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Stephen Oliver: Becoming a Writer

Becoming a Writer

Stephen Oliver

Some time ago, I received an email connected with a post I made on the TUT Writer’s Group on Facebook. The writer asked me about how to become a writer. I wrote them the following reply.

When it comes to writing, I would like to know where your writer’s block lies so that I can give you more targeted advice. However, I can give you the following points, to begin with.

What sort of writing do you want to do?

Do you intend to write fiction or non-fiction? I do both, and each needs its way of looking at things.

Fiction

If you want to write fiction, do you know what sort of story you want to write? Is it romance, general fiction, speculative fiction (for instance, science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy or horror, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, to name but a few). Or even erotica? Is it a novel or a short story? Whatever type you want to write, you need to do some reading in that genre to get a feel for what is acceptable to the reading public. I, for instance, have read all of the speculative fiction genres mentioned above for years. You don’t want to copy them, of course, but you need to know the kind of stories available.

Sometimes, a story you read will trigger an idea of your own. You might like the story and want to know what happened next. Why don’t you write about that? If the story took place years ago, why not rewrite it into modern times? West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century New York, for instance. The Lion King is a modern take on Macbeth. One of the short stories I’m about to publish is my take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. And so on.

At other times, you might think to yourself, “I don’t like the way that story turned out.” So why not write your version, giving it the ending you would have liked? Or you read a story and imagine something completely different that’s still somehow connected with the original, like my story about a modern Frankenstein.

Television and movies are other good sources of ideas. Just as I mentioned above, they can trigger thoughts and ideas that lead to a story. I’ve also had ideas that have come from dreams and daydreams. You have to be open to your thoughts. There are stories that I have started writing with nothing more than a single phrase or concept.

To throw a couple of ideas out to you:

  • What would it feel like to be immortal? You know that everyone you love will one day be gone, while you have to carry on without them forevermore. How will you live? What will you do? Is there a problem with boredom because you’ve done it all before?
  • How about someone whose job is to protect a city, like a superhero, except he can’t remember who he is until the city is about to be destroyed? How does he react until he realises that he’s the one to save the day? How do the inhabitants treat him because he’s always so late coming to the rescue?
  • Or how about a woman who can’t find her car keys until she remembers that she never learned to drive? Why does she think that she has keys for a car she doesn’t own? Is she suffering from amnesia? Does she have a split personality? Is she channelling someone from a parallel world? Or is a ghost trying to contact her? The possibilities are endless.
  • What is the exact meaning of a company name, like Blue Dog? Does someone have an unusual name? Why do they have it?

These are a few ideas that just popped into my head while I was writing this. Be prepared to think strange things and follow them up. (BTW, I have since written a story about an immortal, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t).

If you decide to write, I suggest you keep some sort of notebook to jot your ideas down. I use a program called Evernote, which you can get for free. It runs on the PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad, any Android device, etc. What you do is download it on any device you use and then set up an account with them or Dropbox or iCloud, or some other cloud service. Once all devices and their versions of Evernote are synchronised to the same account, if you write something down on one of them, it will be available on all of them within seconds. You need never lose an idea again except in the shower. I still have no idea how I can do it there.

If electronic devices are not your thing, and I know people who still prefer old-fashioned methods, buy yourself a small reporter’s notebook with an attached pen or pencil. Keep it with you at all times and jot down any ideas you get. Every so often, say once a week, write them up in a bigger notebook or schoolbook. Give it a title like “My Great Ideas Book.” Cherish the ideas as they come, accept them as gifts from whoever or whatever you think of as a higher power, and they will keep coming. They will increase, and you will soon wonder why you thought that you never had any ideas.

Non-Fiction

Although all that I’ve written about above is true for non-fiction as it is for fiction, non-fiction has a few extra points you need to keep in mind.

First of all, how much do you know about the subject? If it’s something you work with every day, and you know all about it, then you’re set. You need to work out how to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

If you only know a bit or even nothing at all, then you are going to have to research. There are books available on just about every subject under the sun, many of them cheap or even free if you know where to look. Try Amazon’s free books, for example, or check out Project Gutenberg for books that are out of copyright. Google the subject and follow any leads you find. Just be aware that there is a lot of useless or even false information out there

90% of everything is crud.
Theodore Sturgeon, science fiction writer

As you’re doing your research, keep making notes of ideas and concepts that you want to include in your book. As I noted earlier, a notebook, or some electronic aid such as Evernote, is an excellent way of having everything together. It doesn’t matter whether everything is neat and tidy or just a bunch of scribbles and phrases, as long as they make sense to you when you come back to them later.

Once you start writing, you will have to find your personal style. When I’m working on a non-fiction book, I always write as if I’m actually talking to the person. If I’m teaching someone how to use a computer program (and I have written user manuals), it’s as if we’re sitting down together in front of the machine, and I’m telling them what to type and where to click. This is my style, and I know that there are people who prefer other styles, such as an impersonal teacher dishing out commands.

No matter what you found during your research, don’t write it exactly as you noted it down in the first place because you may find that you are plagiarising someone else’s words. Instead, write it down in your own words, as if you are trying to explain to someone else what it is that you’ve read. Don’t worry if you think you have nothing new to say. It may be that someone else needs to hear it put the way that you can uniquely do. Say it your own way, and it will be new to someone.

Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.
Dr Joe Vitale

Now, let’s look at one or two problems more carefully.

Ideas are blocked

If you think that your problem lies with writer’s block, try this little trick. If you prefer to work by hand, get a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and write the subject you want to write about at the top of the page. Underline it or draw a box around it, whatever makes you feel that it’s important.

Now, let’s establish a couple of simple rules. First of all, when you start writing, don’t stop! Secondly, you are only allowed to write from left to right and top to bottom. You can’t go back and correct something at the moment; that comes later.

Now, just keep writing whatever goes through your head on the subject. If you find that nothing relevant to the subject comes out, just write whatever you are thinking about, even if it’s about the problem you’re having writing anything down. The idea is to disconnect your creative process from the critical process of editing. Once you’ve been writing for five or ten minutes, or whatever feels comfortable, take a break or stop completely.

Now is the time to go back and look at what you’ve written. Don’t change anything yet. Just read it from beginning to end to see what exactly you have created. If you find something you would like to alter or even delete, make a mental note to come back to it later. Make a mark or underline if it will help you find your place again.

Once you’ve reread it, you can go back and make the changes you thought about earlier. When you’ve finished, use that as a basis for your writing. You can repeat this as many times as you like until you’re satisfied.

If you’re a computer user and can type fast enough, create a new blank document and start with that. I’ve even used dictation software to get ideas down as quickly as possible. I use Dragon for Mac, which is flexible and can be trained to understand your style of writing.

This is a combination of two different methods that I personally use. The first is Free Writing, where you just allow words to come out of you without censoring them in any way. The second method includes the first as its first stage. The method is called the Disney Method and is named after Walt Disney. It’s the way that he and his team of creators brainstormed new ideas for films and features.

If you want to find out more about this and other methods of achieving your goals, I suggest you look at my book Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting. You can find it on Amazon as both a Kindle ebook and paperback, as well as on iBooks and at Smashwords.

Another suggestion I can make is to have multiple projects going on at the same time. For instance, right now, I am doing the final cleanup on my collection of short stories. I’m working on a second collection of stories on the same theme, I have a fantasy novel I’m working on, and I’m also working on a follow-up book to the one that I just mentioned. If I run out of ideas or find myself blocked on one of these projects, I simply switch to another one and continue working there. I do this because I’ve come to realise that it’s not really a block, as such. It means that what I’m working on now isn’t quite ready to be written down yet.

No ideas at all

You said that you have no idea where to start? Is this because you have no ideas? Or is it because you have no idea what tools to use?

If the first one is your problem, please look earlier in this email, where I’ve given you a few pointers on how to start. If the second one is where you’re stuck, any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, will do perfectly well. I wrote my first book using Word, and it did the job fairly well.

These days, I use a product called Scrivener, which is specially designed with the writer in mind, allowing you to structure your work any way you like, moving stuff around if it makes more sense that way. You can download a free trial at http://www.literatureandlatte.com, which will run for 30 days of use; if you use it only once a week, it will work for months. If you decide you like it, it only costs about $45 to buy the full licence. There are versions for the PC, Mac, and iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Other problems

If your problems lie more in the realm of the actual publication of your writing, we can talk about this on another occasion.

I hope this helps you in your quest to become a writer.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to put this up as a next blog post because I think other people might profit from it.

I wish you lots of luck in the future and look forward to hearing from you soon and reading your writing.

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles: http://stephenoliver-author.com/

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off…!

Michele Sayre: MY TOP-TEN BITS OF WRITING ADVICE

I still see lists of writing advice and the ensuing arguments over it. So I want to put in my two-cents worth here with mine:

1) Writing advice is not the law of the land. Someone can yell at you for breaking said writing advice but they can’t throw you in jail for it.

2) Writing advice is just what has worked for someone and is shared in the hope that it will help others. This is why I do it. If it’s done for an ego-stroke, be sure to wash your hands after reading it.

3) Basic rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar are not bad. They are fluid and change over time. Don’t be afraid to change and if someone doesn’t like that, just walk away from them.

4) Don’t try to write like anyone else. Find your own your voice and write in your own way. The best writers are the ones with the most unique voices.

5) Criticism can be a valuable tool, but only if it’s not an axe that’s being ground on your back.  

6) You don’t have to write every single day. There will be days where life gets in the way, or you just can’t get any words out. Remember, there’s always tomorrow.

7) Don’t be afraid to scrap something and start over. Nothing ever comes out perfect and sometimes it’s best to start over on a blank page.

8) Being a writer doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk about it. The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing, especially writing time or anything writing-related.

9) Writing is a ton of editing most of the time. Complain about it if you will, but don’t stop until you get it right.

10) Writing can be taught, but only if you’re willing to learn and do the work on your own.

__________________________________________________________________________

Please visit Michele on her blog! https://michelesayre.com/

Writers Unite! Workshop: The Western (Part Two)

Writers Unite! Workshop

The Western

Part Two

The western genre is unique. The popularity of the western novel spawned many television shows and movies watched by legions of fans around the globe. That familiarity created a quandary for writers. With a set period, just after the civil war to the early 1900s, locations, transportation, and the people that populated the west are well-known to the reader and the viewers. Unlike a science fiction story, where you can create any world you like, you can’t recreate the old west.

The Western Character

The Good

Westerns can appear two-dimensional as the concept of good vs. evil is a popular central theme. The protagonist is often a loner, a knight-errant if you will. A wanderer, perhaps a gunslinger who reluctantly stays to help the townsfolk or the sheriff or the widowed rancher face the bad guys. The good guy could be the sheriff facing a threat from a gang or an evil cattle baron. A strong moral center is a common characteristic of the western hero, and a sense of right and wrong prevails over the reluctance to enter the fight.

The fallacy of the western is that, as stated above, they often appear two-dimensional. If you write your characters that way, reduce them to good or evil, your story will be flat. As with all characters, western-genre characters should be multi-dimensional.

  • Make your protagonist human. Give the hero a personality, a sense of humor, a fear of heights, a love of poker. Maybe they drink too much, are scarred emotionally or physically by past trauma. Give your reader a reason to become attached to them and cheer for them to prevail.
  • Create a backstory that makes their actions plausible. Bring that detail out as the story unfolds to add credibility to your hero’s behavior.
  • Give them a quest. Stories need conflict, and your hero needs a goal, a quest—set the stakes high. They and the reader need a goal to attain.
  • Give them supportive surrounding characters, even if they don’t want help. A writer should never think that only the protagonist or antagonist is worthy of development. The supporting characters need development as well.
  • Make that quest difficult. Give them setbacks along the way, obstacles to overcome to reach that final goal.
  • Allow them to fail and gain the resolve to push harder to attain their goal.

Whether you are writing a western or fantasy or any other genre, create a character that your reader will identify with and want to see win.

The Bad

The evil rancher preying on the widow’s land, the ruthless killer, the bank robber—all wonderfully delicious bad guys. Always give your hero a worthy opponent, even a stronger one, with more resources or power. Making your hero struggle is the role the antagonist takes, so let it happen. The more ruthless the antagonist is, the more your hero suffers. Here as well, you should make your villain human, a one-dimensional villain does not enhance your story.

For a strong antagonist:

  • Give your antagonist unpleasant goals.
  • Remember, your antagonist believes their goals are righteous. Give them the conviction of their beliefs.
  • Provide a credible backstory providing reasons for the evildoing.
  • Make your antagonist strong, seemingly invincible, throwing obstacles in the protagonist’s way.

The Rest

Unique supporting characters flavor the western. A secondary character serves as a sidekick, a mentor, a friend. Additional characters can be associates of the protagonist who join in the quest, or integral players appearing in a single scene that moves the plot forward.

The main secondary character can be a friend, lover, partner, or mentor, and plays a pivotal role in displaying the protagonist as human. This character serves to reveal the main character’s heroic attributes, kindness, compassion, humor, and flaws.

In any story, additional characters that come in contact with the protagonist should move the plot forward or demonstrate other facets of the main character. For example, the protagonist and sidekick enter a saloon. Barmaid approaches and says to the protagonist, “Hey, handsome, you’re the best-looking stranger that’s come in here in a long time.’ That statement replaces the need to describe the character in the narrative as handsome. The barmaid did that for you.

While the story and quest revolve around the protagonist, the action toward resolution of the quest moves forward through the supporting characters. One of the best examples of an ensemble cast in a western is the TV program “High Chaparral.” From the main character and his family to the hired hands, the cast exemplifies how the characters interact to create the story.

The Western World

Every writer does worldbuilding. Whether you are setting a modern-day story in a real location or a created location, you build a world. It is essential to create a setting that frames your story correctly. On his writing blog, terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig offers this definition: “[worldbuilding] covers everything and anything inside that world.”

In contemporary settings, creating a world is not as difficult. We have a frame of reference in everyday items such as currency, transportation, shopping, housing, and all the other facets of our lives. We do have national and cultural differences to take into consideration, but if you set a story in a small town or a city, creating or referencing that world is not difficult.

Historical settings require more attention and research. Period pieces set in varied centuries or during wars need thorough and meticulous research. The western genre spans the period from after the American Civil War to the 1930s and is unique. Due to the popularity of western television shows and movies and the western novel, the public is quite familiar with the period. You may not have read a Zane Grey book, but you have likely seen “Gunsmoke” or “Bonanza.”

For the overall location, watching old movies or TV shows portray a somewhat accurate image of a western town or ranch. However, when writing, the nuances of the western world are imperative, and for avid readers of westerns, they will know if a single detail is wrong. Here are some critical areas to address when writing a western set in the Old West of the late 19th century:

  • Composition of the town. Most small western towns have a dry goods/general store, a smithy/stable, a jail, and a saloon (some with rooms to rent), and perhaps a post office or telegraph. Larger communities may have a train station, a stagecoach station, a hotel, a doctor, and a claims office.
  • Transportation. The horse is the primary mode of transportation. You should learn about horse sizes, how much can they carry, what breeds of horses are common, and the tack they use. They used several types of wagons to transport supplies and people as well as stagecoaches and trains.
  • Native Americans. If you include Native American characters, be aware of the tribes in the location of your story and their culture. Tribal cultures differ, and it is respectful to be accurate.*
  • Language. Research common language and slang for the era but be aware of slang words or words that do not fit the times. A reliable source for determining the first use of a word is the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
  • Food. If you are going to feed cowhands or eat in a hotel dining room in Virginia City, know what foods were common then.
  • Need a doctor? Modern medicine, as we know it, was just coming into being during this time. Look for how the doctors of the day treated gunshot wounds or fever, among other maladies.

The more accuracy you bring to your stories, the more credible your storytelling, and you will do justice to the Western.

There is one path a writer can take to vary the setting, and that is the neo-western subgenre, where the story is set in the contemporary west but maintains the characteristics of the old-west stories. A look at modern western towns, cities, and ranches will provide the accuracy needed.

And…don’t forget the cowboy hat!

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Resources:

Western World Building:

National Cowboy Museum

Legendary Towns of the Old West Then and Now

Hoofs-Wheels-Transportation West

Horse Tack

Western Wear

History of the Cowboy Hat

Medicine in the Wild West

Food Timeline 19th Century Foods

Merriam-Webster

Article:

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

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*Note: 

Accuracy is essential and telling the story from the viewpoint as it occurred is vital. While we have modern sensibilities when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans and other ethnic groups, historical accuracy is critical. When writing about events and how they occurred in the late 1800s, be truthful but respectful. Always avoid stereotyping, as it is never accurate.

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

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Announcing Writers Unite!’s sixth anthology volume.  We invite all writers of westerns or any writers interested in the western genre to submit a story to our Dimensions of The Wild West anthology.

If you are interested in submission, you must be a member of Writers Unite! on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/
If you have questions, please email writersunite16@gmail.com

Link to Guidelines for the Dimensions of the Wild Westhttps://bit.ly/3fh7zgr

Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” Today!

Join host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff as they discuss the writing process on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk”. Today’s topic is “Always Be Professional.”

On Impact Radio USA Friday at 11:00 AM Eastern Time

Tune in to hear tips about how writers should conduct themselves in the public eye!

https://www.impactradiousa.com/ Click on Listen Now!

“Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” airs LIVE on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on Impact Radio USA at 11:00 am Eastern Time. A fun hour of news, sports, discussion, interviews, jokes, contests, and fantastic music!

Tineke Peeters: Pantser

Pantser

By Tineke Peeters

What is ‘a pantser’? Well, we are the writers that ‘go with the flow’ of our ideas without a set process.

Quite a few authors have a set of rules in writing out their plot and characters from start to finish in bullet points or another form before writing the actual book.

What we do is, in general, get an idea, but don’t work it out into detail before the writing process. I call it, as I have said before, go with the flow.

Some might say the characters tell the story and guide them throughout the story.

Others would say they have a muse telling them what to write without giving you a clue about the ending.

Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a general idea obviously. There are no set ‘rules’ for how each and every author writes. All writers have their own process; no two are alike.

My personal process:

I write the first chapter without any idea of plot. My MC (main character) is only a vague character at this point. In my mind the characters get clearer as I write the next chapter. Then I start procrastinating for a few days about where this first chapter could go.

More than one scenario, with some research each, get written down on paper. If another one comes to mind one or half of another one gets scratched. When I think I have a plot, very vague still mind you, I start writing the next few chapters and then the muse comes into play. He or she, mostly she as my main character is a she as well, comes up with an idea, which I don’t have much time to work out. Bullet points are quickly noted. Problem here is that the new plot, yes, a totally new plot, doesn’t always work with what I have written yet.

I have to go back, not to edit, but to change some settings or another character. I will get the need to slap my muse around, but most of the time the new idea is better.

While writing I suddenly get stuck. Not necessarily writer’s block, but more like my vague plot needs some more detail. That is when the proverbial light bulb lights up.

Now, obviously, I get too many ideas and need to eliminate. Again, this process needs to happen fast, as my memory doesn’t work very well.

If I am still stuck, because my muse has a problem with my final idea, I chat with other writers or family or friends. They come up with ideas that my muse changes into something else, because suddenly she is happy with a certain idea that got triggered by chatting with everyone.

A perfect example was when my main character got stuck in the head of a unicorn and I didn’t know how to get her back out. What I did was talk to my teenage stepdaughter and her friend. They came up with one idea after the other, which led to another idea from my muse. This was my published book.

My recent book got some ideas from them as well, as I needed help with writing the diary of a twelve-year-old, which they are. Throughout all the ideas I got the light bulb thing again. Another idea about the plot suddenly became clear.

Basics of a pantser: no set plot, working with the characters, being open for changes throughout your story, and allowing the story to guide you.

There is always the editing process to work out the details which you missed while changing from one plot to the other.

Tineke Peeters is a 36-year-old pantser from Belgium and the author of ‘Book of Panacea,’ which can be found on Amazon.  You can find Tineke on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tineke.peeters.1

Writers Unite! Workshop: Those Pesky Brand Names

Recently an author published a story on Amazon.com that included a brand name in the title. With the investigative algorithms that they utilize, Amazon caught it and politely asked the author, who complied immediately, to correct the error. Much effort ensued to change titles, ISBN numbers, and cross-references across the author’s extensive body of work.  

In this case, it was a simple matter of oversight. The author never considered there was an issue. The brand name was so commonplace, it never occurred that using it would be a problem. A lesson that illustrates the care needed to be taken when writing.

This is not to say you can’t use brand names. You can. However, the context that you use them in is essential.

In an article written by Michy and posted on the “Accentuated Authors Services” website, she notes the following:

•    If you have a character crying in your story, she should ask for a tissue, not a Kleenex.
•    If a person is cleaning the bathroom, they should be using bleach and not Clorox.
•    Babies should be wearing diapers, not Pampers.
•    When you order a soft drink, it should be cola not Coke.
•    If cleaning ears, one should use a cotton swab, not a Q-tip.    

The point is that brand names should not be used in describing a generic product that may have numerous other brand identities. However, don’t despair, brand names can be used when identifying something specific. Michy writes that if you are in a football stadium and the Goodyear Blimp flies overhead, it is perfectly acceptable to use its correct name. For a mystery writer like me, she also mentions that if you are identifying evidence in a crime, it is okay to use the brand name and type of a tire or an automobile or other items because it is unique to the situation.

What you must not do is use a brand name in a title. As we learned at the beginning of this discussion, algorithms exist to find such occurrences, and usage will be caught by the company or publisher through Internet searches.

There are times, however, when you can use brand names. If you mention that a character drove a Ford Thunderbird as a young man and loved the car, that is acceptable, but make sure it relates to the plot. The most important thing to remember is never to use a brand name in a derogatory way. Bad-mouthing a company or product is one quick way to receive a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

Another critical factor to remember is that brands are fleeting and can date your story quickly. That is why choosing the generic word for a product, if one exists, is essential. You want your reader to relate to the product more than the brand. The fact is using too many brands can lead to your story reading like a commercial. Brands can be distracting, so use them wisely and infrequently.

There is one other area where company names and brands are important. World building is not just a tool of the science-fiction or fantasy writer. All writers build their world, and it is essential to be accurate about location when setting your story in an existing town or city. Remember, some of your readers could live there, so be precise with places and street names, and especially business names. 

I tend to be quite careful about the names of individual businesses when I write. I often set my novels in New Orleans, and I will mention Jackson Square, Café du Monde, Preservation Hall, and other iconic landmarks or businesses but set the action of my story in fictitious locations. Again, this is to keep the possibility of any negative connotation being associated with a real business or brand. You should not, however, use the names of private companies. If your scene calls for action at a restaurant which is in a specific area and there is an actual restaurant there, make up a name for it.

Using the real names of well-known landmarks provides realism to your stories and enhances the reader’s experience. I once had a reader tell me that my description of a small town in California was exactly how she remembered it from growing up. She knew the town square, the ice cream shop I mentioned, and the corner drugstore, and said I must have spent a lot of time in her hometown. The fact is I had never been there, but I utilized Google Map’s street-level view to provide the ambiance and setting for that scene. Her reaction shows that an accurate representation to your reader brings them into your story.

Writing can be a challenge. With so many factors to consider, we must remain cognizant of the issues that can harm our stories. If you do, you will not have to worry about those pesky brand names.  

Resources:
http://accentuateservices.com/archives/567

Adam J. Johnson: Benefits of Indie Publishing: Part Two

Part Two

When you think of indie publishing or self-publishing, what’s usually the first thing that comes to mind? You usually think—not quite as professional, right? Maybe not as much earning potential? Well, I’m glad you stopped in because we are going to break these misconceptions today! One thing that traditional publishing does have the advantage of is that it is a bit easier to become nationally recognized through a traditional publishing house, but we will cover that in Part Three of this series.

Issue One: I won’t be taken seriously as a self-published author.

This is something that many indie authors fear. We struggle with it and convince ourselves that we need to keep sending manuscripts to big publishing houses so we aren’t “settling” for indie publishers. Well, let’s talk about that for a minute.

Self-publishing is quickly moving to the foreground for a lot of reasons. There are some who will say that a self-published author isn’t a professional writer. The main reason for that is they don’t gain the preconceived success that comes with traditional publishing. But that’s all it is—perception. There are writers with book deals who are just scraping by, and there are self-published writers who are raking in upwards of forty thousand a month. I don’t know about you, but I would call that success! It all lies in your perception and the work you are willing to put in. If you don’t see yourself as a professional writer (even if you have a day job), then you won’t put in the work of a professional writer. Ultimately, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, then you need to take yourself seriously and work hard at honing your craft and producing your best work! Which brings us to the advantages of indie publishing.

Issue Two: There’s not as much earning potential.

This is so far from the truth it hurts! The reason this is a popular notion is because of the instant accreditation you can get through a traditional publishing house. Publications and critics will see traditional publishing as a sign of quality because the work comes from a credible source. So you will have initial purchase orders, but as we covered in part one, purchase orders don’t necessarily translate into sales. Let’s look at how indie royalties work.

There are two ways you can go—completely self-published where you handle every aspect of creation, publishing, and marketing, or there are indie publishers who pick up some of the legwork. We will delve into the differences between the two in the next part of this series. Either way you go, the royalties end up pretty similar. Amazon royalties can vary depending on where and how you are publishing.

Through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can sell print books. After their cut is taken out for printing costs and a little to wet their beak, you are left with around 23-35% profit. Which isn’t bad when you consider that you won’t have an agent taking 15% of your profit from sales.

For ebooks through KDP, as long as you are priced between $2.99 and $10, you will profit a whopping 70% of your sales—something you will never see from a traditional publisher. With population growth and the widespread use of the internet and social media, that leaves you with literally billions of people that you can potentially reach. That’s easier said than done, though. That is why it is of the utmost importance that you build your marketing skills and practice them daily!

With an indie publishing company, you will, on average, keep a flat rate of your profits, and it can vary from 40%–60% of your sales. You also get the benefit of purchasing physical copies of your own book at cost, not retail price. So, with that being the case, say you decide to sell your book at $5 a piece. With 60% profit, you will make $3 per book sold. Meaning you will only need to sell 333,333 copies of your book to make a million dollars. I say only, but we all know that isn’t easy, either. However, it’s a lot better than the 1.3 million copies you would need to sell to make a million with a traditional publisher.

Other Benefits

Some benefits that I didn’t cover are that when you completely self-publish, you retain all of your rights and are free to do what you want with your work. This could come in handy in a lot of scenarios. Also, the rate of publication is exponentially quicker. You can have your book on the market in a very short time after the final edits are complete. As you can see, there are many benefits to self-publishing—it just takes a little more work than traditional publishing. So, if you are willing to put in the work, then you will be poised to reap the benefits!

Thank you for reading, and stay inspired! Stay tuned for Part Three in our Benefits of Indie Publishing.

Writers Unite! Tips on Writing: Grammar

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NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

 

WRITING WRITING A NOVEL

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

If you have any doubts about signing up for NaNoWriMo, let’s squash them today, with my NaNoWriMo survival guide. Here a few tips and tricks for how to write a novel in a month.

It’s November! And for us writers that means it’s time to draft an entire novel at breakneck speed. Is the end result always great? Hell nah, it’s about as draft as a draft can be. But is it fun, productive, and an epic way to tell yourself the story that’s brewing in your mind? You can bet your arse it is! If you have any doubts about signing up for NaNoWriMo, let’s squash them today, with my NaNoWriMo survival guide. Here a few tips and tricks for how to write a novel in a month.

Just Tell The Story

Encouraging NaNoWriMo survival guide badge, to help readers learn how to write a novel in a monthNaNoWriMo is all about challenging yourself to get your story down on paper (or screen) as fast as possible. Unburden those epic characters from your mind, and bring them to life through words. It’s about breaking the barrier of the dreaded novel, getting the hardest part (finishing) out of the way, so it has no power left over you. 50000 words sounds intimidating, but its not a hell of a lot when you think about it. You’ve got a main character, a couple of side characters, an antagonist, a plot to unfold, multiple character arcs, all drawing to a final showdown. You’ve got this. You’ll hit 50k in no time.

The First Draft is For you

In Stephen King’s ‘On Writing,’ he talks about how you write the first draft with the door closed. It’s for you, and only you. The first draft is like a foundation, upon which you build your novel. You’re effectively telling yourself the story, with the intention to polish it up, catch plot holes, weave in a theme or moral, and all that other pretty stuff, throughout your second draft. So don’t sweat the small stuff. Start writing your story, and let the characters pull you through to the end. The hardest part of this novel writing mumbo-jumbo is telling the damn story, so rush it down! There’s time for making it cohesive, polished, and epic after.

Let’s Do The Math

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- Keep Calm and Write OnIt’s time to pull out the calculator folks, let’s dissect this baby and crunch some numbers. There are thirty days in November, that means, if we want to set ourselves a daily word count to achieve the goal, all we have to do is divide 50k by 30.

Run it through your calculator and you get 1,666.666 words per day. (Here we can see how the devil created this challenge and put his unique stamp on it.) So if you intend on writing every day of November, shoot for 1700 words per day. Simple.

But let’s be real here, are you really going to write every day? It’s unlikely. Whether you have work commitments, kids, blogs and social media to keep up with, or murders to go cover up, you’re gonna need some breathing room to deal with your personal shit. So let’s assume we can stick to a target of writing for twenty days out of the month.

50k divided by 20 is 2500

Now, 2500 words per day may seem a lot to some of you, but remember, that’s only twenty dedicated days to your NaNoWriMo challenge. While you’re pushing to write a novel in a month, it is only a draft. 2500 words of draft isn’t all that hard to get down once you get flowing, especially if you are following some kind of plot or structure. The trick is to write write write. Don’t keep checking your word count. Set an hour of dedicated, uninterrupted time, then check. If you’re done, then you’re done. If not, shoot for another hour, and go over if you can! You may save yourself another day of writing, or end up with an epic!

Remember Your ‘Why’

It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure and the challenge aspect of it all. Such demands can be stilling for writers and creatives. But try to remember your ‘why’ for taking up with NaNoWriMo. It’s not to win, It’s not to show off, and it’s not to write the most amazing novel that’s ever been written. It’s to tell yourself a full, complete story, and to break through that ‘novel completion’ boundary before it ever gets ahold of us. It’s a creative exercise to show us what is capable, with a little determination and consistency.

Exercises like this are great for an individual’s psyche. To have a positive end result at the end of a periodical commitment, reminds us that gratification and success takes time and effort. We are often disappointed and sunk into ‘lows’ due to our minds being wired to instant gratification in the modern world. Getting fifty thousand (or even twenty thousand) words down throughout a set period of time, where you are pouring in your heart and soul, rewires the part of the brain that expects everything in the now.

Look, we all have different reasons for doing things, but storytelling is an art in and of itself. It’s a beautiful element of human nature that we could scarcely live without. It’s been here from the beginning of time, and it’ll be here ‘til the end. Let’s not get lost in the intricacies of it all. Just tell the story, build the characters and setting, and enjoy the process. You’re a story teller by nature. Bravo! Now go do your ‘thang. Come back to this NaNoWriMo survival guide whenever you need a little nudge in the right direction.

Plotting Tools

Save The Cat Writes a Novel- Click to purchaseClick to purchase from amazon.com

I’m personally not a plotter. My work is pretty much exclusively character driven, and a plot tends to still me and crush my creative flow. That said, for a challenge like this, it helps to have at least a timeline of events you’d like to happen, so that you can easily work from one to the next without too much difficulty. You can always go off track and your characters can still surprise you, but the briefest of brief outlines offer a little guidance when you may be lost. Equally, if you don’t fancy writing at the point you’re at, you can jump ahead and write a scene that strikes your fancy. Win/win. It’s all words!

If you’d like a real structured plot to guide you, I personally recommend looking up the snowflake method. For everyone else, it’s worth checking out Save The Cat Writes a Novel. Even for us non-plotters, this book is novel-writing gold. It provides a guide filled with beats and moments for within your story, without tacking a rigid structure around everything. Do yourself a favour writers, and pick up your copy today. It really will help turn your novels from good, to great.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

(This is an affiliate link. I only provide links to products that I have personally used, bought, and love. I will never endorse a product I have no experience with purely for monetary gain.)

NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

All this aside, there are a few things we’re gonna need throughout November to keep us sane and on track. Us writers are a picky bunch, and we need a variety of items in order to complete our work. Below I’ve compiled a list of handy items to have on or around your desk at all times, and cues on how to use them.

  • A pad of Paper- for doodling on and scratching out notes.
  • A variety of pens- for even more epic doodles.
  • Tea & Coffee- because caffeine.
  • Coloured pencils or markers- to colour our doodles and highlight stuff.
  • A cat or other stroke-worthy cutie- because we’re writers. We’re lonely.
  • Alcohol (if of drinking age)- this helps…
  • Slippers and a Dressing Gown- comfort is key.
  • A chair cushion- once again, comfort is key.
  • A cuddly blanket- to hide from the screen when we’re stuck.
  • A teddy bear- to cuddle when times get hard. And to talk to…
  • An altar to the creative Gods- complete with candles, incense, frog eyes and snake skin, and blood for ritual sacrifice.

That should just about cover everything. Of course, bring yourself, your laptop, and your charger, and be sure to disconnect all your devices from the internet. We don’t need any distractions!

Well, that just about brings us to the conclusion of our NaNoWriMo survival guide! Doesn’t sound that hard, right? Seriously, as long as you set yourself a daily goal, and commit yourself to completing the challenge, you will succeed. It starts and ends with you. You can implement the above advice to streamline your experience, but ultimately it comes down to your dedication to getting your novel down on paper. You know you can do it, I know you can do it, so go do it! And if anyone asks you how to write a novel in a month, send them this way!

Share this post with your friends and writing groups, to help them achieve success in this amazing challenge right alongside you! And if you’d like to stay up to date with my NaNo activities and connect with me personally, head over to my Facebook. I’ll be posting daily NaNo tips and inspiration.

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

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Gary D. Holdaway from the Facebook group Fiction Writers Global has graciously shared this great article on how to survive NaNoWriMo! Read now for how to be successful as you write a novel in a month!

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide- How To Write a Novel in a Month

Also, check out Gary’s FB site: https://www.facebook.com/groups/490323944710900/

Good luck with NaNo!!!