#amreading: the best of this week

1.  #AUTHORS: GET REAL ON #SOCIALMEDIA AND READERS WILL RESPOND #ASMSG #IARTG

My takeaway:

Use this formula when posting on social media – 20% book marketing, 10% small talk (weather, exercising, cooking, etc.), 30% retweets, 20% personal (I use this to post baking/cooking pics), 20% other interests (sports, hobbies, news, politics, etc.)


I know I have not been following that formula.  I post mainly with word games and retweets. To remedy this I’m going to start posting more small talk and interests.

2. How to Add to Your Plot After You’ve Finished the First Draft

My takeaway:

Next I examine the other characters in my cast. Who could use more fleshing out? Or who has a rich backstory that I’m not utilizing as much as I could? I give myself time to brainstorm ways I could enhance my cast as well.

Rereading Dark Fate there are places I can expound. I want to add content of substance and improve the story.  I know the scenes with the villain felt short and plan on revising them. 

3. Refilling the Well 

My takeaway:

Often a hobby or interest can yield unexpected benefits to our writing.


Sometimes my well runs dry and I have to find a way to refill it. My critique partner, Eric Peterson, has given me good advice to keep my creative mind happy.  Ballet and reading invigorate me.  What makes your creative mind happy?

4. Today’s quick writing reminder: Power of Endurance. #quote

My takeaway:

Not everything in life happens over night, which is most likely one of the biggest blessings that we as humans have been given. We are allowed to grow, and improve. We are blessed with time to shape and mold ourselves into what we are meant to achieve AS WE ARE READY FOR IT.


This article was about going the distance as a writer. Small pieces of progress add up. Being a writer means that one has to actively write. Bestseller Dean Wesley Smith said in Heinlein’s Rules, “My definition of an author is a person who has written.” I don’t want to be someone who has written. I want to be a writer. 

5. How to Question Your Story’s Logic

My takeaway: 

The best way to make sure your story’s logic makes sense is to spend time learning how people work.


I’ve mentioned previously the enneagram article Yep, You’re Talking to Yourself Again but there are other resources as well. Learning about Myers-Briggs or even zodiac signs can help as well. I don’t personally believe in horoscopes but the personality classifications based off astrology are intriguing. I’m definitely an Aries. I’m also working on a book called Syzygy right now that revolves around astrology. I start each chapter with a horoscope so that has been an interesting challenge requiring research and it has broadened my horizons. 

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#TuesdayMotivation Positive Self Talk

When you look in the mirror do you like what you see? Do you compliment yourself or are you harsh with yourself?


To be honest I am harsh with myself and I know that’s an area I need to work on.  One of my commitments this week has been to read inspirational material for several minutes each day and today’s inspiration included information on transforming positive self talk as a New Year’s resolution.  They pose this simply as a habit that needs to be changed.  


We often hear statistics about making or breaking new habits.  It turns out that for a new habit to become automatic takes on average 66 days, so I’ll bear this in mind if you will.  

One of my favorite writing resources also happens to be a psychology paper titled, “Yep, You’re Talking to Yourself Again“.  Reading this paper is a wonderful resource for understanding the basic personalities.  We each have tapes for good or ill that we play over and over in our little brains based off our personalities.  They can be hard truths to bear and hear but you know what they say about the truth. 


Sometimes voices linger in our heads from the past of parents who were judgemental, of bullies in high school, or of spouses or lovers who were unloving. Those voices need to be purged.  Those tapes need to be ejected.  Once we realize what our hard truths about our core personalities are it’s easier ro reject those lingering messages that were hurtful but are no loner relevant to our core identities. They are like so much chaff ready to dissolve and fade away.  

#TuesdayMotivation Infectious Inspiration 

A dear friend let me know that she is writing and that I had encouraged her. What she didn’t know is that she’d inspired me as well.  

When we share our stories we become vulnerable. We open ourselves to rejection in that moment.

At the same time those authentic moments are what inspire others. 

Don't be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.

We each have a different human experience and story to tell. Your own struggles can help another person have courage or find a new way of looking at things. Inspiration can be infectious. Touching the life of a single person can in turn trickle down to others. 

This brings me back to writing about what hurts: when you write about your own pain you can touch those around you in a powerful way. 

The ultimate goal of writing is empathy: we want to evoke something in the reader. We want to make a mark on another’s soul. 

Who or what inspires you? Does this person know how you have been touched by them? I challenge you to let them know. 

#amreading: the best articles of the week 

As I try to improve my craft as a writer, I read articles about writing. 

Here are the 5 best that I’ve read this week: 

1. Novel writing basics: 10 steps to an unputdownable book

This article broke down ideas on ways to tantalize readers. My favorite takeaway was:

 If the reader doesn’t have a clear sense of where your characters are, they can come across as talking heads floating in hazy darkness. 


Since I have written mostly screenplays, I struggle with too much dialogue at times.  I attribute it to screenplays because sometimes my scenes look like a screenplay: description up front and then dialogue action dialogue. I know I need to work on including more dialogue attributions and interspersing more descriptions. 

2. 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character

This article discusses three scenes that are “must-haves” for your MCs. 

My takeaway:

As a writer, ask: How will the readers find themselves in this character? How will they connect with this character and start to believe this character is real? It doesn’t matter if your character is a superhero or a soccer mom – we need that connection.

 

Flaws make a character more real.  In Threads of Fate both of my MCs struggle with their self-esteem in different ways. Petra doesn’t feel confident and when she lacks confidence her enchanted grimoire has blank pages. Angsmar has let the voices of a few people become an internal tape that he plays where he thinks everyone views him as a monster.  One beta reader commented that he was whiny but another said: sometimes the scariest monster that we will ever face is always as far away as the nearest reflective surface. 

3.  How to write from a Guy’s POV

My takeaway:

And guys are complex–we have feelings, emotions, pasts that we bury and don’t talk about. Try opening a guy up, explore him…. And on a final note–please, please, please write a CHARACTER first. Write a human being with goals, desires, secrets, resentment, and happiness. Write a PERSON that the reader can empathize with. 


Maybe I made Angsmar a little emo. I like to think of it as introspective. Especially since he doesn’t voice his thoughts very often. I think he’s no more emo than Kylo Ren.  I firmly believe that people are people and many of the comments in this article are only valid because of social constructs. In fantasy one has the liberty to do away with or embrace those constructs. 

4.On Newt Scamander, Toxic Masculinity, & The Power Of Hufflepuff Heroes

My takeaway: 

…essential in Fantastic Beasts’s changing this narrative of men being weak for showing their emotions are the reactions of the people around Newt in the film. 


In the Threads of Fate universe it’s not easy to be a woman. It’s a patriarchal society and women have few rights.  The mores surrounding a woman’s chastity are almost Victorian.  At the same time I’ve made an effort to avoid toxic masculinity. 

5. 7 Ways to Add Great Subplots to Your Novel

My takeaway:

In fact, the best way to start brainstorming subplots is to brainstorm characters who could populate and propel your plot. Once you’ve done this, you can simply write out your subplots more or less sequentially. 


With Dark Fate I know that it’s too short and  that it needs to be expounded on.  Part of my revision will be to add more descriptions and make sure each scene is as sensory as possible.  I think I need to add a few scenes for the villain as well. 

Have you read any good articles this week? 

Heinlein’s 5 Rules on Writing

Last year one of my critique partners, Richmond Camero, gave me several ebooks.
Two of them were written by the bestseller Dean Wesley Smith.  One of them was on Heinlein’s Rules. 


Heinlein’s Rules, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are:

1 – You must write.
2 – You must finish what you write.
3 – You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order.
4 – You must put it on the market.
5 – You must keep it on the market.

These rules were penned in the 1940s and are controversial in the writing world because they seem almost impossible to follow despite their simplicity. 


Dean Wesley Smith breaks these down in his book Heinlein’s Rules. Smith swears by these rules and attributes them as a game changer for his career.  

Rule Number 1 makes sense.  Who can argue with “You must write“? 


Rule Number 2 is one that according to Smith trips up most aspiring writers: You must finish what you write.  It makes sense.  I have a ridiculous number of projects that I’ve lost steam on and not finished.  Because of that I’ve picked up an old project and I’m working on it now while I wait to gain some perspective on my last project, Dark Fate. Because I plan on rewriting it.


Rule Number 3 is where I think many of us have a problem: You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order. It’s easy to get caught in an endless loop of rewriting and rewriting. After all — first drafts usually aren’t the best.  This is when you’re telling yourself the story and have to work the kinks out. I have to admit that Threads of Fate went through five drafts before becoming what it is now.

By rewriting Heinlein does not mean avoiding fixing typos, according to Dean Wesley Smith. The intent was to avoid endless loops of revision. He says, “Everybody in this modern world looks for ways and reasons around this rule”.   Guilty. He later comments, “If you’re rewriting, you are not finishing”. Can’t argue with that. I can only try to do better and one area in particular where I am committing to keep rewriting to a minimum is short stories.

Dean Wesley Smith also reminds us that an agent is not an editor, and a paid editor is not what Heinlein meant either — he meant an editor that will pay you from a publication/publisher. 

It’s easy to take criticism from a professional like an agent, or an amateur like a beta-reader, and immediately want to change your story.  The problem is that you can’t please everyone and that your book will never be perfect.  You have to decide when it’s good enough.


If you’re like me and plan on breaking rule number 3 (at least for my novels), here’s a good article on how to do so with grace and hopefully less rewrites than Threads of Fate: How to Know When You’re Done Revising.


Rule Number 4 should be the ultimate goal of a writer: You must put it on the market. I have to admit with the screenplays I’ve written and the other novel and short stories I wrote that this has been a breaking point for me as well. I have only queried one agent for one piece of fiction that I’ve written. I have had such a fear of rejection that I haven’t queried.  Now querying still frightens me, but I’ve learned that the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no and if you don’t ask the answer is already no.


Rule Number 5 is another breaking point for me: You must keep it on the market. With that in mind one of my goals for this year is to start writing short stories, but not so many that they interfere with my other writing. I would like to start putting the short stories on the market. If that’s a goal for you as well, here’s Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Website and Magazines that Want Your Work. Since joining the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is also a goal of mine, I’m going to focus on this list.


So all in all, Heinlein’s Rules seem simple yet difficult to follow.

Which of these rules is a challenge for you?

Writing about what hurts

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts”.


Why? Writing is hard enough. It’s hard not to have a fear of judgement when writing in general, why open oneself up and share one’s darkest moments? Isn’t it good enough to just craft a good story, follow a decent outline of some sort, and just write?

One of my favorite words is chiaroscuro.  It means simply the contrast between dark and light.  It in particular applies to oil paintings, but I like to think it has anagogical applications. In honor of the season I’ll include a picture that has excellent chiaroscuro:

chiaroscuro-1
The Adoration of the Child —
Including painful moments or negative emotions gives depth and character to your work — just as the painting would not be the same without the dark.

In Threads of Fate I included dark moments from my life fictionalized. It was hard to write about my life at first.  I’m a private, introverted person and I don’t share my innermost thoughts usually.  Why should I fictionalize them?  I suggested recently that one of my friends start a blog and he said that sharing his life on Facebook (which he does) was the most he felt comfortable doing. Was writing Threads of Fate cathartic?  Not exactly. It caused me some anxiety due to the personal nature of a few of the scenes when I sent out the rewrites and started receiving feedback from beta readers, especially since I actually do know some of my beta readers and interact with them on occasion socially. Then I got over it for the most part.

Why Else?  Some of you don’t write fiction.  You don’t want to twist fictions to fit any worlds floating through your heads. I challenge you that it can be as cathartic as you want it to be, and you also don’t have to share it with anyone. Sometimes writing a page and then shredding it can be relieving.

If your writing is only for yourself, then it can still be helpful.  I know someone who is going through a rough time right now and writing is helping them — letter writing.  This isn’t quite Collateral Beauty level letter writing, but the letters are a safe release of what’s filling the writer’s heart.

It can be cleansing. Once I had a recurring nightmare that I would be strangled in bed — someone was standing over me in my sleep and I would wake up with an unknown attacker.  I fictionalized this into a short story about a young woman who is attacked by a random stranger in her car.  I stopped having the dream after writing the story.
How? The adage if it bleeds it leads is probably familiar to most of us. As is curiosity killed the cat.  We can’t look away from the darkness.  It’s an affirmation of life. I would suggest focusing on a negative event or emotion in your life and exploring it for all it’s worth. How would this event happen in your characters’ lives?  This negative event or emotion does not have to be the central conflict of the story, it can rather be an internal conflict that moves the story along.

Also an emotion can have repercussions that last — in the TV show Benched Nina has to deal with the aftermath of having a very angry moment seemingly ruin her career.

Take what has happened in your life and condense it down to the basics.  Once you have limited it to the simplest facts, you can then transport those facts into the confines of your universe.

These are excerpts from The Writer’s Survival Guide from Chapter Four: Your Psychohistory:

A writer’s personal psychological history is a hidden treasure, because the creative imagination can take any experience and develop it into a unique story… Any emotional state that you have uncovered can be woven into your work with a twofold consequence–you’ll be purged of unresolved feelings and you’ll create an original piece of writing.

I don’t believe that we can truly be original, but at the very least we can be authentic.  I’ll explain my stance on originality in a future post.

Tara Brach wrote in her recent article, “Facing My White Privilege“:

We need to be able to name where the hurts are; to be able to name our sorrows and fears; to not be afraid of anger. So often in Buddhist communities, anger is considered bad, but anger is a part of the weather systems that move through our psyches. We have to make room for these emotions, and there are wise ways to do that.

Tara’s article has nothing to do with writing, but as soon as I read those words I wanted to share them with my readers. I felt that they had practical implications. I hope you find wise ways to balance the weather system that is your psyche.

Revisions: the returns of the writing world

 

“Christmas is saying thanks for some gift you’ll return” Francesca Battistelli belts out. We all know that December 26th is a big day for gift returns and that gift giving is one of the most stressful parts of Christmas.

Writing is kind of like gift giving.  It’s hoping that the reader will like this story that you’ve toiled over in quiet for many long hours.  With writing it’s many people in different stages of their lives that are going to be hopefully enjoying your work. Each person reads your book differently because they have different expectations leading into the experience. One workshop I attended harped on audience and said that audience was so important that this fiction writer would put a sticky note on her computer that read, “Subject. Audience. Goal.” One teacher I had in college harped on every word in the story leading towards the mood and tone of the story down to alliteration insofar as emotional words having more vowels and intellectual words having more consonants.


On the other hand, another school of thought says to write what you love and that there is an audience for everything. With seven billion people on the planet you’re bound to find someone who will like what you write.

One of my critique partners, Eric Peterson, wrote:

Don’t worry about what the reader thinks about the story.  There were choices I had to make that the reader may not have wanted but they had to happen for the sake of the story… At the end of the day you have to ask yourself what is good for the story.

In Stages of a Fiction Writer Dean Wesley Smith says, “Words now are still important but only in the service of the story and nothing more.  Words can be tossed away at will, just as cards are tossed away in poker.”

I read this and know exactly what stage of fiction writing I’m in because I collect words like poker cards (not a good sign). I actually have a note in my phone of words I like.  I read it before I write and try to use them (and fail to incorporate them usually). I was delighted when I actually was able to use caparisoned legit.


How does one mitigate the stress of writing between these two schools of thought? In the words of the bard – to thine own self be true.  If you’re a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of your pants, then stick to what works for you. If you’re a planner, then stick to the plan.


Revisions are the returns of the writer’s world. They are performed silently and no one need ever know how many times you work on a particular scene before you get it right. Waiting a few weeks to gain perspective and then picking up a piece again can be extremely beneficial. I let a piece rest for a few months – I was working on it during Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer and then put it down, but now I’ve picked it up again, and I’m excited to be working on it. That time was what I needed to gain perspective and new appreciation for the piece.
Now if you work with beta readers, you do have an audience that witnesses those painful first drafts, so you have to decide when the timing is right to send those drafts.


There is no limit to how rough a first draft can be.  With that in mind, most first drafts aren’t perfect.  Heinlein’s Rules say not to rewrite except to editorial request, but who can live by those rules? That will be a different post. I didn’t give myself permission to let the first draft of Dark Fate suck and I struggled writing it in parts because I wanted it to be perfect. I re-read it and noted all the inconsistencies and things that I would like to fix and expound upon and all the pieces that I would like to change in the next draft. Then after sitting on it for a while I’m going to fix those things and re-read it. Once I’ve expounded it to the second draft, then I may open it up to beta readers.