Tag Archives: writing advice

Overwriting on Purpose

Minneapolis corner

It’s a good thing for us writers that we come at our craft differently, in our own ways. Some folks dwell over every sentence, taking a long time to make it through the first draft of a manuscript. Others of us are barnstormers and get languid later, during rewrites. We talk about writing skeletons and adding on, or finding ourselves in a process of paring down our original prose like a sculptor looking for the form inside that block of marble. It’s good that we take our individual approaches because we get individualized end products out of this, and a diversity of voice is a good thing for readers, much as some critics insist on all literature sounding the same.

I’ve noticed that my stories themselves have their preferences toward being written in a certain manner or other. I shot through the first 150 pages of The Unintentional Time Traveler, and then slogged through the next 135. Rewrites came to my aid to help smooth the narrative out, thank goodness. My latest work-in-progress is like wading through golden molasses, every step of the way, but I’m liking the base writing more than I usually do. Read More…

Narrative Transitions

time travel clockI bring this up today because ineffective transitions killed my most recent back-and-forth with an agent on a novel of mine. You’d think an individual with personal experience transitioning would handle these story shifts better, but apparently, they’re two different things entirely.

Now then, with this case in question, much of any transition in the book had to do with the main plot point, uncontrolled time travel. With the protagonist at the mercy of something–or nothing–pushing him between the Prohibition Era and the 1980s, in different geographic locations, it was up to me to make sure readers could come along for the ride. A couple of my beta readers who looked at an earlier version of The Unintentional Time Traveler noted some bumps in the last third of the novel when time jumps occurred. So I sat back down with the manuscript and examined the language, the necessity of those movements. Read More…

Pitch Preparedness for Writers

stack of books from mid-2000sLet me come right out and admit that I have a terrible track record when it comes to making pitches at conferences. At least, I’m not so good at selecting the right agent for my four-minute sit-down appointment. Cherry Weiner waved me away with one stroke like she was a cynical fairy godmother and I was a wanna be frog prince. Or more specifically, a frog.

But then lo and behold, I had great pitch conversations on the fly, when I hadn’t been prepping and when I wasn’t trying to impress. Which leads me to today’s post—if you’re a person who works best fully prepared and working from some memorized text, these bullet points of advice probably aren’t up your alley. On the other hand, nothing read, nothing gained. Read More…

Writers’ Bad Habits

antique printing pressThere’s something about looking at a fresh, crisp trade paperback book that belies the messiness of the publication process, and writing itself. Books have bright covers, a little bit of heft when you pick them up, sharp edges, and lovely summaries on the back or inside covers–what a perfect little package of enjoyment. And oh, what it took to get there.

An idea, a cast of characters, copious hours spent writing, rewriting, ripping out words and inventing new ones. Then there’s the swaths of time just getting into writing mode, which I personally need to decrease this year, what with an adorable infant vying for my attention and all (and he gets it, no problem). After so many revisions and passes through the manuscript, beta readers come in and make the author rethink everything they considered perfect or innovative, or interesting. More rewrites. Boil down everything into a synopsis, fret over the book’s query letter, and email those lucky agents who could decide the manuscript is a gem. Handle the rejections, revise the synopsis, pitch it in person at a conference, dust off other projects and get started writing something new. And finally an email appears that someone wants to represent or publish the book.

And that’s just the beginning. I haven’t even mentioned publicists and press kits yet. My point is, if all of this goes into making a book happen–or its cousin, the ebook.

Writers don’t need any distractions or dead weight in this process of inspiration to printing press; bad habits are the one thing we can identify on our own and work to eliminate. And yes, I’ve exhibited or performed nearly every bad behavior in the following list. Read More…

Time Management for the Weary Writer

typewriter keysIt’s been a little less than a year since I wrote a novel at the sugar-dusted tables of Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle—the Capitol Hill location, not the one downtown that President Obama visited. They could make a mocha like nobody’s business. And while I may have not eaten the most nutritious breakfast on those days, I had something significant going for me: time.

Not so anymore. A close-to-full-time job and a little baby at home have taken a hungry chunk of my schedule, munching and drooling and leaving only a few crumbs behind for me. What’s left is some clunky time between work and supper, after dinner time that usually coincides with Emile’s daily fussy spell, late night, and before work time, only accessible via an annoying alarm clock. At 5:30AM I’m supposed to be funny?

In other words, it ain’t pretty. Read More…

Ending with a Whimper: 7 Thoughts for NaNoWriMo Failures

nanowrimo failureYes, the clock is ticking down to midnight. Slouching toward a glorious National Novel Writing Month win for many folks. Not all of us, certainly, not even most of us, even if we built up new callouses from our keyboards trying to craft the next great novel. And then there are the writers who caved in on Day 10, or as the smell of turkey wafted over from the kitchen, or ignobly in the first damn week of the contest. Those are the stories barely begun for those failures, mere vignettes and half-thoughts lost on so many creaky hard drives.

The road to success is paved with moments like these, thank Xena. So even if a few notes and 2,000 crappy words are all you eked out this November, take heart. I have ideas for life in December and beyond. Read More…

Advice for Young Writers

Holed up in the Ozarks for Thanksgiving this week, I had occasion to meet a new step-niece from my brother’s recent marriage. She is engaging, geeky, obsessed with the Potterverse, and drawn to but nervous about writing. From the other side of my mother’s house, I could hear a whispered conversation between my sister-in-law and the young writer: Show him your story. No, no, I can’t. Come on, he can give you pointers. He’ll laugh at me, she said, the common worry of all writers who haven’t reached a minimum threshold of confidence in their craft. Then her mother’s reassurance, and a grudging, I’ll let him look at it tomorrow, from the girl.

Fifteen minutes before they left to go home after the holiday, her mother brought in her notebook computer to my room, and quietly asked if I’d read it. It was the kind of exchange more often reserved for clandestine deals in an urban alley. I squinted at the tiny screen and scrolled through the prose in a few minutes. Read More…

NaNoWriMo 2011: Day 10

nano logoOne third done, gone, finito, into the books, as it were, pun intended. That’s where we are with NaNoWriMo. If you’re behind, on pace, or ahead of the game, I have some ideas about what to do with today’s writing push.

Ahead of Day 10’s wordcount pace (16,666 words)—Congratulations, you’re on fire, writer person! Go back and look at your outline. If you didn’t start with an outline, write down all of the characters you’ve invented thus far and draw a relationship map for all of them. Is there anything that you notice that you missed previously? The deeper you can explore any patterns or histories between your characters, the more they’ll come alive as you get through your first draft. You may even spot a new plot point or two you haven’t considered. This is when outlines can really enhance your first pass through the manuscript. And since you’re already ahead of the word count, you have time for some back story work, and you’ll appreciate the help as soon as you feel stuck, should that happen later down the road.

On pace with the word count—So far you’ve been keeping up with with the pace of writing, and maybe it’s stressing you out, like treading water against a current. Spend some time today before you sit down to write, and just think about what you like in this story. If there’s a scene coming up you can’t wait to get to, identify what it is about that moment that is so appealing, and just enjoy it for a bit. Change up your writing music, or whatever beverage is at your side, get okay with shaking things up a little. It’s good to infuse new life into your work-in-progress, even when everything is going fairly well. And after taking a step back about your manuscript, dig in and for today, don’t worry about keeping up the pace. Just write.

Behind the word count pace—Sometimes for me during Nano, this is the best place to be in of these three possibilities. I’m a writer with nothing to lose. I’m not writing for a month-long contest, I’m writing for the love of this particular story. It’s a good way to detach from the franticness that I can feel during November, and get back to basics. What is the story, why this narrator, who is it for, why am I telling it? I’ve gone from 4,000 words behind pace to 2,000 ahead in a single day because I found a heck of a writing groove, or I simply got to the part of the tale that had been pressing upon me the whole time to be written. With one novel I realized only on day 12 that this was the real beginning of the book. Chucking out the first 6 chapters felt like tearing off my own arm, but it made the manuscript worlds better, and I wound up writing for 75,000 more words anyway (in December and January). It’s ultimately not about banging out 1,666 words per day, but about finishing the draft. Don’t tell Chris Baty I said that.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Day 6: Having Fun

Exposition is well underway, and the characters have made their initial appearances. The readers are hooked into the plot, aware of the struggle, and have identified who the antagonist is, even if they don’t yet know his or her motivation. This is the sweet spot, at least for me, of the first draft. Tell your imagination to run wild, let go of whatever doubts you have, be they overwhelming or annoying vestiges. Don’t even worry about sticking to your outline right now. Let the story go where it needs to, and you can take a look at your original plans later.

We’ve had nearly a week of writing now, so hopefully the novel is spending quality time in your thoughts. If you write scenes now that you’ll later cut out of the text, that’s okay, because anything you put on paper right now only gets you closer to the characters and the story. You’ll have edits to make later and you can use them to imbue your themes, meta-level messages, and so forth. But for now, today, just run with it and enjoy the act of writing itself.

Tomorrow’s post will focus on pacing, but this Sunday, dive into the narrative and write whatever comes out of your fingertips. And enjoy NaNo.

NaNoWriMo 2011: Day 2

Next week we’ll talk about what to do if you’re seriously behind on your NaNo word count, but for today, just feel the joy. That’s the joy of writing, not of falling behind on your word count. In case there was any confusion. Today, Day 2, is still in the throes of the beginning, when the vast majority of the writing still lies ahead, and all of the ideas that have been percolating in the writer’s head finally show up on the screen. It’s a day to relish that we’re in book-creation mode, worry-free. So stop worrying and write. It honestly doesn’t matter what comes out right now, because:

  1. We’ll change it later in edits
  2. Writing begets more writing
  3. The draft will get better as it goes

That’s right, I said better. If we’re paying any kind of attention as we write, we’ll notice turns of phrase we tend to overuse, and avoid them, for example. We’ll decide we don’t like the sidekick and begin to describe her differently, noting that in draft #2 we need to go back and revise her earlier scenes. We’ll change a premise of the plot and watch it reach a new level of believability. We’ll sell the characters more. On Day 2, we are simply writing—maybe well, maybe less than well—but every castle starts with the first few layers of brick and mortar. Just push through and build the story’s foundation, and sure, feel free to take a moment and reflect that hey, wow, I’m writing something.

And then dive back in and type away. Happy NaNoing!

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