On Writing


Getting the Lead Out-Tips for Getting Your Novel Written

by James Rolan

Writing a novel is a labor of love, an endeavor to take the ideas in your head and format them into something other people can interpret and enjoy. But it’s not all sunshine and roses – writing is work, even if you love doing it. It’s one thing entirely to talk about the novel you’re working on and quite a different thing to actually finish it.

So how do we do it? How do we get ourselves focused and get those words down? Every writer has their own method, but there are a few templates most of us will probably find ourselves working from.

Writing Sprints

Writing sprints seem to be taking the internet by storm. If you check NaNoWriMo.com’s forums during November you’ll see writer after writer gushing about writing sprints. There are two kinds of sprints. Typically when you see it brought up people are talking about the time method. This is done by setting aside an alarm for a certain amount of time – five minutes, an hour, whatever – and not letting yourself do ANYTHING ELSE until your buzzer or alarm goes off.

No email, no bathroom breaks, nothing. Sprints in the ten minute range tend to be the most efficient. It’s enough time to formulate thoughts and get them down, but not so long that you start to suffer writing fatigue.

As useful as this kind of sprint is, it’s not for everyone. You don’t have a set finishing line, no ‘Reached it!’ moment that you do with the other kind of sprint: word count sprints.

So how do you do these? Well, most of you are probably already guessing, but you do it by setting a word count goal, usually a few hundred words, and not stopping until you reach that goal. Again, no breaks or deviations are allowed at all. These are best used by starting really really low – 100 words an hour, or the like – and increasing your goals as soon as the effort feels completely negligible.

These have the benefit of giving you a little burst of accomplishment. An ‘I did it’ moment can really motivate some writers even if the goal is small. Confidence that you’re getting work done tends to be self-fulfilling. If you feel like you’re getting something done, you’ll gain the confidence to continue getting things done.

Stolen Moments

So sprints aren’t doing it for you? There’s still hope for you. Not everyone can sit down and write on command. For the rest of you, the trick is to write whenever you can. Realize what that next sentence, paragraph, or page should be during your lunch break? Crack open a document and write it.

Writing adds up. Even with a low estimate of fifty words ten times a day, if you do that for half a year you have yourself a novel. And that’s a low estimate – that paragraph at the top is sixty words by itself. You can do that in between sips of coffee!

Finding Your Method

Sometimes there are other roadblocks stopping us from writing. You hear a lot of people talk about getting stuck and not knowing where to take their characters or ideas. This doesn’t always mean your novel is broken. A lot of the time, it means you’re going about formulating things the wrong way. There are two major types of writers: discovery writers and outliners.

Discovery writers make it up as they go. They stumble through things, learning about where they want their characters to go and how they want to get them there. When they finish their first draft they have a bit of a mess. Inconsistencies, poor pacing, endings that feel forced – but that’s no problem, because this is just the first step. Now, it’s time to rewrite.

Rewriting is something every serious writer learns to do. Your first draft is the rough stone from which you chisel a publishable novel. If you’re letting yourself get bogged down, just remember that you can fix it later. Getting your first draft done is the most important part, especially if it’s your first novel.

So how about the other type of writer? Outliners figure it all out in advance. They make giant summaries, detailing every scene right through the ending. Before an outliner even starts, they know their ending and they know how they want to get there.

Outlining can be appealing, because it requires less rewriting. But there are pitfalls as well. If you change your mind about something halfway through, you either have to stop and revise your outline, or be flexible enough to incorporate the change on the fly.

Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll fit directly into either category – most discovery writers plan at least some of their novel in advance. Planning your ending and your big scenes then writing towards them is a very effective method. And rare is the outliner who doesn’t find himself discover writing at least a few new or changed scenes as he makes his way through his outline.

In the end, the most important thing to writing is determination. You will reach that word count today, you will finish this novel by the end of the month. Whether it’s with sprints or tiny stolen moments, whether you’re winging it or following an outline half the length of a finished novel, you’ve got to want it.

As long as you have that, you’ll finish not just one novel, but as many as your imagination demands from you.

About The Author: James Rolan is would-be novelist, copywriter, and entrepreneur. He currently dedicates his efforts to the development of BabyGeek, a site offering parents a guide to everything from strollers to child psychology.


The Backstory, Or: Just Where The Heck Does It All Start?

by Steve Dempster

If you have decided to write a novel, the story that exists within it extends way beyond the book itself. This ‘backstory’ is what helps give your book depth: here are a few points to keep in mind about the ‘past’ of the book you’re writing.

A novel may encompass any period of time, from an hour or two to many centuries. Yet this span of time, no matter how great, is finite; it has a beginning and an end that coincide with the start and finish of your book. Yet we all know that time itself is limitless – so what happened to make your story happen?

This act – the incident that sends your hero or heroine zooming along their roller-coaster ride through your book – is not the start of your story, though it is the event that starts your story. Let me try to explain this, on the face of it, baffling statement.

The event that starts your story is the one that turns your lead character’s life upside down. This event, decided upon by you, can be almost anything, depending on the story you wish to tell – aliens land and invade earth; he or she loses their job; war breaks out unexpectedly; they are kidnapped and have to escape – virtually anything at all. Its sole reason for happening is to jump-start your story into life and set the ball rolling – without it, there would be no story to tell.

Yet the story doesn’t start at this point. You see, your story is made up of two main elements. The first is your plot – the second is your characters. In order for these characters to be believable and to have ‘life’, they cannot just spring into existence from nowhere. Now I realise that your characters only have the life you give them but you, in your book, are only writing about a certain part of their life – not usually all of it (unless you are writing another Forsyte Saga!).

It therefore follows that your characters must have had a ‘life’ before we meet them within the pages of your book. All of them were born somewhere, grew up, went to school, fell in love, got married, had kids – the normal, everyday things that happen. Or maybe not. Maybe that even-tempered guy who in your book runs a floristry business once did time for robbery. Or that little old lady who you have decided will sell coffee in the mall was a member of the French Resistance during WW2.

Crazy? Hey, much crazier things have happened, believe me! The point, however, is that suddenly these two characters have added depth. They now have a ‘backstory’ – something that happened to them in the past that shapes their life now. It’s imperative that all your main characters, certainly, should have a comprehensive backstory, or there’s a chance that your story may lose it’s reason for being. Imagine:

Chris bangs open the batwing doors in the saloon, stalks inside and comes to rest in front of Bart. ‘Your time’s up, pal’ he snarls, pulls out a big .45 revolver and shoots Bart dead. Dramatic, yes – but why did he do it? People don’t usually behave this way, even in times when life was counted as cheaper than it is now. However, consider this:

Chris has known Bart for years. Maybe Bart stole something belonging to Chris? Land? A gold mine? A girl? He’s given Bart many chances to make amends because once, years ago, they were good friends. Bart won’t give the thing he stole back and just recently he’s added insult to injury by stealing something else belonging to Chris. Result – Chris shoots him dead.

This embryonic plotline shows how Chris and Bart’s backstory is essential. Without it, the scene above would have had one man shoot another for no reason we could think of – baffling for a reader and, in the end, uninteresting. As the opening scene in your novel it would also be mystifying but, when the backstory is fed to the reader, the reason becomes clear.

The backstory to a character – and the way each character relates to another – is the mortar that cements the bricks of your novel together. Bring your characters to life by giving them a past and you will ensure that your readers will see them as real people. Once this happens, your readers start to care about your characters – and you have the makings of a novel that no-one will be able to put down until the last page!

About The Author: Steve Dempster writes articles for the web and works of fiction. If you would like to get the know-how a novelist needs to write professionally, take a look at this.


Dealing with Bad Reviews

by Shannon Phoenix

As a self publishing author, I publish through Smashwords and on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Something that people constantly ask me is, ‘How do you deal with bad reviews?’. This is a fair question with some simple answers, and some more complex ones.

I’d like to start with some simple answers. The main trick to dealing with bad reviews is to minimize them. In all my time writing, I’ve gotten perhaps a handful of genuinely bad reviews. Part of the reason for that is that I work very hard on being sure that I take the time required to prepare the manuscript.

There is absolutely no shortcut. If you truly want to be received well, you must accept beyond all doubt that people will let you know if you put out a book that has not been prepared properly. Certainly we can acknowledge that you might become a best seller with the proper advertising and marketing even with poor editing and even worse proofreading (as we know of some already that have)… but let’s also acknowledge the fact that, the more famous you become, the more critical people will be and the more they will expect from you.

So the first answer is to take the time to get your manuscript as error-free as possible. If that means finding some of those people who say, “This book as horribly edited and wasn’t proofread at all” in reviews and saying, “Hey, please go to my website, I’d like to ask you some more questions. I appreciate your honesty and would like to ask you what it was that you saw that needed work”, then do it. Either that, or actually take your own time to go and hire someone to proofread for you.

There’s no excuse for not going over the manuscript multiple times yourself. There is further no excuse for not taking your time to find someone else to do it. Get to know your readers or your fans. If nothing else, join a place like fictionpress and get a beta reader. Some of them are not so great, but you never know the friends and fans you’ll make.

Little is more important than creating an acceptable manuscript from the very beginning. Proofreading and editing are mandatory. Whatever you have to do, get help. Get a second or third or fourth set of hands or eyes on that thing. Never make excuses to yourself or anyone else for why you didn’t. And even if it’s your friend who helped you, if you get the comment that it was poorly edited or proofread, then you need to go with someone else. Listen to your readers and learn from them. You may want to trust your friend, but sometimes our friends don’t know as much as they think they do–and if you don’t know why your book is getting these comments, it’s absolutely the right time for a third, fourth, or fifth opinion. Don’t leave your book’s health to chance.

The next important way that you can help head bad reviews off at the pass is that you can interact with your fans. What so many authors don’t seem to understand is that you can reverse a negative impending review simply by interacting with your readers in a positive way. A person who sees that you’ve been courteous may change the way they speak of your book. Additionally, I have had people remove their negative reviews because I interacted with them in a genuine, sincere, welcoming manner. My purpose wasn’t to have them remove the review, it was to appreciate that they took their time to help me learn.

When a person posts a review somewhere and you know about it, reply to it. There are a lot of people who will tell you to ignore bad reviews and don’t reply to good ones. I am going to tell you quite the opposite. Take a moment to say something to both sorts of reviews. People absolutely love to be acknowledged by a writer. They like to talk to you, they like to be noticed, and they like that you noticed and care what they say, think, and feel.

If you get a bad review, reply to it in a professional manner. If it’s politely written, then see if you can contact the person, ask them to contact you on your website (and yes, you need to have one), if you can’t email or message them. Because contrary to what you might think, this person took their time to speak up, and that makes them a valuable resource. They have given you a gift by helping you learn and grow as an author: if you choose to take it that way.

So yes, reply to negative reviews. If people see you responding courteously and–dare I say it–gratefully to reviews, they will like you. My answer is generally something very straightforward, “Thank you for helping me learn and grow as an author.”

I even say this when I don’t agree with their assessment. The main point to understanding bad reviews is that you need to know that they’re all about opinion. Provided you did your own due diligence and actually had that thing proofread (hopefully several times), then you don’t have to take every single bad review to heart. At times, people say things that you simply don’t agree with about other people’s books. The same can be true with what they say about yours.

When the bad review is warranted, then go have a bath, calm down, relax. Remember that no book ever written was perfect. Moby Dick is a classic. Well, I hate that thing. The Hobbit… couldn’t make it through the first chapter. Skipped to the second, died of boredom. That’s why I’m writing this from the afterlife.

Seriously, though, try to keep perspective. It’s hard because you pour so much into your books, but at the end of the day, it’s all opinion; if it’s not criticizing things like proofreading or technical issues. If it’s technical issues, then next time, take your time to get them right.

When you take your time to get the technical issues correct, people will give you a lot more leeway if your book has some weaknesses in delivery.

Your book being a romance does not excuse you for contributing to the general decline of the genre. If you are going to write a book, take pride in it. Real pride in it. Taking real pride in your work doesn’t only mean feeling good that you wrote and published a book and got a few bucks for publishing it.

Taking pride in your work is a secret to decreasing or even preventing the dreaded bad review. On every level, taking care with how you write and what you release to the public will help you get fewer bad reviews, while showing that you’re capable of putting out a quality product.

Do your best, and ask for a lot of help. No one is an island. If you are writing a book, and you want to make real money off of it, and you want to get positive reviews for it, then you need to take old-fashioned pride in it. The kind of pride in which you do your due diligence.

A typo or two won’t kill your reviews… unless it’s a typo or two per page.

The bad review is a gift in disguise. We’d all still like to minimize them, because emotionally, they can hurt. The purpose of this article is to remind you that taking initial pride in your work will ultimately lead to better reviews over all, decrease your negative reviews, and lend you credibility in a genre with a reputation for laziness in editing and proofreading.

Whatever your reasons for not going with an established publisher are, don’t let that become your reason for giving up on the necessities of writing. If anything, as a self publishing writer, you have a responsibility to yourself and the genre to put forth an extra effort to show that self publishers are legitimate and just as hard-working as the rest.

May you find comfort in your bad review days, and take great pleasure in the good review days!

About the Author: Shannon writes paranormal romance novels, which you can find at http://www.shannonphoenix.com. Shannon is married with 1 child, 1 cat, and has a diverse background.

For more random chitchat and book reviews, check out Shannon’s Blog: http://shannonphoenix.wordpress.com


Free-Writing – Exploring What’s Beneath the Tip of the Iceberg

by Robert L. Fielding

Free-writing makes you think – about what? It makes you think about whatever you are writing about. It also helps you to formulate opinions that go somewhat deeper than you are aware of.

Let’s take an example; if you sit down and write about the pros and cons of capital punishment, for example, the very act of writing would enable you to explore the topic from angles you may not have ever approached it from. This almost begs the question – How do I know what I think – what is my opinion. If asked to give a sort of spur of the moment opinion, as we are often made to do whilst watching the news on TV, an abbreviated, one line sort of opinion will invariably either be thought or spoken, without any time to really consider the issue.

To be any more well informed, we are told, we would have to read about the issue in more depth – which basically amounts to finding out what other people think and why, and then coming to some conclusion based upon what has been read. This is what often goes under the name of studying at university, which we term ‘reading for a degree’.

There is another way, however, and that is to write about it. If you want to know where you stand on the issue – whether you are for or against hanging, say, then you could start by sitting down and free-writing on the topic. How does this work? After all, if you haven’t read up on it, how can you have anything to say about it – anything that is worth reading? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as we say.

Start with an initial statement – ‘Capital punishment is immoral!’ would do.The next part of the exercise is to let your thoughts flow through your pen or the keys of your word processor, if you prefer. You will find as you write, that ideas crowd into your mind. Then, as you write down what comes into your head, you will think of more ideas; some that go along with what you have written, and some that go against them.

Rereading your work is always instructive, and can be surprising too. You may find, for instance, that although you initially started out believing that capital punishment is immoral, you have nevertheless argued more cogently than you thought you were capable of against that position – that it is not immoral. Alternatively, you might find that whereas you thought it not immoral, you have successfully convinced yourself that it is. How can this have happened?

What processes were going on to bring you to the foot of the page, leaving you with one opinion rather than another? The answer is out there – whether it is your internal logic that has instructed you, or whether it is the logic of the word on the page – or whether it is a combination of both, I am at a loss to say. All I know is that it will happen, and free-writing is why it happens. Try it. You’ll be surprised at the results.

About the Author: Hi, my name’s Rob Fielding, I’m a writer – which means I write and I do other things as well, but mainly I write – that’s what I say to people who ask me what I do. I live in Glasgow, the friendliest city in Britain, and the wettest.


Writing Book Reviews – Fiction

by Vivian Gilbert Zabel

A book review describes, analyzes, and evaluates the quality, meaning, and significance of a book. It should not retell, and it is not a book report or a summary. A review is a commentary. Although no “right” way to write a review exists, some essential information is needed in each. Fiction and non-fiction books have differences not only in the content but also what components should be in a review. Let’s look as some suggestions to consider when writing a book review for a book of fiction. I will use one of my books in the examples.

First of all, do not give away the story, climax, ending of the book. Do use occasional quotes from the book to support or explain points made in the review.

The first paragraph should include the title of the book and the author’s name. Sometimes publishing information such of ISBN, publisher, type of book, and general subject matter is noted.

Example of a first paragraph: The Base Stealers Club, by V. Gilbert Zahel, follows the progress of a middle-school-aged baseball team as it plays its way to a championship. A part of the team also help solve a mystery plaguing the community. Published by 4RV Publishers, ISBN: 978-1-84728-220-0, the book appeals to those who interested in sports, mystery, and adventure.

Other points to be covered, in different paragraphs, are as follows:

Characters: Are the characters flat or round? A round character is multiple dimensional. Round characters make a story line more interesting and believable; therefore, the analysis of the author’s use of three-dimensional characters or flat characters is important.

Example of character portrayal: Ryan Scott not only is an excellent athlete, but he also cares about others. He helps find the thief in the story; then he wants to help the young man who stole money from locker rooms. An instance where he acted as peace maker on the team is shown in the following excerpt: Ryan stood beside Colby, slipping his arm across the shorter boy’s shoulders. “Hey, Colby, settle down. Josh is just repeating what he heard. I’ve heard my dad say the same thing about some criminals.” With a slight smile, Ryan turned to Josh. “Josh, what does the preacher say about forgiving? What have we learned in church about forgiving others?”

Theme: The theme of a book may not be written word for word, but the review should note how the author reveals or develops the theme or themes. Mention whether you, as the reviewer, agree or disagree with the author’s theme(s) and why.

Example of theme: The author gives support for moral values and actions through the book. Yet, the message isn’t preachy or blunt, but the theme flows throughout the story. The author’s opinions are solid and are ones that young readers need to realize and learn to accept.

Plot: Are the various elements of plot handled well? The elements of plot include introduction, conflict, climax, and conclusion.

Example of plot: The Base Stealers Club introduces the conflict, the problem in the first two chapters of the book, both the start of the games leading to a successful season and the missing money in locker rooms. The suspense intensifies as the team plays and tries to help find the thief. The climax is unique, as is the reaction of team members.

Author information: V. Gilbert Zabel, who also writes under the name Vivian Gilbert Zabel, for adult level books, and Granny Zabel, for children’s books, played baseball and helped coach a baseball team. Her interest and background in the sport, as well as with children, can be found in the pages of this book.

Give a brief summary of the book: Give an overview, but do not give away the plot climax or conclusion.

Example of summary: The Jonesville Chargers, a baseball team of middle school-aged boys, pursues championship dreams and the solution of a mystery plaguing their team.

Give your opinion of the book: Tell how the book affected you. Say whether or not the book is interesting, entertaining, or memorable. Would you recommend the book to readers? Why or why not?

Example of opinion: I enjoyed The Base Stealers Club because I became swept up in the chronicling of a team’s season, games and attempt to find a thief. This book will appeal to readers aged ten to fifteen who love baseball. Young sports fans will be better for having read the book.

Important note: Having correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and other components of good writing are as important in a review as in writing a book. Reviews are a form of writing.

The suggestions can be arranged differently or combined, and some others can be added. Some can be eliminated, but most of the information needs to be somewhere in the review.

About the Author: Vivian Gilbert Zabel taught writing for twenty-five years, honing her skills as she studied and taught. An author on Writers (http://www.Writing.Com/), her portfolio can be found at http://www.Writing.Com/authors/vzabel Her books, Hidden Lies and Other Stories, Walking the Earth, and The Base Stealers Club, can be found through book stores or Amazon.com.

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