Monday, January 8, 2018

5 Tips for Getting off to A Fresh Writing Start

Every year in January would be writers, beginning writers and even published writers tell themselves this is the year they hit it big and get all the writing done that they set out to publish. Year after year things don’t happen for the majority of writers. They stare at the blank pages and then
either give up after a few days, abandon their project half way through or decide the effort isn’t worth it.
Some do many to stick with their idea and keep writing and writing, and editing and eventually get the project done. Will they turn it into a best seller? Well, that is another question altogether.  But that elusive golden ring cannot be the automatic end result we expect or we would never get started. We can keep it up there dangling above us and keep reaching for it and that can make the journey all the more fun. Think of how fulfilled you will be when you finally latch onto that golden ring and get a good firm grip on it.

But for the rest of us, we must keep battling away and reaching ever upward with our writing, whether we are working on the first short story, the third book we’ve written or the 8th novel in a series.  There is no looking back so we must keep moving forward in our writing journey. (well, there could be looking back. It just won’t get you published any faster)
            How do we get started off every new year with a reach toward that golden ring? We can either say we want it or we can do something about it and that means we must start writing. What could make this year different? Well, let’s look at some possibilities to get us started:

1,  Commit to writing or working on something writing related every day. Even if it isn’t new words on your novel, make certain you are working in some way in that direction of getting published. That can mean editing yesterday’s pages,  researching for tomorrow’s writing or going through old projects to find the one you want work on next. The biggest problem with this step and the reason I put it first is because this is just a first step. You have to move beyond it. If you don’t, you won’t ever get anything done.

2. Write something new – new words, new thoughts, new ideas! That means moving beyond that first step of research or digging out old things and then writing something fresh. You need to write new material at every opportunity so why not start every morning with some fresh writing, whether it’s on an old manuscript or a new blog. Write something  new everyday and engage your brain. Let it know it’s going to have to find something new to write  EVERY SINGLE DAY.

3. Pick up yesteday’s pages and edit or re-write them if you can’t think of what you want to write today. You may find something in there that will further the direction you want your story to go. Or you might find something totally different you want to try. If you want to try it, do that! Why not write the pages and see if the plot idea or character idea will work.

4. Pick up the story in a new place. Don’t just write the next scene. If you have made plotting notes, go ahead and write something in a future chapter that you know you want to use. Try the big fight scene or something that will be totally fun to write. You know you’re going to use the scene, write it now and have fun with it. You can always edit later.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Again, this might entail writing not the next scene, but something further ahead or rewrite a scene you’ve already done but in a different way and with a different outcome. Does it change the course of your book? Perhaps, but it may make it better.

The main take away here is to keep writing. Start out the new year with a fresh outlook on your writing whether it’s just picking where you left off last year or you are starting something new. Use the new year as a time to commit to finishing this book and your other work.  

Monday, December 18, 2017

5 Tips for Finishing Up Your Writing Year

The year is rapidly heading toward its close and usually this is a good time to take stock of what we've accomplished in the last year and look forward to what we want to get done in the coming year. I have to admit it has been a busy year for me teaching writing classes, presenting workshops and working on two new non-fiction books, one of which will be ready to be published this month. In addition I have been editing my fiction books so another can be published next year as well as writing blogs regularly, including our new Novel Concepts fiction  blog which has presented two new fiction short stories.

But it is also a good time to look forward and that means looking at what you need to do to be ready for the new year.  Here are some quick and easy ideas to help you get ready for your writing in the new year and get you off to a fast start in 2018:

1. Look for old stories that you can polish.  Is there something you might have written in the past that just needs editing before it can be submitted or published?  Now is the time to pick up some of those unfinished pieces and see if they can be made publishable.

2. Look for new story ideas. This is a good time to start planning your year with new stories you might want to write. Make a list of them now so that when you sit down to write you already have a beginning idea to work from. And if crazy things are happening around you, pay attention to them. You might find yourself coming up with a new story idea just from something that happens to you or your family or friends this holiday season.

3. Re-organize your writing space. Many of us have a few days off around the holidays. Some of them may be crazy-busy or filled with the family, but after all the chaos has passed you might find yourself with some extra time. You can use that time to spruce up your writing area for the new year.

4.  Buy yourself a present of either a new book or new writing materials. Why not start the new year
with a new notebook or a new writing program? If you've been a good girl or good boy this year in the writing department, you deserve it!

5. Find time to relax and get re-energized for the new year. This time of year can be very busy and we don't want to be so stressed that we're not ready to face the new year. Take some time for yourself to just think about what you've accomplished this year and what you might want to accomplish next year.

The main thing you want to do is to be ready on January 1 or the next day to start off a new writing year.  Happy Holidays to all!

Monday, November 20, 2017

5 Tips for Making it Through NaNoWriMo

November has been a long month and it's only a little half over. If you are like me and thousands of other writers who decided to attempt the NaNoWriMo, (National November Writing Month) Challenge to write 50-thousand words, this is about the time you are probably wondering, "why?!"

I've done the challenge several times and ended up very happy with the process because it is the one time of the year when I just let myself go and focus on writing the story itself without the daily grind of editing or worrying if I am going in the right direction. I simply write what comes into my head.

But just like any other program that requires daily attention or constant attention it after three weeks, it can become drudge work. The first week I was going to write ins and marking down my progress on a chart every single day. If I stopped for the day, I sometimes would come back and finish up a scene because it stayed on my mind.

And it gets tougher and tougher to come up with that next scene. So how do you keep active and keep at it when you've reached this point?

1. Re-Evaluate your characters. I keep character charts that I fill out when I begin a story, but while the charts are very complete I don't usually fill them out at the beginning. I usually go through and fill them out as I write the story because I write by the seat of my pants. Writing the story helps me to get to know my characters.  This is a good time to go back and look at those charts and fill them out with everything you know about your characters. If you don't keep a character chart, then write out a paragraph about them or several showing who they are. Who knows, that might somehow fit into the story and give you something else to write about to get in your word count or the exercise might spur some new plot ideas.

2. Re-Evaluate your plot.  You think you know where you're going, but has the writing process changed things a little? Maybe you need to go in and fix some of those spots that you rushed through early on. Maybe you need to add a scene or two to make the plot work. Write those to get your daily word count.

3.  Take the story in a new direction.  I love all these crime shows that always say the detective found information that took the investigation in a "whole new direction." Well, perhaps that is what you need for your own story.  It can become a secondary plot or it can be used to make the entire story come together.

4.  Write a delightful conversation.  I write a story blog with several other writers and we've just started a new story, and it was fun to see the witty conversation our first writer started out with. That made me want to continue it in my turn, but it also sparked my own interest in writing dialogue in some of my other stories. And when I mean clever conversation, it doesn't have to be filled with sexual innuendos, look for some fun conversation that might even be your own joke for the readers.

5.  Write the ending.  This is not cheating. You are going to get there anyway if you are writing a full book this month. If you're stuck before the end, you might just want to see how the book ends now so that you can write in that direction.  Recently I heard best selling author Harlan Coben talk about his plotting process and he said he never has a complete plot. He compared it to a roadmap where you might have a beginning marked and the ending. But then along the way you can take lots of other routes to get there. You have your beginning written. You can write the end now and figure out how that road map is going to get you there.

So now, it is back to work.  I have tried all these methods in past years, so I know they can work, but if you are stuck, try one or the other. There are only ten more days left to get to that 50-thousand word count, and I know I mean to reach it!

Monday, October 30, 2017

5 Tips for Creating Villains

This past month I have been on the road attending a writing conference, getting new material for new books, and enjoying seeing new parts of the US and Canada. In coming weeks I will be posting information about what I learned during my travels. Let me begin with a writing session I attended at the Emerald Cities Writers' Conference. This is one of my favorite conferences because there are writers of all genres and everyone is so friendly and ready to talk at any time about their writing.

One of the sessions I attended was with best selling author Karen Rose who discussed writing romantic suspense. Her comments on villains really hit home with me, because I am currently working on a non-fiction book on creating bad guys. It was great to hear her say some of what I am putting into my book for would-be authors to help them craft good villains. For instance:

1. Make your villains more than single-dimensional.  Bring them to life as much as you bring in
your hero and heroine. Don't let them be card board cut outs that could be just any ordinary character.  Even if you don't use all the material, write up a character profile, just as you would with the hero and heroine. You should be able to understand them and their motives or you can't impart the information to your readers.

2. Avoid having a vague villain.  This was one valuable lesson I took away from listening to Karen Rose. When I teach character classes I always say that the character's goal or motivation needs to be personal. It should be that way for the villain too. But it can be personal in more ways than just trying to harm the hero or heroine. It could be that the villain's aim was to prove something to him or herself so that it might seem random to the person trying to solve the crime, but it certainly won't be to the villain.

3. Make your villain smart. Unless you're dealing with writing a comedy, the villain needs to be smart enough to be a worthy adversary. Who wants to defeat someone who was just lucky for once? It might be fun to get the better of a comedic villain, but make that bad guy worthy of your story and your hero or heroine's time and energy. Make the villain as conniving or evil as you can get away with in the story. 

4. Keep the Villain Involved.  The bad guy can't just show up once, do one little thing and then simply go back to a normal life until exposed at the end of the book. Bring him or her back in little ways that keep the hero and heroine working toward that goal of uncovering who the bad guy is. They need a reason to keep him or her from acting again.

5. Bring them back.  One question I was asked about plotting in a recent class was how I could approve a story plot where the bad guys got away. This beginning writer had been told that the bad guys always had to be punished. But I say, not so quick.  There are times it makes more sense to let that villain come back. As long as the reader gets an ending to the current book, whether it is showing who the real killer is and letting the hero off the hook or promising a new battle between the two, it is possible to let the bad guy live or escape to fight another day. Did we as readers or viewers lament the escape of Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader?  As long as we knew we would see them again, we were content with the endings of the stories involving them. We wanted to know this story was done and all was well -- if only for now.  So my advice is, bring them back, especially if they are special.

Actually, you should be creating your villains to be so special that readers want to see them again. As you write your villains, look for ways to make them as unique and popular as those villains we all get to know (and love or hate) but who we want to see matching wits with our heroes and heroines. We want worthy opponents for our winners so make those losers as strong and worthy as possible. It only makes for stronger characters over all.

For the next month I will begin my special NaNoWriMo blogs -- posting every week with those little tips that keep us working through NaNoWriMo.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

5 Tips for Developing Research Techniques

This past week researching has been on my mind for a number of reasons. First of all I am working on a project dealing with a Native American leader that requires research, plus I was teaching a class on how writers can conduct research for their books. To add to the mix, our weekly publisher's chat was also on research and the best way to do it. That made me want to do my own research. Who better to ask than a group of published authors so I began asking around. 

What was the first thing I learned about research?  Nearly everyone starts with the internet because it is so simple and such an obvious place. The danger? False information or incomplete information. The historical editor who led our publisher's chat was quick to tell us we needed to double check anything we learned through internet research. I've blogged on conducting research in the past and warned about the dangers of accepting everything you might find on the internet. So how can you become a better researcher?

 So where else can we look?

1. Look for experts.  Now this is a place where internet research can help. By going through articles or researching websites you can find experts that you can either try to contact or look for their books on your subject. Look for experts who might be nearby who  you might be able to interview personally. 

2. Search out programs or lectures that might feature what you want to write about.  For things like mythology or history, that might mean a trip to a local museum. But don't simply visit it. Keep an eye out for experts at the location who might be able to either answer your questions or point you in the right direction. As one writer told me, "you have to really want to get to know a subject if you're writing about it," so always be on the look out for programs on subjects you might want to tackle in the future.
3.  Visit the location.  I can't stress this one enough.  My last blog I did on research was about my visit to Bent's Old Fort to see how the trappers and traders lived. There is no better way to learn about someone than to walk in their shoes and being inside the cramped quarters and seeing the actual items that were used back then made it easier for me to write about them. Last week I visited the burial place of Chipeta, a Ute leader who worked tirelessly for peace for her people even as their lands were taken away. Sitting in the quiet evening breeze, listening to the silence and enjoying the peace of the afternoon could really speak volumes that simply reading about her wouldn't have given me.

4. Libraries and museums. These are often forgotten treasures that can also take you back in history and give a better sense of life in the past. But don't forget science museums and planetariums where you can learn about the stars and space travel. And for certain, ask questions of the guides, or get information on experts you might be able to call.

5. Keep a list of everyone and everything you learn, and don't hesitate to get cards from people so you can call them later if you're unable to talk to them while you are at the museum.  Build a file and hold onto the information. You never know when you might want to go back to that person for more details for your story.

Mainly, you need to keep digging. Every subject has its experts, but don't simply call or try to interview someone without any sort of plan. Come up with a list of preliminary questions you can ask so you don't have to try to think of them on the spur of the moment. Plan in advance and then conduct your research in a professional manner. You are a professional. You're a writer!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

5 Tips to Getting Back to Writing

Okay, the summer is over if you count Labor Day as the Official End of The Vacation Season. It is now time to go back to the keyboard or pick up the writing tools and start working again. I am certain a huge sigh follows reading that line. I sighed heavily after writing it. Since Labor Day was always the holiday that signaled the start of the school season back when I was still in school, that is how I still view it. That means all those excuses for not writing on my manuscript must end. Time to edit, to write, to WORK!
 But how can we do that?  How can we get started again? I actually used to enjoy the beginning of the school year and the new school supplies and new clothes. I also liked the idea that I would be taking classes I hadn’t taken before and that I would be learning new things.

Let’s look at a few ideas for putting our now much older brain cells back into the writing harness.

1. Go back to your last manuscript. Open up that manuscript you were working on –whether that was a month ago or two months ago.  Start reading it, start editing it, but get busy with it. But don’t start from where you left off. Start from the very beginning. Re-read your work and see if it holds up from the beginning.

          2. Re-introduce yourself to your characters. See if you are introducing them properly. You probably know them a little better after spending that time with them earlier. Look over whether you really got some of who they are into those opening paragraphs.

         3. Check over your setting. Are you pulling readers into the setting at the beginning and making them feel the location, the time period or the time of year? Look for places you can edit or make notes on items you need to look up. 

      4. Focus on the Inciting Incident. Are you getting the start of the story in quickly enough or are you spending too many pages setting everything up? Those days of long involved openings no longer work. Readers want to get into the meat of the story as quickly as possible.

       5. Make necessary edits but don't bog down. While you want to fix the big problems, don’t get so engrossed with making it perfect that you forget to move on. The story needs to continue to move and you need to continue to write it and get the rest of the story out of your head.  

Mainly you want to start working with fresh ideas, a fresh outlook and fresh determination to finish. Set up some new writing rules for the rest of the year or set them up as though you were starting the next year of school. Try some new writing trick or lesson that you heard about over the summer. Maybe it’s time to try using a timer and attempting writing sprints. Or try using a new writing program. It’s a new year, why not try something new?

The long days of winter are ahead and there will be plenty of days where it makes sense not to go out, but to stay inside and WRITE!

Monday, August 21, 2017

5 Tips to Vacation Writing

Earlier this summer I gave tips on summer writing and I've done some tips on writing when you're out of town or distracted, but now is the height of summer vacation. How can you keep your writing groove on when faced with trips, tours or just sitting on the beach or up in the mountains and relaxing. Who wants to put your nose to the grindstone when you can be playing or visiting with friends or relatives? Well, yes, you can put those trips to good use, very good use.

1. Make your trip count. Take that trip to some place you've always wanted to write about or some place you've read about that you've always wanted to visit. Visiting a new place always can foster new story ideas or new places to set your book.  Take that trip to Hawaii or Europe and use the location, but summer vacation can be a great time to get in some writing while you are sitting at the beach and soaking in the sun. Take a trip to the beach at sunset and enjoy the last rays of the day, or sit in an outdoor cafe and observe the people and listen to the special sounds of that particular place. Because let's face it, whenever your are on the road, you should....

2. Observe your particular location. When I say observe, think about how you would describe it as
you are writing a story. Or better yet, write a travel story about it. Whenever I go to a new place I immediately go through all the information at the hotel to see any local tourist destinations, but I also look for those different little places. Ask around in the hotel coffee shop or the cab or Uber driver about any interesting but not tourist-y place that you might visit. I also like to learn about local sports stars, historical figures or heroes,  to get a feel for the people from there and to get more ideas for characters.

3. Try those little dining spots that are not necessarily in the tourist guide books. Look for the local coffee shops in the neighborhoods or the small diners or ethnic food places. Try them out. It not only will enhance the vacation, but can also be good food for thought next time you are writing a book.

4.  Talk to the local people. Pick up on any local accents, the way people dress,  even the items on the local menus. When I was travelling across the country with my family we made it a rule that we were going to eat whatever the local delicacies were. From Texas to Maine we enjoyed Mexican food and steak in Dallas, then Cajun in Louisiana, all the way up to crab in Baltimore and lobster in Maine.  We even had to stop by in Hershey, Pa and buy chocolate.

5. Keep a travel notebook and make good notes. And keep taking them, and updating and updating. When we went across country my mother started taking notes the minute we left Colorado and crossed over into Kansas. She had great notes on the farms of Kansas and even listed all the foods we had those first days. By the time we reached the East coast she had lots of blank pages and was trying to remember instead of instantly writing as she witnessed things.

So enjoy your summer vacation, but keep notes and pictures, and if you aren't a photographer, buy postcards. I began collecting postcards the minute I left home for college. I have cards from all 45 states I've visited -- from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic to the beaches of Hawaii and the glaciers of Alaska.

Enjoy your summer trip, and if you find yourself sitting and waiting at an airport or on a long plane ride, try some writing to fill the time. Or pick up a book by a new author or try reading in a new genre.

There's always lots you can do before getting back to work on your next book.

5 Tips for Getting off to A Fresh Writing Start

Every year in January would be writers, beginning writers and even published writers tell themselves this is the year they hit it big and g...