National “Not Writing a Novel” Month by Catherine Foster

National Novel Writing Month—or NaNoWriMo—kicks off on November first. The now-traditional exercise involves writing 50,000 words in thirty days. NaNoWriMo began in San Franscisco in July with a group of twenty-one people, and the movement has snowballed since then. Nearly half a million would-be novelists participated officially in 2013, and impressive statistics can be quoted involving municipal liaisons, keynote speakers on the topic, libraries that host write-ins and so on and so forth. NaNoWriMo has become such a part of writing culture that it it sometimes feels impossible not to participate. If you are a writer, you may experience a lot of pressure to join in the writing fun and frenzy.

But before you grab a stack of snacks to fortify you and hunker down to write for the next thirty days straight, perhaps you should take a step back from the crowd and consider if you want to take part. There are a lot of blogs that promote the benefits of NaNoWriMo, and I’m not here to knock any of those points, but there are a margin of writers that may not benefit from the style of gonzo writing. This is a list for you to think about this November while you decide if NaNoWriMo is for you:

 

Quality vs. Quantity: Quantity is important for novelists. Or is it? The benchmark for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, but what does that really mean in publishing terms? The following table represents the guidelines set by the Science Fiction Writers of America when they consider nominees for the Nebula awards:

  • Short fiction: under 7,500 words
  • Novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
  • Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words and up

However, Lori Perkins, of the L. Perkins Agency in New York, claims that the charts for what they see at their agency and are likely to publish look more like the following:

  • Short fiction: 1,500 to 30,000 words
  • Novella: 30,000-50,000 words
  • Novel from a first-time writer: 80,000-100,000 words
  • Novel from an established writer: 55,000-300,000 words

There are more charts out there, and while they all concur that novels are longer than short stories and novellas, no one can seem to agree on what constitutes a proper word count for a decent novel. The range is anywhere from 20,001 words to … well, infinity. Take the winner of 2011’s Man Booker prize, for instance. The Sense of an Ending            by Julian Barnes contained no more than 43,869 words, including page numbers, titles and other incidentals. If this “short novel” can be considered, indeed, enough of a novel to win one of the most illustrious prizes in literature, than we must understand that quantity is very much in question when we try to define what makes a novel.

This brings us to the topic of quality. If we need not settle for 50,000 words—or even quite 43,870—to establish a novel, then there is time enough to devote to quality. The quality of the writing is something that usually suffers when people are trying to compose so many words in a day or in a week. This is understandable if the point isn’t quality. The aim of NaNoWriMo is to get one inspired and to get most of the novel completed. It is to spark a fire and to get excited. What if, however, you were motivated to write during the other eleven months of the year? If you want to be a successful writer, daily writing habits are more important to cultivate than a rush of stimulation all at once. One hundred good words every single day of the year is far superior to fifty thousand words that are mostly gibberish and will sit, untouched, in a junk folder somewhere until next year when you will do it all over again. One hundred words a day? What good is that? you might scoff.  It’s great! The commitment to write and the time you set aside to do just that is sacrosanct, even if it is only fifteen minutes a day. If you can only commit a small bit at first, that’s all right. The point is that you do it. Those words will build and you will have something. A wild fever dream of words in November is entertaining, but the product of that fun will not amount to much.

Novels vs. Short Stories and Poems November can be a lot of amusement for people who love to get in the spirit of community writing. NaNoWriMo brings together a group of people who are, by trade, largely alone in their craft. Many writers don’t seek out solitude because they dislike others, but it happens that they fall into it naturally. The wonder of NaNoWriMo is that it breaks down these barriers and allows writers to join together. People who are normally alone can be part of a community and work towards a goal together.

What if you are one of the minority within a minority group, however? What if you are one of the few who isn’t storyboarding? What if you don’t live to plot out your characters’ story arcs or work out what’s going to happen at the end of your trilogy? When your writing group falls silent with the collective hush of NaNoWriMo fever, what can you do?

There are a lot of short story writers and poets out there, and for you, NaNoWriMo may feel like the longest month of the year. It can feel as if you aren’t “real” authors because you aren’t participating in a novel writing challenge. Don’t fret; during November, keep to your own writing schedule and don’t let talk of writing marathons derail your own progress. If you are a poet, remember that April is your time to shine with APAD– A Poem A Day! If you are a short story writer or writer of a shorter form of fiction, you can also participate in your own adapted challenge amongst your novelist brethren by writing a micro-fiction a day or by keeping up with the same word count on multiple stories. You can also stay out of the challenge entirely and know that writing isn’t about how much or how fast you go; it’s about listening to you own voice and dictating your own pace. Keep in mind that the Nobel prize in Literature was won in 2013 by a short story writer, and some of the most incredible and humbling works we have to read were composed by poets. These were most certainly not written in haste; these were well crafted after much thought. There is a place for NaNoWriMo, but if it isn’t for you, that’s okay, too. It just may mean that they will be reading your works three hundred years in the future! Stay strong and get through this November with your passion to write intact. The important thing to remember is not what you wrote on November thirthieth but what you write on December first.

They Said WHAT about My Piece?! Navigating the Critical World by Josh Smith

Criticism is inescapable in the Internet age. In addition to the myriad news outlets, magazines, blogs, and personal pages that feature reviews, the distance and anonymity afforded by the web has turned criticizing one another on social media into some kind of national pastime. This, combined with so many websites requesting reviews and ratings for everything we purchase, see, eat, and experience, “everyone’s a critic” has transitioned from an old adage to an element of modern life.

While this “review everything” landscape has mostly been curated as a customer service tool, people often get caught up in the rush of trashing something publicly, which is usually less a result of something actually being bad and more related to a particular perception, bias, or trend. Full disclosure: I dabbled in album reviews that were predominantly snarky and negative from the outset, but I eventually realized that cracking jokes at the expense of someone’s creations was a lazy approach that did nothing for an art form that I truly love. It turns out that it’s so much more rewarding to sit down with something, whether it’s initially appealing or not, and give it a chance to affect you on the artist’s terms. Unfortunately, there’s still an audience for those scathing “cheap thrill” reviews, and anything we create that winds up in a public space is a potential target for some hack with a chip on his shoulder. It’s a difficult task, but it’s important not to let this permeating negativity crush you, especially when it comes to your creative endeavors. That’s not to say that all unfavorable criticism of your work will be inherently wrong, but identifying the difference between trolling and actual critique will save you a lot of sleepless nights.

No matter the source, intent, or validity, nearly all criticism is accompanied by the sting of failure. That sting never disappears completely, but you can learn to temper it. It becomes a challenge in this age of constant commenting, and there is a real threat that you can become so callous that you are unable to find merit in insightful critiques when they do arrive. The opposite can also occur—when your work is so close to you, you may feel personally attacked by every bit of judgment coming your way, making it next to impossible to get anything positive out of even the most gentle and constructive criticism. Both of these responses develop over time if left unchecked, so be mindful of your emotional response to critiques, whether they come from friends, family, writing groups, or randos on Twitter.

For many writers, the worst form of criticism is also the most common: indifference. Indifference in a review can be devastating, but when your work doesn’t even reach a platform upon which it can be judged, you start asking dreaded questions like, “should I even be doing this?” and “what if no one ever cares?” These crossroads are the ones that define you, and when you approach them, you must do so with complete honesty. If you can see a way onward without requisite praise or even much acknowledgement, hang in there, put in the work and pave your own roads. If critical reception, fame, and wealth are your primary writing goals, maybe it’s time to take some time off and consider a career path with a more realistic pathway to grand success. If you can’t help but work through the debilitating indifference that most writers experience early on, then you will develop the fortitude to handle any criticism that comes your way, and the poise to  allow it to improve your work.

One of the most important lessons in receiving criticism is giving it time to sink in. Quick reactions to tough observations can increase anxiety, causing you to overlook any helpful elements populating the critique. In writing groups, editor’s reviews, or other professional situations, this can lead to overreactions or outbursts that won’t advance your writing or your career. When you feel that sting, slow down, take a step back and ask yourself why it hurt and what comment struck the hardest. Oftentimes, it is because something has hit close to home. Specific pieces of advice might suggest things about your work or even your personality that are tough to face, but hard truths are often the ones we need to hear the most. Do your best to not be dismissive in these situations, as difficult as that may be. Sometimes you’ll learn important life lessons, and other times you’ll discover that the reader merely missed the point. That said, if you find that people frequently misunderstand what you are trying to do, you may need to reconfigure your approach. Use the results of past critiques, reviews, and comments to zero in on where you’re losing people and find a way to clarify what you want them to see. The subjective nature of art and perception will ensure that someone, somewhere will certainly receive different signals than you intended to send, but if you have made yourself as clear as possible without insulting the intelligence of your core readers, then you can rest easy.

You may not think much of every opinion about your work, but you can learn something from almost any critique. Even a cheap jab can train you to shake off thin attacks and can show you how to more thoughtfully respond if you are asked to chime in on the works of your peers. Take your time, keep an open mind, and prepare to get a bit uncomfortable. Being under the microscope is a stressful endeavor, but the quality of your work is sure to improve if you can allow yourself to see it from new perspectives.

The Smallest Winner Contest

At the LetterWorks, we believe writing is a very personal and important matter, and sharing it with the world is the one of best ways to hone your craft.  Many of our customers are submitting their writings to publications and even contests.

Winning a contest isn’t always about having the best story, format or editing.  Sometimes your work just doesn’t mesh with the publisher’s theme.  It could also be that your competition is very strong.

We think you should be rewarded for your efforts, even if you don’t come in first place.  So the LetterWorks is holding our own contest!

In the spirit of being positive, we are calling it “The Smallest Winner!” contest.  We will have multiple prizes:

  • First place will be awarded to a contest winner with the smallest monetary amount won that wasn’t a first place win.  First prize will be a $25 Visa gift card!
  • Second place will be awarded to a contest winner for the largest monetary amount won that wasn’t a first place win.  Second prize will be a free edit from theletterworks.com, up to 2500 words!
  • We will have up to three honorable mentions.  These will win a 50% discount off any edit up to 2500 words.

Winners will also have the option to have their publication link posted on the LetterWorks homepage!

To enter you can choose one of the following options:

  • Like Us” on Facebook and make a quick post on your page including the hashtag #theletterworks and mention the amount you won and where you submitted your work.
  • Follow Us” on Twitter @theletterworks for the amount you won, where you submitted your work, and include the hashtag: #theletterworks.
  • Send an email to contest@theletterworks.com letting us know the amount you won and where you submitted your work.  Please include “The Smallest Winner” in the email subject.

Submissions should be received by November 10th, 2017.  We will have the results of the contest by November 17th, 2017.

We will tally up the results, and if you win we will contact you in the same way entered the contest.  You may enter as many times as you like, but your odds of winning depend upon the number of total entries and the value of those winnings.  If we contact you, we will ask you for evidence of your winning (a published link or forwarded email, for example).

That’s it!  Get writing and submitting.  Good Luck!

Making the Most of NaNoWriMo by Melissa Heiselt

Nothing gets a fire burning under you like a tight deadline. Ah, that alarming shock to your system that says you’ve got to move now or you will suffer humiliation at the hands of your friends, family, or coworkers! Which brings us to National Novel Writing Month, A.k.a. NaNoWriMo, where hundreds of writers dash in, determined to finish that novel! Or start that novel! Or crank out any novel! All in just those scant thirty days of November. Sound crazy? Well, yeah, it pretty much is, but it’s also a really fun way to make some serious headway on that one project that you love/fear the most, if you approach it the right way. Here are five steps to use this October to prepare for the greatest writer’s holiday ever this November:

        Get Your Head in the Game

Many authors decide to join the NaNoWriMo hype on a whim. I should do something amazing this month! I’m totally going to write a novel! There is nothing wrong with that if it’s just for kicks and you see no serious goals of publication in the future for your work, but it’s very hard to cross that finish line without a concrete goal. Get clear about your purpose here. Why are you doing it? Is this an intense writing exercise to get you over the mental hang-up of writing something as massive as a full novel? Is this to get your ideas fleshed out fully? Is this the major push to get your concept on the road to publication? Know where you want to go when you board the NaNoWriMo train, and you will reach your destination. At the same time, know this: thirty days isn’t enough time to complete a great novel. It can be enough time to complete a rough draft if you are committed. Don’t demand perfection in every word here. Revisions will be necessary, and that is okay. Even a draft that takes years to assemble will need many revisions and editing work. Just get it all on the page so you can see it take shape.

        Don’t Fly By the Seat of Your Pants.

I know, I know, I just quashed the creativity right out of you. Just hear me out. If you are using NaNoWriMo as a catalyst with a goal of publication, you will want to use this month wisely. If you want to actually write a novel instead of 50,000 random words, you will still need to plan. Before you write a novel you MUST KNOW your main characters. What drives them? What stands in their way? What scares them? You MUST KNOW the beginning, middle, and end of your plot. If you doubt this, just binge watch the TV series LOST. You guys, it could have been so good. Know your ending. That’s what enables you to foreshadow and create meaningful connections throughout that create that brilliant/ shocking/ satisfying ending. You MUST KNOW your landscape. Your readers will be as confused as you are about where things are happening. Make sure you aren’t disorganized. Strategies for outlining, storyboarding or however you like to organize your world are myriad, and I’m not going to delve into that here, but spend October planning for November. If you have a vague story idea you’ve never had time to really flesh out, this is a great time to give yourself a kick-start on bringing it to life!

         Create Space to Create.

Perhaps the greatest value of NanoWriMo for aspiring authors is that it forces you to commit deeply to your writing and to schedule fiercely guarded, uninterrupted writing time. After all, it’s only for a month! At least that’s what we tell our loved ones as we closet ourselves away for hours at a time writing hundreds or thousands of words each day. If you find your roommates cannot resist coming in during that sacred writing time, pick a different venue. The library. A coffee shop. Wherever will allow you to focus and stay on target. That act of carving out time and space for your creative work has the potential to become a deliciously self-perpetuating habit. Maybe you can’t keep that break-neck speed forever. Maybe you have bills to pay and actually like the people with whom you cohabitate. But that habit carries momentum that you just have to renegotiate to keep rolling at the pace that’s right for you. Begin now to set aside time each day to prepare for NaNoWriMo. Word count doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be hours. However, it needs to be consistent every day.  Use that time to get plot details hammered out. Get acquainted with your characters. Research relevant professions. Draw maps. It doesn’t even have to be writing, it just needs to be relevant to the project.

        Embrace the Cloud

Create a safe place to store your work. Nothing is worse than losing your nearly finished masterpiece-in-progress.  It’s sheer devastation. Plan ahead to find the place to save that’s right for you. Dropbox (unless you are incredibly prolific or use it for photos) and Googledocs both offer cloud services for free. Create some accountability for your writing with a word count widget, or commit to consistently updating your word count on the NaNoWriMo site once you begin. Find some way to see your progress visually. It will keep you motivated to keep driving this crazy train.

          Find a Writing Buddy

As antisocial as some of us may be, at our core we are social creatures. We perform better when there is accountability involved. Whether it’s your best friend you’ve roped into joining you on this ride or your local writer’s group or an online forum for NaNoWriMo inductees, find someone with whom you can commiserate. Writing fifty thousand words in thirty days is a huge undertaking; it’s the marathon of the writing world. Connecting with a writing buddy will give you a place to share strategies, encourage, and receive encouragement! Once you begin the race, you won’t want to waste your precious writing time trying to locate someone who really gets it and who understands your insatiable need for hot drinks and validation. Seek out connections beforehand and you will find yourself ahead of the game.

National Novel Writing Month is both a celebration of writing and a beastly challenge. Take some of the fire out of this dragon by preparing now, and you will be much more pleased with your completed novel on November 30th at 11:59pm.

 

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Reading and Writing Memoirs by Melissa Heiselt

Truth is stranger than fiction,  and we love to be voyeurs. Unlike autobiographies, which detail a lifetime of achievements and more commonly feature the rich, powerful, or famous; memoirs are the distilling of a life. Any life. All comers are welcome to try their hand here as the genre has exploded in the recent decades. Perhaps as technology has burgeoned, pulling us further from the intimate lives of others, we subconsciously seek a replacement; be it social media, mommy bloggers, reality TV, or a good memoir. Here we can explore the nitty-gritty of a life we might never otherwise touch, crossing boundaries and borders forbidden to us. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls encounters deep poverty and abuse, Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom confronts aging and death with grace and humor, diaries by Anaïs Nin dive into unexplored paths of sexuality, and Memoirs by Pablo Neruda dances us around the globe to absorb humanity in all its glory and shame.

When writing a memoir, remember that it isn’t your whole life’s story; it is only a snapshot. Perhaps you want to share the profound insights you’ve discovered as you’ve aged. Maybe you ascribe to a religion or subculture that is massively misunderstood, and your life could be a window to educate the world about it. Each life is unique and has value as the face of humanity with beauty that can be cultivated with artistic framing. Written in first person, a memoir can be as natural to write as telling a string of stories to a friend. With the help of a memoir coach or editor, you can home in on the anecdotes that make the most impact and sharpen the focus of your work. It is the lessons learned, the harrowing journey, or your hilarious outlook on life that make a compelling read.

While detailing your life there will inevitably be other people involved unless you are a modern day hermit. You will need to carefully choose how to navigate the impact your work may have on those mentioned in it. While a memoir is nothing if not unfailingly honest, avoid using a bitter, vengeful tone. It is not an opportunity to exact revenge or seek sympathy by public shaming as if it were a backhanded Facebook post. Be aware that defamation and invasion of privacy laws are there to protect people who feel they have been wrongfully maligned in print, so it is in your best interest to acknowledge that you may (and probably do) remember things differently from other characters in your story. It is okay to change names of those involved, but if there are enough other identifying details that they recognize themselves or worse, their colleagues can identify them, you can still find yourself in trouble. That said, the law typically is on your side. This is your story, after all, protected as such by the first amendment, and as long as what you’ve written is verifiable, you have nothing to fear.

Writing your own memoir can be an incredibly cathartic experience. When speaking of her prolific diary writing, Anaïs Nin once remarked that she found, “life would be more bearable if I looked at it as an adventure and a tale. I was telling myself the story of a life, and this transmutes into an adventure the things which can shatter you.” To take all the drama, pain, and challenges of the past and illuminate and refine the truths that have transpired is a powerful experience. Even if you don’t intend to pursue publication, it can be a worthy writing exercise, challenging your ability to craft narrative from seemingly disparate parts and see a story emerge that had been hidden for a lifetime.

Memoirs remind us that we are all human and as capable of triumph as defeat. People continue to surprise us again and again, and this genre more than any other allows us to walk a mile in another’s shoes. What a transformative journey that can be.

What Kind of Writer Are You, Anyway? by Josh Smith

What kind of writer are you? Are you the type who can kick out a book a year, pad it a few short stories, and still manage to keep up on your emails? Maybe you’re a writer who labors meticulously on a single project for the better part of a decade. Do you drift somewhere in the median? There is no wrong answer, but understanding your natural tendencies, methods, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will help you approach your writing from a more tactful place and help you direct your career into one that not only best suits you, but one that is more rewarding.

The first thing to consider is the rate at which you work. Everyone’s situations, routines, motivations, and abilities are different, but it’s good to understand where you fall on the spectrum of prolificacy. Some writers can dedicate long daily stretches to writing while others wait until their families are tucked into bed before hunkering down and toiling late into quiet nights to pursue their passion projects. Even considering wide schedule disparities, both types of writers could very well end up with a comparable heap of words. No matter the circumstances surrounding your writing, you know better than anyone if you are constantly firing on all cylinders and churning out waves of exceptional prose or whether you meticulously select each word, craft each phrase, and chart the rhythm of each passage to the pace of an unhurried muse.  Perhaps you fall somewhere in between. It is even possible that you fluctuate wildly between these poles. None of these approaches is wrong in any way, but it is important to recognize which one is YOU.

If you are feeling insecure about your word count, whether you feel you create too little over long periods, or you find that you overproduce and worry about slipping quality, consider ways in which you might leverage these factors to your advantage. For the slow writer, perhaps you have embarked on your project prematurely. This is more likely the case if you notice a decrease in your regular output. In this situation, it’s best to take a step back, make detailed notes and a thorough outline. If you lean toward visual thinking, draw some diagrams, or perhaps a map, but be careful not to let a tool become a distraction. Let the story you are telling guide you, but always be aware whether it is pulling or you have begun to push. If you’ve got every detail together but can’t seem to find the words to bring them to life, the problem could lie with your routine or your state of mind. Try setting aside a dedicated, uninterrupted block of time at least three days a week depending on the scale of your venture. Take care of all lingering chores and responsibilities and work out an agreement with your family or roommate(s) that will allow you to dig in without distraction. It may help to begin each session with a brief meditation. Still distracted? Many writers turn off their Wi-Fi or surrender their phones so as not to succumb to the pull of constant connectivity. If your work is deeply complex and multi-tiered, make sure you stay organized and keep any notes easily accessible during writing sessions and keep in mind a loose plan of attack when you begin. Avoid falling into research while you are writing, but jot down anything you need to look into and take care of it in advance of your next scheduled production period. Perhaps none of these instances apply to you—fear not! You may just require more time to properly translate your concepts from thought to text. If that is the case, stick with it and be mindful of moments of clarity. Remember how you reached them and use that information to curate an environment conducive to your particular mode of creativity.

If you are writing so much that it feels the story is going off the rails or meandering into too many unnecessary details, you might just need a side project to sate your creative impulse. An ideal option is getting into a freelance writing gig. Whether it is with a local paper or magazine or an online venue, there are paying jobs out there for the productive, timely writer! Start with areas of interest, such as book, album, or film reviews, or perhaps you have journalistic leanings and would like to write about events in your community. This path is not for all writers, but if output is your specialty, it can help you with focus and teach an economy of language that is best learned through experience. If this holds no appeal for you, start a blog! If you’re feeling a little insecure, you can always keep it anonymous, and it doesn’t need to be something you share with everyone, or anyone, for that matter. You have free reign on topics, no deadlines, no, length, style, or format restrictions. This is your chance to exercise all those excess ideas. When the time comes to sit down with the next short story or that novel that’s been wobbling around in your head, your focus will be in the right place. Not interested in blogging? You can also start mapping out your next project. If your writing stays on topic but you’re producing bloated, opaque slabs of text, get comfortable with killing your darlings. The prolific writer must also become the astute editor, or at least know an astute editor who can be trusted to amplify essentials and eradicate excess.

However you write, regardless of genre or format, intimately understanding your approach will provide critical insight on how to decide which ideas to pursue and how to present your completed works. It’s important not to pander to markets just because they are hot, but don’t pass up an opportunity to take advantage when they bend into your sphere. It may be tempting for fast writers to set their sights on churning out the next Game of Thrones, but adding to the noise leads to over-saturation and substandard work, not huge sales and global acclaim. If you’re looking for a mega-hit, remember that Harry Potter and Twilight weren’t riding the coattails of other works, they were exploring ideas that had not fully permeated popular culture. Instead of bandwagon-hopping, take a step back and consider the format and whether your productivity level would be an asset or a hindrance. A long book series is a smart goal for prolific writers, but write what you love, not what you think other people might love based on the popularity of another franchise. Slower writers should note that novellas and short novels have become increasingly popular in recent years and can be an ideal gateway for new readers. This is an exciting development because a novella can be anything you want it to be. Any genre or topic, standalone or series is an opportunity to make a big leap into the literary world without the daunting length of a traditional novel.

This path is yours and yours alone, so be mindful of its many twists, turns, and detours as you embark. Work to understand yourself and your potential; think about what you hope to achieve. Our literary dreams don’t always shake out as envisioned, but having a general direction will help guide you away from the many distractions and pitfalls you’ll encounter in your pursuit!

Why You Need To Stop Worrying About Adverbs and Learn to Love the Verb by Catherine Foster

Writers love to describe the world they have created for their audience. One of the things I most enjoy about working with authors is the passion they have in sharing their vision with their readers. The  delight of the written word is easy for me to pick up from my clients, and it fills me with joy to see how much we authors are connected in our love of writing and in our drive to describe our inner perceptions with our followers. We want to take them on a journey. We want them to see what we see, hear what our characters hear and experience the sensations of this universe of our making. The endeavor of writing and reading is a tremendous and fantastic undertaking. What could be better?

There are some pitfalls in this craft of writing, and one of the major ones I run across on a regular basis is the overuse of adverbs. This is a hotly debated topic in writing circles: are they wrong or are they okay to use? Let me frame it in way that moves away from correctness or incorrectness but rather more in terms of asking the question of how to make the most of your writing. It isn’t that adverbs are wrong. They are most certainly a part speech that is recognized and validated, and there are times when they are quite useful. The problem occurs when they start accumulating. I find that adverbs, like rabbits, are something that begin to multiply rapidly once they take hold. “ How can a modifier of a verb compare to a darling little mammal?” you might ask. You might even be right to ask, especially if you are also an editor and keeping a wary eye out for the overuse of similes and metaphors (for which there will be an upcoming blog post—be sure to watch for it!) But I would assure you that much like the critters of famed reproductive zeal, adverbs tend to multiply and flourish. Where there was once an occasional one or two, you start finding four, then six, and soon the page is peppered with words ending in that dreaded “ly”.

“So?” I can hear the belligerence in your tone all the way from here. “You already said that they  are a valid part of speech. What’s the problem?”

“Ah, you’re clever!” I would say, because you are quite correct to rebut my objections with the cold, hard truth. Adverbs, in and of themselves, are perfectly allowable (see what I did there?). However, as with most rules, it requires temperance and guidance to understand application. For instance: readers often experience fatigue when they encounter similar words and phrases. If they notice that many of the words you use look or sound the same, they will get bored and tend to skip ahead, even on a micro level. If they think they can predict what you are going to say, they will start skimming. Thus begins a watershed. The boredom with your writing style soon leads to boredom with plot. This is not a path you want to to lead your readers down. You do not want them to be bored with a single word. Not one! You want to create the sort of story that makes readers stay up, bleary-eyed, into the wee hours of the night, thinking to themselves “Just one more page”. You don’t want them to skip to the end or, far worse, shut it in the middle and forget where they left the book altogether. Do adverbs alone cause this? Perhaps not alone, but they are a part. They signal a masterful grasp of writing style to a reader—or the lack thereof.

At the beginning of the article, I discussed how much a writer wants to share their vision of their story with the world. They often employ adverbs to more accurately describe action in the story and give more life to the scene, but it has the opposite effect due to reader fatigue. What’s more, adverbs can indicate writer laziness. This seems counterintuitive, but consider the following sentences:

 

  1. The cloud floated lazily across the afternoon sky.
  2. She loudly shouted, “Hey, give that back, you idiot!”
  3. He angrily threw his towel to the floor.

 

In these examples, the adverb doesn’t add to the information being provided, even though at first glance it seems supportive. In the first sentence, the verb, float, is adequate. Clouds float. The nature of floating is that it is a lazy motion. It is not necessary to describe it any further; the laziness is implied in the verb itself. Providing an adverb, in this case, is adding two words together that mean the same thing. It is akin to saying “I have cash money,” or “I am drinking wet water.” It is simply unnecessary, and if you get into the habit of writing extraneous words, your readers will begin skipping them.

The second example is similar in that loudness is implied when someone is shouting. However, this example is even more important because it contains dialogue which gives the readers all the context clues that they should need to understand the tension of the scene. Whether you are writing anger, sadness, love or anything else, the emotion should be very easily gleaned by the dialogue. If you must rely on adverbs to prop up your writing, you need to take some time to extend and support that scene.

The third example brings us to the true lack of effort in hidden sentences here and there. In a first draft, these sentences don’t seem important. They are conveying action as part of a larger scene. Something else is happening, and this is just to get us to where the major action is. However, it is important to remember that each and every sentence must pay its way. There is no sentence that is too small to be examined. If you have even one bland sentence, your readers will lose interest. If you have a sentence in your story that is not worthy of having been written by a real writer, you need to go back and shore it up. Take this third example: it is functional but not spectacular. It conveys an action but nothing else. The adverb, angrily, should be omitted because surrounding dialogue or scene should set the emotions. If you must tell the reader that the character is angry, then you must question why you can’t communicate that point in a more subtle fashion. Let’s then reconstruct the remainder of the sentence with the adverb gone: He threw his towel to the floor. This leaves all of the stress on the verb, threw. This is a garden variety verb, and it lacks pizazz. If you are going to cut down on adverbs, then you need to dazzle with your verbs. Flung, tossed, chucked … These are all stronger and more interesting choices. They are a little more unusual, and they will interest readers in your story.

You took up the craft of writing because you are not like everyone else. You are a better writer with a story to tell. As such, you are going to have to find a better way to tell it This is going to require you to stretch a bit beyond the clichés and the treads of words that others before you have worn into common parlance. You are going to have to snap this language together in your own, unique way. This takes work. But it is why you are such a great writer! It isn’t going to happen on the first draft, and maybe not even on the second, third or fourth. On some hammering out of your story, you will find a way to make your mark on the puzzle that is our language, and when it is paired with that plot that is yours to tell, you are going to be absolutely brilliant.  One of the steps in this process is learning to cut out the crutch of adverbs. I know you can do it! I hope that this article helps explain why and how. I can’t wait to see you accomplish it and have a better story to tell when you get there. Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

An Author’s Guide to Dealing with Rejection by Amanda Wayne

You snap the mail box door closed and push up the red flag. There goes your baby. All those words you painstakingly wrote, rewrote, and revised are officially off to be judged by a complete stranger. As you turn away, you feel relief and anguish. Did you put on enough stamps? Did you fill out the address exactly right? What if they hate it and they talk about how awful it is over their morning coffee? What if they love it and you finally get that letter validating your hours, weeks, and years of hard work? What if you never hear anything at all? Days pass, then weeks, then a month. Finally, there it is waiting in your mailbox. A letter. THE letter. The one you have been waiting for. You tear it open. “Dear you, thank you for sending your story to us, however … blah blah blah.”

All authors experience rejection. The greatest and most prolific authors have all had stacks of rejections letters taunting them with their form words and empty reassurances to try again. Issac Asimov, who some call the father of science fiction, had this to say: “Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” He went on to write or edit 500 books. Stephen King wrote, By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” Later, he would send the same rejected work back to the same publisher who would jump at the chance to publish his work. J.K. Rowling has even submitted works for publication under a pseudonym and had them rejected. One publisher even told her to take a writing class. A writing class? For the woman who gave us Harry Potter? Really?!

So you see, rejection is as much a part of the writing process as the writing itself. Rejection hones your skills, motivates you and even inspires you.  Each rejection gives you the chance to stop writing or continue. You can allow a one page form letter to derail your dreams or you can use it to fuel the next story and the next submission. Someone sitting at a desk with a stack of manuscripts or stories in front of them decided that your work wasn’t right for their publication. They sent out hundreds or thousands of those letters to authors just like you. Somewhere, another author is opening their mailbox and reading the exact words that you just read. Tomorrow, they may delete their work in progress and decide that this writing thing just isn’t for them. Make sure that author isn’t you. As Chuck Wendig said, “Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?”

Use the rejections as a chance to edit your work and to learn from what worked or didn’t work. Move the dialogue around, delete a scene that wasn’t working or maybe add in a plane crash. You can set aside that work and begin again on another day with another work in progress. One day, after you’ve published a few stories, you might happen across that old document, change a few things, and submit it anew only to realize that suddenly it does find a home.

So what should you do with that rejection letter? Keep it for posterity? Burn it in revenge? Post it proudly as proof that you put yourself out there and allowed a piece of your soul to be vulnerable? That’s really up to you. All of these are valid options to the soul-crushing rejection letter. Whichever you choose, remember that it was just a piece of paper. Don’t allow yourself to permit a sheet of paper to have power over you. You control your destiny. A piece of paper can’t stand up to that, right? After all, you invented a whole world and populated it with characters. You made those characters dance on puppet strings while you dictated what they said and how they lived their lives. A little piece of paper can hardly compare to that.

 

7 Tips to Avoiding Freelance Writing Scams by Melissa Heiselt

Whether you’re looking to earn some freelance writing cash on the side or just ready to switch gears from more creative endeavors, make the most of your opportunities by ensuring the jobs you take really will pay. Here are a few tips from the freelance writing pros who have been there and been scammed. Here is what we’ve learned:

Don’t pay to find work.

The more reputable freelance hub sites might take a percentage of your paycheck, charge the companies looking for reputable freelancers or both, but generally a monthly subscription fee to have access to the opportunity to find work is a red flag that you’re opening yourself up to a potential floodgate of scams. If you’re paying so your potential clients don’t have to, it generally means more of them will be, shall we say, underfunded. Many of these purported “databases” are actually pulling from other free sites you should be checking out yourself, including Craigslist. Upwork, Toptal, Freelancer, Fiverr, Guru, and Freelance Writing Gigs all have methods for attempting to screen out scammers, but some will still inevitably get through. Keep a wary eye out for potential clients who prefer to communicate through private email or Google Hangouts rather than the platform you’re using

Never agree to work for free.

NEVER complete the entire writing job before you have a contract. “Submit your best work and we might hire you” actually means, “Thank you for the free article, sucker!” NEVER accept “experience” or prestige points or whatever they’re selling as a substitute. NEVER accept terms that essentially say, “work now, we’ll pay when we get the money.” Be sure there is at least a solid contract in place you could use to take legal action before completing the work and expecting to be paid. And READ that contract. Some will substitute a far smaller amount in the contract for the one verbally agreed upon and hope you won’t notice.

Don’t undersell your talent.

Check the terms of your contract and ensure that you will wind up with a reasonable hourly wage. Don’t get caught up in the bidding war that is Fiverr by offering the most work for the least pay. You aren’t winning there, friend. Strategically offering a minimal bargain offer with the aim of enticing bigger job offers once they’ve had a taste of your phenomenal talent is one thing. Consistently underselling yourself undercuts not just yourself but the market as a whole. You have a skill many others lack. That is why they’re willing to pay someone else to write for them! Just because they’re hoping to pay the least amount for the best writing they can get does not obligate you to lower your standards to accommodate. You deserve to make a living with your skills. There is work out there for you. Name your price and stand firm.

Make sure the company is legit.

Can the representative clearly explain what the company is and does? Do they have a functioning email address? A working phone contact? Can you locate a physical address on Googlemaps? Is there some kind of web presence? Do they have reviews for their company online? Be aware: some companies are becoming more savvy and will put up a website to keep up appearances. Poke around and click through to be sure it’s functional and makes sense. If anything “feels” off, it probably is. There are so many real clients out there waiting for you to apply; don’t waste your time with anything sketchy.

 Poor grammar is a red flag.

If there are repeated, glaring errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you are probably not dealing with a professional. There are certainly exceptions, such as when you’re being asked to edit or write for a non-native English speaker, and that is clear in the job description. But by and large, if you are being approached by a “hiring manager” who seems to have abysmally poor communication skills, think twice and take a closer look at the company they claim to represent.

 Be wary of the unsolicited job offer.

There may be the odd headhunter looking for a contractor or a freelance hit on LinkedIn that is linked to a very real potential client. For the most part, however, an email from XYZ Corporation looking for someone with your exact writing talents really is too good to be true. When something like this comes through your inbox, at least do your due diligence in checking out all the above before responding. Scammers like to hit newbies, so if you’ve recently signed up with a freelance job hub, you will likely be a target for the first few weeks.

Don’t cash an overpaid check.

One of the oldest scams out there is another of those “too good to be true” scenarios. All seems to go well with Joe Client, contract looks good, communication is clear, all seems to be in order. Work is completed and they send you a check for $2,000 more than agreed upon. Do NOT attempt to cash that check believing it’s some kind of bonus for your stellar prose. Typically you’ll get an email noting the error and asking you to go ahead and cash the check, then write them a new check for the overage amount. In reality, the check is no good and will bounce and you will have paid them the two grand for your work. Instead, offer to tear up the check and wait for them to send a new one for the correct amount. Then take it to the bank to verify. If you’ve connected with them through Upwork or a similar site, just stick with the program and have them pay electronically so this can’t happen. You should also report them to the higher ups so they can help you handle the situation if the payment is still no good. If you came by the client on your own, you can threaten legal action, contract in hand. Worst case scenario, you will have lost your work, not the money.

These are just some of the methods to help avoid being scammed. There are always more, so be on the lookout for anything that doesn’t seem right. Remember to trust your instincts. Not everyone out there is a bad guy, and once you get a few true and honest jobs under your belt, the incidences of dealing with these scam artists will minimize. As you gain confidence in your reputation, you will flourish. If you do happen to fall prey to a scam, don’t feel bad; it happens to the best of us. Try to learn from it and move forward. Better days are ahead if you just keep trying. Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

Eleven Steps to Becoming a Published Author by Amanda Wayne

Step one: Write something. Pretty simple, right? You just sit down in front of your computer and pour out a few thousand words. There should be a beginning, middle, and an end. You might want a plot and a few characters. Perhaps you could throw in some action and dialogue.

Step Two: Okay, you nailed the writing part. Go you! Now comes the less exciting part. Set your manuscript aside. Figuratively and literally. Move on. Get coffee. See a movie. Write a new story. Wait at least a month. No peeking.

Step Three: Read your story all the way through. Don’t stop to change tenses or adjust the dialogue. No editing whatsoever. Read it as if you weren’t the one to write it. Ask yourself, “Does my story make sense?” Do not ask yourself if the story is any good. First drafts rarely are.

Step Four: Read it again. Make notes about changes that need to be made. Don’t worry about proofreading right now. There is no point in adding a comma to a sentence that may not even exist tomorrow. Think about the scenes; are they necessary to the plot or just taking up space? Make those changes, change your mind and undo your changes and then change them again.

Step Five: Now that the story is officially a second draft, you can have someone else read it. Give away your precious baby to someone brutal. Pick someone who can tell you the truth. Friends, while well-meaning, do not usually make good Alpha readers. If all anyone tells you is that it’s really good, they aren’t helping. You need them to be blunt and honest. Take their feedback and decide whether to implement their advice. Make those changes or find a new reader. You can also pay a professional editor to read your work and give you substantive or developmental advice. These people are there to tell you that the knife on page seven isn’t in the same place on page thirteen, that Annalisa used to have blonde hair, and that you don’t really need all of page seventeen.

Step Six: Okay, now your story is in pretty good shape. It’s looking more and more like a Pulitzer Prize winner. Now is the time for some real editing. If grammar and dangling modifiers aren’t your forte, hire or bribe a good editor to do it for you. There are thousands of people who claim to be editors. A good editor is probably going to cost you at least a penny per word. That’s industry standard. Be wary of anyone giving you a lower quote. You get what you pay for.

Step Seven: Your copy is back from the editor and it is just chock full of red pen! Oh no! Don’t sweat it. Even great writers need an editor. Go through your story again. Make adjustments to tense, punctuation, grammar, style, and voice. Read through the story from back to front. This will feel weird. The sentences don’t go in this order. You aren’t looking for order, you already did that. You’re looking for misplaced commas, incorrect tenses, and missing quotations.

Step Eight: Another round of readers. Find another reader who is equally as unforgiving. Have them read your mostly polished manuscript and give you feedback. Give it to a few more people. Take their praise and criticism and change what needs to be changed or leave it all the same.

Step Nine: Write or hire someone to write a really great cover letter for your submission. There are many templates available online to give you ideas. A submission cover letter introduces you to the publishing house or literary magazine. You can list any previous publications you might have or just try to make it sound as if you have some idea what you are doing. A cover letter the resume of the writing world. Your work can and will stand on its own merit; but the cover letter will operate as an opening act.

Step Ten: Slap a stamp on that manuscript and send it off to Judgment Day. You will probably get rejected. A nice little form letter will arrive in the mail long after you stopped impulsively checking your mailbox. If you get lucky, some thoughtful submissions editor will scrawl one line about how you should keep trying.  It will crush your soul. All of your hard work! All those hours!

Step Eleven: Repeat Step Ten. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

Keep writing, even when those rejection letters start to pile up. They aren’t proof of anything other than your specific piece wasn’t the right fit for that particular publisher at this exact moment. With an eye for careful editing and thoughtful submissions process, you are sure to succeed and become a published author!

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