Category Archives: The Writing Life

Friends and Family as Your Street Team

As a new writer, it’s absolutely vital to have people in your corner. People who believe in you and your writing and want the best for you. Sometimes, these people are coworkers and friends, though they may just be your family members for now.

No matter who they are, they are your core group. These are the people who are going to help push you when you feel like giving up, and who will read your work and recommend it to others.

But this group doesn’t assemble by accident. You must assemble them. But how?

  1. Talk to your close friends and family about your dreams. If you haven’t sat these special people down yet, now is the time. Tell them that writing is your ultimate goal, and tell them more about what you like to write. Tell them your plans. Tell them what you’d be open to doing in the future – writing for companies, screenplays, blog writing, etc. Tell them your ultimate goals for your career.
  2. Ask them to help keep you motivated. This might mean different things for different people. One person may want their support network to hound them, constantly ask them if they’ve been writing and how much they’ve accomplished. Others may just want a casual check-in here and there without the pressure. Figure out what is best for you, and then ask your close friends and family if they would be willing to be that for you in your quest to be a writer.
  3. Ask them if they’ll commit to reading your work. That means when you have something polished and ready to self-publish or send off to an agent or publication, that they’ll read it. You want your core group to be intimately acquainted with your writing and style. This step will also refine your core group – you might find that someone in your group doesn’t like the genre you’re writing, or doesn’t like your writing (GASP!). Don’t be alarmed – you can’t please all the people all the time. Give them a break and let them go. You want the people who really love your work in your core group.
  4. Ask your core group to spread the word when you have something published. After your team has read your work and once it is published, ask your team to tell others about it. This might mean blasting out a link to your book on social media, putting up flyers at their work or local coffee shops, or simply telling a few people they think would enjoy your story.
  5. Let your core group know that you appreciate them. Take care of this group of close friends and family. They’re putting in quite a lot of effort to help you build your dream. Not only give them sneak peeks of your work early, but also buy them ice cream. Take them out for dinner. Thank them over and over and over.
  6. Repeat. Continue writing and spreading the word through your street team, even if that team remains just close friends and family.

The truth is, many of us do not have the luxury of an immediate audience who loves our work. Basically, none of us do. However, you do have loved ones who care about you and who care about your work, and those people are not to be underestimated. They are the ones who care about you the most, and can help you start your street team and watch it grow with you into a healthy, large audience of fans.

Embracing the Pain – Receiving Editors’ Feedback

EditsReceiving edits back from an editor is like opening a Christmas present on the set of a horror film: exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love editing. The process of revising and editing and polishing a story transforms it into its final, awesome form. It’s like taking a house that’s got external construction mostly complete, and internal walls roughed in and completing the construction, painting, and furnishing every room to make it a livable home.

Even so, that first scan of an editor’s comments can be painful.

As much as I know the draft I submitted is far from perfect, there’s a part of me that still clings to the hope that the editor will simply say, “Wow. I’ve never read anything quite that amazing. I can’t imagine how to make that better.”

Never going to happen. Instead, a good editor will shine a spotlight on every flaw, point to every weakness, and ask for clarification of every inconsistency. They’ll highlight every issue part of me was secretly hoping they’d never notice.

Feedback is something we authors desperately need and usually crave. When we’re new, we’re usually terrified by it, sometimes take it personally, treat is as an assault, or embrace the righteous anger of a parent protecting their precious child. All the wrong answers.

I still feel flashes of that sometimes when I’m first reviewing edits, and I’ve learned to laugh at myself. My pride is meaningless, my vanity useless. The story is what matters, and a good editor helps identify weaknesses and make suggestions to help that story fulfill its potential.

They do point out the things that do work, and that’s also extremely helpful, but the work and the growth comes from the constructive criticism.

So I always complete an initial quick scan of the feedback, then take a break, breathe deep, consider what I read, and sometimes take a walk as I mentally update my assessment of what I had thought I had written to the reality of what I had actually produced.

Only then can I get to work.

That’s when the fun begins. When I embrace the feedback, accept responsibility for the flaws, and embrace the work required to fix and improve the story, it’s always amazing how fast new insights and ideas flow. Sometimes that’s the point when I finally understand what story I’m really trying to tell. That’s when I can make it amazing.

Some authors are smarter than me, and perhaps their experience with editor feedback is more like a gentle, encouraging massage. For most of us, it’s a bruising beating that helps us grow stronger.

PerfectionWithout fail, when I keep an open mind and honestly review suggestions and critiques, not only do I see ways to better tell the story, but I gain insights into my own weaknesses as a writer. With every story, I grow. I discover blinders that I had on that prevented me from seeing weaknesses, I gain insights into higher forms of craft, and strengthen my skills.

So next time my manuscript will finally be perfect on the first try!

Or not. And I’ll fix it.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Contemporary Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Your Writing Poker Face

If you’ve ever played poker, and probably even if you haven’t, you’ve heard about the concept of tells. Every player, it’s said, has little physical cues they give that indicate whether their hand is a good one or a bad one. These cues are unconscious, a quick scratch of the nose or tiny movement of the face. Clearing a throat or a slight widening of the eyes. Savvy players learn to recognize these tells in their opponent, and even savvier ones can fake them to induce others to believe their hand is better or worse than it really is. Hence the concept of a poker face, a face and body language that give away nothing to the opponent.

Writers have tells as well it turns out. Every writer unconsciously favors certain words or metaphors, finds certain sentence or structures or syntax more appealing. This can extend even to broader topics, like plot or themes, than the writer likes to explore over and over again. Unlike in poker, these tells aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, they constitute part of the author’s voice, that often-mentioned attribute that makes every writer different from every other, even if they were all given the same topic to write about.

But improperly managed, your writerly tells can drag readers out of the careful illusion you’ve created. And some habits writers have are just generally bad ones, and should be culled from a manuscript as much as possible. That’s why it’s critical that every writer understand their own tics and tendencies. In an old post, I talked about writing science fiction, and how I tried to be cognizant of when I was inserting bad science, that I was willing to do so for the sake of strengthening the story, but that I wanted to be aware of doing so. It’s the same thing for your writerly tells. You want them to be in there intentionally, but you don’t want your story to be so thick with them that it reads like a parody of your writing and draws the reader out of the story.

This self-awareness process can be a painful one, particularly if you are self-conscious about your writing (so, if you’re a writer). And for that reason, you shouldn’t worry too much about it in your first draft, unless your tics are so broad they encompass your entire plot, but I’ll talk about that more below. But once it’s time for edits, cringe-inducing or not, figure out the words and turns of phrase you overuse. Perform a find function and grimace as it returns 73 instances. Then you can grimly soldier through them with your editing machete, hacking them down to only what is required. I usually leave this as one of the last steps, lest I cull most of my repetitions only to reintroduce them with later edits.

Repeating yourself at a plot or thematic level can be harder to avoid, but can also be easier to manage. Plenty of authors explore the same broad themes over and over again, and plenty of stories follow the same plot beats as other stories in their genre. Generally, you want to keep these repetitions as broad as possible. If you love exploring the themes of parents estranged from children, for instance, characters like that will probably keep cropping up in your work. But this is a broadly applicable, very human theme that lots of people will be able to relate to, so I wouldn’t worry too much about things like that. Now, if the specifics of each of your estranged parents stories start looking too similar, you’ll need to start finding ways to make them different. That’s when it goes from a writing style and voice to something I call self-plagiarism.

You’ll never get rid of all your tics, of course. And you wouldn’t want to. The very foundations of your stories are built from the tendencies of your thought and feelings, so tearing all of that away will simply leave you with no story to tell. But their can be and should be a balance. It’s really annoying to specifically look for and confront the crutches you use to tell stories, but it’s what you have to do in order to level up in your writing.

About the Author:

Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. He is the author of the Unwilling Souls series, as well as stories in the A Game of Horns, Dragon Writers, and Undercurrents anthologies. He writes the kind of stories he likes to read, fantasy and science fiction tales featuring vivid worlds, strong characters, and smart action all surrounding a core of mystery. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his twitter (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Revisions, edits and proofing. The real work of writing.

Writing can be, and frequently is, easy. At least that first draft is. Sometimes a writer can fall into a creative “zone” and the words will just flow. And flow. And flow. I’ve seen many, many writers post on Facebook how they churned out 2,000, 3,000, even 4,000 words or more in a day.

I can do that. I do it when I really sit down and write.

But the question isn’t how many words you write in a day. The real question is how many words you’ve written in a day, you keep in the final version of the manuscript.

I tend to view writing as similar in concept to sculpting in clay. First you have to get the clay. That’s the first draft. You have to just keep churning out story elements, characters, plot points, settings, all the stuff that makes up a story. It all piles up into a sort of rough facsimile of the story you really want to tell. Eventually you complete the first draft, and can go grab a beer and congratulate yourself on your pile of clay.

But it’s not half done yet. Unless you are one of those truly rare writers who spew out nearly finished prose. Most of those writers have written and published lots of stories, and have learned how to get that first draft much closer to the final form.

The rest of us have to take that first draft and start turning it into something presentable. And that means taking the editor’s sculpting tools and carving off bits here and there, building up other bits, reshaping a limb or a nose… For many of us that is more of a challenge than the initial fountain of words that leaped up from our keyboards.

But sculpting usually takes several passes, each one more detailed, with more attention to perfecting the form and enhancing the presentation of our work. My approach is to take several editing passes through the, I hope, successively less rough drafts of the story. The first pass mostly focuses on big things. Do the character arcs work? Is the conflict compelling? Does the plot work, or are there gaping holes, or plot points leading to nowhere?

Only when I’ve addressed the story at that level will I do a grammar and spelling pass. Or two. It’s all too common for me to learn that in my first pass, I not only missed a few things, but I added some new errors in fixing the previous ones.

Then I do a pass focused entirely on converting passive to active voice, looking for occurrences of words like “seems” or “realized” or many other words I keep in a list that are all too easy to fall back on while writing, but leave the prose flaccid.

Then I do a pass focused on character dialog. Did I use the right vernacular for the different voices of the different characters? Did I accidentally give my New England bookkeeper the voice of a Louisiana shrimper? It happens more than you realize.

Then I do a pass focused on contractions. It always amazes me how many “can not” or “will not” uses I find in my writing. I know better, but I still find them. Lots of them. Trimming those syllables really tightens the text, especially dialog, where a “will not” comes across as pretentious or commanding.

Finally, when all of that is done, I move the still-rough draft to my iPad so I read it in a different format, and do my best to read it as if I had never encountered it before. I might do that three times before I’m satisfied it’s clean enough to pass my editorial expectations.

Then I send it to an editor.