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

It’s Your Story!

I’ve shared this blog before, but it’s been a while, and a message I think needs to be heard. As new writers, we sometimes listen to everybody but ourselves. Friends and critique partners mean well, but if you let them, some will try to take over your novel and mold it into what they think it should be.

I was sitting on my couch reworking a scene in the novel I’m writing and stopped right in the middle of it. What am I doing? I asked myself. The purpose of the rewrite was to make some changes based on a critique I received from a critique partner.

The person that critiqued my book is very good at the craft, and I respect her opinion. There were others who critiqued the piece and loved it, offering a few comments here and there to correct grammar or replace a word. So who was right? The three people who loved it, or the one who thought I needed to go back and make some significant changes.

The more I looked at the changes this person suggested, the more I realized she had her own idea of the way the story needed to go, and I had mine.

With this being said, she’s made some great suggestions. Because of her, my story is more believable, my dialogue more natural, and my POV more consistent. Her critiques have been invaluable.

However, I had to remind myself that this is my story. Nobody has a better understanding of the dynamics than I do. Nobody knows it from beginning to end but me. Nobody can tell it better than me.

Weigh comments and suggestions you receive from others and ask this question. Is it making my story better or changing it into something it is not?

Remember: It’s your story.

-Jan R

It’s Your Story!

Say What You Mean! (Revised)

If you find yourself reading a sentence more than once, or adding information for clarification, that’s a red flag.

Your reader has less information than you. If you are confused by your work, you can only imagine what your reader is going through. I love a great mystery, but my writing shouldn’t be one.

It’s not the reader’s job to interpret your work. You should be clear and concise.  If your writing causes a pause something isn’t working.

I have to admit I love dangling modifiers though. They are some of my favorite mess-ups. I even wrote a blog entitled ‘just for laughs’. They are funny, but not in the middle of a serious scene. You don’t have to try to hard to imagine how quickly they can pull your reader out of their suspension of disbelief.

Dangling modifiers occur when the modifier has no clear referent, and twist the meaning of your sentence in an unintended fashion.

  • I saw a tree walking down the street. Who knew a tree could walk 🙂
  •  The babysitter handed out sandwiches to all the children in Ziplock bags. I just want to know how those children got in those bags 🙂

Misplaced modifiers are similar but not nearly as fun to read. As with dangling modifiers, there is no clear referent, which can lead to a clumsy and confusing sentence.

  • Lucy carefully studied the situation.                                                                                                   Lucy studied the situation carefully.

Another mistake new writers make that isn’t always as obvious but makes for a clumsy sentence that will cause a pause is comma splicing.

Comma splicing is when two sentences are linked by a comma, but they don’t really work because they’re two separate ideas.

  • John saw the rabid fox and ran to the house to get his gun, and he forgot to eat lunch and his tummy rumbled.

What about ambiguous sentences? The sentence is grammatically and structurally sound, but the reader has no idea what you are talking about.

  • My older students know I’m extremely careful with my language. Is the teacher referring to age or length of time the students have been in his/her class?

Be clear and concise! Say What You Mean!

Something else to think about.

-Jan R

Say What You Mean! (Revised)

Do You Have Goals or Are You Wandering Aimlessly?

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I’ve been writing this blog for Eight years. It’s been my goal to do two posts a week. While I’ve been mostly faithful in my commitment, I must confess this past year or so has 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 hasn’t 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 almost five long months without a response. The ultimate goal has been 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 or Are You Wandering Aimlessly?

Take Your Reader on The Journey! (Revisited)

I’ve written several blogs patting authors on the back and thanking them for the joy they provide to people like my mom.

She is elderly and can’t go to the places she would like to visit, but my mom loves books. They take her not only to places she would like to go, but places she could only go to in her dreams.

Consider this! Your novel is a journey. You aren’t just walking through that journey; you are the tour guide, and you’re taking your reader with you.

When you write that novel, you are doing at least one of several things.

  1.  Taking the reader somewhere they cannot personally go.
  2. Showing your reader new aspects of a place they are already familiar with.
  3. Suggesting a place your reader could not even imagine existed.
  4. Reflecting on places, people, and situations that your reader may be familiar with, but are unable to put into words with your particular expertise.

Enjoy the journey and be cognizant of those who are with you. Remember, they can’t read your mind. It’s your job to put the story in writing and make sure that your reader is following the intended path. You are the guide! You are their eyes and ears!

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Take Your Reader on The Journey! (Revisited)