Developing Good Writing Habits

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When I started this blog a year ago, the words flowed and writing daily came naturally. After taking a two month break, I thought it would be easy to get back into the writing habit.

Unfortunately, I’m struggling for a variety of reasons. First, I’m having to carve out a time to write after work. That’s harder than it sounds. I’ve now got daily exercises for my shoulder. That eats into the time I have available.

Speaking of my shoulder, I’m still hurting a bit when I type. I’ve got to take frequent breaks which disrupts the flow of thoughts. I’ve started a story on my weekly writing challenge two or three times and then completely lost where I was going with it after having to take a much needed break. The pain, though less than it was, has also affected my thinking processes. I’m unable to get into the writer’s zone.

So, do I wait until I have completed physical therapy? Or do I press on and try to write every day? My thinking is the latter is preferable. I may be writing dreck for a while until I can get into the groove. I’m also not going to worry about my prompt for the week until I can sit and write for a complete hour. Once I do that, I may be posting multiple short stories during each week until I get caught up.

It’s settled then. For me to develop good writing habits, I need to write everyday. Even if it is complete garbage. Bear with me, it will get better.

Distractions

Distraction is such a bad word, isn’t it? It keeps us from being productive and achieving our goals. In this day and age, there are so many types of distractions. A tablet, loaded with a game app or two. (spoiler alert: I have two idle games I love on my iPad). Reading blogs or reading books can be a distraction. The TV is a major distraction. If you are still on cable, there are a gazillion different channels to watch. Those that have cut the cord, have streaming services with a gazillion movies and shows. (spoiler alert: I’m a huge fan of Reality shows)

Suppose you could rid yourself of those distractions. Come home from work, kiss your loved one and head into your writing area. Leaving the tablet in the other room and making sure the TV is off. Unfortunately, you do all your writing on a personal computer or laptop. A huge distraction is video games. (spoiler alert: yes, I love my video games).

Putting a lock on your computer games and browser during your writing times can eliminate those distractions. What else is there? Yes, your dog needs to go for a walk. Or your loved one wants to talk with you. Those are harder to get rid of. (spoiler alert: I don’t ever want to get rid of them)

Suppose you have succeeded in ridding yourself of every single distraction and you sit down to write. You bring up a blank page and now you are ready to be a productive writer. However, the dreaded writer’s block occurs and your mind is blank. (spoiler alert: It’s happened to me more times than I can count.)

Okay, what the hell do we do now?

Thinking outside of the box, we should instead of trying to rid ourselves of distractions, we should embrace the distractions. What a novel idea. But how does that help us become more productive, you ask.

For us part time writers that have a day job, we focus while at work for eight hours a day. When we come home, instead of running from distractions, we should just let them happen naturally. This let’s our brain wind down from the workday and all of it’s stresses. Especially if you work in a high energy, busy workplace (spoiler alert: I do).

By giving into the distractions, I find that my subconscious is free to be creative. When I do sit down to write, there is no pause. No wondering if an idea will come out or if I’ll sit there staring at a blank screen. Instead, my fingers get to typing on the keyboard at a manic pace. My brain screams at my fingers, “Type faster, you idiots!” By not forcing myself, my best writing comes out like a magic majestic waterfall. Splashing onto the page seemingly in a chaotic manner, but somehow coalescing into a masterpiece.

Relax, give into distractions. Let your brain work it’s magic and … oh look, a squirrel!

Weekly Progress Report #42

Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward. This past month I’ve been focused on editing and revising. It’s become a chore. Yes, it advances me to my goal of being published, but detracts from the main reason I’m writing. Mainly, the joy of writing a story. Sometimes they are received well, other times they fall flat. Regardless, I enjoy writing each and every one of the stories. The more I write, the better the stories and more importantly the better the writing.

I looked back at some of my early writings and I cringe. What was I thinking? Some of them look like a total hack job. This shows me how far I’ve progressed. I’ve still got a ways to go. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. I’m not anywhere close to that number yet. I’ve yet to complete a novel. I’ll work on it in spurts, then something will come up to distract me from it. It takes a bit to get back into writing the novel.

I don’t expect my first novel to do well. Maybe my fourth or fifth. Just like writing short stories, it takes practice to write a novel that I will be proud of. Writing the novel is a major project. Editing my memoir is a major project. I’m not at the level of writing to be able to do both at the same time. I could edit and revise on certain days of the week and write the novel on other days, but it doesn’t quite work that way with me. I need to write on the novel for several days in order to get back up to speed. Once I stop writing, then I have to start the process over again.

I hope to do the final revising of the memoir this week. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t. I’m not going to pressure myself. It will come when it needs to come. Meanwhile, I will post my weekly writing challenge tonight. It’s a hard one in that it could go several ways. I always have a problem with these type of prompts. So many ideas, but only one story. I could write multiple stories on the prompt, but I feel that would get repetitive and negate the purpose of the challenges.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

To Tense, Or Not To Tense

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The feedback from my beta readers is trickling in. I’m excited to see what they think. Then my pesky bugaboo surfaced. Several readers thought that my switching tenses was jarring. Oh boy, I was afraid of that. Honestly, I don’t even know what they are talking about. I think I failed that part of grammar.

I could ignore the suggestion, but then I would forever have the nagging feeling that I didn’t do my absolute best. Time to do a deep dive into tenses. Wow! Sure are a lot of tenses. Way too much for me to absorb. Let’s narrow it down to the tenses I need for my memoir.

Memoirs are essentially essays, but a very long form of them. In essays, you would normally use past tense or present tense or both. Still too complicated for my poor brain. Time to simplify this so I can remember and recognize tense changes. I’ve come up with a few rules.

Rule 1

Never mix tenses in a sentence.

That’s all well and good, but how about an example?

Who said writing is easy?

Incorrect because the first verb is past, and the second is present.

Two ways of correcting this.

Who says writing is easy?

Who said writing was easy?

Both sentences now agree with their respective tense.

Seems simple enough. Hold on there before we continue. There is an exception to this rule. Sigh! Dialogue changes everything. Simply adding quotation marks makes the first incorrect sentence corret.

Who said “writing is easy?”

Thankfully, I don’t have many lines of dialogue, so I can pretty much ignore this exception.

Rule 2

Never mix tenses in a paragraph.

If the first sentence is present tense, then all the sentences in the paragraph need to be present tense. Same rule applies if the first sentence is past tense, all sentences must be past tense.

Let’s check and see if there is an exception. Double sigh. Of course there is. However it is used in very rare instances and only by a skilled writer that is deliberately going for a certain effect. This doesn’t apply to me, so I can safely ignore the exception.

Rule 3

You can change tense from paragraph to paragraph or section to section or chapter to chapter, but you MUST signal the reader. This let’s them know that you are changing tenses. Here’s an example with the signal in bold.

Riding the daily commuter train, I sat down on my usual seat by the window. Looking out at the fields rushing past with hints of colorful wildflowers is soothing.

Four months ago, the fields were covered in snow and looked pristine.

Thankfully no exceptions to this rule. Grammar rules are complex enough as it is. With this new found knowledge, I can go forth and tense-mix never more.

Hopefully.

Enough is Enough

I have edited, re-edited and edited some more. I need to quit fiddling with my memoir. The editing software is great for pointing out where I went wrong, but it doesn’t help much in suggesting how to rewrite it. Okay, it does well in most problems, but in others, it is no help at all.

I’m going to let it sit and rest for a while. Sort of like letting a steak rest after cooking it. I’ll do a complete read of it this weekend and barring anything jumping out at me that looks wrong, I’ll get it ready for beta reading.

Meanwhile, I have an idea for a book cover. An original one no less. I’ll work on that for the rest of the week. I might even try to do two or three and then throw up a poll for what looks best. I did look into how much it would be to hire someone to design a book cover. Wow! The prices are clearly out of my reach.

My goal is to have it ready for publishing by the end of July. In order to do that, I have to do the following:

  • Beta read revisions
  • Book cover design
  • Book blurb
  • Back book cover design
  • Acknowledgements
  • Copyright page
  • Title page format
  • Final format for KDP.

A lot of work still to do. I could resume writing on my novel, but I find it hard to switch back and forth. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of author that cranks out work every year. Honestly, there are a few well known authors that do publish regularly that after a while it seems like the same book over and over, just the names and places have changed.

P.S. If you are an aspiring book cover designer and need practice, feel free to contact me.

Weekly Progress Report #39

This has been an editing week. I’m really liking ProWritingAid as it points out more things I wouldn’t have even thought to look at. For instance, I have several paragraphs where I start every sentence with “I”. Currently rewriting those paragraphs to make the flow better and not sound repetitive. I’m currently at three (3!) passive sentences, down from originally 56. I’m struggling to rewrite the last three, but I’ll get there.

Speaking of struggling, this weekend is the half-way point of my Weekly Writing Challenge. To me, this one should be special. Stupendous, marvelous and, above all else, astounding. Unlike last week, where I could have gone in a dozen different ways to write the challenge, this one is pretty straightforward. And I’m drawing a complete blank. I can’t visualize anything but a boring story.

I’ve sat down many times in the last couple of days to see if I could come up with something that doesn’t completely suck. Usually, I’ll write a first sentence and the story will come to me. This time, not so much. I’ve written at least a dozen first sentence’s and every time it leaves me stuck. Could this week finally be my doom?

I’ve not written about cancer lately, due to me being cancer free, but I’ve noticed a peculiar thing. Every little ache or pain causes me instantly to think, “Cancer!” It’s almost as if I’ve become paranoid. I went to the dermatologist and had a mole that has been bothering me removed. During chemo, the mole dried out and split and has been flaky ever since. I can’t help but wonder if this is cancer. Friday, I received a call and the tests show it was benign. What a relief!

During my annual physical, I complained about my right arm hurting. The doc thinks it is because I had a rash of boils under my right arm. The scar tissue may have contracted my muscles. To be sure, he had me do x-rays of my arm and shoulder. I finally got to see the results yesterday and contrary to my fear of having bone cancer, it showed my bones are good. Looks like physical therapy is in my future.

It’s going to take a long time for me to get over this irrational fear of cancer whenever I experience anything different. I’m not used to living in fear and I don’t like it.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #9 – Characters Part 1

Overview – The meat of the lecture is at the beginning. The rest is multiple examples of excellent characters and undesirable characters. The last part of the lecture is a Q&A session. I enjoyed the entire lecture, but it is very hard to take notes after the beginning. This would be a lecture to watch multiple times.

What the purpose of Character is? Elements of your story. How to make readers care about your characters.

  • Establish empathy
    • Likeability
      • Showing like us
      • Nice
      • Show people liking them
  • Establish rooting interests
    • Motivation
    • Why can’t they have it (spiral into limitations, flaws)
    • Personal connection to plot
  • Establish a sense of progress with character
    • Flaw they have
    • Character journey
    • Mystery
    • What are they going to change?

A one note character that stays the same will get tiresome.

Character arc is super important.

Character quirks are good, but better if they relate somewhat with the plot.

Do not write a character to be a role. Every character should see themselves as the main character, even if they are not.

  • Motivations vs. Goals
    • Goals once accomplished, story over. Goals can shift.
    • Motivations can continue.

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.

First Thoughts

I’ve been working with ProWritingAid Premium for the past couple of days. So far, I’m thrilled with it. As I was able to apply a discount code of 25% off, my total cost for this year is $60. That works out to $5 a month.

Unlike some programs, ProWritingAid doesn’t have an app. It has free app extensions for a multitude of programs, including internet browsers. This gives you a quick and dirty grammar check while you are typing.

For the full effect, you open a web-based site and log in. They store your work in the cloud and you can write a story there and then export it to wherever you need it.

At first, I used the free version to check my memoir. It found about 100 areas for improvement. After I had corrected all of them, I then ran it again with the Premium version. It identified an additional 200 areas that had some type of problem.

It’s not perfect. There are some suggestions that I ignored, otherwise, my document wouldn’t make sense. Once you ignore the suggestion, it does not bring it back up. One feature I really like is when it identifies that you have started multiple sentences with the same word. I had one section where I deliberately started each sentence with “I’m” for dramatic effect. Pretty easy to tell the program to ignore that section.

The one feature that I’m looking forward to using is the pacing check. It identifies where your story will bog down. As I despise stories that bog down repeatedly, this will be a significant feature.

I’ve only scratched the surface of ProWritingAid, but I’m duly impressed. If you are like me and have limited editing experience, this is the way to improve your skills and your writing.

Weekly Progress Report #38

This week has been all about editing. Not my strongest suit, but something that I need to work on. Slowly I’m getting there, but it seems like I’m slogging through a mud pit. I’ve decided that I need help. I’m going to pull the trigger on buying a year’s worth of premium for ProWritingAid. Of all the editing software I’ve seen, it fits the bill the best.

I’m on day 2 of my stop smoking process. I only get to smoke 19 cigarettes today. Yesterday was the first day I’ve only smoked 1 pack. I’ve been a pack and a half smoker for a while. When I visited with my youngest daughter at their new home, I went over two hours without smoking. When I left and came home, I smoked and I got a buzz. Felt lightheaded. From past experiences, this will happen more this week. Not a good recipe for success with trying to concentrate on editing.

I still need to write my Weekly Writing Challenge story. I will post it early tonight. It’s another vague prompt that could go in a number of different directions. Probably what I need to continue to grow as a writer, but indecision is wracking my brain.

I foresee a tough week ahead. I’ve been through tougher weeks in the past, so I know I’ll be able to get past all the obstacles.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Bad Words?

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Being relatively new at the revision and editing process. I have come to the conclusion I can either wing it or research it. I’ve already tried winging it and it didn’t work very well. So I did a bit of research. First I built a revision list. Then after completing the list, it is now time to go bad word hunting.

My two words to search for are “just” and “was”. Found 24 instances where I used “just”. Not too bad, but not great. I want to get rid of every one of them. Then I searched for “was”. Ouch! 265 instances of “was”. That word is a very good indicator of passive sentences. Before deleting all the bad words, I did a bit of investigation. Consider this sentence:

I was just trying to be a good writer.

Uh-oh, it has both bad words in it. It also sounds weak. I found that the word “just” when used this way is called “Hedging your bet”. It’s better to be bold, so we will omit “just”.

I was trying to be a good writer.

Hey, it actually is better. Not a whole lot, but we are getting there. The sentence is a passive sentence. So let’s remove the word “was”

I trying to be a good writer.

Ugh! That sounds horrible. I need to revise it and I’ve decided to change the tense of “trying”

I tried to be a good writer.

Much better sentence. Still not there. This sounds like I tried and failed. It has completely changed the tense of the sentence. Writing in present tense and then throwing up this sentence would be jarring. Instead of changing “trying” let’s add “am”

I am trying to be a good writer.

Much better. Compare this sentence to the original. This denotes action, firmness and an onward journey. The original sounded a bit whiney. Now the question arises, should I always delete “was” and “just”? At first glance, the answer is yes. My twisted brain decided to go a step further and see if there is any possible way to use the original sentence.

Suppose you have a character that is sniveling, whiney and pathetic. A character that the reader hopes dies first. What if I gave the character this sentence to say?

“I was just trying to be a good writer,” he sobbed.

Yes, context matters. I can definitely see the character talking like this. But let’s make sure. Using the same weaselly character, I’m going to give him the final sentence without the “just” and “was”.

“I am trying to be a good writer,” he sobbed.

Meh. I like the “just” and “was” instead. This whole exercise has taught me that there are no bad words. Words that appear out of context seem bad, but can be used in other context.

I think I’m turning into a word nerd.