Category Archives: Writing tips

10 tips for writing a star manuscript

book-contest-2018

As you may have heard, the Write Place Book Contest will return in 2018!

Every two years, we invite authors across the country to submit their manuscripts to us. Our team of judges reads them and awards one deserving author with free publication of his or her manuscript as a print and e-book.

This time around, we’ll be accepting manuscripts from August 1, 2017-December 15, 2017. Even though that winter deadline may seem far away, it’s always a good idea to get a head start on a writing project. So, to help all you authors out there get started on a new book project or polish an existing one, I’ve put together this list of 10 tips for writing a star manuscript.

Tip #1: Write a book you want to read

As you write, make sure to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. When you read a book, what hooks your attention and entices you to keep reading?

Also, be sure to pick a topic you feel passionately about. As Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If you love your story, it will shine through and make your writing stronger.

Tip #2: Make a game plan

Before you get started, jot down a brief summary of your book. Keep it short, but be sure you cover the central conflict and its resolution. From there, draft a rough outline of events. Along the way, make note of any particular scenes you want to include. When you’re finished, you’ll have a timeline of events to use as a roadmap for your manuscript.

Tip #3: Lock down your character list

Whether you’re reviewing a complete manuscript or drafting a new one, creating a detailed character list or family tree will help you keep track of who’s who in your story. Be sure to include details like character ages, physical descriptions, relationships, and name spellings. These details are easy to forget or accidentally change. Having a character guide handy will help you guard against those mistakes.

Tip #4: Flex your cartography skills

To keep track of the places your characters visit, sketch out a map of your setting. You’ll get a clearer picture of the world you’ve created, plus you may end up catching errors or inconsistencies.

Tip #5: Establish a writing routine

One of the best ways to stay on track while writing a book is to set a regular writing routine. What time of day do you feel most inspired? Are you a pen-and-paper author, or do you prefer your laptop? What about location? Do you like writing at home, at coffee shops, at the library?

Once you’ve nailed down those details, commit to blocking out a certain amount of time each day or week to devote to your project and stick to it!

Tip #6: Join a writing group

Feedback is a crucial part of the writing process, and local writing groups are a great way to test your book and get live reader feedback. They’re also a great source of inspiration, motivation, and accountability. There are writing groups all across the country. Do a little Google research today to find the one nearest you!

Tip #7: Don’t fear writers’ block

Every author experiences writers’ block, so don’t get discouraged if you find yourself in a slump! Try stepping away from your book for a day or two. Sometimes the best ideas come when you’re doing something other than writing. If that doesn’t work, try talking out the problem with friends, family members, or fellow writers who are familiar with your book. They might just have the key to unlocking the next chapter.

And the absolute best thing about writers’ block? It always passes!

Tip #8: Silence your inner editor

When working on a new manuscript, it can be very tempting to go back and “fix” what you’ve already written. Resist! This will stall your progress and keep you from meeting your deadline. If your inner editor had its way, you would spend hours and hours rewriting what you’ve already done rather than advancing your story.

Remember: your job is to write a finished manuscript. So don’t worry about tweaking your prose or perfecting your dialogue just yet! (That’s what second drafts are for.) Instead, focus on telling the story from beginning to end. Once you’ve done that, feel free to set that inner editor loose!

Tip #9: Read, read, read

William Faulkner once said, “Read, read, read . . . Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.” Sometimes, other authors are the best source of inspiration. Get your hands on as many books as you can. Immerse yourself in the genre you’ve chosen to write. Study the conventions of the genre and think about them critically. Discover what you like and dislike. You’ll be a stronger writer for it.

Tip #10: Have fun!

Writing a book is a journey—one that is, admittedly, full of ups and downs. But in the end, there’s no feeling in the world like the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with putting down your pen or hitting “Save” for the final time. So as you write, make sure you take some time to step back and enjoy the ride!

 

Feeling inspired? I hope so! Remember, the Write Place will begin accepting entries for the 2018 Book Contest on August 1. If you have any questions about the contest, please visit our website or email bookcontest@thewriteplace.biz.

 

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Megalobibliophobia, Part II (Writers’ Edition)

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In January, we tackled the topic of “megalobibliophobia” (the fear of large books). Specifically, we covered some helpful tips and strategies for reading a long, intimidating book. But as I wrote, I had an epiphany: many of the same fears that come with reading a long book also apply to writing a long book. So, as promised, here it is: “Megalobibliophobia, Part II (Writers’ Edition).”

Most authors ask two questions at the start of every new project: How do I go about writing this book? and Will anyone read it?

These questions become even more daunting when you have a gut feeling your book is going to be . . . long. Suddenly, you have to worry about organizing tens if not hundreds of thousands of words into a coherent whole without getting overwhelmed. You need to keep your characters, settings, and timeline of events straight. And, somehow, you need to stay steady and motivated through it all.

It’s not easy, but it can be done! If you’ve got an idea for a long book, I’ve put together a few tips on getting started, staying motivated, and seeing your project through from page one to the end.

Make a game plan

One of the trickiest things about writing a long book is making a clear game plan. Before diving in to Chapter One, you need to prepare by making sure you have a thorough understanding of the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the story you’re telling.

Start by writing a brief summary of your book’s premise. Keep it short, maybe four or five sentences, but be sure you cover the inciting incident of the story, its central conflict, and its resolution. From there, draft a rough outline of events that will carry you from that inciting incident (Point A) all the way to the conclusion (Point B). Along the way, make note of any particular scenes you want to include. When you’re finished, you’ll have a timeline of events to use as a roadmap for your manuscript.

If your story includes a large cast of characters, you may also want to create a detailed character list or family tree to help keep track of them. Sketching out a map of your setting can also be helpful, especially if your story is geographically complex.

Once these tools are in place, you’re ready to start drafting!

Establish a writing routine

One of the best ways to stay on track during any writing project is to set a regular writing routine that complements you and works with your schedule. Are your creative vibes strongest in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening? Do you like writing at home, or are you more of a wanderer? Do you prefer a laptop or pen and paper? How much time can you commit to writing each day?

Once you find the writing niche that enlivens your creative spirit, commit to blocking out a certain amount of time each day or week to your project. You’ll be amazed at how much progress you make, no matter the length of the book.

Set manageable goals

At the start of a writing project, it can be very tempting to think, Oh sure, I bet I can write three, four, maybe even five chapters a day! When you’re excited, your project is new, and your motivation is at its peak, it’s easy to imagine sitting down and whipping out your manuscript in record time.

Yet, the painful reality is that at some point, especially if you’re tackling a long and complicated subject, you will experience writer’s block. There will be days when you sit down at your desk and stare at a blank screen or page without a clue of where to go next. The important thing to remember is that all writers experience slumps like this, and they do pass eventually.

There will also be days when, no matter how hard you try to sit down and follow your writing schedule, life gets in the way. Don’t let frustration set in—life happens! If you aren’t able to return to your regular schedule after things settle down, work to find a new writing schedule that fits..

The moral of the story is that while goals are great for keeping you motivated and productive, they must be realistic and achievable. There’s nothing more discouraging than consistently missing your goal.

So don’t beat yourself up if you do happen to fall short; instead, concentrate on the progress that you did make. And, pat yourself on the back and celebrate the days when you exceed your goal!

Join a writing group

When it comes to writing, two, three, four, or five heads are almost always better than one. One thoughtful comment can break through writer’s block or spark the key idea you’ve been searching for to complete your book.

Sometimes, we can get this feedback from close friends or family members, but local writing groups are another great resource for testing your book and getting authentic feedback. Writing groups are also a great source of inspiration and motivation. Your fellow members will help keep you accountable to your writing goals and provide moral support when you find yourself in a writing rut. There are writing groups all across the country; do a little research today to find the one nearest you!

Partner with a professional editor

When your manuscript has made it through this gauntlet, partnering with an editor is often the next step toward publication. A good editor will offer a fresh perspective and can catch the little details that you, as the creative engine behind the project, may not have been in the right frame of mind to catch. At the Write Place, we offer several levels of editing to fit each author’s budget and preferences.

Writing a book is hard; at times it can seem almost impossible task, especially when you find yourself writing a particularly long book. However, in spite of the challenges, it can also be a rich and rewarding experience. So don’t be afraid to become the author of a 500+- page book! With planning, determination, and support from friends, family, and fellow writers, you can make it happen.

 


“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” – Ray Bradbury


 

Photo credit:

“The Chipped Table of Dakar,” – noodlepie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/87585644@N00/9817006646, via http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

 

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Don’t be afraid to scare your readers

Happy_Halloween!Eleven more weeks in our contest countdown! Does that fact fill you with anxiety? Go ahead and embrace it—it’s the perfect day to do so.

Every year I celebrate Halloween by “enjoying” a scary book (I have a low tolerance—about one a year is my limit). While looking for recommendations on what to read this year I ran across this list of the 50 scariest books of all time. What struck me was how many of the books on the list weren’t what I’d consider “scary stories”―like 1984 and Lord of the Flies. Sure, they are frightening, but not because they feature killer clowns hiding in sewers. Both scare their readers by shining a light on the terrifying parts of human nature. They also make you care about their characters, and then put them in dangerous situations. To make a reader genuinely afraid for the safety of a fictional character—I’ve always found that to be the mark of a great author.

So, in honor of Halloween, take a look at the fear, suspense, unease, anxiety, or outright terror in your novel. Does the reader care enough about the characters to feel afraid for them? Is the scary thing—the monster, the disaster, or whatever the threat is—completely unexpected and shocking? Or does the reader know it’s coming? That can be even scarier. Remember watching a character in a horror movie descend into a dark basement. You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know exactly when or what. You can do the same thing in your writing, even if you aren’t writing in the horror genre. Through foreshadowing and tone, you can create suspense for your reader, and keep them flipping those pages.

Fear in nonfiction deserves attention as well. If you are writing about a crime or a disaster, the reader might know the ending. Still, you need to develop characters and build suspense just as if it were fiction.

What do you think? Are there any books or stories that have taught you how to write about fear? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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First things first

The first week of our contest submission period is officially over. Don’t worry, though, there are still 12 weeks left to polish up your prose! If you are mostly finished with your manuscript, you might be wondering what you can do to improve it. If you’re just starting—I admire your ambition. Either way, a good place to start is at the beginning.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that first lines are hard to write. If you’re lucky, the first line will come to you in a burst of inspiration. If not, you’ll spend hours of your time wracking your brain and working through constant revisions to find the perfect combination of words. Stephen King admits to spending months and even years coming up with his opening lines.

Clearly you want your first line to intrigue the reader enough to get them to buy the book…and keep reading once they’ve started. Here are a few tricks I’ve found useful in my own writing.

  • Just start. Don’t stress about word choice or sentence structure, just start telling your story as if you were talking to a friend. You can go back later and tweak your prose, but it may turn out that simple and straightforward is better anyway.
  • If an opening just won’t come to you, wait until you’ve finished writing everything else before writing the first line. Inspiration could very well strike while writing.

Sometimes I  wonder if more heartache is spent on first lines than they deserve. Some of my favorite books have unassuming first lines—Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre starts, “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” No fluff, no fuss, she just starts right into the story.

Alice as she appears in John Tenniel's original illustrations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice as she appears in John Tenniel’s original illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

To finish up, I thought I’d share one of my favorite first lines. If you feel inspired, share yours in the comments!

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

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Prepositions You Can Be Proud Of

John_Dryden_portrait

Apparently this man started the “no prepositions at the end of a sentence” myth. Thanks a lot, John Dryden.

Did that title make anyone flinch? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised—most of us are taught in school that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition.

Turns out, this is a myth. Both everyday usage and the laws of grammar say that it is perfectly fine to end a sentence with a preposition. According to Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage, “recent commentators…are unanimous in their rejection of the notion that ending a sentence with a preposition is an error or an offense against propriety…And not only do the commentators reject the notion, but actual usage supports their rejection.”

The rule apparently originated with John Dryden, 17th century poet and dramatist, who decided since you can’t end a sentence with a preposition in Latin, the same should be true of English. Of course, English is not Latin, and different rules of grammar apply.

So, as a modern-day writer, what should you do? I’d say that it depends. There is still a large portion of the population that believes this is a rule, so if you are writing in a professional context, it’s better to just re-write the sentence to keep the offending preposition away from the end. Sometimes, though, that just sounds awkward (imagine I’d reworded the title of this post to be “Prepositions of Which You Can Be Proud”). In those cases, you can be sure you have grammar and historical usage on your side. If somebody questions you, refer them to these prestigious examples:

“Mrs. Bennet had many grievances to relate, and much to complain of.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“He had enough money to settle down on.” – James Joyce, Dubliners

 “I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” – Oscar Wilde

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Ode to Style (and Grammar)

Tips for strengthening your writing, part III: Use the active voice.

So you’re reading through a particularly important passage of your manuscript, and it seems a little bland. Try the active-voice remedy—it can make your writing come alive.

Another famous advocate of the active voice was Winston Churchill: “What if I had said, instead of ‘We shall fight on the beaches,’ ‘Hostilities will be engaged with our adversaries on the coastal perimeter’?”

First, a SUPER-QUICK GRAMMAR DEFINITION: You can determine an active vs. a passive sentence by looking at the verbs. A verb is in the active voice when its subject is the doer of the act. It is in the passive voice when the subject is acted upon.

Example

  • Active: The author [subject] burned [verb] the manuscript [object].
  • Passive: The manuscript [subject] was burned [verb] by the author.

In this example, both sentences are grammatically correct. But the passive sentence is, as Strunk and White say in their Elements of Style, “less direct, less bold, and less concise.”

Warning: the active-voice remedy is not a cure for every sentence. Some sentences work better in the passive voice. Even Strunk and White admit that the passive voice “is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.” Here are two cases when you might want to use the passive:

  • When you want to emphasize the receiver of the action (by making it the subject). 

Passive: I was seriously injured as a result of your negligence. (I is emphasized.)
Active: Your negligence seriously injured me.

Here’s another example: This proposal is based on a careful analysis of all available research studies. (The basis for the proposal is emphasized and the name of the person who drafted it is not important.)

  • When the doer of the action is not important or is deliberately not mentioned.

The decision was made without consulting any of the board members. (Emphasizes how the decision was made and omits the name of the person responsible.)

Mistakes were made. (A good example of a non-apology apology. No one has to take the blame!)

Thanks to The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th edition, for some of the examples and the useful information on active and passive voice.

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Tips for Conquering Writer’s Block

Writer’s block: at some point, it plagues every writer. Says Kathie Evenhouse, Write Place writer and graphic designer, “Sometimes if I get stuck I just turn off my screen. That way, I’m not distracted by how my writing looks and what it sounds like. I don’t try to edit. I just type!”

Here are some other ideas to get those creative juices flowing:

Write a Six-Word Story

Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest authors of all time, was once challenged to write a complete story in just six words. Never one to shy from a challenge, he wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” What would your complete six-word story be?

Start Writing, Don’t Stop Until You’ve Hit 1000 Words

What should you write? Anything. What is your inspiration? Whatever you want. In “Finding Forrester” the character played by Sean Connery asks his young student to take an existing piece of work as a starting point. The student transforms it into something unique. Start with a famous passage from a book, or the opening of a movie. But take it somewhere entirely different. When you hit 1000 words, stop and read it. You may have just surprised yourself.

…………………………….

How do you conquer writer’s block? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

Our thanks to About.com for the six-word story and 1000 words ideas!

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