While writers don’t need to live in isolation, the act of writing is typically solo. One person sits at one desk with one laptop and, well, writes. Particularly if you’re working on a novel or longer piece, this could take months or years to complete. So, it’s natural to want to sing it from the rooftops when you finish and share your baby with the world.
To be clear, writing should be shared, especially to help refine it for publication. But with that sharing, I offer a few friendly cautions.
First, let’s understand the terminology.
Beta Readers – Beta readers read the entire novel for general notes. Think big picture. A good beta reader can find plot holes or flaws that the author may have missed.
Critique Partners – Critique partners swap work and comment on anything from story fixes to word choice and line edits. You shouldn’t pay for a critique partner, and it’s a very reciprocal relationship.
Editors – Editors are (typically) paid and provide everything and anything from the above list for a set price. Never go into an open-ended contract with an editor. Settle on a fee ahead of time so you can budget and know exactly what you’re getting for that fee.
Here’s the thing. With all three of the above, it is important to vet anyone you trust with your work to avoid wasted time, unhelpful notes, and potential plagiarism. When approaching these relationships, consider the following.
Know who the person is. If you trust someone with your freshly crafted novel, a real name and a little background is a must. You don’t need to swap social security numbers, but sending a manuscript to an anonymous screenname is like dating a nameless, faceless person. You wouldn’t do it, I’m guessing.
Understand their qualifications. A middle grade author may or may not be the best person to beta read an erotica novel. Different genres rely on different voices and techniques. On a technical side, look for someone who compliments your weaknesses. For example, my writing is strong on detail but suffers with action and pacing at times. I was lucky enough to find a critique partner who could help me with that and vice versa.
Consider references. With editors, this is a must. If someone wants to charge you for their work, you have every right to talk to their (hopefully) satisfied customers. The best route is to ask for a list and randomly pick a few names to contact. It is also not out of court to see the editor’s work in action on a manuscript. That way you won’t be upset if you expected grammatical fixes but only receive plot notes. References provide a realistic idea of these things.
Be picky. There are many incredible writers offering giveaways of services. And swapping work is a wonderful way to connect with other authors, but just because someone is willing to read your work doesn’t mean that they’re the right person. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people offer inaccurate query notes or genre-inappropriate suggestions. You’ll find the perfect fit. Take your time and don’t jump at every opportunity.
I don’t want this to come across as a terribly cynical post. There are many kind souls out there who offer reading and editing for free, and Twitter and other online hubs make it easier than ever for writers to find help on all levels. But let’s face it, our manuscripts are our lifeblood. It is wise to be judicious when sharing it.
There are three fairly certain truths about writers. We drink lots of coffee. We read whenever we’re not writing. And we are masters of self-doubt.
So, the next time you start to tell yourself you or your writing are not good enough, feel free to steal one of these guys to substitute. And no, I won’t barrage you with stories of famous writer X who failed 87 times before success. Hopefully these truths are a little more realistic but soothing nonetheless.
1) Good journeys are supposed to be hard. If things came too easily, let’s be honest, they wouldn’t feel right or rewarding. Unless you’ve got a magic genie in your pocket, embrace the struggle. Just like battle scars, the prove your hard work.
2) Once, you wrote that awesome sentence. Of course, you’ve written many awesome sentences but consider taking a favorite and posting it somewhere. Write it on a slip of paper and keep it next to your computer or in your wallet. Remind yourself just how incredible your words can be.
3) You can do other things, too. Writers are dedicated, but sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that we can also juggle, or roast a mean chicken, or play a mean hand of poker. If you feel like you’re slacking with word count, think about those other skills.
4) Write for YOU. When the what ifs and the could be’s beat you up, remind yourself that at the end of the day you should be writing because you love it and that alone is a reward.
5) People are rooting for you. Go find one. A fan. Text a friend. Put out an APB on Twitter that you need a kind word. (And if you’re not tuned into the #WritingCommunity yet, get connected.) Find someone who will push that negative self-talk right out of your head.
6) That kid. That kid over there NEEDS your work. Today, if you write for children, in ten years, if you write for teens, or in twenty years, if you write for adults. Your unique story is needed in this world, and nothing you tell yourself can erase that simple fact.
Being creative means that you can also come up with some pretty harsh words for yourself. Try these tips and if all else fails, do five jumping jacks. Whatever it is, give your body and your brain a reminder that you are a writer and that’s pretty amazing.
I firmly believe a good metaphor can change your life. And for me, a good metaphor changed how I approached writer’s block.
Years ago, at a writing conference in a quaint Pennsylvania hotel, a famous YA author suggested that writers are pitchers of water. We eternally pour out creativity through our stories, and when our pitchers are empty that’s when the dreaded Writer’s Block steps in. (I am intentionally capitalizing here because I don’t just see writer’s block as a thing. I see it as THE villain in any writer’s life, worse than self-doubt or Netflix.)
The author proposed that when our pitchers run empty, we must stop writing and refill that pitcher. We vanquish Writer’s Block by actively seeking inspiration or else the villain of the story wins and our pages stay blank. Below is not an exhaustive list but instead a personal one that I keep handy to help me.
Go to a gallery – Visual art is a quick inspiration snack for me. Galleries are the best, but even if I only have five minutes and pull something up on my phone, it’s an immediate infusion of color and texture and narrative. Online, I highly recommend skimming winners from National Geographic photography contests. They are breathtaking.
Make emotional playlists – Consider not just a writing playlist but instead find those songs that put you in the mindsets you need. Is a character ready to break? Make a chaos mix. Need the sexiest scene ever? Make a love groove playlist. Army going to war and you need to rage? Perhaps a Game of Thrones mix, but you get the idea. Have them ready for an immersive infusion of inspiration.
People watch – I’d love to say I’m an outdoor gal, but I’m not. However if I could get away with it, I would don full bird-watching gear and head to Target with binoculars. Don’t stalk. Don’t be creepy. Just look at the expressions on peoples’ faces. A wrist overloaded with bracelets. A man who rubs the spot a wedding ring should be. There are a thousand stories waiting for you anywhere you go.
Read, of course – Reading is a mixed bag when Writers Block droops its ugly chin on your shoulder. Sometimes a few beautiful words are enough to ignite the spark to write again. Other times, reading can be frustrating or only highlight your current situation so treat this one delicately.
Indulge in television and films – Whether it’s a familiar character you could cosplay in your sleep or a new recommendation, get lost in someone else’s world. Play the what if game. What if that character hadn’t turned left but instead turned right? Before you know it, you might just be hatching your own entire world.
Discover the news – Another cautionary one to try. Normally the news offers a million stories happening at once. Unfortunately, at the moment the political situation is strangling everyone. But perhaps if you can filter out all of the national conflict and look at the local news, that barn you drove by your entire life just burned down or a man wins the lottery at ninety. Regardless, life does imitate art and art is always allowed to imitate the kaleidoscope of life surrounding us.
Seek human contact – Listen. Call a friend and let them talk with nothing to contribute. Call Aunt Betty who lives in a yurt along the Susquehanna River and ask her to tell you about her day. We live in a technologically advanced world where we are both connected to everyone and tied to no one simultaneously. Or if you are limited to technology, start up a real conversation with a new Twitter friend. The devil’s in the details, and unless we listen closely, we often miss those brilliant kernels that could be our next novel.
Write it all down – Carry a notebook with you and have a book of inspiration ready. If you’re anything like me those pesky ideas happen when I’m in the shower, at the dentist, cooking dinner, teaching my classes, hoovering the living room, you get the picture. Few of us have the luxury of stopping to write whenever we want, but that doesn’t mean we should ever let a great idea go. Write it all down! (Dictating notes in your phone counts, too.)
Writer’s Block may be the villain of our story, but as writers we’ll win. I guarantee it. Inspiration will hold us up as we put pen back to paper – or fingers to keyboard, or what the heck, quill to scroll. Good luck with your writing journey and thank you for taking a few moments to share mine.
Every year I create two sets of resolutions. The first is a general life list posted prominently on the refrigerator. The second, my writing resolutions, get tucked inside my desk drawer and don’t often see the light of day. The refrigerator list has changed over the years and boasts columns and bullet points, action plans and recipes, inspirational pictures and doodles. Meanwhile, the writing resolutions need none of this because they are uncomplicated, and I’ve committed them to memory. But I still write them down fresh each and every year as a reminder of how to get the job done.
Write every morning.
Read twice as much as I write.
Starve the rejections; feed the victories.
While none of these are revelations, the three of them together have helped me persevere both professionally and personally. And their brevity contributes to the bigger picture that writing is a profession and passion about action.
Write every morning – I’ve made several blog posts about writing rituals, but for me I am freshest in the morning and most optimistic. In those first few minutes, if I can avoid the news and other potential pitfalls by getting up before the rest of my household has roused, the day is nothing but a blank slate. I feel rather invincible, not to mention what happens once coffee is added.
Read twice as much as I write. – Stephen King said it best. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” In theory, you are writing because you love the written word, and it would only make sense that you want to carry all of them in your arsenal. And not just the meanings and spellings of words either. Every time you read, you’re actually studying your craft and observing how other authors assemble those words into radical new patters. So read, read, read.
Starve the rejections; feed the victories. – This one is my favorite and simultaneously the hardest to adhere to throughout the year. Whether it’s by email, by phone, by post, or by owl, I give the rejections no more than a moment to invade my brain. Even the big ones. I might have slaved over a project for months only to have it shot down in the eleventh hour. That’s life. And as a writer, rejections are frequent. The worst are the days where it feels like editors or agents collaborated and all decided to say no at precisely the same time. You need to starve the heck out of those days. Don’t entertain negative thoughts. Instead, feed the wins. Maybe it’s a publication you’ve been waiting for or simply a well done from your critique partner on a particularly sticky scene. Throw a handful of confetti in the air. Dance your best Beyoncé when no one’s looking. Or go to the local bakery and buy an obnoxiously expensive piece of cake. But make those victories count because one is fantastic. Two, even better. And if you press your energy towards the light, rejections sting less than a band-aid being pulled off. They will no longer have the power from stopping you from making good on your first resolution…to keep writing.
Happy New Year!
Some days, I love the internet. Specifically, when I need a cupcake idea for my daughter’s third grade class, Pinterest is my savior. Or when political news grinds my nerves to nubs, I require two otters holding paws on Facebook. In these instances, the internet is my friend. When it comes to writing, though, we are typically mortal enemies.
And I’m not even referring to all the distractions. (That’s an entirely different post.) Instead, consider the speed with which authors can race from idea to submission to publication. There have been mornings where I drafted a poem, submitted it over lunch, and even received word that it was accepted all in a twenty-four-hour period. Awesome, right?
That lightning process conceals a few fatal flaws. Nowhere in a sprint to publication is there space to reflect, edit, walk away, and return fresh. In a world where submission buzzes at our fingertips, are we skipping essential steps to better our writing?
I am not eschewing the process but instead offering a brief checklist of considerations to make a squirrelly writer take pause before hitting send or submit. Here I offer a few warnings for falling for the sprint instead of pursuing the marathon.
1. Editing matters. And it rarely happens well within twenty-four hours. The piece is so fresh in our minds that even glaring errors are camouflaged by our own mental copy.
2. Editing in a vacuum is dangerous. Rarely do critique partners exist who can turn around a piece in hours, and without an outside eye, the writing solely lives within our tastes and judgment. It’s not a bad place to be, but it certainly shouldn’t be the only place.
3. Did you find the right home? Unfortunately, fewer writers take the time to read online journals and get a taste of what they’re searching for. Instead many are lured by the siren’s call of fast and free submission windows, often jumping right out of them and submitting to the wrong places.
4. Submitter’s remorse is real. I have submitted pieces that found a home when they weren’t nearly ready, but perhaps the journal was new or the editor saw a glimpse of brilliance and kindly accepted. Looking back years or even months later, I see changes I’d like to make because those few pieces don’t represent my best voice, and as we all know, the internet preserves things forever.
5. Avoid looking unprofessional. As an editor for a literary magazine, like a shark smelling blood I can usually tell if a submission was dashed off without proper care. Perhaps they spell the journal’s name incorrectly, or my name, or yes – their own. We might receive a document that still shows original edits or someone else’s comments throughout. Even if the piece is wonderful, I rarely stick with it when so many glaring errors turn me towards more professional submissions.
6. Self-publishing can rob you of collaboration. Many authors, frustrated at rejection, post their own works on a blog or website. The problem with this is that they lose the opportunity to enjoy an editor’s help to polish the piece, and they may not consider why it was rejected in the first place. Persistence is a writer’s lifeblood, but not with blinders on. Every rejection or critique should move a writer to a better place. Not just a different platform.
Instant gratification exists, and it’s intoxicating. But some wins are hollow ones, and not all pieces are ready for publication. Good writing takes time, and good submissions represent that effort. Give your writing the space it needs to thrive, and I guarantee you’ll love the results. In the meantime, head to Pinterest for a yummy lunch idea.
I’ve read, and even written, many posts extolling the virtues of writing through any hardship. A heartbreak, a loss, a tsunami, a zombie apocalypse. The act can be a healing one and often helps us sort out our feelings or minimally allow our minds to escape whatever chaos has firmly lodged itself in our lives. But I would also argue that there is a space and time when for some, we need permission not to write.
From about the age of ten on, I started a firm routine of writing in the morning. Every morning without fail. Back then it was loose-leaf pages in a worn neon Trapper Keeper that survived three years of middle school far better than I did. And during my wild college days I still managed to jot down things as the sun rose even if I’d only slept a few hours the night before. My morning exercises have found their homes on the back of Target receipts, across paper towels, and everywhere else all because once I’d read that Hemingway followed this routine, and he turned out to be a fairly decent author (understatement intended). His daily practice also seemed more palatable than Vonnegut’s push-ups to spur creativity.
Of course, in this sort of mandatory writing situation, not everything I write during those early sessions is good. Although even out of bad pages, I can often resurrect a few good sentences. Once, seven pages of junky writing yielded a title that I used years later and somehow, that seemed like a huge win.
However, there were a few moments in my life that tossed up some rather large blockades and writing felt like a miserable chore. It was painful, and after some Herculean trying I learned that as an author, there are absolutely occasions that make it ok to put the pen down.
Ultimately every writer has different challenges and strengths. Unique routines and mechanisms to carry them from Once Upon a Time all the way to The End in their manuscripts. While this blog might make sense to some, it could be a totally wrong fit for others. But at core I think most writers tend to be the toughest self-critics. We rake ourselves over the coals when we’re not writing enough, not publishing enough, not doing those writerly things that make us authors. So, if nothing else, I hope the takeaway is to be kind to yourself. And if circumstances are so that you find you’ve got to put the pen down, that’s ok.
It’s been a while. A long while, actually, since I’ve blogged. This hiatus came from a sharp bit of wisdom that really resonated with me in Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the University of the Arts several years ago. He mentioned considering a goal to be a mountain and asking yourself with each new task if it was carrying you towards or away from the mountain. As I worked through the first draft of a novel, my blog entries felt like they were diversions dragging me from the task at hand. So, I filed them away and told myself only after I’d reached my own personal mountain, that first draft, would I return.|
Now that a full one hundred and forty pages sit in front of me, each chapter carefully printed and labeled, it feels appropriate to blog in the face of the daunting editing process. This is my first round of edits for this novel, a second round will absolutely follow, and then I intend to submit to agents after a final polish. This all sounds so easy, but the reality is the process is exhausting.
Editing reminds me of visiting the grocery shopping with an economical and underwhelming list. The further you wade into the store, the more you realize you’ve forgotten to include everything your kitchen really needs and what started as milk, bread, and eggs now grows to dozens of details and new plot ideas that should have been included in the first run through. And with each change, the world shifts. I’m writing a children’s fantasy where there is a world being constructed, but even in a good old-fashioned literary novel, new details are earthquakes that cause seismic shifts in the fictional reality.
In order to keep myself vaguely sane and always moving towards my mountain, I’ve devised editing tips and tricks that might be of help as you tackle your own revisions whether they be for a short story, a novel, or anything in between.
As I bask in the glow of a completed manuscript currently battling it out with others in the #PitchWars Twitter contest, I find it so easy to lounge. I wrote a book! Time to take a break…or not. At least for me, I find that if I don’t jump feet first into the next project, a week of leisure can become a month, even a year between major writings.
But jumping in isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Where do I start? How do I select an idea out of the dozens hopping up and down like strays at the pound looking for a home? Should I continue with a similar genre, or should I head off into waters unknown? And even after all of those questions, the big one looms.
How do I start?
Starting a novel is terrifying. It’s not like giving over a few days to a poem, essay, or story, knowing that it’s easy to pull the plug. If a shorter piece fails, you’ve only invested a few days. Mere hours on the writing spectrum. But a novel, it’s a commitment. It’s taking an idea and locking in as if you take the hand of your first date and say What the heck, let’s go get married in that chapel around the corner. It’s a spiritual and emotional mortgage, cementing you to an idea. Once you’ve made that jump, though, it’s essential to get going because again, waiting too long can take the shine right off of your idea. So, I’ve assembled a few tips that have helped me move forward in the past, and one of these tips will hopefully help me put pen to paper tonight as I sign off on my new endeavor.
Whatever you do, keep writing. And enjoy every delicious, painful minute of it.
Summers for teachers are bliss. While I don’t want to support the ridiculous idea that we don’t review lesson plans and strategize for the following year, June, July, and August do lend themselves to pursuing hobbies, slowing down to cook meals at home and play with the kids more, and write with abandon. Bliss, indeed.
Except when no clock is ticking, writing often slips to the wayside. During the school year I write on a very regimented schedule…and it works. I hit my word count every day, whether it’s brilliant or bollocks. But when I’ve given unlimited time to write, without the urgency I often wait and write when I’m too tired or distracted. This reality reinforces how important, at least for me, it is to maintain a writing schedule and treat it less like a hobby and more like a profession.
In light of this, I thought I’d share a few different writing routines that have worked for me throughout the years.
For more writing routines, check out The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers and happy writing!
Last year as a Pitch Wars newbie, I was intimidated but pleasantly shocked at how welcoming the community and contest were. I didn’t make it to Mentee status, but I learned some invaluable tips through my first bumpy try. And I can’t wait to try again this year and see what happens.
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. I look for other writers who feel the same.