Become A More Productive Writer

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hello, everyone! I hope you had a good weekend! I’m doing great. I’ve been working a lot lately on being a more productive writer.

What do I consider a productive writer? I guess that would be someone who writes regularly. Someone who gets the words on paper and meets the goals and deadlines she’s decided on. Someone who doesn’t procrastinate and doesn’t let her fear and self-doubt overwhelm her. Also, someone who uses her time wisely instead of wasting it on meaningless things.

In her book, The Productive Writer, author Sage Cohen calls productivity a lifestyle choice. She says:

Just as a vegetarian reinforces daily this way of life with the food he chooses to eat, the Productive Writer holds a clear and meaningful value that gets expressed and explored in a myriad of ways every single day--in the writing she does, the relationships she has, the spirit in which she works, and the opportunities she creates to move toward her goals.

As nuanced and unique as our writing lives are, such is our relationship with productivity. Different types of writing have different demands, and every project and commitment will teach us something new about who we are, what we’re made up, and what approaches bear repeating. This is the joy and the challenge of the writing life.

Start Where You Are

So how do we go about becoming more productive writers? Ms. Cohen gives us a few ideas:

Just get it down.

In the first-draft writing stage, just being in motion and getting the words down on the page is the most important part. Write as if you are laying down bricks, one after the other. None is more worthy than the next; each has it’s part to play as your writing takes shape. The composite will eventually add up to something whole.

Practice makes perfect possible.

Every time you sit down to write, no matter what you are writing, or how high the stakes, think of what you’re doing as practice. Why? Because it takes the pressure off and keeps humility front and center. The more we practice, the more possible our writing will become. And the more confident we will be in our ability to show up at the page and make something interesting happen there.

Be willing to Not Know.

Most writers don’t know exactly where they are heading with a piece of writing. Even if they have a detailed outline or a very specific idea in mind of what their destination might be, and even if they arrive at said destination, the specific trajectory is likely to reveal itself along the way. Trust that what you want to be known will make itself evident along the way. Your job is to be in motion, be willing to be surprised, and follow where you are led. There will be plenty of time for steering, that is, editing, along the way.

That’s it for today! I’ll talk about being a more productive writer on Wednesday. Hopefully I’ll see you then!


For more info: The Productive Writer by Sage Cohan

Understanding Different Point of Views

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

There are three main types of point of view (POV): first person, second person, and third. I've talked about understanding POV before, but since choosing the right POV for your story is so important, I wanted to share more of what I learned about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

One writer and editor of Writer's Digest, James V. Smith Jr. Covers this well in the book Crafting Novels and Short Stories: The Complete Guide To Writing Great Fiction. Mr. Smith writes:

First Person POV

As we already know, first person POV refers to the I, we, me, my, mine, us narrator, often the voice of the main character.

There I was, minding my own beeswax when she up and kissed me. I nearly passed out.

Advantages of this POV:

  • It feels natural to most writers because we live in an "I" world.
  • You can create a distinctive internal voice.
  • You can add an element of craft by creating a narrator who is not entirely reliable. (See Unreliable Narrator).
Disadvantages of this POV:

  • You are limited to writing about what the narrator can see and sense.
  • The narrator must constantly be on stage or observing the stage.
  • You can't go into the minds of the other characters.
Second Person POV

This is the "You" narrator. This POV is rarely successful, and even then it works best in shorter books. (See Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City

You're just standing there. She comes along and kisses you. You nearly faint. 

Advantages of this POV: 

  • It gives you the power to be different, even eccentric in the way you speak to the reader so directly.
Disadvantages of this POV: 

  • It begins to feel quirky, whether you're reading or writing it.
  • It can say to a publishing professional, "I'm a Jay McInerney knock off! Reject me!"
Third Person POV

The he, she, it, they, them narrator, third person is the most common POV in fiction. It offers a variety of possibilities for limiting omniscience information that the narrator and reader are privy to in the telling of the story.

Third Person Unlimited Omniscience:

In this POV, the author enters the mind of any character to transport readers to any setting or action.

He stood stiff as a fence post, watching her come his way. What did she want? he wondered.

She had decided to kiss him, no matter what. So she did. She could see the effects of her kiss at once. He nearly fell over. 

Advantages of this POV:

  • It can enrich your novel with contrasting viewpoints.
  • Both you and your reader can take a breath of fresh air as you shift from one character's POV to another's.
  • You can broaden the scope of your story as you move between settings and from conflicting points of view. 
Disadvantages of this POV:

  • You can confuse yourself and the reader unless every voice is distinctive. 
  • You can diffuse the flow of your story by switching the POV more often. (Notice how the last passage about the kiss jolts you from one point of view to another.)
  • It's easy to get lazy and begin narrating as the author instead of as one of your characters.
Third Person Omniscience

The author enters the mind of just a few characters, usually one per chapter or scene.

He stood as stiff as a fence post, watching her come his way. What did she want? he wondered, as she approached. Then he saw the determination in her face. Good crackers! She was going to kiss him, no matter what.

She did, too, and he nearly fell over.

Advantages of this POV:

  • It has all the advantages of third person unlimited POV.
  • You can concentrate the story by keeping to major character's (and strategic minor character's) thoughts.
Disadvantages of this POV:

  • There aren't any, really; by imposing POV discipline, you minimize the downsides of unlimited omniscience.
These are by far the most common points of view and will suit most any story. 

Which point of view do you prefer? 


For more info: Crafting Novels and Short Stories by Writers Digest.


The Power of Daily Writing

Monday, January 13, 2014

One piece of writing advice I keep seeing in books and all over the web is to “write every day.” Over the last week I’ve been taking that advice more to heart.

I never used to write every day. I was more of a binge writer, writing only when I felt inspired, and then for long hours at a time. But I would always get burned out and have to take a long break. This lead to day after day being wasted because I was too tired or I didn’t feel inspired anymore. Sometimes weeks would go by and I wouldn’t work on my writing at all and that definitely won’t get me anywhere.

In her book, Living Write: The Secret to Inviting Your Craft Into Your Daily Life, writer Kelly L. Stone reminds us that daily actions create long-term outcomes. She says:

You may not realize it but whether or not you write today is important--it matters. There is power in the act of daily writing, and when you touch your craft every day, it becomes part of your life, a habit that you’ll miss if you skip it too often. Successful writers have learned to weave the craft of writing into their daily lives, and you can too.It’s what you do now, here, today, that will determine if you finish your novel. The more you write, the more you feel like writing. Momentum will build, and with it, your motivation, dedication, and enthusiasm for writing.

How Can I Write Today?

Of course it’s not going to be easy to write every day. But simply not feeling like writing will be the downfall of most aspiring writers like us. In order to be successful authors we have to sit down and write even when we don’t feel like it.

Ms. Stone also tells us that instead of dwelling on the reasons we can’t write, we should ask ourselves, “How can I write today?” This can help change our feelings from ones of dread to ones of anticipation.

Asking yourself, “How can I write today?” sets up the expectation that you will write. If something else comes up, figure out how you can write either before or after. Even if you only write one paragraph, you still wrote.

You could set a timer for ten minutes and write during that time. Then the next day set the timer for twenty minutes. Increase your time by ten minutes everyday and by the end of the week you’ll be writing for seventy minutes.

What do you think? Can you take ten minutes out of each day to write? I know I can.



When to Show and When to Tell

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hello everyone! I am so happy to be back! You see, I finally got the opportunity to go back to college last year, so of course I jumped on it. The plan is to go to the local community college for my Associate of Arts degree and then transfer to University for my Bachelor in Creative Writing degree. I haven't been to school in many years so it was a bit overwhelming at first so I took a break from the blog and concentrated only my schoolwork. I am so happy to report that I have gotten all As and only two Bs. In fact, I got 100% on every English paper I turned in over two semesters.

Now that I have gotten used to the level of work involved in getting good grades, I feel like I can finally start blogging again and not have to worry about taking time away from schoolwork. Although my schooling will always come first, I feel confident now that I can get back to my regular posting schedule.

For my first post back, I wanted to share something valuable I just learned.

I've talked about the "show, don't tell" rule. But if you are a reader like I am, you can see that not every author follows that rule.

So how do we know when to show and when to tell?

In her book, "This Is Not A Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer In the Real World," writer Kerri Majors tells us about how much she hated hearing from her instructors and peers that she needed to show more and tell less. She tells us:

The fact that I was hearing this "show, don't tell" comment on my writing drove me nuts not just because I'd been hearing it forever, but because 1) plenty of writers told as much if not more than they showed (hello, people...Philip Roth?) so why couldn't I? and 2) I thought I showed plenty.
I'd been working to change this so-called problem for years. Why didn't my peers get what I was trying to do?
Her teacher responded, kindly but firmly, "You can tell the hell out of any story you want, as long as it's working. What you're hearing is that your telling isn't working. Not as well as your scenes. You write good dialogue. When your characters interact with each other on the page we can see and hear them. We want more of that."

Finally, it stuck. For Kerri, and for me. We can tell, as long as it works. It isn't that we should never tell. It's just that, more often than not, we are better off showing. Especially if our telling isn't very good.

No one has put it this way before so when I read this it stuck with me. Hopefully it will stick with you too.

Until next time!


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