4 Tips for Writing a Quick First Draft

4 Tips for Writing a Quick First Draft National Novel Writing Month starts in three weeks! For those who don’t know what this is, you can go to the NaNoWriMo site here and learn all about it. The point is to write a 50,000 word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. I think it’s great for discipline and for getting that first draft out. A terrific way to stop procrastinating and just do it! Of course, in many cases, 50,000 words isn’t going to be an entire novel. If you’re planning a longer book, it’s okay. You can write the skeleton of a novel, then fill it out later, or write roughly half of your novel by the end of November, whatever 50k words turns out to be. You have to get to 50k, though — that’s the point. So let’s talk about writing a first draft. Today I want to address a couple...
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Writing Craft: Foreshadowing

Writing Craft: Foreshadowing I haven’t done a craft post in a while, so today I thought I’d talk about an aspect of novel-writing that I don’t see addressed very often, even though I deal with it all the time when editing novels. It’s the technique of foreshadowing and its black-sheep cousin, telegraphing. Foreshadowing is when you purposely drop tiny hints about what’s going to happen later in the novel, to heighten the effect or the suspense. It might not even be a hint, but an image or idea that thematically relates to whatever’s going to happen later. It’s like subtle shading to plant tiny, even imperceptible, seeds in your reader’s mind. Telegraphing is giving away too much, too soon, thereby ruining the suspense, or the impact of the event. When you foreshadow,...
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Six Ways to Avoid Becoming a Literary Mimic

Six Ways to Avoid Becoming a Literary Mimic Guest Blogger: JR Parsons Call me Katniss. Some seconds ago–it’s not important how many–feeling lonely and cold in my bed, and finding not the warmth of my sister beside me but only the rough canvas mattress cover, I thought about the bad dreams that must have disturbed her sleep and caused her to search in the dark for the comfort of our mother. It was a way, I knew, of warding off fear of the coming reaping. Sounds familiar, right? But is it Suzanne Collins or Herman Melville? Neither–unless Collins fell prey to the literary mimicry trap or Melville wrote dystopian YA fiction. Thankfully neither did. And the world reaped Moby Dick and The Hunger Games. I sometimes work with writers who, in hopes of discovering their own voice, listen to well-intentioned advice. Read...
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How to Become a Better Writer

How to Become a Better Writer *10 Non-Writing-Related Ideas 1. Be creative any way you can. Cook new recipes. Paint a picture. Design a garden. Compose a song. Build something with Legos. Organize the garage. 2. Pay attention. Observe the mannerisms of people around you. Listen to how they speak. Marvel at the way they’re dressed. Notice their shoes and their posture and the look in their eye. 3. Be an armchair shrink. Analyze people’s behavior. Ask yourself how their actions reveal their character. Wonder about their motivations. Scrutinize the dynamics of relationships. Drive your spouse and kids crazy. Read the rest of the post at the Books & Such...
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What Makes a Blog or a Book Compelling?

What Makes a Blog or a Book Compelling? Whether we’re talking about blogs, non-fiction books, or novels, one of the most crucial elements in making it compelling to readers is authenticity. When something is written from your deepest truth; when you’ve put your heart and passion into it, the reader can tell. In my mind, this is another way of saying, “Write what you know.” Most people take “write what you know” literally, meaning you can only write about situations with which you’re personally familiar. But in my opinion, that’s a limiting way to approach it. Write what you know means write from a deep place. Be honest. Don’t write from the surface. Whether you’re writing about parenthood or cancer or expanding your social media platform… be real. Be passionate....
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The Writing Rules Are Just Tools

The Writing Rules Are Just Tools I am taking a blog hiatus. This is an encore presentation of a previous post. If you’ve been studying the craft of writing for long, you’ve heard all the “rules.” You know that you’re supposed to show not tell, use active not passive verbs, eschew adverbs, maintain consistent POVs, avoid repetition, and all the rest. But it’s easy to get too caught up in the rules and get frustrated at trying so hard to follow them that you find your creativity stunted. In addition, some writers are actively resentful about the rules, feeling like the Writing Establishment is trying to keep everyone in a little box and not allow writers’ artistic visions to shine through. I want to share a few thoughts about writing rules. 1. They’re not meant to be slavishly followed. They’re meant...
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Is Talent Overrated?

Is Talent Overrated? I’ve been studying various philosophies of success and mastery lately, in an attempt to better understand how to help writers reach their goals. I came across this idea that Talent is Overrated and that, in fact, it is hard work that leads people to master a skill or profession, not any kind of inborn ability. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that there may be a degree of innate talent or aptitude for writing a good book that contributes to a writer’s chances of success. But perhaps I’ve been wrong all this time? I find Geoff Colvin’s theories and his analysis of the research compelling. He says that it’s not just hard work that makes the difference and leads to greatness. It’s a specific kind of hard work: a regimented and completely...
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Is Your Writing Better Than Facebook?

Is Your Writing Better Than Facebook? Guest blogger: Ed Cyzewski (@edcyzewski) As writers, we all have a fierce, powerful, all-consuming competitor. You won’t find it at a book store, and it’s one of the few things you can’t find on Amazon. I’m talking about Facebook. If you use Facebook, think about what you love about it for a moment. Facebook provides: → Entertainment → Interaction with friends → Immediate gratification Facebook is your competition because it consumes a ton of leisure time. I’m not saying that we need to fight Facebook toe to toe. I don’t think the world is pining for a book written like a Facebook timeline (though, you never know). Our challenge as writers is to drag our readers away from irresistible distractions like Facebook long enough to teach, enchant, or motivate them with...
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How Hard Should We Make Our Readers Work?

How Hard Should We Make Our Readers Work? Guest Blogger: Mike Duran (@CerebralGrump) Ask ten different authors the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction and you’ll get 10 different answers. When there is consensus, it’s usually that literary fiction is more about the writing than the story, while commercial fiction is more about the story than the writing. Graham Greene simply made the distinction between what he called “novels” and “entertainments.” When I began shopping my first novel, I was told to avoid the term “literary.” “In today’s market,” they said, “literary is a death sentence.” Okay, so that may be a bit extreme. Nevertheless, today’s readers do seem less concerned about the writing than the entertainment. Tempo...
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6 Things To Learn from Hemingway

6 Things To Learn from Hemingway Over the last year or so, I’ve been re-reading some Ernest Hemingway. The more I read, and the more I learn about his approach to writing and his work habits, the more I’m in awe of his genius. I’ve come to see him as a remarkable example that serious writers would do well to study and emulate. Setting aside the depression, the personal demons that drove him, and the drinking he used to cope, Hemingway stands as a master of the craft with a great deal to teach us. Here are a few valuable things I’ve identified: 1. He read the masters and studied them obsessively. His teachers were Homer, Dante, Flaubert, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and countless other exceptional writers. 2. He was friends with writers and discussed writing, art, and literature incessantly. His early circle included...
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Using Setting as a Character: a Tip for Novelists

Using Setting as a Character: a Tip for Novelists Guest Blogger: MaryLu Tyndall @MaryLuTyndall Choosing the right setting is just as important as choosing the right characters, plot, and dialogue. Setting grounds your readers, helping them to experience the action and drama more effectively. But it does so much more than that! A setting can be so vibrant and alive that it becomes one of the characters in your story, assisting or hindering your protagonist in achieving his/her goals.   Setting as Friend A beach at sunset or a hike to a tranquil waterfall can provide nearly as much comfort and encouragement as any good friend. If your hero has just defeated a dragon, don’t send him to a lively night club or a bull fight. Turn his setting into a place where he can recuperate and reflect, where he can hear the voice of God in the...
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9 Ways to Outwit Writer’s Block

9 Ways to Outwit Writer’s Block *Or get out of a rut 1. Read a chapter of your WIP aloud to someone other than your cat. Invite feedback, if you’re brave. But mostly, just listen as you read. Do the words flow easily, roll nicely off the tongue? Do you stumble anywhere? Anything sound awkward? How’s the dialogue? Option: Record yourself reading it aloud, then listen to the recording. 2. Write a short story featuring one of your characters, something taking place outside the scope of your book. What did you learn about that character? 3. Go out for some people-watching. Listen closely to conversations of those around you, observe details of body language and facial expressions. Keep a notebook or Word file of your observations. 4. Imagine your main characters in dramatic situations and see what they would do....
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Are You Responsible For What Your Characters Say?

Are You Responsible For What Your Characters Say? Guest Blogger: Mike Duran Writers love to go on about the autonomy of their characters. You know, these make-believe people who start acting in unexpected ways and change the course of their story. Well, it’s a buncha bunk. Several years ago, Director Ron Howard found himself in the crosshairs of controversy, not because of something he said, but because of something a character in his forthcoming movie said. L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein wrote about it in Ron Howard on “The Dilemma’s” gay joke: It stays in the movie. Universal Pictures decided to pull a trailer for the movie when they learned that a gay joke had rankled a lot of feathers. Apparently, the character played by Vince Vaughn made fun of an electric car by saying, “It’s gay.”...
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Train Your Muse Like You Train a Puppy

Train Your Muse Like You Train a Puppy Strategies for Writers – Part 1 of 3 One of the difficult things about being a writer is having those days when you’re lacking inspiration, the words aren’t flowing, and you feel stuck. Pile enough days like that on top of one another and pretty soon you have the dreaded writer’s block. Ugh. But that never has to happen to you…because you can train your muse to perform on command, right? The secret is to think of it like a puppy. You know — cute, rambunctious, frustrating and surprisingly teachable. Like a puppy, your muse only seems unmanageable. Here are some tips on how to get your creativity to show up when you need it. 5 Puppy-Training Basics for a Muse That Behaves 1. Develop desirable habits. The secret to puppy training is getting your adorable...
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