The Crappy Side of Being a Writer

the crappy side of being a writer

There are many perks of writing, but sometimes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. So many people point out that writers set their schedules, create worlds, and encompass the emotions of the world through their pen (or laptop).

It’s all true! However, like any job, there are crappy bits too. Instead of glamorizing writing (albeit it is an awesome job most of the time), I thought I’d make a list of the negative side of an author’s world. If you’re interested, I also have a board on Pinterest for all the fears writers face (because they are part of the bad bits of the job).

1. THE COMPARISON LIE

Doubt caused by comparison is perhaps the main killer of a writer’s hopes and dreams. No matter how hard we work, how many followers we have, or how many copies we sell, there will always be a book better than ours. There will be writers who hit the NYT bestsellers list overnight, while you have probably never hit it though you’ve written many books.

It took years for me to stop comparing myself and my books to successful authors. Admittedly, I still fall into this trap on occasion, but it doesn’t do me any good. Some of my doubt was erased over this past year when I realized I’d become one of the writers I used to be jealous of. I don’t have thousands of followers, and I’ve never hit a bestsellers list, but I have a small, loyal following, numerous social media accounts, an ever-growing blog, and three self-published novels.

Five years ago, I had none of that.

So the next time the “comparison lie” tries to pull you into its trap, just remind yourself how far you’ve come. Even a new writer who has half a manuscript and no following is better off that an aspiring writer who’s never written a word.

2.  CREATIVE IDEAS AT ALL HOURS

You’re not a writer until an idea comes to you at the worst possible moment.

Maybe your story idea pops into your head while sitting on the toilet, or in the supermarket, or during the middle of a boring conversation you wish you could get out of. Also, it’s almost always when you don’t have a pen and notebook, or other note-taking materials, handy.

While these euphoric moments of creativity are great, they can be an irritation at four a.m. when you want nothing more than to sleep but your characters won’t shut up.

3. EXTREMELY TIME-CONSUMING: FORGET ABOUT BECOMING THE NEXT OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

You’re not going to be an overnight success, meaning you have to be in it for the long haul. You will spend weeks, months, maybe even years writing. Eventually, you’ll begin to doubt yourself and probably start to fall into the comparison lie.

4. YOUR WORK WILL ALWAYS BE JUDGED

There will always be a critic in the crowd no matter how great a writer you become (or maybe already are). If you can’t stand a one-star review, this isn’t the job for you.

5. SUCCESS (PROBABLY) WON’T COME WITH YOUR DEBUT NOVEL

You can be an author with one book, but to make a career of it as well as a decent income, you’ll need multiple books. That means more time invested in a job that you might never make it “successful” in.

6. YOUR SALARY AND WORK BENEFITS WILL ALWAYS SUCK

Predictable yearly salary? No.

High paying salary? In your dreams.

Insurance? Get used to writing even when you’re sick.

Writers are basically overworked, underpaid, and always stressed about something (typically that they can’t write out their ideas fast enough).

7. YOU’LL ALWAYS WORRY ABOUT WHERE THE NEXT IDEA WILL COME FROM

You will always look for more ideas, even if it doesn’t make sense because you’ve already got more ideas that you could ever write books for in a lifetime.

8. YOU WILL SPEND MUCH OF YOUR TIME DISCOURAGED

Especially after rereading a first draft. You’ll doubt whether you ever had the gift of writing at that point.

9. YOU MAY GET LONELY

Writing is a solitary career unless you intentionally find likeminded individuals for company. Find fellow authors and readers to hang out with, even if you’re an extreme introvert like me.

10. YOU’LL HAVE TO LEARN DOZENS OF NEW SKILLS

When you begin a career in writing, you don’t just sign up to be an author. Of course, if you traditionally publish, you’ll have a team to help you. Even then, you’ll need to be familiar with marketing techniques, social media, blogging (or at least interacting with them), editing, formatting, genres and keywords, and many, many more things on top of actually writing your story.

Don’t forget: you also have to be skilled like your characters (or at least use Google for research). Are they carpenters? Might want to brush up on the subject or get a little hands on. A golfer? Might want to play a game. A unicorn who is gifted as the best swordsman/women in the realm?

Okay, I leave the last one for you to figure out how to research. 🙂


So, before you think the world of a writer is all “write a book and make money,” just remember the list above.

As always, hope this helps.

Alexa Mackintosh

 

Camp NaNoWriMo: What it is and why you should participate this July

camp nanowrimo blog post 2.jpg

You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month (lovingly referred to as NaNoWriMo), a competition each November where participants try to write 50,000 in one month. Past participants include bestselling novelists such as Erin Morgenstern, Marissa Meyer, and many more that you can find here on the official NaNoWriMo website if you’d like an entire list.

But are you familiar with the lesser known Camp NaNoWriMo every April and July?

I’ve never participated in November because for six of my eight years as a writer I’ve been a full-time student, and the other two years my schedule remained crammed for other reasons. I wanted to find a way to still write a book in a month, but it needed to be in the summer or December to accommodate my schedule.

So, I did some research, and back in 2015 stumbled on the “smaller” version of NaNoWriMo: Camp NaNoWriMo.

It works like the November version, except you pick your word count and it’s in April and July. Want to try 50,000 words? Go ahead. Only have time to write 10,000? That’s okay too!

You can join a “cabin,” a virtual group of writers (usually fewer than twenty) that are randomly assigned, or if you have a bunch of writing buddies you can make your own private cabin. If you prefer to write alone, you can opt out of cabins as well.

Camp NaNoWriMo gives you the freedom to choose what you can handle and yet push you to stick to a deadline (and if you’ve been around this blog long, you know I’m not very good with deadlines). Since 2015, I’ve participated four times and hit my goal twice. One of the novels I wrote in July 2015 is now in the editing phase, and if all goes well, will either be self-published or I’ll query agents and publishers. We’ll see what happens, but it all started with Camp NaNoWriMo!

So, if you’re looking for writing motivation or a change of pace, I highly suggest you sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I can’t say enough good things about it and wanted to share it with you before any more of July goes by. We’re only five days in, so you’ve still got time to sign up and participate in July 2018. Just click to go to the official website, sign up, and get writing.

As always, hope this helps.

Alexa M.

Rookie Writing Mistakes Part 2

rookie writing mistakes part 2.jpg

First off, thanks for making Rookie Writing Mistakes Part 1 my second most popular post on this blog! Since you’ve made it clear you liked that kind of info, I followed up on that post with this one. This post is much more about the nitty gritty of writing than the last post. In Part 1, I chose big picture things. In Part 2, I focus on smaller, but just as important, mistakes.

Ready for some more tips so you don’t look like an amateur writer?

  1. Choosing The Right Name For Your Character

This is a matter of opinion, but I have two warnings. One, if you don’t think it through, your character will end up with a name that doesn’t cut it. Unless you’re going for humor, naming a fierce warrior Petunia probably isn’t your best bet (although I would totally read that story if it wasn’t supposed to be dramatic or serious).

Two, pick something you don’t mind typing a few hundred times. Lord Atreyu Baskatar of the Eastern Realms might sound interesting, but trust me, type that out three hundred times over a few hundred pages and you’ll hate it.

     2. Using The Wrong Name For Your Characters

Alright, so maybe you ignored my previous warning and named your character Lord Atreyu Baskatar. Good for you for sticking up for what you want. The problem?

Unless you’re extra careful, in fifty pages that name will be something like Altreau  Baskitar. The more complicated the name, the more likely you’ll misspell it. Save your editor and readers from finding those mistakes. It’s embarrassing, and I know because, to this day, if you look at my Amazon description for Black Forest, my main character’s surname is missing an “e” on the end (but that book has a load of issues I’m currently working on).

Another thing that can happen is you change a character’s name midway through. Either you change the name starting at that point and figure you’ll fix the previous pages when you edit (which you’ll inevitably forget or still miss a few), or you use find and replace to change the name.

I love find and replace in Microsoft word, but it has one big flaw. Say my character’s name is Rose. It’s a simple, respectable name and perfect. Then I decide to change it to Lily using find and replace. This is what will happen:

Original sentence:

Rose handed the item over and rose from her seat.

With Find and Replace: 

Lily handed the item over and Lily from her seat.

Find and Replace can’t distinguish between a proper noun and a verb so be extremely careful when using this tool.

    3. Verb Tense

Ah, yes, the most classic mistake of all.

After eight years and one million words written (approximately), I still sometimes go from “is” to “was.” It’s also the most common mistake I see when new writers ask me to beta read for them.

Choose whether your book will be present or past tense from the beginning. It will save you work and time, and while you might still screw up occasionally, it’s better than changing every verb for twenty pages (I’ve done it and don’t recommend it). You don’t need to be highly-skilled in English to write, but you need a decent understanding of it.

If you want to know the truth, I used to be the worst writer and speller among my peers. However, that all changed by freshman year of high school when I spent hours pouring over information about writing and had written half a book myself.

So, don’t worry if you don’t know Lay vs. Lie yet. You’ll get there if you work at it.

If you need more tips, check out my Pinterest board, Tips For New Writers.

As always, hope this helps.

Alexa M.

GDPR: What It Means For You As An Author

gdpr and authors

Quick disclaimer: the information below is only to be used as suggestion, not actual legal advice. I am not an attorney or qualified to give you legal advice.

Today is May 25th, the day GDPR goes into effect. You’ve probably heard it mentioned over the last few months, mostly in headlines or in reference to internet privacy. If you’re like me, you skimmed over it thinking, “I’ll read more about that later.”

Well, we’re at later, and if you have a website or blog, you might want to get into gear. It doesn’t matter whether you have 100,000 or just twenty monthly viewers, because it could affect you. With the high fines possible if you’re noncompliant, you don’t want to ignore this.

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is (in really generic terms) a new law in the EU (European Union) that focuses on the privacy and collection of data, specifically personal data. This means you probably should update your privacy policy, whether on your author website or elsewhere. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the EU or not because it could affect you.

For instance, I’m an American writer but have collected email addresses from European readers. I’m a little sketchy on the nitty-gritty of it all but I suspect that pulls me under part of GDPR too.

Doesn’t matter whether you fall under it or not, because it’s best to be safe, right?

So, what are a few things you can do?

I’m not giving you legal advice, so please take my suggestions as just that: suggestions. Every situation is different, but I realized while working on my own policies that a lot of writers out there, especially indies, might be caught by surprise by GDPR. I understand because I’m still slightly confused, but like many things, I’m researching and learning as I go.

  1. The Collection of Information

That email list you have? You might have a few problems.

I’ve always received email addresses for my newsletter via my website. I use a pop-up and opt-in form. The information then goes into TinyLetter, Mailchimp, or the preferred email automation service. I did it this way because it seemed most ethical, and it turns out that’s how it should be for GDPR. This is a snapshot of my opt-in form on my homepage. Notice it says there that we don’t share info? That’s important.

opt in form

Recently, I’ve heard more and more stories of authors gathering email addresses by swapping lists with other writers (Eek!). Just don’t do that. If you have, remove all of those email addresses from your list immediately or you are in a serious breach of privacy.

Another thing that happens is gathering info at book signings and other events. That’s not bad at all! The problem is you need a clear record of when the person requested to be put on the list to be GDPR compliant. If you use a form that connects to your email service (like my form on my website links to TinyLetter), you’ll have a clear list of dates/times and etc. when someone signed up. You probably won’t have that if you manually entered their info.

Also, if you keep all those email addresses in unlocked files on your laptop, such as in Word or a spreadsheet, you need to change that. All of those files are too easy to get to if, say, your laptop was stolen.

Last but not least you need to make it easy for your subscribers to unsubscribe. Make sure they have the option to leave the email list at any time. The easiest way is to have an unsubscribe button at the bottom of your email (typically near your address, but that’s debatable). I also have a contact form on my website that they can use to leave as well, so having more than one method is a good idea.

2. Your Privacy Policy

This will differ, but here are a few things to include:

*Who sees and collects the information?

*What is this information used for?

*How is the information protected?

*Is the information shared, and if so, how? (Hopefully, the answer is no, you’re not sharing it.)

*Where is this information kept? (Such as what email service you put it into. This is kind of up to you whether you want to be this transparent or not with your readers. From what I’ve researched, some say to share and others say it doesn’t matter.)

*Can they unsubscribe at any time and how?

*Does your site use cookies? If so, why? How can they get rid of it if they want to? (This is pretty simple. Usually, you can get by with saying something like, “Cookies allows us to collect marketing information. If you wish to use our site without it, change your browser settings.”)

That’s not a perfect list, but that gives you a start.  This is what my new policy reads on my author website (and I’m still working on it):

All information gathered through this website, whether through the newsletter sign up, contactform or giveaways is never shared. It is solely for the purpose of sending you emails or contacting you via preferred method, such as phone or text if given, and we will not contact you unless you give permission for us to do so (such as signing up for the newsletter). 
Email addresses and names are collected and placed in a software such as TinyLetter, Mailchimp, orother email services. THIS DOES NOT give those companies the right to share, or in anyway use, the information you give us.
We never share,swap or otherwise give out your information.
This site uses cookies, but only for marketing insights and other similar purposes. You can turn off cookies via your browser settings or opt out on the bottom of our homepage.
At any time you are free to opt out of emails or other contact methods. Simply go to the bottom of one of our emails and click unsubscribe, or contact us via our form below with the comment “opt out.”

Again, this isn’t perfect and I’m sure it has a few problems. I figure it’s a good starting point if nothing else. You can use my policy for ideas, but please do not copy and paste it on your site, and again, do not take this post as legal advice. Thanks!

As always, hope this helps.

Alexa M.

The First Thing I Ever Wrote

first thing i wrote

(This is from last month but published again after it was lost while updating the blog. So much for making sure everything was prepared before updating 😉 )

Okay, so it’s not the first thing I wrote. The first thing I wrote was likely on the back of a horribly uninterpretable picture of a cat made of macaroni. However, below is a snap of the first page I ever wrote on a book.

FullSizeRender (1)

In March of 2010, my family was going through tough times from illnesses to unexpected events. At the time, I did what I spent much of my childhood doing when stressed: reading. In that case, I was reading Lord of the Rings for the first time.

Let just say I got really inspired by Tolkien’s classic series.

I’d never wanted to write a book, but that night at midnight I picked up a pen and scribbled away in a notebook. By the end of the next day I had a dozen pages, and two weeks later I had handwritten some 70 pages.

I didn’t know it at 12 years old, but three years later that crappy beginning would become Black Forest.

Rookie Writing Mistakes

rookie writing mistakes

(This is from 2017 but published again after it was lost while updating the blog. So much for making sure everything was prepared before updating 😉 )

I’m back! It’s been a busy summer with the release of City of Deception, and I can’t believe it’s been months since my last post. Sorry about that.

Well, I’ll catch you up briefly then go on to the topic of this post. If you want to skip my update, just go to the first bold section.

I announced not only would I be releasing the sequel to City of Deception in June 2018, but I’ll be releasing a second book next year too! I’m rewriting the Curtain of Perception series (and probably renaming it) and releasing the third and final book in that series. More updates coming next week.

As for my life, I opened a new business, dyed my hair red for the first time, and learned to knit. Not important at all, but proving I have a life outside of writing.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about Rookie Writing Mistakes.

The first time someone asked me for writing advice, I just about teared up I was so happy. They trusted me to give them advice? When had I gone from a nobody writer to a successful one in their eyes?

It took six years before I felt I really knew enough about writing to be a “professional.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Feeling like a professional doesn’t mean I stop learning about writing. I spend 30% of my allotted writing time on Pinterest reading blog posts about writing, publishing trends, and plot ideas. (If you’ve never done this, you can check out my profile. I’ve got several thousand pinned to help you start!)

I was a rookie and still am compared to the writers with thirty books and contracts with the Big Five publishers.

But I’ve learned a lot, and today want to share some of it with you. If you do the three things below, you’ll be a better writer than most rookies. It takes more than good writing and editing to make a great writer.

  1. Research, Research, Research!

Know your genre before you sit down to write. Is it nonfiction? Science fiction? Urban fantasy?

For instance: You might think there are a handful of genres. You might think Fantasy is just fantasy. It isn’t.

There are YA and adult fantasy. There’s urban, paranormal, epic, medieval…the list goes on.

Know your readers and genre well, as I didn’t when I published Black Forest. Now, I’m paying for my mistake by rewriting and rereleasing the whole thing Fall 2018. You want to rewrite almost 125,000 words? No, didn’t think so. Learn from my mistake.

  1. Don’t compare yourself to other writers.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re probably not going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers. There are many reasons for that from sheer luck to talent to resources, but the main thing is you can’t be them. If you write a book similar to their’s, you’re ripping off their ideas.

You should ONLY write like you because that is better than anything else. If you try to write like someone else, it will be obvious.

I know, that sounds like a lame pep talk from a teacher. Sorry.

Painters replicate masters to learn. Writers do not.

  1. The Vital Need for Patience and Respect.

Just today I read a review a writer left on a poetry site for rejecting her work. She rated them low and fussed. She was more respectful than some, but still sounded whiny.

Frankly, people who try to defend their work for minor things sound like little sh*ts. (I’m sorry, but I get so pissed at the writers who do this. They give other writers a bad reputation for being temperamental.)

If a publisher rejects your writing, big deal. Welcome to the crowd! A popular YA author once had 149 rejection letters before her book was picked up and hit the NY Times Bestsellers list.

If someone tries to steal your work, that’s one thing. But whining because of a rejection or someone criticising your work? Respectfully tell them you respect their opinion and walk away.

I know these are very basic tips, but so many people take a lot of time to learn them. Learn them as a rookie and you’ll be farther ahead than most. I also have a PART 2 of Rookie Mistakes.

As always, hope this helps!

Self-Care Ideas For Creatives

Self-Care Ideas For Creatives (1)

(This is from early 2017 but published again after it was lost while updating the blog. So much for making sure everything was prepared before updating 😉 )

Ever really stopped to consider how much time you spend on the computer a day? There’s a lot of reasons you might be on it, from goofing off on the web to blogging to writing.

Recently I stepped up the amount I write each month, climbing from 10,000 words a month to 25,000. Over the past year I have written roughly 135,000 words. To put that in perspective it’s like I wrote an entire Harry Potter length book.

The more I write, the more my wrists give me a fit. They pop and hurt and one particular nerve from my thumb down to the bottom of my wrist hurts like mad when I finish a particularly long writing stint.

As well, I often get depressed when I think about I’ve made little money with writing so far and people tell me I need a “real” job (yeah, you know what kind of people I’m talking about.) Then, my anxiety flares up when I think about how much I need to do, and how I’m a failure for leaving college after my freshman year and…and…

Frankly, I’m a mess.

But this past year has taught me something important I want to share with you: we all are messed up in some way. This brings me to today’s topic: self-care.

If you’re a writer, reader, or really any sort of creative (or a person  ), you need to take care of your physical and emotional state. Below, I offer a few ideas on how to keep yourself sane (mostly) and healthy while doing what you love.

  1. Keep a routine

I freely admit I suck at this. Keeping a set bedtime, lunchtime, or really any set time for anything that’s part of your daily routine helps lower stress.  I love going to bed at 3 am, but even at 19, I feel the serious consequences.  Try to go to bed between, say, 10-11 each night and get up at 8.  I also try to keep a consistent writing time.

  1. Reward yourself

Remember as a kid that teacher in elementary school who rewarded you with stickers every time you reached a goal or finished your homework? Time to become that teacher! Set little goals and reward yourself when you reach them. Every time I reach my writing goal, I buy myself ice cream. Sometimes it’s a 10,000 word goal, but sometimes it’s just a motivation to plop my butt in a chair and type up 2,000 words. Working towards big goals are great, but if it takes you five years of writing to finish a first draft of your novel, you’re going to get worn out if you hold out for the big goal. Use a combination of big and little goals. Find what motivates you!

  1. Buy a Wrist Brace

As I said earlier, I’ve recently dealt with pain in both my wrists, especially the right one. If you type a lot, I suggest you invest in a good brace. Carpal Tunnel is rampant among creatives, and after hearing horror stories of surgeries and meds and sometimes numbness in the arm, I promise you don’t want to go down that path. I recently bought the Futuro For Her Slim Silhouette Wrist Support from Target. At $22, it’s affordable, fairly flexible, and perfect to wear while writing, cleaning, or even cooking. I wear mine an hour or two a day and it has drastically decreased the pain.

  1. Eat Healthy 

I know. I inwardly cringe at the idea of giving up junk food too. I am writing this post while eating a banana split, so you know…

However, a healthy diet, a few walks, and maintaining your weight helps you physically and emotionally.

(Need a diet to follow? I highly recommend trying this book.  It’s about staying healthy, not just dropping off the pounds, and you don’t stay hungry on this diet.)

  1. Take a Bath and Soak 

A hot bath in some Epsom salts helps the body relax and unwind. Epsom salts and essential oils are great for the skin and sore muscles, so run to Walmart and pick up a bag in the cosmetics section!

  1. Find another creative outlet for when you’re upset

Sometimes, even writing doesn’t help my anxiety and depression, and that’s when I pull out the coloring book and pencils or a book on my TBR list. If you hate coloring, try knitting or woodworking, or considering taking a class to learn a new hobby. Also, if you want to excercise more, try yoga.

  1. Consider Counseling

Even if you’re not depressed or anxious doesn’t mean you don’t have things you need to talk about. Many creatives use their art as a way to work through issues, and while that’s completely healthy, a little counseling goes a long way for a good self-care routine.

  1. Make yourself laugh at least once a day

I don’t mean a little chuckle. I mean a pee your pants kind of laughing fit.

I’ve never been a sunshine kind of person (kind of obvious with depression and anxiety), but I love to laugh. When I’m having a panic attack or just a really bad day, I get on Pinterest and search “humor” or “autocorrect fails” or “puppies.” It always lifts my mood in a matter of minutes. Youtube is another great option.

An Extra Tip:

Get a good chiropractor! I’ve been going to one for several years, and it’s the reason I don’t have more back and wrist problems. It’s also helped my pollen allergies and migraines. Highly recommend!

I’ve also heard massages are great for severe back pain, though they aren’t my thing.

As always, hope these suggestions help!

Tips For Editing Your Story

Tips for Editing Your Story (1)Since I’m headed into the last round of edits on City of Deception, I thought it fitting to have a post about editing.  The truth is I hate editing.  It is my least favorite part of the writing process.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous editing methods, but after several years I finally narrowed down my method.

First, I use a program called Grammarly.  It helps me catch simple mistakes before I pass my manuscripts off to my editor. If you want to check it out, click here. I’ll also be writing a post about Grammarly soon.

Besides Grammarly, here are my basic tips:

  1. Cut Filler Words

Take out words such as only, very, that, and just. You can replace very with stronger words. (Do a Google search for “replacement words for very” and you’ll find lots of ideas.)  Also watch out for too many -ly words, like quickly, loudly, and extremely.

2. Take Out Unnecessary Scenes

I’ll admit I’ve had to take out a fair number of scenes in City of Deception I liked but had enough sense to realize they didn’t add much value to the story. Fall in love with your story, but stay critical enough to know when a scene needs to be taken out.

Make sure not to delete the scene completely. Add it to another Word doc and name it something like “Cut Scenes.” There’s been more than once when I’ve recycled a scene in another story.

3. Kill Darlings

“Killing your darlings” is a writing phrase you might have heard.  It means get rid of characters in your story that aren’t doing anything. Just because you’ve fallen in love with a character doesn’t mean your readers will or that your readers will want said character in the story. If they aren’t pushing the action and your plot forward, cut them out.

4. Fix Place Holders

Often when I’m in a hurry to finish a first draft, I sometimes refer to characters as BLANK or put things in like FINISH THE DIALOGUE HERE.  I also will have a lot of “I say/said.” Say/Said is fine, but body language is a better way to write dialogue.  For example:

Using Say/Said: 

 “How could you!” I shout.

“I lied because I had to,” he says.

Using Body Language:

I shove him in the chest. “How could you!”

He glances down at the floor. “I lied because I had to,” he whispers.

It’s not perfect, but it gives you an idea.

5. Check Your Verbs

Make all of your verbs as strong as possible.  Use the Find feature in Word (if using Word) and search for things like I am, I was, He is, He was, and any being verbs. Being verbs are am, is, are, was, be, being, been, have, had, do, does, did, shall, will, should, would, may, might, must, can, could. Obviously, if you try to take out every single one you have a long job ahead of you.  I suggest you go with a 50/50 rule.  Some even suggest keeping 20%, but I think trying to change that much will change your writing style and make it a little choppy.

This post is far from complete, but it’s still a good list of general tips to keep in mind no matter the genre or length of your story.

Happy editing!

5 Simple Ways to Outline Your Novel or Short Story

5-simple-ways-to-outline-your-story

Outlining is often the dreaded phase of writing, perhaps only surpassed by the editing phase.  You’re ready to start typing away, but you have to stop and write down all your jumbled thoughts first so you don’t forget.  It’s exciting, but also intimidating.  You’re going to launch into a story, maybe only three pages or perhaps three hundred depending on your cup of tea.

No matter how long your story is, I advise you make an outline.

Since Elementary school, I have had many teachers tell me I need outlines.  Most of them I ignored. (If you haven’t picked up yet from my other posts, I was never a favorite of my English teachers.)

Want examples of why you should plot out your story?  Just read my first two books, Black Forest and Hollow Dreams.  They are examples of everything not to do when writing a book.

There’s no one perfect method for outlining.  Every writer goes about it a little differently.  

Below I include the methods I have found most useful.

  1. Notecards

While many authors love this method, I’m too disorganized to use it.  Write one scene on different notecards until you have every scene in your book.  Notecards give you the flexibility to shuffle scenes without reworking the entire outline and help you focus on one scene at a time.  Warning: If you’re writing an epic, don’t use this method.  More notecards equal more likelihood of them getting dropped and scattered.  You don’t want to spend hours remembering where your scenes go after you drop them.  I’ve done it, and it’s not fun.

2. yWriter

This free software helps you break your book up into chapters that you can move around or edit at any time.  I preferred to write in Microsoft and copy and paste my words over, but you can also write directly in yWriter and skip Microsoft altogether.  It also has sections for character bios and other fun things.  It’s easy to use after you’re familiar with its many different settings.

If you want to check it out, click here.

3. The School Method

I also call this the classic method.  You follow a standard outline, the kind with Roman numerals, filling in either chapters or any way you want to chop up your book.  I suppose you could even fill it in using character viewpoints, but that might get tricky.  The picture below is one I did.  Instead of Roman numerals, I used dates and wrote beside them what scenes needed to happen at that time.  This works especially well if you have a plot that goes day by day, such as action or thriller.

(Sorry for my atrocious handwriting in this picture.)

timeline-outline

4. The Web

I start with the center idea or character of my story in the middle of the page.  Around it, I include all the names of main and secondary characters, movements (revolutions, groups, etc.) and anything else vitally important to the plot.  I circle each and then draw lines to all the things that interconnect.

For instance, take a look at the web I made for City of Deception, my upcoming YA novel.

web-outline

If you look closely, you notice my main character, Talia, is at the center with lines connecting her to other characters and groups.  This helps me visualize how all the characters interconnect and how their relationships influence each other.

5. Notebook

My favorite method so far.  I’m a bit of a pantser, meaning I write mostly without strict outlines and sometimes even dare to write without any.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize why an outline is necessary and try to balance both my plotter and pantser sides.  All I do is take a notebook and write all my ideas in it.  Either on the first page or last, I write down as many scenes as I have in the order I think I want them to be. Often this is only the beginning, end and the inciting incident. Over time I fill in the scenes I come up with, as well as put character bios or notes in the other pages of the notebook.  If I don’t like where a scene is, I erase it or draw an arrow to where I want it to be. It gets messy over time, but it’s the best method I’ve found that gives me structure but not to the point of strangling my creativity.

There are hundreds of different outlining methods, and I haven’t even scratched the surface in the post.  Those listed above are mostly the old-school, straightforward methods for outlining, but I’ve found old-school is often the best method when it comes to writing.  

Get creative with your outline. Draw pictures if you’re an artist or come up with something unique.  Every writer has their own methods and only you can come up with yours.   

How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer

 

dealing-with-criticismas-a-writer

One of perhaps the hardest things for writers to overcome is the fear of facing criticism.  

I hate to tell you, but it is inevitable.  Eventually, someone will not like your work.  It will hurt, but you want to know a secret?

Criticism is what makes you a better writer.

I have been fairly lucky when it comes to people reviewing my work, but there have been times where someone tells me they didn’t like a particular scene or that they think my work is too “young.” (I’m nineteen and published my first book, for better or worse, as fifteen.  I heard this OFTEN when I first started out.)

Now, I know that it doesn’t seem like that sort of comment should have bothered me, but at the time, it really hurt.  I was lucky enough to receive mostly favorable reviews, but it didn’t matter.  One negative comment would have annoyed me no matter how many five stars I received.

Looking back, it all seems a little silly, but I know every writer hits a point like this when one negative piece of feedback just seems to be ripping your heart open.  Your book is your baby.  You don’t want to hear how you or it failed.

Negative feedback isn’t a sign of failure if you use the information to make your future writing better. Actually, you should LOOK for the critics.  Without criticism, how do you expect to find the weak points in your writing and make it better?

However, I believe there are three different types of criticism, and only one of them is the healthy kind that builds you up as a writer.  The other two you need to ignore because they will only tear you down.

 

  1. Spammy Criticism:

As my dad said once to me, this kind of criticism comes from keyboard bullies.  They are the ones that post in the comment section of blogs not with helpful information, but rather a bunch of nonsense that angers more people than it helps.  This kind of criticism exists to annoy you.  It’s rarely true and is just as the name I gave it suggests: spam.  Flat out ignore it.

2. Self-Criticism

Stepping back and questioning the integrity and quality of your writing is a healthy practice.  You are your best critic, but likewise your worst.  It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between taking a good look at your writing and judging yourself on things that don’t matter.  Self-criticism can quickly morph into self-doubt, and while it’s normal to have a little self-doubt, it’s not normal to get yourself in a panic over things that are out of your control.  I am quite familiar with the fine line between the two, and even after two self-published novels and a third one soon to come I still have to evaluate almost every day whether I’m dealing with self-criticism or it’s deadly twin, self-doubt.

3. Constructive Criticism 

You might remember this term from when you wrote papers in school and your teacher scribbled “helpful” revision comments in the margins before giving it back to you.  Then, if you were at all like me, you remember those comments as a pain and another long night of homework.

I hate to tell you, you still need constructive criticism now.  Occasionally having an unbiased person review your work and give useful feedback is important for a writer.  This is healthy and the only kind of criticism you really need to focus on.

 

So, next time you receive feedback, remember that whoever said it is actually helping you.  Don’t go after them and demand to know how they could say something bad about your work.  Instead, ask them to explain what they meant and even see if they have anything else to say to help you improve your work.

 

Wow.  As I read back down through this post, I’m starting to remind myself of one of my previous teachers.  That teacher used to preach about constructive criticism, but I always hated it.  Funny how viewpoints change.

Before I get weirded out by that thought, I’m going to leave you with this post.

As always, hope this helps!  Feel free to leave a comment or question below.