Category Archives for Productivity

Is Your Story Grounded?

Have you heard of ‘grounding’? It’s a technique used by people who have panic attacks. It involves taking note of the senses to get a feel for where you are and what’s around you. They suggest noticing the following things.

  • 5 things you can see.
  • 4 things you can touch.
  • 3 things you can hear.
  • 2 things you can smell.
  • 1 thing you can taste.

The first time I heard of this, I thought what a perfect writing exercise it makes.

So, I tried it out, and you know what?

It really does help you build your world.

So they next time you’re stuck with your world building, try out this exercise.

Make a list of these things that are noticeable in your characters worlds. 5,4,3,2,1. Just like that.

Now figure out how to weave these observations into your scene. Don’t worry, you’re not going to use all of them in every scene. That’s overwhelming. But now that you know how your world is supposed to look, sound, smell, feel and taste, you can decide with details to leave in and which ones to leave out.

You can also do this exercise when you’re out and about. Anytime you’re anywhere, make notes about your surroundings in your notebook following this system and see how much faster, easier it becomes to build better worlds.








Why Writing Faster Also Means Writing Better…

So, how’s that book coming?

Let me guess. It’s not done.

How long have you been working on it?

A few months? A year? Over a year?

My first book took me over 3 years, and you know what? It was horrible. (and it wasn’t even that long, only 35k.)

Sure, I had all kinds of excuses why it took me so long; I work full time, I still want to have fun, I want to see my family, genius can’t be rushed, and so on.

I even bought into the myth that great works take years.

But you want to know the truth? My book took three years for the same reason it was awful; I had no clue what I was doing. Sure, I’d read books on writing, taken online classes, even taken a certain class that was supposed to be ‘the best.’

But nothing helped.

Then I discovered something that changed my life.

It was an article in a magazine called “Psychology Today” (Yes, I do read that, and no, I’m not any kind of therapist. I just feel that knowing all the ways the human mind can go wrong helps with stories, at least the kind I write.)

It said that the human brain makes new cells at regular intervals, the same way it makes new skin cells. These new brain cells have no function when they are born, and wait for us to tell them what to do. This is why our resolve weakens. The old brain cells that had the resolve died off and these new brain cells showed up. If we tell these new brain cells what to do (such as doing a task even when we don’t feel like doing it,) then our motivation stays. If not, then we feel unfocused and lost. (At least until the next new batch of brain cells show up.)

It turns out this is the reason why a book that takes too long to write doesn’t flow well. When a book takes you years to write, you’re literally a different person each time you try to finish this story. So why should it make any sense at all?

This taught me the importance of writing every day, even when I don’t feel like it.

Writing your first draft as quickly as possible ensures that your story stays coherent and needs less editing on future passes.

The problem was the first book of 35k took me 3 years, and it wasn’t even that good.

I knew I’d never accomplish all my writing dreams if I let my brain move at this pace. I needed a better way.

Enter systems.

Systems are predictable ways that something works every time. Now of course, there is no ‘system’ for writing a bestseller. That’s a combination of skill, hard work, marketing and dash of luck.

But there are systems for creating compelling characters, plotting out your story, world building and all those other fiddly but fun parts that give an author so much joy when they work and so much pain when they don’t.

Using systems means they always work, which gives you more time to enjoy the creative part of writing and unleash the story inside your head. (as opposed to the one on the page which probably doesn’t match.)

Why It’s Better To A Genuine Fake Instead Of A True Original

Did you know that the great composer Mozart once said he never wrote an original composition in his life? He said what he did was combine songs he’d heard in his childhood into something new, different, and somewhat the same.

The result? He was adored in his own time. Today, he’s held up as a wonderful example of classical music for future generations.

People love things that new, different, yet the same.

Do you know else did this?

J.K. Rowling.

I’m a big Potter fan, but nothing in Harry Potter was new.

The creatures all had roots in Greek, Roman, Slavic and some other mythologies.

The school for ‘specially gifted’ children was done previously by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson, and Stan Lee’s X-Men. It was done countless times before either of those examples as well.

The school being in the middle of a lake and surrounded by strange forests is from The fairy tale about the twelve Dancing princesses.

Magic wands have been around forever.

So has the chosen one vs the dark lord plot.

The plot even follows an arc so unoriginal it’s a stereotype; the orphan living with relatives who hate him, the prophesized destiny, the chance to make good, needing to discover his powers, etc.

Even the name Harry Potter was the name of a boy wizard in the 1980’s movie Troll. (Though I think that one might be a genuine coincidence.)

Nope. Nothing new here.

Yet, it WAS new.

How she combined it was new. The characters were new. The mixing of myths was new. How she tied it all together and kept it going story after story was new.

Rowling was clearly a heavy reader and combined every book she ever read into her work.

This is why when my clients ask me if their idea is original, I have to tell them the truth.

It’s not. And you don’t want it to be.

It’s that mixture of newness combined with the familiar that makes works resonate with fans. It worked for Mozart. It worked for Rowling. And it can work for you.

Why Playing NaNoWriMo Is A Waste Of Time

How’d you do with NaNoWriMo?

Did you win?

If not, don’t feel bad. I’ve never liked that game; and here’s why….

It’s a lousy way to write book.

Can you write a book in month? It’s possible. I’ve done it. (Unless you count the two months I spent outlining.)

Will it be it be a good book? Probably not. But the first book never is.

But the quality of the book isn’t the reason I hate it. The first draft of anything is always going to stink, big time. That’s just part of the process we call writing.

But let’s look at NaNoWriMo.

You give up all your free time for a month and write an almost finished first draft. Well, that’s great, except for the fact that you gave up ALL your free time.

Professional writers, even professional writers who have day jobs, don’t do that. It’s a guaranteed way to be burned out and hate your own book.

I feel the same way about word counts. Sure, it sounds great to say you’re going to write 1,000 words a day, but life gets in the way. The kids or the pet gets sick. Work keeps you late. There are a million reasons you aren’t going to hit that arbitrary word count.

And when you don’t, you feel like a failure, not like the real writer you want to be.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to make sure you write your book other than Narimo or trying to meet a word count based on numbers you picked out of thin air.

The secret?

Well, there are a few.

But the main one is just WRITE every day. Don’t worry about word count scenes, or any of that. Just write.

It doesn’t matter if it’s one sentence. That could be the sentence that ties your whole story together. Or it could be the sentence that gets deleted in editing. It doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that you write.

Every. Single. Day.

By doing this, you’re training your brain to not only expect writing, but to want to write. Soon, you won’t be able to stop yourself from getting down all those stories you have in your head.

So, you’re probably thinking, ‘If this is the answer, why haven’t I heard about it more?’

Simple.

It’s not gimmicky. It’s not cute. And it’s not that marketable.

It’s just a simple solution to an age-old problem, which gets results. It works because it trains you work.

Every. Single. Day.

So enough with the gimmicks. You have stories to write.

Good Writers Copy, Great Writers Steal; Perfect Prose For Stories

There’s an old saying in the art community that good artists copy, but great artists steal.

The same is true for writers. But what exactly does that mean?

To explain it we’re going to go back all the way to the Italian Renaissance.

Michelangelo

the Libyan Sybil

This is a picture of Michelangelo’s Sybil from the Sistine Chapel. She’s done in a serpentine pose that Michelangelo was famous for.

Raphael

heraclitus

And this is a picture from Raphael’s School of Athens. Notice he uses the same pose here.

Michelangelo noticed it too and sued him for stealing his pose. (He lost. The Italian courts said you can’t legally protect a pose in art.)

But here’s the thing; the fact that Raphael stole Michelangelo’s pose did not suddenly make him paint like Michelangelo.

Even as he continued to use the pose, it was never Michelangelo‘s pose. It was always Raphael’s version of a similar pose. Raphael still painted like Raphael. People who chose to do business with Raphael over Michelangelo did so because they liked his unique style. (Also his easier-to-get-along -with personality, but that’s another story)

Writing Is The Same Way

Years ago, a more advanced writing friend of mine suggested I start keeping a notebook of interesting phrases found in other books to help my own writing.

I didn’t do it because I believed it was plagiarism. Then I changed my mind.

The beta reader on my first story said the story was good, but the prose was boring.

That’s when I started keeping my journal of interesting phrases from books. Once I really started paying attention, I learned three things:

  • A lot of writers must ‘steal’ from each other because phrases like “The key scraped in the lock’ or “the flames licked (something)’ or the ‘oppressive heat’ and ‘glaring sun’ are in hundreds of books.
  • Writers have between 10-30 ‘go to’ phrases that they use. The majority of their work simply includes variations of their ‘go-to’ phrasing.
  • Most books I’ve read seem to be less than 30% pretty prose. The rest is a ‘retelling’ of the story. (done in a factual and dialogue way.)

So Let’s Talk About Stealing, (Not Copying,) From Other Books

Flat out copying a phrase from another book usually doesn’t work.

Not only are there ethical considerations, there’s the fact that this isn’t your voice.

Raphael and Michelangelo had hundreds of imitators both in their own lifetimes and after the death.

Can you name one?

I can’t either, and I took Italian Renaissance art.

Copiers are not remembered because they never advance past the copying stage to find their own voice.

Yes, you can copy a few phrases from other books here and there, but these phrases were written for other people’s books, so they might not fit into your story exactly.

A great writer steals phrases, not copies them.

When you ‘steal’ a phase, you give it your own spin, making it fit in YOUR story.

This makes the phrase uniquely yours and helps develop your own style and voice. People buy your books based on your unique voice.

The best advice I can give any writer is to start keeping a phrase journal (known as a commonplace book) and use it a springboard to ‘steal’ from other writers. Over time you'll find that it helps you develop your own unique voice. The fatter your commonplace book gets, the more inspiration you'll have to draw from.

How To Write Your First Draft

Today we start a new series on all the drafts you need finish before you your book is ready. How many drafts are there? The answer is ‘as many as it takes.’

Because some writers take longer to reach a final draft then others, I’ve decided to name the drafts, rather than number them.

This is the First, (or rough) draft. It’s the only draft that will be numbered because everyone has a first draft.

Everything You Need To Know About Writing A First Draft, (But Didn’t Know Who To Ask…)

Ahh, the first draft. It carries so much hope…and so much anger when it doesn’t live up to a writer’s expectations. But that’s because our expectations of it are far too high.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what makes a first draft, a first draft and see what it should, and shouldn’t be, doing.

What Is A First (Rough) Draft?

Some people say the first draft (also known as a rough draft) is the first attempt at telling your story. And it is, but not to your readers. The first draft is the first attempt of telling your story to YOU. Right now, you have a bunch of scenes, some facts, some events, and some characters running all over your page.

None of these elements are doing anything because you haven’t told them what they’re doing yet.

Let’s face it, the first draft is a hard draft to write; you’re creating something that never existed before and that’s powerful.

Often, you’ll feel like you’re not making progress, but you really are. If you just keep writing, you’ll be finished with the rough draft in no time.

The Biggest Mistakes of First Drafts

The Biggest mistake a writer can make is rewriting while they write. First drafts are not the time to figure out a better way to say something. There is no progress in deleting right now.

If you think of two ways to portray the same scene, write the scene both ways. A first draft is not the time to censor, and it’s not the time to pick and choose.

Just keep writing.

And if something doesn’t completely make sense yet, put it in anyway, and come back to it later. That’s what subsequent drafts are for.

If you want to do a major change, such as a character’s name or give them something in the first chapter that will help them defeat the evil in the last chapter, DON’T go back and change everything. Instead, just keep writing as if this has always been true.

Tell, Don’t Show

You’ll notice this is the exact opposite of all the advice you’ve been given. But in the rough draft stage, you’re simply blocking in the story. You’re not actually presenting it to a reader yet. And some events need further research in order to be able to show it well. If you haven’t done that type of research yet, simply note it in your manuscript, and keep writing.

There will be time for perfect prose later.

Don’t’ Worry About Word Count

50k is a magical number for writers; it’s the number where your book goes from a novella into a full length book. Many writers sit down to write their book with this number in mind. However, in a rough draft, word count doesn’t matter.

I’m a firm believer that a story should be as long as it needs to be. To make it longer adds too much boring filler, and to make it shorter leaves out too much interesting stuff.

A rough draft is not your final word count. As you add and subtract things in subsequent drafts, this word count will change. The important thing to do is just keep writing until it’s done.

You’ll notice there’s a theme running through this post:

Just Keep Writing.

Just Keep Writing; the same way Dorie from finding Nemo says “Just Keep Swimming.”

It sounds simplistic, but it’s all too easy to get sidetracked. When the great story in your head doesn’t match the so-so story on the page, it’s easy to get discouraged and quit writing. If you just keep at it, the story will come, and after a few more drafts, it will be perfect.

This is an important topic for all emerging writers, so I’m giving you this handy Cheat Sheet, and I’m not even making you optin for it. Just right click and save the picture. If you share it anywhere, please link back to this site.

Things You SHOULD DO When Writing A First Draft

  • Tell, not show
  • Work in your research
  • Tell yourself the story
  • Block in all major and minor events
  • Write every day

Things You SHOULD NEVER DO When Writing A First Draft

  • Focus on the perfect way to say it
  • Try to make your story a certain length
  • Censor yourself
  • Reorganize scenes
  • Worry too much about everything making sense
  • Stop writing and research something

Once you learn to stop expecting your first draft to be perfect and accept it for what it is, you'll find you can unleash the sheer joy of creation and finish your story in less time than you've ever dreamed possible.

How To Write A Horror Series

No genre is harder to write a series for than horror (except for romance). That’s why there are so many sequels in horror. However, sequels are rarely as good as the originals, whereas a well written series makes readers happy. Today,

we’re going to look at the three ways to create a series in this genre. I’ve included examples from both TV and books (as TV is more universal).

‘Ogies’

I call this kind of series the Ogies. These are books of 3 or more that continue the story. I call them the Ogies because of the tendency for trilogies in this genre. The thing about the Ogies is that they need to work well both as a standalone story and as a whole. Readers don’t like it when a book ends on a cliffhanger. That can make your readers vow to never read another one of your books. Harry Potter did this right. Each book worked even if you didn’t read the others. The trick to Ogies is to end on an ambiguous note, not a cliffhanger or a happy ending.

The Fog

A young adult series that focuses on a sadistic principal who likes to drive children insane. The heroine manages to save her roommate from the principal’s clutches. However, the first book ends with the principal talking to the heroine’s best friend, and we know it’s going to start all over again.

Shades Of Vampire

This multi part book series focuses on a girl kidnapped to be the vampire king’s slave. Over time, she falls in love with him and he with her. The rest few the series is on the two of them struggling to keep their world safe from those who will harm it. I’ts also about all the various hookups between vampires and humans.

Dolly

This trilogy doesn’t make much sense at the end, but I still love it. It starts with a woman acquiring (more like getting stuck with) a cursed doll. It costs her her family, and eventually her sanity. Now, we’re onto book two, which picks up right where the first one left off, not a day, month or year later. But even if you never read books two or three, the story still made sense.

Focuses Around A Person

This kind of series is more episodic. Each story is a standalone story featuring the same characters in a different ‘episode’. Thought a couple of things change for the characters and they learn small lessons along the way, the characters don’t have big epiphanies. Instead, their attitudes gradually change over time. These books can be read out of order and still make sense. (Except for the pilot and the last book.) Each episode ends completely and with a satisfying (if not always happy) ending.

Friday The Thirteenth, The Series

Two people inherit an antique store filled with cursed antiques. These antiques will give the owner their heart’s desires in exchange for a human sacrifice. The store owners make it their mission to travel around the country and retrieve all the curse antiques so they lock them away where no one can ever use them. They almost always get back the antique at a great personal cost. However, there’s always another antique to find in the next episode.

Dexter

As a serial killer who only kills other serial killers, each episode focuses on his exploits and hiding those exploits from his police officer sister. The fact that he works closely with police adds to the tension and the entertainment.

Kolchak The Night Stalker

This investigative reporter specialized in the supernatural. Most people didn’t believe him, but that didn’t stop him from investigating anyway. Each week, another mystery was uncovered and another unbelievable story was sent to press.

Focuses On A World

This type of horror series is more anthology natured. It features different characters every time, but focuses around the same world. This can sometimes be an actual world (such as a fantasy world), a place in our world (Like a school), or an object (like an amulet). When writing this kind of series, the most important thing is to keep the rules of your world consistent. Something that can’t be done in book one should still not be possible in book ten. For example, if an amulet gives three disastrous wishes, a person can’t simply unwish it away unless it’s possible in every book (how boring would that be?)

Dead Man’s Gun

A short lived series about a cursed revolver in the wild west. The gun’s origin or history were never completely revealed, but we knew whoever got it either died or wished they were dead. The stories were all incredibly varied, but followed the same rules. For example, the gun never fell into the hands of a good person. The gun’s new owner was a victim of their choices, so basically, the curse was bringing out the worst in already bad people.

Nightmare Hall

This book series revolved around the horrors of a boarding school

Fear Street

This book series from R.L. Stine wraps several stories around a place called Fear Street. Each one features different characters and situation with the street being the only thread running between them.

These are the main ways to write a horror series. Though this is one of the more challenging genres, it can be done quite successfully by using one of these methods. Which one will you use?