Make yourself write with Jeff Goins

You might remember the post where I mentioned several free books from writer Jeff Goins. He started like most of us, wishing he could write and get published. And then he did it.

Why not you?

A writer's determination, drive, and will to see a project to its end is one of the biggest hurdles we face. Time management, insecurity, and fear (even of success) can be major roadblocks in the pursuit of our dreams. It's easy to let the big and small emergencies that pop up every day keep writing at the bottom of the list of things that must be done.

I know. I'm there right now.

So here are a couple of posts that helped.

Study the habits of great writers. Even the great ones must have had sick kids, and financial reversals. Days of no energy or stretches of time when ideas seemed scarce. What did they do when writing seemed like the very last productive thing they could do with their day?  In 15 Habits of Great Writers, Goins posts a free mini-course that goes along with his book You Are a Writer (so start acting like one). Read through one each day, and two weeks from now you might enjoy a different mindset.

Focus on the basics. Writing a book can be hard, but the individual components are pretty basic. Why do some people finish, and others live knowing their work languishes on a thumb drive? Goins breaks down the essentials into three groups: getting started, staying accountable, and staying motivated. Check out his 10 Ridiculously Simple Tips for Writing a Book. Sometimes simple is exactly what I need. 

How about you? Are you inspired by the lives of other writers, or do you forge your own path?
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When Writing Gets Difficult: 5 Things I Learned from Sue Grafton

This post is especially true for me today. For the last two weeks my head has been immersed in researching and making food safe for my son, who has been diagnosed with over 50 food allergies. For the moment, it's really hard for me to relax my brain enough to write, but hopefully I'll see the light at the end of the tunnel soon!

If you love mysteries, you already know about Sue Grafton. A prolific writer, she is currently on book twenty-one of a twenty-six book series, each titled with a letter of the alphabet. Her first novel was A is for Alibi in 1982. With a career that spans almost three decades, an author is bound to develop some sound advice. I ran across a Writer's Digest interview with Grafton, and made a list of what I learned.

Writing is hard work.

Aspiring authors often think that if you're a "true writer", the words just pour onto the page. That happens sometimes, but the fact is, writing is hard work. Like any other job, there are days when you can't wait to get to work, and at other times you have to force yourself into it. Combined with the fact that new writers must have a finished product before they have even a shred of hope of getting paid, it can be difficult to spend time and energy on a dream.

Even successful writers fear they've lost their edge.

Novice writers wonder all the time if they're any good. They crave feedback. Positive comments keep them writing, while negative ones often shut them down--somtimes for good. We imagine that if we can just get an agent, or get published, or sell so many copies, that we'd have all the assurance we need. Not so. Even bestselling authors, with piles of awards and accolades, wonder if this next book will prove they've come to the end of their talent.

Don't let your ego get in the way.

Sue Grafton believes that while her ego thinks it has the ability to write, it's actually the still, small voice inside her that really has the skill. So even if you have received some great feedback--a contest win, an article published in a magazine--don't let the heady scent of success derail you from the work of writing. 

Be ready to learn new things.

Your characters will need skills that you don't presently have. Take lessons, ask experts, and keep your eyes open. Whether it's self-defense, spinning wool, or bussing tables, your readers will be able to tell if you're making it up or you've really tried it.

Give yourself time to get better.

I was thrilled beyond belief to finish my first novel. Though it might never see the light of day, it proved to me that I was capable of completing something that made sense and was 100,000 words long. Now, several projects later, I am only beginning to see how much I need to learn. Being a writer means being in it for the long haul. There is no instant success.

If you'd like to read the entire interview with Sue Grafton, go here. We've all got a lot to learn.

What are the biggest things that keep you from writing?

How to Describe Your Characters Well

After talking about dialogue last week, here's a reminder about character's looks.

Writing a novel is hard enough without having to invent your character's features. Some things are hard to make up. Take the guy to your left. His name is Torbar. He's a Croatian peddler in the middle ages ('Torbar' is the Croatian word for peddler, by the way--creative naming on my part, right?).

I found this guy on a photo-sharing site, doing a search for 'Croatia' and 'old man'. I love how one of his eyebrows curves normally, while the other is shaped like the letter 's'. If you cover one side of his face, he looks sleepy, but if you cover the other side, he appears stern. These are details I would never have come up with on my own.

Of course, I had to describe the rest of him, too. The wonderful internet came into play again when I spent a relaxing hour perusing the image files at the New York Public Library. I was thrilled to discover a series of drawings detailing the costumes of fifteenth century Croatians, from peasants to soldiers. And in the middle of it all was a Croatian merchant.

The internet is a fantastic place to inspire character descriptions. Some writers peruse the head shots of modeling agencies. I might do that if I was writing a romance, but I don't want my characters to look perfect. I want my characters to have some character.

So here are a few resources to help you get inspired. You may want to bookmark the page, since I'll be adding resources as I find them.

There's a huge amount of stock photography sites out there. While it's not the biggest, I'm partial to Stock.xchng, because the photos are free. I usually find just what I need.

Photo-sharing sites are another place to check. Websites like Flikr and Photobucket are just two spots to start with. And don't forget about Google Images. Do a Google search like usual, and then click the 'images' button on the side. You'll be amazed at what you come up with.

I've done searches for 'eyes' and 'hairstyles'. There's even a blog by a guy who is growing (and documenting) every conceivable beard type! If you need it, it's probably out there.

How do you come up with character descriptions? Any resources we should know about?

3 ways to improve your dialogue

Characters say stuff. Writers have to make what they say interesting, or readers will put down their books. Each writer has strengths and weaknesses, and I know dialogue is not one of my strong suits.

What to do?

Like everything else in writing, it's time to learn. Yes, some other writers will always write more stunning dialogue than I do, but mine can be improved. Here are a couple of posts that have helped me recently.

Learn Organic Dialogue. Rob D. Young lists nine ways to make dialogue more organic. He's got things I 'knew', but seldom insert into my writing, like mishearing people, and self-interruption. I'm making note of his tips so I can watch for places to use these in my manuscript.

Know Good Dialogue. Nathan Bransford came up with the seven keys to writing good dialogue. He points out the specifics of what good dialogue should do, like build towards something (he calls this escalation).

Edit Dialogue. Stephanie Morill has come up with a great checklist for editing dialogue. She poses thirteen questions to ask when going over a manuscript. Several are aspect I wouldn't have thought about other wise, like: Do your characters use different words for the same thing, or are their phrasings too similar? I'm planning to print out the list and adding it to my editing notebook.

Which authors are gifted at dialogue in your opinion? How do you edit the dialogue you write?

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How to make your contest entry the best it can be

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With the new year still shiny, one of your goals might be entering a writing contest. Why, you say, would you subject yourself to all that potential rejection?

Yes, you get feedback from your critique group. And your relatives stand in awe of your prose. But it's time to develop your rhino skin and hear from someone to whom you're not near and dear. Someone who will point out what could be wrong, but also what's working. What better way to re-energize yourself on a project that might make you feel weary.

A contest entry forces you to analyze your manuscript in new ways. I once wrote about five ways a contest entry can hone your novel. And if you're having trouble with motivation, there's nothing like a deadline to get things moving. I'm planning to enter a February contest just to get myself in gear.

 If you make it to the final rounds, many contests use agents and editors as judges. It's not uncommon for entrants to field requests for their manuscripts from contest judges. And it's a lot quicker than the query process!

If you've decided to enter a contest, the first order of business is finding the right one for you and your genre. I've got you covered there, with six ways to find writing contests.

Then, it's time to work on your entry. I've lined up a few posts to help you make it as good as it can get.
Staging your manuscript. This post give tips on contest entries, depending on what the rules ask for.
Pimp your prose. Understand why adjusting your sample pages can lead to a contest win--and sometimes a contract.
Pimp your contest entry. A fantastic post with specific advice on how to tweak the formatting of your sample pages, while still keeping within the rules.
Six ways to win with writing contests. Advice from setting your goal, to debriefing after the contest is over.

What has your contest experience been like? Even if you didn't place, was it worth it? If you've never entered, would you consider it?

The best New Year's resolution: back up your computer

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The new year starts with all kinds of promises. This will be the year that you finish your novel. Or land that agent. Or self-publish another book. The biggest problem is just finding time to do it all, right?

But what if your computer crashed?

Do you have a back-up system in place to keep you from tearing your hair out, or holding a wake in honor of your digitally-departed novel? Here are a few ways you can ensure your peace of mind. We'll start small and move up.

Flash drive. These handy and inexpensive gadgets can hold quite a bit of information. Besides backing up your latest work in progress, they can be used to transfer a copy from one computer to another, so your novel is safe in several locations. Drawback: they can be lost or damaged.

Email. Many writers email their latest chapter to themselves, so they have a copy 'in the cloud'. Drawback: If you send multiple versions of a document, it can be hard to keep track of them all. Read how one author experienced a nightmare using email.

GoogleDrive. If you have a Google account, you've got this already (find it in your header). You can upload whole copies of novels, or group individual chapters in folders you create. There's lots of space, and the assurance that you can access your files from any computer. Drawback: it's not an automatic save. You'll have to go to the site, choose your files, and upload them.

Dropbox. This is one of my favorites so far. You download the free Dropbox application. A Dropbox folder appears on your desktop. Any files you place in the Dropbox folder gets automatically resaved in the cloud any time you make changes. I keep my Scrivener file for my novel here. As soon as I change one letter in my novel, it gets updated. Drawback: A decent amount of space is available for free. For more storage, you can invite other users, or pay for a membership.

Evernote. I'm just learning more about this organization and filing system (look for a post on Evernote soon). I think it could work well for copies of chapters. Drawback: you'll have to drag in a new copy of your file for it to be saved in the cloud.

External Hard drive. These can be purchased for less than $100, and can hold a huge amount of information (like backing up your whole computer). Most work in the background, saving your information whenever something gets changed. Drawback: as with any device, it can break down, get damaged, or stolen.

Online back-up system. These services act like the physical hard drive above, but your information is stored remotely. Most can restore your computer if it crashes. Drawback: Each charge a monthly or yearly fee. Check out this post on Five Scribes to read how several of them compare.

I'm sure there are many possibilities I haven't even touched on. The best idea, though, is to choose more than one so your words are saved in several places. That way, no natural disaster or tragedy can stand in the way of publication.

How do you back up your writing? What works the best for you--and is easy to keep up with?

Free Books from Jeff Goins

I first heard of Jeff Goins when I downloaded his book You Are a Writer (so start acting like one).Click here to view more details. I was in a place where I desperately needed a pep talk. Someone to help me understand why I sometimes sabotaged myself. Goins' book addresses fear of failure, uncertainty of the unknown, and the anxiety of success.

Anyone else feel that way sometimes?

Right now, Goins is offering two other books for free. The Writer's Manifesto is a short book, intended for reading in one sitting. The purpose of the book is to help writers fall back in love with writing. We could all use a little bit of that in the new year, especially with the fiscal cliff clouds looming! To get the book, head to Goins' site and sign up for his newsletter (it's worthwhile). If you'd rather not get another newsletter, there are links to buy the book for $0.99. While you're on his site, check out the great posts he's been writing.

Goins is giving away a second short book, this one a .pdf file. It's called Wrecked for the Ordinary: A Manifesto for Misfits. He describes this book as "a short call-to-action for people wanting more out of a life, a challenge to make a difference with the gifts you've been giving." Writing this book led to the publishing of his first 'real' book. 

Do you need a pep talk at the start of the year? Or is a fresh start enough to get your fingers moving?


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