Tag Archives: writing tips

Write By Midnight Pep Talk 9-27-2021

Whether it’s dialogue, transitions, rushing through a scene, anticlimactic action sequences or showing vs. telling, every writer struggles with some aspect of their craft. Don’t waste your precious time drafting scenes you know miss the mark. Dedicate some time now to overcoming your weaknesses. Writers are generous when it comes to sharing tips of the trade. Spend time finding blogs and podcasts by writers for writers. Take advantage of the archive keyword search feature to hone in on the area you want to improve. Find resource books dedicated to becoming a better writer and read the chapters that cover the skill you want to develop. Chances are, you’ve also read books by authors who did a good job of writing the way you want to write. Revisit those books and study their techniques. Write by Midnight 2022 will be here before you know it. Use the coming months to learn, practice and improve so you can make the most of our next write-a-thon.

Playing Professor

Megan Norris Jones

The oppressive heat of summer gave way just a bit over the weekend, and I felt the first hint of cooler weather. It was enough to turn my mind to the fall and all the back-to-school habits this season ingrained in me throughout the years (and years!) of my education. Unfortunately, I don’t have a professor laying out a syllabus of lectures, readings, and assignments that will have me rolling into December a better writer. Nope. I’ve just got me. But lucky for you, you’ve got me, too, and I’ve put together a syllabus that will keep me on track for the next four months, at least. Feel free to copy it and tweak it to fit your own needs and schedule.

The first component of any good class is the lecture. I’ve had a number of writing podcasts I’ve listened to over the years, but the one I’ve stuck with through it all is Writing Excuses. This season each of the hosts is taking turns leading a master class on a topic of their choosing, and the result is excellent.

Weekly Lectures:
Writing Excuses Podcast

Why is school better than independent study? Classmates! My school memories don’t center around lectures but rather the relationships I built with friends along the way, so my self-designed syllabus definitely includes peer interactions.

Group Work:
Participate in weekly WriteOwls check-in for writing accountability
Participate in monthly critique group

Books on writing never cease to provide me with inspiration and practical advice on how to improve my craft. I have a stable of favorites that I return to, but I have several on my TBR list that it’s high time I sat down in read, so they’ll act as the textbooks for my semester. I’ve structured my deadlines so that I can focus on my reading during holidays when I know I typically don’t get a lot of writing done. That way I won’t let my head get out of the game.

Texts:
Understanding Show Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy
Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The core of a writing class is the writing, so most of my assignments focus on this aspect. During the course of the semester I intend to complete a draft of my WIP, get the first 30 pages critiqued, polish the entire manuscript, and submit it to 10 agents. I’ve broken my assignments into the components necessary to get this work done and scheduled writing time into my week, taking into account my other obligations. If I follow my schedule, I should get 5-7 dedicated writing hours per week, plus whatever other time I can scrounge. 

Assignments:
Complete current revision of WIP
Send first thirty pages out for critique
Polish first 30 pages
Polish query letter
Polish remaining pages
Submit manuscript to 10 agents (includes selecting agents)

When I first wrote down my goals for the semester, it was a longer list than what made it into the final syllabus. Putting writing time on my calendar and being realistic about what I can accomplish with my time made me realize that I just couldn’t get it all done in the time I have set aside. That doesn’t mean I can’t do it all. It just means I can’t do it all this semester. But no worries. That’s the beauty of self-education—there’s always another semester.

Goals for next semester:
Finish outline of next manuscript

The act of sitting down, writing out my goals, and then actually putting them on the calendar forced me to consider what time I’m committing to writing and make a firm plan for how to accomplish my goals. If you’re feeling adrift in your writing process or discouraged about ever actually finishing your manuscript, consider drawing up your own syllabus. It’s a process that’s brought my writing goals and realities into sharp focus, and I highly recommend the clarity that follows.

Practical Prompt 7-19-21

To make your writing clearer and give it punch, avoid overusing vague words in your prose. Words and phrases such as feel, seem or looked like can often be omitted or replaced with specific details that will root your readers in the world you’ve created, as well as allow them to understand your intent. Consider this sentence:

She stepped on the gas and the car seemed to shudder.

The word “seemed” isn’t needed in the above example.

She stepped on the gas and the car shuddered.

In addition to the above examples, here are some other common culprits: many, most, few, soon, early, late, good, great, very, a lot, things, stuff and the list goes on. Search your work-in-progress for overused vague words. Then re-read the sentences where they appear to see if you can remove or replace them with descriptive words that help your readers experience the scene right along with your characters.

There’s a Video For That

Laura Ayo

I get some of my best writing done when I’m on vacation. There’s just something about a change of scenery and unscheduled time that sparks my creativity. Regardless of the destination, my packing list always includes my laptop and charger, a notebook, sharpened pencils and pens. This past week, as I scribbled in my notebook with sand between my toes and the sound of waves lapping the shore, I realized I’ve come to rely on one other resource I didn’t have at the sunny shore – Wi-Fi. More specifically, YouTube that I needed Wi-Fi to access.

This is the first year that I wasn’t drafting a story while vacationing. I am, for the first time, at the revision stage of writing. But it wasn’t until I was in a place where Wi-Fi was abysmal that I realized I have been watching a LOT of YouTube videos while revising my work-in-progress.

My story is a historical fiction middle grade novel set in the mid-1700s. And while reference books, diaries, databases and other resources have helped me gain insight into what life would have been like for my characters during that time period, they simply don’t offer the sensory details I can glean from watching videos. YouTube, more than any other online video sharing platform I’ve explored, has been a gold mine for culling those specifics so I can craft a more immersive experience for my readers.

How were anchors on tall ships raised in the Age of Sail? Documentaries on YouTube had the answer to that question and anything else I could possibly need to know about sailing in the 18th century.

Can you see a certain mountain from a specific vantage point where my story is set? Drone video uploaded to YouTube by someone who lives there showed me the view.

Video tutorials have informed my writing about basket weaving, blacksmithing, canoe building and countless other pre-Revolutionary War skills. I’ve listened to music from that time period and audio clips of everything from bird calls to a storm at sea to the labored breaths of someone with pneumonia. I’ve even turned to video reviews, hacks, lists and tips lending advice about how to improve my writing skills or navigate meta data in the writing software I use.

If you, like me, get stuck when you’re trying to describe the sights and sounds your characters are experiencing in certain situations or settings, consider turning to online videos to help you through those moments. Here are a few tips to keep you on track:

  • Be specific with your search terms. The narrower the search, the fewer the list of results you have to weed through to find what you’re looking for.
  • Avoid what I like to call “just one more” syndrome. If you find one video with the information you’re seeking, I promise there will be several others that do the same. Don’t be tempted to watch them all. Once you find what you need, avoid wasting hours of your precious writing time by skipping over the others in the hope that you might find something even better.
  • Pay attention to the runtime stamp. If you have two video options, preview how long each of them are and then watch the shorter one first. If you find what you need in a three-minute video, there’s no need to watch the 33-minute second video on the same topic.
  • Consider the number of views and thumbs up indications. Most videos indicate how many times it’s been viewed, as well as how many of those viewers gave the video a thumbs up to indicate it was worth watching. I’ll always take my chances with videos showing 2,000 views and 1,800 positive reviews over the ones that have been viewed 20 times with eight thumbs down reviews.
  • Stay on topic. It’s tempting to follow the “if you liked this, you might also like this” suggestions that pop up at the end of each video. While watching hours of sailing mishaps are undoubtedly entertaining (and sometimes, terrifying), I needed to remind myself that I was writing about sailing vessels that didn’t sink or run aground, so I didn’t have time to get sucked into watching off-topic videos, as tempting as they were.
  • Watch the clock. If you’re like me, dedicated writing time is hard to come by, so set a timer to stay on task. When the alarm sounds, it’s time to trade watching for writing.

Not having Wi-Fi at the beach allowed me to focus on fine-tuning character-driven scenes. I came home with notebook pages of thoughtful dialogue, character insights, well considered action sequences and … a list of topics I needed to research on YouTube once I reconnected to Wi-Fi.

Practical Prompt 6-28-2021

In our last installment of How to Get Inside Your Character’s Head for More Authentic Writing, we offered strategies to help you figure out how your character would act and react to the circumstances of a scene. This week, re-read the scene and ask yourself whether the character’s actions and thoughts are simply convenient to your plot or a true reflection of his/her heart and soul. If it reads genuine, congratulate yourself on a job well done. If it still feels like it’s falling flat, try this exercise to add more depth. Ask yourself:

How does my character’s _________ influence the way he/she acts and reacts in this scene?

  • Age
  • Family circumstances
  • Economic circumstances
  • Education level
  • Personality
  • Belief system
  • Birth order
  • Gender
  • Race or Ethnicity
  • Temperament
  • Period of history in which he/she lives

Taking the time to answer each of these questions will help you get a better handle on who your protagonist is so that your readers will care about what happens to them throughout your story.