writing, writing tips

A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life – Part 2 (The Reckoning)

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Still Inside…

Years ago, I wrote a story about a group of people stranded in a desert town, dying from unseen radiation poisoning, and trying to figure out where they fit into the plan of the world.

It seems strangely relatable now, minus the radiation and mutants.

It’s been roughly six weeks since I wrote my first post about writing while under the Coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and in that time I’ve mostly managed to keep to my routine. There have been slip ups, and low points, but overall I am managing.

I continue to adhere to the exercise regiment each morning when I wake up to early morning silence. I’m also trying to eat plenty of green vegetables and other healthy food, and take in deep breathes of fresh spring air, weather permitting. New England has had a cold, generally raw spring befitting the situation. No Murder Hornets though. Not yet anyway.

What I’ve Learned

  • Creativity is fickle – No matter what kind of routines you adhere to, this bizarre scenario is just mentally & creatively exhausting. With all the new roles roles people have begun taking on as caregivers, teachers, and remote-employees, plus the economic stresses, it all compounds to take a toll. If you’re a writer, go easy on yourself. I beat myself up a bit over an “empty tank” a few weeks ago, but after some conversations with peers realized many creative people are stifled right now. Even my WordPress Reader feed is a bit sparse these days!
  • Creativity is important – Writing is a mental health exercise for many people. Losing the glow of that creative spark can be distressing, even if it is temporary. That’s why I say it is OK to be upset about writer’s block, or whatever creative endeavors fuel you, even if they seem “trivial” compared to what’s happening in the world right now. If it’s important to you and helps you stay sane and healthy, then it is important. Don’t let anyone minimize lack of creativity as insignificant.
  • Creativity comes back – Don’t think that once it is gone it’ll never return. It will. I’ve found that on better days I will get a quick burst of inspiration. Sometimes it gets triggered by the aroma of a new coffee (I have so many flavors to buy and try) or intense sunshine on a clear morning. Whatever it is, I capitalize as much as I can. One week it was a single sentence, another it was 5000 words in a day. I just go with it when it shows up. The only thing that remains consistent is that inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient times, just like it did in the “before times”.

If you’re out there reading this I hope you are safe, well, and making the best of your particular situation. This will all end eventually, and when it does I look forward to drinking coffee in book stores and going to author events again.

-BLD

writing, writing tips

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!

re-blog, writing tips

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, writing tips

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.

re-blog

What To Blog About If You’re Not Published

Some great tips from published Y.A. author K.M. Allan. These are specific to author/bloggers (a bit of a niche) but still extremely useful. Unpublished writers are urged to “build a platform”, but it can be hard to come up with content ideas when you lack the authority of previous publication. These are all great content topics she’s listed. I say that because many of them are the type of content I posted myself here on Suburban Syntax prior to becoming published myself. The system works!

K.M. Allan

While June might remind us were already halfway through another year, it is also this blog’s blogiversary month!

I published my first post in June 2017. That kicked off the 117 posts I’ve published since.

I launched my blog to extend my writer platform. I’d already begun querying agents and publishers and had been rejected, but was still two years away from signing the small press contract I was offered in January 2019. I wasn’t published anywhere and didn’t have a book out to plug.

So what does a writer who isn’t published write about?

Writing, of course! My first post was titled Just Start, which was, and still is, a life motto of mine.

While I’m still another 6 months away from being officially published (the first book in my YA series, Blackbirch, is coming early 2020), I’ll continue to practice what I preach and blog about…

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