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.

writing, writing tips

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”

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More Reasons to Join A Writer’s Group

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Summer is right around the corner, and that’s going to mark the second anniverary of my writer’s group. We’ve had numerous up’s and down’s, membership turnover, and even a venue change, but the core group of authors who initially put it all together are still there, grinding away and putting out the work.

In honor of this, I want to re-visit my earlier ‘Reasons to Join A Writer’s Group’ post with a few more ideas now that our family has grown and matured (or at least gotten older).

Networking

The writer’s group I belong to is successful. That might sound a bit conceited, but it’s true. In the past two years, nearly every author in the group is traditionally published, gotten into a respected Workshop, worked with well-known editors on anthologies, or raised their platform through media tours. One of our members even got a multi-book deal.

Now, all of that is on their own hard work and diligence, but having a trusted group of friends and colleagues to advise and share contacts with is also so much more important than I ever would have known. Being able to “vouch” for another writer to an editor, agent, or artist can open doors you simply wouldn’t have come across flying solo. Plus, we learn from one another’s triumphs and failures, which better helps everyone in the group to navigate the complex landscape of writing and publishing.

Trusted Critiques

Writing is an extremely personal thing, and as one member of my group put it “it takes a lot of trust to hand your work over to someone”. This is true, and what has struck me even more, years on, is that critiques in our group have become simultaneously more comfortable and more intense. As you get to know one another, walls come down, and you can both give and receive the kind of fundamental, honest feedback that is needed to improve a book or story. Plus, when you receive that constructive criticism, you know it’s coming from a place of honest encouragement. We all have each other’s best interest in mind.

Accountability

Meeting with a group regularly, over the long-term, helps to keep you accountable to actually write. Knowing you need to submit, at least every once in a while, will keep you from getting too comfortable. You want to write, after all, and it helps to have friends with common goals who will really push you to get words on the page.

Are you a member of a local writer’s group in your area? If so, tell me about your experiences down in the comments.

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Balancing Creation and Consumption

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“You cannot create when you are consuming.”

Pragmatic writing advice if I’ve ever heard it.

It sits at the opposing end of the spectrum from “read widely” and “refuel your creative tank”, which are also widely accepted as good advice for authors.

I’m still deep inside the second rewrite of my dark fantasy novel, and prioritizing it against other creative pursuits. I wrote a post a few months ago about writers having other hobbies, and I still stand by my opinion that two hobbies is the “right number”.

Finding Balance

Further prioritization of  limited time has found me exploring  how to balance pursuits that create versus consume. It has meant letting go of some things that I used to enjoy doing, but honestly can’t justify devoting time and resources to anymore.

Video games were the biggest sacrifice on this list. I used to be an avid gamer, and I still love gaming, but the industry seems to have moved in a direction where the games became huge time sinks. I can’t justify putting 25-60 hours into something that, while it may grant a feeling of accomplishment, doesn’t create any sort of tangible creative product.

25-60 hours is a lot of writing. That is short stories, revised chapters, posted submissions, or even a few rolls of film on a photo shoot or two. These are efforts that create, or at least advance, a body of creative work. It’s why in January I made a “silent resolution” to stop buying new games.

Making Art

It’s a matter of creating your own art versus consuming that of others.

I stopped purchasing games to throw into an ever-growing backlog for the same reason I let go of trying to voraciously speed read through my TBR book pile. I had become obsessed with trying to consume “all the things” and it was stressful and detrimental to my creative process. Anyone who can afford an internet connection is lousy with entertainment choices these days, and there seems to be a strange quasi-guilt emerging with it. Is that FOMO? Is that why Marie Kondo is so popular on Netflix?

Maybe I’m becoming more aware of my own mortality, but the older I get the more I desire to establish an artistic legacy. Adult responsibilities always seem to get in the way of creative time, so it makes those free hours even more precious. However, you can’t be creative all the time. That is a sure-fire recipe for burn out. So it requires balance.

A Process

The balancing of creative output and what I’ll pretentiously call “artistic consumption” is a matter of scheduling, routine, and determination. By creating an intentional routine, I’ve learned that I write far better in the early mornings, when my brain is still energized and fluid with ideas. Once I’m burnt out from the day, I can relax in the evenings with a book out of that TBR pile for a couple hours. It’s a process I’m always refining, and in other odd moments I eek out submissions, the occasional blog post, or a little promotion.

I’m curious what other authors do to balance their creative output versus consumption of media and art. No matter what your process is, I think it’s a good problem to have. The luxury of available means and ability to hone a craft is still a valuable commodity in our fast-paced, modern world.