Recommended Reading: Evan Pickering’s “The Single Greatest Strength of Any Writer”

I guess today is a day to talk about the task of writing – what it is and what you need to succeed. I came across this great article by Evan Pickering, “The Single Greatest Strength of Any Writer.” It’s a good read. Yes, I usually nitpick at any “the one thing you need to be a _____,” but this isn’t one of those. No, this is a bit opinion, a bit first-hand account, and a lot of truth.

Here’s a quick excerpt to whet your appetite.

A willingness to be wrong. And with that, the thirst for growth.

There is nothing more definitive on whether a writer will be successful than this. If you write a story, are so confident in it, flat out refusing to believe it could need moderate to serious rewriting, you just have no hope. None. Even great authors have to hack apart their work, get their hands bloody.

All the cliches about first drafts being shit aren’t just lip service. You need to write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. And edit. And edit. And edit.

If you can’t enjoy that, if you can’t get excited about that process of improving your writing and your writing skills, than the process of creating a good to great story is going to be exhausting, emotionally paralyzing.

Click here to read the whole article.


To All Writers

Each art has a special integration to everyday life.

Each art has a special integration to everyday life.

Cut to this length (as it usually is), this powerful quote stands on its own as a kind of toast to writers of all kinds. I first chose it because I like that message and because I thought it was an interesting way to introduce the idea of different forms of writing. Once I found the original interview, however, I discovered that the rest of the statement is a powerful message, too. Continuing where the quote above left off, Maya Angelou said,

“So the writer has to take the most used, most familiar objects – nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs – ball them together and make them bounce, turn them a certain way and make people get into a romantic mood; and another way, into a bellicose mood. I’m most happy to be a writer.”

I love this description of writing – it captures the challenge of using the familiar to pull people through an adventure of emotions. At the same time, the ending gives it almost an excited air that makes me think that she looked forward to that challenge. That, to me, is the biggest difference between a writer and someone who writes.

A Quick Author Page Tutorial from Ana Spoke

This is an excerpt of a “Look who’s got a proper author page!” by Ana Spoke. In these paragraphs, she discusses setting up an author page on Amazon and Goodreads as well as linking them to her regular blog. She provides a first-hand overview and some links that will give you the details, so it’s a pretty good resource to mark to save you time later (you know, when you’re actually ready to do it).

Now, for some quick how-tos:

Amazon’s page was easy, although you have to register separately with Author Central. For Amazon’s own guide, have a look at All About Author Central. Easy-peasy. There was, however just one little drama to report.

I wanted to link this blog to the page, but it turned out you can’t just use your URL – you need to use your RSS feed. Confused? I sure was. Thank God, it only took a few minutes to find this WordPress guide on RSS links. Don’t stress if the blog posts don’t appear on your page right away – once I’ve published a new post, they all came through.

Goodreads was just a bit more complicated. You can’t just sign up as an author – you have to sign up for a “regular” account first. If you are a first-time author, you will likely have a heart attack when you search for your book and find that it is not in the 300-million-plus database. Take a breath – you can add it, but ONLY AFTER waiting for about a day. You can, of course, send a crazed email to helpdesk, and they will do it for you after politely explaining the whole waiting a day thing. You will also have to apply to be upgraded to an author account and wait again for approval. Or send the crazed email, whatevs.

So there you go. I mean, go – get your Goodreads page started. Trust me, when the time comes, you won’t be willing to wait a whole day.

She has also added onto the amazon part with this article: “Author (NOT SO) Central update.”

Don’t Count on Word Count Too Much

Word count can have a big impact on your work and how it can be sold. Besides defining whether your piece is a short story, novella, or novel, the number of words will most likely dictate where you can publish the story and how much you will be paid for it. If you’re writing for a specific publisher or pay tier, you may have a goal word count in mind as you write.

One of my current projects has an 80,000 word minimum, so I find myself paying a lot of attention to my word count. I pay more attention as I get closer to the minimum, and in a way, it’s a positive habit because it’s a way of keeping track of my plot within that restriction. If my book ends at around 80,000-85,000 words, then I shouldn’t be getting close to the climax at 40,000 words. At the same time, I shouldn’t be too far from it at 70,000 words.

On the other hand, I’ve learned not to put too much stock into word count when the book is still in process. Although I try not to rewrite each day, I know that I’ll end up making changes as I go. It’s part of my process. It’s also part of the nature of brains.

For example, a few weeks ago, I had an idea that changed a few scenes that I’d already written. Now, I may or may not be able to use those scenes. That means that although my current word count is 59,790 words, I know that I could be down to 50,161 words or so if I end up trashing those scenes completely. (That probably won’t happen. I’ll need to make some tweaks, but otherwise, I expect most of what I’ve written to be usable. That said, it’s possible.)

Preplanning can help prevent a situation like this, but there’s only so much you can anticipate. When you get a new idea that’s a game changer, you have to deal with it. This idea strengthens the tension, conflict, and characterization of the book, so it’s better for the book if I put it in. That means accepting that some changes will need to be made, and some work that I’ve already done may have to go.

That’s why I don’t rely too much on word count. The word count of any book isn’t set in stone until the book is published (or even after for some). It’s fine as a guideline, but if you get too excited about it, it could be very disappointing and discouraging when the numbers fluctuate.

50 Word Short Story: They Call Him The Philosopher

This short story is today’s post from my writing experiment, twytte, where I have challenged myself to write and post something every day for a year (cue panicked/overwhelmed yell). Ok, so the idea has a few built-in problems, but otherwise, so far, so good! Nothing improves writing like practice, right? Right?! 

“They Call Him The Philosopher”

Concrete gets to be comfortable after a while. Familiar, anyway. Too many years of sitting on sidewalks makes a couch or chair too soft and too warm. Not that most folks let you, but that’s part of it, too. “Normal” changes. Even hot water feels strange. Or a full stomach.

Pandemic Homophone Problems

All the errors in this list are basically puns, but the people using them don’t know that. Most likely, people who make these errors have only heard the originals (not read them) and approximated what they heard with words they knew. Or they heard it from someone else who’d already done that. This idea is one reason why the idea of learning language only by hearing and speaking it seems very dangerous to me.

I’m pretty sure that the only way I learned these phrases correctly is from reading all the time. What scares me is that so many people are using them incorrectly in writing now (especially online) that reading may not be enough to learn the correct way. I actually had a college professor tell me to use “irregardless” instead of “regardless” on a paper (that hurt).

17 Common Phrases You’ve Been Saying Wrong Your Whole Life

Posted on August 25 2015 at 13:09 pm: Oscar TrondheimAdministrator

1. One And The Same

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2. Give someone free rein

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3. On tenterhooks

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4. Exact revenge

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5. Hunger pangs

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6. Scapegoat

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7. Regardless

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8. Moot point

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9. Don’t take it for granted

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10. Nip it in the bud

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11. It’s a dog-eat-dog world

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12. I couldn’t care less

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13. Wreak havoc

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14. Tongue-in-cheek

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15. Beck and call

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16. For all intensive purposes

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17. Giving leeway

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“Finishing” a First Draft

I think I mentioned before that it took years for me to finish my first novel. Because of all the time and effort I was putting into it, I expected there to be a big, celebratory moment: WOOHOO! I finished my first novel!!! I was looking forward to that moment. I figured I’d go out to dinner with friends, maybe have a drink or two, and go on a little commemorative shopping spree.

That didn’t happen, and it was a bit of a letdown.

I didn’t realize that finishing a novel isn’t quite as clear-cut as putting a period and considering it done (It’s alive!). Instead of a woohoo, it was more of a meh. It was done. Kind of. I mean, technically, it was a complete book. It could stand alone as a story. The word count was high enough to consider it a novel.

That didn’t necessarily mean it was done. I could go on writing it forever. A few modifications here, a few edits there. Yes, there was a point when I considered the first draft finished, but it was more a case of good enough than I have perfected my masterpiece!

Now, I think of finishing a piece more as a derivative (sorry, non-math people). If you picture a graph of the quality of the story compared to the amount of work put in, there is a point where putting more work in isn’t going to have that big effect on the quality. It’s only nitpicking. That’s the point I consider the book done. Not when I put a period after the last word of the last chapter.

Of course, I still went out for the dinner and drinks because, hey, why not? The fact that it’s not that Woohoo moment doesn’t make it any less worth celebrating.

Don’t Forget the Everyday

When you’re focused on the big picture of the plot, it’s easy to forget that the character has a normal life that’s been put aside for this adventure – little things that have to happen every day for life to go on. When the author ignores everyday life completely, however, the story gets a bit surreal and less believable. I bet we’ve all read books or watched movies where we’ve joked about these types of problems: How are they getting food? How are they paying for this? How did he not get fired?

If the reader is asking questions like this, there’s a good chance that some everyday basics are missing from the story. Although readers will forgive this to an extent (more in some genres than others), the more everyday details are integrated into the story, the more believable and interesting it can be.

What do I mean by everyday details?

Well, they’re the limitations on what is possible – from gravity to weather to societal rules. If you’ve ever been on a long camping trip, it’s every little thing you forgot to pack or plan for (imagine if you forgot mosquito repellent. Or matches. Or one tent pole). If you ever tried to start your own business, it’s all the details you didn’t realize were necessary until you actually tried to do it. If you’ve had kids, it’s the 1 million skills that you developed that you never could have imagined needing beforehand.

Basically, it’s the nitty-gritty facts of physics, behavior, necessity, and economics that we don’t think of until they stop us from doing what we want to do.

That’s how they work in a story, too. They stick in the background until they end up in the way. Once they’re brought into the foreground, they have a cause and effect relationship that spurs character response and moves the plot. When they’re in the background, they provide insights to how the world works.

For example, if you need something for characters to do while they have a conversation, find a chore that would need done in that situation. If you need a way to introduce a new character, you could have the cast stop to get something they need. If you need something to make them delayed, try some detail they could’ve overlooked or didn’t expect (for example, tolls on a road, having the car stolen, catching a cold, a phobia, etc).

Once you start thinking about it, you’ll probably come up with plenty of options to choose from, and each one will have a different influence on the story. That’s why considering the everyday is so important to writing realistically – it’s all about cause and effect, and if you don’t add in an effect when there should be one, there will be a noticeable gap.

Any number of simple, common circumstances can cause a nice hiccup in the plot, enrich your worldbuilding, or build characterization (or all of them at once). If you’re worried that your story is flat or unrealistic, check to make sure you’ve taken the everyday into account. It’s not always the answer, but it can certainly help.