Monday, October 15, 2012

Linkfest for Writing Tips

I have been wrapped up in writing a novel. It's not anything that's going to change lives or become a literary classical staple a hundred years from now. Nope, it's a soft sci-fi action/romance because that's what I enjoy reading best of all. And darnit, I got tired of waiting for another author to write it. My ESP wasn't broadcasting well enough, I guess.

At first, I thought it would be soooooo easy. I knew the characters already, I just had to put the words on paper, right? I picked a spot in the story I thought would be the funnest to write about, started there, and the first few chapters just poured out. I soon discovered that discovery writing was only getting me so far, though. I slammed right into a brick wall, knocking a few teeth loose and rattling my brain. I forced out another two chapters and couldn't make myself go further because I felt lost. I did not know where the story was going. I did not like my villain, and it didn't feel real. The whole backstory of why/how the characters got where they were didn't make any sense at all. I felt like chucking it in the garbage and giving up.

I didn't. Instead, I took a few months off from active writing and did a TON of research. I would like to share what I have learned with any other budding authors out there who want to take a leap into the wonderful world of writing. The water's great, jump on in!


Get a twitter account. It doesn't matter if you have any followers, it matters who you follow. I have learned how to query by participating in the #pitmad contests. (I even had a couple of agents follow up and ask for more!) There's an entire community of writers who participate in #WiPMadness, where they encourage each other to keep going, whether it's finishing a manuscript or surviving rewrites. There's #agentp where Agents will do 10 Queries - they say why they accept, reject, or form reject queries. And lots of other news regarding the writing/publishing business. I love it.

Here is a teensy tiny list of some of my favorite tweeters:
@Janice_Hardy - she links to the bestest ever blog posts on writing how-to's. 
@AngelaAckerman - Again, phenomenal writing advice
@BookaliciousPam - A- she's funny, B- awesome insight into the mind of an agent, C- she's funny
@SlushPileHell - humorous take on horrible queries


I have a Pinterest board dedicated to all of the blog posts that I love so much. If you can brave the pins of fashion and food without getting sidetracked by wanting to create shelves from pallets or take up knitting, I say go for it. It's easier for me to find articles I want by looking at thumbnails instead of sorting through hundreds of links in my bookmarks menu. Call me crazy, but this system works for me.


I probably follow at least 30 different writing blogs on my RSS feed. SO much good information out there. Here are just a few of my favorite sites.
Writability - oh my goodness, Ava Jae is funny and succinct. Her "how (not) to" series is hilarious.
The Other Side of the Story - lots of awesome writing tips here
The Book Designer - You need to read this - especially if you want to self-pub
Wordplay - Great writing tips
David Farland - his kicks in the pants are insightful and awesome. One day I will be able to afford his writers boot camp.

Other Media

When you're eyes are red, watery, and tired from all that reading, grab some Visine and relax. I have some gems for your listening pleasure. (Note: for you picky people out there, these are not all professionally shot, and sometimes the sound quality is not perfect. I, for one, don't care. I'm grateful that the information is out there and available!!!)

Writing Excuses - a podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I LOVE this podcast. It's in its 7th season, and I love their writing tips. If you don't want to listen, they have transcripts available for every episode as well.

Martha Alderson's Plot Whisperer series on plotting a novel. THIS is what helped get me past the writing wall I'd crashed into. Her Plot Tips series is awesome as well.

Dan Wells 7 Point Plot Structure. This helped me figure out my villain and my romance sub-plot.

Brandon Sanderson's How To Write Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He talks about the realities of the business as well as the how-to's of writing, developing magic systems, etc.

Cons, writers camps, symposiums, etc. Any time you can afford to attend a gathering where authors talk about their craft, go. I think I learned more in an hour listening to Dave Farland answer questions about his process than I learned from reading blog posts. 

I also follow my favorite authors on Goodreads as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Misc Tools:

Never underestimate a good thesaurus and dictionary.

If you don't know how to use a comma, learn. If you don't know how to spell, learn.

Writing Groups:
I can't say I have many credentials, other than my art degree. This gives me LOTS of experience at listening to critiques, taking criticism (both constructive and not) and overcoming the fear of letting someone see my work. Because, seriously, I survived both Jay Ward's Digital Painting AND Kerry Gonzales' Package Design classes --while pregnant, mind you -- without dissolving into a hormonal sobbing mess. Surely I can survive letting complete strangers read my attempts at fiction. This is harder than it sounds, though. Wow. 

So, here's the thing about writing groups. If you have people in your group who don't like the genre you're writing, there are going to be issues. If you have people who get defensive about every little thing you say, there are going to be issues. If you are afraid to have anyone tell you something's wrong with what you've written, there are going to be issues. So here's my advice:

Firstly: be ready to take criticism. If your manuscript isn't finished and you're not sure where your story is going, a writing group can completely derail the story. So know your plan before you open yourself up for feedback.

Secondly: Listen to the criticism. If you disagree, that's totally fine. But don't argue with the person giving the critique. They feel how they feel. Whether they're right or not doesn't matter, and it doesn't mean your writing sucks. There is nothing worse than giving a critique to someone who immediately gets defensive and wants to know why why why when sometimes you don't know why, you just know there's a problem. Or sometimes they try to convince you that how you feel is wrong. Defensive people make me not want to give them any more critiques, so I try to be accepting of any feedback people give me whether I agree with them or not.

Third: remember to tell other writers what they're doing well. I often forget this, assuming that they'll know that the parts I don't talk about are the parts I love. Heh... yeah, that's not what happens.

Fourth: If you're in a writing group to make yourself write and finish your manuscript, fine. That's great if that works for you. I highly suggest not reading the feedback until you finish the book, though. From my own experience, the tendency to consider yourself a failure is really really really REALLY strong, especially if other readers don't understand what you're trying to do. So work through your walls, figure out where your problems are -- use a trusted reading buddy for this if you need to -- and then submit your finished manuscript in whatever chunk sizes works for your group. This way you can get feedback on where you need to revise, cut, flesh out, or completely re-write. There are plenty of people who will disagree with me on this, and that's ok. Everyone does things differently.

I think there's something truly cathartic about working by hand before working on the computer. For both art and writing.

I have a notebook filled to bursting with suggestions, tips, rules, etc from all the blogs, videos, and podcasts. I treat it as if I'm in class and there's a test coming. I refer back to it as often as needed. I am one of those people who learns not just by listening, but by also writing down what I hear.

I have a notebook where I think out scenes, plot out my novel, and figure out what character is doing what, where, when, and why. And when I don't know why, I have pages of scribbles where I write down every possible motivation until I find the right one. Just last night I finally figured out the ending of my book. An ending I love with a plot twist I didn't see coming. As I wrote and brainstormed, all the scenes from where I'd stopped writing to the end all fell into place. I knew why the villains were doing their thing, why the good guys were doing their thing, and how/where to put try/fail cycles so everything fell into place. It was a fantastic epiphany! Yay for notebooks!

Authoring Programs
If you're just starting out, Word works just fine. I started out with one document for worldbuilding stuff, a document that I keep "deleted scenes" in, and then the umpteen versions of the working draft. But if you want to try some different programs, I've tried two: Scrivener and Hivewords.

I have downloaded the 30-day free trial of Scrivener. I LOVE it. It only counts free days on the days you open it (so it's actually 30 days of use, not just 30 days installed) which is totally awesome. I find its format and sorting functions invaluable. I love the cork-board feel, too.  I also loved that I could copy/paste from Word directly into Scrivener and it kept my formatting/etc straight. You can do your complete writing in Scrivener if you want without ever opening Word. If I had $40 extra dollars laying around, I'd totally buy it. Since I'm down to ten days left on my free trial, I'm saving those days up like the miser that I am. Oh, and Scrivener will also format your book for Word, Kindle, Nook, etc. So for those of you wanting to self-pub, this is something that will make your life easier.

In the meantime, I've been trying out Hiveword. This one is an online story organizer.
Pros: You can see which scenes have which plot line / sub plots / characters in them. You can rearrange scenes, see the flow of the story. Quick at a glance views of characters and settings.
Cons: You have to be online to use it. This is fine if you're always connected. Not fine if you're like me and have to shut off the internet to get any real writing done. I haven't figured out how to import characters from one story to another story without having to re-type all the information.

-- in all honestly, Hiveword takes a lot of set-up time. It's great if you're working on a new novel and just starting worldbuilding. Not so great when you're already in the middle of one and have to take the time to plug in all the character information, etc. I like the program, but it still feels somewhat clunky to me.

I like Scrivener better, hands down, but Hiveword is free. And if you're just learning how to put your story structure in place, Hiveword has some great tools for figuring out details about your worlds, your characters, etc. I copy everything I put into Hiveword into a word doc, so I have it backed up on my computer. I have been using Hivewords to order my scenes, write blurbs about each scene, and make sure I have all my story arcs in place. Then as I write in Word, I know what's coming next.

If you're like me and put test queries out on twitter just to try it and end up getting feedback from an agent, then I suggest doing what I did. I checked the agents bio on their website to make sure they accepted the genre of book I'm writing. (Just in case my newby query was misleading.) Then I emailed the agent and let them know my manuscript was not yet complete, I was just trying to learn how to query. I asked them if they wanted me to send them my first draft when it was done and asked if there was a time limit on the query acceptance. In my case, the agents responded - within fifteen minutes! - telling me to finish the draft, and to take the time to polish it. Because they liked my pitch AND my follow-up email, they are willing to read my submission when I have it fully ready. I'm already one step ahead of the slush pile.

I share that story because it shows that being professional, doing your research, and communicating can be helpful. Does that mean the agents will want to represent my work? Nope. But it means I took a chance and got my foot in the door.

I'm willing to try that because I am not at all interested in self-publishing. Not even a little bit. Why? I guess you could say I'm lazy. I like to think that I'm busy. I do not want to find and contract an editor, a cover-artist/designer, do the book design, and then do marketing and uploading and testing of ebook formats. I already know I'll have to do some marketing if my book gets picked up, and that will be more than enough for me. No thank you to doing everything else, too. I think the people who manage to do all that deserve Superman and Superwoman capes!! I have six kids, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, church duties, footzone clients, a husband who likes my attention now and again, and a whopping pile of laundry lurking behind a door ready to jump me if I'm not careful. I figure if I can manage to write a book, revise it, and make it interesting enough that someone other than me wants to read it while doing all of that other stuff on my list, well... that's a huge accomplishment!

I hope that someone will find this helpful, and maybe save you some searching/research time. Good luck, and happy creating!


  1. Very cool! :) Thanks for all the awesome info!

  2. :) Thanks! It was fun to put it all in one spot finally.

  3. Amazing. Thanks for the references!