Wednesday Writing Tips: 5 tips when finding a Critique Partner

wednesday-writing-tips-critpart

So as writers, we always hear “Find a Critique Partner.” Though, when you hear that, it tends to not go hand in hand with what to look for in one, and what a good one is. As a writer we know these are important, and if you are just starting out, you may not have any idea of what to look for exactly.

So here are 5 things to look for and consider when trying to find a critique partner.

  1. Someone at about or above your writing level.

Let me expand on that. You need to find someone that is at or above your writing level. As with anything, this is how you improve. Once you are comfortable with your writing, then yes, take on a critique partner who may be a little behind you, and mentor them. But when you are just starting out, you want to find someone that is able to help you move forward in your abilities.

 

  1. Someone who has experience with critiquing.

You want to find someone who has experience critiquing. The reason is you want them to have that eye. Read like a critique-r (I made up a word, oops), not just a reader. They should be looking at sentence structure, pacing, grammatical errors, spelling errors, plot holes, etc. Someone who may not be experienced in critiquing may not be looking for these things. So make sure you find someone with experience.

 

  1. Someone who is familiar with the genre you’re writing in.

You want to find someone who is familiar with the genre you’re writing in because each genre has its own rules to follow. Bah, rules, I know. But it’s true. Each genre has some very specific readers. They are used to the pacing, the plot points, and can pick up on when something is amiss. Someone familiar with your genre will know these things, and will look for them, both consciously and subconsciously.

 

  1. Someone who is willing to give you more than “This was good” for a critique.

Critiques are important. They help us grow in our craft. So you need to find someone who is willing to give you more than a few words in critique. “This was good” doesn’t help you grow. But say, “This line here flowed a little awkwardly, I think it could sound better if…” and so on. You want someone who can comment on the flow of the manuscript, and make suggestions when they say something isn’t working.

 

  1. Finally, pass it on.

Don’t go into a critiquing situation not expecting to critique in return. That is selfish. There is a reason they call it Partners. Swap chapter for chapter or a few chapters at a time, whatever works for the two of you. And give a critique that you would like to get in return. This is just good sense.

Also by pass it on, offer to be a critique partner to someone just starting out. We all start somewhere, we all need that one person to step in and say “Hey, I’ll help” whether we want to admit it or not. Trust me, I am the queen of not asking for help.

 

So there you have it. 5 things to look for when looking for a critique partner.  Do you have anything to add to it? I would love to hear it!

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Wednesday Writing Tips: Outlining your Novel

wednesday-writing-tips-outlining

So if you’ve read through my posts, you will notice that I am a big proponent of outlining. To me it’s helpful and necessary. Now, there are some writers who are pantsers, which is who write by the seat of their pants. If that’s you, that’s ok; Find what works for you and go for it.

For me however, outlining is my saving grace. Your outline can be as detailed or minimal as you want it to be. Today, I’m going to share what I do to outline.

An outline helps me stay focused on where the story is going, and various sub-plots that are running through the story. This way I don’t have to go back and reread 100 pages to remember when Mr. Yellow hair looked at Ms. Teal for the first time. Obviously, that’s made up, but you get my point.

Now, let’s get to outlining.

First you start with your story idea. Today, I’m going to make one up.

Story Idea: What if electricity had never been harnessed for use.

Where do I go from here? I find my MC. In this case, it’s a 19 year old girl named Cassidy (for now).

What’s her goal? To save her tribe.

From who? Whoever is killing each tribe one by one.

How does it end? She finds out it’s the Council killing off the tribes to eradicate magic from the land.

AND we have a story. I know my beginning and I know my ending. On to the outline.

Some people stop here for their outline. Not wanting to be boxed in by details. That’s ok too. If you know where you’re headed with your story, you can write until you get there. I prefer a little more details in my outline.

Now, I use an excel spreadsheet. (I can hear you cringing; it’s really not that bad.) Here is what mine looks like. I save this spreadsheet as a template and use it for each story idea. If I can’t complete the outline, I don’t write the story. The reason for that is twofold. One, the story idea may not be big enough to carry a full novel, and two, I may need to research a little more before attempting the story further.

If you get stuck, don’t worry. Research is your friend, and can help you through.

Outline

Yours doesn’t have to look like mine; this is just what works for me. As you can see, I use the three act structure, and then include the points that need to be hit and at what time. This ensures my pacing stays on track. You can also see I have a word count goal. This I change with each story. The template is set up for Nano. Which is 50k words in a month. You can adjust as you need.

Now once I have my template open, I hash out the details. Where the story starts, each incident that needs to occur to move the story forward, and fill in the ending. From there I fill in all missing places. The way my template is set up is each chapter is its own scene. You can adjust if you have more than one scene in a chapter.

I tend to get very detailed here. That’s not to say I follow it to the letter when I sit down to write, but it is a great guide as to where I’m going. By using this I know whose POV the story is through at each moment, I know when the tension needs to rise and when it needs to fall, and I know where all my storylines are at any given moment.

With all this it helps with consistency and ensuring there are not any glaring plot holes. When you view your story through the outline and get a big picture of it as a whole, any missing pieces tend to stick out, and you can adjust before you’re 35k words in and have to delete back to chapter 3 to fix it. (I’ve done this.)

Also by outlining, you will have less editing to do when the story is complete. That’s not to say you won’t have any, because you will, but you won’t have as many in the form of pacing and plot pitfalls.

Once I have completed my outline, I turn to world building and character development. This is to fill in any and all places so that I can describe them and the story doesn’t feel flat. After that, it’s time to start writing.

So there you go, how I outline. Feel free to use my template if you like. I created it after studying various other story outlines and found this is what works best for me. Now, how about you? Do you have any advice about how you outline? I’m always open to hearing it.

Happy Outlining!

Wednesday Writing Tips: Should you Self Publish or Traditional Publish

Self or Traditional

So today we’re talking about if you should Self Publish or Traditional Publish that baby you have been working on for months or years. This of course is no easy question to answer, and also very highly personal to each writer. So I am going to discuss my opinion on the matter. And a little forewarning, because of the topic of this post, this is going to be a long one.

Before you can answer this main question, you must answer a few others first. Let’s see what those are.

  1. What are your goals as a writer?
  2. What are you looking for in the publishing process?
  3. Where do you see your writing career in 5 years? Because yes, you should treat this as a career, even if you have a day job.
  4. How good are you at sales and marketing?
  5. How much money do you have to invest in your book? This does matter, and I will discuss below.

Ok, so let’s take those questions one by one.

 

First, what are your goals as a writer.

Do you seek to publish just this one single book? Are you looking for fame and fortune? Are you planning to write five books a quarter? This first question is very important, no matter which route you decide to go with publishing. You need to know your short and long term goals.

If you are looking to publish just this one single book, and no more, then Self-Publishing may be a better option for you. Not that all agents will reject because of that reason, but a lot of agents are looking for writers who want a career as a writer. Someone who is going to publish multiple books they could sell to publishers. For obvious reasons, the more they sell, the more they make. If one writer can put out 3-5 great books in the next five years, that writer is a better bet for the agent than the writer who only wants to publish one and done.

Also, if you are planning to write multiple books a quarter, you could go either route. If you can write, revise, and edit multiple great books each quarter (first know, I hate you. No, I’m kidding. I am jealous though.) an agent could sell to multiple publishers. Or, you could self-publish them so that you’re not waiting a year for each book completed to be launched. Notice I said great books. This is key.

 

Second, what exactly are you looking for in the publishing process.

Are you looking to be in complete control over cover? Release dates? Or would you rather just have that done? Self-Publishing by far offers writers the most control over all aspects of their book. However, Traditional Publishing handles all of that, with very little input from the writer.

So be sure you know exactly what you are looking for with the publishing process so that you are not disappointed, or overwhelmed once you make your decision.

 

Third, where do you see your writing career in 5 years.

This is important to know. Do you plan on quitting your day job to be a full time published author? Do you plan on having written and published more than 5 books in 5 years? Or I this really just a passing thing that you always wanted to do, but don’t really see it as your career?

If you plan on quitting your day job, well, I hope that’s because you know you’re coming into money that’s not from publishing. While yes, you get more royalties from self-publishing than you do from traditional publishing, it will still be a long road to go. It is not a get rich quick thing. You need to build up your reader base. Enough to where you are selling thousands of books a year. And be honest, you may not ever get to that level.

Being able to quit and do nothing but write full time is a lot of writers’ dream. However, one you must be honest about with yourself. It’s a very rare occurrence. Not saying that you won’t, who knows, you very well could. I hope that you do. But don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Be realistic with where you see yourself in five years.

If this is just a passing phase for you, that you may have always wanted to publish a book, but you don’t really see this as your career, self-publish. The reason is once you self-publish, it’s always out there.

 

Fourth, how good are you really at sales and marketing.

While you will have to do both no matter which publishing route you decide to go, the amount will be different. With Traditional Publishing, you will get the aide of the Publishing house somewhat. When you can attach your name to a well-known publishing house, or even a small but still traditional publishing house, it will make your marketing job just a little easier.

You will still be an unknown (if this is your debut) but being able to attach the publishing house name to any of your marketing materials, it’s just a little easier.

However, when Self-Publishing, you are 100% on your own. No one may have heard of you yet. You have no contacts (maybe, depending on how much work you did prior to publishing), you are responsible for everything. Every single aspect to make sure your book gets out there and sells. Is that something you know you can do, do well, and are ready to take on?

 

Finally, Fifth, how much money do you have to invest in your book.

I’m not talking about vanity publishers. You should never pay a publisher to publish your book. A reputable publishing house pays the writer, not the other way around. Always keep that in mind.

It is well established, when done well and correctly, self-publishing costs the writer far more than traditional publishing. You have to pay your own editors, and yes, you need them. You have to pay your own cover artist, and yes, you need this too. And you have to pay for all your own sales and marketing. While traditional published authors do invest in marketing also, self-published authors need to do just a little bit more.

 

 

Once you have answered all these questions, honestly, for yourself you will know which path may be better for you.

Personally, I am going to be trying for the traditional route. Simply because, that has always been my dream. This is what I want, have always wanted, as my career. I am in no way opposed to self-publishing however. Some writers are hybrids, that both traditionally publish and self-publish. This could be you as well.

When you make your decision, know that neither is really easier than the other. They are just different. Different challenges, different hardships, and different kinds of work. So know what you’re getting into and what you will be looking at, no matter the route.

Which direction are you planning on going? Traditional? Self? Or do you plan a hybrid approach?

Wednesday Writing Tips: World Building and What NOT to do!

Wednesday Writing Tips World Building

Today we’re talking about World Building. That elusive, beautiful, wonderful, sometimes distracting piece of your story that is absolutely necessary.

The motivation for this week’s post is that I am currently in the middle of this phase myself. I find myself distracted, imagining places locations and buildings. Villages, towns, and clothing. I bump into random objects and my Husband constantly asks “Are you listening to me?” Uhm, no, sorry, I was thinking about (insert my fictional world here).

This is a problem. And one I’m sure I am not the only one to experience. Not all stories require extensive world building, but some, some require an entire universe, planet, continents, and places. Which is where I fall into on this spectrum. For my current work in progress I have to come up with an entire fictional world, customs, cultures, and people. I have gone down the rabbit hole.

So, here are some tips so you don’t fall into the same traps I have found myself blindly walking into, when building your fictional world.

 

World Building, and What NOT to do:

  1. Wing it.

Just start writing, not knowing anything about your world, its inhabitants, beliefs, and history. Yeah, don’t do this. I did at first. I had my main character, my antagonist, and a few supporting characters and just started writing. The problem I kept hitting was, “Wait, why do they believe that?”, “Why did they just do this thing?”, “Why did those villagers just think that sort of thing was normal?” All questions that could have been avoided and my writing smoother had I done some world building to begin with.

  1. Spend all your time drawing your maps.

Draw the world itself, then each city, town, village, kingdom. Then road maps for each. Yeah, again, another trap I fell into. Look, I love maps. I love maps with every fantasy novel. It helps me really visualize travel time and layout. But don’t think this is absolutely necessary before you start. It’s perfectly acceptable to draw a rough map that contains your major places, if it helps you. But don’t think you need to have mas so detailed that you’re actually stalling your writing.

  1. Freak out. Breathe. Freak out again.

So you’ve started your world building and you are finding the more research and world building you do the more your original story changes. And you subsequently, freak out and trash all the world building you did. Ok, I can admit I did this. More than once. But really, I shouldn’t have.

While I was world building, laying out the history and the culture, I found that my original story line would not have fit into this world. But, it did give me another ide for the story. I did freak out, as I was very attached to my original story line, but I continued. I loved the world more than the story in the end. So don’t freak out. Create a story that will fit in the world you just created. It will be better.

  1. Tumble through the rabbit hole that is culture research.

You want your story to make sense, so you research hundreds, thousands of different cultures over the span of a few decades to mix and match to fit in your world. You create an answer for everything, anything that could happen has an explanation as to why. And before you know it, it’s been a year and you haven’t moved past this point.

I get it. I really do. I want my inhabitants and cultures to make sense for my world. I don’t want them to stick out as out of place or not believable. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect. Accept that now. A few different cultures, histories, is all you need. You don’t need a history and culture for the farm boy two towns over that has one line in passing when your main character stops for an apple. Really, you don’t. Don’t get sucked in.

  1. Focus all your time and energy on your main location, ignore all others.

Of course you want your main location to be rich and detailed. You want to know all about it and you want your readers to know everything there is to know about it. To the detriment that you ignore all the other locations that your character’s travel to. (Obviously, if your story only takes place in one location and they never go anywhere else, ignore this.)

This leaves all your other locations flat and disposable. Your readers will notice this. They will notice all the detail in one and the incredible lack of said detail in other locations. Don’t focus all your time and energy on one location only. You are world building, not just location building.

 

So there you have it. What not to do when world building. I am also including some links to incredibly helpful world building posts, and what you SHOULD be doing. All of which have helped me.

 

SFWA – That site is so comprehensive, and if you write Fantasy or SciFi, you should definitely be reading it.

Writers Edit – The Ultimate Guide to World Building

Arcadia – While this is for D&D, it has a great checklist for world building.

 

Wednesday Writing Tips: 5 tips to overcome self-doubt

Wednesday Writing Tips overcoming self doubtThere is no doubt, that no matter where you are on your writing journey, you have faced self-doubt. That you probably still feel it. Whether each time you sit down you feel it like a shadow creeping in on you, or after you find yourself published you wonder if it was a fluke.

Every writer has self-doubt. Because writers, as a group, want what we write to be amazing, to be perfect. It’s why sometimes we find ourselves in a circle of revisions, always feeling it could be better.

Writers demand a lot of their writing, because readers demand a lot from what they choose to read. This can cause a crippling effect for the writer. Always thinking of how their writing will be received, the comments they will get, the feedback, and most of the time our minds always wander to the worst case scenario.

If you feel this way, know that you are not alone. This is a completely normal feeling that most, if not all, writers have. I know I do. So here are 5 tips to help you overcome self-doubt about your writing.

  1. Write. 

No, seriously. If self-doubt creeps in, write. Write through it. Don’t think about what you’re writing, just write. Write a novel, a short story, a poem. Just write. When you work through your doubt, when you keep forging ahead, by the time you finish you will feel so overwhelmingly relieved that you finished, that self-doubt you had about writing will wash away.

  1. Ignore the negative people.

I know, I know that it’s hard. It hurts when we get particularly hard criticism. As writers we know we need to have a thick skin, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel. In fact, I have found through other writers, that we feel a little too much some times. These can cause self-doubt to creep in again.

When this happens, remind yourself, you’re writing for you. This is your story. You’re not writing to make friends; you’re writing because this is unequivocally what you want to do.

Take every review, every comment, every critique with a grain of salt. You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. Some people, no matter if you are the second coming of Hemingway is going to hate what you wrote. Some people are just going to hate it. And that’s ok. If you can please yourself, if you can tell the story you want to tell, and you are happy with what’s on the page, that is what matters.

Keep this in mind, it does not matter how many and who hated what you wrote, what matters are those that loved it.

  1. Talk to other writers.

Yes, this can be a huge help. When you are facing self-doubt, instead of wallowing in it, talk to other writers. Every writer, everywhere, has dealt with it at one point or another. When you can talk with others that have been exactly where you are, they could offer insight, guidance, and advice on how to move past it.

Knowing that you are not alone, that this is a normal feeling, a rite of passage if you will, can help you greatly when that monster of self-doubt is lurking in the shadows.

  1. Get inspired.

Yes, when writing there is no muse sitting there whispering in your ear making everything you write gold. If you are waiting for inspiration to hit you before you start, you may be waiting a very long time. But you can inspire yourself.

Go outside, people watch, imagine what their lives are like.

Read, read widely. Every genre. Get inspired by other writers. Their words, their stories. By no means am I saying to use their stories for yours, but use them as inspiration. To fuel your imagination.

Daydream. Daydream about what it would be like to win the lottery, if a dragon came crashing down on your house right now, if the zombie apocalypse were to happen right this second.

Your imagination is a muscle like anything else. You need to work that muscle to keep it flowing. Use it, and let the inspiration flow through you, to fuel your writing.

  1. Accept the fact that sometimes, sometimes you will just fail.

Failure is a part of life. It’s our failures and how we handle them that we grow. It helps to mold you, it teaches you, and you learn from them. It’s also our failures where the self-doubt stems from.

I have found that I have learned more from my failures, than from my successes. While yes, of course I love the successes more than the failures, but the failures I am grateful for. It’s the failures that stay with me. It’s the failures that I will analyze. The failures that I will pour over to learn from. To find out what I did wrong and to determine what I could have done differently, so I don’t make that same mistake.

So don’t let any past failures hold you back. If you started 50 novels, but never finished, analyze why. Learn from it, and try again. If you finished that novel, but always failed to edit it, find out why. Learn from it, and grow. If you finished a story, and you just hate it, and so do your critique partners and beta readers, figure out why. Where you not in love with it when you were writing, did you not do enough research, are your characters flat and 1 dimensional? Find out, and fix it.

Failures are just another step on the journey. You have so much more to gain from your failures than from your successes. Take a step back, realize what you messed up on, and fix it.

So there you have it, 5 tips to overcoming self-doubt in your writing. Now obviously, there are so many more things that you can do. Do you have any to add to this list? I would love to hear them!

Wednesday Writing Tips: 5 Reasons you should be Free Writing!

Wednesday Writing Tips free writing

As writers, and people in general, we have so much technology available to us. We have apps, programs, websites, all aimed at helping us along. We are constantly bombarded by: You should be doing it like this, Don’t do this, This thing over here is better. But all of that technology doesn’t replace something very important, pen and paper.

Here are 5 reasons you should start (or consider) free writing.

  1. It can help you work through a writer’s block. Seriously. When you sit down with nothing more than pen and paper, no internet to distract you, and just start writing you would be amazed at what will come out.
  1. You will find new ideas. You don’t have to use free writing just to work through blocks. You should be doing it as a habit. Not necessarily free writing your current work in progress, just whatever jumps into your head at that moment. You could write a scene, a short story, anything. While it may not be what you’re currently working on, you could find a new idea for your next project. After you finish your current one of course.
  1. It’s just plain fun. No really. Do you remember being a kid and just sitting down and writing a story, with no end in mind, no goals for that story other than to write it, no advanced planning. If you’re anything like me, you do. I did this as a kid, and now, I can’t remember why I ever stopped. Oh, right, computers. Free writing helps to bring you back to a time when writing was fun for you, to help stir the passion you hold for it, and remember why you started writing in the first place.
  1. You can find new characters through free writing. When you’re working on your current project, you’re focused, dialed in to that story those characters. But when you’re free writing, you can find many new characters, new personalities, interesting traits you may have not thought of before. No matter if you use them in your current project or not, they can be saved to use later.
  1. It’s exercise for your imagination. Don’t think about all the writing rules you’ve learned, don’t think about publication, don’t think about anything other than what you’re writing in that notebook and let your imagination soar. As writers we sometimes lock ourselves into the worlds we’ve created and can’t see past them. Free writing let’s your imagination roam. By unplugging yourself from the distraction that is the internet, you are freer to write whatever, and however you please. Free writing is for you, and you alone.

 

So there you have it. 5 reasons you should be free writing. Can you think of anymore reasons? Do you free write? Why or why not? I’d love to hear it!

Wednesday Writing Tips: 6 Tips when Querying your Novel!

Wednesday Writing Tips query

So last week I came across a question from another new writer in one of the writing groups I’m a member of. It was the basic same question all authors have, is it time to query, and how do I do it? So, I chimed in with my advice. I’m sharing that same advice here, since not everyone on the web is a part of that group.

Starting the query process can be daunting, stressful, and just down right scary sometimes. It’s why us writers agonize and research how to do it correctly.

  • How do you know when to start querying?
  • When you are ready to start querying, how do you go about starting?
  • What should I keep in mind while I query, and what should I avoid?

These are all common questions when you start querying for the first time. So much so, that if you google the questions, you will come up with thousands of results. Since it is a widely asked topic, there can never be too much advice, but you do need to learn what to take in, what to consider, and what to leave on the webpage.

Here are my tips when you find that you are ready to query. I am going to paste my exact response to the other writer, while adding a few things I thought of after I had posted it. (Of course, I removed the authors name for privacy.)

Note on the response below: The new author had asked very specific questions, however, they had not finished editing their current novel and they were still in the revision phase. They were wondering if they could start querying since they have finished editing the first chapter. Read on to see how these questions were addressed.

 

Hi [New Author],

You have some great questions. Here is my opinion. Are you 100% certain you are done editing and revising the first 50 pages? Sometimes Agents also request partials if they are interested, and sometimes they request the first 5 chapters for query. Are you positive that you have finished editing and revising the sample no matter what the agents query guidelines are? If you are not, you wouldn’t want to send something you may edit further. Make sure it is 100% done before you query. Now, on to your questions:

1. What is the typical response time after you query?
The typical response time can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months, if you get a response at all. I know this is a broad range, but keep in mind, Agents receive hundreds to thousands of queries a day.

2. Who should I approach to query?
As far as who to approach, you can look here:http://agentquery.com/Do an agent search for your genre, read through their guidelines, what they represent, and what they are looking for. This will help you decide who you think is the best fit for your work. Added: You can also follow #MSWL on twitter as they list what agents are currently looking for as well. Or you can find them online at http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/ and do an agent search.

3. Can I resubmit to an agency if I don’t hear back?
For resubmitting to the same agency, make sure you read their guidelines first. Some allow it after so much time has passed, some do not. Some may even ask you to if you make substantial changes. Again, read their guidelines if you find you want to resubmit to an agency. But never, never, submit to multiple agents at the same agency. A lot of them do not allow this and will immediately reject your query if they find it has happened. Now, if so much time has passed, some may allow you to query a different agent within the agency if you do not hear back from the one you originally submitted to, some absolutely do not. Again, refer to their guidelines.

4. If I receive a rejection to my query, is that agency closed to me for good?
If you query now, and it is rejected, it does not necessarily mean that door is closed forever. Just for right now. Move on down the list. If, after you have queried every agent that represents your type of work (allowing for response time, and maybe 5-10 with each rounds of submission) you either get no responses or all rejections, look back at your work. You will have to decide to revise it, change it, or let it sit for a while and start a new project. If you revise and change it, then you can resubmit based on the agencies guidelines. But make sure you put in your query that you have queried before and this new query is based on substantial changes you’ve made to the story.

5. Can I query more than one story at a time?
You can query more than one story at a time, but that would be nerve wracking to me. But know, do not send more than one query at a time to the same agent or agency, no matter if it is a different story.

6. How do I craft a query letter?
For the query letter itself, check out here:http://queryshark.blogspot.com/Query Shark is an active agent who shreds queries for the good of the authors. She teaches what to and what not to do. Read them all. I’m not kidding, read them all. You will learn a lot on how to craft a query letter and what most agents are looking for in a query.

Hope this is helpful – A.G.

 

So there you have it. My tips for querying your story. Do you have any to add? Tips you came across when you were researching querying? I would love to hear them.