A big part of what makes writing "good" or "bad" is the way people are described. The difference between a book that you read to the end and one you put down and don't pick back up is interest.
What makes you like a character in the story you read? Is it because they look a certain way? Is it because they think a certain way? Why do we like imaginary people?
That's what we're thinking about this week.
How would you describe yourself in a story? Think about more than what you look like – what makes you laugh? What makes you cry? How do you show love? Think deeper than skin.
A friend of mine has been dealing with a lot of stress lately. A way that she's coping is by dropping into the world of fanfiction. She plays What If? with existing stories and plots and characters and creates something new and unique. The biggest key to successful fanfiction is to stay true to the spirit of the source material.
Fanfiction is also a huge community builder.
Fanfiction helped save Star Trek! Women wrote more stories because there was so much missing when the show was canceled. Fanfiction kept the series alive for the fans and helped them build a community together.
Give it a try!
Think about your favorite story. A book, a TV show, a movie; any type of story with characters that you love like real people.
Now how would you change the story? You don't have to make the commitment to actually writing out this new story arc. But think about it.
Did a character you love die? How would you save them? How would that change the story? How would the other characters be affected?
Insert yourself into the story. Make yourself a character. Who would you be? What part would you contribute?
Have fun playing in fanfic!
That's right. The new draft of my book is written, typed out, and sent off to critique partners to read. I've taken a couple days to cool off from the project, and now I'm back at the next project.
I'm doing the housekeeping part of writing and querying. I'm compiling a list of agents to send queries to. I'm polishing short stories.
Because the work never stops. There's always more writing to do. More work to do.
And I think that's the hardest part for some people. It's a lot of work. When you're in the zone, writing can be incredible, but then there's the day's when it's not. When the zone seems so far away, you can't see its shadow. Those days are okay to have. Those days are okay to walk away from the writing to breathe.
But sometimes you don't want to walk away. Sometimes you want to face the challenge head-on and say, "This isn't writer's block. This is fear of what I actually have to say." So you sit down, and you write. You rewrite. You keep rewriting until you're ready to give up entirely because how many more times can you try to make this scene work?
And then it works. It works, and it's amazing.
Let's take five minutes and focus on that moment.
That scene, that sentence, that story that you struggled with so hard for so long. You've got it. It's finally perfect. What does that feel like? How does it make you feel about all the work you've done? How does it make you feel about continuing the work? Focus on that feeling.
What can you do to keep that feeling going?
I have written/revised almost 20,000 words in a week. I took 8 days off work which comes out to almost two weeks with weekends. After a fabulous, whirlwind trip to New York City, I took a day to recover. Then, I took a day to work on my house and prepare for a garage sale that was supposed to happen last weekend.
Then Wednesday happened. I woke up and the weather was crummy. Rain isn’t good for hauling boxes from a garage to a barn, so I packed up and went to work on the edits for my Middle Grade space fantasy. And it was the most amazing writing day.
The next day, another writer friend was coming over to help me organize for the garage sale. Oops. It was raining again. Let’s go to the bookstore and write. I wrote three more chapters that day. She wrote five new poems when the day was done. It was an incredible writing day.
Friday – Garage Sale day. Guess what I did? Yup. I went back to the bookstore and wrote. I wrote every day until I had to go back to work on Tuesday. I went back to the bookstore after work tonight. I’m off tomorrow for what was supposed to be a garage sale, but instead it’ll be working really hard to finish the draft of this book.
The thing that I’ve come away with the most from this brilliant writing marathon is I’ve discovered the narrative voice of this story. I can hear the voice of the characters. I can tell when I’ve phrased a sentence the right way rather than “the right way.”
So what’s the difference? How can I see my narrative voice?
An editing tip that beginning writers get constantly is go through and remove all unnecessary words. The day wasn’t “excessively hot” it was “sweltering.” The dog wasn’t “very-well trained” it was “obedient.”
That’s great advice when you’re first starting out, but what it fails to take into account is the narrative voice. If my book is full of whimsy and mirth, I’m not going to say the day was sweltering. I’m going to say the day was so hot she felt the sweat dribble down her back in rivulets. It was so hot she could barely stand it.
As I’m writing this story, I have a character that is massively larger than life. Things aren’t just good. They’re MOST EXCELLENT. That’s their voice. Their style. Their characterization, and no amount of critique is going to change that for me. Because it’s my character’s voice.
Now for your writing prompt.
Your five-minute writing contemplation. Here is a paragraph from my work-in-progress. It is long and winding, and that is intentional. How would you write a sentence(s) to convey the same information in your narrative voice? Not how would you edit this paragraph, but how would you WRITE it.
"Trius crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. The smirk on his face made Eza's hand clench in a fist. Her arm very much wanted to let that fist make contact with that smirk."
Words don't just have the power to shape our stories, they shape our world. The words people use to describe us define how they see us. And how they see us shapes how we see ourselves.
On the gender spectrum, I fall in the middle. I identify as nonbinary, even though I look like I should identify as a woman. Dresses do not a woman make. Neither does long hair, nor using the pronouns "she/her."
So why did I hop up on this soapbox to talk about pronouns? Why do I care so much? Because many of my friends don't use gendered pronouns. More stories are going to include non-gendered pronouns. The more common we make the use of words like the singular "they," the more inclusive and welcoming the world is for people like my friends.
The singular "they" has been around since Shakespeare. It's not a new idea, but rather, we're going back to old ideas. Like the time when language was fluid and a game that writers played to entertain and teach.
Now the Prose Part
The words we choose shape the story we want to tell.
If you want to demean a male character, you say things like, "He ran like a girl." If you want to insult a female character, you say, "She looked man-ish."
But what if we took away these stereotypical insults? What if we left the old world behind?
Try to tell a story, a brief ten-sentence story, without using gendered pronouns. "They" do something. Pick a unisex name. Make it a mundane story. The goal of this exercise is to push your comfort boundaries.
One of the hardest things about being a writer is trying not to see foreshadowing or omens in things that happen. Because when I'm writing a story, I sprinkle these nuggets throughout to prepare the reader for what's coming. So if some weird thing happens in real life, it must have some hidden meaning, right?
The other day, I was preparing myself a pot of tea in my schmancy new teapot. The very teapot I wrote about as a means of self-care. I poured the boiling water into the pot, and I heard a loud crack.
Sure enough, the porcelain had cracked on one side from spout to handle.
If my life were a novel, what would this foreshadow? What is my author trying to say about my narrative arc?
What's your teapot?
Look back on the last two days. Think about one moment, a small moment, that is out of the ordinary. If you were a character in a story you were writing, what would that small moment be foreshadowing?
Take my teapot as an example. The crack in the teapot could foreshadow a fight I will have later with my husband. Or it could be a crack in my self-confidence at work that starts a downward spiral. Downward spirals make for great drama.
What is your small moment trying to tell you about the story of your life?
Preface: There’s a fine line between self-doubt and depression. As someone who struggled with depression for years before talking to someone about it, I urge you. If you think your self-doubt or unworthiness is more than you can handle, seek out a professional. It made a huge difference in my life.
This past Sunday, I did a small thing that made a huge impact on my week. In fact, it created the most productive week I’ve had in at least a year if not multiple years It starts with this teapot.
This is a gift from a dear friend. I love buying him thoughtful gifts that he wouldn’t get himself. This year, he won the gift giving game. I love this teapot. Especially because it holds 3 mugs worth of tea.
So much tea!
Why am I banging on about tea? Because up until this week, I told myself I wasn’t worth the effort of making a cup of tea.
Well, not quite. I declared I was too lazy to make myself a cup of tea. I didn’t really want it anyway. Sure, I really like tea, but I’m [insert adjective here].
I decided I wasn’t worth the effort of making a cup of tea.
I am medicated for depression. I do fairly well most days. Writing helps. A lot.
But there’s this feeling of not being present in my own life. It’s like moving through the days in a haze.
So my goal last week was to start living my life with intention. I would be present in my own existence.
Back to Sunday. I had some writer friends over for a write-in at my house. I made tea in my fancy teapot.
I rewrote 3 chapters of my WIP that day. I wrote on Monday. I wrote a few lines on Tuesday. I finished the chapter on Wednesday. Tonight, I’m writing this.
I made myself a pot of tea this morning. Because I’m worthy of ten minutes’ worth of effort to make a hot beverage. I’m worth the effort of revising my work. I’m worth the effort of writing a new free-write prompt this week. I’m worth the effort of living a life I want.
Now it’s your turn to write. What are you worth the effort for? It can be small: getting dressed to work at home; showering at night to me the morning less rushed. It can be something huge: cutting out dairy because it give you painful gas; going for that new job because you could totally rock it.
What are you telling yourself isn’t worth it because you’re just [insert adjective]? What have you decided you’re unworthy of?
Life is hard. Even when you don't have to worry about things like money or a roof over your head, life is still designed to be difficult. Because if it wasn't, we'd be too bored to get out of bed. If there were no monsters to fight, we wouldn't be our own heroes.
So sometimes, you need to take a break from the struggle, and the pressure, and the stress, and treat yourself.
But here's the thing about self care. It doesn't have to cost money.
Self care is just that: taking care of yourself. It doesn't mean a week-long cruise in the Bahamas. It doesn't mean an expensive writer's retreat that you realistically can't afford.
Self care is common, every-day things that take care of you.
You are worthy of your best.
Here is your five-minute free-write for this week:
What can you do FOR YOURSELF this week that is taking care of you? How will you take care of yourself, so that you are able to reset and face another day?
It's pointless to focus on writing if you're not focusing on the writer behind the work. Take care of yourselves, writers.
I’m not just a writer. I’m a person who’s passionate about stories and writing and people. As a result, I want to help as many people as I can.
I want to say yes to everything.
2018 taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes, in order not to look like an a-hole, you have to say no.
Despite what multi-talented writers like Neil Gaiman would make us believe, not all writers are good at all things. Nobody is good at everything.
Jack of all trades, master of none, but better than a master of one.
I want to do everything. I want to be everything for everyone, but that’s not realistic.
So I’m learning to say No.
My friend writes epic fantasy. I cannot be a beta reader for her. I can be a cheerleader. I can help brainstorm ideas, but I cannot read her work and add value.
By cutting down on unrealistic commitments, I’m opening myself up to doing things I enjoy. Things that add value to myself and others. This bore out today. Another friend sent me her first five chapters. I got to reading them right away, and I was in the right headspace to articulate where I stumbled in the reading. I was able to phrase it as a question to get her thinking rather than as an order.
What about you?
When you sit to write, answer these questions:
What do you say yes to that drains you? What do you wish you made time for? What aren’t you doing that is causing you guilt?
What do you need to say no to in order to say yes to what you really want to do? What can you let go of to make room for what you desire?
I take pride in being a Writing Fugleman for my fellow authors. Here is a tool to help you hone your craft.