Tag Archives: writing tips

Trying to Write as a Pantser

16 Jan

I’m a pantser for the first time.

What’s a pantser? Someone who writes a book with no plan, as opposed to a plotter, who, you know, plots.

Normally, I plot like crazy. I have plots for my plots. (Also known as subplots.) And though I almost always deviate from my original plans, I always have a plan. But lately, I was feeling a little bogged down by all that planning. I yearned for adventure. For mystery. For absolute chaos. Like a road trip with no destination ahead. Just me and the road and whatever will happen.

So, I decided my first book of 2017 would be written in perfect pantser style, full speed ahead.

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would crash and burn. In fact, I expected to. But that wasn’t the case. Let me explain the differences by comparing my normal plotter ways and my current pantser adventure.

The Idea

Plotter: Disclaimer: Almost all of my books start off as a dream, and this one was no different. After I have a dream I think might be worthy of a book, I sit on the floor with a million notebooks and just write down scenes and ideas that come to me. Throughout the next few weeks (or even months), I expand on the characters and world until they blend together and I have a solid plot, character list, and timeline. Sometimes, I even write an entire screenplay, dialogue and all, before I actually write Chapter One.

Pantser: I had a dream, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at my computer.

plotter

Beginning to Write

Plotter: I start in Chapter One after reading Chapter One’s notes thoroughly, and then I repeat with Chapter Two and Chapter Three and so on.

Pantser: Literally, the day I had the dream, I sat down at my computer and wrote down what I saw. I didn’t even know the general theme or my protagonist’s name, or even if she was the protagonist. But she quickly fleshed out into the full-fledged botanist she is today. The world she was in quickly followed. Fun fact: the dream I had wasn’t Chapter One, which is where I usually start. Instead, it turned out to be a mixture of Chapter Two and Chapter Four. (For now.) panster

The Rest of the Adventure

Plotter: I always know where I’m going and what will probably happen. Even if something changes, it doesn’t affect the story too much. I can still stay on course. (Basically, my GPS will reroute me no matter where I go.)

Pantser: I can’t stay on course, because there is no course. Even more confusing, there is no world to navigate anyway. This current project of mine is a YA sci-fi, but I’m letting my world build itself. That is honestly the strangest part for me. Normally, I have an entire system of rules and ideas to constrain my characters to, but not this time. This time, I’m letting the book let me know what it needs to do before I figure out where the boundaries go. We’re very much off-roading in unknown terrain, but I haven’t popped a tire yet. And if I do, I can create a spare out of thin air…because you know, no rules. I’ll make laws up later. And while this might sound reckless, I’ve been keeping a list of boundaries that come up in the text as I go, and it seems as solid as anything else I could’ve created by plotting.

In the end, being a pantser or a plotter doesn’t feel that much different, but this risk helped me fall back in love with the thrill of writing. I’m writing around the same pace as usual, but I do feel like I’m enjoying it more. I already know I’m going to have to rewrite a ton, but I do that when I plot, too, so that doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me. In fact, if I were being honest—if this works out—I kind of like this pantser thing. It feels more vulnerable (and more likely for things to go terribly, horribly wrong), but that vulnerability makes it feel more authentic, too. Like the characters are definitely more in charge.

Recently, for instance, I realized my villain is probably not who I thought it was going to be. And I’m still unsure about where the next chapters are going, but I definitely know the ending. (Or I think I do. Ha.) And I’m kind of enjoying my hesitation and fear and absolute joy when it works out.

Perhaps, this pantser mode worked for this particular book and wouldn’t for others, but I’m glad I decided to try it out. I’m having a lot fun, and I believe the project is forming together beautifully. If I had to guess, I would say a writer could do either one and be successful with it. And it definitely can’t hurt to try. In fact, it helped me.

Now to go write a scene I know nothing about.

~SAT

Writers and Vocabulary

9 Jan

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

The famous Stephen King said it, and so many more agree.

I vehemently say this to every writer I know. Why? Because it amazes me how many writers don’t read on a regular basis.

By reading, you’re expanding your creativity, your stories, your life, and even your vocabulary. And your vocabulary is vital.

Today, I wanted to concentrate on expanding your vocabulary and why it’s so important. I’ve sort of written about this before—Writing Tips: Build Your Vocabulary —where I discussed how you should not only read a lot, but pay attention while reading. This includes marking every word or phrase you come across that you’re unsure of, so that you can come back later to study them. I call this a vocabulary study guide.

books-writing-reading-sonja-langford

So what is my vocabulary study guide?

I create one every time I read a book. While reading, I circle words, and after I’m finished, I study them. This list includes words I don’t know, words that catch me off guard, words I know but forget to remember, and words I simply want to concentrate on more, maybe because they’re beautiful or strange or perfect for certain scenarios.

How do I organize it?

Personally, I categorize words by most likely subject. By feelings or people or places or, my personal favorite, body parts and other medical things. (Example from below? Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.) Sometimes, though, I organize my lists by words I need extra help on. In my below example for instance, I circled inscrutable FOUR times in the SAME book. (And this isn’t the first book I circled it in.) Why? I know this word. I do. But for some reason, whenever I’m reading or writing, my brain stumbles over it. I want, more than anything, for inscrutable to become natural to me.

So here is a literal example from my most recent read.

All of these words come from Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, a young adult book about prohibition, asylums, and hemopaths, people capable of creating illusions through song, poetry, and art. I highly recommend this diverse read, and I hope this list of beautiful words encourages you to check it out. Seriously. Everything in this post comes from that book. If you’re curious, here’s my book review on Goodreads.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria Study Guide:

Five Senses:

          Sound:

Raucously: making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise

Sonorous: (of a person’s voice or other sound) imposingly deep and full

          Smell:

Redolent: fragrant and sweet smelling OR strongly reminiscent or suggestive of

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Another reason to learn? Wooing women. 😉

Emotions:

Avaricious: having or showing an extreme greed for wealth or material gain

Imperturbable: unable to be upset or excited; calm

Languorous: the state or feeling, often pleasant, of tiredness or inertia

Temerity: excessive confidence or boldness; audacity

Beatific: blissfully happy

Body parts/Medical:

Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.

Paunchy: a large or protruding abdomen or stomach.

Relating to People:

Spectacled: wearing spectacles

Haughty: arrogantly superior and disdainful

Stodgy: dull and uninspired, ex. stodgy old men

Gaggle: a disorderly or noisy group of people (also a flock of geese)

Expression: Speaking/Writing:

Asperity: harshness of tone or manner

Succinctly: (especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed

Other Description:

Inscrutable: impossible to understand or interpret

Ostensibly: apparently or purportedly, but perhaps not actually

Anathema: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes

You might think you know every word you read, but really, if you slow down and ask yourself what the literal definitions of words are (rather than relying on context), you’ll force yourself to look up more and more words to learn on your own. It might seem like a waste of time or time-consuming, but I honestly love it. I revel in challenging myself to memorize new phrases and understand a wider range of the English language, and I believe it helps my writing.

Try it out for yourself and see which words you learn.

Who knows? You might need to use it in a novel one day.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Feeling Down About Writing? Here’s How To Write Again!

2 Jan

Recently, I felt down about writing. When I sat at the computer, the words didn’t flow, and when I walked away, the urge to try again was gone. I struggled and searched for the reason I was struggling and continued to struggle again. Honestly, my “down” period was caused by the holidays, and let’s be honest, 2016 was one hot mess. But now that we’re into 2017—and many of us are typing at full speed ahead to meet our New Year’s resolutions—there’s bound to be a time when you feel down again.

How can you feel better about writing when you aren’t feeling so great?

Well, there are plenty of ways. In fact, there are so many ways, I asked my fellow Clean Teen Publishing authors to share their secrets to get back on the keyboard.

1. Listen to Music

Music is a really big way for me to get back into writing. Certain songs or arrangements feel suited to different characters or situations, and that usually gets the words flowing with some regularity again. – Molly Bilinski, debut author of Lady of Sherwood (April, 2017)

When I’m struggling to write, or inspiration has left me, I always return to the old reliable; music. I go on the hunt for new music and spend time finding songs that match the mood and tone of my WIP. There is nothing more therapeutic then finding a song and suddenly having clarity. – Susan Harris, best-selling author of Skin and Bones 

2. Play!

Whenever I’m down, I find that it’s usually because I’m taking everything too seriously and I’m too busy “adulting” to appreciate the fun in life. I need to get back to that “kid” space where anything goes and nothing is crushingly important. You’re just playing to play, having fun and going where it takes you – Jennifer Derrick, author of Avenging Fate

I always encourage writer friends to find another creative outlet. As creative spirits, writing is not all we can or should do. Create something else, craft, sew, crochet, whatever, but cultivate that creative spirit in another way. We can channel our inspiration in so many ways. – Lila Felix, author of Lightning Forgotten

3. Remind Yourself Why You Write

I reread something that I’m really proud of writing, usually something from at least a couple years ago. Sometimes remembering how great that felt can spring new ideas to mind. And sometimes it just reminds you that you have survived bad times before, and were still able to write something amazing. – Kendra Sanders, author of Dating An Alien Pop Star

“The moment you quit is the moment you fail.” I’ve been living by this mantra since September 1, 2010, the day I started writing the first novel I ever finished. Since then, I’ve had my fair share of discouraging moments, but I can honestly say I’ve never seriously considered quitting. Because if I quit, I fail. I’ve got too many stories to tell to let that happen. – Tamara Grantham, award-winning author of Dreamthief

So what’s my advice?

Along with all of these wonderful writers, I think stepping away, listening to music, reading your favorite book, or visiting your favorite café can help clear your mind of whatever’s holding you back. Sometimes, it just takes time, and I have to remind myself that writing is not a race—that my mental and physical health is important, too. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.

I always joke that I’m a Triple A personality. I’m constantly working, and if you catch me during a rare moment off, I’m probably thinking about working. (I could really use a hobby outside of reading and writing, but alas, I love them so much.) For me, visiting Barnes & Noble or a library and just surrounding myself with books can calm my soul. In the end though, one thought always finds its way back to me.

Be sure to visit all the awesome Clean Teen authors who made this post possible, and of course, good luck getting back on the keyboard.

It might be difficult. It might feel impossible today. But every day is the start of something new and wonderful, and every novel starts with one word.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Weaknesses in Writing

26 Dec

Writers always have room for improvement. Even if you’re a New York Times Best Seller, you are growing every single day, and knowing what aspects to work on can definitely help your career.

How do you know what to concentrate on?

Be honest with yourself.

Most writers know what their weaknesses are. Maybe it’s those pesky fighting scenes (or kissing scenes). Maybe creating villains is really difficult for you, or world-building takes wayyyyyy too long (like five years too long).

We probably know where we need extra help, because it takes us more time than usual to overcome that particular obstacle…and that’s okay!

Understanding your weaknesses as a writer will help you overcome them and learn from them. So, here are some tips to figure them out, work with them, and beat them.

1. Make Lists!

While you’re writing, you’ll come across those tricky areas and struggle. Take note of where and how and why you struggle during particular times. Also take note of how you figured out the issues eventually. By forcing yourself to step away and reevaluate it, you’ll see more patterns, and you’ll be able to research or study that particular area until you no longer struggle as much. Want an example? I LOVE my side characters, sometimes a little too much, and while I can explore side characters, I often let them overshadow my main characters during the first draft. In the current book I’m working on, I have a note to tone down those subplots. That way, I don’t get out of control again. (And if I do, I have notes on how to fix it when I’m editing.)

Another list I love to keep outlines my crutch words. This includes words I use WAY too often and words I often misspell or just need to look out for in general. Crutch is actually one of my misspellings. I always use clutch instead. Why? I have no idea, but I know that I need to search for clutch and crutch every time I’m editing. I also search for all those pesky, repetitive expressions like smile, nod, frown, smirk, laugh, etc. There’s nothing better than finding out you used the word smile six times on one page and deleting them ALL before anyone else reads your Crest commercial…er, I mean, book.

writerweaknesses2. Read, Research, Practice!

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with romantic scenes. (Seriously, I feel like a Peeping Tom every time I write a romantic scene. It really ruins everything for me, which is probably why most of my novels have very little romance in them. But moving on…) I know this about myself. I know to take my time on these scenes, and I realize I’ll edit them a hundred times over. But one thing that I find that fixes my issues more than anything else is reading. By reading, I will see how authors evoke emotions I struggle to explain. Whenever I come across a romantic scene in a book I’m reading, I definitely pay more attention than usual. I might even take notes on how and why it was a successful scene, so that I can consider how to utilize those tools in the future. This is where research and practice comes into play. Once you start realizing what works for you and others, you can try out your new skills on short stories or individual scenes. By writing and rewriting those areas you struggle in, you will start to feel more confident and comfortable over time. (Plus, we could always use another excuse to read.)

3. Remember One Thing!

Weaknesses do not make you a bad writer. Everyone has them. Yes, even J.K. Rowling. Maybe you have a bad habit of dream sequences or too many flashbacks or your villain falls flat every time. That’s okay! As long as you understand that these are issues, you can fix them. Look at it this way, isn’t it better to know about them, and be honest about them, than be oblivious or ignore the issue at hand? Writing is a journey. Some scenes will work perfectly; others might need more work. Take your time. Embrace the challenges, and prove to yourself that you can overcome them.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Making More Time To Write

19 Dec

I wish I had more time to write.

Am I right?

But seriously, every writer I know wishes they had more time to write, and most writers also know it’s a matter of making more time to write. (You know, unless you managed to get your hands on Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner, in which case, lucky you.)

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But how does someone make more time to write?

1. Study your schedule

2. See what you can adjust

3. Set a new schedule and stick with it

Sounds simple, right? But we all know it isn’t.

We have schedules for a reason. They work. We’ve figured out how much time we need each morning to make breakfast and get ready for work. We know how much energy we have to expend throughout the day, and we know that we HAVE to watch that new KDrama releasing this month. (I mean, we all need to satisfy our vices every now and then, right?)

But here’s the truth: You CAN change your schedule…and it might be a little uncomfortable at first. You also might have to change it more than once to find that extra timeslot that works for you.

Want an example?

Recently, I wanted to meet a deadline early, but I knew I didn’t have enough time in my day to do so. In fact, I rarely write every day. My full-time job on the computer often leaves me exhausted and, quite frankly, sick of staring at a computer screen. Add carpal tunnel, and, well, it gets easy to say no to writing after work. But I knew that was my weak point, so I started there.

I set my goal: Wake up an hour early every day just to write. Before emails. Before social media. Before work. Before everything. Just an hour to write.

The first three days were awesome. Granted, I started my goal on a weekend. That way, I was still rewarded with a little extra sleep. But then the workweek came.

Holy hell. The first day wasn’t bad, but the second? UGH. The fifth day was probably the worst day, though the sixth day had me wondering if I really wanted to do this. At one point, I actually wrote less than my usual amount, because I was too tired to concentrate. Then, the seventh day came, and I adjusted much faster that morning. Now, it’s routine.

After I adjusted, I definitely reached my goals and wrote more than I expected. (I added an extra hour of writing time, after all.) I’m still getting up an hour early every day, and so far, so good. I don’t feel any more tired than I used to, and I’m more productive than I was before. I mainly attribute this to the fact that I start my day with writing. Even though I’m not a morning person, it’s easy to get bogged down by the day, but if I start writing before all of that pressure puts me down, I can write without worry, without distraction, and without the world of work life. Granted, I’m not telling everyone to do what I did. Your goals are going to be different than mine, because your life is different than mine. But I promise you, you can find more time without a Time-Turner.

So, here are three additional tips.

1. Consider what is actually holding you back. For me, it was work exhaustion, so I knew I had to find time before work. But I was hesitant. I’m not a morning person. I’m a monster in the mornings. And this fact terrified me before I even started. I was sure I would fail, but I didn’t. Don’t let your limitations set you back. Many limitations are like your schedule: You set them. You can also change them. (Though I still don’t consider myself a morning person.)

2. Make smaller goals within your larger ones. Having a goal beyond “I just want to write more” helped me push myself to reach expectations. I had a deadline. This smaller goal helped me stay focused on something specific and attainable. If you go in thinking you’re changing your life, it might make you feel overwhelmed, but if you go in thinking you’re trying to change your week, it will feel reachable.

3. Tough out your new schedule. As you saw above, I had ups and downs. I had mornings I questioned myself, and plenty of times I wanted to stay in bed, but I didn’t. I forced myself to get up again and again, and eventually, I adjusted. Personally, I suggest toughing out your schedule for at least two weeks to see if you can adjust to it. If you can’t, try another adjustment.

Changing anything in your life isn’t easy, but having more time to write?

Now, that’s worth it.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs How To Find Beta Readers

12 Dec

Beta reader (n): an avid reader/critique partner/superhero who looks over your novel/baby/everything before anyone else sees it in order to improve language/characters/grammar/basically the whole package.

Okay, but really, beta readers are necessary, because they are an extra set of knowledgeable eyes on your work. They’ll see those plot holes you understand (but accidentally forgot to add) and they’ll call out your purple prose or tell you what’s working where. Most writers know they need a beta reader, but finding a beta reader? That’s a whole different story.

Beta readers probably shouldn’t be your best friend from high school, but hey, look at it this way, they might become your best friend overtime. In fact, it’d be ideal to get quite a few beta readers on your team. That way, they can serve various purposes on top of general advice. Example? I recently rewrote the beginning of one of my novels, but all of my beta readers had gone over the original already. I needed a fresh pair of eyes. One that hadn’t seen the original. That way, I could know if the beginning was just as clear as the original version. If I had a beta reader who already knew the story, it wouldn’t have been an objective opinion.

beta readers

So, who should be your beta reader? Like I said above, they *probably* shouldn’t be your best friend or sister or parents or a lover or or or. Why? Because people close to us generally tell us what we want to hear. Plus, just because they are close to us, doesn’t mean they are writers, and even if they are avid readers, it doesn’t mean they are experienced in your genre or the market. Beta readers are generally best when they are fellow writers working within the same genre at the same level of experience (or even better, more experience). Of course that doesn’t mean there are exceptions. If your mother is a college professor who teaches young adult literature and you’re writing young adult books, duh, go for it. (Maybe ask her for some contacts, too, you lucky bird.) Also, toward the end of writing, I like to have a few non-writer friends of mine read my work. It’s still a fresh pair of eyes, so friends and family don’t hurt. Just don’t rely on only them.

You might be thinking beta readers sound like mythical unicorns by now, but trust me, they are out there, and they are definitely willing to help. Remember my little example above about needing a new beta reader last minute? Guess what? I found her on Twitter, and she’s awesome. Now how can you find beta readers?

  1. Local Writing Groups/Events: Look up your local chapters of RWA or whatever organization your books fall into. See if anyone is close. Check out your local libraries or bookstores to see if they have writing groups. Join. Pay attention to local events, too. Writing conferences often have writing classes available throughout them, and it can be a place for feedback as well as connections. But for those of you who have social anxiety like me (or work a nightshift like me), I have online solutions for you.
  2. Online: Remember all those agent-pitching contests I’ve shared before? No? Here’s the Pitch Calendar. Join those online and meet fellow writers. Follow writers who are writing similar materials and befriend each other. Overtime, you might find someone who needs a beta reader just as much as you do, and you’re both headed the same direction. That being said, I have one stipulation for online connections: research, research, research. There’s no need to pay thousands of dollars for just a beta reader. Also, as much as I love Wattpad for finding other writers, do not post manuscripts you’re trying to publish. Posting can be considered published, and that will make it harder to find an agent or publisher. Instead, I suggest posting short stories or a sample chapter to try to connect with others in order to find beta readers to work with elsewhere.
  3. Colleges: If you’re in college, colleges often have awesome resources for students. Take advantage of those.

These are three places to start. Good luck in finding your next best friend…er…beta reader.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs When NaNoWriMo is Over

28 Nov

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a lot of fun for many writers, and it can be that stepping stone that forces you to sit down and finish that draft you’ve been trying to complete for years. Whether you hit that 50,000-word milestone or not, I want to congratulate you, because—guess what??—you sat down, you got to work, and you wrote something that mattered to you.

That is worth celebrating.

But many writers might be asking themselves what to do now. Edit? Query? Write more?

The answer will be different for everyone, but here are my three universal tips for NaNoWriMo writers. (And, again, congratulations! You. Are. Awesome. Never stop writing.)

1. Do Not—and I repeat—DO NOT immediately start querying

NaNoWriMo’s goal is to get 50,000 words down. And while 50,000 words is certainly an accomplishment, it’s definitely a first draft. Querying now will only hurt you. In fact, working on a query letter at this point might not even be necessary—because a lot changes from a first draft to the final product—but that’s different for everyone. Sometimes, I like to write query letters before I write a book, just to make sure I understand my concepts and direction. This, of course, never becomes my final query or synopsis, but it helps to have a first draft of everything all at once. That way, I can see how my story changes and shapes over time.

So what are you supposed to do with a first draft?

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month.

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month. 

2. EDIT

Well, first, I normally tell writers to walk away for a little bit. Three weeks might seem like a long time, but it’ll distance you from your work…and your blind love might clear up. This is when you can see your plot holes, flat characters, and other flaws that definitely need fixing. Take word count for example. NaNoWriMo only requires a 50,000-word document, and while this is ideal for MG books, 50,000 words isn’t a great word count for an adult novel or even a YA fantasy. While 50,000 is an AMAZING accomplishment (please do not get me wrong), you’re more than likely going to receive automatic rejections because your word count is off. I know. I know. Word count isn’t everything. In fact, I think pacing matters more. But what’s the brutal truth for debuts? When your word count is off, it tells agents and publishers that you don’t know your genre or market (even if you do). Figure out your ideal word count here—and try to get it there. Don’t bank your entire career on being an exception to the rule.

3. Work on that query, synopsis, and pitch

Your novel isn’t the only piece of work needing attention. Now that you have a complete and edited draft, writing that dreaded query comes into play…and more often than not, query letters and pitches take just as long as editing does. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful places to learn about this process, like QueryShark and the Query Critique Calendar (where you can get one-on-one help during competitions).

In the end, NaNoWriMo is a fantastic starting point, and you should be proud of your work and accomplishments. But it’s only one part of this wonderful journey. Take your time. Publishing is never a race. And make friends along the way.

Writing should be fun, after all. Try to enjoy all that comes along with it, including everything after THE END.

~SAT

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