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Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the category “Wednesday’s Articles”

So You Want to Start a Blog: Simple Tips for the Beginning Blogger

So You want to Start a Blog: Simple Tips for the Beginning Blogger

I would start this post with, “For ages, people have decided to start their own blogs, and yet never done it for the fear that they might do something wrong. Worse, they start it, and don’t know what they’re doing, and so leave it to sit and gather dust.”

But I cannot do that, for blogs haven’t really been around for that long. When it comes to blogging, most of us don’t honestly have a whole lot of experience.

Because of that, there is a lot of different methods and manners which you will find on many different blogs.  If you’ve seen something contradicting what I shall say in this post, it’s really up to you to decide what the best way of blogging is.

Before you start your blog, you must know: Blogging is hard. 

If you still want to go on with this, now would be a good time to find out what blogging platform you’ll be using. Personally, I prefer WordPress for the professional appearance, the easy dashboard and posting abilities, and the stats page. Others prefer Blogger for the the fact that it is easy to customize, and you have more options (I think? Correct me if I’m wrong). I’ve also seen people using Weebly, but I know next to nothing about that.

You will have to pick your own blogging platform according to your needs and preferences.

Next, Consider the purpose of your blog. 

This will define what your blog becomes. Do you want it to be about writing? About water-skiing? About necklace making? About life? Whatever you choose as your main focus will most likely stay your main focus for your blogging years.

Plan before you start your blog.

As for me, I wrote up a list of things I wanted to do and the days I wanted to do it: Writing Articles go on Wednesday, Writing Prompts on Friday, etc. If at all possible, I avoid switching things around; it gives me a solid structure to stick to. I am something of a list person, so you’ll have to know yourself to be aware of how deeply you should plan.

Be consistent with your style of writing, your advice, and your schedule. It will make your blog feel tied together, one steady piece rather than a bunch of disjoint pieces of writing.

Create a “About” page. 

This is the first thing I check for when I visit new blogs. I want to get a feel for the person and have a knowledge of what the blog is about before I go exploring. Be honest. How upfront you are depends on your preferences, but do be honest about yourself, since this will most likely be the first impression any reader gets — make it an accurate one.

Put up your first post. 

To be honest, you will most likely get very few people reading your first post. This is more for you than it is for them. It gives you a good, solid opening for your brain.

Keep writing, and wait.

Practice makes progress, so keep practicing, and don’t get discouraged. When you find things to fix, fix them; your blog will get better.

Congratulations. You are now a blogger.

Eventually you’ll learn to do things according to the style of blog you have. You may start to attach title pictures, or start up an Awkward and Awesome Thursday. You’ll learn to be friendly on other blogs and to comment back on your own blog whenever possible. Blogging will be hard, but I believe that you will find it worth it.

Don’t give up. Even when your stats drop, even when you don’t have any followers, even when you don’t seem to be doing very well. Focus, improve, publicize, wait. People will come.

Writing a blog will be different from writing a novel, so expect to treat it differently — which is not to say you cannot do some of the same things you do while writing creatively. Personally, I like to have a cup of coffee nearby when I write, whether blog posts or novels. When it’s hard to write a particular blog post on, I turn on NewSong’s CD, More Life. A consistent playlist helps me to focus and keep my style.

Are you planning on creating a blog, or do you have a blog? Drop a link in the comment box below so I can check it out?

Two Stereotyped Kinds of Women and How to Avoid Them

Two Stereotyped Kinds of Women - And How to Avoid Them

I am very particular about the females in the books that I read, especially the main female character. These days, it gets hard to find a clean book with a realistic and relatable female main character—even in novels written by women.

Ladies in books tend to fall into two very different categories: the Weeper, and the Warrior. Both of these are drastically enhanced versions of two very different personality traits found in basically girls. Writers have taken two extremes in women, and eliminated all other character from them; half of the women found in books nowadays are more caricatures than characters.

The Characteristics of The Warrior

(*coughTaurielcough*)

She is frequently the leader of an army or a country. She wears pants, and finds skirts horrible (can frequently be heard saying, “Who wears those?” or “I can’t move in them!”). She does not cry. She does not do a whole lot of quiet conversing . She does not wear her hair long—or if she does, she always has it put up.  She is fantastic with fighting, and can beat practically anyone (in spite of the size and strength differences between males and females).

She is always hard and quick, and has very little moments where you see her emotions.

The Characteristics of a Weeper

The classic lady in distress, she has a tendency to stand back when the hero fights (or, worse, faint). She spends a lot of the time crying; she does not wear pants, does not carry a sword. She often gets kidnapped by a dragon. She can frequently be found in older movies (Westerns, for example).

She does not shout (though she sometimes screams) and does not hide her emotions.

The problem with both of these character types? No one is like that. 

Sure, some people hide their emotions more than others. Some people would faint at the sight of blood (but I honestly can’t think of anyone I know who would), and some are good at physical combat.

The author takes something away from them when he or she makes their character to be like this. Humans are complicated beings. They contradict themselves in their personality, they’re different from any other person in the world. Your characters are worth making into realistic, relatable people. I don’t tend to go on adventures frequently. It’s the strange thing about living in modern America; dragons don’t visit very often. Therefore, to make me go on an adventure with your characters, you have to make your characters as alive as you can possibly make them.

You have to find a balance between a strong female character and a female female character.

You need to realize that no one will hate you for having a female character who is not overly strong.

Those who care enough to read your books will be looking for honest characters. They will want a girl, who just happens to be strong, not the other way around.

You also need to realize that no one will hate you for having a girl who is strong.

Because, to be honest, we readers aren’t too picky after you get your characters past the cliches.

Make your characters female.

Make them alive. 

Make them honest. 

Anything else—whether they lead an army, or end up fainting a half-dozen times in three hundred pages is up to you.

After that, you will have to go through the general character development process. But look out for these two character types in your novel, and give the characters more than a stereotyped appearance; make them deeper than that.

Creating a Fantasy Culture

Creating a Fantasy Culture

 

Good worldbuilding* can make or break a book.

A well-developed culture can make or break your worldbuilding.

In so many fantasy (and science fiction) stories, the culture in a world entirely unconnected from our own seems distinctly European.

“But Athelas!” you gasp, “you mean all countries didn’t wear longswords, ride horses, and fashion full-body armor? You mean all cultures don’t wear medieval-style dresses, and not all cultures put moats around their castles?”

Why, yes, that’s exactly what I mean. You catch on fast.

Not all countries resemble Great Britain in medieval times. Not all countries hold the American ideas of clean. In order to create a believable world, you will have to put significant thought into the culture of your countries, even if you decide to echo countries from our world (which I have seen done very skillfully before). You’ll have to work hard to get it to the point where you’ve created a realistic world – but it can be done, and it is a very enjoyable pastime.

Characters will make your readers love your story. Developing your setting will take them there.

What You Will Need

  • A good imagination
  • Careful record-keeping.

Some people say you should start at the very basics – at whether or not they’re human or other creatures, if they keep dragons as pets, if they have special abilities, and other things like that.

That sounds like a very good idea to me.

But if you’re brave, I have a better idea.

First off, find the feel of your country. That’s a hard thing to pin-point, but it will shape everything else you do with your country, ever. It will be in your novel and in your history, in your notes and in your language.

Sit back. Think of the style you want your culture to have.

One easier way of finding the feel of your culture is to write a “tagline” for your country. In that tagline, give a quick sentence or paragraph that captures the feel of your culture as a whole.

For example: “The people of Robegēn are a group of stubborn farmers, peaceful people who can beat back any invader before they knew what hit them, lovers of history and knowledge.”

Sometimes you may want to do this after you finish the rest of the basic worldbuilding steps. However, it will take a long time to create a culture, and it’s likely that if you don’t do this beforehand, you will lose the feel of your people before you finish creating them.
That is never good.

Now figure out how fantasy-ish your people are. This is, after all, an important thing to know.

Values

What does your culture, as a whole, value? This may be summarized in your tagline; it may not.

Different cultures all value different things. In China, they value dignity. You do not make someone lose face. In America – well, let’s skip over America, actually. In a country with a history of war, they may value peace; or they may value bravery in battle. Some cultures value family; some value solitude.

Cultures as a whole have a way of creating a certain amount of character about them. Though they’re a whole group of people, they are people raised by the same people as generations go on; they’re bound to be taught the same thing growing up as their parents learned as they grew up. This may not be certain characteristics they possess, but rather, subtle differences from other cultures.

For an example, look at ancient Mesopotamia as opposed to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had a certain quality in them that taught them to accept their ruler as their deity; the Mesopotamian people had a definite amount of independence in a way that manifested itself in their rulers being repeatedly assassinated and replaced when they got to the point where the people were unhappy with them.

Quirks and Traditions
Before you go on to governments, hierarchies and religions, take a moment to figure out certain quirks in behavior, practices that they have or do not have. Why do this now, you ask? Well, simply because it’s fun, and you’ve worked hard up until this point.

For example, the people of Robegēn do not eat oblong fruits from trees. At one point they did not eat any fruit from trees, but after the Famine of Nen III, they decided it was necessary to eat some fruit. Many cultures have these types of “quirks.” All of them had a reason at some point in the past, but most have been forgotten by now. None of the people of Robegēn could tell you that they don’t eat oblong fruits from trees because of a certain snake in a certain garden.

Now feel free to move on to governments. Do they have a king? Would they permit a female to rule? Do they elect their rulers? Do some research on the different types of government and figure out which your people would establish.

Going deeper than most people would advise you to at this stage, you can ask how much they would accept from their leaders; how far will they allow their freedom to be taken away?

Religion

Who do they worship? Have they got it right, or have they got it wrong? In what ways do they practice their religion? Are they open about it, or silent about what they believe?

There are many other things you’ll learn about your culture, but these basics will set you up to learn the other things as time goes on.

What sorts of fantasy countries do you have? How have you spent time developing them?

*My spell check is telling me worldbuilding is not a word. My spell check is wrong.

What to Do When You Lack Inspiration

What to Do When You Lack InspirationWriting is hard.

I believe that’s something we can all agree on. Though we all love it and would pick it over a thousand other things, occasionally there will be a time when your Inspiration Well runs dry.

That is a terrible time.

It’s not like simple writer’s block—oh, no. That is far better, far less detrimental to your writing. Writer’s block is merely a block— you can get past or around it. When you run out of inspiration, it simply isn’t there. 

This happens rarely for some authors, and more frequently for others. I am incredibly thankful that I’m a part of the first category, but even for me there has been times when I find myself entirely lacking inspiration.

This is a sticky problem to fix; you can’t just stroll to the grocery store and buy a package of inspiration. When you lack inspiration, you find it unnaturally difficult to find and acquire.

Recently, a good friend of mine asked me how I get inspiration. Unfortunately, I honestly don’t have a clue. I know how I occasionally look for inspiration on Pinterest, or I remember how inspiration is triggered by something someone said once, but I have no easy way of finding inspiration—which is unfortunately, for life would be much easier if I did.

Fortunately, I do know some ways to help refill your tank when you run dry. It’s not a way to find inspiration; but, rather, a way to plant yourself firmly on Inspiration Highway 22.

Stop writing. Sometimes deadlines force you to plow your way through a story even if you have no inspiration and no idea where it’s going. Hopefully, they won’t—you rarely come up with good material if you truly have no idea what to write. If you have any choice in the matter, decide to take a break from writing for a little while. Since you’ll mostly run out of inspiration when it comes time to start a new story, you should be able to find time to pause.

Walk around. Be active for a little while; drink water; keep your blood flowing and your mind processing things. Get away from your computer screen.

Read a book. Preferably one you’ve never read before, maybe even in a genre you don’t usually read. After you’ve read a full novel of this, you may go back to your favorite books and authors you know.

Watch a movie or a television show. I honestly don’t think it matters a bit what kind of movie you watch. I got an idea for a novel while listening to my younger brothers and sisters watch Veggie Tales: Robin Good and His Not-So-Merry-Men. If that can produce inspiration, anything can.

Stating it quite simply: relax. Let your mind relax for a little while and expose it to stories. It would be pretty remarkable if you didn’t pick up on some sort of inspiration.

 

Tips from a Month Old Editor

Tips from a Month Old Editor

Prior to starting edits on my novel at the beginning of this month, I knew next to nothing about editing. Oh, certainly, I had done some editing on short stories and essays before, and read umpteen articles on editing, but I had no experience editing a 116843 word novel. In all my planning and research, I had never had anyone tell me, “This is what it’s going to take.”

Though I’m still not anywhere near an expert, I now know basically what it’s going to take. All of you who have a finished novel that you’re preparing to edit—this blog post is for you. You’re about to start on a journey that will test and try you, and neither you, nor your novel, will ever be the same again. You should know what you’re getting yourself into.

It will be hard. You know those days when you’re working on your first draft, and every word seems to be painful? The days when you stare at your screen for hours, not managing to write anything regardless of how hard you try?

It will be like almost every time you edit. Thirty minutes of editing will exhaust you like three hours of writing. You’ll find yourself longing to just write something, and you’ll miss the flow of words dreadfully.

You will need caffeine. lot of caffeine.

There will be days when you feel like you’re only making your writing worse. Be aware that you probably aren’t. But save a copy of your first draft, just in case.

You will most likely hate it. I know a few authors out there enjoy the editing process; perhaps you will be one of those writers. You most likely won’t be, though. Prepare to despise the majority of the editing process.

You will come up against decisions you don’t know how to make. During the editing process, you’ll probably change your plot, be it in ways large or small. At some point, you will almost certainly come up against a question (for me, it was, “Does she die?”) that you don’t know the answer to. You’ll debate about it for days. You’ll ask advice. You’ll second-guess your decision.

And, forgive me for restating my first point, but… Editing will be hard.

It will also be worth it by the time you’ve finished.

Your novel needs the editing. I mean no insult to your or your novel, but I don’t believe there has ever been any novel, at any point in history, that did not require editing. Editing takes an okay work and makes it good. Then it takes a good work and makes it great. You’ll be able to work out the flaws in your manuscript and make sure everything lines up; you’ll make flat characters three-dimensional; you’ll fix your writing mistakes.

“But,” you say, “you just spent half the blog post telling us how horrible editing will be. How can we make it easier?” 

I am glad you asked, good reader. The fact that you want to know how to make it easier shows that you are brave, and still plan to edit your manuscript. Thankfully, there are ways to make editing less terrible.

Make goals. “Finish Chapter One by January 5th” works well, but I personally have been using “Edit for however-many minutes per day.”

Edit with friends. Then, when you get on the computer you can be greeted with, “Have you edited yet?” and you can ask each other, “Would you like to focus on editing for the next fifteen minutes?” While you may end up groaning every time the topic comes up, the best way to keep yourself on track is to have someone else keep you on track.

Listen to music while you edit. I’m a strong supporter of listening to music while you write. That goes for editing, too. I’m listening to the same playlist as I edit that I did while I wrote, which makes everything connect nicely. I have more or less the same mood while editing that I did while writing the novel.

Allow yourself to relax while editing. It’s perfectly acceptable to forget to edit for thirty minutes while you get caught up in reading your novel. Remember why you love your manuscript in the first place. Laugh at your characters. Love your story.

Do you have any experience editing? What did you learn while doing it?  

Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

On October 16th, 1950, C.S. Lewis released the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia. The world had never seen that type of novel before. The idea of a few children hopping into another world where allegorical figures told timeless truths was an original one in the ’50s.

It isn’t anymore.

In all the years since I’ve been reading, I cannot count the amount of Narnia-style books that I have read. All could be summarized like this:

A child (or a couple of children) happen to find themselves in another world (usually after being upset for some reason) where they are prophesied to save the world. They find a European-style society with mythical creatures and oftentimes talking animals, and an allegorical representation of God and Jesus.

Though some add or take away minor elements, all of these “Pseudo-Narnias” as I like to call them follow the same basic pattern.

Authors have been called over the years some of the greatest thinkers in the world. We have imagination like no other type of people. We have the ability to critically think through problems and find solutions. We find it entertaining to create whole new worlds—so why have we churned out so many reproductions of the one most well-known book in children’s literature?

I am not a huge fan of world hopping. Even when I was seven years old and reading through The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, The Horse and His Boy was always my favorite of the series because it lacked moving between two worlds. Even when I was that young, I hated the feeling that I had seen all there was to see of world hopping—I would rather just be rid of it altogether.

Since then, I’ve read more books and eased off slightly on my no world-hopping rule (though it grew dramatically in between this time and that before it lessened). I’ve read some books where portals and other worlds were masterfully done.

The difference in these novels?

They lacked allegories. They lacked prophecies. They didn’t have random small children wandering into other worlds in order to save them without the slightest bit of strain or PTSD on the kids.

Personally I am of the opinion that if an author wishes for people to read The Chronicles of Narnia enough that they would be willing to write a book, they should instead firmly but politely direct them to the series. Instead of creating a Pseudo-Narnia, they should create their own stories, craft their own worlds, and leave clichés behind.

Ways to Avoid Creating Pseudo-Narnias

Avoid eight to ten-year old children who are upset about moving. Instead, try a thirty-two year old secret agent who was apparently born with a semi-automatic in his hand and an unending supply of bullets (but please, watch out for how many times he can shoot a gun in a row without having to reload).

Not all cultures are even vaguely European. Try creating your culture from scratch. Make things drastically different for your hero who just stepped out of modern America and into a strange land where the people are forbidden to eat round fruits from trees and children are expected to carry knives in their bags with their dip pens. Better yet, have your culture so incredibly different from ours that your character experiences culture shock.

Please, please don’t stick an allegory in there. I have nothing against allegories—indeed, one of my favorite books (Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl) is an allegory. However, with world-hopping people slipping off to other worlds from our own in order to save the world, sticking an allegory in is just the thing you need to be branded as yet another Lewis-impersonator.

Avoid—at all costs—prophecies, chosen ones, random children being picked to be a part of an elite fighting force when they have had no training and no particular skills, and people deciding quite randomly to have a ten-year-old be their commander. These things have been used to the point of being beyond cliché.

Better yet, turn the clichés on their heads. Flip them around. What if the prophecy that the young child believes turns out to be a fake one constructed by the villain just months before they arrived in the world? What if the person your character is fighting for is really the villain and your character is just the person your villain needs to get the people over to his side—someone from another world is working with him, so clearly he’s a good man, and shouldn’t the peasants he needs in his army decide to follow him, too?

In the sixty-five years since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published, hundreds of Pseudo-Narnias have been written. Thankfully, most didn’t make it to publication. Yet even with those missing, you could still probably find a Pseudo-Narnia for every day of the year with no problem.

You are a writer. You use your imagination for a living.

Don’t fall into the trap of creating yet another book that so closely mirrors that which was once your favorite novel in your childhood. You may draw inspiration from it. You may wish to give people the same feelings that you had while you were reading it.

But please do avoid recreating it entirely.

Have you ever started to create a Pseudo-Narnia? Are there any that you’ve read recently? What are some ways you know of that people can avoid copying Lewis?

The Art of Naming Novels

The Art of Naming Novels

 

When it comes to naming our novels, we are faced with a huge decision ahead of us. Not only do we have to find something that fits the story well; we also have to come up with a name that will make a publisher interested and later make the book sell. Even if you name your novel late in the writing process and know your book inside and out by the time you know the name, other people will see the name first—and if they don’t like the title, they won’t ever pick up your book.

No pressure.

Some ideas come with their titles. Some books present their names to you between the third and seventh chapter. Some you must grab a pencil and paper and write out several dozen names before finally deciding on the correct one; and some, it seems, will never have a name at all.

Fear not, O ye brave writer. There is always a way to find a name for your novel.

Remember your genre.

Your potential readers, agents, and publishers are usually looking out for specific things. They want to know what genre your novel is immediately, and they may feel as though your title is awkward or odd if it feels like a different genre than what your novel actually is.

For example, compare the titles of these two novels: Precisely Terminated, by Amanda L. Davis, and In the Hall of the Dragon King, by Stephen R. Lawhead.

Looking at the titles, one would easily be able to tell that In the Hall of the Dragon King is Fantasy, and Precisely Terminated is science fiction or dystopian. If you tried to write a dystopian book with the title, In the Hall of the Dragon King, some people might be a little less than thrilled with your title choice.

Since the title of your novel is the first impression that people will get, make sure that it will be an accurate impression.

Title using the main plot of your novel as your inspiration.

Brian Jacques’ Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and The Angel’s Command are a good example of this. The first one is about castaways from the Flying Dutchman. That’s simple enough; the second is about the command of an angel. Again, that’s pretty straightforward.

Reference an important theme or sentence in your novel.

In Bryan Davis’s Tears of a Dragon, the title comes from a line in the novel, “How rare were the tears of a dragon!” (Paraphrased because I can’t seem to find that section in my flipping through of the novel) and then nearing the end, “The tears of a dragon were rare indeed, but I prefer the tears of a father.”

In my own novel, Joy of Stars, the title comes from a comment by one of the characters in reference to Psalm 147:4: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” “And that,” he said, “is the joy of stars.”

Use Character Names or Titles

For example, John White’s, The Sword Bearer which uses the title of the main character, and I have seen books with the names of the characters as their title (forgive my bad memory; I cannot seem to be able to recall a single one of the specific titles of these books).

Keep it consistent with the other books in a series.

If you’re writing a series, this is an important one. It may make it harder to find a title, but it may also make it easier if it narrows down your choices.

In well-titled series’, the titles of the novels all match. Whether they follow a definite pattern, such as Donita K. Paul’s, DragonSpell, DragonKnight, DragonQuest, etc., or have the same feel to them, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, titles in a series should fit together well. I should be able to line up the books in a series and not doubt whether or not the third one was supposed to be in the same series. 

But then, there really are no rules about naming your novels.

Go with what feels like your novel. There’s no formula for coming up with the perfect title, and sometimes you may have to compromise because of different views held by you and your publisher. You may never find a perfect title for you novels; and that’s okay. You’re not alone; most of us can’t find the perfect title, either—but we can try for as close to perfect as possible.

What is the title of your current work-in-progress? How do you come up with your titles?

The Bandwagon Post for New Year’s Goals

The Bandwagon Post for New Year's Goals

This time of year, everyone is doing posts about setting goals for the new year. Some more informally than the others, the others more educationally than the some, but it does seem that the bandwagon is going by.

(A Note from the Dictionary: The term bandwagon means, “a current or fashionable trend.” The Bandwagon Effect is when a belief or trend becomes so large, that “everyone else is doing it,” and therefore, many just “jump on the bandwagon,” oftentimes simply for the sake of going along with the crowd, and without thoroughly considering the truth behind the statement or trend.)

I hesitated to write a post about this because, well, everyone else is doing it, so why would you need to hear yet another thing about goals? Then I paused and listened to some of the speakers on this here bandwagon, and realized that a certain word never seemed to enter their vocabulary.

Well, you the reader must certainly be saying, most people don’t use all of the words in their vocabulary when speaking on one subject. 

Of course, I as a writer am aware of this. This particular word, though, happens to be very important to setting goals. Why, to speak of New Year’s Resolutions without using it would be like to describing a tree without using the word, “leaves.” It can be done, but what is the worth of a leafless tree?

(Another Note from the Dictionary: Clearly this author has not thought through her metaphors well, as most of you readers will be aware that the majority of trees in the world spent approximately 1.5 of the 4 seasons without leaves. Either that, or she doesn’t like winter very much. Oh, no. She is giving me The Look—now would be a good time for the note to end.)

Anyhow, as I was saying, this word is important when it comes to goals. What word is it, you ask?

Specificity. 

(A Note from the Dictionary: Specificity. Noun. “The quality or state of being specific,* as in—*static*)

While our dictionary is experiencing technical difficulties, allow me to explain why the word specificity is important to setting goals. Observe this example list:

List Without Specificity

  • Write more.
  • Spend less time on Pinterest.
  • Edit some.

List With Specificity

  • Finish writing The Unspecified Novel: A Tale of a Novel With an Identity Crisis
  • Spend only thirty minutes per day on Pinterest.
  • Finish the first edits of TUN:AToaNWaIC and sent it to beta-readers.

If you come to the end of the year with only your first list, you may pull out your goals and grab a pen to mark off which ones you finished and which ones you didn’t. As you click your pen on and flip open your notebook, you’ll run your eyes over the list, and then stop.

“Wait,” you’ll say, “how much is more? How much is less? How do I define some?

To be perfectly honest, you can’t define it. More, less, and some are relative, and incredibly difficult to check off a list. How can you be sure that you’ve reached the point where you actually completed your goals?

However, a year from now on the next New Year’s Eve, if you pull out the second list, you’ll click your pen on and flip to the correct page of your notebook. Your eyes will travel over the list, and you will be able to be sure if you typed, THE END (or concluded your novel; personally, I don’t actually type those words), whether you spent more than thirty minutes per day on Pinterest, and whether or not you managed to get your novel sent off to your beta readers.

You cannot really have goals if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Unlike the picture that states, “To be sure you hit what you’re aiming for, shoot first and what you hit is the target,” you have things that you want to get done, and any old thing isn’t going to be good enough. You have to be specific and decide “I will hit that tree, that one right there,” and then you’ll be able to see if your year was productive.

And it is amazingly satisfactory to realize that you had a productive year.

Oh—and you can have your dictionary back now.

(A Note from the Dictionary: Art. Noun. Not whatever bizarre thing is on the top of this blog post.)

*From Dictionary.com

Writing on a Deadline

Writing on a Deadline

Writers are known for pushing deadlines as far as they can go. Even when they’re not doing it on purpose, it’s a generally accepted, well-known piece of information that if you are a writer, you will one day find out that you have to write something in a ridiculously  short amount of time.

I, personally, am the type of person who always ends up doing things last-minute. A few months ago I mentioned that I wrote a story for the Speculative Faith Writing Challenge, if any of you remember that—what I didn’t mention was that I didn’t even know of the existence of the contest until afternoon on the day the contest ended. I ended up writing the story (which, admittedly, wasn’t very long) and editing the story in the time remaining before midnight. When the Tales of Goldstone Wood Fan fiction Contest came up, though I planned on writing the story with plenty of time in advance, I ended up changing my story last-minute and writing a whole new short story for the contest that day. About a month ago, I participated in a small, private writing contest and ended up—you guessed it— once more not working on the story at all until the last day.

There have been other times when I’ve pushed deadlines to the limit or barely made deadlines, but suffice to say that I have had some experience with working on tight deadlines, sometimes by my choice and sometimes because that was simply the way it was. I’ve learned what works for me on deadlines, and what doesn’t.

Get something hot and preferably with sugar in it. Coffee, hot chocolate, tea, whatever your favorite is. Prepare to drink a lot of it.

If you’re working on paper, put it on a clipboard and take the little piece of cardboard wherever you go. Don’t set it down for a minute, whether you’re wandering around the house or being still. Whatever you do, don’t set the thing down.   

When you’re on a computer, it’s easier to remember that you’re working on something; computers are considerably harder to misplace than a small piece of paper, so you shouldn’t have to worry about being perpetually touching it. When on the computer, turn on music. If it’s a short story or the end of a novel, you’ll probably find that there is one song that keeps you writing the fastest, and you will end up clicking for it to replay that one song out of ten others that you would normally listen to (while writing my Tales of Goldstone Wood Fan fiction, that one song was Through Heaven’s Eyes, from Moses: Prince of Egypt. I don’t even usually listen to that album while writing, but that song ended up having the perfect rhythm and sound; without it, I don’t think I would have succeeded in finishing in time).

Avoid the internet. No further information required.

Always be aware of how much time you have left, but don’t panic over it. Put a clock where you can glance at it so that you won’t have to waste extra time finding a clock, and be sure to remember that you may need time for editing. If you’re writing it on paper, you’ll also most likely need extra time to type it out.

Remember to keep moving. This advice can be discarded during the last hour you’ll be working on it—at that point, your heart will probably be starting to beat pretty quickly anyway, and you won’t need extra effort to keep the blood flowing. Also keep yourself hydrated—but, again, if you’re like me, you won’t need to remember to do this as your time runs out, because as you get more nervous, you’ll slowly start to consume more and more water.

When it comes time to edit, read it, read it, and read it again. You’ll still miss most typos and the like, so get someone else to read it, too, if at all possible. Turn off your music before editing to slide out of the breakneck speed you were writing in. You’ll still want to go fast, but not quite that fast.

In the end, though, don’t be too horribly concerned if you don’t finish in time; you’ll still have gone through an excellent writing exercise.

What are some things you’ve learned about writing on deadlines? How do you be sure that you’re writing your fastest?

What? You think I’m hinting at something? Well, you may not be wrong…

Putting Writing Second

Putting writing Second

I’ve been considering for a couple of days what would be the best option for a post on Christmas Eve. Here in the U.S., Christmas is one of the most celebrated Holidays we have. Celebrated from one side of the country to another, it’s a celebration where gifts are given, families gather together, people talk about the Birth of Christ, and odd (yet good) food is consumed—but what does this have to do with writers? 

As almost a rule, we writers generally prefer our books over people. Whether we’re reading or writing, we would almost certainly rather do it than socialize, especially when Christmas no longer seems quite as magical or perfect as it used to. Most of us who consider ourselves to be writers love to write. It’s our passion. This set me to thinking about people, words, and extended family; then, eventually after a long and complicated train of thought, of something my pastor says every now and then:

“When people are dying, they don’t ask to see their diplomas or ledgers or certificates. They ask to see people.”

(Paraphrased, because I can’t remember his exact wording.)

Authors are a little more sentimental about their work than other people, but guessing from what I know of myself and other writers around me, we would be the same way. We wouldn’t want our books by our sides as we changed our spiritual address; we would want people. It’s the people who really matter. As writers, while we write for people, it’s easy to forget that the people here and now really are important.

You don’t usually see on a writing blog the advice to stop writing, but I think part of being an author is knowing when to pause.This Christmas, close your laptop. Put away your notebooks. I don’t care if you’re on a deadline unless it’s for midnight tonight — you’ll work it out somehow without writing for one day. Be around the people you love and who love you, and make an effort to be loving to those you may or may not want to be around. If you have to choose between writing and being around people, put writing after the people.

Merry Christmas, folks.

(For those of you concerned about me because I didn’t spend much time talking about the True meaning of Christmas, I have already seen eight blog posts today about it, as have most of you if you follow very many blogs, and we’ll both see more posted tomorrow. If you want to see some of them, just request it in the comments, and I’ll flood you with links.)

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