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Have you ever read a book where you felt like you were actually living the story with the character? Have you read one where the character felt remote and lifeless? I can guarantee the reason for both is showing vs. telling.

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Ever get to the place in your writing where you just want to play it safe? I think every writer gets there. Doesn’t every writer have a manuscript that’s too blah because you were too scared to go where you should have gone? Or a manuscript that’s gathering dust because you’re too scared for anyone to read it?

But staying in the safe zone stifles your writing. Risk brings your work to life. Here are some leaps of faith to take your writing to the next level.

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If you’re serious about being a writer, you’ve already discovered that writing works better when you do it consistently.  The best way to get consistent is to have a schedule.  But with our busy lives, this can be easier said than done.  Here are a few tips to develop a writing schedule.

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1. When do you write best?

Look at times when you’ve been successful with writing before.  What time of day works best for your creative juices?  Are you a night owl?  A morning person?  Or do you function best, like me, between 10 am and 2 pm?  Do your best to carve out time during these peak times for writing, and you’ll find your output is better in both quantity and quality.

2. What time is available to you?

Sometimes you can’t always spare time for writing during your best times.  You might have to look at what time you have.  Do you have a chunk of downtime at a certain point of the day?  Do you have little 15 minute breaks peppered through your day?  Use those times.

3.  How will you remember?

It’s all well and good to decide on a good writing time.  But when it comes down to it, if you’re anything like me, you’ll arrive at that designated time and completely forget what you planned it for.  Make a date in your daytimer, or set a reminder on your phone or computer.  Then stick to it.  The more consecutive days you keep this date with your keyboard, the more ingrained your writing habit will become.

4. How will you spend your writing time?

Raw output is great thing, and until you get this well established, it’s all you really need to do.  But once you’ve got a draft down, you’ll need to set aside some of your writing time for editing and revising.  This shouldn’t completely displace your writing time, but you’ll need to spend some of it this way.  Then, when you’ve got a polished manuscript ready to go, you’ll need to set aside some time for agent / publisher hunting.  Then when you have a book published, you’ll need to set aside time for social media and other marketing.  See how this can pile up?  If you follow the above steps each time you need to add another level to your writing / publishing process, then you won’t get overwhelmed.

Good luck with your scheduling.  Happy writing! 🙂 

This is my monster: Perfectionism.  It keeps me from trying, it keeps me stuck in the planning phase, and whispers in my ear as I stare at the blank screen of a new document.  I’m afraid to write anything in case it is subpar.

But that’s silly, isn’t it?  When you put it in words, it doesn’t make any sense.  Here are some things I tell myself to chase away perfectionism, and if you have the same problem, you can tell yourself too.

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What I write isn’t set in stone.

Even more so now than when writers used to work their craft with pen and paper or typewriter, the written word can be changed.  You can delete a word or replace it as if it never was.  No one needs even know you wrote in the passive voice or used a word too often or even (gasp!) misspelled a word.  That’s what editing is for.

Others can help me.

There are going to be plenty of times you miss errors, so getting another pair of eyes can help.  It can be scary, though, to let someone else see your raw work.  But if you think about it, when we think we can do this whole writing/editing thing alone, we are really saying we know everything there is to know.  Sounds kind of arrogant if you put it that way.  I’m learning to let a few people I trust see my mistakes rather than failing miserably at the publishing stage, or worse, not putting my work out there at all.

Making mistakes helps me learn.

If you do make a writing mistake and someone else catches it, then there’s no need to beat yourself up.  This is an opportunity to hone your writing craft, improve your work, and better yourself.  I’m retraining myself to be thankful for my mistakes and the ability to learn from them.

Writing imperfectly is better than not writing at all.

I don’t know about you, but I have to write.  It’s like a compulsion.  If I don’t write, things get all backed up in my mind.  It’s not pretty.  So waiting until I feel I can write something perfectly is not a healthy option for me.  And writing every day, whether I feel it’s to my impossible standard or not, gives me the added advantage of strengthening my writing muscles.

My own idea of “perfect” is skewed.

Where do I get this standard from, anyway?  Do I really feel like everyone needs to like my books?  I don’t like every book out there, not even critically acclaimed ones.  So why do I feel like I need to please everyone?  I’m learning to form a more objective opinion of what good writing looks like, and let go of the things I add on my own.

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I hope this helps any of you who might be struggling with perfectionism in your writing, or anything else in life.  Let’s get rid of this crippling influence and make some beautiful things.  🙂

Ever read a book that kept you hanging on till the last page, unable to put it down?  Ever read one that didn’t?

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What made the difference?  Why did you lose interest in that one book?  Why did you forget about everything else while you read the other?

Suspense.  Even if it isn’t a “suspense” novel, every good book has some measure of suspense.  Every gripping novel keeps you guessing, wondering, hoping, fearing – right until the last page.  (And maybe beyond)

I’ve heard this phenomenon called “breadcrumbs”.  Like Hansel and Gretel’s ill-fated trail through the forest, these breadcrumbs are supposed to lead the reader on a journey.  In this case, it’s a journey of discovery.  You might be discovering a mystery, or a relationship, or a dark secret, or the culmination of a quest.  But a good author knows how to reel out just enough information to keep the reader journeying.

How do we as authors cultivate that sense of suspense?

Don’t Let the Cat out of the Bag.

Is there some big secret at the heart of your novel?  Don’t blurt it out all at once.  This is the death of suspense.

Dole out information in small doses.  Think of it as a “need-to-know” basis.  The reader has to earn their security clearance before they can be privy to new intel.

Don’t Withhold Crucial Information.

On the other hand, an author can easily lose a reader’s interest by not sharing enough.  The reader needs to know why this promised culmination is important to wait for.  They need to care about what happens.  Think of each little “breadcrumb” as a small reward for waiting, an incentive to keep going.  Put each reveal in a pivotal place – try to get a gasp out of your reader every time.

Make the Secret Worth Waiting For.

Ever spend an entire book or movie waiting for a big reveal, only to watch pages of build-up fall flat?  If you’ve strung a reader along, promising them it will be worthwhile, make sure you deliver.

breadcrumbs

Now as you write or read through your work, hopefully you’ll be able to keep your eyes open for the breadcrumbs.  🙂

 

 

When I was in grade 9, I distinctly remember a poster in my English class that listed writing faux-pas that actually committed the transgression.  It was a creative way to teach rules, and it worked, because I still remember them.

One that has really stuck with me is “The passive voice should never be used.”

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Why is it so important to use active voice over passive voice?

Let’s back up a bit and explain the difference.  For example, you might write: “He was propelled into the fight.”  Passive voice.  The key here is “was”.  The action is happening to him, instead of being caused by him.  In this case, it’s better to write “His friend propelled him into the fight.” or “He stumbled into the fight.”  I came across an interesting way to tell if you’ve used the passive voice: if you can add “by zombies” to the end of your sentence, you’ve used it.

So why is it important you ask? Look at the two examples above.  Which one better immerses the reader into the action? Active voice ensures your reader will feel right there, in the middle of the story.  Even if the narrative isn’t actual “action”, passive voice can slow down the momentum of the story.

Another related story-dragger is flashback.  Now I’m not saying flashback can’t be a super useful tool in writing, but we need to be careful how much we use it.  Are we writing a scene in flashback because we suddenly realized a character should have had such-and-such an encounter three chapters back and we don’t feel like going back and grafting it into the story?  I’ve read and edited too many books where an author wrote a flashback where a here-and-now scene should have been.

It comes down to “Show, don’t tell”.  And I think we can take it a step further: when it comes to your characters, Do, don’t Be.  It makes all the difference between a reader living your story, or simply reading it.

Reading aloud seems to be a relic from our school days.  If don’t know about you, but I don’t do it much anymore, unless I’m reading to my kids.

But reading to my kids has taught me a few things about good writing – things that probably should have been no-brainers.  I’m thinking about adding this simple technique to my editing toolbox, and here’s why.

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1. Reading aloud freshens your mind

Using a different part of your brain helps to clear out the cobwebs, which might alert you to areas of your manuscript that were blind spots to the eye.

2. Reading aloud highlights brain-stumblers

You know when you’re reading a book in your head and you have to read over the same line three times to get it?  This is magnified times 100 when you’re reading out loud.  I don’t tend to notice these trip-ups in my own writing, but reading aloud might help that.

3. Reading aloud reveals wooden dialogue

As you’re merrily typing away your he-saids and she-saids, you might not notice this, but when you read it aloud, it might become glaringly obvious that nobody talks that way.  You want your reader to feel like your characters are real, so they should talk like real people.  Reading out loud shows you where they talk like robots.

4. Reading aloud identifies flaws in pacing

Is your pace dragging?  Are you making flying leaps through the story and leaving the reader behind?  Here is where you’ll really notice it.

5. Reading aloud gives you needed distance

You wrote your manuscript visually.  It became your on-screen (or on-paper) baby.  Reading it out loud makes it more of a stranger, so you can hear it as it truly is, instead of viewing it with rose-coloured glasses.

 

Next time you’re editing, even a blog post, try reading it aloud, and see how much difference it can make.

I struggle with editing.  Not so much other people’s work, but definitely my own.  Once I’ve put something on the page I have a hard time figuring out how to change it.

But obviously it has to be done.  So I took a look at how I edit other people’s manuscripts and compiled a bit of a checklist so I can look at my own writing more objectively.

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1. Work on the big stuff first. (Substantive or Structural Editing)

There’s no point trying to nitpick about grammar if you’re going to delete or rewrite whole paragraphs.  Take a look at the overall flow of your story first.  Is there something you should add to help it make more sense?  Is there something you should take out that detracts from the story?  Does the pacing work?  Do your characters act within their parameters or do they do something wildly outside their personalities?  Is the setting clear?  Are you delving into too much backstory?  Are your characters’ feelings real and intense?  Take care of this first and then you can get down to the little things.

2. Pick on bad habits. (Stylistic or Line Editing)

Number One on my editors’ list is always “show, don’t tell”.  Look for all the places you’ve explained what happens – for example, “she felt nervous,” “he was always judging other people,” or “they were so much in love” – and replace them with actions or dialogue that demonstrates what you’re trying to say.  “She felt nervous” can be replaced with some sort of nervous behaviour like tapping her fingers or chewing her nails.  “He was always judging other people” can be demonstrated by adding several instances where he thinks about or says something judgemental about various characters.  “They were so much in love” can be shown with a variety of creative dialogue or actions.  If you do your job right, your reader will know these things without you having to tell them.

Another bad writing habit is adding dialogue tags.  I’ve already talked about this, so if you missed it, take a look.

These days people don’t want wordy books.  They want tight writing that keeps momentum.  Check over your work for a few pitfalls such as excessive adjectives and adverbs, passive voice (e.g.: “the ball was thrown” should be “he threw the ball”), and convoluted sentences that can be stated with fewer words.

Also take a look at your sentence and paragraph lengths at this point.  Paragraphs shouldn’t be too long – not more than 4 or so sentences.  The modern reader gets bogged down in long paragraphs.  Our eyes need white space.  The length of your paragraphs will have a direct correlation to the intensity of the action: more action = shorter paragraphs.  It keeps the eye moving and emphasizes each event.  Your sentences should be a nice variety of lengths – some long, some short.  Keep in mind that one short sentence within a group of longer ones will have a punchy effect, so make sure that’s the sentence you want the reader to notice.

3. Get down to the nitty gritty.  (Copy Editing or Proofreading)

(I can’t say that without thinking of Nacho Libre 😉 )  Now that you’ve got your work structured the way you want it you can finally get to the little details.  Check for those pesky typos – you might want fresh eyes to catch these.  Pay attention to punctuation.  If you don’t know the rules, brush up on them.  One thing I see a lot of is misused apostrophes.  It’s such a little thing, but it makes a big difference in the overall polish of your work.  While you’re at it, take a look at commonly misspelled words – especially those that sound the same like “there”, “their” and “they’re”.  These are the things that mark your manuscript as professional or amateur.

 

 

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A Checklist for Editing Click to Tweet

 

Hopefully this helps you.  Keep in mind, if you’ve got the budget (or a really good friend or relative), you can always get someone else to do this.  Sometimes you need someone with a little personal distance to highlight your own blind spots.

If I’ve missed anything you might also include, please feel free to share.