The Monster… WRITERS BLOCK!

Welcome one and all to my blog!

 

For All Hallows Eve (look, if you haven’t figured out I’m Australian by now here is you’re cue), I wish to present to those on the cusp and preparing for the dreaded thirty days of mayhem, trauma, and soul crushing despair, faced during the course of Nanowrimo, the kind of foe which every writer has come to know…

 

WRITERS BLOCK!

 

Scary, yeah?

 

*buffs nails* Nope.

buffy.gif

 

I’ve won Nano the last four years in a row and I am going to give you a crash course on how to get this DONE.

 

And in case that wasn’t enough, I plan on writing TEN NOVELS IN 2019. Two of them in Nano. Who’s a loon?? THIS AUTHOR! But I’ve done the dreaded math and guess what? I can do it.

 

Want to know my secrets? come closer…

come

 

 

  1. Writing Sprints.

 

If you are a writer you may have heard of these sprints.

The challenge is simple; set a timer of minutes, 5, 15, 20, 30, 60 and do nothing but write. No alt tabbing, no phone, no Twitter, you WRITE. You challenge yourself to get those words in, as many as you can. You don’t stop, don’t breath, don’t break for the bathroom.

 

I said WRITE!

sargeant

 

When I started I think I got about 100 words in my first 20 minute sprint. With six years of writing under my belt I can get in about 2.5k in an hour.

 

Where this can go wrong is decisions/plotpoints/and the dreaded block, but I’ll discuss this below.

 

If you are a pantser (you write the story with no idea of where it is going to go) you are going to THRIVE on sprints.

 

If you are a plotter I suggest as minimal guidance to do a one line/paragraph on every chapter which will at least give you direction.

 

Yes, this method is really intense, but with good practice it does work. My last record for an 80k book using this method was written in 25 days and subsequently picked up by Indie press, Literary Wanderlust. (AFTER A BUTT LOAD OF EDITS).

 

There are several discord channels with this as a function and everyone joins in. It becomes a team and group effort. I will also have a pinned thread advertising when I am going into a sprint for Nanowrimo 2019.

 

This can be very difficult to accomplish if you have people who need your attention in your life; kids, family, loved ones with special needs (including yourself). It does not work for everyone, find what works for you.

 

  1. Names

 

The hero’s weary horse reaches the cusp of a valley leading to… a foreign kingdom, surveying the twisting river called… called… the twisting river, wrapping around the castle of… of… a castle in the distance, and our hero,… who is our hero… he has a name… wtf is his name… Our hero, sighs in relief at having reached….

keyboard

 

Whether you pants, or plot, do the prep before you start by having a guide of name generators booked marked in your web browser so you aren’t wasting time finding the “right” name. Get ANY name and move on.

You can fix it later, you can find replace weird names you don’t like, just get something close and move on with the script. Here is a helpful guide on generators for you, just to get you through.

Book mark them. Thank me anytime. No really, please, I did a lot to find these.

 

  1. Description

 

Damien walked into the tavern, and it was a tavern… that had beer… and people drinking it.

 

Put a freaking X there and move on. Adding descriptive scenes can come later, don’t get caught up worry about it if you just feel the story tugging you along. Yes, I hate doing this, it bugs the crap out of me, but I’d rather let the flow of the story carry me along than worry about a thirty second scene in a second rate motel. Seriously, I’d only give it 2 stars, I think I saw a rat.

 

You can come back to these scenes, you can fix them later… which brings me to my next point.

 

  1. DON’T EDIT

 

I mean it.

no

Yeah, I’m looking at you. I know the sort. I see you… just like I’ve seen parts of myself.

The perfectionist.

Seeking the perfect series of words…

The first to take out the blade to carve slices out of their darlings…

knife

 

Leave it. I mean it. PUT THE SCRIPT DOWN.

 

I WILL SMACK YOUR DAMN HANDS IF YOU GO BACK AND EDIT!

 

Because you *aren’t* helping yourself if you are doing this while trying to Nano. You are worrying about words you will probably go back and change again later anyhow.

If you are one of those people who do that, and its where your comfort zone is, and you can’t stop it, I get it. But try making sure you can’t see what you wrote, scroll right up, do it consistently. Don’t put the past words in front of your face to tempt you to edit.

Resist the temptation – forge on. This is how you finish books.

 

  1. Writers block.

 

Oh yes, my FAVOURITE demon.

 

hands

 

But do you know what writers block is? For me, its like anxiety. Or depression. It was one a foe I did not have the tools to fight. Today, I’m going to loan you mine.

dice

See this beauty? You might not know but I am an avid RPG player (roll playing gamer – no, not the custom and dancing about in fields with a sword kind, the kind that sits inside and curses normals and fights a pretend zombie apocalypse).

And the games I generally play are not… *gasp* D&D… Dungeons and Dragons.

I play and run Cthulhu, All Flesh, Chill, Pathfinder-… yes okay so its like DnD but it isn’t DnD. Don’t @ me.

*ahem*

You get to do a lot of things with a pair of dice for varying reasons in role playing, and I’ve written more about it here, but for the purposes of this blog post lets keep this short;

 

You have a choice.

 

Your heros arrive at the gates to a castle where a friend is being held captive in the bowels, accused of a crime they didn’t do… but…how do you get it?

You have options. Put yourself in the characters shoes and think; a castle has a front gate, and a servants entrance… two choices.

I like to roll a D100 to give more extreme ideas of how much they go in one direction and succeed or fail but any dice with even or odd chances is fine.

Any wall you face you are at a point, don’t focus on what to do next, focus on the options available, put yourself in the place, and roll a dice for the outcome.

You don’t know where the story might take you, and I generally find myself somewhere far more interesting… like Alice down a rabbit hole…

 

 

At the end of the day the person who is stopping you accomplishing this is you.

 

I’ve seen shift workers write on phones while in the car on a lunch break.

 

I’ve seen Mums on a tablet during soccer practice furious getting out a few hundred words.

 

I’ve sat next to the room of a dying man, writing away all the  pain inside because I couldn’t not stop what was happening in that other room.

 

Ultimately, you are not fighting or writing or winning against me or anyone else.

 

You are finding out whether you have it in you.

 

And maybe you don’t this year, but maybe you will make the habits you need to improve your craft enough to keep going, and do it next year.

 

The whole point is to keep going. Keep writing. No matter what.

 

Find me here if you want to buddy too!

The Big Bad Betareader

 

 

It’s scary, I get it.

You’re asking someone who is potentially a stranger to put their grubby paws all over your creation. To dirty it’s walls with comments on the plot. Smear mud on character development. Wee on info dumps. Put a massive turd in that unforeseen plot hole.

And the way you think about a betareader and their feed back is wrong.

You’ve asked them to read it as they would a novel, but you’ve also given them a much harder task, to find the mistakes. To do so, they have to look for them, they have to assess and point out its flaws. It makes the process intimidating.

So you take it to someone you trust.

To be kind enough to say the right things, not be too cruel, not pick on your work or show you how much it needs more put into it.

Because you already feel like you’ve birthed this idea, a monumental effort that left you gasping with tears and laughter and probably too much wine. I’ve been there, many times.

But you aren’t helping yourself if you give it to someone who will be kinder to your darling.

Give it to a stranger.

The hard part is picking the right stranger.

A lot of different people will offer different levels, but here is how I tackle scripts given to me. It comes across as more of a developmental edit, however I feel this is what beta readers need to do, as getting an editor who will also cover development can be very tricky. I’ve read many stories that were well edited but didn’t appear to have had any developmental editing at all. This can really put a reader off, and it needs to be more openly addressed.

I always want the scripts in Word so I can add comments and read it with ease, and this is also why I only ever accept shorter sections of a body of work, I don’t want anyone to think I’m nicking ideas. Don’t give your full book to a random stranger, it shouldn’t need to be said, but for novices this can be a harsh lesson. People do steal books, they will take your general premise and run with it. Research your beta before you give them the script.

After I’ve added all my notes, I will email the word doc back to the writer, and give a short summary of what I thought, probably emphasizing key points that I talk about in my comments, but especially anything I believe needs a lot of focus.

This is what I feel a beta reader should do, but its more complicated than that because how you critique someone matters. For writers just starting out, and its their first script, the easiest way to hurt someone is to say something negative in an insensitive manner. It’s also hard to tell people their writing needs serious work.

The points below aren’t just for betareaders, they are for writers too, because more often than not they are the same, and you should understand what goes into a good beta read.

 

  1. Always point out the good stuff

 

Every story has something going for it. Every story I’ve ever read had that original spark. Whether it was clearly evident in well written prose or deeply hidden under layers of badly constructed sentences, it was still there. A lot of beta readers wont necessarily do this, they point out the books flaws, its what they were asked to do.

I point out bits I like because as a struggling writer there is nothing quite like hearing that someone liked a very specific thing.

This is a fundamental part of the beta reading process because you aren’t just complimenting the writer, you are building up their confidence. So when they get that great review they don’t doubt it.

We look at a lot of our reviews and either don’t believe good ones or get completely bummed about bad ones, and this is not the right attitude. You need to have confidence, but you also need to learn where you can improve. Accepting both is a long and hard lesson. Beta reading really helps with that.

Plus, when you’re dropping a lot of truth bombs that can get them down. A nice comment is like finding the cookies to cheer them on.

 

  1. Don’t be useless

 

Yes, I know it’s a lot of effort to read someone else’s work thoroughly, however if you’re going to tell them something is wrong don’t just say that you don’t like something. There is nothing more useless than getting a message from a beta stating: I didn’t like this.

Didn’t like what? What the character said? Did? Reacted? WHAT?!

Be specific.

This was a weird thing for the character to say.

Okay great, but why? What’s the reasoning? When I leave these sorts of comments, I try to phrase it as per the below;

I thought the characters reaction was odd, because earlier on he said X, and this isn’t in keeping with that kind of philosophy. Perhaps amend to say Y, or try having him not respond at all since he disagrees.

This has the dual purpose of pointing out errors, but also offering a reason, and subsequent solution. It also allows not only for the writer to examine that one instance, but also gain a better understand of their characters as people, rather than puppets pushing along the plot.

 

  1. You are not the Grammar Police, but you are an informant

 

YOU. ARE. NOT. THERE. TO. EDIT.

 

Unless the writer has specifically said, hey, can you check the editing for me, leave it alone. I know it might be tempting, and I might point out a couple of serious flaws, but after the first couple I let it slide. This isn’t just about you not being there to edit, its to save you time too.

If I’m working with a draft I may say something really obvious if I see a few really bad mistakes. For the most part I stick to the following section;

  • Repetition: similar/same words too close together
  • Info dumping: too much description
  • Terminology: for words that are actually other words ie. Their/they’re

There are other things you can do as time affords, but these are the ones I focus on because it interrupts the flow of the story, which is what I’m interested in. You could do more as a beta reader, but ultimately, if the editing is poor, its worth stating so at the end or in your summary.

 

  1. Never rip the script

 

This shouldn’t need to be said, but part of what prompted this post was a tearful tweet I saw about a so called friend who tore their story to shreds.

You goal here should be to point out flaws, absolutely, but in a constructive manner that helps, and getting frustrated at what you might see as an inferior piece of work is the last thing a writer needs to hear. They are asking for your help. They are trusting you with a sliver of their soul. Don’t be an ass.

There are gentler ways of suggesting to them that the script essentially needs to be rewritten and these are ultimately about overarching plot points.

I’m going to tear myself apart for your example today.

When my editor told me one of my novellas needed to have the ending completely rewritten, he phrased it roughly (and more simplified) like this;

 

This ending is part of different story, one that should come perhaps later in the series. The focus should be on character X, and why she’s doing Y. The ending doesn’t serve either of these purposes, and ends up becoming less about her journey and more about Z. I also believe this other character is not coming across as you intend, and his character needs fleshing out to convey your intention in these ways. It would also be great to reduce the amount of time the MC spends on thinking, and give her more interactions with the rest of the alphabet, as these side characters are rich and have a lot of potential.

 

Believe it or not, he was far more eloquent than this, and I knew as soon as he said it, that he was right, and I pretty much rewrote the entire book.

Remember you are trying to help the writer not make them quit writing.

 

 

Finally, this isn’t a point, and shouldn’t need to be said, but it is for the writers waiting on betareading.

If someone beta reads for you, it doesn’t matter if they told you things you didn’t want to hear, THANK THEM.

I’ve done a lot of beta reading over the last 3 years, and I am amazed at how often I barely get a thank you back, or any response at all.

This is gutting. I have spent hours I could have been using on my own work, and having someone not bothering to respond to that work is awful. You never ask what it costs the beta reader to help you instead of themselves, or worrying about damaging your relationship when they do give their honest feedback. Being truthful to people whose writing journey you care about is fucking hard.

You are NOT going to like everything that they say, and this is why I always advise writers to get a second opinion. A third, fourth, however many it takes to help sort it out and be the best story it can be.

If you are a writer querying agents you NEED their feedback. You need that honesty if you are going to improve, and if you are seeking a betareader you want to improve.

Remember that when they tell you something you didn’t want to hear.

They are there to help you.

from

Helping Writers

thankyou(1)



Its come about thanks to a Twitter post that my Book Tour schedule is full for the rest of year, and my Author Interviews are also heavily booked, so I wanted to ask that if you are a writer with a website you help too.


So, where to start?


This is both the easiest and the hardest part. You just get started, you open your website and start posting. Six months ago I hadn’t started this, and now I’m fully booked. You’ve just got to knuckle down, send out a well tagged tweet, and wait and see.


Plus… you know… I’m a writer too, you could ask me… *ahem* Moving on…


There may be other ways to do this, but I just went to other people’s websites, worked out how I wanted to set it up on mine, and got the pages ready. I use WordPress, and I am not great at it but I’ve got mine trucking along. The more you use it, the more you learn and get better.


Start by setting up your pages for Book Tours, and Author Interviews. Feel free to explore mine and other author websites on how they’ve gone about this. I also have another sub-section for archived author interviews. Then I have a space specifically for Indie and Traditionally published book reviews, which also has an archive. The reason I have separated the two is because I don’t want to show I read just one type, I want to show I read widely, and not every book is perfect. I’ll go into how I post reviews, both good and bad.


Draw up a Google spreadsheet/Excel/preferred scheduler and work out how often do you want to post. Once a month? Once a week? I do mine twice a fortnight, because I work full time and it does take a bit of time to put it up. I’m getting faster the more I post, but a Book Tour post will take about 30mins, and an Author Interview about an hour. Sometimes its less but I’m slower because I’m careful.


I therefore have two lines, for two times of the month, and then the corresponding months at the top of the column. Yes, I’m drilling down into basics but not everyone is familiar or comfortable with excel/spreadsheets.


On a second tab I list the name, email address, links, a marker whether I’ve emailed them and whether I’ve received all the relevant information I need to make the post at the time. I then have a folder in my emails for correspondence for Book Tours & Author interviews as two separate folders to help me stay organised.


Once you have your schedule ready for both you can do the following;


  1. Book Tour


This is easy, put a post up on Twitter offering spots on your website. Take it as first in first served and close it off quickly once you are booked up.

I then put the twitter tag against its date in my schedule, grab the details off the person via a DM, and send them an email with all the info I need. This is a drafted email I copy and past to save on time. It asks for the following information;


  • Book Cover
  • Blurb
  • Book link to Amazon (or most commonly used publishing site)
  • An author pic and short bio


I usually have word restrictions to make sure people don’t go overboard, it also helps to say to people that most blurbs are about 150 words, (fantasy 180). If people’s blurbs are longer you can politely let them know that, some people just dont know. If you or anyone you know is struggling with a blurb, put out feelers in your community to ask for help, or come to me, I am always happy to help.


Once they’ve emailed you, mark it off on the spreadsheet, and make sure to post it on the date. You can go to my website or just Google search Book Tours to get an idea of what other sites are doing and how they are displaying this information.


  1. Author Interviews


This is pretty much the same as the above, I have a drafted letter and enter people as I book them on the spreadsheet. For the interview of course, there are questions too. Its good to have something less formal and more customizable as a first or final question. The others are then pretty standard about writing, but find your own way of asking questions. Think about what you want someone to ask of you in your writing.


Limiting the word count here is paramount. Some writers can waffle on for hours about absolutely nothing, including yours truly.


You can also check out mine and other author websites for how they manage interviews.


      3. Book Reviews


This is not a service I offer.


I will sometimes give away reviews, but its rare.


The reason being is that there are a lot of authors who go out woefully under prepared, and that’s on their manuscript alone. I feel that way about my first novella, and so will be pulling it down off Amazon in the coming weeks, and offering it for free on my website. Its not a bad story, but it’s a slow world and character build.


I write fiction that likes to amble along beside you, not come up and punch you in the face.


We all write differently, and we all read different styles, we are allowed to not like everything we write and read.


Therefore when you go to start reviewing, be prepared for negative reactions. Not everyone is going to like, appreciate, or want your feedback. I have been dragged down into petty arguments by people who didn’t like what I thought of their book.


So I buy the book on Amazon usually, sometimes Kobo, and I leave a review on my website, Goodreads, & Amazon/Kobo.


I always try to use the critique sandwich; good stuff, bad stuff, different good stuff. It’s a great format, but points out issues to the writer.


When I first started writing I needed that desperately, and still do to a large extent. Beta readers are usually people you know, and in turn will be kinder. Someone’s who paid for your book is going to be far less so. You don’t need to be cruel, but you also don’t have to shower praise over it.


This is why I leave reviews for both Traditional and Self published books, because I like to make the clear distinction I dont see them any differently. I’m here for the story. I will rarely pick on editing unless its truly dreadful, and a deterrent to the book. I also don’t usually post anything less than 3 stars, and my reasons for doing so are that its seems cruel not to find anything nice about the story. Most stories that make it to any form of publication have something redeemable about them. When I come across a book that I’d rate that low, I am usually very specific in my review as to why.


If you are going to offer reviews please be prepared to expect a backlash if you give a book a less than savoury review, especially when its badly articulated and lacking in itself. If you are going to upset an author its better to phrase it well, and kindly, so they take the advice on board and look to improve themselves, rather than be bitter and tear you down in return. Which has happened to me. It was vile and unpleasant and its why I’m stressing that you be careful when doing this.


Here is the other thing to be wary of ⸺ some authors will refuse anything other than five stars.


This is why I prefer the anonymity of picking and choosing what I will and wont review, it doesn’t give the author a choice. This is just my preference however, how you want to review is up to you, its your website, and your reviewing platforms.


The most important thing to remember is that you dont have to do all of this, or do it this way. Go out and explore, work out what you want to get out of this, and how you want to go about doing that. All I get is the warm glow that I’m helping, and added benefit of website traffic. But mostly the warm glow.


My aim as always been to help other writers, with whatever I can, as much as I can. Will you join me?


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