Writing blogs can be difficult. Often we are talking to ourselves because the audience doesn’t hit the like button or comment or even breath loud enough to let us know they are there. But lucky for us, WordPress keeps stats of how many people viewed our posts. Maybe I don’t mean lucky. Continue reading
By E. M. Youman
June 18th, 2016 marks the anniversary of when I started writing again. Four years ago the itch to write hit me and I wrote The Prince’s Plan. This is not my first novel, but it is the first one I ever finished. April marked the finalization of editing for The Prince’s Plan. I will be publishing the novel on February 7th, 2017. I am preparing to send it out to ARC readers and I thought today would be a good time to reflect on what I learned about editing.
You can never have enough fresh eyeballs on your story. Continue reading
by E. M. Youman
Sniff, sniff. Why am I dabbing my eyes, you ask? I just finished watching season three of Once Upon a Time. I think it’s rife with great storytelling tips for beginning writers. Spoiler alert: If you haven’t been watching this awesome show, stop reading. Go fire up Netflix and then come back and read this article. I’ll be talking about some pivotal scenes from the show. Continue reading
By E. M. Youman
Hi, my name is E. M. Youman and I am a Pantser. I couldn’t plot my way out of a paper bag. If I was forced to outline at gun point—you get the idea. I have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to be more productive as a writer. Read dozens of craft books on plotting, outlining and structure. When I say I can’t plot, that doesn’t mean my stories don’t have them, it just means when you ask me what my current work in progress is be forewarned that elevator pitch is going to be a long one. But today’s post isn’t about writing faster or lambasting the poor plight of a pantser. It’s more about embracing your inner turtle.
I think slowly. It takes time for me to come up with a good story where others may take a week or a month, I’m taking months and years. Last year I set about trying to increase my word count and ended the year writing 200,000 words, but then I fell off a cliff and couldn’t write for months. It’s made me learn several important things
- Aretha and Teddy both said it best: R-e-s-p-e-c-t.
I have to respect who I am and not what looks good on paper. Sure, it’s great to bang out dozens of stories in a month, but if you have no hair on your head and only speak in monosyllables, because your brain is fried then you like me need a different approach.
For me trying to write fast actually made me dislike writing, because I kept trying to whip a dead horse. “Come on brain tell me what happens next.”
- “But E. M., I have to write fast. Don’t you know someone is putting up a new book on Amazon every five seconds?”
Yes, that is a very valid fear and I have a suggestion. This writing, wanna be author “thing”, is a marathon. Dorothy Brande said best when she wrote that you have to get used to writing. In my freshman year of college, my English professor told the class we had to keep a journal. He wanted two whole pages each week. I went home, nearly in tears and tried to write one. I had to double space and narrow the margin’s just to get a page and s third. You know what he wrote on the assignment? Nice try E. M., but I need two pages.
He might as well have told me I needed to write a book. Fast foreword five years and guess how long it took me to write this blog post? One hour–and it’s three pages long. Forget about the three days I spent thinking about it or the two days I spent editing. The rough draft took me one hour. I couldn’t have done that five years ago. It took time.
You are not going to start banging out novels like you are a copy machine at Kinkos. You’ve got to build up to it. Otherwise, you could end up hating the journey because you pushed yourself too fast too soon.
I can tell you are still skeptical about taking your time. I was too, because Amazon.
- You can have your cake and eat it too.
You can focus on writing fast, but if you’re a pantser or a slow writer like me, then you need to change your approach to writing. Your muse, will suggest ideas (like a story about two fire fighters fighting for the hand of an EMT who’s secretly a lost heiress) but on most days she won’t tell you what to write. As a pantser that’s like offering me a s’more without chocolate. It should be a crime. So how do you marry the idea to write with the desire to write fast?
You Pomodoro that sucker.
- Pomodoro anyone?
So what is the Pomodoro? The Pomodoro technique is not a chicken dish. It’s a productivity strategy. The best thing about this technique is that word count goals do not matter. All you need is twenty five minutes.
Last month I read Write, Better, Faster by Monica Leonelle. In it, she said writers need to outline their stories. Face palm. That’s not going to help the pantser is it?
“E M. Why are you talking about a book that can’t help me?”
Every book always has a hidden nugget of useful information. For Leonelle it was the Pomodoro technique. All you have to do is set a timer for twenty-five minutes and write until the timer goes off. Then take a break for five minutes. It’s like a sprint, but a small one. I had heard of this technique before, but hadn’t bothered to try it. Since I was completely burned out from my writing sprint last year I was open to trying anything.
Using this technique I wrote 11,000 words in seven days. I usually conk out at 1200 a day, so I was really happy with this technique. The best part about it is that the more I did it the more words I wrote. My theory on why it works for me is that I was stuck with finishing a manuscript that hadn’t worked on in months. I had a small inkling of what I wanted to write but not how I wanted to say it. By writing cold, I was excited to see what I would come up with. For a pantser, this is gold, because I like to pretend I am the reader when I write. With the timed technique if the buzzer goes off I am stopping in the middle of a sentence. This leaves my subconscious chomping at the bit to create the next part. This excitement brought the muse out. The best part about it is that I didn’t feel the guilt of having to talk myself into sitting down for a few hours. I could schedule twenty five minutes and do them throughout the day. I currently have a goal to get through five a day, but with my unpredictable schedule I’ve only achieved that twice. So realistically it’s going to be three a day going forward and hopefully I can move up to doing six a day.
Coupling that with being able to jump around to different scenes in Scrivener and I am in writing heaven again. I am writing faster, a little bit. I don’t think I am going to be cranking out a book a month, but I am slowly teaching myself how to get used to writing for long stretches. Respecting that I have turtle power instead of trying to drill sergeant my way through a story has made me and my muse happier.
What techniques or tricks help you be more productive?
About the Author
Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of a genie that took her on magical journeys, many of which may have included scenes from the Nancy Drew series (shh!!). Then one day she discovered Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy and became obsessed with heart wrenching romances. When she’s not watching tearjerkers, she’s usually writing them.
E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by The Bowman’s Inn, Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.
To be notified of E.M.Youman’s book releases, sign up for her Book Club
Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007125225450
You’ve probably heard the saying that writing is a lonely endeavor. You put butt in chair and spend hours writing. At least that’s the way it is for me. Would you like to know what my writing environment is like? First off, the door has to be closed. Even if I’m at the house by myself. Don’t ask me why. A sliver of the window open, but if the wind or cars passing get too loud, shut that baby. My muse demands complete silence.
But another mantra that we always hear is that the art of writing is in the rewriting. After practicing for the last three years I can finally say I am beginning to understand what that entails. Rewriting is a combination of feedback and the dirty E for editing.
Comes from critique groups either online or off. First readers and beta readers. How an author handles feedback is crucial to the rewrite stage. I’ve come to understand that critiques aren’t necessarily about making sure the work is good or having someone slash a red pen across your work and tell you how to “fix it.” This idea didn’t become concrete to me until my latest short story. One of my loyal critiquers was reading my work in segments. She looked at the first segment and said I love it. Always what an author wants to hear, right? But then when I handed her the next segment she said your MC is completely different than the MC in the first segment. I like them both though, keep up the good work.
Now the usual cycle of the feedback meltdown is to get mad. She just doesn’t understand. Did she even read it?! Sniff, cry. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. I crawl under the covers. I’ll never be a writer. Time passes and I crawl out of the covers. I like the character. I don’t want to change him. Herein lies the decision that affects the fate every story an author will ever write. What am I going to do? The quality of the work and taste level of your critters will vary. They can’t tell you a story is good or bad. That’s like trying to nominate a barbecue sauce for best award. Every voter will have a favorite and most likely someone will like something you hate. The only thing feedback can ever do for a writer is tell them, how a story is coming across. And that’s important because we don’t see how weird it is for a character to go from being a vegetarian to eating a hamburger.
We take the feedback and revise to make our ideas clearer. It’s not about changing the story; it’s about amplifying your voice. Feedback pushes you to think about what you want to say.
Then we take it to beta readers. Their feedback is just as important because they tell us how the story made them feel. If they don’t want to scream, laugh or cry with your characters, it’s nail biting time and you revise again.
Editing: a.k.a the evil E.
Now it’s time to take the story to an editor. Here’s where they massage the words and you learn how to expand, condense and paint the story for your readers.
Wow. That’s a lot of people. You may have started out on your own, but when you think about it, there’s a network of people ready and willing to help you along every stage of the writing process. So if writing feels daunting, remember only the first drafted is written in isolation. You are not alone.
About The Author
E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.
In the blogosphere there are wonderful blogs, which discuss what fiction writing is, along with do’s and don’ts of telling stories. But if you’re just starting out writing, it may be helpful to clear up some beginner myths. Here’s three myths, I’m quashing for you.
1. If You don’t like Highbrow Literature, You’re not a Writer
I used think I didn’t ‘get’ poetry. I remember sitting in my sophomore English class reading Robert Frost. Wow. This guy is really smart and I am very stupid. I just didn’t get it. But I wasn’t alone in that room. All of my classmates tried desperately not to fall asleep, as our teacher droned on and on about snowy evenings. So I came away from this, hating poetry. This must be for smart people.
But I was wrong.
There’s something out there for everyone
It took me a decade before I ever voluntarily picked up a book of poetry. I was certain I wouldn’t enjoy it, but peer pressure does work. Everyone I knew talked about how wonderful this female poet was. I figured it was worth one painful read through. It was a best of Maya Angelou book.
You want to learn how to tell a story? Read her. I’m not talking about her often quoted poems, such as “Phenomenal Woman” or “Still I rise”. My favorite is “They Went Home.” You can read it here. Before Maya, I never knew poetry could be sexy or heartbreaking.
I learned you don’t say “I can’t write,” because you’ve read one way of doing things. You’ve got to read a lot of different things, fiction, non-fiction, genre, literary. Even after that it’ll only represent one percent of the landscape, but it’ll be enough to imagine the possibilities of what kind of story you can add to the world.
2. No One likes My Story.
I used to send a novel to agents. They always requested to read the full story. This was a good sign. After reading the full story, they always said no. That was a bad sign. No matter how much I banged my head against the keyboard, I couldn’t figure out why. So I shelved the novel and came back to it a few years later, once I had a few short stories published. I thought I could tweak it and send it out again. Wrong. Here’s the cliff notes version of the story. A girl’s father dies and the mother remarries. The stepfather moves them across the country. Their home is burglarized. THE END.
That’s not a story, that’s a really, really simple outline.
Writing a story is more than just writing the three act structure and making sure your grammar is pristine. You must contend with setting, description, plot, point of view and filter words.
Baby steps grasshopper. Before you can sell a story, you need to know what defines story. I’ll be honest. Understanding story and storytelling, is like looking at a kaleidoscope. The longer you stare at it, the more it changes on you. It’s an elusive rabbit, but brushing up on the basics will certainly help change an agent’s no to a yes.
3. But I can’t Write Well
What’s that you say? You used to get all A’s in high school English literature. It shouldn’t be that hard to write fiction. It’s not, but you’re working from the wrong playing field. High school English, is kindergarten for writers. Once you decide to start writing fiction, you’ve moved past simply communicating to painting with words. To paint, you’ll need a whole other set of tools.
I won’t bother making recommendations. There’s literally thousands of “how to write a novel” books. Go on over to Amazon and fall down the rabbit hole for three hours. You’ll come out, with a few you like.
Make sure you’re on the same playing field
I think Ben Yagoda explains it best. I picked up his book ,“How not to Write Badly.” It was perfect, since I know I write badly(smile). In the book, he points out a common problem writers face. Have you ever asked someone to edit your work and they take out things, you know your high school English teacher would frown on? Let’s say your friend removes the comma before and. You know it’s supposed to be there, because you received A’s in English. And it really behooves you to go back over your so called “editor’s” work and put them all back.
Well, Ben says they’re not wrong, they’re just working from a different style guide. What? Yep. Drop that MLA book. Move on over to Chicago. Most, if not all publishers use the Chicago Manual Style guide.
So it’s possible you do like poetry and you can write enough novels to call yourself the Nora Roberts or Judith McNaught of (insert sub-romance genre here). You just need to get rid of those expectations. They’re like stereotypes, they don’t apply to everyone. Go. Write a poem, a haiku, or erotic squirrel romance. Whatever, but no more of that I can’t, or I don’t know. The world needs your fiction. There might be another little girl like me, waiting to be touched by your story, so she can imagine the possible.
About The Author
E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press and S/tick Magazine. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label—Will Records. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.
Having a bunch of busy writers keep to a schedule is really difficult. So now and then, holes open up in the space-time continuum into which we must shove something to keep the universe from imploding. Luckily, at the same time we discovered a gap on the horizon, Cayenne Michaels asked if someone wanted to follow her post in the blog tour. Heck, no, I said. Let’s get ALL the authors at Happy Authors Guild to answer, all at the same time!
Cayenne patted me on the head and gave me back my pacifier. Yeah, out of the dozen or so writers here, only four were available to answer. Partly because so many had already done the tour on their personal blogs. Here’s the great job Cayenne did with the tour: http://cayenne1976.wordpress.com/
But four is pretty good, and so without further ado:
Polly J. Brown. She likes reading, writing, running, participating in triathlons, and mud runs. She writes contemporary Romance.
Lizzie Hermanson. This crazy lady likes Jane Austen. Need I say more? Oh, alright, she is also writing contemporary Romances.
E.M. Youman. Not an N. Sparks fan, but very creative and funny. And just to be different, she’s writing contemporary Romance!
T.L. Taylor. A great conversationalist, she likes pushing the boundaries of conventional ideas, even her own, but especially yours. She writes flash fiction and short stories, but has one novel in the works.
Here are the Questions:
1. Share how you start your writing project(s). For example, where do you find inspiration? Do you outline? Do you jump right into the writing? Do you do all of your research first?
E.M: Story ideas come anywhere at any time, it’s more about training yourself to be tuned in for the story. Carrying a pen and paper to catch the ideas are crucial. A lot of times, I’ve gotten the inspiration to write when I’m stuck in a hot car.
I start all of my writing projects as free writes. This means I either grab a pen, or my laptop and write whatever comes to mind on the story. It’s often a bunch of jumbled scenes, but’s it’s enough to tell me where I want to go. After I’ve got the dirtiest rough draft possible, I make an outline. This is to organize the jumble of scenes. Then I make a list of assumptions. These are the things I don’t know anything about, but I’ve included them in my story like I know them firsthand. I research those assumptions. First instance my current work in progress features a scene about Tigers. I’ve got them hunting in the day time, but I’ve discovered they mostly hunt at night. That’s a big detail.
Once the research is done, it’s time go into edit mode. There are several stages. First there is the developmental edit. At this point I’m using my research to correct assumptions. Then the scene edit. This is where you cut the fat. Does your main character really need to spend three pages telling the reader about sweater manufacturing? Finally the copy edit. That’s where I work on fixing the grammar. This usually takes me several passes and I don’t always do each step in an orderly fashion.
PJB: I used to jump head first into writing and see where the story took me and many times that path lead to a dead end. For my current story, I took a different approach. I set up a rough outline indicating what each chapter would be about, breaking out chapters by scene if I was able. I created character descriptions for each of my main characters and developed a good sense of their motivations. I found that this approach gave me enough guidance to write a draft without having many creative blocks. It was flexible enough to allow me to add or delete scenes as I needed and I was able to jump between scenes if I didn’t feel like writing in chronological order.
L.H:I’m not a planner. I work out the internal and external Goal, Motivation and Conflict for the hero and heroine and go from there. I usually do the research later when I see what I’ve got on the page.
I get a lot of my idea’s from dialogue, actually. I’ll be watching a TV show, or a movie or even eavesdropping on a strangers conversation, and I’ll hear something that grabs me and makes me go “Whoa! I need to write a story around this idea.”
For example: I was watching one of my fave shows, a medical drama. And a doctor was explaining to her patient that patients on transplant lists are clocked in to the second. So when an organ becomes available, it goes to the first person on the list. In this case, the patient missed receiving the available organ by 17 seconds. The person ahead of him on the list was clocked in only 17 seconds sooner.
I started thinking about short spans of time and all the life moments that can and do occur in those moments. I tossed around different lengths of seconds to see what seemed most plausible for the normal things of life to occur within. I came up with 11 seconds, and wrote a story about a young girl. It’s flash fiction which is really brief, and follows her from the moment her parents split to the moment she has her first child. Each blurb is an important and life-changing episode in her life that transpires in just the span of 11 seconds.
I loathe the outlining process. I just need to get in there while the idea is fresh and new and exciting and follow the little creative burst and get it on paper. Once I have a first draft and am ready for revisions, I may do some slight outlining in my head or a note or two for future reference but that’s as organized as I get.
I tend to do research as I need it for the scene I’m writing. Otherwise, I’d get bogged down and never get to the good stuff — which is the writing of the story that is waiting impatiently to burst forth.
2. How do you continue your writing project? i.e. How do you find motivation to write on the non-creative days?
E.M.: Sometimes I just stop writing. But I don’t stop working on the story. If I can’t write then I read. If I don’t feel like reading, then I go to my favorite online writers group (Scribophile) and critique others’ work. If I’m in a real funk and dreaming about hitting the delete button, I’ll stop working on the story and write poetry. Weird, yes, but it works.
PJB: I would love to keep to a schedule for continuing my writing project. However, my biggest obstacle is finding enough time to work on it.
I am the type that prefers to work uninterrupted- once thoughts start flowing, I need to put them to paper (or screen) as soon as possible or I’ll lose them. However; in my household, it is wishful thinking. Most of my writing occurs after the children have gone to bed. I take my laptop to the basement and work distraction free for a few hours.
On days that I truly don’t have time, I make sure that I have done one thing, no matter how small, to improve my writing. Simple things such as jotting down a new story idea, reading an article about writing, doing research- anything counts.
L.H.: I always have 2 stories on the go so that when I get stuck (which is most of the time!), I can switch. I also read through some of my writing craft notes and hope to find inspiration.
Do you keep to a schedule?
E.M: I try and some days I succeed more than others. I find my most productive times to write and edit are in the morning. I give myself an hour of reading and an hour of writing every morning. When I can, I try to write before I go to bed as well.
T.L.T: I never have a schedule. I don’t do well with most deadlines and I’m not disciplined well enough to self schedule. When I hit a slump, I stop and wait and look for inspiration. Sometimes I’ll read or work on another piece or talk through my stumbling block with someone. But, I don’t push through very much. To me, it hinders my creative process. I want to turn out something good in my first draft. I know it’s going to need improving but if it’s complete crap, the process of polishing it up and turning it into something usable is way to tedious. I’d rather wait until I have a handle on what to write next. So, if I put it aside for 3 months, then I do. I can do that because there’s no publisher breathing down my neck at the moment. If there were, I’d have a different writing process, LOL!
How do you find the time to write?
E.M: It feels like a magic trick, but when writing becomes an important part of your life, you find the time. I write when I wake up, sometimes before I go to bed and I take a pen and paper. I often write while I’m in the doctor’s waiting room.
Thinking about a story is still writing. If you haven’t got time to write thinking about that next scene will make that hour you can squeeze in more productive.
T.L.T: I’m blessed. I’m a stay at home wife and mother with a tween that I home educate. She’s self sufficient so I have all the time I need/want to write. I actually spend tons of time with her and stick to writing while she is in dance class 4 days a week for 2 and 3 hrs at a time. I’m also a night owl, so once everyone is tucked into bed at night, I’ll disappear into a fantasy and whoop it up until the wee hours of the morning. It’s saner, safer and cheaper than hanging out at the local bar. Also, my whole immediate family writes, so frequently we can be found spending time together, each working on our own pieces.
T.L.T: Honestly, when the I run out of words. I’ll be writing along and all of a sudden … nothing. I know when I’m stuck or uninspired and I know when I’m done. When the words stop, it’s like turning off a faucet. I sit back, look at the last sentence and nod and say, “That’s all there is folks, there ain’t no more.”
T.L.T: Not so far, not really. But I write mostly flash pieces and short stories. I have one mosaic novel I am currently working on. Those characters have been with me for 3 years now. When I finish their story, I know I’m going to go through a grieving process. Their story has always been with my, unfolding, with I enjoy them. One day, it will end, and I already know I’ll be devastated.
Do you tend to start a new project before you finish the last one?
E.M: Yes, but not before I have completed the rough draft for the first story. Once that rough draft is done, my other stories clamor for attention.
PJB: It is tempting to start a new project before finishing the last one and I admit I am guilty of getting sidetracked on a regular basis. For example, right now I am down to writing the final chapter of my current story. A full draft is less than a week away from completion and instead of devoting my time to finish it I’ve been working on short stories.
New ideas are fresh, exciting and can break up the monotony of editing, but the downside to starting new projects is that the older ones may never get completed. Flirting with temptation is fine in small doses, but I would not start writing a new novel length piece until the current one is finished. Instead I write scene outlines, dialogue, sentences, character names or anything else that comes to mind in a notebook that I carry in my purse. When the time comes to start a new project, I will compile all of my notes and be ready to go.
L.H.: I find finishing incredibly difficult. I usually have the end written before I get half way through, but that dreaded middle section is always difficult to complete.
T.L.T: Dear Lawdy, so guilty! I have no less than a dozen works in progress and a folder of about 50 ideas that have no work on them yet, just a sentence or two of ideas. I’m never at a loss for something to work on, and still sometimes I’ll fuss and say, “I have no good story themes.” It’s kind of like when your fridge is full of food and you purposely left all the snack stuff in the store. and you go to see what you can munch on while everyone’s in bed and you’re reading a great book, and … nothing but carrots and celery! LOL
4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
E.M: If I had one tip it would be to let your mind wander. Have you ever had a moment where you’re on the phone and you pick up a pen and start doodling? You don’t know what picture you are drawing, but it’s appearing right before your eyes. Writing is a lot like this.
PJB: Never stop learning. Read. Ask questions.
L.H.: The Margie Lawson colour coding system:
- Buy yourself some highlighters–four different colors, at least.
- Take a book from your keeper shelf.
- Highlight Emotion (visceral responses only) in pink, Dialogue in blue, Internalizations (including narrative, exposition, backstory, flashbacks, or narrator’s comments) in yellow, Tension and Conflict in orange, Setting and Description in green, and Nonverbal Communication (including dialogue cues, action, body language, and senses) in red.
- Ideally, there should be a nice representation of all the colors on every page.
T.L.T: I’ll be honest. The challenge is also the tip: LISTEN TO THE FEEDBACK! We all want to think we are creative geniuses from the start of the gate. But, if we can’t hear what other people are saying to us about where our pieces work and where they need some polishing, then we deceive ourselves. Often, I initially blow off all my feedback with a sigh and a shrug. I let it sit for a few days, then go back and review it again. The second time, I see what they are saying, almost without fail. I keep my feedback until I am completely finished with a piece because you never know if it will be the 5th or the 25th time you read a comment that it will spark something in you that turns the whole project around for the better. So please, mull over your feedback, even when you’re sure you and your project has been completely misunderstood. And to that end, give honest and constructive feedback, that is meant to give the author a leg up and help with the polishing of a piece until it shines.
This has been fun to pull together, and I really wish I had a blogger to hand this off to. If someone volunteers in the next day or two, I’ll update this page. Have a great week.