Writing Tips

If you are looking for a new or different writing technique, great! I’m constantly adding to my writing technique stable as well. Hopefully something on these pages will help spark you.

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A word of caution on writing advice…
I’m more of a “tip” gal than an “article” gal. Maybe it is the curse of wanting fast, snappy information I can assimilate and use quickly. Maybe I just have an attention problem. Whatever the case, please take anything I say (or that anyone else says) with caution. Writers and artists are notorious for having their own schedules and quirks. What may work wonderfully for one person might be a creative death knell for another. Take what you can use and discard the rest — and beware anyone who says their way is the best way without then adding the “for them” caveat at the end.

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Writing jumpstarts for the next day
You end your writing for the day and close your computer. Before you get out of that chair, jot down a few notes for the next day. A brief listing of some scenes, important motivation or conflict — anything that will let you pick back up. If you are stuck on a scene or plot point, sometimes jotting down a few notes before you leave your computer for the day will spark your creativity the next. Let some of those ideas seep into your brain over night!

And let’s face it… life happens. Even if you are brimming with excitement to start again the next day, something may come up. Something that doesn’t let you write for a few days or even a few weeks. Those spare notes that take a few minutes to write will come in very handy when you finally return to the computer!

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Pulp Scenes
You aren’t quite there in your story but a scene is nagging to be written. Write it! Just stick it in a separate document from your manuscript. Call the document “story bits” or “mutterings” or whatever takes your fancy. This is a great way to plot as you go and sometimes these bits are pure gold. Develop them later or write whole new scenes, but get out anything that is keeping you from trudging to the next part of your manuscript.

(Note: This does not mean start a whole new book!)

Another use for pulp scenes is as a tool to hop over a sticking point in your story. Writing a later blurb may help you to discover what is keeping you from continuing.

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Manuscript Formatting
A legible font with double spaced paragraphs is perfectly acceptable. But, if you want to estimate the standard word count follow this link and scroll down to “What you need to know before submitting” to find detailed instructions for MS Word.

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Getting into Character
Are your characters putting up a fight? Are they flat? Or just plain boring? Has the thought crossed your mind that maybe, just maybe, your heroine might be better off living out the rest of the tale in a coma or as the victim of a murder mystery? Before you take a candlestick to her in the ballroom, take a deep breath and try getting into her head. The problem might be that you don’t know your character(s) as well as you need.

So how do you meet your characters? Some writers use extensive worksheets, interviews or profiles. All good tools. Others keep typing until their characters develop on paper, in scene. If you have a system that works, don’t mess with it. Don’t question it. Just keep doing it. However, if you are reading this, perhaps you haven’t found your system yet. Here’s a suggestion to jumpstart your creativity.

The base of your character is rooted in his or her motivation, likes, dislikes, conflict, goals, quirks, etc. You need to find these things. Worksheets are a good way to do this, but go a step further. Try acting out a scene, preferably the scene you are writing and stuck on. You can act this out in your head or in actual movement. Step into your character’s skin and think/say their lines the way they would. How do they feel? Are they talking to another character? Are they angry at this character? Bursting with love? Scared? Try to feel their emotions.

Or, if you don’t have a particular scene you are working on and are just meeting with your character before putting pen to paper try “introducing” your character to several fictional people: Someone who makes her very angry – how does she express rage? Someone who makes her very happy – how does she express love? Someone who makes her tongue-tied – how does she deal with embarrassment? Someone who is similar to your character – how does she deal with her own flaws? How does she express emotion at all? Is she a watering pot? Does she keep everything bottled up inside? If you find the rage is very intense for your character, start hypothesizing which character in your story could cause or did cause this feeling. Is there backstory? Or future conflict? Do the same thing with the other emotions. All of a sudden you may have new secondary characters along with increased character growth – the bully from her youth, the first love of her life, the aunt who always had a chocolate ready.

These are just some tips to get you started. The hard part is writing! But if you can put on your acting shoes and assume character, perhaps the writing will flow a little more smoothly through those rough spots.

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Getting through a revision letter

You have an editor’s attention! First of all, congratulations! Whether you have already sold, or have a full manuscript under consideration, when that 2 page (or 10 page) revision letter comes in the mail, you might find yourself in a bit of a panic. Here are some things to help work through the stress:

  • Read through the entire letter. Cry, yell, rejoice – let your emotions out.
  • Make a copy of the letter (or print the letter if sent electronically). Grab a highlighter (or more than one if needed). Read through the letter again and highlight or underline the main points. A paragraph may be devoted to one idea. Just highlight the idea and move on to the next.
  • Write each of the highlighted portions down on a bulleted list – add some notes if any come to mind. Read through the list and organize the bullets in order. You can choose any order – it could be smallest change to largest, it could be chronological order for the story – whatever works for you. Personally I like to tackle the small things first – it gives a sense of accomplishment that is sometimes desperately needed.
  • If there are a number of different types of changes – plot, characterization, emotion, etc. – grab a different color highlighter for each and make more than one list. The point is to break the revision letter into manageable and easier to handle tasks.
  • Tackle the first one on the list. Make sure to go back and reference the letter for the editor’s full thought.
  • Tackle number two.
  • Repeat.
  • When you get done, read the entire letter again. The changes should be pretty fresh in your mind. Do you see anything you missed? If so, at this point you may be frustrated with making changes, but keep going. Create a new list if you get too bogged down.

Once you get past that initial shock (or initial thought of despair!) it won’t be as bad. Allow yourself the shock, but don’t let it take over. Grab control, break the changes into manageable pieces and get writing! You can do it.

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Writing exercise: The powers of observation

I am the type of writer that finds it much easier to write dialogue and action – and much harder to work in narrative and description. So I really have to make an extra effort to include it in my books. One exercise that I find helpful is to record small observations. Things that may (hopefully) help to ingrain those types of descriptive tidbits into my writing. :)

Sunday is a fantastic day for observation. Whether you are going to brunch with your family, attending services, out for a Sunday walk or just vegging in front of the TV, put those powers of observation to use in your writing!

Sit on a park bench, in a chair at the mall, at a coffee shop or in front of your TV (this works anywhere!). Pull out a pad of paper (or a laptop if you work better that way). Start recording everything you see. Then go into depth. Push your pen off the table. How does it roll? How do you describe the sound it makes as it hits the floor? The man at the counter, or walking his dog – how does he walk? Does he stroll? Are his shoulders hunched forward? Is he in a hurry? Describe his face. Is it worn? Happy? Is there a woman talking angrily on a phone, or a mother with her children?

Use the five senses. Be as detailed or concise as you want. If narrative and description are your strengths, and you tend to maybe err on the side of too much, pull back your descriptions and encapsulate them in one or two sentences. Decide which you most need to work on – expansion or constriction of description – and then try to make your weakness into a strength. :)

If you are at home you can use the TV, magazines or your family – or you can be the scary neighbor watching through your window. Record what you see, smell, hear, taste and feel. You can use your imagination with a scene on TV, or you can get into the nitty gritty of your household – what does the couch cushion feel like? How does the sink cleaner smell? If you enjoy magazines, describe a picture that speaks to your emotions. Catalog what the picture is saying, and what senses it’s invoking. Put yourself in the place of the picture’s protagonist and describe what you are feeling at the moment.

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Contests – the good

A google search on writing contests will provide enough reading material for a weekend – providing both the good and the bad aspects of them. I sold my first book as a result of entering the Golden Heart contest, so I may be a little biased in listing more pros than cons. :D Above all else, if you decide to swing into the contest circuit keep educated on which contests do what. Some are feedback based, others are for those on the cusp of publication. Choose the ones that are right for your needs.

Here are a few pros to contests:
* They can be a great way to get your work in front of an editor or agent if you final.
* You may receive good feedback on your storyline or characters (if you enter contests that give feedback). The judges will most likely be people who don’t know you – fresh eyes that can look at your writing in a different way.
* They get you used to people who may not like your book as much as you do. Good practice for handling reviews – the good, the bad and the cringe-worthy. They help entrants develop a thicker skin.
* You can use them to set deadlines. I did this with the Golden Heart – it was my deadline for finishing my book.
* It takes guts to put your work in front of others and actively seek a response.
* You don’t have to win. Sometimes the benefit of a contest is in simply taking another step in the pursuit of your writing career.

A big thing to watch for:
* If you DO enter contests, or plan to, take a deep breath when you get the comments and scores back. There may be some great advice, there may be nitpicky, useless advice – the kind that deals with 252 words per page and how the judge doesn’t like brunettes. Put the less happy comments away for a day or two. Then take a look at everything point by point. Keep the advice that makes sense, leave the rest. But do be aware that if you receive the same comment from multiple people, that may be an element you need to take a good look at. Above all, keep your chin up and your fingers typing (or your pen flying!).

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