Monthly Archives: June 2015

Don’t be a Bad Writer! Learn What Good Writers Know

14753911496_29be0d1081_mMany people talk about bad writing versus good writing. Often the label of “good” or “bad” extends past the writing to the writer. There are many possible reasons as to why one writer may be considered “bad,” while another is thought of as “good.” But what is the main difference between good and bad writers?

Resilience.

Good writers are persistent. They refuse to give up. Bad writers stop when they hit a roadblock.

Most often a writer’s first novel isn’t all that great. Writing takes work, and the more you write, and the more you learn to write, the better you become at it. Writing a novel, short story, etc. is a big feat. However, writing a piece of work is only the first part. Revising and editing a piece comes after. Many times revision takes longer than writing the piece.

A writer friend of mine can write a novel in one month. Her first draft is a hot mess (she’s a pantser), which is part of the reason why it takes her months to revise. Typically, she’ll revise her novel twice before she gives it out to two to three beta readers. Then, she waits for their feedback, and when she gets that feedback, she listens to it.

Another friend of mine recently admitted that for the vast majority of feedback he receives, he simply nods his head and smiles, and then ignores whatever was said, rejecting it without any consideration. It’s not all that surprising that he is nowhere near as successful in the writing world as my previously mentioned friend.

Criticism makes your writing better. Having people other than yourself look at your work, allows you to see past your blind spots. You don’t have to be a perfectionist to be a good writer, but you do have to persevere, rewrite, and write consistently.

Bad writers don’t realize this, or choose not to.

You may have come across writers who get defensive when they receive feedback on their work. Maybe you’re one of those writers. It doesn’t help to be closed off to criticism. Yes, it can be frightening to think that your work it brilliant and then receive feedback and realize that your writing needs a lot of work. But in the end, your work will be more realistic and believable. It will have better pacing and will suck readers in. Make your work the best it can be, so that readers will stay up all night just to finish your work.

Do all you can to improve your writing. Be open to feedback and changing your work, even if that means cutting out a few chapters, eliminating a beloved character, or starting over. The goal is to make your work shine. Do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images)

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Why Writers Are Looked Down Upon

The other day someone asked me what I do for a living. I told them I work at a hospital, and then I hesitantly added that I’m also a graduate student. Why was I hesitant? Attending graduate school is an important step in many career paths. It can open a lot of doors and many people look up to individuals with advanced degrees.

However, I knew the next question the person was going to ask. “What graduate program are you in?”

4744982425_fe42abfa42_mWhen I answered, “I’m in a masters in writing program,” the reaction was almost uniform. It seems that most people look down on writers. I’ve even had a few family members ask what I’m doing to move forward with my “real” job. One person said to me, “Don’t good writers automatically know how to write?” As if every person in a writing program is incapable of writing well and therefore requires help.

Here’s a short list of authors who attended either an MA in writing program or an MFA program: Lauren Oliver, New York Times bestseller, Elizabeth Kostova, recipient of the Hopwood Award, Richard Ford, recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

I’ve wondered why so many people look down on writing programs and writers in general. Unless an author is financially successful (J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, etc.), people expect writers to have ‘real’ professions, such as being a teacher, a lawyer, or an editor.

I think writers tend to get looked down upon because:

  1. Most people think they can write and publish a novel. There have been multiple instances where I’ve heard people say, “I’m going to write a novel someday,” “Writing isn’t that hard,” or, “Haven’t you been published yet?” They don’t realize how much time and energy go into writing a full length novel. Nor do they understand that getting an agent and then a book deal is like finding the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. (Getting an agent doesn’t solely depend on how well a book is written. Timing, what published books are popular at the moment, the mood of the agent, the query letter, connections, luck, etc. all play a role in whether or not a writer snags an agent.)
  2. Writers = artists. Like most forms of art, whether painting, music, or dancing, writing is seen as a hobby. It’s something to do in your spare time. It’s not a serious profession. Very few people can live off the money they make from writing. Very few people make any money from writing.
  3. Writing is a lonely road. Unlike many other types of jobs, writing is an individual process. This means that people don’t see how much time a writer dedicates to his story. It’s not only about writing those 80,000 words. There’s revisions and editing, getting people you trust to read your work and critique it (this stage is about the only one with outside interaction, until you query), and then there’s more editing.

There’s a prejudice against writing as a serious pursuit. However, writing takes a huge amount of dedication. Many people who begin a novel never finish, and out of those that do, many don’t go back and do the necessary revisions to make the novel publishable. Even if a novel is in its best condition and a writer has multiple people telling him to query because they loved his novel, there’s no guarantee that an agent will pick up the book. Writing takes resilience and one heck of a backbone.

Yet, though I know all of this, it still can hurt when I see peoples’ reactions to my chosen graduate degree. Yes, writing is most likely not going to set me up for life, but I don’t write because I’m looking for financial gain. I write because I love writing. I wouldn’t be happy if writing wasn’t in my life, so though non-writers have difficulty understanding why I’m pursuing a path that has few outward benefits, I’m going to continue doing it…and spend my free time hanging out with other writers.

Why do you think people tend to look down on writers?

(Photo courtesy of Gerrit Schirmer.)

5 Ways Not to Start Your Novel

The opening pages of a novel are extremely important. They’re what readers see first, and if they’re good, they’ll catch readers’ attention and draw them into the story. However, if they don’t catch readers’ attention, then the rest of your novel will go unread. With having dedicated so much time to your work, you want readers to finish, and then recommend, your writing.

Here are five things your opening pages should not have:

  1. dog-and-hydrantSpelling or grammatical errors. If readers see typos, awkward sentence structures, etc. on the first pages of a work, they’re more likely to assume that the work is amateur, poorly written, and/or that the details haven’t been fleshed out. Perhaps the rest of the novel doesn’t have any grammatical errors, but if there are errors on the opening pages, readers will make negative assumptions about the rest of the work and will be less likely to continue reading it.
  2. sunny_days_3_by_kokoshadow-d2xwxjlWeather. This is a clichéd opening. At one point in history (see Victorian literature), opening a story with a description of the weather worked because it was new. Nowadays, weather has been so overdone as an opening that it doesn’t attract readers. Not to mention that a winding description of the weather isn’t a huge attention grabber in its own right.
  3. a53Rise and shine. There is nothing exciting about reading about how a character wakes up in the morning, goes through his morning routine, and thinks about all the things he has to do that day. The morning wake-up routine as a story opening will makes readers want to hit their own snooze buttons.
  4. gI_64173_flying dreamDreams. It’s fine to have a short dream sequence(s) within your novel, but not as your opening. When readers start a novel, they want to be grounded in the reality of the world. They believe that what they’re reading is the core information they’ll need throughout the story. They don’t want to get sucked into the first few pages only to realize that everything they’ve read was a dream. That feels like a lie and a trick.
  5. Too-much-distractionsDistractions from the main theme(s). The beginning of a piece of work should incorporate the main theme(s) of the novel. Readers should have a good idea of where the novel is going after they’ve read the opening. If readers are left confused, focused on lesser themes or idle dialogue, or overwhelmed with an information dump, that’s not good.What about you? 

What about you? Are there any types of opening scenes that make you shut a book?

(Photos courtesy of TheGoodMenProjectkokoShadow, TheJewishLady, PRWeb, and ManishKapoor.)

Stop the Attack! Handling Negative Feedback without Losing Your Mind

writing

Writing is a personal act. In order to write well, a writer must dig within himself. This means getting attached to one’s writing, the characters, storyline, etc. This also means opening oneself up to public scrutiny. We’ve all read book reviews at some point in our lives. Some reviews are absolutely amazing, while others can be really hurtful.

With the Internet being so prevalent in our lives, it’s easy to go online and comment on authors and their writing. The anonymity makes it even easier for readers to say just what they think about someone or someone’s writing, without truly thinking through what they’re saying.

This can make it difficult for writers to want to share their work with the world, especially if they’re concerned about offending someone. In one of my stories, I had two cops get killed. It was necessary to the story that they died, but I received some very negative backlash for that story. A few individuals didn’t like that the cops died and they made it very clear how I was being un-American and how I was making police look bad. These few readers grossly misinterpreted my writing, but it still stung to read their reviews.

No matter what you write or how careful you are trying not to offend anyone, you will tick someone off. There are too many people in this world to have everyone like your writing. Look at some of the most famous works of literature. They could have sold millions of copies, but not everyone likes them.

So, how do you handle the negativity?

  1. The best thing to do is to ignore the hurtful words. That’s so much easier said than done, but when you engage with someone who wrote something nasty about you or your writing, you’ll only end up with a headache. Going back and forth with someone who isn’t thinking rationally, or who only wants to rant, isn’t a productive or healthy use of your time.
  2. Laugh off the comments. This specific example doesn’t pertain to writing, but it gets the point across of how ridiculous some comments can be. One of my friends posted a picture of herself pre-weight loss. She was slightly overweight, but still looked amazing. She got a lot of people calling her fat and fugly and all sorts of horrible things. (One even went as far as telling her to starve herself.) Then, after she reached her goal weight, she posted another picture of herself (she had spent her time training for a marathon, and had just completed it). Instead of receiving an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, there were some people who told her she was too skinny, that she had too much muscle, and that she looked too manly and so was ugly. Then, there were still a few people who said she was fat. No matter what happens there are people in this world who strive to put other people down. Most times their comments make no sense, so laugh them off. Who knows, maybe those individuals giving negative feedback are doing so because they’re unhappy with their lives and are displacing their anger and disappointment at themselves onto you.
  3. Embrace the fact that people are reacting to your writing. Whether good or bad, comments are feedback. When people take time out of their busy schedules to comment on something you wrote, you’ve struck a chord with them. You’ve influenced them in some way. At the end of the day that’s what writers hope to accomplish: creating an impact on peoples’ lives. Look at Fifty Shades of Grey. This was a book that many people hated, and they made their feelings well known. However, if readers hadn’t been so boisterous in their ranting, this novel wouldn’t have been nearly as financially successful as it was.

How do you go about handling negative feedback?

(Photo courtesy of ChristaBanister.)

Why Reading Outside of Your Comfort Zone Will Make You a Better Writer

tbr-pilesReading diversely expands writers’ knowledge of literature, various writing styles, tone, etc. Without reading, we wouldn’t know how to write well. What captures readers’ attention? What creates tension or multi-dimensional characters? What makes a story a bestseller? Without reading all sorts of books, we wouldn’t be able to answer these questions.

Goodnight Moon is the first book I remember reading. When I was a child, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew, the Baby-Sitters Club series, and the Magic Tree House series. As I got older, I read Harry Potter, Anne Rice, Laini Taylor, and more. I found myself gravitating toward the same types of books, namely fantasy and science fiction. I loved escaping into different realities, but eventually I started wondering if reading the same types of books was enough.Goodnightmoon

One thing important to writing is finding your own voice. I’ve heard people say that there are no more original ideas in the world. I can see where those people are coming from. Looking at the fantasy and science fiction novels I’ve read, many of them have similar premises, but they are not the same. What makes them unique is how the story is portrayed. How can you find your distinct voice if you’re only reading the same types of books? Without stepping out of your bubble, your knowledge base is limited.

So, I started expanding. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackmann, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, books by the Bronte sisters, C.S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, and more. I even read some poetry, and found that though I’m not a fan of poetry, it greatly helped me understand the art of condensed writing. Poets don’t have the luxury of a novel length word count. Every line – every word – they write is deliberate and important. That’s why it can be challenging to interpret poetry because there is so much information crammed into such a small space. Born2run

Reading widely has given me a fuller picture of writing. It’s helped me to develop my voice in writing, both by showing me aspects of writing I enjoyed and ones I didn’t. As I started reading more diversely, I found myself able to better analyze novels, short stories, and poems. Reading widely made me a more attentive reader. For writers that is extremely important.

What types of books have you read that you normally wouldn’t have?

 

(Photos courtesy of So Many Books and Wikipedia.)