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

Are You Setting Unrealistic Expectations?

You’re an aspiring author. Your ultimate goal is to find a great agent and get published. Who doesn’t want to be the author of that blockbuster book/movie of the year with a million-dollar payout?

Newbies have a tendency to set unrealistic expectations. I’m not saying you won’t achieve your goal, but odds are, you’re going to have to start at the bottom and work your way up like the rest of us.

I’m not trying to discourage you. You can do this. I’m just trying to help you set realistic goals. I want you to be prepared not only for success, but the failures that you will most likely incur along the way.

There are some things you can and should be doing as you build your platform and prepare that first novel for publishing.

  1.  Get your life out of the way. You don’t have control over everything that goes on around you. We all have situations that arise. Don’t allow them to impede your daily writing time.
  2.  Find a trusted friend or spouse who will listen and respond intelligently. You need a cheerleader/an accountability partner.
  3. Until you become successful, write in one genre. Once you’ve achieved success, you can spread your wings and venture into different areas.
  4.  Don’t be picky about where you get published initially. Use your experience and publications to build on new ones. You will get there.
  5.  Learn what’s selling. You want to cater to your customers.
  6.  Develop tough skin. You will probably hear a lot of things you don’t want to hear. Everybody has an opinion. Let it roll off your back!
  7. If a bad review holds merit, adjust your writing and admit your mistakes. This is a learning process. You won’t get everything right the first time.
  8. Don’t give up! The number one characteristic of successful authors is as you probably guessed, they’re persistent. Don’t allow a bad review or hateful word to get in your way.

Some things to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Are You Setting Unrealistic Expectations?

Know That You Are Important!

Every couple of years I like to repeat this post as a tribute to writers everywhere. I want to make sure that you understood just how important your job is. You may be locked away in a room by yourself, but your work touches a multitude of people from all walks of life unlocking doors they would have never been able to enter.

As a writer, have you ever stopped to think about the contributions you make to society. You’re not a Doctor, Scientist, or Engineer; you are a Writer/Author. I think many times we get so invested in our work and coming up with a viable manuscript, that we don’t take the time to pat ourselves on the back for the joy and satisfaction we bring to others, or the importance of our role in society.

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When I was growing up we were very poor. My father was killed in an accident when I was 12, leaving my mom with 6 children to raise on her own. Needless to say, we were not going to Disney World any time soon. As a matter of fact, my world would have been pretty bleak, if it hadn’t been for my love of reading and the numerous novels that took me on adventures far and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I remember my first novel was ‘King Arthur’, pretty heavy for a kid, but I loved it.

I’m not that young girl anymore, I can go to Disney World if I want to, but my love for books and the sense of adventure has never left. That was something cultivated by my mother, who I’m sure, loved reading novels for the same reason.

My mother is elderly now, and due to extensive medical issues, unable to get out and enjoy life and experiences that she once could. That’s okay with her though, as long as she has a good book to read. Her books take her to places she could never go, and as long as she can read, she is never just stuck at home.

I’ve provided stories from my personal life, but there are millions of people out there with the same story.

Know that you are important, you are needed, and you provide a vital role in our society!

Something to think about!

-Jan R

Know That You Are Important!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

What are your favorite reference books on writing? We all have them. I learned following my first very rough draft, that I didn’t know a thing about writing a publishable novel. I thought I did, but the rejections and the one agent who responded set me straight.

Like many of you, I learn from my mistakes, but I am totally hoping I can keep some wannabees from making the same ones that I made.

If you follow me, you know I’ve said many times, ” You don’t know what you don’t know.” So needless to say, I began to research various sites and successful authors. I had a great story, but I didn’t know how to write a publishable novel, and no they want edit it for you even if you think you have that next number one best seller.

This led me to three of my favorite resource books.

  1. The Elements of Style                              William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
  2.  How To Write Best Selling Fiction           Dean R. Koontz
  3.  Eats, Shoots & Leaves                              Lynne Truss

I found The Elements of Style and Eats, Shoots & Leaves at a library book sale. They cost me a dollar. Unfortunately, the Koontz book is highly recommended but nowhere to be found. I purchased mine from a dealer on eBay for $65.00. I do believe it was worth the price, but you can find all of the information contained in the book on the web.

I didn’t include the Dictionary or Thesaurus. I think they are a given.

These are a few of my favorite things. Yes, I do like Mary Poppins 🙂

-Jan R

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Writing Contests – Yes or No?

I just entered my first writing contest. I have to admit I’m a little apprehensive, but also excited to hear what the judges think.

This particular contest evaluates the first five pages of your work and compares it to other entries. There are prizes, but that isn’t my main reason for entering. The contest offers a critique and comments regardless of whether you win or not, and if you win, it provides affirmation of your writing to include in your next query letter.

Many unpublished authors have used them as a tool, and they can be an effective avenue for getting noticed. If you have contemplated following this route, there are some things to keep in mind that will give you an advantage. Using contests the wrong way are a waste of time and money. Educate yourself on how to make them work for you.

Make sure only your best work leaves the house                                                                       Edit and re-edit you work before sending it out to a contest just as you would with a literary agent or editor. It has to be as close to perfect as you can get it.

Make sure you have a compelling hook                                                                                          One of the best ways of increasing your odds in a contest – hook your reader. Pull that contest judge into your manuscript and then leave him/her hanging with an even better hook that leaves them screaming for more.

Color inside the lines                                                                                                                           In other words, follow the rules. A writing contest is not the place to bend the rules and do cute things to make your work stand out. Bending the rules when it comes to point of view or passive voice will generally reduce your score significantly.

Judge the Judges                                                                                                                                     If you are entering a contest with the hope of getting in front of an editor, make sure the editor judge reading your work, works for a publishing house that buys the type of manuscript you are writing.

Know what the judges are looking for                                                                                           Most RWA chapters post their score sheets showing how manuscripts are scored. Review the score sheets and make revisions as indicated to give yourself a better chance of making the finals.

Just some things to keep in mind.

Would love to hear recommendations from any of you who have entered contests.

-Jan R

Writing Contests – Yes or No?

Plot Holes – Revisited

Hopefully, at this point, you know what plot holes are. They are gaps or inconsistencies that go against the flow of logic established by the stories plot.

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.

Like I said, you know what’s going to happen next so you can smooth out the inconsistencies in your mind while you’re reading, but your reader does not. They are left confused and questioning how the character got from point A to point B, or why they can’t progress to point C – when it’s the logical choice.

The following pictures showcase a few infamous plot holes that should help you understand a little better what I’m trying to say. Enjoy!

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I think you get the picture. Make sure your plot makes sense. Your reader is smart, and they will catch on. Push them too far and you may lose them.

Hope this gave you something to think about.

-Jan R

Plot Holes – Revisited