Tag: writing tips

Create a writing ritual

Before the writing comes the coffee.

I’m a big proponent of the idea that a writer can and should write anywhere, any chance they get. Sentences jotted down in a pocket notebook or on a note app throughout the day will accumulate into paragraphs over time. Life is busy, and dedicated writers will do what it takes to get their words down.

However, it is also essential to carve out substantial writing and rewriting time if you’re going to produce worthwhile material. It can be challenging to shift from regular life to your writing life. If you have an hour in the day of uninterrupted time, you’re supposed to be able to sit and write fluidly for the full sixty minutes. This isn’t realistic for most people, and you might find yourself staring at your screen for the entire hour, which only adds to the already frustrating life of a writer.

This is where a writing ritual can come in handy. Anything that tells you you’re about to start writing can serve as a writing ritual. The performance of the ritual serves to get your mind into author mode so that you can make more efficient use of your writing time.

Create something unique to you

Whether you brew a pot of tea before beginning or wear a certain hat while writing, the ritual should be something that is unique to you. Perhaps you place a talisman front and center or listen to a certain song before beginning to write. One writer I know says, “Let’s begin” at the beginning of each writing session and then gets right to it. Amazing. 

When you first start performing a writing ritual, it might not result in a flurry of words bursting forth from your mind onto the page, but after one or two good writing sessions in which you’ve performed a writing ritual, it will get easier to switch into author mode.

Your writing ritual could also serve to let your household know that you’re writing and curb an interruption or two. Considering how many times I’ve been interrupted while reading a book, I have to wonder if I’m being too optimistic in thinking you’ll actually be left alone to write. It’s worth a shot, right?

Should you create a closing ritual?

In the same way that the opening ritual signals you’re about to begin writing, a closing ritual signals to your mind that the writing session is over. Depending on your opening ritual, the closing ritual might be obvious to you: take off the writing hat or piece of jewelry; put away the talisman; clean the teapot or coffee mug; listen to a different song. 

A closing ritual is not crucial for everyone. You might think that a closing ritual would put an unwanted boundary on your creativity or limit you in some way. You might not find it necessary because it’s a lot easier to stop writing than it is to start. But what if you don’t live alone?

A closing ritual can signal to those around you that you’re done writing for the moment, which can be especially helpful if you’re usually in front of a computer screen performing multiple tasks throughout the day. You don’t have to run around telling everyone you’re done writing; you can simply take off the clown nose and move on to the next computer task.

Do you already perform a writing ritual? I’d love to hear about it.

Find time to write

Use those few minutes before a meeting starts, standing in line at the supermarket, and waiting in the doctor’s office. Instead of watching TV or checking social media, write. All those micro writing sessions add up to pages, which add up to chapters.

How not to start your story

There are many overused story openings that you should avoid at all costs. Several literary agents, acquisition editors, and publishers have written about this, but here is a short list of the most annoying and disliked ways to start a story.

Do not open your story with:

  • a dream;
  • an alarm clock buzzing;
  • a character jumping out of bed, running late;
  • the first day of anything new (e.g., school, job);
  • a wake up of any kind; or
  • the protagonist in bed for any reason.

Get your characters out of bed already.

Keep personality in your nonfiction

Nonfiction authors have the benefit of being real-life narrators, yet they often remove their own personality from their books.

When writing a nonfiction book, use your own voice. It should be a voice of authority about the subject and a voice that matches the tone of the book.

The question authors dread the most

“So, what’s your book about?”

I’ve heard authors do everything from groan to ramble when asked that dreaded question. As unpalatable as that question is, authors should be able to answer it well.

How do you explain something so near and dear to your heart? After all, the manuscript is 80,000+ words for a reason.

Start with one paragraph and whittle it down to one concise sentence. Mention the genre or subgenre. Prepare two versions of the sentence: one for readers and one for the publishing industry.

In the publishing industry version of the sentence, include the literary conflict and blockbuster concept.

Practice your response. Let your passion show through.

Below is Dick Van Dyke’s attempt to summarize Romeo & Juliet.

Please excuse the poor video quality.

Protecting your writing time

J. K. Rowling’s advice about protecting writing days is fanciful. Days? How often does the average writer get a full day just for writing?

Work, school, and family obligations keep most writers I know from ever enjoying so much as half a day to themselves. However, Rowling is correct in using the word “ruthless”; writers need to be unflinching when it comes to their writing time.

Set boundaries

In order to manage whatever writing time you get, you must set boundaries.

It’s important to let anyone who might overstep those boundaries know what you expect during your allotted writing time. Your family and friends need to know to leave you alone. It helps if you can be specific. Saying “I’m going to write for an hour” instead of “I’m going to finish this scene” might actually result in an uninterrupted hour of writing time.

Let go of the guilt

When you have a stretch of time during which to write is when people will most want to spend time with you. This is an unexplained phenomenon similar to what happens when you sit down to read.

Write first and spend time with them later. It’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Don’t sabotage yourself

Sometimes getting other people into the habit of respecting your writing time is easier than getting into the habit yourself.

Don’t answer the phone thinking you’ll be able to get off the call in a few minutes. If you went to a coffee shop to write but did more people-watching than writing, don’t go there again. Turn off the TV.

Time management starts with saying “no”; drawing boundaries is more like saying “not right now.” It’s the crucial second step to having enough time to write.

How to start your story

The beginning of your story is meant to be an introduction to the rest of the story as a whole. Your job is to hook your readers from page one and give us a taste of the rest of the book.

I recently performed a developmental edit on a well-written thriller. In the opening scene, the protagonist is hiding in a closet and listening to the sounds beyond the closet doors. She is eventually discovered and makes a break for the exit. Throughout the book, the protagonist does a lot of traveling and encounters many dangerous people, but the book starts with her stuck in a closet.

How could the author make the first few paragraphs representative of the entire book?

My suggestion was for the author to show us the survivalist we come to know in the book. She is resourceful and lively, cautious but daring. By showing us a character who searches the closet for weapons, devises a plan or two, and moves as stealthily as possible, we’re able to see the gumption and intellect that will aid the character throughout the book.

Now when she makes a break for the exit, we are cheering her on and hoping she escapes. We already like her because we already know her.

What you need to know before hiring an editor

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of the author–editor relationship.  Today I’m going to tell you what you need to know before hiring an editor, including things you don’t want to hear and things editors don’t want you to know.

Avoid non-editors

Teachers are not editors. People who are “good at English” are not editors.  Writers are not editors. People who read a lot of books are not editors.

Knowing grammar rules is a teeny fraction of editing, and rules often get in the way of good writing. Your manuscript needs to be reviewed by someone who knows, among many other things, how to edit your unique voice. Hire a professional editor, please.

Make demands

It’s acceptable to ask an editor for a résumé, references, and a copyediting sample. It is not acceptable to ask to see an editing sample of someone else’s work. It is acceptable to ask an editor to sign a contract and nondisclosure agreement. Most of the time my clients and I skip all of the above and get straight to work, but there is nothing wrong with asking for any or all of these things.

Expect professionalism

I’ve heard tell of so-called editors being rude to authors who inquire about editing services. When an author decides not to hire them, these “editors” resort to name calling and other unprofessional behavior. Unbelievable. Professional editors will treat you with respect at all times. It might even be in your best interest to reject all editors at first to see if they behave professionally or not.

 

 

The importance of the author–editor relationship

This first appeared as a guest blog post on author Cynthia A. Rodriguez’s site. 

Self-publishing and small presses are redefining the publishing world, and I love it. Authors can now select publishing services à la carte, and new voices are reaching the reader with more purity and raw emotion than ever before. However, for writers who are serious about having a long-term, successful career as a novelist, one aspect of publishing that is not optional is developmental editing.

The question writers should be asking isn’t, “Do I need an editor?” Even editors need editors. (Thank you, Melody, for checking this post.) The real question a serious writer should ask is, “Who will be my editor?” Your editor will be your and your manuscript’s long-term friend and enemy—frenemy, if you will. Typically, your editor will love your manuscript and you will dislike your editor for making them change any of it. Today I’ll share with you a broad overview of the main differences between a good, great, and ideal editor.

good fiction editor reviews your manuscript’s premise, plot structure, pacing, characters, dialogue, and marketability. A good fiction editor identifies weak points and makes useful suggestions for story and character development while ensuring continuity. A good fiction editor is professional, always meets deadlines, keeps a style sheet, and treats you with respect.

great fiction editor does all of the things a good editor does while understanding your vision, loving your characters, and preserving your voice and writing style.

An ideal fiction editor does all of the things a great fiction editor does but also knows when to motivate and guide you and when to keep their mouth shut. They get to know your personality and writing process, and they offer only as much help as you actually need. An ideal fiction editor might suggest that there is a character that will eventually need to die but won’t name names. When all is said and done, the manuscript remains yours.

At a book signing once, the author was asking the people he was signing books for what they did for a living. Based on their reply, he wrote something witty before signing his name. When it was my turn, I told him I was a book editor. He said nothing and signed his name. Just his name. No witty comment. No further eye contact. I think it’s safe to say that he does not have an ideal author–editor relationship.

If you follow Cynthia’s blog, you’ll know that her and I do have the ideal author–editor relationship. It was easy in this case because Cynthia is a talented writer, Mystic Waters is spellbinding, and I am in love with the characters.

However, I do not think that I am everyone’s ideal editor nor is everyone my ideal client. I experience literary heartache over fictional characters, and I do not give my literary heart to just anyone. A novelist should be as careful about giving their manuscript to an editor, but they should certainly get a developmental editor. The sooner you cultivate an author–editor relationship, the better it will be for your writing.

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