Calming Your Inner Critic (Revisited)

47010682-businessman-get-confused-flat-design.jpgIf you are constantly looking over your shoulder, you may not finish your novel. You will be too busy battling the thoughts of it not being good enough. No one wants to be humiliated or rejected. Your inner critic will paralyze you by telling you just how bad your writing is (even if it’s not).  This is another obstacle that I have had to overcome. It hasn’t gone away, I’ve just learned to deal with it.

I did a Bible study a while back on the battlefield of the mind. Though it’s primary purpose was dealing with spiritual warfare, it also pertained to many of the issues that we deal with in our everyday lives. Our mind is a battlefield. In writing, for example, all of us worry about looking dumb and never getting published. Fiction writers make a business out of being scared, and not just looking dumb.

It took me six months from the time I started writing my novel, to tell my husband what I was doing. When I finally told him, I was a mess. I knew he would be excited for me and encourage me in my endeavor, and I didn’t want to let him down.

For the longest time, I’ve treated my novel as a hobby. That’s not a mindset that will get you published. When I finished and sent it out to the first few agents, I was more than a little anxious. The first few rejections confirmed my beliefs. I just wasn’t good enough.

Note that I said I wasn’t good enough. Well, that’s not exactly true. The truth is the novel wasn’t good enough. The fact is, it was filled with grammatical and structural errors, there was some serious head hopping going on, and my on-the-nose dialogue was all but bringing the story to a complete halt. If you are not familiar with these terms you should be. Go back and read the posts I have written addressing them.

I don’t know that the inner critic will ever go away. So how do you combat it? You keep moving forward and growing in your craft. Don’t stop writing. I still question my novel, but I know that I know that I know, that it’s a lot better than it was after the first draft. I’ve learned the hard way and hope to help you avoid some of my pitfalls.

Some professionals recommend the following exercises to help you move forward when the inner critic tries to stop you.  I do my own variation but never really thought about it.

  1. The five-minute nonstop-Write for five minutes nonstop without thinking about what you’re writing.
  2. The page-long sentence-Choose something to describe and write a page long sentence about it.
  3. The list maker-Whenever you’re stuck for an idea make a list. Brainstorm the ideas and use the best.

I just pound away at the keyboard and concentrate on what I’m writing about until inspiration kicks in, and it will. Just don’t quit.

-Jan R

Calming Your Inner Critic (Revisited)

2-Sentence Hook?

Can you actually hook a reader in two sentences? I have problems with my elevator speech and that’s a lot longer than two sentences. However, the answer is yes, and I know from experience, you had better hook your reader, or literary agent, right away if you want to make a sell.

The next question for me, is how do I write a 2-sentence hook? My story is complicated, and I don’t even know where to begin.

A 2-story hook has three components. These not only provide the gist of your story, but also an abbreviated outline of what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Character –  Who is your hero or heroine? You don’t want to give that character a name in your 2-sentence write up. Give them an identity.                     Not Anne, but a young orphan girl.                                                                                Not James, but a young boy born into slavery.
  2. Core Desire – What does your character really want? To be loved, respected? To become famous or rich? What is motivating your characters actions? This is something I’ve discussed in previous blogs. It has to be relatable.
  3. Obstacle – The inciting incident threatening the core identity of your hero/heroine. It doesn’t have to be a big problem, but it does have to be big in your character’s mind.

You can embellish your hook by adding more description or upping the stakes (the clock is ticking).

A young corpsman involved in an IED explosion in Afghanistan loses his memory and struggles to regain his identity.  He is misidentified and placed in the home of total strangers.

My first attempt at a 2-sentence hook. It leaves a lot of questions, but I guess that is the hook. Hopefully your reader will want to know more.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

2-Sentence Hook?

Avoid Speed Bumps

1490400252235When you’re writing a novel, you want your story to keep moving forward from beginning to end. If your reader stops at any point while reading, you have set up a speed bump and created an opportunity for your reader to slip out of their suspension of disbelief.

You want them to continue at a nice, smooth pace until the end, accepting every coincidence and slightly questionable story line. They should be lost in the story not in your words.

Common Speed Bumps of Aspiring Authors

Beautified Prose/Written-eese

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you’re like me, you had to read it several times

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well.

On-The-Nose Writing

Prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

Narrative Dumps

Prose that comes out of nowhere and does nothing but describe, is known as a ‘narrative dump’. It can bring your story to a stand still and pull your reader out of the action. Instead of progressing through your storyline, they find themselves on the outside looking in.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings, and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

One word of caution when using research material to make your story more authentic, remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story. Don’t make them centerstage. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

Head Hopping

If you switch POV characters to quickly or dive into the heads of too many characters at once, it can Jar the reader and break the intimacy with the scenes main character. In other words, going back and forth between POV characters, can give a reader whiplash. You should never have more than one POV character per scene.

You should also avoid run-on sentences, close the thesaurus (I think you know what I’m getting at), and purchase a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White-I’m just saying 🙂

-Jan R

Avoid Speed Bumps

Read It All-Revisited

Genre.htm

I have to admit I’m a hopeless romantic. I just love stories where boy meets girl, you throw in a little conflict (okay a lot), but everything works out in the end, and of course, they live happily ever after.

There’s nothing wrong with romance and wanting the happily ever after, but if you’re only reading one genre (romance, scifi, mystery, horror) you’re limiting yourself.  I never really thought that much about it, until I read a blog on why I should be reading all genres.

From my perspective, I write romance. I need to know what’s out there and what’s selling. How do other romance authors handle the physical and emotional sides of the relationships?

All of these reasons are valid, and I should be reading romance. But you know what? That novel has a lot more than romance in it. At least it had better have, if I want to keep my readers’ attention.

I may be great at developing a romantic relationship between my hero and heroine, but I had better be able to create the mystery and suspense necessary to keep my readers’ turning the page.

You may be writing a sci-fi novel, but odds are there’s a romance between your two main characters, and no one can explain why the lab assistant is lying on the floor dead, and there’s a  hole in the wall leading into the parking lot.

You can’t just read sci-fi and expect to be a well rounded writer. You might find yourself creating awesome aliens, but lacking when it comes to developing a relationship between the hero and heroine.

Reading different genres will make you a stronger writer. You’ll be introduced to new worlds and situations that would never arise in your typical horror, sci-fi, romance, or fantasy. Reading different genres will open your mind and encourage you to take risks that you may have never considered.

If that’s not enough, reading different genres will also allow you to read as a reader. Instead of focusing on the author’s style, you can simply enjoy the experience of reading 🙂

Hope this helped.

-Jan R

Read It All-Revisited

Writer’s Live the Life – Not!

read on beach

Most people think writers live the life. Writers lay around in pajamas writing stories and making millions of dollars. They control their schedule, and of course, travel to exotic places all over the world.

I can picture it now. I’m sitting on a lounge chair, drinking a cold glass of lemonade and looking out as the waves roll in, before I turn my attention back to my computer and start typing my flawless manuscript. I can’t believe I got it perfect the first time 🙂

Only a handful of writers live out even part of that scenario, and that’s because they have become so successful, they can afford to visit or live at those exotic places, and of course, sip their drink of choice while lying on the beach typing their next bestseller.

For the rest of us, reality is very different.  If you want to become a writer, it’s a tough road.  I wanted to take a few minutes to give you a reality check.  I have listed a few things a writer has to do other than writing.

  • Writers are continuously reading books in their genre and how-to books/tips on writing. We analyze what works and what doesn’t work. How can we use this information to improve our own writing?
  • Writers have to plan. What other books are we going to write? What’s next? We develop a strategy and create outlines for our books.
  • Writers have to do research, especially if the storyline takes place in a different time period or location that we are unfamiliar with.
  • Writers have to network. Someone’s eyes, other than our own, must read our work. This is accomplished through participation in critique groups, attending conferences, pulling in friends, and eventually hiring that editor.
  • Writers edit, analyze, eliminate redundancies, and then edit some more before they even send work out to critique groups or friends (I hope).
  • Writers have to market and promote their work. Another reason to attend conferences.
  • Writers have to build their platform. You will find them on Facebook, Twitter, and keeping up with an active website.
  • Writers have to learn to accept rejection. Unfortunately, it’s a major part of the business. Writers receive many more rejections than acceptances.
  • Writers have to have patience! Why isn’t that agent getting back with me? They’ve had my full manuscript for three months.
  • Also, just like everybody else, Writers live life. They have families and many have full-time jobs.

So, if you’re thinking writers live the life, think again. Writing has to be your passion. It’s the motivator that will get you through and ensure your success.

-Jan R

Writer’s Live the Life – Not!

Will Your Manuscript Be Rejected?

This is one of my favorite blogs. I wish I could claim it, but the post was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his work. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends, so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps someone and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript.

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”

Sorry.

And I’m not exaggerating.

Why?

Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader.

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearing

This is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?

There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.

  1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest.

Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloging a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple until the story has taken shape.

  1. Point of View violations

Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.

Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

  1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

Also avoid beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully, he’ll share his distress.

  1. Simply bad writing:
  • Written-ese

This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

  • Passive voice

Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

  • Needless words

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here

-Jan R

Will Your Manuscript Be Rejected?

Do You Have Goals?

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I’ve been writing this blog for six years. It’s been my goal to do two posts a week. While I’ve been mostly faithful in my commitment, I must confess the last few months have been really hard for me.

I’ve had a lot more outside commitments that are occupying my time, but it feels like it’s more than that. Have you ever wanted to just stop doing everything and reset? Take a break from life and catch your breath? How did you motivate yourself to work through the lulls?

I have read a lot of information on the internet and in books on motivation and how to jump start your battery when it dies (my analogy). Maybe that’s a bit drastic of an example, but you get where I’m going.

I’ve also wondered if getting that full-manuscript request has taken some of the steam out of my boat, and I need to take a break and prepare for the next stage of the game. It’s not been easy. It’s required a lot of time and dedication on my part. I wasn’t an English major and literally had to learn how to write a publishable novel.

Every step I’ve taken so far seems to be the hardest step. I’m currently in the waiting game. My manuscript has been sent out as requested, but it’s been two months without a response. The ultimate goal is to get this work published. I’ve met a major milestone, but I can’t lose sight of my final destination.

The one thing that has motivated me and kept me moving forward, is setting goals for myself. I may be dragging my feet right now, but I know where I’m heading. With my eyes set on the finish line, I will get there.

Do you have goals set for your life or are you just wandering aimlessly hoping that things work out? You will never get to where you want to be without a plan in place to get you there.  Set those goals! Work that plan! It could mean the difference between failure and success.

-Jan R

Do You Have Goals?

I’ve Sent Out My Full Manuscript – Now What?

A literary agent from one of the agencies I queried, stated that it was easy to get to the no. It takes only a couple of minutes for an agent to know something’s not going to work. It takes a long time, however, to evaluate the maybes.

Many of you know that I received a request for my full manuscript the end of February. It’s been almost a month and a half. I check my email constantly and answer every phone call that I receive.

I used to ignore numbers I didn’t recognize. They were all robo calls regarding my car warranty, my credit card that I don’t even have, or whatever new scam/spam that was going around. But what if it was the literary agent who has my manuscript? I can’t take the chance.

The wait is getting to me. I’ve been reading blogs and agent pages on the dos and don’ts when you receive a request for your full manuscript. Yes, there are rules you should follow to maintain a working relationship with your could-be agent. Remember no one wants to work with a high maintenance individual no matter how good they are.

Do

Write your next story while you’re waiting. Most agents don’t want a one-time wonder. They want a career.

Keep pitching your current project. You may choose to give the agent 2-3 months before sending out additional queries, but you can’t sit on the fence forever hoping.

Be nice. Agents are human. They have as many hours in the day as you have. Agents receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of queries monthly. Thus, the nice, thoughtful, form-letter rejection. Those who survive the cut, have to wait in line behind existing clients.

Don’t

Pin your hopes on an agent who has your full manuscript, because it could be a long wait. Unfortunately, even with a full request, they don’t always accept or get back with you.

Burn bridges.

Lock yourself into that one perfect agent that you just have to have. Because you’ve developed a crush on a particular person, doesn’t mean they will notice you.

There are other common sense rules to keep in mind. Don’t hound the agent or troll them. Give them their space. It’s okay to research but you probably should have done that before you sent them a query.

For now, I’ll keep writing and hoping :-).

-Jan R

I’ve Sent Out My Full Manuscript – Now What?