Tag Archives: writing tips from authors

Inundated with Writing Advice

5 Jul

There comes a point in every writer’s career that they seek out feedback and advice from others. Whether that be critique partners, beta readers, or studying craft books, writers are often doing their best to continuously hone their skills. And while that is commendable, there comes a point where a writer can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they are learning. They may even get lost or make more mistakes than before—all while trying to improve. 

When and why does this happen? 

This can happen for several reasons, but I believe it happens the most when a writer is at the cusp of something new. For example, a new genre or age category they aren’t used to, or a more complicated story than those they’ve written in the past. Maybe they’ve picked up a craft book for the first time or stumbled across a blog that has lists upon lists of must-do rules that feel endless. (Or, worse, contradictory.) 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the advice out there. I mean, technically, this is one of those articles, too. Right? (I promise I’ll try not to be overwhelming.)  

I, personally, love to challenge myself, so I try new things constantly—new tropes, new genres, new archetypes. It can be fun, but very challenging, and challenges open you up to advice you may not have heard before. When you hear that advice, it may even contradict lessons you’ve learned in the past. Contradictory writing advice is where I see a lot of writers get stuck. You know the kind. One person wants more in this scene; someone else wants less. An industry expert claims deep POV is the way to go; others ask for lighter fiction. And that trope you love? It’s OUT. You better rethink your entire premise. 

Or not. 

While seeking advice is admirable, there comes a point where a writer must know when to focus on their work by themselves. Learning when to make decisions and how to own them will help you tremendously. I believe it comes down to making decisions with purpose. Boil your reasoning down, and you’ll know why you are writing the piece you are writing—and what you are trying to say with it. 

Still lost?

Sometimes it’s not easy to make decisions. I mostly get stuck when I come across discussions about what needs to be in books and what’s been overdone. For example, the brooding male romantic interest is a trope that many say we don’t need anymore. They’d rather have more cinnamon roll boys or other personality types. And that is totally valid! We absolutely need all different types of characters and tropes to keep publishing fresh and exciting. But I also don’t think we need to throw out everything that has been done either. Especially since there are plenty of diverse voices that haven’t had the chance to cover those topics themselves. 

Though you may see a lot of people say they don’t want that type of character, that is their opinion. You can still write it. And there will always be readers who love the brooding male love interest. That said, I would still encourage you to dive deep and ask yourself how you are making your situation unique. 

Knowing what makes your book and voice unique will help guide your ultimate decisions. Theme is big guiding post, too. If you understand those details about your work, you’ll be less likely to get swayed by outside influence that isn’t necessarily good for your specific piece. It’s better to stay true to what you set out to do than to try to force something into your work that you know won’t come across as authentic. But if you want to attempt new skills and try out fresh ideas, don’t hold yourself back. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable when trying new things. (That first draft is never going to look as shiny as your final product!) 

This is where critique partner feedback comes in handy. I love nothing more than bouncing ideas off of my writer friends. They certainly help challenge me (and point out parts of my work that I never would’ve focused on in the same light). That said, managing critique partner feedback is its own challenge. My favorite writing tip?

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

How can a writer keep advice in mind while making better decisions?

Read all the advice throughout your entire manuscript at once and see if you can identify patterns. (Ex. One character keeps confusing the reader.) Those patterns are most likely your biggest issues that need fixing. Regarding small things, stay as objective as possible, but remind yourself that you are not going to please every reader in every scene or sentence. No matter how shiny your book is, you will get 1-star reviews. It won’t be for everyone. Remind yourself of who you wrote this book for and what you want your book to say. 

Other than that, I would pay attention to how you are as a reader. If you tend to love world building as a reader, you’re probably pretty good at that as a writer. You might even overdo it. Make sure to give extra attention to the areas that you skip over as a reader. You might be surprised to find you did the same thing with your writing. 

Regardless, when all is said and done, this book is yours and the advice you get is a gift—a gift that you must decide how to utilize. I may have given you a few checklist items to keep in mind while considering advice, but I certainly hope you don’t feel inundated. ❤ 

Stay true to your story, 

~SAT

P.S. Now that it’s July, make sure to pick up Bad Bloods: July Thunder & July Lightning. The duology takes place in July, and it can be super fun to read each day as it happens in real life. If you’re an X-Men fan, these are for you.

July Thunder (#3)

AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

July Lightning (#4)

Amazon, Barnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

Looking Back on my Pantser Novel

3 Apr

“Are you a pantser or a plotter?” is a common question writers hear. Why? There’s something inherently interesting about how someone turns a blank page into a 350-page novel. Sure, it’s easy to say that one word after another leads to a sentence, which eventually becomes a chapter, before those chapters build a book. But there’s so much that happens in between all that. 

Writing a novel is not a linear adventure. Even for a plotter—and take it from me who is a writer who normally has a very, very detailed outline from the start—unforeseen plot twists can throw the entire plan off. An edit letter can trigger a domino effect that tumbles your entire house of cards. Part of the fun is rebuilding your piece over and over, until you have finally found the story it was always meant to be. But this process can also drive you mad. 

Cue the time I decided to be a panster. 

I actually wrote a short blog about this a little while ago. You can catch up here: Finishing My First Pantser Novel

Basically, a few years ago, I was pretty fed up with writing and decided to tackle a “for-fun only” project to take out all my rage in. I had no plan, not even an idea of what I was doing or what my story was trying to say. But before I knew it, I had decided to pursue it seriously, and by the time I finished a first draft, the book was a mess. One that I confidently felt I could polish and fix, because—and I wish I was kidding—I took notes while pantsing. 

To be honest, I severely underestimated how much polishing it needed. I was used to fixing books that had a solid plan from the beginning, not books that were messy from so many angles even explaining it made my mind spin. With my outlined books, a list of notes absolutely helps me revise fairly quickly. With my pantser novel? It honestly became more of a mess. 

Overall, I think this is where my issue began. My issue is that I tackled editing and revising my pantster novel the same way I tackled editing a novel that I had plotted. Looking back, it’s no wonder I got stuck so many times. In fact, I actually put this book down twice—once for over six months—before I got to the point I’m at today. (Did I mention my wonderful beta readers? I had eight people total helping me revise it, including my agent. That’s a lot more than my usual 3-4.) 

To be honest, I’m still working on this book. I’m on the fifth major overhaul and in the last 100 pages. For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling good about it again. I’m excited for what it’s become and how it’s going to read from now on. 

If I could go back and redo my approach, I’d probably throw out the entire first draft and rewrite what I could recall. (I forget which author famously does this, but it is a method I have yet to try. Maybe one day!) If I had done this, I think I would’ve boiled down the substance I needed to keep (and delete) much more effectively. 

Will I pansted a novel again? 

Probably not one I will pursue seriously. Then again, that’s what I told myself last time…

Have you ever pantsed a novel or attempted outlining when you’re not used to it?

I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned along the way!

~SAT 

P.S. I am still moving! Basically, we bought a house in March, and we’ve been using the entire month to renovate. (So. Much. Paint.) I’m really excited though. We’re actually putting in the last of our flooring today, so I’ll be physically moving our belongings over soon. Hopefully by next month we’ll be all settled in. ❤  

Shannon’s Top 5 Scrivener Tips

18 Apr

It’s no secret that I love Scrivener and have since I first bought it back in 2016. In fact, here’s my first ever post about it: Writers, Should You Get Scrivener? Granted, I’ve learned a lot about Scrivener since 2016, and the software has upgraded, which is why I thought an updated post talking about my favorite features might give some insight into those who are curious and/or help out those who have it but feel lost.   

Before I begin, I want to clarify that this isn’t a paid promo. Scrivener has NO CLUE I am writing this. I am just a regular author, who bought and explored the software all on my own, and I’ve used it ever since. These are my favorite features and ones I actually use every day. 

1. Keeping Track of Writing Stats (Including Overused Words)

The other day online, a fellow writer asked me how I kept track of my stats. (For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, I often chat about how many words I write a day, or month, and what that means to me and why.) I’ve always been a numbers person. Spreadsheets are where I LIVE. I tend to use them in retrospect, meaning I like to look back at what I accomplished every month, and seeing all that work helps me stay motivated the next month. (I’m the type to feel like I didn’t do anything if I don’t have something tangible in front of me, and since writing tends to be on a virtual space, my spreadsheets become that tangible thing.) Scrivener actually tracks stats for you. Select Project from the top menu, then Writing History, and it will break down your averages for you, day-by-day, and monthly. In March, I wrote on average 1,193 words a day, but if you look at the breakdown, I have days I never wrote as well as negative days (days where I deleted more than I added). It’s really interesting because you might also notice patterns. Ex. I wrote 3,365 in one day. If you check March 22, you might notice that’s a Sunday. Of course I was more productive. I wasn’t at work. 😛 If you really want to go deep, explore Project->Statistics->Selected Documents->Word Frequency, and it’ll show you your most frequently used words. Might help you find those pesky repeats that you can change or cut.

2. Color Coding revisions

I didn’t want to start with this one, because I’ve been talking about it on the blog a lot. Like, a lot a lot. In fact, I just wrote a blog post—How I Revise My Novels—about this very topic. I use the Revision Mode in Scrivener all the time, even while I’m initially creating, but I mostly use it when I’m revising. To get there, you’re going to want to click, Format->Revision Mode->Select Color. Be warned: Once you’re in that mode, you will have to turn it off to get back to another color. I love this because it helps me keep my revisions straight. But another tool that does that is the snapshot features. 

I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

3. Snapshots of previous versions 

The Snapshot feature allows you to save various versions of your book. I have screenshot me snapshotting. (I hope that makes sense.) You can find that screenshot below. Basically, after every time I finish writing a chapter (or revising it), I take a snapshot. (Which is the little camera icon on the far right.) I name the file something that makes it clear to me what version it is and hold onto them. This is super helpful while revising, mostly because you can go back if you realize Version 2 was better than Version 3. You can also click the “Compare” button and it will show you the differences. The photo below is showing you my very first draft compared to my most recent draft. As you can see, there were a lot of changes. In fact, you can see from this photo that I’ve been writing this scene since February 2018, I’ve rewritten it four times, and had it beta read. Another huge feature that I use in this part of Scrivener is the Comments button to add comments from betas, but that’s another feature entirely!  

4. Linguistic Focus

Under Edit -> Writing Tools -> Linguistic Focus, you’ll find an array of options: Nouns, adverbs, dialogue, etc. This is one of my favorite tools (and one I think is often overlooked), because it allows you to look at any given file in one way. Looking to cut out those pesky adverbs? Highlight them. Wanting to see how realistic your dialogue feels without the action tags? Make it stand out. In my screenshot on the right, I highlighted my dialogue only. It helps me see the spacing, but also lets me focus on the flow of my characters’ speech. I mostly use this for dialogue, but I’ve definitely used it for other things, too. What’s really neat is how it counts it, too. For instance, I had 93 quotes in this chapter, 944 verbs, 210 adjectives. Granted, it isn’t always perfect, but it definitely speeds up the process of cutting out certain phrases. 

5. Character Name Generator 

Okay, so I admit, I don’t use Scrivener to get my character names. However, I think it’s an awesome tool that is often overlooked, and it’s found in the same place: Edit -> Writing Tools -> Name Generator, and you can select from a variety of choices: names by country origin, first letter, ending letter, alliteration, and more. If you’re curious how I actually name my characters, read my blog post Naming Your Characters. Mostly, I use Babynames.com, yearbooks, and Pinterest boards. The reason I included it in my top five despite not using it is to highlight how neat all the options and tools are, even if I don’t personally use them during my writing journey.

These are just my top five tips, but honestly, I could go on forever. Scrivener has a countless number of tools, like the progress bar and target goals. It can honestly be overwhelming (but in a good way). I admit I don’t use all the tools it offers, but isn’t that the beauty? You can use what you need and want to pursue your art. But first, you have to understand what they offer and why, which is why I want to leave you with one last tip—my #1 tip. 

My #1 tip? Take the time to go through the tutorials when you download it. Without them, I would’ve been lost and confused, either giving up completely or struggling along with very few of the tools Scrivener has to offer. 

Are there tools you love?  

Let me know if I missed your favorites! Maybe there’s a feature I would love but have yet to hear about or use. 

~SAT 

P.S. If you’ve ever wanted to attend any of my events but couldn’t due to distance, now is your time to shine! I’ll be teaching a publishing course virtually on Monday, April 20: Online Publishing Events and Opportunities at 6:30 PM (Central). It’ll be on Zoom, and you can find more details on The Story Center’s Facebook by clicking here. See you then!

Writing Tips: The Five Senses

18 Mar

Special thanks goes out to actress, director, and dancer, Gracie Dzienny, for quoting my first novel, November Snow, on her Twitter. She is known for her work on Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas and multiple shows on AwesomenessTV. Visit her YouTube channel by clicking here.

Grace

 

nice

“This is a story of forbidden love, hidden love, and a war of love.” Find out why Endless Reading said they can’t wait to read Seconds Before Sunrise in the latest review of Minutes Before Sunset by clicking here.

I wrote this post in a way I don’t normally do so. Below, I ranked the five senses from easiest to hardest in terms of including them into a story – which was a task in itself because I kept questioning my order – and then I choose a random chapter in the middle of two of my novels – Seconds Before Sunrise (SBS) and November Snow (NS) – to tally my use of the senses. So the tallies might seem contradicting because I wrote the post before I collected the tallies to see if my perception was the same as my reality. Then, below that, I have a quote from those of you who commented on my Facebook author page.

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

But I want to add one last thing: there are many novels that do not include one or more of these senses for many reasons, mainly novels that cover blindness or deafness. Although those novels are very strong, I am dealing with the average novel that cover all senses in order to explore which senses are the most and least difficult to use so that we can analyze our styles together in order to improve in our five categories. But I want to thank those writers who have written novels with blind, deaf, or other protagonists in those various fields, so thank you.

#1 Sight

I’m not sure many will argue this being the easiest, especially if the novel is in first person. We see from the character’s eyes – and we see a lot. Whether they’re looking at road while driving or searching a library for answers, their eyes are working to keep the story moving forward.

Tally: Since both of my novels are from first perspectives, I decided not to tally this one at all because it’s practically every other sentence.

Paul Davis: “Sight is the easiest by far. I think it’s really easy to forget touch and smell.”

#2 Sound

I decided to forget about dialogue in order to really study this sense in reading and writing. If I included dialogue – just hearing someone speak – then this would probably be like number one, but I thought that was too obvious. However, I am including the way someone’s voice sounds, but I mainly wanted to hear thunder or creaking doors or a television rattling on a stand as a train zooms by an open window. Because of this, I did not include dialogue associated sounds in the tallies.

NS: 11: “Trees brushed against each other to the never-ending music of the crisp, November wind.”

SBS: 6: “…a rush of sounds consumed my senses.”

Alexis Danielle Allinson: The easiest I think is sound as we are taught to familiarize a sound with a distinct description from an early age.

#3 Taste

I think this was the first one I wrote down. For me, taste isn’t necessarily the hardest sense; it’s just the least likely used. A character needs to be eating or kissing or in an accident or a vampire or something along those lines to be reminded of taste.

SBS: 5 “I opened my mouth to speak but spit blood out instead. He wiped it away, but I tasted it.”

NS: 2 “A stream of salty water drove down my cheek to my lips.”

Alexis Danielle Allinson: Taste is the hardest as everyone does this different from each other.

three

#4 Touch

At this point, I have moved the five senses around on my list so many times that I don’t even know if this is where this sense originally started, but alas – this is where it ends up. For me, touch is a debatable and difficult area. Sure, characters can “grab” something, but that doesn’t necessarily make it “touch.” I feel like touch must be how rough a surface is, how cold someone’s skin is, how gravel coats hands with powdery dust. Touch isn’t a verb. Touch has texture or a sensation. 

NS: 13 “My lips were still tingling.”

SBS: 8 “The suffocating air was filled with electricity, and it burned against my exposed flesh.”

Aurélia Evangelaire: And still as a writer, the easiest sense for me to use is touch. I like the feeling of things under hands and I love to describe it.

#5 Smell

Oh, god. This exercise is not easy. At this point, I realize I didn’t know how hard it is to choose which sense goes on what ranking. You think you do until you try. It was really difficult to choose the most difficult, but I finally went with smell because smell, in many ways, is like taste. It’s limited in the sense (haha, see what I did there?) that it’s difficult to include this sense without it seeming forced. It’s often rare moments a character takes the time to “smell the roses.” Just like real people, their lives are hectic – they may even be chased around by enemies – and it’s often the slower, more intimate moments that they have smell. This goes to say that I just had another instance where I realized how the senses change dramatically over genres. I feel like smell, taste, and touch are much easier and more important in romance, especially erotica, but those same senses may not be at the top for things like sci-fi, especially if they are in a space suit that prevents all kinds of smells.

SBS: 11 “The smell of smoke broke through the blood dripping from my nose.”

NS:5 “The rusty smell of whiskey split the air.”

Phillip Peterson Smell, I think, is the easiest and most useful. It’s more of an all-encompassing scent to the scene, which, if done well, can most effectively put the reader into your world (as smell is the most connected to memory).

ts

Those are my five senses as well as a few other writers’ senses.

It was a fun exercise to write down what I thought about the five senses before going through my novel to tally away. In the end, this allowed me to see the difference in my perspective and in reality. (Like how I used smell a lot more than taste.) I definitely recommend writers try this out themselves. I realized quickly that senses change dramatically from novel to novel. For instance, the setting in November Snow is very dirty and dangerous, so sound and touch were actually HUGE. Taste? Not so much. But Seconds Before Sunrise was nearly the opposite. Then again, these were only passages. It would take me weeks to analyze the entire novels, but I still think this is worth it.

You must be tempted by now.

You must be tempted by now.

What about you? Did you try this exercise? Do you have certain senses you use more? Ones that you avoid? Were your results different than what you thought they would be?

Comment below!

P.S. “Look Inside” of Seconds Before Sunrise is now up on Amazon! Check it out by clicking the book cover on the right 😀

~SAT

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