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

Plot Holes Revisited

plot-holes Does your plot have missing or broken parts? Does it jump from one idea to another without providing a bridge?

When you are writing, you know what’s happening and you may not question why Suzie is talking to Jeff about needing a job in one paragraph and working for him in the next.

I’m not saying you need every little step in order for your reader to follow what’s going on. I’m sure most people don’t want to know she woke up, took a shower, put on her favorite dress, ate some Cheerios, and brushed her teeth with Crest toothpaste before walking out the door to go to work, but if Jeff gave her a job, I think that’s pretty darn important. This is a missing plot piece.

Your readers will do a double-take and have to try to resolve the inconsistency for themselves without the knowledge of how the scene was supposed to go. All it will take is a few of these before your readers are calling you names and tossing your work to the side.

When you read through your manuscript, look for areas where something important has happened and your reader didn’t see it. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see the story through their eyes. They don’t have access to your brain and thoughts, so they can’t fill in the missing holes.

I talked about plot holes in this blog but there are also broken plots that I pointed out in last week’s Thursday Thoughts. Check it out 🙂

-Jan R

Plot Holes Revisited

Are You Starting Your Story In The Wrong Place?

1e7cba28f25210164154825f3d16c176I started reworking my first manuscript a couple weeks ago. Like many of you, I poured out a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over that piece of work. I spent five years of my life trying to take an idea and package it into an entertaining publishable piece of work. I thought it was great, and it was a great premise. I just couldn’t seem to pull it all together and make it work.

A few months ago I started work on a new novel. I love it. Everything about this new piece of work is better than my first attempt.

The biggest difference between the two is the opening. I started the first novel in the wrong place.  Like many newbies, I thought I needed to add some backstory prior to getting into the ‘real story’, so my reader would understand my characters and be able to follow along.

Well, you do want your reader to understand what’s going on, but you dribble in the backstory as you go along. You can’t put it all upfront.

You may have an amazing story, but you’ll lose your reader before they get to the good parts if they are having to muddle through the character’s history (my mistake) or description overload of the setting.  Prep work doomed my first story before it even got started.

Below are the opening paragraphs of two novels I’m working on. Which one gets your attention from the very beginning and makes you want to know more?

A cool breeze swept over Josh’s face tousling his too-long hair across his forehead and into his eyes. Brushing the dark strands to the side, he stared out at the glassy water with only one thought on his mind. Laura. He would be going to Afghanistan in a month and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Six months wasn’t that long, but it seemed like an eternity right now. (The first chapter gives you a picture of Josh’s life and that of his identical twin Jacob before they meet in Afghanistan – something I thought the reader needed to know to put the story in context.)

“I’m sorry mother, but I have no choice. Papa, I know you would be proud.” A soft smile crossed Ariel’s lips as she pulled up her baggy knee pants. She didn’t have time to dwell on the last few days or mourn her father’s death. She had to get to Southampton and to the safety of her godfather’s home. If Pierre thought he would steal her virtue and force a marriage, he didn’t know Ariel Dubois as well as he thought. ( This opening pulls you into the story from the very beginning. You want to know what happens next.)

Don’t take too long to get to the inciting incident, or incident that sets your story in motion. Grab your reader’s attention from the beginning by starting your story in the right place.

You need to ask yourself, what is the absolute latest moment you can begin your story without leaving out anything critical to the story problem or character goal? (Jane Friedman)

Something to think about.

-Jan R


Are You Starting Your Story In The Wrong Place?

Waiting For Inspiration?

imagesMEZC930WWaiting for inspiration will kill your novel. It’s also an excuse I have used many times over the years.

Some writers don’t write unless they feel inspired. They think they’re wasting their time by pushing through the mental block that is stifling their creativity. Their argument is that they are bound to make more errors and have to go back and do significant revisions so why bother.

These writers are better known as aspiring authors or unpublished.  They don’t complete their masterpiece because they are waiting for something that may never come.

Think of writing as a job. You can’t call in every other day and say I’m not working today. I just don’t feel inspired. I guess in all reality you could, but it wouldn’t go over very well and that would be the end of that job. You get the picture?

Sometimes we have to push ourselves even when we don’t feel like it. In most cases the results are positive and once we get going things just flow. Published Writers/Authors have the mindset that you work on your craft every day. They set quotas based on time or number of words.

Remember, the more you write the better you will become. Writing every day also helps you to develop a writer’s mindset. If you are concerned about ruining your story by writing without inspiration, you can always leave your story alone and work on something else until the creative juices start flowing.

I can relate to those of you who procrastinate and make excuses. Some days it is a true battle of the mind. Thank goodness for my accountability partner.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Waiting For Inspiration?