third person, you don’t want to just be this God-like figure commenting on everything and everyone from your own perspective and not your main character’s perspective. The sooner you see the world through their eyes and feel everything they feel, the stronger your work will become, I guarantee it!

If you’re looking for a little escapism this weekend, my YA novel Happy Birthday to Me and its sequel are currently FREE on Amazon. Click here to download your free copies!

Posted in Writing

Write More with the Free Time You Have. Or Don’t.

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There’s this weird thing that happens when suddenly you have lots more time to write.

When there aren’t as many excuses. When you don’t have many places to be or things outside the house to do.

We’ve entered a strange period where many of us suddenly have lots of free time throughout the day at home. We’re expected to stay home, after all.

And this seems like the logical time to get more writing done than usual. It seems like the time to finally write your book, finally get that project finished that you’ve putting off. If we’re not supposed to leave the house, if we have hours and hours to fill, then writing up a storm seems the best course of action.

I’ve said many times before how you should write every day if you want to be a successful writer. You can’t just think about writing or talk about writing. It’s important you sit down at your chair every day and get at least a little bit of writing done.

I always feel better once I’ve done some writing, or revised a chapter from my latest novel, or queried some literary agents, or whatever it may be.

At the same time, this period has filled us with fear and uncertainty… and so if you don’t want to write? Then you don’t have to write.

I’ve tried to maintain that old “the show goes on” mentality and have continued working on my various writing projects.

Last week I finished sending out query letters for my MFA thesis novel to literary agents, and this week I’ve been hard at work on the third draft of my latest young adult thriller, Fear of Water.

But I have to admit an odd feeling has overwhelmed me this week. I’ve had the sense that what I’m doing doesn’t matter, that these writing projects are so meaningless in the scope of what the world is going through right now.

Part of me wants to step away from the laptop because things aren’t normal, and they’re not going to be for awhile. How can I continue on with this revision in light of what’s happening?

The truth is that stories, both fictional and non-fictional, really are saving everyone.

Art is saving so many of us, and I don’t know where we’d all be right now without it.

As of now I go on. I write. I revise. I fall in love with storytelling again. Writing has a way of putting me at ease, and in some ways creativity makes me feel stronger inside.

But if you don’t feel the same way, don’t force it. Don’t feel like you have to write.

If you find yourself bingeing Netflix all day, maybe find an hour to give to your creative process. Even if all you’re able to do is write a few sentences, that’s progress.

But if you have no interest in writing right now, I understand. Who knows what these next few weeks have in store for us.

So take care of yourself, first and foremost. Do what you need to do.

Just remember this: if you don’t feel mentally ready to return to the world of whatever story you’re telling, it will still be there for you in the future.

If you’re looking for a little escapism this weekend, my YA novel Happy Birthday to Me and its sequel are currently FREE on Amazon. Click here to download your free copies!

Posted in Writing

5 Quotes by Lois Lowry to Make You a Better Writer

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Lois Lowry (born in 1937) is the author of the beloved novel The Giver, along with its sequels and many other wonderful novels.

Here are five marvelous quotes from Ms. Lowry to help your writing life!

1. I prefer to surprise myself as I’m writing. I’m not interested in it if I already know where it’s going. So I have only the most general sense of what I’m doing when I start a story. I sometimes have a destination in mind, but how the story is going to go from Point A to Point Z is something I make up as I go along.

I know a lot of other authors write like this, including Stephen King, and I’m right there with them. Yes, I need to know a few things before I get started on my latest project, particularly a novel. I need to understand my characters well, and I need to have a clear vision of what the opening few chapters are all about and what the ending is going to be.

But I’ve never been interested in mapping out a novel from Point A to Point Z. Sure, it might be helpful to always know where exactly you’re going, but I feel that a strict outline prohibits creativity and makes you too focused on plot concerns rather than character. You don’t want to just wander through the middle of your book, but you should allow yourself a little freedom to explore the world of your story, too.

2. I’ve always been fascinated by memory and dreams because they are both completely our own. No one else has the same memories. No one has the same dreams.

Ain’t that the truth? It’s kind of incredible to think about the specificity of your dreams and memories and then realize nobody else in the world has anything remotely similar. Your journey has been yours and no one else’s, and that’s why I fully believe every person has a compelling story to tell. It’s why you should be putting down your story on paper now, not later.

Even if you come at a story idea you feel has already been done, remember that everything you’ve experienced in life has shaped you into a totally unique individual, and what you have to bring to a narrative that might sound similar to something else or even multiple projects will become wholly yours once you put your exciting spin on it.

3. I don’t for one second think about the possibility of censorship when I am writing a new book. I know I am a person who cares about kids and who cares about truth and I am guided by my own instincts, and trust them.

As a writer of mostly young adult novels, the idea of censorship sometimes floats through my head. I wonder if this YA thriller is too intense for teens, or if this choice I’ve made about a character might not pass the censors, and you know what? That kind of thinking will send you in the wrong direction. You have to be on the side of authenticity. You can’t censor yourself as you write your latest novel and do something that goes against what your character or characters might do.

Sure, you should think about the market for your book and the age of your potential audience, but don’t try to write your novel toward anyone, really. You should be telling whatever story you’ve chosen in a way that’s authentic and true to those characters and that narrative. Never censor yourself about anything, even if you’re writing a book for children. Let other people tell you later what can stay in the book and what might have to go.

4. The grand surprise has really been the fact that being an author, which to me had always implied being a private person, actually requires you to be a public person as well, and those are two separate entities to me.

It’s such an odd predicament, isn’t it? To have enough success with your writing that you might have to one day be a public person, when for so many years you’ve enjoyed the quiet time at your writing desk as a private person. A big reason I write is that I enjoy the quiet, the isolation, the long hours spent in dark rooms creating stories and characters on the page.

But if you do well enough, there will be that time when you have to take the next step. You’ll have to do readings. You’ll have to meet people. You’ll have to do everything you can to sell your book or books. And if you’re a super shy introvert (like me), that step might sound terrifying. But remember, as Lowry says, they’re two separate entities. And because you love what you’ll do, you’ll eventually find the courage to be both.

5. I think when you’ve had success, publishers and reviewers and readers are willing to let you try something new if you’ve already proven yourself. They’re excited about what you’re doing, you have people interested in it, and actually waiting for it. It’s empowering.

This final quote is definitely a welcome one to hear. So often I feel like when you’ve had success in one kind of genre, all that you’ll be expected to do is write the same book over and over. That kind of existence spells death to me. I love to tell stories, and I love to tell different kinds of stories. Sure, I’m happy to spend most of my time in the middle grade and young adult worlds, and I have a particular affection for writing books of suspense and horror.

The truth is your devoted readers will expect you to write something similar each time out — that simply can’t be denied — but if you have enough devoted readers who are excited about your writing style and storytelling abilities, many people will be interested in seeing you try something new. You can’t ever grow as a writer if you stay in the same box, after all. If you just keep doing the same thing over and over.

So whether you’re just starting out in your writing life or you’re discovering your first hint of success, remember to push yourself to try new things and go after the stories that haunt you, that compel you, that fascinate you to no end. Always.

Looking for something to read these next few days?

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!