Five Steps to a Successful Writing Career

When it comes to writing advice, and writing rules, my advice would be to pick out the tips and tricks that resonate with you and leaving the rest. There’s a lot of writing advice out there, and much of it is conflicting. If you find inspiration in another author’s routine or if you come across an interesting literary technique, then by all means, give it a go! If a particular tool or practice doesn’t work for you, simply revert back to your old habit, preference or style. All writers have their opinions and viewpoints on how to best get things done, and today I’m tackling one of my favourites: Heinlein’s Five Rule for Writing.

Robert Heinlein was an American writer who broke into the science fiction community in the 1940 and his controversial works continue to influence the genre today. Along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein is known as one of the “Big Three” authors in the science fiction community. Heinlein developed his five rules because aspiring writers constantly asked him how they too could have a successful career as a writer. Of his rules, Heinlein said, “The above five rules really have more to do with how to write speculative fiction […] they are amazingly hard to follow – which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket!”

To reiterate, though these five rules may seem simple – even basic – they are incredibly difficult to follow.

If you prefer to consume video content, you can find the YouTube version of this blog here.

Rule number one: You must write

Don’t roll your eyeballs at me; I told you these rules were simple! And yet, how often have you heard a fellow writer harp on about the brilliant premise of their novel only to discover that they haven’t actually written a single word? It’s all fine and dandy to have a fully formed manuscript in your head, but if that story isn’t on paper, then it doesn’t exist. You can’t edit an imaginary story and you certainly can’t get it published.

Writers are people who write. You don’t have to write every day and what you write doesn’t have to be perfect (especially if it’s the first draft) but if you want to be a published writer, then you must write.

Rule number two: You must finish what you write

And you thought number one was hard. It’s one thing to start a project and an entirely different thing to finish it. If you’ve never completed a manuscript or short story, be patient with yourself. Plan for success by managing your time, outlining (if applicable to you) and setting small regular goals. Rather than thinking, “I have to write a book,” break the project into smaller more manageable chunks. By viewing your book as a series of scenes or chapters, the project becomes far less overwhelming. You can’t write a book in a day or even a week unless you’re Stephen King and you’ve just snorted some great coke which is how he wrote Dolores Claiborne.

You won’t know what it takes to write a novel until you have written one. You won’t know what level of discipline or time management is required. You won’t know how to maintain a consistent voice or characterisation. You won’t know how to construct a plot or maintain narrative drive. You can read all the blogs on the internet and you can watch all the videos on YouTube, but the only way you’re going to know how to write your novel is to write it.

Rule number three: You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order

Rules one and two are applicable to all writers, but this rule is a little more controversial. Remember, Heinlein was a science fiction writer whose stories were generally geared towards the pulp magazines of the 1940s. The world is a different place, but there is value in this rule depending on the type of writer that you are, and what your definition of success is.

If your aim is to win the Vogel, the Pulitzer-prize or some other literary award, this rule is not applicable to you. If your aim is to produce a literary novel that is carefully constructed, then this rule is not for you. If your aim is to be traditional published, then this rule is not for you. If you want to produce a high-quality self-published novel, this rule is not for you. If these are your goals, then you should be rewriting and editing your work long before you submit it to an industry professional, whether that be an agent, editor or publisher.

However, if your goal is to have a short story published through an online magazine, small press or your own blog, step three could work for you. This rule is especially applicable if:

  • you write genre fiction (particularly formulaic stories like Mills and Boon Romances)
  • are submitting to a publisher who specialises in pulp fiction
  • payment is not your main concern publication is.

Perhaps a better way to phrase this rule, especially in today’s marketplace is, “Edit your work, but don’t edit forever.” A novel is never truly done; it’s just worked to a level that the author and other parties involved can live with…ideally!

If your story is close to a publishable standard and if the editor at a publishing house likes your work, then they will take the time to provide feedback with the intent that you resubmit.

Rule number four: You must put your story on the market

If you never hit the send button, then you’re never going to get published. Emailing a story to an editor is nerve-wracking. It’s an incredibly brave and courageous act to let someone read your work, but if you want your story to find an audience, then this step is a must. You can’t get published if you don’t submit your work to publishers. So be brave. Do your research and find the online magazines and publishing houses that might be interested in your story and submit to them. The worst outcome is that they say no, but if you don’t at least try, then you’ll never know.

Rule number five: You must keep it on the market until it has sold

Don’t let rejections stop you! Thanks to the internet, there is a slew of online publications for you to submit to. Just because your story has been rejected doesn’t mean that the story is bad. There are many reasons why an editor may say no:

  • your story is too similar to something they’ve already published
  • the story isn’t to their taste
  • your story isn’t a good fit for their magazine
  • they’re over budget
  • the content for the next few months is already scheduled.

If you receive a rejection email with feedback you agree with, revise your story and either resubmit to that magazine (if the editor has indicated that it is okay to do so) or try submitting to another publication. If you don’t receive any feedback, simply send it out to someone else. Keep going! Personally, I get 10-20 rejections before a story or article is accepted. Writing is a business, so don’t take it personally.

There you have it! Those are Heinlein’s Five Rules for Writing. Though these steps may seem disturbingly easy, they are incredibly difficult to follow. If you enjoyed this blog, feel free to subscribe or follow me on social media. My Instagram, Facebook and Twitter links can be found below the archive section of this page. If you enjoyed the content of this week’s blog or if you connected with Heinlein’s rules feel free to leave a comment below!

Consider jotting these rules down on a post-it and keeping it near your desk for those days when the writing game is feeling a little too hard or complicated. Remember, writing may not always be easy, but it’s always worth it.

Happy writing.

How to Become a Better Writer

 

How to become a better writer. It’s an ambitious title given that my blog posts are a thousand words or less. If you type this title into Google, you will find 124 million links. Some of these posts cover topics like show don’t tell, remove adverbs, write in active voice, outline, establish a routine etc. If you dig a little deeper, you will find articles about voice, structure, pacing, and plot. Further down the writing craft hole, you will uncover articles about literary devices whose names you can’t quite pronounce and romantic quotes about bleeding veins. Below is my contribution to the conversation. Most writing advice should be preceded with the word sometimes. Sometimes showing is better than telling. Sometimes an alternative structure is innovative. Sometimes it is important to have likable characters. Sometimes. However, there are three fundamental staples few would argue against. If you want to become a better writer, if you want to become an active participant in your own improvement, follow the below practices without exception.

Read more

This may seem simple or obvious, but aspiring writers can never hear this advice enough. If you want to become a better writer, then one of the best ways to do that is to read more. Despite the myriad of online courses, how to books and advice blogs (present platform included), it is through reading that a writer will learn how to turn words into images, names into people and imagined heartbreak into real empathy.

There is only one apprenticeship available to writers and the course’s requirements are simple: read and write. It’s a cheap apprenticeship, but the determination and willpower required for these tasks are immense.

Reading more also means reading widely. If you regularly find yourself in the science fiction section of your local independent, consider checking out the biography, romance, young adult, general, literary or classic sections. Why stop there? If your Sunday morning breakfast revolves around pulpy lifestyle articles, challenge yourself to read a scholarly essay, a feature article in the local paper, or a carefully constructed opinion piece online.

It’s important that you read within your genre, but if you ONLY read science fiction, then your novel may be nothing more than a mediocre regurgitation of stories that already exist. Part of the fun of writing is the challenging of pushing yourself and your story into new places. By reading widely, you may discover a literary device or story structure that would work well for your story. You may find inspiration through an experiment discussed in a scientific journal, an interview with a worker from a little-known profession, or a shocking story reported by a reputable news outlet. Inspiration is everywhere. Indulge your curiosity and push through your resistance. Read content that doesn’t immediately appeal to you. Read articles that challenge you intellectually. Read stories about different people from different countries with different problems. Read. Read. Read. Then write.

Write Often

The second component of a writer’s apprenticeship is writing. You don’t have to write every day (though I think it’s great if you can), but you do have to write with some regularity. If you don’t have a regular writing practice, your confidence in your abilities will start to weaken. You will resist the blank page. You will see your word document or notebook as a barren landscape rather than a canvas brimming with potential. If you decide to write every day, it doesn’t have to be for long. In fact, smaller goals are better goals. Setting the intention of writing 500 words a day or writing for fifteen minutes each morning is way more doable then lofty and unspecific goals like, “I’ll write a novel this year.” It’s important that you be realistic and set yourself up for success. More often than not, you will find yourself exceeding these small goals. Your fifteen-minute window may stretch into an hour and 500 words can quickly turn into a thousand or two. This is a good feeling; chase that feeling.

Again, you don’t have to write every day, but you do have to have a set routine. Maybe you can write every Tuesday between 8-9pm and every Saturday morning from 10-11am. Mess around with your schedule and see what works best for you. It doesn’t matter when you write, it doesn’t matter how much you write, but it does matter that you write.

Think Critically

The link between reading and writing is critical thinking. Though your subconscious may absorb some lesson through passive reading, a writer who is determined to better their craft needs to reflect and think critically about what they have read. You don’t have to give yourself an aneurysm, but you do have to go under the hood. Ask yourself what that novel was really about. What themes was the author exploring, why did they structure the novel in that way, did the structure support the narrative or not, how did the voice or perspective affect the telling of the story, did they apply or use devices in an innovative way, was the story plausible, did it move you, did you learn something about yourself or the world?

The only writing “hack” that exists is critical thinking. By reading widely and thinking critically, a writer can avoid the pitfalls made by other writers while adopting the devices, structures, and ideas that make for effective storytelling. Of course, you will still make mistakes. That is unavoidable. However, if a writer can actively engage with what they have read and if they can apply those lessons to their own writing, then they are giving themselves and their stories the very best chance of success. If you have chosen to live the life of an artist, then there are no guarantees. What you can choose, however, is to be an active participant in your own evolution. To read because you want to learn, to think about what you have read because discernment is invaluable, and to write because someone else needs to know what you know.

The world may not need another book, but it needs books. I hope you find the courage and tenacity to pen the stories that are housed within you because there is someone out there that needs to read the story that only you can tell.

Happy writing.

My First Writing Tag!

I’ve never done a writing tag before and until a few months ago I didn’t even know what one was! If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, a writing tag is ten set questions that relate to a writing theme, for example, character, routine or dialogue. An author answers these ten questions in relation to their own WIP (work in progress) or process and then they tag another writer to do the same.

This writing tag came from the YA author Kim Chance who has an active YouTube Channel you can find here.

Writing Tag

1.CURRENT STORY: What is your current story idea that you’re working on right now?

Right now, I’m completing my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Critical Thinking and Creative Writing. Part of my dissertation is producing a 10,000-word novella, so most of my focus is on that! The project is a time travel narrative and the central themes are women’s bodies, identity, technology, will vs predestination and hidden knowledge. However, I am also adding a few minor tweaks to my soft-boiled crime novel and editing a YA fantasy series (published under a pen name).

2. SPARK OF INSPIRATION: Do your ideas begin with characters, plot, world building, or something else entirely?

In terms of writing, my stories never begin with character. In terms of reading, character is often the reason I stick with a story. Hmmm, that’s rather interesting…maybe I should do a blog post on that? Anyway, the initial spark of inspiration for my YA series was a plot idea. However, my crime novel was driven by a curiosity to explore specific themes.  When it comes to short stories, again, the need to explore a particular theme or personal curiosity is often the driving force, that and competition deadlines!

3.BRAINSTORM: How do you puzzle piece your story elements together? Do you start with the ending and make your way to the beginning or vice versa?

The climactic scene of my crime novel occurred to me while driving home from work. At the time, I was 20,000 words into the manuscript, and being the huge Stephen King fan that I am, I decided to write without an outline. As a result, I had no idea where the story was heading. Even though this particular scene did not end up being the novel’s “true” climactic scene, it provided some much needed direction. Now that I knew where my characters were going to wind up, I could work my way backwards and figure out how they got there.

Some people warn against outlining, but it definitely has its place. Though the actual writing of the story occurred in chronological order, my approach to outlining and writing was loose and tactile. At one point, I was struggling to get a sense of my story as a whole, so I wrote all the key plot points onto palm cards and began playing with the order of events, adding and removing scenes as I saw fit. Not only did this open up a ton of possibilities in terms of structure, it was an effective way to “see” the book as a whole while also injecting a sense of play into what can become a mechanical left-brained process.

You don’t have to figure out every scene and plot turn, but I think it is immensely useful to have some idea of where you are heading.

4. KEEP OR TOSS: How do you know when you want to keep or dump a story idea?

You know an idea is worth pursuing if your thoughts tend to drift towards it naturally.  Though the actual writing may be challenging, if your thoughts constantly return to the same group of characters, a plot premise or a string of dialogue (I often “hear” my characters in conversation with one another), then that’s a pretty good indication that you’re onto something. That being said, writing is doing, not thinking. A story that is intriguing in your mind may be flat and dull on the page. If this happens, you can either tweak the story, polish the prose or accept defeat and move on to something else. Unfortunately, you won’t know if a story is going to work until you write it.

5. ORIGINAL IDEA: How much of your original idea for your story is actually used once everything is finished?

Outlining is a useful tool, but that doesn’t mean that your writing can’t be fluid or spontaneous. Often, the story will tell you where it needs to go, and if it doesn’t, that’s why you have an outline!

If you have to force your scene to fit an outline, forget it. Write the scene the way it wants to be written and adjust the outline accordingly. If the new scene really doesn’t work or if it stuffs up the trajectory of the whole novel, your choices are simple, either a) scrap the scene and rewrite it as per the outline b) tweak the scene so that it does work with the outline or c) be brave and change the trajectory of your story.

In terms of my WIP, the core premise has remained consistent for the past four years: a woman meets a ghost with amnesia. However, every detail around that premise has changed.

6. HIDE OR SHARE: Do you share your book ideas with friends or keep them a secret?

I keep them secret! TOP SECRET!

About eight years ago, I had an idea for a novel that was 1/3 fiction, 1/3  biography, and 1/3 memoir. The aim of the book was to thread different time periods and multiple first-person perspectives into the tapestry of a family drama, and I told everyone who would listen how I planned on doing this.

The result? I killed the story.

By talking about my idea and inviting others to express their opinion on the project,  I nutted out my themes, plot, structure, and characters. I eliminated all mystery. When I sat down to write the story I’d been TALKING about for months, I got ten pages in and quit. It was boring. I’d already figured out every finite detail of the story and it was D.E.A.D. Dead. Since then, I’ve always remained tight-lipped about my projects.

I have two takeaways from this experience. Firstly, most people don’t care about your creative project. They want a single sentence answer/update and then they would very much like to talk about something else, thanks. This lack of care may mean that they offer half-baked opinions or shallow critiques because they simply want the conversation to move on. Secondly, don’t give away the story’s magic. The last thing you want is for someone to muddle up your story with all their opinions before you’ve had the chance to familiarise yourself with said story. If you discuss your project in depth with others, you are wiping out all mystery (which is the fun part) and you are losing your grip on the delicate relationship between you and the work. I don’t want to talk the story out of my body, out of my bones; I need to keep it with me and in me until it’s truly ready to be read by others.

7. DREAM: Have any of your book ideas originated with a dream/nightmare?

I wish I could say yes, but truthfully I’ve never had this experience. That being said, I’ve got a closet full of nightmares that could easily fuel a gruesome short story collection.

8. DOPPLEGANGER: Have you ever had an idea for a story but then see a similar premise in a book/tv-show/movie?

ALL THE TIME! I remember writing the first draft of my crime novel and seeing a re-run of an early Criminal Minds episode where the serial killer was embalming their victims. Though my protagonist is not a serial killer, she is an embalmer. The fact that the episode went into some depth regarding the embalming process and the professional in general unnerved me deeply, and for a few days after, I was worried that my story had lost its edge.

9. BIG SCREEN INSPIRATION – Have any of your favorite movies/tv shows sparked ideas for scenes in your book?

Not explicitly no. However, all films and TV have influenced me as a writer in regards to story structure, narrative pull, pacing and plot. Actually, that being said, an earlier (and much darker) version of my crime novel reminded one beta reader of True Detective Season 1, but the mood of the manuscript has shifted since then.

10. NOSTALGIA: What’s the oldest/first story idea you remember coming up with/writing down?

When I was eight, I wrote a story about a girl named Cindy who lives in a small town overshadowed by a mysterious and menacing castle. With her best friend in tow, Cindy decides she’d like to meet the occupants of this eccentric home. Unfortunately, the residents are not friendly town folk, but ancient Romanian vampires. Sucks to be Cindy. This brilliant short story, cleverly titled Vampire Story, remains my personal gold standard when it comes to writing.

Now it’s your turn! If you enjoyed this post, consider answering these questions on your own blog/vlog. If you have any comments regarding my responses, feel free to leave them below.

I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing weekend. Happy writing!

Why Writers are Obsessed with Process

Whenever two or more writers find themselves in a room together, there are a handful of topics that inevitably bubble to the surface: money, publishing, current projects, favourite authors, latest reads, and most importantly, process.

If you are new to creative writing and developing your craft, an interest in other writers’ habits is understandable. We’ve all been a beginner at some point in our lives and we all know that the best way to develop our own skills is to learn off someone who can do the thing that we want to do. Oh…and you know…practice… practice helps too.

If you want to learn the piano, you go to a piano teacher. If you want to learn another language, you take classes or buy an audiobook.  If you want to earn more money, you quit trying to be a writer. ** checks notes** Oh sorry, this is supposed to be an uplifting blog.

Anyway, this is how we learn, we spend time with people who are further along the path then we are.

Questions regarding process always arise whenever an author is interviewed. You could say that ‘Tell us about your writing routine’ is the literary equivalent of talking about the weather, but this frivolous question serves as more than a mere icebreaker because within this small request lies a myriad of even smaller questions:

  • Do you write in the morning or at night?
  • Do you write longhand or use a computer?
  • Are you a pantser or a plotter?
  • Where do you prefer to write?
  • Do you play background music or prefer silence?
  • Do you aim for a specific word count, page count or a set number of hours each day/week/month?
  • Do you write every day or when the mood strikes you?
  • Do you work on multiple projects or one project at a time?
  • Do you research before, during or after the first draft?

You get the picture; writers have a lot of questions when it comes to process.

However, it’s not just emerging writers who are interested in this topic, professional, well-seasoned typists are too.

Two years ago, Charlotte Wood, a successful and established author herself, released her book The Writer’s Room. The book is a collection of interviews between Wood and some of Australia’s best-known authors. Though the content of the conversations varies, Wood always encourages her interviewee to talk about their writing routine. Though some authors respond to such probing questions vaguely (perhaps because their process is loose or frequently changing), others describe their rigid or elaborate routines in fine detail.

Initially, Wood’s interviews were only available online, but because of their popularity, she decided to combine a selection of these conversations and release them as a print edition. Obviously, it takes a lot more time and money to release a print edition compared to a digital version, but that’s how popular these interviews became. Writers are hungry for this conversation, but we don’t want to read an interview on our laptops and just forget about it. We want a physical copy that we can highlight, dogear, carry with us on the bus, and return to again and again whenever we need guidance or inspiration. Writers love talking about process, and we love reading about it too.

Despite the almost cliché nature of the topic, writers continue to ask each other questions about process. Fortunately, most authors are happy to answer them. Sometimes these answers are dull and predictable, but sometimes they are surprising, insightful, and even entertaining. By exposing ourselves to other writer’s approaches, we may gain insight into our own creative routine or learn new techniques that can be adopted into our own practice.

Our continuing obsession with creative practice is driven by our need to understand how writing works. We’re all looking for a way to articulate what can sometimes feel like a very mysterious and fickle practice. All creatives struggle over how exactly they go from producing something out of nothing. This discussion of process helps give shape to what can otherwise be perceived as an almost mystical unfolding.

That being said, the question of process also contains a subtle and self-conscious subtext: “Is your process better than mine? If I adopt your habits, will I become a better writer?” Deep down, we all hold the same subconscious belief: there is a secret to writing, we just need to find it.

However, discovering this secret is impossible because every author has a different answer.

Each book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series was written without an outline and in a single draft. Child’s reasoning for this decision? “I wanted to get it right the first time.” Stephen King doesn’t use outlines either, but he typically produces three drafts of each novel. Aussie crime author Kathryn Fox produces detailed outlines for her novels, sometimes up to 200 pages. Diana Gabaldon doesn’t write with an outline and she doesn’t write in a straight line. Instead, she produces random “interesting” scenes until a thread or shape begins to emerge.

In terms of hours clocked, Stephen King, Maile Meloy, and Steven Pressfield stick to two-four hours a day (typically in the morning). Others like Chuck Wendig, Dani Shapiro, and Margarett Attwood keep standard working hours, starting at nine in the morning and finishing at five in the afternoon.

Despite advances in technology, we are still weighing the pros/cons of longhand vs typing. Jackie Collins writes all her books by hand, as does Quentin Tarantino; two names I never thought I’d see in the same sentence! Joe Hill writes his first draft by hand, but then edits the work while typing the second draft, and JK Rowling has experimented with both longhand and typing. Even research styles vary. Elizabeth Gilbert spends years researching before she beginning her first draft while Matthew Reilly is notorious for his lack of research.

You get it.

Every writer’s process is different.

And yet, we keep asking. We keep searching for some kind of hack in the hope that there is a hack. We want to hear a clever sound bite that promises an easier way to get inside our own story. One simple tool or word of advice that will guarantee our success.

No one wants to hear, “Just write.”

No one wants to hear, “If you do the work, the work gets done.”

No one wants to hear, “Finish writing the novel, edit it, email it out and maybe you’ll get published.”

When asked about her own process, Elizabeth Strout recounted a discussion with her neighbour who had finished painting his entire apartment. When she’d finished gushing over his domestic accomplishment, complimenting him on this tremendous achievement of will, motivation and personal drive, he replied: “There’s no magic to it.”

The same can be said of writing. There’s no magic to it, you just have to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Redraft Your Novel

Its been a thrilling, tortuous and questionable journey, but you’ve finally made it. Your protagonist is walking off into the sunset with their sidekick, love interest or deepened sense of self, and you’ve typed the two most satisfying words ever: The End.

Only it’s not really the end. It’s more like, five metres in front of the start line, and no-one gave you a map, and you’ve never been on this running track before, and the other competitors have already left so you can’t even follow that slow guy, and some prick stole your sneakers…

Don’t worry, you’ll find your way eventually and when you do cross the finish line, I’ll hand you our complimentary members’ pack, including whiskey, band-aids, pens and Grammarly discount code. Well, you would have received this pack if it weren’t for the endless cuts to Australian arts funding. Hopefully, that situation improves before you begin work on book two…but it probably won’t.

Seriously though, finishing your first draft is an amazing feat and you should be proud. Some people spend years (sometimes a lifetime) talking about their “project,” the masterpiece they never actually started, but you are not that person. And for that, you should be very very happy.

…However…

First drafts are not books.

I know. Fucking sucks, right?

But easy isn’t easy, it’s boring. Lucky for you — little writer daredevil that you are — there ain’t nothing boring about redrafting… in other words… this stage can be a little…challenging. For this week’s blog, I’m breaking down the five steps you can take when approaching a major redraft.

Write the novel’s outline

If you’re a plotter, and you actually stuck to your original outline, then you get to skip this step (lucky bitch). All you pantser and pretend plotters, follow me.

Pull out your manuscript, grab a fresh piece of paper and go through your novel from start to finish. Unless your book is a novella, this may take a couple of sittings. Using each chapter as a heading, write down the setting, characters, POV, significant events, plot beats and emotional highlights that occur in that chapter.

Chapter One
June 1, 1990, Brisbane airport, Cindy (POV) and Blake

  • Passengers are boarding, Cindy cries while saying goodbye to Blake
  • Blake can’t find his plane ticket, stewardess refuses to let him onboard
  • Blake storms to the service counter
  • Cindy pulls the ticket from her coat pocket and throws it in the bin

    (I set this example in 1990 so no-one would say, “Ah, couldn’t Blake have just opened his Qantas app and used a digital ticket?” Oh, technology, you dirty little plot killer.)

You can make the outline as simple or as detailed as you prefer. Personally, I like to keep it simple so I can read each chapter at a glance and easily have a bird-eye view of the book as a whole. If you’ve been working on your project for a few years or if you haven’t revisited particular chapter/s in a long time, you may prefer to do a more detailed outline.

Highlighting

Grab three different coloured highlighters and designate one colour for emotion, one for action and the final for plot (for example, yellow for emotion, green for action and orange for plot).

Go through the dot points below each chapter heading and highlight each point with its corresponding colour. Once you’ve gone through the whole outline, you may notice successive action heavy chapters, or maybe you have multiple chapters were characters are talking amongst themselves but there’s no action. Maybe 70% of your police procedural is emotion or 80% of your romance is plot driven…which is kind of impressive…anyway, the point is, now you can see your novel.

Obviously, you don’t want three or four chapters to be dominated by emotion, but pure action isn’t the solution either. Your novel should be a combination of light and shade. Back-to-back chapters that detail your protagonist’s ponderings over what it means to be human may move some readers, but others may find this kind of thematic pounding heavy-handed. At the same time, endless action scenes can be tedious, and a poorly constructed one can read like a cheap trick; a way to inject tension into an otherwise dull scene.

Look for plot holes

While you were skimming through your manuscript, and constructing this nifty little outline, you probably discovered a couple of plot holes. Jot down the contradictions and inconsistencies you’ve come across and be sure to note down the pages where this story thread appears. That way, when you do come up with a solution, you’ll know which pages you need to start working on. Before you start hacking your manuscript into pieces, let’s pause for a moment and do a little interior resetting…

Get in the right mindset

Remember the first time you had a really awesome writing day? I do. One day, about four years ago, I wrote 6,000 words across an eight hour period (this wasn’t achieved in one sitting). Back then, my normal daily word count was 1,000 fresh words, so the addition 5,000 was a huge leap. I remember hitting my normal word count thinking, “Yup, I’m done.” I hit save and went about other tasks, but the story wasn’t done, ideas, scenes, and dialogue kept coming. If there’s one thing I know for sure, when the Muse shows up, don’t ignore her! So, I went back to the computer and I kept writing.

Normally, I’d be exhausted by such a massive writing session, but that day, I was totally stoked. Not only did I feel the deep satisfaction of a wildly productive day, I’d had fun too.

Though I’d produced 6,000 new words, my total word count was about 25,000. If a psychic had rocked up to my door that day and told me all that would come over the next four years, I’d probably have given up then and there.

Here a brief recap: my word count crept up to 80,000 words over the course of a year, then I cut 20,000 words off the beginning, then I enrolled in a Masters program and cut a further 20,000 words. Then I decided to make a major character a different gender, two new characters were introduced, the word count slowly crept from 40,000 to 80,000 words, a chapter from the middle became chapter one and the structure changed from a group of strangers coming together to build a community to a family drama about grief.

Maybe there’s a reason we can’t see the future?

The point is, it’s hard to eat a whole cake in one sitting. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to write a good book, but if you keep at it and do a little each day, then you will make progress. If I quit on that day four years ago, I wouldn’t have a book now. So, do your best not to get overwhelmed. See these changes as small individual to-dos rather than a gigantic laundry list that has to be completed by day’s end.

Once you’ve made a note of all your manuscript’s “problems,” it’s time to move onto the final step.

Fixing stuff

Constructing a tidy little plan to tackle all those plot holes sounds very efficient and action orientated, but that’s not how this stage works.

While you may be able to iron out the crinkles in your manuscript within minutes of seeing them, chances are, there will be some bigger and tricker plot holes that require a little more effort. Fixing plot holes can be hard. Tweaky a story thread may fix the contradiction that occurs on page 50, only to create a new one on page 120. You may need to do some serious rewriting or restructuring. If that’s the case, you want to be pretty committed to the changes you want to make before you make them!

Take your time, but don’t take too long.

Thinking about writing is very different to actually writing. You may wake up one night with a miraculous solution to THAT plot hole, but when you try to stitch that thread into your manuscript the following day, the seams won’t hold. You can’t make your protagonist do that thing or maybe the new story thread reads as wooden or inauthentic or maybe your solution seems a little easy, obvious or convenient. It may take several attempts and rewrites to fix major plot holes, so don’t beat yourself up. Again, writing is different to thinking and sometimes the only way to know whether or not something will work is to give it a try.

Writing is largely problem-solving, but solutions rarely come easy. If you sit down with a clean piece of paper and a pen in hand with the intention of nutting out fresh solutions to all your plot holes, you’ll probably hear crickets. More often than not, solutions arrive when you are out doing other things and engaging in the mundane activities of life. You don’t have to be actively thinking about your novel all the time, but you should hold a space for it in the back of your mind because you never know when a solution will appear. If and when you get a new idea, write it down, try it out in the manuscript and see if it works.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, remember that writing isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. If you quit today, then that really is The End. If you keep going, then one day those two magical words will appear on the final page of your manuscript.

Do you enjoy the redrafting phrase? Are there any tips or strategies that have helped you in the past? If so, please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about it!

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How to Reduce Your Word Count

Two weeks ago, I broke down the ten ways you can increase your word count. This week, I’m listing the top five ways you can trim your manuscript.

A thin first draft may be the product of underwriting and a bloated manuscript may be the result of overwriting, but the truth is all works in progress (WIP) can benefit from the following five tips. Even if you’re an underwriter, I promise that the quality of your prose will improve if you apply the following suggestions to your work. By cutting out filter words, tightening sentences, reducing dialogue tags and combining two scenes or two characters together, your writing will become precise, snappy and attention-grabbing. And that’s the aim of the game peeps, to keep the reader reading.

If you prefer to video content, check out the YouTube version of this post.

Cut filter words

Filter words are unnecessary words that act as a barrier between the reader and the story’s action. If you are writing in close third person, a common example is having your main character (MC) narrate the actions of another character. For example, Lauren saw Anthony open the door. This description has greater impact when written as Anthony opened the door. You may think that removing Lauren’s POV is pretty insignificant in the face of an entire manuscript, but filter words can add up quickly, especially if your project is a 150, 000-word tomb. Cutting filter words will not only have a huge impact on your word count, it will also improve the quality of your prose.

Some key filter words to be on the lookout for are: really, very, just, began, started, sudden, see, look, hear, wonder, feel and think.

Whenever these words appear in a sentence, you can usually rewrite it to better effect. For example, She felt really sad, packs a lot more punch when written as, She was devastated, alternatively, you can show the emotion, She crumbled to her knees.

Tighten your sentences

Not to be confused with reducing filter words, tightening up your sentences means cutting unnecessary descriptions, purple prose or repetitive sentences. For example:

The slick black snake gleamed in the morning light as it slithered through the dry grass towards the small, brown, field mouse.

Now, here’s the same sentence tightened up.

The black snake slithered towards the field mouse.

Congratulations! You just cut 14 words from your manuscript!

Yes, I know, description is important, but you don’t need to spend 22 words describing how a snake is about to eat a mouse. Be selective with your description and make it count. The reader doesn’t need to know the time of day or that the grass is dry in order to comprehend the scene, so cut it.

Another common mistake is repetitive sentences or phrases; lines that say the same things twice, only in slightly different ways. See what I did there? Some repetitive phrases are, first priority; I personally; repeat again. And another example of repetitive sentences would be: She left via the front door and stepped into the morning light. Leaving the warmth of the house, Becky couldn’t recall when she’d last watched a sunrise.   

Another example is including too many body movements. He lifted his head, looked to the left and right, swiped a curl of hair from his eyes and stepped out onto the street. If you have a tendency to make even mundane movements cinematic, then your word count is going to balloon and the prose will be tedious to read.

Unnecessary scenes

Is that two-page dream sequence really necessary?

Is a dream sequence ever necessary? (I hope so, cos I got one in my novel!)

The general rule is that a scene should either move the plot forward or show character development, ideally, it should do both. I think you know where I’m going with this…

If you have a scene that is entirely built around showing character development, revealing backstory or giving the reader a glimpse into the protagonist’s interior life, consider moving that into an action scene. Let’s say your protagonist is sitting on the couch, talking to her best friend about how insecure she feels about being the chosen one. What if you trimmed this conversation down and fit it into the scene where the MC is hanging with her team of misfits’ and formulating a plan. Now your scene is working on two level, the misfits’ plan is moving the plot forward and the protagonist’s self-doubt is revealed. 

Unnecessary characters 

I know you think all your characters are necessary, but you need to stop lying to yourself. Remember how the protagonist makes fun of her best friend’s little brother, but the best friend is also the love interest? What purpose is the little brother really serving? If the only purpose of these interactions is comic relief, then consider combining the role of the little brother with that of the best friend. Not only does this declutter your side characters, it also provides opportunities for the protagonist to playfully interact with the best friend/love interest.

Cut down dialogue tags

If two characters are having a conversation, then you don’t need to finish every line of dialogue with he or she said. Yes, you do need to include some dialogue tags, but if you place those attributions in the right place, then your reader will have no problem following along.

“Wow! Filter words? I never heard of that before, but it’s totally a thing. My MC is always wondering and feeling,” Martin said.

Claire grinned, “Mine too! I’ve started trimming my WIP last night, and I’m already down five thousand words.”

“Ah, I thought your short story was six thousand?”

“Shut up.”

So, there you have it. My top five tips for reducing your word count. If you found any of these tips helpful, or if you have a trimming technique of your own that you’d like to share, leave a comment below. Thanks for reading and remember, cut those filter words!

Twitter: @TaraEast1     Instagram: authortaraeast    YouTube: Tara East 
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Five Weird Writing Tips

For this week’s blog, I wanted to delve into some of the smaller, weirder tips and tricks that have helped me with my own writing. These tips focus on productivity, organisation and the minimising of physical discomfort when writing. As you may have gathered from my previous blogs, I’m not a doctor and I have no medical training. The below suggestions are tricks that have assisted me, but what you do with this information, and how you handle your own pain management, is entirely your responsibility.

Headphones and rain sounds

I got this tip from Joanna Penn who is the indie author behind the platform The Creative Penn. If you’re not familiar with Joanna or The Creative Penn, I suggest you get on that.

When I sit down to write, I put on my headphones, open iTunes and hit play on my favourite rain sounds album, Soothing Rain Sounds, believe it or not, there’s actually quite a selection of albums to choose from, so go nuts!

If you prefer to write in public places or if you don’t live by yourself then this is a great way of cancelling out distracting background noise, conversations, people hustling, you know, the sounds of life! If you listen to rain or thunderstorm recordings for an extended period, your brain will naturally slip into an alpha state and you may find that the quality of your writing improves. It certainly does for me!

You may be one of those rare writers who can work while listening to music with lyrics, and if you are, then consider yourself a freak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big music fan and I certainly use it as a means for inspiration and as a way to generate imagery, but when it comes time to sit down and write, hitting play on The Misfits Collection 2 is not a part of my productivity plan.

Get your butt out of the chair

For writers, the above statement is counterintuitive as most of us are trying to keep our butts in the chair. But in case you haven’t heard, sitting is the new smoking. I know, total bummer, right? (Pardon the pun). A few years ago, this news would’ve been rather distressing, but thanks to the invention of standing desks writers have more than one option when it comes to designing their workspace.

Full transparency, I can’t afford a standing desk. Some weeks, I can’t afford toothpaste. However, I own a shit ton of book and as it turns out, you can stack those puppies up, slap your lappie on top and voila! Instant writing desk!

Switching up your writing positions can have great health benefits, but please know that standing for prolonged periods isn’t ideal either. If you write three chapters while standing, your muscles are staying contracted in one position, this can lead to joint compression, compounding muscle tension and cardiovascular disorders.

The truth is, our bodies are designed to be in movement, but this can be a tricky feat when you’re trying to write and disappear into the work. When I’m reading an essay or article on my laptop, I set up my “standing desk” and shuffle my feet while I read, stepping side to side as well as forwards and backwards.

Yes, I know this sounds dorky…you can stop giggling now…

When I’m engaging in creative writing I tend to sit, when I’m editing I stand and when I’m reading I keep my body in motion.

In this same vein, a lot of creative writers in the indie space are starting to experiment with dictation. Although I personally haven’t used this approach, I find this idea really exciting and think it could be a helpful tool during the drafting stage of an article or short story.

Keep the curve in your spine

Folks who spend a lot of time sitting in front of computers tend to have pain in their lower back, shoulder, and neck. There’s a bunch of blogs out there that delve into the designing of ergonomic workspaces, so I’m not going to unpack this topic. However, I did learn this nifty trick from an acupuncturist. Grab a towel and fold it in half widthways, in half again lengthways, and then roll it into a tube. When you sit down, wedge it between your spine and the back of your chair. This will keep your spine in the correct position while writing and may help reduce lower back, shoulder and neck pain.

Hand and arm stretches

If you write longhand, as I do, you may experience pain in your hands and arms following a prolonged writing session. Doing some basic stretches, and the inclusion of frequent breaks will help reduce this.

Stretch your writing arm out in front of you, keeping it parallel to the floor, then use your non-dominate hand to gently pull the fingers and hand back, then down, then towards you (if you need a visual demonstration, check out my video). Feel free to mix things up with some arm stretches, the type you learned during your high-school P.E classes are more than suffice; see, you did get something useful out of that drudgery!

Multiple notebooks

I’m a bit of an organisation freak, so I keep five different notebooks, each dedicated to a specific purpose.

Random notes: This notebook is used for mundane tasks like grocery lists, reminders or small daily to-do lists. I also jot down book recommendations, articles, bands, or other bits and bobs that I want to check out later or that spark my interest.

Study: I’m currently doing a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), so this notebook is dedicated to lecture notes, ideas for assignments, recommended readings for my own research project as well as the notes, quotes, and ideas that are generated from those readings.

Research: Lately, I’ve been obsessively researching how the traditional and self-publishing industries work. Though you can make broad strokes regarding the pros and cons of these two models,  there is so much information out there you could easily fill multiple notebooks.

Content: This notebook is for the drafting of blogs, YouTube videos, articles, essays and pitching ideas for freelance work.

Creative writing: I keep a notebook for each writing project. I’m currently self-editing four novels in preparation for an editor, so for the sake of sanity, I have to be able to easily and efficiently locate relevant information. I have no interest in flicking through six notebooks because I can’t remember where I wrote a particular fact, or where the notes from a formal interview went.

So, there you have it! My five small, slightly weird tips to improve your productivity and writing practice. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

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