Rules (Myths) for Writers

There are a million (if not more) rule books out there for writers. They tell you to do something a certain way to really maximize your writing potential and to boost your career. While I’m certain that many of these guides have a completely honest purpose, many of them do not. Instead, they are made to feed on the wallets of those who don’t know much about writing, but who really want to do it. In fact, I think that you should take any rules you’ve heard about writing and throw them out the window with a quick “farewell”. Some of the most popular include:

Meet a Daily/Weekly/Monthly Word Count

Myths for WritersIf you enjoy doing this, wonderful. If you don’t, avoid forcing yourself. Writing is an art and it should not be squeezed out of you just to meet a word count. When you push yourself too hard, your writing becomes about the numbers and not about your talent. It becomes a job instead of a pleasure. Write at your own pace, when you want to write. If the story comes easy you’ll have plenty of words on the page. If it doesn’t, writing things that you’ll only erase later won’t do you any good.

Don’t Use This or That

Myths for WritersYou’ll often hear things like “adverbs are your enemy”, and “the passive voice is the worst voice”, but there are exceptions to everything. If you want to use an adverb, use a bloody adverb. If you don’t, don’t! Your writing is your own, completely different from what works for someone else. Own it! Find your own style and your own preferences and don’t worry about what you’re “supposed” to do. Thinking outside of the box will get you ahead much faster than trotting along with the sheep.

Don’t Do This or That

Myths for WritersIn researching for this post, I came across one rule that said “don’t go into great detail describing places and things”, and another that said “avoid detailed descriptions of characters”. I know I refer to LOTR often, but this is the perfect place to do it. Tolkien is known for description, both positively and negatively. Would you really want to go back and tell Tolkien that he didn’t know what he was doing? What works for your setting or character may not work for someone else’s, but don’t let that make you think that your work is any less than theirs. There’s no “right” way to write a character or describe a world. Do what feels right and listen to your editor.

Keep Records

Myths for WritersSome people like to write down story ideas, moments, thoughts, etc. Some don’t. If you don’t, it doesn’t make you a bad writer. It doesn’t make you less dedicated. I don’t write things down, it’s just not my style. I need a story or an idea to grow in my head for awhile before I put it on paper (or screen). Others like to keep journals, files, and notes. What works for one doesn’t always work for all, and that’s completely OK.

Deadlines are Necessary

Myths for WritersIf you’re self-publishing, they are not. They are nice, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t meet one. Books take time. More time than most people think. I have had more than one client push a deadline and feel bad about it because they just didn’t realize what it would take to write a whole book. You might have an idea, but once your own soul gets caught up in it, it sometimes becomes harder to tell. Take time, let the story come as it will, and don’t worry about anyone else. You’ll have a better story in the end.

Successful Authors Know Best

Myths for WritersNo, they don’t. They got lucky. There are a ton of writers out there with absolutely brilliant manuscripts that just didn’t catch a break. There are many authors that we don’t hear of until years and years after their books have been published. On the other hand, there are many (many, many) terrible books out there. Of course, you need a good manuscript to get started, but they all started the same way as you—nervous and a little afraid, standing in front of a publisher with what they hoped was a good (and marketable) story in their hands.

Your writing is your own and no one else’s. Only you can decide what helps you to write a better story. Only you can figure out if writing is really in your bones. There are no rules to writing in reality, so don’t feel guilty for not abiding by any of the ones that have been created. Each author has their own set of rules, that works well for them. Create your own and write what you will.

What’s the worst writing advice that you have ever received? Do you have any self-made rules that you follow?

5 Books to Read (or Give) This Winter

5 Books to Read (or Give) This SeasonI’m sure that many of you haven’t experienced cold temperatures and snow yet, or that some of you may not even experience them at all. However, in Alberta, we’ve already had -30C and a few inches of snow due to the dreaded “Polar Vortex”. Although I don’t appreciate the cold when it’s that bad, I can’t deny that the snow does something to me. When it’s tumbling gently through the night sky outside of our windows I get an undeniable urge to curl up on the couch and submit myself to the written word.

I do have favorites that I read each year, that just seem to be even more pleasurable during inclement weather than any other time of year. Just as roses smell sweeter when you’re in love, and jokes are funnier when you have someone to laugh with. That being said, I’ve got a list that I’ve come up with to help you add to your own holiday reading list, or perhaps add to your shopping list as gifts.

1) James Herriot. These are non-fiction books about the joys and heartbreaks of being a veterinarian during the days when it was common for vets to specialize in everything. Herriot intertwines the stories of dogs and cats and sheep and other animals that he has cared for with his own life. There’s almost nothing I like better than putting my feet up and diving into one of his stories while my cat purrs behind my head and my dogs doze at my feet. These books are good for any age and any walk of life. My first experience with them was when my grandfather gave them to me as a kid, and I have loved them since. They will make you smile and they will make you cry, so be prepared.

2) Pillars of the Earth. If you’re looking for a lengthy stand-alone historical fiction with light fantasy, stop here. Follett is a known master of historical fiction, and this book is no exception. It follows the lives of a number of different characters all at ones, weaving their stories together in a complicated web of drama and history. The history in them is impeccable, though not necessarily true. The book moves through a long time frame, and as you read, you learn that everything touches everything. The best part is that it isn’t a piece of a huge series, it’s a story of its own. This book even does surprisingly well with people who aren’t generally fans of these types of books because it includes so many different aspects of interests, such as history, fantasy, drama, and so on.

3) His Dark Materials. This is a series of three books, which are a mix (I would say) of both science fiction and fantasy, though much heavier on the fantasy side. They tell the tale of Lyra, a young and quite outspoken girl, in an alternate world. And while we travel with her, she grows into a rather well-rounded and mature individual. These books are quietly political, with religious and sociological overtones whispered quietly within. They are far too quiet to be heard by anyone who isn’t paying attention, but for those who do, it makes for a read that not only picks at your emotions, but forces you to think and analyze. Traditionally these are, I’d say, pre-teen books, but don’t let that stop you from reading them.

4) Little Women. It’s highly likely that you have heard of this book before. It’s a classic, and many grandmothers have read it to their granddaughters. This book follows the lives of a group of sisters who are mostly just trying to make their way through life, back before you were supposed to stay in school until you graduated, and when becoming a teenager generally meant finding a job and helping to support your family. This is a warm book, a simple read, and an absolute wonder for sparking the holiday spirit.

5) To Kill a Mockingbird. This is another book that most people have heard of. If you haven’t read it yet, or know someone who hasn’t, I recommend it heartily. Another classic, this book takes you through a dramatic and political story, all through the eyes of a young girl. This seems to soften the story, as it just wouldn’t be the same if it were told from an adult’s perspective. This girl is endearing, smart, and thoughtful, although she doesn’t always seem it. I read this book about once a year because it’s so fulfilling and it doesn’t take forever to get though.

As a bonus, if you have read To Kill a Mockingbird and enjoyed it, pick up Of Mice and Men instead.

What books will you be reading or giving this holiday season? Have you read all of the books on this list?

Speech Tags in Writing

Speech Tags in WritingWe’re all familiar with speech tags. While we may not always notice them when reading, they can become somewhat of a pain when writing. To balance the amount of them, to insert appropriate adjectives and verbs, to ensure that they reduce confusion instead of enhancing it—these are all things that writers face.

Speech tags may seem like a small thing when compared to the rest of the manuscript, which includes world building, character creation, adequate structure, and all the rest, but they can play an important role in the success, or failure, or a story.

The most common are “he said”, and “she said”, and “he replied”, and “she replied” are a close second. But when you are writing a long and complicated dialogue session, these become irritating, dull, and even redundant. Therefore, how do you improve the readability while making sure that the reader knows who is speaking?

Pay attention to those around you during a conversation. Often, there are movements, actions, and tones that accompany words. No one really just sits there immobile while speaking, especially if the conversation is intriguing and inviting. You will notice that someone will reply as they brush hair away from their face, or sigh while listening to a retort. When agitated, someone may uncross their legs or even pace around the room. These are all actions that can add meat to your speech tags.

For example:

  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she said.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she replied haughtily.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she answered as she paced the room.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she quipped as she leafed through the pages.
  • “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she answered quietly, her soulful eyes glazed over in thought.

Each one implies a slightly different tone. “Said” on its own tells you nothing except that it was said.

Adding an adjective delivers a more emotional sense, allowing the reader to hear how the words are being said.

Adding a verb stimulates the reader visually, letting them picture the speaker.

Adding a noun paired with a verb enhances the action, giving a setting and substance to the situation.

Adding a description enables the reader to become the speaker. They know the feeling (or the action), and can relate to it.

Using these tools can help you to create better dialogue, as well as to subtly describe the setting, character emotion, and the gravity (or hilarity) of the situation.

As writers, we strive to touch all of the senses of our readers, but to do so with outright description written in large, random chunks often slackens the reader’s interest. Why? Because they want to be fed the story bit by bit, not all at once. So, we have to get creative.

What many writers don’t realize is that in order to write well, we must become masters of observation. We must take note of the actions of others, their reactions, their tones, their quirks, and anything else. We must people-watch, we must always be aware. If not, when we try to write, it will come out as an awkward mess or an unpolished text.

Do you think of yourself as a master of observation? Are speech tags something that you struggle with? What are some of the best, and worst, speech tags you can remember?

5 Things Every Self-Published Author Should Know

5 Things Every Self-Published Author Should KnowEvery self-published author has a lot on their plate. Part of the challenge of self-publishing is that the writer takes on every

role of a publisher, from start to finish. It us unrealistic to assume that every author will be good at every aspect of publishing, though. So I’ve made a list of 5 things that I think every self-published author should do.

1) Edit, edit, edit. Learn about whatever language you are writing in and attempt to master it. Unfortunately, if you want your book to be popular and you want it to succeed, grammar and spelling play a huge part. When a reader picks up a book and they see in error within the first few pages, it takes away from the experience. If you didn’t take your work seriously by not editing it (or hiring someone to do it), why should the reader invest time in reading it?

2) Take Criticism and eat it for breakfast. Undoubtedly, you’ll be nagging your friends, co-workers, and family members to read the manuscript before it goes to print. Listen to what they have to say, especially if they are experienced readers. If they are honest, they will be able to tell you where the story is weak and where it is failing. Don’t assume that your story is perfect—that’s one of the key recipes to failure. Use negative feedback as a tool to get better, to hone your story, and to eventually produce something even bigger than you had planned.

3) Find out what a publisher actually does. It’s not enough that you want to write and publish a book. Chances are, you don’t understand the ins and outs of publishing unless you have experience in that industry. Own what you don’t know and turn it into something that you do. Follow the process from start to end and mimic it as best you can. Set realistic goals for yourself and make up a publishing plan. Taking on the persona of the big fish will help you to get farther.

4) Don’t underestimate marketing. Sure, many people have many things to say about marketing, but it’s an art just like writing. Good marketing will get you to places you didn’t think possible. If you can’t do it yourself, find someone who can help. A marketer will find your audience and tell you how to reach them. They’ll tell you how to run your brand in way that gets you want you want out of it. There are a lot of authors out there who run their own marketing and who would be so much better off with a little help. Don’t be petty, find someone who suits your book and your personality.

5) Push deadlines if you have to. Just because you said the book would be published on a certain day doesn’t mean it has to be. If you need more time to make it better, take that time. Don’t put out a piece of work that you aren’t satisfied with just to show that you can be on time. Things happen, books get delayed all of the time. Many well-known authors take the time that they need to write the book that they want instead of pressuring themselves to meet strict deadlines and schedules—think G.R.R.M. and Patrick Rothfuss. It might annoy a few people, but real fans will understand, and real fans are the ones that you want.

I’ve worked with many self-published authors. Some that took the project all the way, some that gave up half-way through, and some whose ideas were just too big for the amount of effort they required. All have been interesting experiences, but not one of them knew everything there was to know about being an author. Value the important things and make a book that you would want to read. Think quality, consistency, and professionalism.

Have you self-published? What did you wish you would have known before you started? Did you use any of these tips?