How To Write A Smashing First Chapter

ChapterOne

If you are looking for a few tips on how to write a cracking first chapter, you couldn’t do much better than this. Here is an opening chapter masterclass from Author Elizabeth Sims. Enjoy!

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When you decide to go to a restaurant for a special dinner, you enjoy the anticipation. You’ve committed to spending sufficient time and money, and now you’ve arrived, and the place looks good and smells good. You smile and order an appetizer. When it comes, you enjoy it as a foretaste of the larger, more complex courses that will follow, but you also savor it for what it is: a delicious dish, complete in itself. If it’s a truly great appetizer, you recognize it as an exquisite blend of flavor, texture and temperature. And you’re happy, because you know you’ll be in good hands for the entire evening.

Isn’t that what it’s like to begin reading a terrific book?

The first chapter is the appetizer – small, yet so tremendously important. And so full of potential.

As an aspiring author, the prospect of writing Chapter One should not intimidate, but excite the hell out of you. Why? Because no other part of your book can provide you with the disproportionate payoff that an excellent first chapter can. Far more than a great query letter, a great Chapter One can attract the attention of an agent. It can keep a harried editor from yawning and hitting “delete.” It can make a bookstore browser keep turning pages during the slow walk to the cash registers. And yes, it can even keep a bleary-eyed owner of one of those electronic thingamajigs touching the screen for more, more, more!

Fiction, like food, is an art and a craft. Here’s how to blend inspiration with technique and serve up an irresistible Chapter One.

#1: RESIST TERROR.
Let’s be honest: Agents and editors like to make you quiver and sweat as you approach Chapter One. All those warnings: “Grab me from the opening sentence! Don’t waste one word! If my attention flags, you’ve failed – you’re down the toilet! In fact, don’t even write Chapter One! Start your book at Chapter Four! Leave out all that David Copperfield crap!” From their perspective it’s an acid test. They know how important Chapter One is, and if you’re weak, they’ll scare you into giving up before you begin. (Hey, it makes their jobs easier: one less query in the queue.)

Here’s the truth: Agents and editors, all of them, are paper tigers. Every last one is a hungry kitten searching for something honest, original and brave to admire. Now is the time to gather your guts, smile and let it rip.

Your inner genius flees from tension, so first of all, relax. Notice that I did not say agents and editors are looking for perfect writing. Nor are they looking for careful writing. Honest, original and brave. That’s what they want, and that’s what you’ll produce if you open up room for mistakes and mediocrity. It’s true! Only by doing that will you be able to tap into your wild and free core. Let out the bad with the good now, and you’ll sort it out later.

Second, remember who you are and why you’re writing this book. What is your book about? What purpose(s) will it serve? Write your answers down and look at them from time to time as you write. (By the way, it’s OK to want to write a book simply to entertain people; the noblest art has sprung from just such a humble desire.)

And third, if you haven’t yet outlined, consider doing so. Even the roughest, most rustic framework will give you a sharper eye for your beginning and, again, will serve to unfetter your mind. Your outline could be a simple list of things-that-are-gonna-happen, or it could be a detailed chronological narrative of all your plot threads and how they relate. I find that knowing where I’m headed frees my mind from everything but the writing at hand. Being prepared makes you calm, and better equipped to tap into your unique voice – which is the most important ingredient in a good Chapter One.

#2: DECIDE ON TENSE AND POINT OF VIEW.
Most readers are totally unconscious of tense and POV; all they care about is the story. Is it worth reading? Fun to read? But you must consider your tense and POV carefully, and Chapter One is go time for these decisions. It used to be simple. You’d choose from:

a) First person: I chased the beer wagon.

b) Third-person limited: Tom chased the beer wagon.

or

c) Omniscient: Tom chased the beer wagon while the villagers watched and wondered, Would all the beer in the world be enough for this oaf?

… and you’d always use past tense.

But today, novels mix points of view and even tenses. In my Rita Farmer novels I shift viewpoints, but limit all POVs to the good guys. By contrast, John Grisham will shift out of the main character’s POV to the bad guy’s for a paragraph or two, then back again. (Some critics have labeled this practice innovative, while others have called it lazy; in the latter case, I’m sure Grisham is crying all the way to the bank.) It’s also worth noting that studies have shown that older readers tend to prefer past tense, while younger ones dig the present. (If that isn’t a statement with larger implications, I don’t know what is.)

Many writing gurus tell you to keep a first novel simple by going with first person, past tense. This approach has worked for thousands of first novels (including mine, 2002’s Holy Hell), but I say go for whatever feels right to you, simple or not. I do, however, recommend that you select present or past tense and stick with it. Similarly, I advise against flashbacks and flash-forwards for first novels. Not that they can’t work, but they seem to be off-putting to agents and editors, who will invariably ask, “Couldn’t this story be told without altering the time-space continuum?”

The point is, you want your readers to feel your writing is smooth; you don’t want them to see the rivets in the hull, so to speak. And the easiest way to do that is to create fewer seams.

If you’re still unsure of your tense or POV choices, try these techniques:

Go to your bookshelf and take a survey of some of your favorite novels. What POVs and tenses are selected, and why do you suppose the authors chose those approaches?

Rehearse. Write a scene using first person, then third-person limited, then omniscient. What feels right?

Don’t forget to consider the needs of your story. If you plan to have simultaneous action in Fresno, Vienna and Pitcairn, and you want to show it all in living color, you almost certainly need more than one POV.

And if you’re still in doubt, don’t freeze up – just pick an approach and start writing. Remember, you can always change it later if you need to.

#3: CHOOSE A NATURAL STARTING POINT.
When you read a good novel, it all seems to unfold so naturally, starting from the first sentence. But when you set out to write your own, you realize your choices are limitless, and this can be paralyzing. Yet your novel must flow from the first scene you select.

Let’s say you’ve got an idea for a historical novel that takes place in 1933. There’s this pair of teenagers who figure out what really happened the night the Lindbergh baby was abducted, but before they can communicate with the police, they themselves are kidnapped. Their captives take them to proto-Nazi Germany, and it turns out there’s some weird relationship between Col. Lindbergh and the chancellor – or is there? Is the guy with the haircut really Lindbergh? The teens desperately wonder: What do they want with us?

Sounds complicated. Where should you start? A recap of the Lindbergh case? The teenagers on a date where one of them stumbles onto a clue in the remote place they go to make out? A newspaper clipping about a German defense contract that should have raised eyebrows but didn’t?

Basically, write your way in.

Think about real life. Any significant episode in your own life did not spring whole from nothing; things happened beforehand that shaped it, and things happened afterward as a result of it. Think about your novel in this same way. The characters have pasts and futures (unless you plan to kill them); places, too, have pasts and futures. Therefore, every storyteller jumps into his story midstream. Knowing this can help you relax about picking a starting point. The Brothers Grimm did not begin by telling about the night Hansel and Gretel were conceived; they got going well into the lives of their little heroes, and they knew we wouldn’t care about anything but what they’re doing right now.

If you’re unsure where to begin, pick a scene you know you’re going to put in – you just don’t know where yet – and start writing it. You might discover your Chapter One right there. And even if you don’t, you’ll have fodder for that scene when the time comes.

Here are a few other strategies that can help you choose a starting point:

  • Write a character sketch or two. You need them anyway, and they’re great warm-ups for Chapter One. Ask yourself: What will this character be doing when we first meet him? Write it. Again, you might find yourself writing Chapter One.
  • Do a Chapter-One-only brainstorm and see what comes out.

The truth is, you probably can write a great story starting from any of several places. If you’ve narrowed it down to two or three beginnings and still can’t decide, flip a coin and get going. In my hypothetical Lindbergh thriller, I’d probably pick the date scene, with a shocking clue revealed. Why? Action!

It’s OK to be extremely loose with your first draft of your first chapter. In fact, I recommend it. The important thing at this point is to begin.

#4: PRESENT A STRONG CHARACTER RIGHT AWAY.
This step might seem obvious, but too many first-time novelists try to lure the reader into a story by holding back the main character. Having a couple of subsidiary characters talking about the protagonist can be a terrific technique for character or plot development at some point, but not at the beginning of your novel.

When designing your Chapter One, establish your characters’ situation(s). What do they know at the beginning? What will they learn going forward? What does their world mean to them?

Who is the strongest character in your story? Watch out; that’s a trick question. Consider Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The main character, Stevens, is a weak man, yet his presence is as strong as a hero. How? Ishiguro gave him a voice that is absolutely certain, yet absolutely vacant of self-knowledge. We know Stevens, and because we see his limitations, we know things will be difficult for him. Don’t be afraid to give all the depth you can to your main character early in your story. You’ll discover much more about him later, and can always revise if necessary.

#5: BE SPARING OF SETTING.
Another common error many aspiring novelists make is trying to set an opening scene in too much depth. You’ve got it all pictured in your head: the colors, sounds, flavors and feelings. You want everybody to be in the same place with the story you are. But you’re too close: A cursory – but poignant! – introduction is what’s needed. Readers will trust you to fill in all the necessary information later. They simply want to get a basic feel for the setting, whether it’s a lunar colony or a street in Kansas City.

Pack punch into a few details. Instead of giving the history of the place and how long the character has been there and what the weather’s like, consider something like this:

He lived in a seedy neighborhood in Kansas City. When the night freight passed, the windows rattled in their frames and the dog in the flat below barked like a maniac.

Later (if you want) you’ll tell all about the house, the street, the neighbors and maybe even the dog’s make and model, but for now a couple of sentences like that are all you need.

But, you object, what of great novels that opened with descriptions of place, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Edna Ferber’s Giant? Ah, in those books the locale has been crafted with the same care as a character, and effectively used as one. Even so, the environment is presented as the characters relate to it: in the former case, man’s mark on the land (by indiscriminate agriculture), and in the latter, man’s mark on the sky (the jet plumes of modern commerce).

Another way to introduce a setting is to show how a character feels about it. In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov seethes with resentment at the opulence around him in St. Petersburg, and this immediately puts us on the alert about him. The setting serves the character; it does not stand on its own.

#6: USE CAREFULLY CHOSEN DETAIL TO CREATE IMMEDIACY.
Your Chapter One must move along smartly, but in being economical you cannot become vague. Difficult, you say? It’s all in the context.

The genius of books as diverse as Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Robin Cook’s Coma lies in the authors’ generosity with good, authentic detail. Cervantes knew that a suit of armor kept in a junk locker for years wouldn’t merely be dusty, it would be corroded to hell – and that would be a problem to overcome. Likewise, Cook, himself a doctor, knew that a patient prepped for surgery would typically be given a calming drug before the main anesthetic – and that some patients, somehow, do not find peace even under the medication, especially if they have reason not to.

If you’re an expert on something, go ahead and show that you know what you’re talking about. One of the reasons my novel Damn Straight, a story involving a professional golfer, won a Lambda Award is that I know golf, and let my years of (painful) experience inform the book. I felt I’d done a good job when reviewer after reviewer wrote, “I absolutely hate golf, but I love how Sims writes about it in this novel. …”

Let’s say your Chapter One begins with your main character getting a root canal. You could show the dentist nattering on and on as dentists tend to do, and that would be realistic, but it could kill your chapter, as in this example:

Dr. Payne’s running commentary included the history of fillings, a story about the first time he ever pulled a tooth, and a funny anecdote about how his college roommate got really drunk every weekend.

Bored yet? Me too. Does that mean there’s too much detail? No. It means there’s too much extraneous detail.

How about this:

Dr. Payne paused in his running commentary on dental history and put down his drill. “Did you know,” he remarked, “that the value of all the gold molars in a city this size, at this afternoon’s spot price of gold, would be something on the order of half a million dollars?” He picked up his drill again. “Open.”

If the detail serves the story, you can hardly have too much.

#7: GIVE IT A MINI PLOT.
It’s no accident that many great novels have first chapters that were excerpted in magazines, where they essentially stood as short stories. I remember being knocked to the floor by the gorgeous completeness of Ian McEwan’s first chapter of On Chesil Beach when it was excerpted in The New Yorker.

Every chapter should have its own plot, none more important than Chapter One. Use what you know about storytelling to:

Make trouble. I side with the writing gurus who advise you to put in a lot of conflict early. Pick your trouble and make it big. If it can’t be big at first, make it ominous.

Focus on action. Years ago I got a rejection that said, “Your characters are terrific and I love the setting, but not enough happens.” A simple and useful critique! Bring action forward in your story; get it going quick. This is why agents and editors tell you to start your story in the middle: They’ve seen too many Chapter Ones bogged down by backstory. Put your backstory in the back, not the front. Readers will stick with you if you give them something juicy right away. I make a point of opening each of my Rita Farmer novels with a violent scene, which is then revealed to be an audition, or a film shoot or a rehearsal. Right away, the reader gets complexity, layers and a surprise shift of frame of reference.

Be decisive. A good way to do that is to make a character take decisive action.

Don’t telegraph too much; let action develop through the chapter. It’s good to end Chapter One with some closure. Because it is Chapter One, your readers will trust that the closure will turn out to be deliciously false.

#8: BE BOLD.
The most important thing to do when writing Chapter One is put your best material out there. Do not humbly introduce your story – present it with a flourish. Don’t hold back! Set your tone and own it. You’re going to write a whole book using great material; have confidence that you can generate terrific ideas for action and emotion whenever you want.

If you do your job creating a fabulous appetizer in Chapter One and follow it up well, your readers will not only stay through the whole meal, they’ll order dessert, coffee and maybe even a nightcap – and they won’t want to leave until you have to throw them out at closing time.

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This guest post is by bestselling author and writing authority Elizabeth SimsShe’s the author of seven popular novels in two series, including The Rita Farmer Mysteries and The Lillian Byrd Crime series. She’s also the author of the excellent resource for writers, You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams, published by Writer’s Digest Books.

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Via: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/8-ways-to-write-a-5-star-chapter-one

How Important Is The First Draft To Your Novel

The First Draft - Sandra Scofield

We’re an odd lot, novelists. Obsessive. Why else does someone launch a project that consumes so much time and holds out such a wavering promise of reward? I wrote my first three novels in deep night—the only time I had—and I used to put things away (in a dish bucket, set against the kitchen wall) in a tired heave of sadness, as if I might never pick them up again, as if my fledgling world might never be real. And of course it never was, because that’s a large part of the siren call of the novel: Come hither and create your own world. Put what you know and believe and want into story. Defy the randomness of real life; make meaning. This is a long-haul project and it is so much a part of who you are, you can’t imagine not doing it, not even if it takes years.

Maybe you, like me, write in your hidey-hole and people who know you have no idea how much you’ve taken on. Maybe you’ve found a workshop or a graduate program to help you in your endeavor. Either way, you must know by now that you have a world of figuring out to do.

Just know this: You are uniquely you, and the novel you write is one nobody else can.

I’ve written seven novels. That doesn’t count the first one; I spent years, only to discover when it was done that I was sick of it. (I had learned a lot, though.) It doesn’t count the one I lost. (I thought I stored it in the linen closet, but it wasn’t there when I searched for it.) It doesn’t count drafts, that’s for sure. It doesn’t count false starts (a box of them), or the ones I’ve been writing in my head for a decade while I tell myself I’m done with novels.

I’ve read shelves and shelves of novels. Hundreds of reviews. (I’ve written them, too.) Stacks of criticism. Biographies and memoirs of writers. But what matters to the present subject is this: I have immersed myself in the struggles of at least 200 aspiring novelists, many in one-week workshops in summer writing festivals over 20-plus years, and others in semester-long or year-long mentorships. I immerse myself in outlines and drafts. These writers have put themselves out there in a scary, exciting way. It has been my privilege to help them find new insights and fresh resolve. There is among aspiring writers an incredible range of interests, backgrounds, sense of story, and confidence, but there are many things they have in common. They are readers. They are intrigued by human nature. They are dogged.

One day it dawned on me that every summer, every semester, I have reinvented the wheel. Now, going through my teaching materials, I see that, however I may have recast notes, talks, exercises, and guidelines, there are consistent themes. I want to share what I have learned in my writing and teaching life, with special gratitude for the generosity of so many writers over so many years.

You can find many books to help you produce the first draft of a novel, especially if you subscribe to a popular theory of story much loved by screenwriters. Their strategy of structuring with acts, journeys, plot points, and arcs seems to be ratified by the success of many commercial movies, but is less helpful in developing deep story. If you want to review the basics of screenplay structure, you should read Syd Field, who popularized the model 30 years ago.

My advice is short and simple.

You should feel driven by a story you want to tell, even if you don’t know every nuance of it.

You must be able to live with the ambiguity of the enterprise.

You must have a commitment to a schedule of writing.

 

No one can teach you how to write a perfect first draft.

If you can say, Yes, I’m up to that, and you are just beginning, you may do best by ignoring instruction, at least until your dream is on the page. Free from rules, you may discover you have something in you nobody else has thought of. What rules did Markus Zusak ignore, writing The Book Thief, with Death as the narrator? Or Kate Atkinson, with the dazzle of her innovative Life After Life, in which her characters live more than one life? Amor Towles painted 30 years of Russian history in the confines of a single setting, a hotel, in A Gentleman in Moscow.

However much you think you know your story, however much you love it, allow yourself the freedom of discovery. Think of yourself as solving a mystery. What if? Why? Be wary of judging your work too soon. Sticking with a novel means going forward, not round and round. I say that even though I myself am a slow, deliberate writer at the sentence level. I don’t pour out pages; I feel as if every line tells me something about what the next line has to be. But I also don’t worry over the pages I’ve already written until I have a substantial draft. I learned early on that I could end up trying to perfect passages that don’t belong in the novel at all. Or I could lose my urgency to discover what next. I learned to jump ahead when I felt stymied. I started two of my novels in the middle.

Keep in mind that a first draft may be a kind of fishing expedition, a mess of a manuscript. You may not be ready to leap to revising. “First draft” should be thought of as a canopy off writing, holding however many drafts it takes to get you to the place where you feel you have grasped the story and put it on the page. You have to know how it ends. You have to know what it means.

The “first draft” of my first published novel was 1,084 pages long. It took about 14 months to write. (Remember, those were typewriter days.) I wrote ferociously and joyously. Then I had to figure out how to define reasonable parameters for the novel, and when I cut it, I discovered a huge imbalance between what I had said the most about and what I’d skimmed over. I made a painstaking outline by hand, on lined paper. There were no word processors. I had to start over with fresh paper in a typewriter. That was what it meant to revise. (I kept the boxes that held that draft in the disused cabinets over the refrigerator for many years, until they were archived. And I looked at them from time to time, a reminder of what I did, what I can do.)

When I wrote what I thought was the finished manuscript of More Than Allies, my perspicacious agent told me she liked a minor character in the story the best of all—and that character became one of the two main characters in a total rewrite. I learned to stay fluid, patient, open, and determined. Every stage has its hurdles—and its rewards.

 

Have fun finding your way.

You might want to toss a chapter and start over. Fine. You might want to try out a different point of view. You could discover your heavy drama is a comedy after all. You might realize you need a lot more background (setting, history) built into the story (a common concern); or you might realize that your research is clogging the manuscript’s arteries. Insight comes when you are immersed in the story, and you then have to decide whether to go back or keep going. I’m inclined to say keep going but make lots of notes about your prospective changes. You have to tell yourself that the most important thing is to get enough story down that you have something to work with; you will know more with every page you write; you can change things in the next draft.

Once you have that first full draft, you are on a different plane of writing. You’ve done a lot of stumbling and fretting, but you’ve figured out a story and you have this product, written out from beginning to end. Congratulations. Now you are ready for the next step. Unless you can do it in one go. There are writers who don’t revise full drafts, but I think that for them revising is a stream of higher consciousness.

It is instructive and fascinating to read about Gustave Flaubert’s writing; he was a man in agony, start to finish. He wrote letters to his friends saying that he hated what he was writing, that he had spent days on a paragraph, and so on. It seems clear to me that he had a very strong sense of his story from the beginning (I’m thinking of Madame Bovary), but achieving what he had in mind was incredibly demanding because his standards were so high. He spent five years writing the novel, his first. He wrote expansively, then cut, as he progressed.

When he got to the end of his “first draft,” which was the complete novel, he had performed surgery, acrobatics, diplomacy, psychology, and artistry on every page. And he had written the first modern novel.

John Steinbeck wrote a journal about how he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. It’s called Working Days and you can see why: He wrote five days a week, all day, from June to October 1938, about 2,000 words a day. He griped and grumbled, full of self-doubt and self-pity, but he had his head down and his pencil on the paper (his wife was his typist). I think he, like Flaubert, could do a one-draft wonder because every sentence was produced from deep thought. He was driven by an urgency about his subject, and he had done a lot of research. He didn’t start writing from scratch by any means.

Bernard Malamud, on the other hand, said when asked how many drafts he typically wrote, “Many more than I call three.”

 

Fast is fast, but is it good?

So many will say, Just get it down—work intuitively and quickly. I can’t write fast, so I can’t evaluate this approach. Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life), famous for encouraging unselfconscious, uncritical first drafts, has made it clear that she also does a lot of restructuring and revising later on. You have to find your own way. If you have had the story in your mind for a long time, your first draft might feel like you are pouring it onto the page. If the story feels like a mystery you want to solve, it will probably go more slowly. The writer Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), whose novels are marvelously varied, has said that she likes to think things through pretty thoroughly before she starts writing, whereas her friend, the novelist Elizabeth McCracken (TheGiant’s House: A Romance), doesn’t think a thing of changing names, histories, and plotlines as she writes. Think of the first draft as close to the chest: It’s yours alone.

What I do know is that, whether you crawl through your draft or you write it out as fast as you can type, you have to have the story on the page, start to finish, before you can evaluate it. It’s important to stay open to surprises and unbothered by dead ends. This isn’t the time to make contracts with yourself, like so many pages a day or the first draft by Christmas. Dedicated time is the one thing you do have to promise yourself. A lot will change in the writing. Later, you will come back to the same questions, the same advice, the same exercises, and find you have gone somewhere altogether different from where you were headed. That’s just fine. That’s writing. The real book might appear in the margins of your draft. You can’t revise what you haven’t written down.

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From The Last Draft, by Sandra Scofield, courtesy Penguin Press. Copyright 2017, Sandra Scofield.  Via: http://lithub.com/how-important-is-the-first-draft-to-your-novel/

10 Creative Ways to Keep Moving Forward During Nanowrimo

We’ve all had that dream: it’s an important day and you show up totally unprepared and, probably, naked. For writers who take the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, this most commonly occurs on Day One: you’ve brewed your warm, comforting beverage of choice, assembled your meticulously curated writing playlist, filled the bathroom with catnip and locked the cats inside, and carefully arranged all the implements and tchotchkes on your desk into a pleasing geometric pattern. Then you sit and stare at a blinking cursor and have no idea what to write.

Whether it strikes at the very beginning of a novel or right at a crucial middle part, writer’s block is frustrating and potentially devastating. The most essential tool any author can have is a list of surefire ways of breaking out of its cold, clammy clutches. Here are ten creative ways to smash out of a creative funk.

Read Great Books
Your first step, always, should be to read a few of your favourite books. Since NaNoWriMo goes pretty fast, don’t try to read a whole novel, just skip to your favourite parts. Spending a few minutes with a beloved story usually gets the juices flowing. Alternatively, read a hot new title everyone’s talking about to stoke those fire of jealousy, one of the best motivators known to man.

Get Some Pro Advice
Another approach is to sit down with some of the best writers in history and ask their advice, which you can do by picking up a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Or, depending on your taste in literature, a wilder example:Charles Bukowski’s On Writing, or Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art of Writing. You get the idea.

Write About Yourself
A great trick is to start writing about a frustrated writer. Writers as characters can be lazy, yes, but even if it’s a false start that has to be scrapped, writing about your own situation might offer a glimpse of an escape route. And writing about yourself is (usually) easy.

Just Start
Another trick is to simply begin writing without any concern over what the story is, who your characters are, or how in the world you’re going to finish those 50,000 words in thirty days. Just start describing something, or sketching a scene, anything. Just using your fingers and brain to put words on the screen can act like a starter motor, cranking your engine into gear.

Change Your Method
All writers develop a mechanical way of writing: the software used, the specific pen or pencil, the location of their work space. If you’re blocked, try changing things up. Switch to longhand if you work on a computer, or go sit in the garden with a laptop instead of rigidly upright at a desk. A change of mechanics can shock your brain into exploring a new way of working and thinking.

Stop Counting
Sometimes what blocks a writer is the pressure of getting 2,000 words in every day for a month. Try not paying attention to word counts for a week, instead just concentrating on telling a story, and often the pressure relief will un-crimp your creativity. And don’t forget, some incredible novels are less than 50,000 words, The Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse-Five for example.

Change What You’re Writing
Sometimes writer’s block isn’t some mystery brain injury; sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you you’re headed down the wrong path. Back up to the last major plot decision you made and see if there’s a more interesting choice you missed. Or, while it might break your heart, ask yourself if you should be writing something else entirely.

Read Some History
No novel, no matter how creative, can beat actual events for sheer twists and turns and thrilling drama. If the story won’t come, seed your brain with some of the most interesting (and true) stories ever told. Bonus: reading history trains you in how things actually happen, ramping up your verisimilitude skills.

Change – or Make – the Routine
Some writers like to work randomly, plopping down when the mood strikes and scribbling out a few hundred words here, a few hundred words there. Some go weeks without writing a word, and then hole up in their office for a month straight. As romantic as that sounds, you may work better with a rigid schedule. Try swapping your approach: go random if you normally have a schedule, and treat it like a job if you’re normally a random.

Feed Your Senses
Taking breaks is one of the most powerful tools a writer can use. Sometimes that panic over lost time is what’s blocking you in the first place. Take an hour and listen to some great music, or eat something delicious, or go for a walk in a beautiful spot. Feeding the senses stimulates creativity – think of Proust and the Madeleine!

Good luck, and keep writing – you are almost there!

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Via: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/ten-creative-ways-to-bust-out-of-your-writers-block-for-nanowrimo/

How to Handle Criticism of Your Writing

Handling-Criticism-Of-Your-Writing

If you are a writer, you will know that it already takes a brave individual to share themselves in such a vulnerable way. Writing is very personal, and so when a writer’s work is criticised, it feels very personal. Unfortunately, the world is not always that kind. So, here are some tips to help you deal with criticism as a writer:

It’s not personal

As I said above, when someone criticises your writing, it might feel like a personal attack, but it is not. At the end of the day, you need to keep in mind that it is not about you, but rather about the piece of work that you have produced.

Perhaps they don’t fully understand or appreciate what you are saying. Maybe they hold a different opinion, or would have gone about it in a different way. Whatever it is, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so try not to take it to heart.

If you are feeling brave, engage in a discussion about what it was they didn’t like. Get some in depth feedback, then you can choose what to take on board and what to ignore. And if all else fails, pretend it never happened and move on.

Grow from it

Nobody likes to be criticised because it makes us feel inadequate. The thing is, none of us are perfect, and even the best writers have flaws. Criticism is part of life, and it is better to deal with it early on.

If you feel that the criticism you received is unfair, you can always take on your critic. Try to explain what you meant and where you were coming from. Bear in mind that this isn’t always productive. Sometimes it’s better to just ignore it and move on.

The way we handle other peoples’ negative opinions is going to determine if we grow or stagnate. Perhaps the criticism is an opportunity to improve and get better at your art. There is nothing wrong with getting help if you need it, whether online or asking a friend. All you are doing is improving your writing skills, and no one can criticise you for that.

More than one writing project

As a writer, you probably have more than one project going on at the same time. So if one seems not to be going to plan, put it on the shelf for a while and work on something else.

I am not saying that you should give up on any of your projects, but sometimes it is just one piece of writing that might need more work, and if it’s not going well it might start to get you down. So take a break and do something else you enjoy.

You are not defined by one manuscript or article. You want to make sure that you don’t pour all your energy into one project and let that define you. There is more to you and a lot more that can be done. So even if one of your projects fail, at least you know that you are already working on something else. Keep the faith.

Go with your gut

Sometimes people with no knowledge of writing want to give you their opinions. There comes a time where you have to start believing in your abilities and take these comments with a grain of salt.

Not every negative opinion is correct, and you might just have to leave things as they are. Be careful who you listen to. I would much rather take criticism from people in the industry, than from someone with no writing experience.

That said, even if your editor tells you that your writing is not up to scratch, you need to be willing to fight for what you believe in. There is nothing wrong with you trusting your work above the opinions of others. In fact, that shows that you are evolving and trusting in your skills.

If the criticism is constructive and you agree, go with it. If not, get more information and stick to what your gut is telling you.

Acceptance

There are moments when the criticism you receive is valid, and you just need to accept it. After accepting that you are a human being that makes mistakes, you then need to move on.

This moment does not define who you are or what type of writer you are. As long as you are growing through the process, it is all worth it. Allow yourself to make mistakes and do not beat yourself up about it.

Many writers struggle to get their work published, but they did not let one ‘no’ stop them from pursuing their goals. And every writer gets the odd bad review. You are going to have to grow a tough skin and understand that this is part of the job.

It doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer, but rather that you are still learning and growing. If the critic is correct in what they have to say, or if they have a different opinion, you should just accept it and move right on.

Conclusion

Being a writer is all about discovering who you are through your thoughts and written work. There is no end to this journey, and just like we evolve as people, we evolve in our writing skills.

Using online tools like a grammar checker does not mean that you are not good enough. It simply means that you are using everything available to you in order to learn and succeed.

Hold on to your goals and dreams and do not let one bad comment move you away from the path you are on. There will always be bumps in the road, but you need to get right back up and keep moving forward.

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Via: https://www.justpublishingadvice.com/how-to-handle-online-criticism-of-your-writing

10 Writing Strategies Any Writer Can Use For NaNoWriMo

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Tackling NaNoWriMo, but feel as though you need all the help you can get? I’ve got 10 winning NaNoWriMo strategies that any writer can use to make it to their 50,000-word goal. Even if you’ve never even heard of NaNoWriMo until right at this moment, I’ve got you covered.

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe buckle down to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. What began as a writing contest between friends has grown into a huge non-profit organization that provides creative-writing materials to schools and libraries around the U.S. In addition to its flagship event, NaNoWriMo now hosts Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, which offer participants more flexibility than the November session.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: NaNoWriMo is not easy. Fifty-thousand words may not seem like a lot, but squeezing it into 30 days can be a nightmare if you’re not prepared to take on this particular beast. At the end of the month, your manuscript may look nothing like a bestseller, but you should at least have a firm foundation on which you can build your dream novel.

Here are 10 winning NaNoWriMo strategies to help you reach your target:

1. Accept That Your Manuscript Will Not Be Perfect

NaNoWriMo manuscripts have a lot of… potential. At 50,000 words, your novel will probably still need roughly 30,000 words, at the very least, to make it marketable to literary agents. It will be a whole lotta rough, with a few diamonds buried deep inside it, and you will still have weeks of editing and re-writing and re-editing ahead of you.

Don’t get discouraged by this. Just accept it as part of the process and keep moving forward. Your novel won’t be pretty when these 30 days are up, but that’s no reason to give up on it. Just remember that this is the worst your manuscript will ever be, and keep writing.

2. Block Out Your Time

You have more free time than you think you do! You just have to find your writing time and commit to it.

I like to use a calendar to block out my time for the week in 30-minute increments. Black out your work hours, mealtimes, and any other commitments you have, and you’ll see what kind of time you have left to work with.

Pro tip: Leave yourself a few hours of free time each day, so that you can veg out if you need to, and also so that you can work for longer on your NaNoWriMo manuscript on the days that you’re really feeling it.

3. Turn Off Your Internet

Believe me, I know how hard this is. Turning off your Internet makes about as much sense as shutting off your water or electricity. If you can’t turn off your Internet entirely, there are plenty of less extreme options that will have the same effect.

App-blockers, such as Freedom and SelfControl prevent you from accessing your favourite time-wasters during your writing periods. For $20, you can download Write or Die 2: a unique word processor that forces you to keep writing – or else.

For those of you who cannot be trusted with a computer or Internet-connected device at all, there are still distraction-free ways of getting your NaNoWriMo manuscript written. Lifehacker recommends purchasing an old word processor off the Internet, because its drawbacks, such as only displaying four lines at a time keep you focused on writing instead of editing (see Point No. 1 above). If you want a sleeker, more expensive experience, the Freewrite smart typewriter may be the word processor for you.

Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with good old fashioned pen and paper…

4. Take Your Manuscript With You Everywhere

I’m sure plenty of writers out there recognise this struggle: You sit down to work on your manuscript, but find yourself so easily distracted that you decide you cannot work until the dishes/laundry/dinner/taxes are done. But the next day, when you’re faced with an hour-long wait without your laptop, you’re chomping at the bit to get back to writing.

We’ll tackle the problem of environmental distractions in Point No. 9 below, but for now, let’s focus on ways that you can take your manuscript with you everywhere, so that an unexpected wait doesn’t derail your writing plans.

If you purchase a word processor or use pen and paper, you’re already good to go. Just make sure to take your novel-writing tools along with you wherever you may roam.

Don’t like those options? You should already be in the habit of backing up your novel on a flash drive that’s kept in a safe place, but having a duplicate drive that you carry on your person will allow you to work on your manuscript in any Internet cafés or computer labs you may pass. You might also consider using Google Docs or Dropbox instead of Microsoft Word, as Docs are accessible from any Internet-connected device, and can be exported as .PDFs and .DOC files.

5. Plot, or Not

NaNoWriMo divides writers into two categories, Plotters and Pantsers, but there’s a wide spectrum between the two. Plotters plan out as much of their novel as possible before NaNoWriMo begins, in the hopes that all their planning will prevent writer’s block and keep them motivated to finish.

Pantsers, on the other hand, fly into NaNoWriMo by the seat of their pants. They might have some idea of what they intend to write about, such a genre they wish to write, the specter of a main character, a vibrant snapshot of a particular scene, or even a loose concept of what will happen over the course of their story, but they haven’t outlined their novel or written extensive character profiles.

First-time Wrimos, you may not know which of the two you are, and that’s OK. Neither of these approaches is wrong. Every writer works differently, and some authors straddle the line between plotting and pantsing.

If you have some time before NaNoWriMo begins, it never hurts to come up with at least a general concept for your novel, but please don’t let time constraints or pre-writing block prevent you from participating. The NaNoWriMo message boards have lots of resources and support for Pantser success, so there’s no harm in simply diving in headfirst.

6. Try to Hit Higher Than Your Daily Word Count Goal

In order to reach your 50,000-word goal in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words per day, or about seven pages. This may or may not sound like a daunting task, depending on your past writing experiences, but I will tell you that it’s quite difficult to keep up your 1,667-word habit every single day for 30 days straight. Things happen: people get sick, cats need to be fed, work days run long. Most NaNoWriMo participants will find themselves falling behind their daily targets at some point during the month.

The easiest way to fight back against that word-count behemoth is to try to write more than your daily goal as often as possible. Some people like to crank out 10,000 words on their first day, just to get ahead of the curve. If you can keep up that pace, you can defeat the NaNoWriMo behemoth in a week or less. Even if you can’t, those extra words will come in handy when something inevitably disrupts your writing flow later in the month.

7. Try New Things

You already know that your NaNoWriMo draft is going to be crappy, so why not try new things this month? You could throw in an experimental chapter, write meta-fiction, even construct your entire novel based on suggestions from writing prompt Twitter bots or TV Tropes’ “Random Trope” button. Seriously, spend a month playing in the big writing sandbox, and tell me you don’t feel better about your skills as a writer.

8. Participate in Every NaNoWriMo Event You Can

The next 30 days will be stuffed full of fun writing events to keep you on-track and entertained. NaNoWriMo hosts virtual write-ins and writing sprints for its worldwide community of writers, and you can also connect with liaisons in your area to find IRL meetups. Participate in any and all of these that you can. You’ll make new writing friends to keep you accountable, and you’ll have an incentive to write hard for the duration of every event.

9. Make Your Writing Space Livable … or Livewithable

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write and realising that something, anything, isn’t right in your environment. Even the most laid-back writers find their sessions derailed by little nuisances.

Make your writing space comfortable ASAP, but don’t let the pursuit of the perfect writing space prevent you from churning out your 50,000 words! The goal is to make your dedicated writing area livewithable. If you can live – and write – without vacuuming/organising/refinishing, then do so!

So clean out the cobwebs, dust the shelves, set your light levels and speaker volume, and for the love of all that is decent and holy, make sure your coffee mug is clean, because you need to be writing, not keeping house, for the next 30 days.

10. When All Else Fails, Use Chandler’s Law

Raymond Chandler, the author of The Big Sleep, famously said of writing: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” That’s Chandler’s Law, and you should never forget it.

These days, it might seem a little corny to have someone randomly appear, brandishing a firearm, especially if you’re writing high fantasy, or historical fiction of a certain age. But here’s the thing: There’s no way to get stuck when you’ve pulled out this card; having a man rush in with a gun forces you to keep writing. Use it as often as you like, because this is NaNoWriMo, and it should be fun.

Best of luck!

Via: https://www.bustle.com/10-writing-strategies-any-writer-can-use-nanowrimo

Stephen King’s “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes” 

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I came across the following article by Stephen King a little while ago. I believe it was originally published in a 1986 edition of The Writer magazine and republished in the 1988 edition of The Writer’s Handbook. I reproduce it here for educational and entertainment purposes, as it’s a brilliant piece. Enjoy!

I. The First Introduction

THAT’S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.

Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension … what we called “a three-day vacation” in those dim days of 1964.

I wasn’t suspended. I was forced to make a number of apologies – they were warranted, but they still tasted like dog-dirt in my mouth – and spent a week in detention hall. And the guidance counselor arranged what he no doubt thought of as a more constructive channel for my talents. This was a job – contingent upon the editor’s approval – writing sports for the Lisbon Enterprise, a twelve-page weekly of the sort with which any small-town resident will be familiar. This editor was the man who taught me everything I know about writing in ten minutes. His name was John Gould – not the famed New England humorist or the novelist who wrote The Greenleaf Fires, but a relative of both, I believe.

He told me he needed a sports writer and we could “try each other out” if I wanted.

I told him I knew more about advanced algebra than I did sports.

Gould nodded and said, “You’ll learn.”

I said I would at least try to learn. Gould gave me a huge roll of yellow paper and promised me a wage of 1/2 cent per word. The first two pieces I wrote had to do with a high school basketball game in which a member of my school team broke the Lisbon High scoring record. One of these pieces was straight reportage. The second was a feature article.

I brought them to Gould the day after the game, so he’d have them for the paper, which came out Fridays. He read the straight piece, made two minor corrections, and spiked it. Then he started in on the feature piece with a large black pen and taught me all I ever needed to know about my craft. I wish I still had the piece – it deserves to be framed, editorial corrections and all – but I can remember pretty well how it looked when he had finished with it. Here’s an example:

(note: this is before the edit marks indicated on King’s original copy)

Last night, in the well-loved gymnasium of Lisbon High School, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom, known as “Bullet” Bob for both his size and accuracy, scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed … and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his knight-like quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon thinclads since 1953….

(after edit marks)

Last night, in the Lisbon High School gymnasium, partisans and Jay Hills fans alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school history: Bob Ransom scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace and speed … and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing only two personal fouls in his quest for a record which has eluded Lisbon’s basketball team since 1953….

When Gould finished marking up my copy in the manner I have indicated above, he looked up and must have seen something on my face. I think he must have thought it was horror, but it was not: it was revelation.

“I only took out the bad parts, you know,” he said. “Most of it’s pretty good.”

“I know,” I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good, and yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. “I won’t do it again.”

“If that’s true,” he said, “you’ll never have to work again. You can do this for a living.” Then he threw back his head and laughed.

And he was right; I am doing this for a living, and as long as I can keep on, I don’t expect ever to have to work again.

III. The Second Introduction

All of what follows has been said before. If you are interested enough in writing to be a purchaser of this magazine, you will have either heard or read all (or almost all) of it before. Thousands of writing courses are taught across the United States each year; seminars are convened; guest lecturers talk, then answer questions, then drink as many gin and tonics as their expense-fees will allow, and it all boils down to what follows.

I am going to tell you these things again because often people will only listen – really listen – to someone who makes a lot of money doing the thing he’s talking about. This is sad but true. And I told you the story above not to make myself sound like a character out of a Horatio Alger novel but to make a point: I saw, I listened, and I learned. Until that day in John Gould’s little office, I had been writing first drafts of stories which might run 2,500 words. The second drafts were apt to run 3,300 words. Following that day, my 2,500-word first drafts became 2,200-word second drafts. And two years after that, I sold the first one.

So here it is, with all the bark stripped off. It’ll take ten minutes to read, and you can apply it right away … if you listen.

IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

1. Be talented
This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? I can hear someone shouting, and here we are, ready to get into a discussion right up there with “what is the meaning of life?” for weighty pronouncements and total uselessness. For the purposes of the beginning writer, talent may as well be defined as eventual success – publication and money. If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented. Now some of you are really hollering. Some of you are calling me one crass money-fixated creep. And some of you are calling me bad names. Are you calling Harold Robbins talented? someone in one of the Great English Departments of America is screeching. V.C. Andrews? Theodore Dreiser? Or what about you, you dyslexic moron?

Nonsense. Worse than nonsense, off the subject. We’re not talking about good or bad here. I’m interested in telling you how to get your stuff published, not in critical judgments of who’s good or bad. As a rule the critical judgments come after the check’s been spent, anyway. I have my own opinions, but most times I keep them to myself. People who are published steadily and are paid for what they are writing may be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating. Ergo, they are talented. The biggest part of writing successfully is being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer is one who doesn’t get paid. If you’re not talented, you won’t succeed. And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit. When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand pinks, it’s time you tried painting or computer programming. Further, almost every aspiring writer knows when he is getting warmer – you start getting little jotted notes on your rejection slips, or personal letters . . . maybe a commiserating phone call. It’s lonely out there in the cold, but there are encouraging voices … unless there is nothing in your words which warrants encouragement. I think you owe it to yourself to skip as much of the self-illusion as possible. If your eyes are open, you’ll know which way to go … or when to turn back.

2. Be neat
Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you’ve marked up your manuscript a lot, do another draft.

3. Be self-critical
If you haven’t marked up your manuscript a lot, you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.

4. Remove every extraneous word
You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets
Only a dimwit would send a story about giant vampire bats surrounding a high school to McCall’s. Only a dimwit would send a tender story about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas Eve to Playboy … but people do it all the time. I’m not exaggerating; I have seen such stories in the slush piles of the actual magazines. If you write a good story, why send it out in an ignorant fashion? Would you send your kid out in a snowstorm dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top? If you like science fiction, read the magazines. If you want to write confession stories, read the magazines. And so on. It isn’t just a matter of knowing what’s right for the present story; you can begin to catch on, after awhile, to overall rhythms, editorial likes and dislikes, a magazine’s entire slant. Sometimes your reading can influence the next story, and create a sale.

7. Write to entertain
Does this mean you can’t write “serious fiction”? It does not. Somewhere along the line pernicious critics have invested the American reading and writing public with the idea that entertaining fiction and serious ideas do not overlap. This would have surprised Charles Dickens, not to mention Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Bernard Malamud, and hundreds of others. But your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”
The answer needn’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time for a new project or a new career.

9. How to evaluate criticism
Show your piece to a number of people – ten, let us say. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the same thing about some facet of your story – a plot twist that doesn’t work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen other possibles – change that facet. It doesn’t matter if you really liked that twist of that character; if a lot of people are telling you something is wrong with you piece, it is. If seven or eight of them are hitting on that same thing, I’d still suggest changing it. But if everyone – or even most everyone – is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. Observe all rules for proper submission
Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that.

11. An agent? Forget it. For now
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories around yourself. If you’ve done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal … and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.

12. If it’s bad, kill it
When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.

That’s everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you a pleasant day and sign off.

My ten minutes are up.

Via: http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/stephen-king-everything-you-need-to-know-about-writing-successfully/

Writer’s Workshop: Festival of Writing

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This weekend, I attended the fabulous Festival of Writing in York. It was, as ever, a valuable weekend of learning, feedback, and meeting new and old writer friends. To give you a taste of how amazing it was, here is a post from Julie Crisp, who taught at the FoW:

I spent a rather lovely weekend doing some of my favourite things: meeting new authors and talking about books and publishing. This was my first time attending The Festival of Writing in York and, as such, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be quite as BIG with so many enthusiastic attendees.

I did two workshops and a series of one-to-ones. For anyone who knows me – they’ll know how much I hate public speaking. I always over prepare and spend far too much time worrying about having an unreceptive or unresponsive audience . . . a lecture hall filled with empty seats and a long awkward silence. Thankfully – there was none of that!

The first workshop I did was: How to Get an Agent: The Dos and Dont’s. Trying to come up with something fresh to say when there’s SO much information on the Internet about it (Juliet Mushens’ post on it is especially good), is always difficult. But the authors attending were fabulous. Lots of great ideas and information were exchanged and it was chatty, informal, and lots of fun. I may have been buzzing and gabbling a bit from the caffeine overdose but no one seemed to mind.

One of the most interesting questions for me as both editor and agent was: Who has the final say in the direction your novel is going? Who decides what can be kept and what gets changed? My personal answer to that is: You. The author. Agents and Editors are not there to rewrite your entire work to fit a template of their own making. They are not there to shoehorn it in a direction that you don’t agree with. What they will try to do is help you shape it into something that fits within commercial expectations. They’ll have a vision that uses those ideas and structures in the book that work and help you to take it a step further.

And for anyone attending that who wanted to know what a good pitch letter to me looks like then this is it:

THE PITCH LETTER

Dear (get the name right please),

  1)  One paragraph of an introduction to the book (listing the market, genre and readership you’re aiming at) and maybe one line or so about why you choose this agent. If it starts to feel like you’re following a script or template just keep the letter brief, businesslike and to the point. I’d much prefer succinct professionalism than overwriting.

  2)  A paragraph or two (more than that starts to feel like a retelling of the novel) about the book. The best pitches for me are those which read like cover copy rather than a synopsis…so a shoutline and then brief description.

  3)  A paragraph about yourself listing any relevant writing credits – look at published author bios – this is what you should be aiming at. Don’t over share!

Yours,

I also did a series of one-to-one meetings which I thoroughly enjoyed. I LOVE offering editorial feedback. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. There were some brilliant concepts. Lots of wonderful writing. I don’t think I totally ruined anyone’s day. At least no one left in tears so that’s always a plus! And I did ask for one complete script which I’m eagerly awaiting.

The Gala dinner was great, I got to catch-up with a few friends and make some new ones. But I did dash halfway through so could finish prepping for my workshop the next day.

Again, despite the large turnout – it felt like a really friendly, informative, sharing workshop. Everyone had ideas and thoughts about what worked to market your book on social media. I’d put a suvey poll on Twitter the night before.

So it was interesting to see that the hit rate for readers being influenced by social media in book sales was about 50% for those who participated, bearing in mind my usual followers are pretty book engaged. If it went out to a larger spread of people I’d expect it to go down…what we do know from the workshop is that no one likes the hard sell. Not from authors or publishers. And that the time you spend on Social Media will rarely result in equivalent book sales. If you’re interested in the rest of the presentation you can find it here. It’s rough notes but could be useful. There are loads of great articles on the web though which go into a lot more detail than mine about how to market your book online.

All in all I thought the Festival was fabulous. The Writer’s Workshop organised everything brilliantly and were happy to help wherever they could. I can see why it’s such a popular festival and why so many authors return year after year. It’s great for contacts, networking, up-to-date information, advice and support. As Tor Udall, author of A Thousand Paper Birds said, ‘I sit in workshops at #FoW17 and I still learn.’

Don’t we all.

Hope everyone enjoyed it and found it as useful as I did.

I certainly did.

See the original post here: http://www.juliecrisp.co.uk/writers-workshop-festival-of-writing