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 Muddling Through The Middle?

When you write a novel, one of the things you’re probably going to experience, is the mayhem in the middle. You have a great story idea, with a great beginning and a great ending. The only problem is, you haven’t thought about what happens when you get to the middle.

Most people who fail to complete their novel, become lost in the middle. They bail when they realize they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the pages. They may attempt to add scenes, but become bored and know their readers will be too.

Every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. Trying to keep up the tension and pace gets harder and harder. But don’t panic or do anything rash, like give up.

What can you do? If you’re one of those people who hasn’t developed an outline, thinking it would just come to you as you muddled through, maybe you should consider backing up and doing one. I’ve been there, done that.

An outline to set every scene gives you a blueprint of what will happen next. If the action starts to wane, think about a subplot or introduce tension between your main characters. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, or maybe that one minor character that was suppose to be the good guy, isn’t what he appears to be. Maybe the butler did it, but nobody knows.

You can have so much fun with subplots. Just keep them believable and resolve them all in the end.

Hope this helped.

-Jan R

Are You Muddling Through The Middle?

Remember – You Can’t Do This Alone!

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I remember my middle sister as a child. She was the kid who sat in the corner with her nose in a book. She didn’t play well with others. Well to be honest,  she didn’t want to play at all.  Her friends were imaginary. I always thought that she was a little strange, and she probably was, but she is also one of the most talented writers I know.

You haven’t heard of her or read any of her work. Why? Because she writes in a vacuum. I have encouraged her for years to reach out and join the writing community.

She is an introvert, like most of us who seem to enjoy the keyboard much more than a group of pretentious people. I would be okay with that if she belonged to writing groups, or had people she related to that could help motivate her to move forward with her craft.

You don’t have to interact with others face to face, at least not at first. If that’s not your cup of tea, go online. Join writing groups and form relationships with other author want-to-bes. There are some great ones out there that cater to just what you’re looking for.

Critique groups:

  • Scribophile.com
  • AbsoluteWrite.com
  • CritiqueCircle.com

I am a member of Scribophile. It’s a great site to seek critiques and suggestions from fellow writers. Members on this site operate at different levels of expertise. I have gotten some great feedback, but I have also received feedback that was not up to par. I was pleasantly surprised at the community in the group and the willingness of total strangers to help me with my work.

Genre-Specific groups:

  • Romance Writers of America  rwa.org
  • Mystery Writers of America    mysterywriters.org
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America   sfwa.org

I think you’re getting the picture. I was a member of Romance Writers of America and need to renew. You can get excellent information and discounts from these sites. They will keep you informed on contests, conferences, writing groups/forums, what’s selling, agents looking for new works, and information on how to improve your craft.

You can’t do this alone. Plug in!

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Remember – You Can’t Do This Alone!

You Can Break These Rules Too! (Revisited)

Write what you know

You can write about stuff you know nothing about as long as you can pull it off and make it believable. By using the internet, you have the world at our fingertips. A luxury that wasn’t available to your predecessors.

Write everyday

I would love to write every day, but I have had to deal with some major crisis in the past few months that have interrupted my daily routine and superseded my wishes. Life happens. Give yourself a break. Forcing yourself to write every day doesn’t mean it’s good writing. I would say you need to aspire to write every day. Think of it as a goal and not as a requirement.

Kill your darlings

During the editing process, we have all heard cut, cut, and cut again. I wrote a blog on it a while back. You should edit your manuscript removing unnecessary, mundane sentences/paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean you have to delete any and every sentence or paragraph that isn’t doing the work of moving your story toward the ultimate goal. It’s okay to add a scene/ paragraph/ sentence that’s funny, beautiful, or clever, but it has to keep your readers’ attention and be seamlessly incorporated into your story.

Invest in a Thesaurus

This is a great tool to use when used correctly. We don’t want to repeat a word over and over. It doesn’t read well and can become distracting. The Thesaurus provides a list of alternatives for the word you are using. The problem is a lot of newer writers don’t choose your ordinary everyday words. They want to look smart, so they choose the million dollar word that leaves the reader scratching their head and wondering what the author was trying to say.

Never write a prologue

I’ve heard this one and actually pulled the prologue from my novel. I didn’t delete it, because I continue the debate of putting it back. Why did I remove it? I’ve been told agents don’t like prologues and they shout amateur. With this being said, I have read prologues in the books of successful authors.

So when is a prologue okay? When it serves a purpose.

Avoid the passive voice

I wrote a blog a while back on staying active. As a rule, you should stay active, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write anything in the passive voice. If you’re using good grammar, it’s bound to happen on occasion 🙂 The passive voice is another tool that you can use during the writing process, if you know how to use it. An example would be your desire to share information without getting into specifics…Things were misplaced. Mistakes were made.

The idea for this blog came from an article I read in Writers Digest written by Jeff Somers. We all want to be good writers and follow the rules, but like many of you, I do question the validity of rules, and have broken a few 🙂

Something to think about!

-Jan R

You Can Break These Rules Too! (Revisited)

Break The Rules!

 I have been criticized for touting the rules of writing. The person that criticized my blog was correct to a certain extent. Rules are guidelines, and while mainly true, there are times you should throw that rule book out the window.

I read an article a while back that made me stop and think. It went against everything I had been told, but it also supported everything I had been told. I know that was confusing so I’m going to clear it up for you.

We have all heard show don’t tell. Telling is a sell-out and the result of lazy writing. Right! Wrong!

Showing is the rule of thumb and I support it wholeheartedly. The problem is people who take it literally and want to show everything down to the most minute detail, or those who think you can never tell anything, and of course, that’s simply not true.

If you show every single detail, you will never finish that novel, and your reader will get lost in the minutia.

My husband is always telling me you can’t check your brain in at the door. Of course, he’s referring to my reliance on the GPS in my car, but it relates to every aspect of life.

Rules are great and give us guidelines to follow, but yes, rules are sometimes meant to be broken.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Break The Rules!

Do You Have That Elevator Speech Ready?

If you don’t have that elevator speech, you need to start thinking about it. Just because your plans don’t include a writer’s conference in the near future, doesn’t mean you don’t need one. I definitely don’t want you to fall into the same trap I did. Very embarrassing 🙂

I attended a work conference with my husband several years ago. It was a great getaway for me and a chance to focus on my novel without the distractions of home. Needless to say, I was enjoying myself and making some significant progress.

The last day of the conference, I was asked to join my husband and some of his peers for supper. I was surrounded by men talking shop, so all I had to do was smile and display exemplary dining skills, or so I thought.

About halfway through the meal, one of the men looked over at me and said, “Your husband told us what you do during the day while he is at the conference. We would love to hear a little more about your book. What’s it about?”

Well, I froze. My mind went totally blank. It was all I could do to control my suddenly out of whack emotions, as I turned to face this man who had the audacity to ask me such a question.

I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have an Elevator Speech. I didn’t think I needed one. My novel was complete, but it wasn’t ready for prime time. I was totally incoherent and presented a jumbled mess.

I have that Elevator Speech now. I felt foolish and was totally caught off guard by men who were only trying to include me in the conversation. You never know when you’ll come across someone who’ll ask you what your book is about.

I’ll be prepared the next time. Plus, it will give me practice for when I do attend that writing conference, or get the opportunity to speak to an agent/author I just happen to run into at the airport.

Some things to keep in mind :

  • Remember when you are crafting your speech, you are talking to another human being.
  • You only have 30-60 seconds. Don’t try to tell them the entire story.
  • Content is as important as delivery. It doesn’t matter if it’s well delivered if it’s boring and uninspiring. Make them want to hear more!
  • If you are attending a conference, you don’t want to accost agents/editors-wait for an invite or an appropriate opening. They know why you are there. Introduce yourself. Engage in small talk, they will usually ask.
  •  Practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to memorize every word and sound like a robot or like you’re reading a teleprompter, but you do want your Elevator Speech to flow and be cohesive. You want it to sound natural.
  • Always be prepared and show passion.

If you haven’t prepared your speech, you need to start working on it. It’s just a matter of time. Somebody is going to ask.

-Jan R

Do You Have That Elevator Speech Ready?