Saturday, May 30, 2020

When it comes to hooking an agent, simply hoping they like your voice, style, etc... simply won’t cut it. Unbeknownst to many new writers, there is a formula—specific key elements that must be in your first pages. After page three, preferably by page one, the reader (or in this case potential agent) must be able to answer these six questions:

Who is your main character? This one sounds like a duh, but you’d be surprised how often this small, yet vital, piece of information doesn’t show up until page ten. What is your MC’s name? Is your MC a child? A dog? A rock with an unlikely sense of humor? Tell the reader who they are reading about.

What does your main character want? Your MC has to want something. To quote Robert McAdams, a great mentor and writing guru, “It can be as simple as wanting a cup of coffee, and as serious as wanting to kill someone.” Who wants to read about a character who is utterly content, someone who has everything they want and will never want anything? Yeah, boring.

Why does your main character want what they want? Take it from Lisa Cron, author of Story Genius, if you want people to care about your story, you must be able to answer this question: Why? Let’s say your main character wants something as simple as coffee. Ask yourself why your MC (let’s call him Jerry) wants it. Maybe Jerry pulled double-shifts at Burger King and he needed the caffeine to get through his 6 a.m. Physics class. That’s great. It helps the reader. But don’t stop there. Why does Jerry care about his Physics class? Maybe he’s retaken this class three times and it’s his last chance before losing his scholarship. Answering the why creates depth to your story. Always—through your entire manuscript, not just the first page—tell the reader why.

In what world, country, state, universe does the story take place? Here is another obvious, yet elusive detail. It might be important to mention whether your MC is floating in outer space or their backyard pool in Beverly Hills pool. Just sayin’.

What is the ticking clock? The clock. It goes hand in hand with stakes, and everyone knows that a good story has high stakes. Back to Jerry. Jerry wants coffee before his 6AM Physics class. There is your ticking clock. His class starts at 6 a.m. and he needs to get coffee before then or else what? This is where stakes come to play. Jerry has ten minutes to get to class before his final exam. He knows if he doesn’t get that coffee he will fall asleep and ultimately fail the final. This brings us to the last key element.

What stands in your main character’s way? It wouldn’t be much of a story if all Jerry had to do was leisurely stop by Starbucks on his way to class without one thing holding him up. No, that again would be boring. Write about all the terrible forces keeping Jerry from his desperately sought-after cup of coffee. Because, that is what makes a story.

Cortney Winn is one of Word Addicts marketing gurus. She is currently working on her first novel Embers of The Phoenix. Learn more about Cortney HERE

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Writing can be hard. Especially for writers. Motivation comes and goes like a butterfly on the wind.

In Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer he states: “A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or disects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.”

Here are 5 things to try, to help you keep your “arse in the chair” and stay motivated to write.

Find your space.

This may take you some time and a little bit of trial and error, but knowing what works for you is a first step in staying motivated. As you experiment and look for your space, think of your five senses and what you personally need to stay focused to write.

I need a visually clean, appealing space, fresh air/comforting scent, silence/soft music, a full stomach, a floor desk so I can sit cross legged, and a comfortable temperature.

I’ve found that my bedroom ticks all my boxes. I have my floor desk near a window for fresh air, candles and a blanket ready if it's cold out, I keep it clean and tidy, and I make sure my stomach is taken care of before I begin.

Maybe you work best alone too. Maybe you work best surrounded by people. Try a park, a coffee shop, a nature walk, a cafe. Feel the difference between a computer and pen and paper. Noise and silence. Standing vs. sitting. Find what feels right. And don’t be afraid to take the journey again if it stops working!

Make It A Priority.

This one is essential to staying motivated, and quite possibly the hardest one to accomplish. Making writing a priority in your life, especially for beginners, can feel selfish or frivolous. It is not! We live in a culture that has taught us that if we do not get immediate or monetary results then it isn’t worthy of our time. BS!

Write because you love to write! You don’t need permission from society or someone else to make this a priority in your life. Give yourself permission. And don’t allow shame or guilt to talk you out of it.

Pay for a babysitter! Let the kids watch TV for an hour. Leave the chores undone. It’s okay.

Inhale.

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, said in her book Love Warrior: “Reading is my inhale, writing is my exhale.”

Yeah, let that sink in.
We all need to inhale before we can exhale. Read. If you feel like you don’t have time, listen to audio books. Don’t just read the comfortable easy stuff. Read that and more. Read the hard stuff. Read about things you know nothing about.

In addition to reading, talk to people. Push the conversation deeper. Talk to people you don’t know. Different than you people. Ask questions. Experience intellectual conflict. Be open minded. Inhale. Exhale.

We don’t do it to become experts on certain subjects. We do it to dissect. To explore. To understand bits of the world, bits of ourselves. To feel uncomfortable. To understand why.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Find Your Person or People

Sister is my person. Before her I kept my writing to myself exclusively. I would only share it if I was in a class and had to.

Sister is my confidant. Nothing I write about scares her away. She is my encouragement. She pushes me to share with others, to finish, to create, to go deeper. Sister is my proofreader. She gives me honest feedback and a fresh perspective.

Find a person. Or a group. But find them. Moving outside of yourself will hold you accountable and propel you forward. Sharing with someone you trust will allow you to taste vulnerability without getting burned. The burning will come later, but you will be ready because you have your people.

Share Your Talent

This goes beyond your people. This is the burning. This is not a taste of vulnerability anymore, this is the whole enchilada.

I say “Share Your Talent” because you don’t need to wait for a finished product to get yourself and your work out there. Sign up for a writing group, a contest, become a contributor on a blog. Commit to something that will push you to write! That commitment and accountability is a huge motivator.

It doesn’t really matter how or where you share your writing. Just that you do.

Don’t wait to get paid to share. Don’t wait for the perfect storm of recognition and audience. Just put it out there. Print it out and ask some friends to read it. Start a blog just for your work. Just get it out into the universe!

The criticism, encouragement, rejection and confidence you will experience by sharing your talent and your work will build you into a better writer, prepare you for more feels to come, and motivate you to keep going.

When it all comes down to it persistence is key. Just don’t stop. No matter what.

To be a writer, you must write. Write everyday. Write junk. Write about why you don’t want to write. Write until something amazing happens, and if it doesn’t, keep writing. As Colum McCann states: “Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair.”


Amy Jorgensen is a Word Addict and is currently working on her first novel. Learn more about Amy HERE.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

When is a novel done? Finished. Finito. When, amidst the flurry of activity to get a story out there, do you consider a work fully and completely "done"?

Is it when you’ve hit that final keystroke after that last chapter and you sit back and think, “I did it. The story is told!”

Is it after you’ve spent a grueling two months deleting and rewriting and hating on your descriptions and rethinking plot holes and after your editor has shredded your manuscript with red pen and then…then! Editing is completed! Is it done?

When you are holding it in your hands, a bound version of your dreams and hopes and wishes – when you are signing your autograph inside the cover – is it done?

When you see it receive reviews – is it done?

When, after a few months, you pick it up to reread it just to see if you can tolerate your own writing yet, and you find that maybe you had something to offer. Maybe?

Are you done?

No. At least, you shouldn’t be. Writing a novel isn’t a sprint or a marathon or any other lame analogy this world spews out at you. You don’t run your guts out to achieve the finish line and be done with a story. You don’t walk away and pat yourself on the back.

That book is a part of you now. Like a growth on your soul, it’s going to be with you always. You are always going to care about your book. Even if it sucked a little. Even if it didn’t make you a penny in profits.

Writing, being a writer, doesn’t have an expiration date. Your stories, your book-babies, your heart-and-soul-via-words, will not be done, even after you are gone. They will continue to give something to every reader, to change the minds and hearts of those who pick it up, possibly until the world ends.

I know this isn’t what you were expecting out of this post. You wanted info on when you can finally relax after you’ve done your running to get a manuscript out. You’re exhausted and want to know when you will be normal again. Or, better yet, you are already underway being sure you will never be normal again because writing has you. It has taken hold of you and it won’t let go.

You have written and are therefore a writer. You will never be ‘done’.

A. Shepherd is the author of several published short stories and the novel To Wake A Sleeping Child. Learn more about her and her books HERE.

Friday, May 15, 2020

What was said, and who said it? If you’ve built the context, your reader will know how it was said and often who said it. 

Kill your fancy attributions, and the adverbs that follow after them. If your characters are “retorting,” “complaining,” “exclaiming,” and “musing,” and if they’re doing it “assertively,” “whiningly,” “angrily,” or “thoughtfully,” you’re probably just repeating yourself, maybe more than once.  


“Look at him, mowing the lawn in the snow!” she complained, angrily.


Readers sigh and close the book. The writing is shallow when you tell them rather than show them. Primary school teachers taught us to fatten our prose with verbs and adverbs. They were wrong. Free yourself!

Characters say things while they’re doing things. If the doing is done well, you can cut the fat.


Debbie pulled the curtain aside. “Look at him, mowing the lawn in the snow!” she complained, angrily.


Hmmm...


Debbie pulled jerked the curtain aside open. “Look at him, mowing the lawn in the snow!” she said, angrily.


Readers need attribution verbs sometimes, to keep track of a conversation. “Said” is perfect. Your editor will likely tell you this after she strikes your fancy attributions. “Said” is a nearly invisible word, like “the” or “and.” Anything else calls the reader’s attention to the word itself. And once they are forced to remember they’re reading words, the curtain is pulled back, and there you are standing at your contraptions, pushing buttons and pulling levers. 

On the other hand, those fancier verbs of attribution and their accompanying adverbs can sometimes be just what you need. They are the expensive seasonings in your spice cabinet; they should be used sparingly, with measurement and forethought. Let them be like truffle oil and saffron. Use them where they fit perfectly to enhance the flavor of your writing without calling attention to themselves. Afford yourself only a few drops, or a single string; here and there; an I-can-count-on-five-fingers-the-number-of-times amount of them in your book. Used in this way, they won’t overpower your writing, and your readers will more fully enjoy their experience.


James Elliott Mitchell owns a small publishing company, and occasionally gets to work on his own writing. Learn more about him HERE.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

So you’ve finished your manuscript.

Though it is a time for celebration you’re still miles away from the finish line. Here are a few tips for nailing the query, which will ultimately determine the future of your manuscript. . . No pressure.

  • Your manuscript must be done, polished, and completely perfect. Then, and only then, should you tackle the query letter. This is arguably the most important rule of querying. Why? Because if your manuscript is lacking, it won’t matter how amazing your query letter is. Agents won’t bite.
  • Each word of your query must be vital and specific. In other words, and I’ll quote Stephen King here, “Cut needless words.” I’ll show you what I mean. Take a look at these two examples and tell me which sounds better to you.
    • Joe Sharp is a really troubled guy. He shows up to a job interview only to find trouble.
    • Joe Sharp, a fifty-nine year old carpenter, finds himself out of work with no retirement. After being turned down by ten companies, his last-chance interview, it turns out, is with his ex-wife. 
See the difference there? Don’t tell the agent that your character is really troubled; tell the agent why. Notice how both examples are only two sentences, yet one contains more vital details? Be specific. Cut useless words.
  • Query the right agents. If your manuscript is an adult sci-fi, don’t waste your time, or the poor agent’s, by querying someone who only represents young adult romance. Just don’t.
  • Get connected. Twitter is a querying writer’s best friend. The writing community on Twitter is like no other. Follow other writers. Follow agents. Don’t underestimate this tip. Agents post advice for writers, participate in pitch events, and often do live Q&A sessions. Other writers are not your competition. They are full of knowledge! Befriend them. All that said, Twitter hosts tons of writing events and contests that have been known to kick-start careers.


Cortney Winn is one of Word Addicts marketing gurus. She is currently working on her first novel Embers of The Phoenix. Learn more about Cortney HERE.

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