Writing a story: How to get started and how to finish

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Photo by: Wassim LOUMI

Many studies suggest a large number of people have a desire to publish a story (one such study even suggests the number being over 80%). However, an equally large number of people often feel they don’t know how to get started, let alone have the skills or knowledge to take a story across the finish line of publication.

NOTE: When I mention “publication” in this post, I am referring to traditional publishing, not self-publishing. That said, I feel the concepts and information in this post applies to both and encourage you to read on regardless of your stories final destination.

If so many people want to write books, how come there aren’t billions published each year?

There are many “reasons” why so many stories go unwritten and, sadly, the reason often comes down to a general lack of focus or allowing inaccurate perceptions to derail the story.

I am (un)happy to say that I used to be one of those poor souls above:

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Getting Published: The odds are against you (or are they?)

6894514803_05bab6de11_zPhoto by: Lucas Moratelli

Please note: This article is in regards to being published in traditional markets versus self-publishing. 

Writers face many challenges on the long road to becoming a published author — lack of time, money, resources, inspiration, support, etc. One of the biggest challenges (IMHO) is simply staying motivated against the overwhelming odds of getting published, or at least, the perception of the odds.

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Don’t count the chickens: A story of a late hour rejection…

Facebook6894514803_05bab6de11_zPhoto by: Lucas Moratelli

As an aspiring writer, I have collected what I feel is more than my fair share of rejections (count is now up to 48 on 8 short stories…ouch!). The rejections used to be canned, with ZERO personalization or any acknowledgement the story was even read. But as time progressed, I started to receive a hand full of rejections with a few kind words, and even some pointers on what did and didn’t work for the publisher.

While it sucks getting rejections, especially so many, I knew from my research that this is pretty typical for new writers exploring the traditional world of fiction publishing, that it’s going to take a number of rejections (which sadly, is looking like far more than 48 for me) and the value of those rejections improve before the first publishing credit is finally earned.

But things sure got interesting when one of my stories finally got noticed!

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The Ideas they Carried

Writing is taking the long road to say something simple.

                Stand up for what you believe in.

                Try not to be a dick.

                If we all work together, we can do great things.

The funny thing about acknowledging that you’re doing something complicated to convey a seemingly simple message is that what you do suddenly carries a bit more weight. Because of that, most stories weigh more than they’re worth. Readers abandon them in search for something they are willing to carry. Continue reading

Writing Mistakes: Overusing “I” within first person fiction

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Photo by: Dade Freeman

One of the more common first person themes I have seen within my writer’s group is the overuse of pronouns (I, me, my), with “I” being the biggest offender. This theme is really noticeable when the pronouns come at the beginning of multiple sentences within a given section. For example:

I was so hot that sweat poured down my face. I ran across the street to the hotdog stand. I asked the vendor for a bottle of soda. The moment he handed it to me, I guzzled it down so fast that I barely tasted it.

Pronouns, when overused, tend to draw too much attention to the character (as in: HEY, LOOK AT ME AND WHAT I AM SAYING, DOING, ETC!) versus focusing on the story unfolding before them. They are also guilty of carrying a lot of filter words, as if the reader needs to be told who is doing the seeing, hearing, touching, etc.

How do you limit “I” and other pronouns?

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Write all day — Even at work!

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-Photo by: bulletproofbra

DISCLAIMER: While I wish there was a secret to being able to write all day long without any risk of losing your job — sadly, my title is only meant to represent the idea of keeping the writing spirit going all day long versus putting pen to paper. Is it shameless click-bait? Perhaps. Is the message I wish to provide powerful? Only you can decide!

As a part-time writer (ie someone who can’t pay the bills by writing alone), I feel I often lack the time needed to get into a writer’s frame of mind, to build on my stories, or even think about writing at all. Ignoring all the excuses we use to procrastinate (eg full-time jobs), one thing most of us can do is keep a “writer’s mind” throughout our busy day and use this mindset to be productive.

So what is a “writer’s mind” and how do you get one?

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Critique Groups: An Agenda For Success!

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— Photo by Kennedy Library
Originally posted at: www.timothyafenner.com

In an earlier post, I offered up thoughts on how to being your own writer’s group. To run a successful writing group, it’s this author’s opinion that you should created and stick to an agenda.

To be clear, I don’d advocate for creating an overly detailed agenda, one so full of life-sucking bullet points that it feels more like a business meeting than a creative meeting of the minds. In stead, I suggest developing a framework to keep everyone on task and moving the group forward, to prevent any one person or subject from swallowing up the entire time.

Below is the agenda my own writing group uses:

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Writer’s Warm-Up: Less than 30 minutes for a leaner, more creative YOU!

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Like finally tuned athletes, it’s often suggested that we writers warm-up before truly flexing our writer muscles. The downsides are minimal (just a bit of time) and the benefits are numerous, including:

  • Clear your head of the day’s troubles
  • Get the creative juices flowing.
  • And, more importantly, focus your attention on what you need most!

Writing warm-ups can take many forms and cover a wide variety of topics. In this writer’s humble(ish) opinion, the best warm-ups are those that focus the writer on areas that need the most attention.

  • Are you weak at writing dialog?
  • Does your world-building or scenery fall flat?
  • Do character descriptions leave you wanting more?

Once you’ve figured out what you need to work on, add that into your warm-up routine. That way you are always reflecting and working on that topic every writing session!

As an sample to get you started on your own customized warm-up, here’s my own routine and why I use each step in the process:

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6 Simple Tricks to Open Your Novel Strong

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Originally published on Commas & Sense Editing.

You’ve probably heard that if you want to sell your novel to a publishing house, the beginning of your story has to have a great hook. However, did you know that many editors make a decision based on the first sentence or paragraph?

The opening of your novel has never been more important, and here’s why.

Agents and editors will quit reading if your opening sentence doesn’t have zing, or your opening paragraph must have hook. They have dozens of submissions to read every day, and if the opening doesn’t hook them, they won’t bother with the rest. Sadly that also means you can write a brilliant book, but if your introduction doesn’t start right it won’t matter.

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Image courtesy of Commas & Sense Editing

The good news is, there are 6 simple tricks to creating a strong opening sentence that hooks them into the story. Continue reading