Step 1: How to Become A Better Writer

Practice Makes Perfect:
Building and flexing those writing muscles

So here we go. The first of 25 posts that revolve on ways to make you a better writer. 
What’s the one thing, the one piece of advice that every writer is told again and again? To keep writing. Write  everyday.  
Here’s what Chuck says on his 25 list:
“The easiest and most forthright way to become a better writer is, duh, to write. Write, write, write. Write regularly. Get on a schedule, whether it’s 100, 1000, or 10000 words a day. Writing is a muscle, like your biceps, your heart, or your private parts. Don’t use ‘em, you lose ‘em. And then they fall to the ground and rot like oxidizing apples and are in turn eaten by hungry gophers. Om nom nom.” – Chuck Wendig

Yes! This is something that I fail to do. I never make time for writing. And I should. I mean, yes, I sometimes count working on my blog as writing…but I don’t make enough time for creative writing. Further more, when I do make the time sometimes I don’t want to work on my WIP. Sometimes I just want to write something new, but I don’t have any ideas. 

If this problem plagues you as it plagues me I have found the cure. Writing prompts. Just google writing prompts and you’ll get a plethora of links. Here’s one that I liked: Creative Writing Prompts from Warren Wilson College.

And below is a prompt from my weekly Writer’s Digest e-mail. 

Writing Prompt
You’ve just moved into a new house and are fixing it up. In the process of painting you find an odd crack in the wall. As you explore further, you find out it’s a secret passageway—and you have no idea where it leads. You decide to grab a flashlight and go exploring.

So here’s my challenge: by the next post we will all have written a response to ONE of these prompts. If you want to include what you’ve written in the comments space below feel free! 

New Feature: 25 Ways to Become a Better Writer


Who doesn’t want to become a better writer? I mean, I know that I am always striving to write something better than the last time, and there are books chock full of advice. How to write your novel in 90 days, in your off time, how to write a fantasy novel, how to have better characters, how to create conflict and tension… I could keep going but I wont’. The point is: there are enough people who want to write better that there is a market for it.

So, here is a new weekly post that I’ll be playing around with: 25 Ways to Become a Better Writer. TADA!

Did I come up with this list? No. I did not. I found it here. 

What will this new feature include (you might be asking)? Well, I’ll take each of the 25 tips Chuck Wendig proposes, show them to you, and then give you some resources that go along with the tips. 

It will be fun, and awesome, and you are more than welcome to share resources with me, and the other readers, in the comment boxes. I’m super excited. Feel free to check out the list before hand… I’ll warn you, the first tip and corresponding resources have to do with practicing your craft. Something I am horrible at doing. So, we will grow together!

Just Keep Swimming

Sometimes I feel as if I have just shot myself in the foot.

I mean, I’ve loaded the gun. Lined it up with my foot. Pulled the trigger. And POW!

Foot has been shot.

That’s how this Harry Potter paper is making me feel. Like, I have all these ideas and plans and evidence from the texts and outside sources and a detailed outline all done. And then I sit down to write the paper and BAM! I run into a wall. I keep looking at my paper and get worried. All I see are quotes that I’ve strung together, my “original thought” sentences connecting the better phrased quotes together.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve tricked everybody into thinking I’m all brilliant and everything. Surprise! I’m not! Ugh.

But then I think: No. You can;t have fooled this many people. Not the acceptance board at my graduate school. Not my husband (who can read me like an open book). Not my parents. Not all these amazingly awesome teachers at my grad school. No. There is no way I fooled them all. So then the person I’m fooling has to be myself.

I am brilliant. I can write this damned paper. And it will be awesome.

So sitting here staring at the screen (not writing my paper), I think of some advice that author Ellen Kushner gave me this summer: Get the words on the page. Get a frist draft done. Let it be shit. Let it be a shitty first draft. Because that’s what it is: a first draft. You can’t fix nothing. If there are no words on the page – you can’t refine them. But I can refine shit. I can take a piece of coal and turn it into a diamond.

And then I think of Finding Nemo

Just insert “writing” for “swimming” and you could have my theme song.

So, what am I going to do?

I’m going to keep swimming. And so should you if you hit that awesome wall of self doubt.

How To Map Your Story

As promised a few posts ago I am getting back to the Creative Writing business. Also, as promised is the post on How To Map Your Story.

There is a strong possibility that you already know how to map a story. I was forced to learn all about it in high school. Rising Action. Climax. Falling Action. But I never really considered using it as an outline for my own stories. Duh right?

But, there is also a strong possibility that you haven’t really heard about how to map a story (yours or others) or maybe you did learn in school but forgot. Never fear! I have drawn you an awesome diagram!

Awesome right? I can’t take all the credit though. I do want to mention that this awesome diagram is heavily based on the one that Nancy Dodd did in the January 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest (my new favorite magazine). I like to think that the diagram is pretty self explanatory. The only issue is that you might not be able to read my handwriting. If that’s the case then, I’m sorry!
So, how can this help you map out your own story? Well, it shows that any story (short or long) is made up of certain elements. You need to have these elements in order to have a story that takes a solid shape and keeps readers interested (however, like everything in writing I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule — like the resolution doesn’t always have to have a pretty little bow tied up but you do need something). Here’s my advice: Either join the Writer’s Digest webpage for free and download your own blank worksheet OR use my beautiful diagram above as a rough outline and draw your own map. 
Even if you don’t like outlining I think it’s a good way to get the barebones of your story down. Sometimes that’s all you really need. 

Writer’s Conference Notes (Finally!!!)

Hey there readers. I know I know, I’ve been all MIA. Why? Intense work week. Good for my bank account but not as good for my blogging life.

So, I decided that I would do what I said (months ago) and tell you about the SCBWI conference I went to. I tried to take some pictures with my iPhone and be all awesome in my blogging, but the pictures turned out horribly.

However, here is a picture of my schedule of the days events and whatnot…

Overall the regional conference was pretty awesome. It was held at a high school near my apartment and people from our region came and hung out for the day. The fact that it was at a high school is important. Why? You may ask… Well because I am a young adult. 24. Not old. I look a lot younger. AND I was the youngest attende of the conference, by at least 10 years. Most of the people there were my parent’s age or older. I’m pretty sure they all looked at me and were like, does she go to this school? No, ohhh… she’s here for the conference. Yes, I got lots of weird looks.

At first it was really intimating. But then, when I went to hide and freak out in the bathroom, I realized something. I was lightyears ahead of these people. Sure, some of them were more experienced than me in lots of ways, but here I was, 40-10 years younger than them, and I was rocking it out along side them. I was a peer (or sorts) and I was badass.

And then it got even better. I went to my little workshops on how to get out of the slush pile and what literary agents look for and yes I learned a lot (which I will share with you here in a minute) but I also knew the answers to lots of questions that other people were asking. Why? Because I’m getting a MASTERS in creative writing. I get exposed to all sorts of information at school on this stuff. So bam! I was younger AND knew all kinds of info that others didn’t. I felt like a little rockstar. Talk about getting some reassurance.

Here’s what I learned from Lisa Yee (published author) and Alexandra Cooper (editor at Simon and Schuster)

  1. What really gave Lisa Yee a big push was going to a SCBWI conference and meeting people there. She said she felt like she “meet her tribe” there. (I know the feeling, but I get that more at school…)
  2. Lisa said, “Don’t think, just write” (Something I need to do more often) and that she wrote her frist novel like it was an e-mail. It took the pressure off. 
  3. You really do need an agent if you want to get published
  4. Cooper said to find something that works and is working (something kind of popular ((not vampires!)) ) and then put a twist on it
  5. When your work doesn’t get picked up by an editor it’s not always your fault: the editor can only take on so many books at a time a may have signed something similar to yours already (and by similar it could just be genre or time of year that the book is going to be published aka picture book about chickens would come out around Easter and they might already have an Easter book)
  6. Tips: A) Do your homework: See what’s getting attention and see what there’s too much of and B) Aim your pitches for people who have done similar books… meaning check out the acknowledgments at the end of books, figure out who in the publishing world published a book similar to yours and then shoot for them

Did I find the conference helpful and awesome? Yes I did.

Would I go to another one? Hell yes.

It was scary and amazing all at the same time. I found my place and realized that I’m not like a lot of these second career/ hobby writers. I know the genre, I study it. I know things and I know what I want. I have put myself in different environments to get what I want. And yes, I will get a book published. It’s just a matter of time. 

Writing Advice

I am going to start this post out with a big long quote… I’m preparing you but you should still read it. It’s a bit of awesome advice.

“It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So, in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn’t realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it makes in the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.” 
~ Kurt Vonnegut (Nov 1985 issue of Writer’s Digest)
I think that this one paragraph is some awesome advice. It speaks to me on so many levels. 
First, it says to me write. No matter what just write. If you just write and keep writing something might sneak into your story; something you didn’t even think was important and that thing might unite your entire story. Sure, you will write a bunch of crap and fluff before you get there. But as long as you keep writing it will show up. You just have to watch out for it. Oooh… Like a four-leaf clover. 
Second, it tells me that your second, third, zillionth draft will require as much work and research as your first draft. While that might seem a bit depressing it should be fun. Sure, it’ll be more work, but it’ll make your story better. 
Third, it tells me that that saying “life if what happens when you’re making plans” is applied to writing too. You might have the main plot all figured out, but that’s not where the real story always it. 
So just go with it. Trust yourself. Trust your writing. And trust that you have something important to say. The story speaks to you, it might talk to you in another language sometimes and then you have to translate it, but it’s always there.
Keep it up.

Creating Characters

So, in my creative writing classes I’m exposed to a lot of different people’s writing. Some people are awesome at description (I am not one of them…), others are kick-ass at dialogue, while others make really believable characters. I have a classmate Nikki who is great at this, but since she has yet to be published another person is John Green. He’s characters are people who I would’ve hung out with in high school.

But maybe you are one of those people who have a hard time making your characters real. So, here I am to help.

You may be asking, “Who are you to tell me how to making awesome real-like characters?”

So I consider myself one of these authors who make realistic characters? No. But I don’t think I suck. And since I am NOT the best at it, I can pass on some tips on how to get better. I have had to hunt these down myself.

Characters are super important to a story. Have shitty characters? No one will want to keep reading your book. In one of my lectures we were told that people 70% of the time watch a movie/read a book for the characters. If all of a sudden a mystery novel comes out and Harry Potter shows up in it, would you read it? I would. I would just to see Harry again. I can remember when I finished reading the books I cried. Hardcore. Yes, I will admit it. But, in my defense Harry and I had grown up together. When he was 11 so was I. When he was awkward and a teenager who could never fit in, so was I. So, when the books ended it was like I had just lost an entire group of friends. It was heartbreaking.

And I think that’s what you want when you create a character. Someone people will miss when they close the book.

How can you make a character like this? I think lots is observation. Go to coffee shops, sit there and make up back stories for the people in there. I used to do this every week with my best friend in high school. Observe how people walk, talk, interact with people. Another way is to channel all those suppressed feelings. Writing a “bad guy” — then find your inner bad guy. What would you do? I think watching TV and reading helps a lot too.

Also, one of my favorite exercises is interviewing your characters. Find out who they are. Or, have someone else interview you as your character. That’s even better. It gets you thinking in ways you haven’t before.

A book that I have (and am in the process of reading) is Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up and also Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is an awesome resource. It has sections for every aspect of your novel — and yes, character as well.

So what inspired this longwinded post was this webpage Questionnaires for Writing Character Profiles. I was using it and thought, “Hmmm maybe I should post this on my blog…” And I did. I think it can give you a fantastic foundation to build on for a character.

All right, that’s all I got.