Tag Archives: writing advice

Writing Buddies

A common stereotype for writers is that we’re quiet, solitary things with a propensity for addictive substances and hermit huts. There’s some truth to this stereotype, but I intentionally fight against it. For one, it fails to take into consideration the powerful work that can be done in collaboration. As I work on growing in my own writing craft, I learn more and more each day that I cannot grow alone. Having fellow writer friends to bounce ideas off, and even start joint projects is a great thing. If you’re not sure how to go about this, here are two options that have worked for me.

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Writers Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and John Quinn. Picture Credit: Tophams/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images.

 

Join a Fandom
Fandom, the term for the group of fans of a particular work, tends to be stigmatized. I see this as unfair. My experience shows me that fandom is a place of community and is great for starting collaboration projects, especially if you’re having trouble meeting other writers. Many large fandoms are actually well organized, and it’s easy to find specific resources, such as forums to connect with beta readers or other writers. Also, the very nature of fandom is to engage with a group of people who feel just as passionately about a work as you. To start meeting people in fandoms, poke around on Tumblr, or look into fanfiction posting sites like archiveofourown.org.

Join or Form Writing Groups
Another good way to meet writers is by joining or forming a writing group. Sometimes, writing groups already exist in communities, and you can find them by going through your public library or a local book store. These spaces are good for bouncing your ideas off an impartial audience, but in general I find their less good for forming lasting relationships that can lead to good works of collaboration. For that, it’s best to start your own group. A fellow writer friend and I send each other little writing prompts and responses now and then. The exercise is simple, but keeps us both accountable to write regularly. Don’t be afraid to approach friends or acquaintances and ask to start writing with them. Chances are, they need a writing buddy too!

 

 

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Tips and Tricks for Balancing Life and Writing

Writing is hard enough without having a life to live on top of it. Right now I’m back to working full-time while my co-worker is on vacation. It’s a temporary arrangement, but it has reminded me how hard it is to find time to write, especially when you have a full-time job, are a student, or have children.

While I can’t claim to have the perfect solution, I have been at this long enough to have some advice for you writers out there struggling to find time for your craft.

Prioritize
As with any long-term goal you set out to accomplish, if you want to write a book you need to make it a priority in your life. However, you have other priorities, too. Obviously you need to make sure you eat and sleep. Having income (and therefore, a job) is important to provide that food and the roof you sleep under. Then, we all depend on our relationships with others and entertainment. This list is kind of rough, but you get the picture. Our lives are busy. If you find you don’t have time to write but you want that time, you have to do without something else. I am lucky enough to have a flexible employer, so I made the switch to part-time at work. It meant less money in our bank account, but it was a sacrifice I and my husband were willing to make. If cutting hours at work isn’t an option for you, perhaps consider cutting out some pleasure time in your evening. Instead of watching a TV show, spend half an hour working on your book.  Both Samantha Shannon and Veronica Roth wrote their debut novels while still in university. Both said they had to give up things to do it.

Schedule
Scheduling your time more deliberately goes hand-in-hand with prioritizing. One problem I often have is letting other activities, like errands, get in the way of my writing time. Not everyone does well with a schedule, but I recommend trying it all the same. Perhaps, one day a week, make a spreadsheet of the rest of your week. Work out what you have to do and how much time it takes. Schedule whatever time you can to write, whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours. The next part is the trickiest: stick to your schedule! It’s hard at first, but once it becomes a routine, it’ll make things a little easier on you, and your craft will benefit from the regular work.

Get Help
Maybe you have already tried prioritizing your life and working out a schedule and you still can’t find the time. In this case, it’s time to reach out to those in your life who care about you. Going back to my job situation, it would have never worked if my husband was not fully on board with me contributing less income. Perhaps you could ask a friend to watch your kids one day a week so you can have some alone time to write. Maybe a friend at work could trade shifts with you. We all need people to help us get through life. Just don’t be afraid to ask.

Plan For the Future
The sad truth is sometimes we go through periods in our life where it is impossible to find the time. Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent in the Yukon with no nearby friends and no time to yourself. Maybe it’s the busy season at work and you’ve been asked to work overtime. Maybe you’re a student. When I was a Sophomore in university I had to choose between writing a book and attaining the goals I set for myself in school. It was a tough decision, but I realized that I couldn’t do both and decided to postpone working on a book until I graduated. Making the decision to put off my big project helped me to focus back on my studies. These sort of life situations are often temporary. We will graduate. Our kids will start to go to school. Our jobs can change. If you can’t find the time to write now, work on a plan for the future when you can write.

So, does anyone else have any life balancing tricks you can pass on?

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My Favorite Writing Advice Blogs and Resources

I spend a lot of space on this blog offering advice based off my own experiences. This is my blog, after all. But, I feel I would be doing a disservice to all of you writer’s out there if I didn’t also share some of the goodness I’m learning from other blogs. I’m semi self-taught as a writer, and I owe a great deal of what I know (and what I therefore pass on to you) to many different, invaluable sources. So, what follows is a list of my favorite blogs and writing resources. I hope it’s as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Writing Advice Blogs
WriteWorld: Offers various writing tips as well as “Writer’s Block” exercises.
Small Blue Dog Publishing: Great advice for writing, traditional publishing, and self publishing. Her beta reading advice was particularly helpful for me.
Slithering Ink: Very thoughtful, general writing tips as well as book and movie reviews.
Yeah Write: More of a community base than strictly an advice blog, offering loads of resource links, ways to connect with other writers, and inspiration.
Legit Writing Tips: This blog offers loads of tips and answers reader questions regularly.
Writing With Color: A very good blog for any writer, but especially if you’re considering writing the stories of people of color.

Author Blogs
Fishing Boat Proceeds: John Green’s Tumblr blog. He mostly just reblogs/shares, but occasionally he opens his Ask Box.
Samantha Shannon: Samantha Shannon’s Tumblr blog. She regularly answers questions about the publishing and writing process and is also generous with reblogging other writer’s advice.
N.K. Jemisin: Author N.K. Jemisin’s blog. I only recently found this blog, but she gives great advice. Also, she talks about video games, which rocks.
Kate Elliott: Kate Elliott’s blog. Another great writer offering really good advice.

Resource Links
Behind the Name: A good jumping off point for finding character names. However, be wary if picking a name from an unfamiliar culture. It’s always best to do further research.
Good Reads: A good spot for connecting with other writers or your readers if you have published work.
TV Tropes: Despite its title, this site is not limited to just television. Great for checking your story for problematic tropes.

Do you guys have any favorite writing advice or author blogs?

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Four Teas for Writing

All writers should be familiar with the soothing powers of tea. Aside from numerous health benefits, tea can be used as a mild stimulant to get your brain working or a sedative to help you relax and recover. Case in point: I’m in between revisions of Footfall and looking to find other things to keep me occupied. Spending time worrying about starting my next draft just makes me unnecessarily anxious. So, I’m taking a short break from writing and I’m enjoying several regular cups of my favorite herbal and rooibos teas to help me relax. It’s a simple pleasure, but sometimes returning to simple pleasures is just what we need to make it through a difficult period of time. Here are a few of my favorite teas for writing, whether I’m powering through a draft or trying to recover from burnout.

Jasmine Green Tea
Brand: Sunflower
Why I Drink It: This is a very straightforward green tea with a very nice jasmine flavor. Unlike some jasmine teas, it doesn’t taste like it’s been sprayed with perfume. Also, the caffeine level is moderate, so it’s a good drink for when I need a mild boost but don’t want to be up late.
Where To Find It: I’ve seen it in several Asian groceries stores and I know Amazon sells it as well.

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Summer Evenings Herbal Tea
Brand: Victoria’s Lavender
Why I Drink It: As with most herbal teas, I find the warmth and smooth flavors help keep me calm, if not down right drowsy. Also, this is a very satisfying blend of flavors, none overpowering any other. It’s good hot or iced and is what I’m drinking right now to help me relax.
Where To Find It: You can order it online here.

No. 18 Georgian Blend Tea
Brand: Harrods
Why I Drink It: This black tea blend is smooth but powerful, packing a nice punch of caffeine. I used to drink it in college when I needed to stay up late. This tea also goes nicely with cream and sugar, a little bonus when I feel like treating myself.
Where To Find It: Harrods in London or you can order it online. However, shipping to the US is nearly three times the cost of the tea, so be warned. As far as I can tell, Amazon does not sell it.

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Market Spice Cinnamon Orange Tea
Brand: Market Spice
Why I Drink It: Mostly I drink this for sentimental reasons now, since it was a favorite of my mother-in-law. However, this tea does stand on its own two feet, offering a robust orange-cinnamon flavor. Market Spice makes it in black or rooibos tea blends. Both are tasty, but the rooibos is caffeine free, which is a nice option.
Where to Find It: Their store in Pike Place Market, their online store, or Amazon.

Are you guys tea drinkers, or do you prefer coffee or something else? I like coffee, but have learned that it upsets my stomach if I drink it too late in the day.

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3 Recommendations for Finding Inspiration

I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. If the words don’t flow, there’s a good chance you are just bored with your project and you need to either a) figure out how to inject more energy into said project, or b) put the project aside and start something new. However, I do think that blockage of creativity can sometimes be caused by mental fatigue or a lack of inspiration. In this case, I have a list of recommendations that have always helped me get back into my groove

Exercise
In general, most creative types I know (myself included) are not very physically active. We like to read books, watch movies, and sink into indoor hobbies. However, I cannot stress enough how often I’ve felt mentally fatigued, gone out for a run, and felt 100% ready for more writing. There’s been a lot of research into the mental benefits of exercise. The American Psychological Association says here that exercise boosts mood and fights depression. The little mental boost you get from a game of tennis or bike ride might be just what you need to get through your creative slump. So, if you’re having trouble writing a scene or have been struggling with a project for a while, I suggest getting out and doing a favorite activity. It doesn’t have to be running. A nice nature hike or walk in the park could work, or anything else, really. Just as long as you get your body working.

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An inspiring view from an inspiring hike.

Art
Inspiration can come from many different places, including other forms of art. When I’m stuck on a story, sometimes I find sketching a character or a location can help me find that source of energy I’m lacking. If you haven’t explored art outside of your own writing, give it a try. You don’t have to be good as long as you stay relaxed. If drawing or painting doesn’t work for you, try more three-dimensional forms, like clay. If you can’t get into your own art enough to feel relaxed, try going to a gallery or looking at other people’s work online. Deviantart can be a great resource for finding fantasy or science fiction artists. Also, many reputable museums have online galleries which are FREE to access, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We shouldn’t forget poetry either. Sometimes the images or word sounds a poem produces are perfect creative fuel for getting back into your novel. So, if you’re not sure what art form will be the most inspiring for you, experiment and see what happens.

Adrienne__s_Library_by_CptHandel

A quick sketch I did a few years ago of a character’s room . Drawing scenes like this help me better understand my characters and get my creative juices flowing.

 

Music
I’ve already explained on this blog how I find music inspiring. Sometimes I can write to it, sometimes I can’t. However, I always find a story popping into my brain when a song plays. I find classical music gets me going the best, but everyone is different. If you don’t own a lot of music or want to explore other artists/musicians, try finding playlists on YouTube or Pandora of your preferred genre. If you’re looking to set a specific mood, 8tracks.com has a pretty nifty set up where you can input a variety of search terms and find user-made playlists. Live music can even be better, so look for concerts in your area or clubs/restaurants/coffee shops that host live musicians.

I hope these three recommendations for battling mental fatigue and finding inspiration are helpful. Do you guys have any tried and true mental boosters to help you write?

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Two Approaches to Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.

But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.

Forgotten_villa_by_CptHandel

Sometimes I like to start my world building by sketching . Here’s a building I sketched for one of my older stories.

Define: Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.

There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.

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This is Ofrina, an early map of a continent I created. I used political map because I was trying to decide the country borders.

Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.

The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.

The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.

Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.

So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.

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Villains Part II: Crafting the Ideal Foe

Last week I discussed a few of what I see as the key archetypes for villains in literature and pop culture. I had a lot of fun researching it, but the discussion left me wondering what separated my favorite villains from the rest. In other words, what makes a good villain. Continue reading

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5 Ways To Become a Better Writer (what worked for me)

I never used to seek advice from other writers. In fact, I actively avoided it. I was afraid of criticism. However, someone at some point gave me three very powerful words to chew on: grow up, Hannah. So, I did. The only tricky part was finding the advice that worked for me.  Luckily, we live in a world where hundreds of successful authors have an online presence and are happy to offer the tricks they’ve picked up. I began to read articles by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, among many others. Above all things, they told me, no one can tell me how to write my story. No one can write  it but me. However, they did have a few simple tips, which I’ve collected. These tips have helped me improve my writing immensely. So, here they are. Feel free to steal/borrow them. They aren’t mine, after all. Continue reading

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