Category Archives: Writing Excercises

E. Tip of the Week: Writing Challenge

I’m teaching a session of writing classes to a group of local writers. Some of the participants have been writing for years, and others are just beginning to take the craft seriously. My challenge to them last week was to double their word count from what they wrote two weeks ago.

Some writers wrote less than 1000 words two weeks ago, some wrote more. One woman wrote 4000 words in less than two weeks, so her challenge is to double it and write more than 8000 words by next Thursday.

Writing challenges can be a great way to get out the excess words that are built inside of us just waiting to come out. Usually not all the words will be used in a final product, but the adrenalin rush from writing so many words in such a short time span can be exhilarating!

My own personal challenge is to write 1000 words a week, or 1000 words on Sunday, my day off from editing. Some days I can write the 1000 words in 30 minutes or so, other days I have to really work at it. But whatever the challenge is, it’s a great feeling to reach my desired goal.

What are some of your own personal writing goals? Are you making them? Is it time to double up your word count and challenge yourself?

Writer’s Wednesday: An Interview with the Edgar and Stoker Nominated Author, Billie Sue Mosiman

I first discovered Billie Sue and her writing in the mid 90s about a year before she edited the anthology, Never Shake a Family Tree. It is with great pleasure to have her as our guest today. Please help me welcome her to The Editing Essentials!

Billie Sue Mosiman is an Edgar and Stoker Nominated author of  more than 50 e-books. She published 13 novels with New York major publishers and recently published BANISHED, her latest novel. She’s the author of at least 150 published short stories that were in various magazines and anthologies. Her latest stories will be in BETTER WEIRD edited by Paul F. Olson from Cemetery Dance, a tribute anthology to David Silva, a story in the anthology ALLEGORIES OF THE TAROT edited by Annetta Ribken, and another story in William Cook’s FRESH FEAR. She’s an active member of HWA and International Thriller Writers. She’s working on a new novel of suspense titled THE GREY MATTER. You can visit her at: The Peculiar Life of a Writer http://www.peculiarwriter.blogspot.com, or at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/billie.s.mosiman or on Twitter: @billiemosiman or at Billie Sue’s Amazon Page.

WD: Does your family support your writing career, and if so, have they always?

BM: Yes, my husband has always supported me in my career. Before I sold a novel, all my other women friends had a job and I was at home, writing. I’m sure they thought I was being lazy because didn’t everyone work? My husband continued supporting the family and believing in me until I got my first contract. My daughters were raised with a writer so they understood what I was doing (I probably lectured them enough about how important Mama’s work was!). They tried hard not to interrupt me when I was at the typewriter and the computer.

WD: Does anybody in your family write because of your influence on them?

BM: No. My daughters are creative in various ways, but they haven’t been writing.

WD: What inspired you to begin writing?

BM: I can’t imagine. Since I wanted to be a writer from the time I was thirteen, I can’t say what inspired me. I think it was because I was raised around Southern storytellers who sat around telling one another tales, but it could also be because, or in addition to, my love of reading books.

WD: What author or authors influenced your own style?

 

BM: There were several. John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson, Phillip K. Dick, Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, and a whole raft of mystery and suspense popular writers during the 70s and 80s.

WD: What is your own process for getting a manuscript complete? Any habits? How do you stay focused?

BM: I believe in dedication and discipline. I was under contract from year to year so I had novels to turn in and expected of me. I would write every day five days a week and take weekends off to devote to my family. That kind of schedule became a routine. I stay focused by reading over what I’ve written the day before and falling into the page, falling into the story so that I can see it in my head and can write the next scene or chapter.

WD: What are your thoughts on how the industry is radically changing to benefit the author? How do you see the industry changing for the better or worse?

BM: With digital books it’s changed almost completely. Writers in my early years of course sent their paper manuscripts in manuscript boxes to New York publishing houses or agents. Today writers can simply upload them to a digital online bookstore. I think the industry has changed for the better in giving the author more control and it’s changed for the worse in making people believe their work is ready to be “published” digitally when it isn’t, or when as writers they really have some way to go to be professional writers. I expect it will all shake out eventually, but the transition might be rocky.

WD: If you could give one tip to a new writer, what would it be?

BM: Write like it means something to you, like storytelling is your life’s goal and you want to tell the best stories anyone ever told. Try to write in a humane way, with heart, and hope to touch people. Write with nerve, take risks, try to do what hasn’t been done or do what has been done better. Lastly, get an editor. Your prose probably isn’t as polished as you think it is.

 

Thank you, Billie Sue, for being with us today! If you’d like to leave a comment or question for Billie Sue, we will be happy to pass it on to her.

Writing Exercise: Lessons From the Past

This week I’m sharing the writing exercise I am currently engaged in, and finding it very fun and helpful…though word of warning: self-discipline is involved or you’ll end up simply reading a lot of good stories.

A particular interest of mine is the American homefront during World War II, which among other things, coincided with the end of the golden age of magazine fiction, a time when virtually every magazine had at least one story in it. Also, many women’s magazines and general interest magazines had five or six, often with a complete short novel included.  (Those were the days!)

Over the years, I’ve collect many magazines from the late ’30’s and ’40’s, and while I’ve read them with pleasure, I’d never really looked critically at the fiction they contain. So, as I’ve been reading these seventy year old stories and taking them apart, what am I learning?

First, that many of the stories revolve around one single moment in time and are relatively plotless; for example, the breaking off of an engagement and the reactions of the three characters involved.

Second, most of the stories’ characters are expertly drawn with a few simple details.  I’ve been amazed at the authors’ ability to create someone we all know while avoiding a stereotyped character.  Whether it’s the man or woman who stands in the corner during parties, or the man who always has an answer (that everyone knows may or may not be correct, including himself) or the woman whose reaction to anything is always perfect–not sincere or genuine, but perfect. These authors know how to create a character quickly and simply.

Third, most of these stories offer knowledge about something as well as a story.  A wonderful story dealt with a traveling bee wrangler, a young man who traveled around the country with a hundred bee hives following the flowers. The author not only uses the symbolic opportunities the bees provide, she also educates her readers on how the bees are handled and moved from place to place.  (Who knew bees don’t like the smell of leather?)

These stories are not written by people whose names you would recognize. These are not the folks whose work has been collected on library bookshelves.  But these writers know how to write and reach the reader immediately, and they are well worth studying.  If you don’t share my interest and happen to have seventy year old magazines lying around, back bound issues are often available through public library inter-library loan systems or online.  These literary craftsmen and women are skilled, fun to read, and capable of teaching us quite a lot about the craft of writing. Enjoy!

Writer’s Wednesday: An Interview with Award-winning Author, Karen Wiesner

I was given Karen’s book, First Draft in 30 Days a few years ago by a friend, and it’s still one of my favorites to guide authors through the novel-writing process. So, recently when I found out that a mutual friend of mine also knew Karen, I was excited to get in touch with her about sharing her wisdom on writing. Please welcome Karen Wiesner to The Editing Essentials!

Karen Wiesner is an accomplished author with 96 books published in the past 15 years, which have been nominated for and/or won 125 awards, and has 28 more titles under contract. Her books cover most genres of fiction, children’s books, poetry, and writing reference titles. Her previous writing reference titles focused on e-publishing, book marketing, and setting up a promotional group like her own, Jewels of the Quill, which she founded in 2003. The group produced two award-winning anthologies, edited by Karen and others, per year from 2005-2011. For more information about Karen’s fiction and many series, consult her official companion guide The World of Author Karen Wiesner: A Compendium of Fiction. If you would like to receive her free e-mail newsletter and become eligible to win her monthly book giveaways, visit her websites: http://www.karenwiesner.com  or  http://www.falconsbend.com .

WD: What drives you to write more books, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction?

KW: Not writing simply isn’t an option for me. I have to. It’s as vital as breathing. Even if I’d never gotten published, I would always write if for no one else but myself. Nonfiction, I admit, I write for others, not so much for myself. I realize there’s a need for this crucial information, and I’m happy to provide it for any author who requests it. Having it in book format is convenient and profitable, lol, but whenever anyone writes to me asking for advice, I respond. To me, it’s a way of giving back to all the generous, experienced authors who helped me along the way.

WD: How did you become involved with the group of writers that make up Jewels of the Quill?

KW: I founded the group. In 2003, mass market publishers shut out new authors by rolling out a new requirement that went almost across the board for all of them: no submissions without an agent. My frustration was pretty intense, so I started brainstorming a way around this. Jewels of the Quill started out as a group of authors who would “agent” other authors, allowing us to submit each other’s material under the umbrella of being agents. In the midst of this, I realized how satisfied I was with the electronic and small press publishers I was working with. So the group decided that instead of banding together as agents (what seems like a bit of a silly concept to me now), we would band together as authors and promote in a group setting…safety in numbers. I wrote a book about how successful the experience has been. Leading to your next question…

WD: How do you market your own works? What have you found successful?

KW: See my book The Power of Promotional Groups, which teaches authors how to jumpstart their careers by advertising in long-term, affordable ways within the safety and strength of a promotional group. These groups of authors accomplish together what few can do alone: they share the cost of long-term promotion and market their releases individually and as a group. No other book currently on the market comprehensively explains how authors can set up a promotion-specific group. Promotional groups offer authors the means to gain focused, irresistible promotion—indefinitely!

WD: What was the inspiration for writing your non-fiction works— First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel {A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building}?

KW: Both of my Writer’s Digest books, First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel {A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building} work together perfectly, and those who have read and used both methods say the same. Used together, they really are like a well-oiled machine focused on productivity, high-quality and unending momentum. One thing From First Draft to Finished Novel really targets is the importance of working in stages. I can’t stress how crucial this is for all authors. In an ideal situation, a writer goes through the following nine stages to get a finished novel:

 

  • Brainstorming
  • Researching
  • Outlining
  • Setting aside the project
  • Writing the first draft
  • Setting aside the project
  • Revising the first draft
  • Setting aside the project
  • Editing and polishing

(Incidentally, between my two books, I cover every single stage in-depth and step-by-step, so each aspect of writing a book is detailed from start to finish.)

A few words about why “setting aside the project” so many times is crucial: I believe a book is best if you give it time to “breathe” between these stages. Whatever fears you had about whether the story is working will dissolve after you’ve set the project aside for a good amount of time because it’s as if you’re coming into the work brand new. Allowing your projects to sit for a couple of weeks—or even months—will provide you with a fresh perspective. You’ll be able to evaluate if the story is really as solid as you believed it was when you finished it. All writers get too close to their outlines or manuscripts to really see them objectively. Distance gives you that objectivity and the ability to read your own work like you’ve never seen it before, so you can progress further with it. Another reason for setting projects aside between stages is that writers always reach a point where their motivation runs out, and they may simply want to get away from the story as fast as they can. Who wants to write a book you’ve just spent weeks or even months outlining? Who would want to revise a book you’ve spent weeks or months writing? With every single book, I get to rock bottom and I’m convinced that if I ever see the manuscript again, I’ll tear it to shreds. Setting it aside between the various stages the project goes through really gives me back my motivation for it. I’m always amazed at how much better I can face the project again when I haven’t seen it for a couple weeks or even a month or more. I fall in love with it again. The next stage in the process becomes easier, too, and that helps my writing to be much better.

Also, the more books I have contracted, the more I seem to need these breaks in-between stages. I need breaks even when I feel a project is working beautifully. If I put it on a back burner for an extended period of time (as long as I can possibly allow and still meet my deadlines), amazing things happen over the low flame. By the time I return to it, I find myself bursting with new ways to fix any problems I couldn’t resolve when I was too close to, and sick of, the project, and this also allows me to see more of those connections that make a story infinitely cohesive in terms of knitting your characters seamlessly to the plot and setting.

Another reason for working in stages is that I’m able to start brainstorming on upcoming projects sometimes years in advance. When it’s time to work on that project, I’m just raring to go. I have a ton of ideas and the motivation to get them all down will carry me through the outlining like a breeze. Because I’ve always got multiple books going at one time, each one in a different stage of the process, I’m constantly brainstorming on the projects in the back of my mind, analyzing them for any weaknesses and coming up with ways to improve them. That’s so crucial to the overall strength of your stories.

The most important reason for working in stages is because each of those steps is a layer that is added to the book, a layer that makes it stronger, richer, and—I have to say it—more cohesive.

The only way to stay on track with your writing career is by working in stages and allowing yourself to come into each of them completely fresh and eager to add another layer to the project. On my website, you’ll find a page that includes my annual works in progress and accomplishments: http://www.angelfire.com/stars4/kswiesner/WIP.html

I encourage listeners to visit this page because you’ll really see how well these methods work.

In an average year, I outline, write and revise 5-10 novels and novellas, and I follow the annual goals you’ll see on my Work in Progress page. All of these are done in the stages I mentioned before. This year, I’m working actively on eight separate projects (with the greatest of ease!), each one in a different stage in the process. I love that I’m never doing the same thing in terms of outlining, writing and revising projects. I move from outlining one book, to revising a different one, to writing something altogether, layering and building and developing each book into something wonderful that I could never get if I wasn’t working in stages.

Using my own writing methods, everything in my career is planned well in advance, and I keep tweaking my schedule to make it as productive as it possibly can be. Most people think that I must work 24 hours a day based on my productivity. That’s the really amazing part of this whole method. I don’t have to. Working in stages, using an outline and goals, I work from eight o’clock to noon on weekdays and I can take off every weekend and most of the summer and yet I’m constantly moving forward. At this time, I’m working about a year ahead of my releases. In other words, I’ve already completed all of my 2013 releases and I’m deep into 2014 contracts.

Look for my next writing reference release from Writer’s Digest books coming May 2013: Writing the Fiction Series: The Guide for Novels and Novellas

What are the common pitfalls in a crafting a series, the best ways to get organized and plan it? The purpose of How to Write a Novel Series is to cover all things that need to be taken into consideration when writing a series and provide a one-stop resource for the who, what, where, when and why of this monumental endeavor. This helpful guide will give writers everything they need for creating their fiction series from dealing with story arcs and keeping things focused to characters, consistency, organization and more.

WD: What is the single most piece of advice you’d want as a new writer just starting out that you have learned the hard way?

KW: Actually, my advice is in multiple parts. I don’t believe there are absolutes in writing. There are so many writing trends, and I admit I find most of them silly. If anyone tells me when writing Never do this or Always do this, I immediately take a step backward. There’s only one rule in writing: If it works for the story, go with it. The only rules are the ones you enforce yourself. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently.

In the same vein, I realized early on in my career that there was little that a publisher could do for me that I couldn’t do just as well for myself. I’m a polished writer so I can make sure every book I turn in is the highest quality (and ensure that my editors hardly have to do anything at all for me) so in that way I’m my own editor. It requires dedication and commitment to my goals. I can’t blame anyone else if I’m not disciplined. I’m responsible for my own success (or failure) in that way. I can create my own, gorgeous covers. I can market my own books better than anyone else (though I love it when a publisher helps). Ultimately, I’ve even published my own books and the result is comparable to (in some cases, better than) any publisher I’ve ever worked with. My point is that an author is responsible for herself from start to finish. When I realized that, I knew I could make the rules, write my own ticket. I never expected that early in my career and it’s difficult to give up that perk now to work with a publisher who wants to control every single aspect of the work. I love working with a publisher who trusts me and can see my vision instead of the other way around.

So my advice to any author: Make your own rules and always be responsible for yourself in every aspect of your career.

Giveaway: Karen is giving away 3 autographed copies of From First Draft to Finished Novel {A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building}. Winners will be chosen from those who leave a comment to this interview on the blog.

Thanks, Karen, for being our guest today! If you have questions or comments for Karen, she’ll be with us all day. Thank you!

Photo of the Week: Look Closely

Ewww. Gross, right? What the heck is that?
Copyright © 2013 by Brittiany Koren

Look closely at this photo and tell us what you think it is. I will give you one clue. It is not vomit. Is this something your main character would find? Is it something you would add to your story? How would you describe this substance? What is it? What is your opinion? Share your thoughts with us, and be creative! 🙂

Photo of the Week: Roller Coaster Emotions

If your character went on a roller coaster, what would their reaction be? Terrified, excited, anxious? Would your character sit in the middle, or on the end? Would they be comfortable going on the ride alone, with strangers filling the other seats? Or, are they more of a “pack” person, wanting to share the experience with friends? Would it matter to them?

Copyright © 2008 by Brittiany A. Koren

Look at the pool in the bottom right hand corner of this picture. Would your character be afraid to fall into the water? Or, are they an experienced swimmer? What kind of story ideas can you come up with by just looking at this picture? What types of noises do your hear? What kinds of smells? How does the hard metal of the ride feel around their bodies as they’re strapped inside for that one timeless minute?

Photo of the Week: Adding Texture

Take a hard look at this deer. What is it thinking? What direction will it go next? Or, will it stay still and listen a little longer?

Think of your main character in this sense. How will they react to danger? Fight or flight?

Look at this deer now in a different way, how the shade from the trees keep it in the shadows. It’s not a straight line, but staggered. Look how the grass in some places is green and other places dead. What does the grass feel and taste like? Is it soft, brittle? What season is it? What sounds are around the deer? What is making it listen so hard? Is someone watching it? Or something? What does it smell? Is it in danger, or safe?

Remember, using the five senses is very important in making your story come to life.

Writing Exercise: Would You Like To Be More Prolific?

Sure, I hear you saying, who wouldn’t?  But how do I end up with more writing than I’ve had in the past?

The answer is easy and obvious: Write more.

Ha! you say.  I’m writing as much as I possibly can now.  How can I ever find time to do more?

Time isn’t the issue.  What you’re working on is.

Consider this project for 2013.  It can comprise your “writing time,” or it can make up your “I want to be a better writer” time.  Or it can be both!

Here’s what you do:  Write one story every week of the year.  Yes, seriously, a story a week.  But wait, I say to myself, what about this last week—the last week of break? When your daughter was sick? And you started exercising seriously again?  And you tried to finish up all those around the house projects you swore you’d do before the new semester?  How could I ever have written a complete story last week?

Clearly, discipline will have to be involved.  But the rules are very flexible—in a busy week, perhaps you write a piece of flash fiction in an hour.  During a more relaxed week, perhaps a fifteen page story with an actual outline.  These stories aren’t about perfection; don’t worry too much about making every sentence polished and beautiful.  These stories are about learning your craft and giving yourself material with which to work in the future.

There are three big benefits to taking on this project:  first, making yourself write a story a week exercises your writing muscles; after a month, you’ll be seeing story possibilities every time you turn around.  Second, exercising the discipline to get something complete down on the page every week will help that old saying about success being 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration become crystal clear.  Finally, at the end of the year, you’ll have fifty two stories to work with—and how wonderful is that!

Naming Characters

E. Tip of the Week:

A name is a great way to add more depth/backstory to a character’s background. Usually when an author uses a name of foreign origin, there’s a reason and a backstory that goes with it. For instance, using the name Nikita: perhaps Nikita’s family roots are Slavic and her mother wanted her to have a traditional Slavic name even though her family lives in the U.S. To learn more about her family roots and the meaning of her name, Nikita might explore the region where her ancestors once lived. This could be a journey she might not otherwise take, but because of her name’s origin, she’s curious.

Another way to add more depth to your character is by making their name an unusual spelling. My parents named me Brittiany, with an extra “i” in there. I have a few theories why my mother spelled my name differently–one of them being she just wanted my name to be special.

However, using a different spelling can sometimes lead to confusion with your readers. They may not know how to pronounce the name in their head, and could stumble upon it, taking them out of the story. So, be very cautious when using an unusual spelling. A lot of people pronounce my name Brit-ti-a-nee because of that extra ‘i’. It’s just Brit-nee.

I get questions like “Did you realize there’s an extra ‘i’ in your name?” all the time. “Yes,” I tell them. “I’m aware, and thank you for spelling my name correctly.” I’ve yet to meet someone with the exact spelling of my name.

But a unique name can be a great ice-breaker. I love the story I can share with people when I meet them for the first time, and they ask me about my name. 🙂

To find a unique character name, go to a baby names website, or get a few baby names books from the library. Find a name that has the meaning of what you’re trying to portray for the character. You might be surprised at what you find. Good luck!

Creating Characters Not Like You

Every Monday, writers can now look forward to starting their writing week right with an inspirational writing exercise! We’re starting with something everyone is familiar with–character building. 🙂

1)     One problem many writers encounter is how to create characters that are significantly different from themselves.  Sure, the character may be a nineteenth century male archeologist excavating in Egypt, and the author a hometown girl who has never left the state she was born in, but does that character react like its creator when angry?  Frustrated?  Joyous?  Successful?  An exercise I’ve found helpful is to consider a specific situation or problem in my own life, write briefly about how I handled it, and then put my character in the same situation and consider how he or she would handle it, concentrating on the differences between us…and making sure there are some!   I often discover qualities and emotions I didn’t realize my character possessed doing this exercise. 

 

For example, I have a character who is an adolescent girl confronted with a very strange young man who, while not violent or overtly threatening, is either from another dimension or mentally disturbed.  As a fifteen year old in a similar situation, I was very polite, very shy, and very scared: how do I get out of here as quickly as possible without hurting anybody’s feelings?  My character is also scared, but feeling even slightly threatened leaves her confrontational and unconcerned with being polite, or with getting the heck out of there.  She is, for the moment, ready to stay and make her points clearly. 

When and how do you and your character react differently? How would your own character react?