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Archive for the ‘writing in general’ Category

About.com on Fiction Writing defines writing style as, “the way you write, as opposed to what you write about (though the two things are definitely linked). It results from things like word choice, tone, and syntax. It’s the voice readers “hear” when they read your work.”

Wikipedia (the definite source on writing :)) defines writing style as, “the manner in which an author chooses to write to his or her audience. A style reveals both the writer’s personality and voice, but it also shows how she or he perceives the audience, and chooses conceptual writing style which reveal those choices by which the writer may change the conceptual world of the overall character of the work. This might be done by a simple change of words; a syntactical structure, parsing prose, adding diction, and organizing figures of thought into usable frameworks.”

I have had a few reviews lately that have commented on my style and it’s surreal once you hear how others hear your words. All of the below excerpts were taken from Amazon reviews:

“The writing is clean and direct with very little flourish.”

“I was quickly entranced by the writing style as I partook in this unique, fascinating adventure. L.E. Waters captures scenery and dialogue with such ease that it’s easy to picture in your head, everything rolls naturally. No stilting, no rushing, no forcing.”

“I had never thought I would enjoy historical fiction however, it is written in such a way that it flows within the story and is very realistic.”

“The author’s writing is clean and well-done, and Waters does an excellent job giving a richness to the worlds her characters inhabit, while still staying historically accurate (at least as far as my somewhat meager knowledge of ancient cultures goes). Her characters are nicely complex while still being likable (that is, they’re not goody two-shoes, but neither are they evil).

“I found the writing to be somewhat flat; it didn’t feel like there was much action going on. I enjoyed the premise, but found the implementation lacking.”

(Oh well, you can’t make everyone happy)

I’ve looked up what clean writing implies and it seems it’s a direct, uncluttered delivery with minimal descriptions, that’s easy to read. So I can see why some may like this non-flowery narrative and others may detest it.

Did I set out to write like this? No. I really wasn’t aware, but I do tend to get itchy reading all the detail in a Dickens or Austen novel (yet I still love them!)  and I have been known to roll my hands rudely when someone tells a story in such a way, “Last Monday night—no, I think it was actually Tuesday and it was late afternoon…”

When I was researching how to revise and attract an agent I read that it was best not use adverbs, slash out needless words, and never use more than two adjectives to describe something within the same sentence. So I obeyed, and with the long list of characters I have it’s probably best to keep everything else simple. But I also write from two male POV and one Spartan female POV(more masculine than most females) in the first book. In these three lives I tried to be more direct and laconic. I wonder if readers noticed that I softened things slightly with the last female POV? I’ve yet to receive any comments about style on my second book but I’m curious to see if my ‘clean’ style is consistent.

Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, once said, “It is the beginning of the end when you discover you have a style.”

Are you aware of your writing style? Have reviewers or classmates surprised you with comments on your style? Have you ever attempted to change your style? Is it the kiss of death to realize your style?

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I’ll admit it. I was one who balked whenever I read others suggestions to write at the same time every day for a certain amount of time/word count/chapters.

Isn’t it better to just pick up your computer and write whenever you got the chance? That must be more productive. And what about writing when inspiration overtakes you? How can creativity be clocked-in?

It wasn’t until I read Catherine, Caffeinated’s fantastic post, Don’t break the Chain, on advice from Jerry Seinfeld about having a daily writing goal, that I wondered if I should give it a try. Everyday. No cheating.

Weeks ago, I was furiously writing (for five days!), then life interfered once again even though the inspiration was still there. How was I going to be productive while still spending time with my kids and giving them a happy summer?

I needed to try something different, so I folded and decided to join Catherine with my pledge of five hundred words a day. No matter what. I know, that’s not a high aspiration, but as with diets, it always helps to keep things reasonable if you want something to work long-term.

Well, it’s been a week and I haven’t broken the chain as of yet!

Funny thing is, I’m writing more than ever. You see, I give myself about an hour everyday to write five hundred words. I don’t spend the time checking all my favorite blogs, books sales, messages, emails…etc. I give the whole hour over to writing. I start writing and quickly reach five hundred words. I say then, okay, now you can stop whenever you want after this, but I usually fill the whole hour and reach three times my goal. The best part is I tell myself that I’m done writing for the day. I can do chores around the house, play with my kiddos, go for a walk without ANY work guilt! It has freed me up completely and I’m more productive.

So now, I’m sorry to all those I chuckled at when I read about writing goals. All those wise writers surely have something there. And if you’re laughing at me right now…please, just give it a try!

…Now, in a totally different direction, I happened upon this picture of the day. Oh boy! I’m sure all you writers out there could have a field day with a flash fiction piece on this one!

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I think about my favorite writers all the time. I try to dissect what makes them so great. As if I discover these secrets, then all my struggles as a writer will be solved. I try to go deeper than unique characterization, compelling dialogue, plot development, and good pace to the very underpinnings—the atomic layer beneath.

What makes these elements fantastic? What is it exactly that makes a made-up world tangible to readers?

After much pondering, I decided that the following three traits transforms a good writer to a great writer.

 

1) Self-awareness

In order to understand the motivations and reactions of characters in your imagined world, it is essential that you understand your motivations and reactions in your world. Only through knowing yourself (the nitty-gritty) can you create characters that others can identify with.

2) Observation

Writers need to listen closely when others speak, overhear strangers talk, notice how people move when they are reacting. What do people look like when they’re mad, embarrassed, impatient, depressed…etc? In order to take your readers from the clichéd universal descriptions, a great writer needs to pay attention to all those little things many don’t take notice of.

3) Exceptional Memory

Of course memory is essential. No one pulls dialog purely from their imagination. It all comes from memory. Maybe not one specific memory where everything you wrote actually occurred, but it all comes from memory of all the observations that you have gathered over your lifetime. How far would a writer get with a bad memory?

As much as writers can improve their writing skills from attending classes, reading whatever they can get their hands on, and instructional books; these three traits are unfortunately not learned. I believe these are the gifts great writers are born with. Do you agree? Are there other inborn traits that make a great writer?

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I’ve mentioned work-shopping on my blog before, but I realized I haven’t described what goes on in one and why I think it’s important. Back when I was considering one, I would have appreciated someone letting me know what to expect. I already finished my first novel and wanted to get some feedback before I self-published. I found a promising writer’s workshop fifteen minutes away from where I lived that meet once a week for a few hours. They had so many different classes ranging from the basics of writing to advanced courses. One class offered feedback on finished novels and the time it meet at night worked out for me.

I was a month pregnant a the time and knew that I would be going through the worst of morning sickness during the workshop, but I knew I needed this help if I was ever going to release my debut novel. I was so nervous. I had no idea what I signed myself up for. Was everyone going to be more advanced than me?

I got an email a couple of weeks before the first class requesting that we send everyone our first ten pages. My finger hesitated over the send button since no one outside of my circle had read my book. But if I was seriously thinking of publishing I was going to have to get used to it.

*click send*

I was both impressed by my fellow workshopper’s first ten pages, and assured since I saw that each person could improve. I wrote all my comments on the side and printed them out to bring with me. Yet it didn’t dawn on me until I walked into the small, crowded room that I was actually going to have to say those criticisms to their faces! All nine of us sat down with the teacher who immediately began with the person to his right. He wanted to go around to table and let everyone give their impressions and improvements out loud…while everyone was watching you. It was strange to match up each writing piece with the face, having learned intimate emotional details before you’re casual acquaintances.

Of course, I could only mention my positive critiques. I curled up my page slightly so no one could see my real notes on the page. However, the negative criticisms rolled off these workshop veterans tongue. I kept my composure long enough until the workshop ended and then I shut the door of my car. I called home and cried like a two-year old. I almost didn’t return. But I decided to lift my chin and steel myself for more. I quickly learned that it was better to hear these things in the workshop and not on the review page. It took me a few classes before I flattened the paper and said it all. When the first class ended I signed up for more. I needed to be sure that my whole book was looked over.

The most important things I learned there:

  • Exposure: You need to have many eyes look over your MS before sending it off to agents or self-publishing. If you were only writing for yourself than it would be fine to keep it to yourself, but if you are writing for the market than you must get as many different types of people to let you know if something isn’t working.
  • Revise, revise, revise: I remember when the teacher actually held my MS up and proclaimed, “This is a great first draft.” I replied like Milton from Office Space, “mm…mm..m…my final sir.” I laugh now because it really was a draft, not even close to finished! But I truly thought I had revised it to death at that point. I sent it to all the best agents! How could he say, “first draft”? So I learned that lesson. Now matter how many times you think it’s done…you need to hear that it’s looking good from others…so many others! Each time I sent in those ten pages I picked through it, measuring every word, changing a comma to five different places before I settled! You do some great revisions when you think a whole table-full of writers are going to nit-pick it.
  • Workshop teachings last: I can’t write anything without the echos of all their lessons rattle around in my brain.
  • Negative criticism: This is the most important thing. I wouldn’t have been ready to handle the reviews and judgements of readers before these courses. I’ve reached the point where I’m ready for anything. I actually enjoy a critical review since I’m so open to how different people interpret my story and I know I can always improve something. I usually say, “You have a good point there. I’ll try to fix that going forward.”
  • Positive reinforcement: Yes, I actually received just as much positive support, but I seem to remember the negative things more. Only when someone is dishing out improvements left and right can you be assured that the positive things they see are indeed true. I have no doubt those people would have looked straight into my eyes and said, “This isn’t any good.” But they didn’t, they said things like, “If you just changed this, this, and this, you could really have something here.” I really trusted their opinion and if they thought I was ready to publish at the end, I knew I was.
  • Problems: They let me know when something was missing, where there was too much explanation or where there was too little. They let me know when a scene needed more description and even voted that they thought first person present was the way to go (I originally had it in first person past). They were right. It helped make my readers feel like they were experiencing everything themselves and I haven’t had one reviewer say they didn’t like the first person present and it’s usually not thought of well.
  • Camaraderie: There were so many times we just laughed. Laughed at the process, at ourselves, and the struggles we were all facing. We all got to know each other and at the end it was like we were a writing family. Writers NEED support of other writers. We are all facing so much rejection, so much self-criticism, so much outside criticism. The reassuring word of a fellow writer of simply telling you that they’ve been through the same struggles are golden.

I really miss my workshop and the fantastic writers I met there. If I had the extra money and time to invest I would, but for now I need to put that time and money toward bringing my next book to market. Thankfully, though, I have all my writing friends on my blog to help fill the void (I love you guys!) I appreciate what that teacher and fellow classmates taught me and I’m sure my first novel is better for it. I can only hope I’ll take what I learned from that class and apply it to all my future projects.

So all of you out there, if you’re close to sending your first project out or if your creative well has run dry, I strongly recommend looking up your local writing workshop and see if you can afford it. It is money well spent 🙂

Have any of you taken a workshop before and how was your experience?

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The moon must be waxing, the animals must be uneasy, the tides must be high, the ley lines must be humming, and the planets must have aligned…

I’m writing like a fiend again.

As I’m burning up my keyboard, the bags are getting heavy under my restless eyes. I can’t sleep with so much story swirling and synopses firing. I’m talking has-to-grab-for-a-pen-at-the-red-light-to-write-on-the-back-of-a-grocery-store-receipt sort of writing mojo. I’m talking repeat-the-line-over-and-over-again-until-I-can-get-out-of-the-shower surge. I’m talking pretend-to-be-listening-while-making-eye-contact-but-secretly-planning-my-next-scene stream.

I’m not complaining.

Actually, I was wondering if maybe I lost my touch. But now I have to battle the horrible feeling of STOPPING!

You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t when it comes to writing. Before it was hard to sit down and get into the flow of my series, but it sure was easy to live the day away with my kids and get my chores done (well, half-done). Now that the writing bug has returned, the words are streaming, but now it means left-overs, delayed playground trips, and early bedtimes 🙂

My poor husband and kids, but HALLELUJAH! I needed this 🙂

How is your writing coming these days? Do you have times where you’re obsessed with your writing? Do those around you run and hide?

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I have depressing scenes to write and I just can’t get in that mind frame for expressing it well.

Which got me thinking—do you have to be in the appropriate mood to truly feel and describe the depth of experience of your characters?

I don’t mean that you have to be experiencing depression to write a melancholy scene, but I don’t think you can go take your kids to the playground, have a picnic, put them to bed with hugs and kisses and then sit down to write a tear-jerker. I will at least need a rainy, grey day to even attempt to feel these scenes.

Is the same true of romantic scenes or joyful scenes? Is it possible to write these moods well when you are feeling quite the opposite in life? Or is it a sign of a talented writer who can flip a switch to their brain and immediately commiserate with their imagined character?

I can only think of method actors who are famous for staying in character the entire duration of a film. Or actors that have to pull something up within themselves, an empathetic cord from their past, that can bring them into the character’s mind. Sometimes, I have to pretend to be one with my character. I have to become a physical medium for my invisible character to communicate through—allowing them to use my mind, my hands, and most importantly, my voice.

I do rely on music to help me transition from a beautiful day to grey one. This is my tool for reaching any feelings I need to muster for my writing. I set a sad song on repeat and hope that it permeates and brings me to a depressing place to write.

Lately this one has been working:

 

Mad World by Gary Jules

 

So, do you wait for a certain mood to write with your character? If not, what method works for you? Does it always work?

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Yesterday, I did something I was planning to do for a while.

I went back into my high school.

Upon creating my acknowledgements page for my second book, I tried to think of everyone that helped me along on my journey to publishing. One person leapt into mind and I couldn’t believe I forgot to mention him in the first book.

My high school history teacher.

I had a hard time in high school. I was diagnosed with lyme disease in the beginning of my junior year. Unfortunately, it appeared that I had it for quite sometime before it was found. For years, I had painful neurologic complications and was always so tired. It was a struggle to get up every morning, let alone be on time for school. I missed a lot of early classes and some teachers were insulted by it.

But not this history teacher.

One day he started the class off by saying that someone forgot to put their name on an assignment and he handed out everyone’s to find out who it was. Once all the papers were handed out, he saw that I didn’t get mine back and I was so embarrassed to be the one who spaced out like that. I reached for my paper so that he would move on with the class so everyone would stop staring at me. But then he held the paper up and told everyone that my paper was the best thing he’s ever read from a student and this is what he expected when he handed out an assignment.

I couldn’t believe it. My mortification only deepened as he proceeded to read it aloud to the class!

The assignment was to imagine that you were one of the early settlers of America and to write a journal entry trying to explain an event during that time.

My teacher (who also had a dramatic flair) stopped after every other sentence, oohing and ahhing. After he finished, he told the class that I was going to be a writer someday.

Well, after the class returned to normal and their envious eyes went back to the chalk board, his words sunk in and I beamed inside.

I still have that paper. I have frequently pulled it out of my memorabilia box and I’m so thankful that he wrote the same comments he proclaimed to the class all over the whole piece. He even wrote the words, “I have no doubt that you will be an amazing writer someday.”

How could I have forgotten to thank him in my first book? Especially since my series is so much like that assignment; the series where I imagined experiencing historic events or people first hand. He gave me the confidence that I could attempt to pull off such a thing.

He was always such an enthusiastic teacher and everyone loved him. No matter if they were the top of the class or someone who was struggling. He loved history and he loved his students. So many teachers burned out, but this teacher put on a show every class. Trying to pull all his students into the love of history with the littlest details. I remember he even gave students partial credit on tests if they came up with something amusing in reply, instead of leaving the answer blank. He was a wonderful, wonderful teacher.

Acknowledging him in my book was not enough.

I knew he would never find my book on his own so I ordered a copy of each book and enclosed a letter to him. I decided to hand deliver my package to be sure he was still at the same school. It was so surreal to walk back through my high school doors. A few times I almost turned around because a voice in my head tried to talk me out of the whole thing. I felt like that delinquent student all over again, rushing in to try to make part of my morning classes.

The main office wasn’t in the same place.

Good—the voice said inside me—you can’t find the office, so just go home.

But I walked a little further and saw a small office. I took a breath and walked in.

I asked, “Does (teacher’s name) still teach here?”

“Yes.” She appeared wary.

Then I remembered how schools now have security measures in place for disgruntled students and what did I say?…

“I was a student of his and just wanted to thank him.” I handed her the heavy, bomb-sized package.

She quickly looks me up and down, trying to find any sign of danger, but slowly reaches her hands up for the package once she takes in my yoga uniform and thrown-together motherly vibe. If I didn’t have time to brush my hair, clearly I didn’t have time to make a pipe-bomb.

Her still, awkward stare pressed the urgent need for me to explain more.

“I wrote a couple of books and thanked him in my acknowledgements…” Ugh, I’m talking too much, just stop! “I just wanted to give him a copy.”

She nodded in partial acceptance and I turned and briskly walked out, like I just picked up my class absence pass.

I practically ran to my car, slowly re-emerging as the thirty-something mother of two that I am. I didn’t even stop at the student guard station. I just waved to the man, who waved back (I must look thirty from just a glance in the car!).

Anyway, I told you this long story not only to validate this amazing teacher, but also to cause you to think about all those who helped you feel confident about your writing. Think way back to your formative years and I’d love for you to tell me about them in the comments…and don’t forget to thank them in your first (next) book!

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I thought it would be fun to share with you all the playlist I listened to as I wrote Infinite Sacrifice. Even though they’re not the exact songs I listened to (I couldn’t find them on YouTube), they’re similar. I kept these songs on repeat every time I wrote, hoping it would help me create the ambience I needed for world building. I especially recommend doing this when you’re writing historical pieces.

 

 

Ancient Egypt:

 

 

 

 

Ancient Sparta:

 

 

 

Viking:

 

 

Medieval London:

 

 

 

 

 

I happened upon this little jewel and included it just for kicks 🙂

 

 

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One of the best things about making my first book free for the last three weeks (full promotion report due out at the end of the month!) has definitely been the increase in ratings and reviews.

Yes, these are gold for reader confidence and promotion, but they’re priceless for restoring my faith that this was all worth it. All the hours I stayed up late after putting my kids to bed; all the hours I spent researching; all the time in writing workshops; all the forums I joined and books I bought seeking out self-publishing advice; all the money I spent on getting the best product out—all had to be appreciated by someone.

I honestly never expected my books to make much money. Never expected to be the next Amanda Hocking. I would be very happy if I could just pay back the expenses. But the one goal I’ve had this whole time was to simply hear from a fan that appreciated all the things I set out to create. I worried that maybe the series was too complicated; that readers might not like tracking each character through time; that people might not like the fact this was a true series.

Besides my friends and family, I didn’t know how the world would see my book.

Well, I cry every time I read a kind and thoughtful review. I don’t think I truly felt like a writer until someone completely enjoyed what I set out to deliver.

I’m actually connecting to strangers through my story.

After reading these reviews, I wish there was some way I could personally tell these people how much it’s touched me. The only thing I can do is print the reviews out and frame them to start a little inspiration collection over my writing-table.

Anytime I have any doubt, I’ll just look up and they’ll be there. All my fans 🙂

The more these reviews come in, the more I want to write! Even if negative reviews come in, it only matters that some people are fans and those are the people I’m envisioning when I write my next book. Some of them haven’t left many reviews for other authors, and that has meant even more to me since they probably read my plea for reviews in the forward and went out of their way to help me.

If they’re reading this, truly, thank you. You have no idea how much this has meant to me.

It’s so important to tell a writer after you enjoy their book. Let them know what you loved and how they’ve touched you. I’ll never put down a book again without leaving a note for the author. It’s extremely rewarding.

For those who have published, has a fan ever inspired you? If not published yet, who has given you confidence?

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How many revisions does it take for your MS to lose its spark?

“Let’s find out.

One…

tWoo…

thhhhreee”

*CRUNCH*

I wish I only had to do three revisions. Three, and I might still be gushing about it for launch. But I find when I’m reading my novel for the twentieth time my MS loses its spark.

Finish the MS—Wow, this is the best thing I’ve ever written! Perfect!

First revision after letting it sit—Wow, this needs work but what great scenes and dialog! I love it!

Second revision—Wow, I can’t believe how many mistakes I missed after that last edit, but it’s still awesome!

Fifth revision—Wow, still so much work. I’ve got to rewrite a few scenes, but it’s pretty good stuff.

Tenth revision—Wow, I think I need glasses since I’m still finding mistakes! Eh. It’s okay.

Fifteenth revision—Wow, another revision, I don’t think I can read it again. I hope I’m going in the right direction.

Nineteenth revision—Wow, this has to be the last revision! I’m so sick of it! That’s it. I’m done.

Twentieth revision—Wow, is this even any good anymore?

I’m sure this happens to every author, but I imagine it must be harder for the self-published author since you have to feel confident about the piece you’re about to release to the world—on your own. You don’t have team cheering you on from behind. A team that has thought so highly of your project that they have invested in it.

Of course, even LOTR and Pride and Prejudice would lose its spark after twenty reads within a short amount of time. So what do you do when you start to question if your MS is still good when you have worn it out like a pair of comfortable sneakers?

You must have rounds of beta readers. You need someone at every stage of processing to tell you that you’ve got something there. You need someone to see your twentieth revision with fresh eyes. You need them to tell you it’s amazing and which parts they laughed and cried at. Then they tell you two or three small things that they would change and you’re back to revision twenty-one:

Wow, they loved it, so this must be good. I just have to fix a few things and it’s off to the editor who will be so impressed with how much work I’ve done this time.

After the editor—Wow, I can’t believe I missed all these mistakes. Am I ever going to learn comma placement? *bangs head*

So what about you guys? How many revisions does it take before your eyes bleed and doubt sets in?

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