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A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life

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Life, Disrupted

By now we realize that Coronavirus has disrupted nearly everyone’s daily lives.

Whether you are self-quarantined, or just social distancing, it can be very tough to keep your creativity and writing output up. It seems counter-intuitive. Writers all over the globe are exactly where we should be right? In front of our keyboards. But any combination of health & financial stress, working from home, caring for children, and home schooling is absolutely disruptive and exhausting. It can make you just want to curl up into a ball and not write or do ANYTHING creative at all.

I’ve been home for about two weeks now. When I received my work from home announcement, I thought whoa, so much writing opportunity! and I was completely wrong. I wasn’t even able to utilize my usual lunch breaks to get words in anymore. This combined with feelings of anxiety and even mild depression from isolation (I’m one of those weird extrovert writers) tanked my output. This past week however, I carefully managed a routine, and it has helped quite a bit. My word count is up, and most importantly, so are my spirits. Here’s what I’ve been doing. Everyone’s situation is different right now, so these may not work for you, but I hope they might help some of my readership out.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life”

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Ways to Keep Your Readers Engaged

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One of the most difficult parts of writing isn’t the big, exciting, flashy parts of your story, but the quiet moments in-between them. Let’s call them “mundane moments” to be honest but not overly cruel.

This article by the great Chuck Palahniuk over on LitHub  emphasizes the importance of not boring your readers.

Of course you can move along in one unbroken moment-to-moment description, but that’s so slow. Maybe too slow for the modern audience. And while people will argue that today’s audience has been dumbed down by music videos and whatnot, I’d argue that today’s audience is the most sophisticated that’s ever existed. We’ve been exposed to more stories and more forms of storytelling than any people in history.

Chuck identifies that authors shouldn’t be afraid of using different tools and methods of filling that “in-between” space with things other than rote lists of boring activities. I’m very guilty of this in 1st drafts. Characters milling around, picking things up and putting them down. Looking at one another. BORING!

Some of the things he identifies as alternatives are

  • Montages
  • Interesting “coded” dialogue that helps flesh out character groups
  • Short chapters that describe/show locations as characters travel

I am certainly a writer from the school of “making it like a film”. When I wrote DETROIT 2020 one of the primary goals of the book was to make it a book for readers who would rather be watching an action movie. Even my internal author “camera” sees scenes played out like little movies in my brain as I’m writing.

Pacing scenes like films in your head can really resonate with audiences who are savvy and used to processing information quickly. It’s also another reason that the old adage of “Show versus Tell” is so important. You want to build the image in your reader’s minds so their processing of that vision is efficient and seamless. Being “told” takes more energy on their part and risks a disconnect.

There are also a number of things that can make your prose cleaner and more efficient when you are self-editing your initial story drafts.

The main takeaway here is if you or your beta readers find some yawning moments where your story lags, then your readership certainly will too. Bored readers are no readers at all.

Hopefully these posts will spark some unique ideas to fill those mundane moments in your stories. If you have additional suggestions on how you work with those spaces share it with your fellow writers down in the comments!

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Maintaining A Creative Output During The Holidays

The holidays are a great time to relax with family and friends, and catch up on all those new horror movies you missed back in October (maybe that last one is just me?). But they are busy, and it can be hard to get your writing done. Luckily this great post from K.M. Allan has some useful tips to keep your output going through the end of the year.

K.M. Allan

The holidays are a time for relaxing and taking a break, even Stephen King doesn’t write on Christmas day!

But writers like to make ourselves feel guilty if we aren’t penning down words, even when it’s time for a well-earned break, so here are some tips for maintaining a creative output during the holidays.

Make A To-Do List

Even Santa makes a list at Christmas. You don’t need to check yours twice, but at least have something to look at that’ll keep you on track.

There are a million things to think of and do this time of year, so list writing tasks and non-writing tasks, work out a plan for getting them all achieved, and then tick off each task. It’ll keep you motivated, organized, and get things done. That might sound like a lot for one little list to do, but hey, it’s Christmas, the season…

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Writing Tip: How to Take Writing Advice

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Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman

 

Oh Neil, you’re so correct. The above advice “works for me” and I take it.

So should you, dear blog reader.

Everyone is a Writer (even when they aren’t)

I’ve written numerous times about the benefits of writer’s groups. I firmly believe you should find one local to you and join it if possible.

With that out of the way, there are still some important guidelines when it comes to accepting advice from either a critique group, beta reader, or even (I’m going there) an EDITOR.

One of the things that makes writing difficult is showing it to others. Once the cat is out of the bag, you’re going to get all kinds of feedback. Some of it will improve your story, and some of it needs to be ignored.

Advice to Take

  • Rule of 3: I adhere to the “Rule of 3” – If three people independently tell me something isn’t working for them or they didn’t like part of a story, then I’ll look at it and try to improve or fix it. It is obvious that something is amiss for that many people to notice. Better 3 than 3000.
  • When Something is “Off” – Like my man Neil G. said up top. When readers have an inexplicable feeling that something doesn’t work, then you need to review that part of your story. Good writing evokes emotion, and if readers are getting all the wrong feels, then that is a red flag.
  • (Most) Advice from Your Editor – HAH! LOOK I BACK TRACKED! But seriously, if you are working with a professional editor, put your ego aside and respect their objective skill set. If they are questioning something that is absolutely, 100% non-negotiable to your story, then you should at least have a detailed discussion with them to try and figure out whether other edits can make that thing you’re holding onto work better in the greater context. I mean, sometimes even editors can be wrong…sometimes.
  • “Tough Love” from your Inner Circle – Most authors develop relationships over time with a few people they REALLY trust. Writer’s groups, editors, beta readers, etc. If one of your most trusted people who has a solid, previous track record of quality feedback says something like “this just isn’t up to your normal standard” or something similar, then you should listen. It might hurt, but it’s very likely they have your best interest in mind.

Advice to Ignore

  • “Here’s What you SHOULD WRITE” – It’s not their story. Don’t change your words into the ones they wrote for you. NEXT!
  • “That’s Just My Opinion” – If 10 people love it, and 1 person says it is total trash, you’re probably safe to ignore it. Especially if there is no underlying reason and they just “didn’t like it”.
  • Twitter – Don’t take generalized writing advice from social media. (But DO take expert long-form writing advice from random authors who you stumble across on blog sites like WordPress!)
  • Angry People – This is a very situational one, but I’ve had it happen. If someone blasts you, and just tears your work apart, sometimes it’s them and not you. If you have a personal connection and know they are going through a difficult time or are just not in the correct head space to read critically, then sometimes you should either ignore the advice or ask them to read it again at a later date if you’re comfortable doing so.

In Conclusion

I hope this post can help you navigate the difficult situations that can arise when you’re taking feedback on your work. I have a feeling it might, but I’m not going to tell you which tips to specifically use.

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Overcoming Self-Doubt & Imposter Syndrome

What I know (2)

I have struggled with serious writer’s block this year.

I’m not unique. I get that. At some point, it happens to nearly everyone who makes creative writing a serious undertaking.

This time felt different though. More severe, and a bit insidious.

I’ve written before about my struggles with my fantasy novel. I’m neck-deep in a 2nd draft/nearly full re-write, and the story will come out the other side looking nearly nothing like the 1st draft. Again, this is a relatively normal process, and lots of authors deal with that grind.

Somewhere along the way though, self-doubt started to creep in. Like a tiny seed sprouting and taking root in the deepest recesses of my brain, it grew under the right conditions (busy schedule, life changes, competing priorities) until it had flowered into what the French refer to as “Le Syndrome de Imposter” (not an actual translation) or, “Imposter Syndrome”. Honestly, no amount of writing podcasts or blogs can prepare you for that crippling self-doubt when it actually arrives. At least I was totally unprepared…

What the Internet didn’t tell me is that self-doubt doesn’t have to manifest as some sort of easily categorized fear. It’s not like you’ll panic, slam your laptop shut , and go curl up in the bathroom, when you see threads on Twitter asking to update on your current project. In fact, the cacophony of social media is a very comfortable place to hide, procrastinate, and “water the flower” so to speak. More on that later though.

My self-doubt manifested as apathy more than anything. Even with encouragement and responsibility to my writer’s group, every scene and chapter was a massive slog. I spent the better part of 2019 doing everything I could to avoid writing and I didn’t know why. It finally took some serious self-reflection and understanding of what the root of my insecurities were to address it and get back to really dissecting and writing my book.

I want to provide some advice in this post, rather than just anecdotally bemoaning my position, so here are some things that worked for me to start regularly putting words on the page again.

Continue reading “Overcoming Self-Doubt & Imposter Syndrome”