Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing: Part II

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See Part I of this series, here.

6. It’s hard work and fun at the same time.

Whether you’re writing a novel or a haiku, writing can be a challenging pursuit. It involves daily practice and often hours of unflinching focus. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me as I love hanging out in my imagination bubble, but there are days where lifting the pen or punching those keys can be an enormous challenge. Sometimes the muse just won’t cooperate or the day job leaves me so exhausted, the words are hiding beneath layers of stress.

While the work is hard and never truly ends, it is worth every bit of the effort. Every word written brings you that much closer to finished draft. Every word makes you a better writer. And here’s the best part, writers usually love what they do, so that means all of that hard work is actually fun. Even on the days when the words are playing hide and seek. The bigger the challenge, the more delightful the reward.

7. Edit with an open mind.

For some writers, editing is the best part of the process. They can slash and rearrange without any hesitation. At first I struggled with editing because I liked to hang onto every single word. I swear my first novel was akin to a hoarder’s closet – cluttered with stuff that should’ve gone in the trash bin.

The simple fact is you have to be wiling to let things go in order to let things in. Writing is a fluid process with constant changes from start to finish. The more open-minded you are, the more your story finds it’s footing or the more your poem finds it’s rhythm.

Editing is about making a draft as good as it can possibly be. Sometimes that means simply polishing language and sometimes that means rewriting entire sections or reconsidering an entire storyline. Either way, let your muse be as much a part of the process as it was at the very start.

8. Do your homework.

If you’re writing a YA novel, read YA novels. If you’re writing haikus, read haikus. It’s a simple rule and one worth following. Even if you’re looking to reinvent a genre, it helps to know where it began, current trends, and techniques used by other authors. After all, how can you add tracks to a road if you don’t where it’s located?

When I started writing poetry again a few years back (after a loooooong hiatus), I just did my own thing and didn’t really think to read poetry. I like what I wrote just fine, but soon I realized I was missing out on a well of inspiration by failing to explore other poets. After immersing myself in anthologies of multiple poets and exploring poet blogs, I watched my poetry go from mediocre to something better.

The same is true for my novel writing attempts. For the first novel, I read plenty of fiction, but not in the genre for which I was writing. The result was a halfway decent attempt, but nothing too exciting (yet). For my second attempt, I read every YA novel I could get my hands on in order to get a strong sense of how to structure a YA novel and to learn techniques to make writing appealing to young adults. The result is a novel I’m pretty darn proud of.

The big take away here is to let other writers guide you through their work and inspire you to blaze your own trail.

9. Join a writer’s group

Writing can be a lonely pursuit. While most writers are introverts and prefer the solitude, it’s still important to leave that lonely bubble and socialize with other writers. A writer’s group can be a place for inspiration, camaraderie, advice, and networking. Writers’ groups range from groups that just write, critique groups, or groups that work on a single project. There are, of course, many more options and they are all worth considering.

Much like editing, writer’s groups offer that open door that all writers need. Sometimes we get so stuck inside our own little world, we don’t realize how stuffy it gets. Let some fresh air in by letting other writers into your world. They bring fresh perspective and insight. They lift you up when your inner critic is weighing you down. They never let you give up.

10. Trust your muse.

When in doubt, listen to your muse. That gut feeling is usually right and always knows best. No amount of book smarts, advice, or technique can outmatch the creativity that lives inside of a writer. Trust your vision and stay true to what your imagination sees. No matter what.

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Did I miss anything? What do you wish you had known before you started writing?

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c.b.w. 2015

Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing: Part I

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1. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

This is especially true for the first draft. So many poems, novels, and short stories go unfinished because of backtracking to “fix” problems. My first novel took 5 years to complete due to my constant adjustments. My second novel taught me to just punch out that first draft and then go back in and revise/edit. Rationale: Having the big picture in place makes easier to find and fix mistakes.

2. Too much advice does more harm than good.

That old adage, “too many cooks in the kitchen” comes to mind. Knowledge about anything is powerful, but ultimately it comes down to action. You can attend a million workshops or read every how-to manual on the market, but the best teacher is experience. You have to make mistakes and allow yourself to fall instead of only relying on a knowledge base to get you through the process.

This also applies to beta readers. They have their purpose, but too many opinions can easily sway or muddle your original vision. Like all good things, advice is best in moderation. There comes a point where a writer has to find balance between outside opinions and the muse’s compass.

3. The inner critic is brutal.

One of the first posts on this blog was titled, My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me. Let me tell you, that voice is LOUD. And soul crushing mean. For some writers, the inner critic is so cruel the words stop coming altogether. I wish I had a magic fix for the self doubt the brews inside of every writer, but the one piece of advice I can give is to fight back. The only way to defeat the inner critic is to keep writing and pushing forward. Eventually, that loud, mean voice falls on deaf ears because you’re too busy writing something.

4. Triumphs are small, but incredibly meaningful.

Even though I’ve been writing for most of my life (I have poetry journals from when I was 8 years old), my list of accomplishments is quite small. I’ve won a small contest, been published in a tiny local journal and a local newspaper. That’s about it. Although, I do count my blog as a success as well!  While the list is small and the accomplishments smaller, I cherish every victory. They are few and far between for most writers, so grab onto them and don’t take them for granted!

5. Rejection is a good thing.

No one likes getting that email that says, “unfortunately I am not interested in your work at this time.” It sucks. But it’s also great. Most agents and publications don’t even bother responding to queries at all, so getting any sort of a response is exciting stuff.  Embrace it and give yourself a pat on the back. In many instances it means your work was good enough to spark some sort of attention.

Something else to keep in mind is the fact that the rejection letter allows the inner critic to occupy some prime real estate in your soul if you choose to take it personally. Don’t let the inner critic win. Instead, save your rejection letters as testaments to the fact that you are trying and someone noticed.

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Stay tuned for Part II next week. Meanwhile, I’m curious – What do you wish you would have known before you started writing?

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c.b.w. 2015

Killing Chapter 1

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My decision to cut the entire first chapter for The Muse came when I realized I had started my novel with just about every single thing most agents hate to see in an opening chapter.

After reading multiple articles and longs lists of tweets from agents, a definitive list of things agents hate in an opening chapter began to emerge:

  • Too much backstory
  • Describing the weather
  • Describing the sky
  • Main character waking up
  • Prologues

It’s funny how you think you are not doing these things as you write, re-write, and edit. Even after multiple rejections, I still believed I had a strong opening. However, once I compared the list to my novel, I realized I had committed every novel sin except for the prologue.

Then, I visited the YA section of my bookshelf and started scanning through all the first chapters of my favorite books. Keeping the list in mind, it was easy to see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. A change needed to be made and it needed to be big.

editwars2

I pulled up my manuscript on my Kindle Fire and read the first chapter multiple times. The biggest issues were backstory and weather description. Luckily, the solution for backstory was easy. I could track each segment of backstory to another section of the novel, so I truly did not need it in the first chapter. As for weather description, the foreshadowing was nice, but not entirely necessary. With these two elements eliminated, there wasn’t much left of Chapter 1. Hmmmm . . . that got me thinking,  why don’t I just delete the whole thing?

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just hitting the delete button. When I scrolled down into Chapter 2, it was promising in that as the new start, the reader is dropped right into the story. However, Chapter 2 begins with the main character waking up. Ahhhh! Another thing on the hate list. Two paragraphs down, a sky description shows up! Yet, another thing on the hate list!

Before total panic set in, it became clear that both issues can be easily fixed. A sentence here and a slight deletion there should clear up the hate list issues, while also transitioning Chapter 2 as the new beginning to The Muse.

I guess we’ll see how it goes!

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c.b.w. 2015

Poem A Day Challenge: April 16-17

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The 2015 April Poem A Day Challenge continues with two days of incredibly tough prompts (at least they were for a haiku poet!). I did my best and here’s what I came up with to meet the challenge:

April 16, 2015
Prompt: science

I.
pushed by the moon
shimmering waves
rise on the shore

II.
trees are more
constant than screens
that light up

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April 17, 2015
Prompt: swing

I.
after it rains
beads of water gleam
on the porch swing

II.
for a moment
I fly
on the old tree swing

III.
sycamore seeds swing
on summer branches
early morning rain

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c.b.w. 2015

Poem A Day Challenge: April 13-15

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Tired of poetry, yet? I hope not! Here are my latest for the 2015 April Poem A Day Challenge:

April 13, 2015
Prompt: confession

I.
Venus in the sky
your arm around my waist
a crescent moon hangs

II.
there are no stars
when you say you love me
cloudy midnight sky

III.
stars fade to dawn
your confessions break me
morning sun rises

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April 14, 2015
Prompt: honest/dishonest

I. True
cool spring day
purple mountains
cut through the sky

II. Mirage
summer heat
bends the air
mountains flicker

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April 15, 2015
Prompt: adjective (choose one and make it the title)

I. Pale
the air turns pale
as light dwindles
fading sunset

II. Windy
evening gales
push through the pines
with whistling speed

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c.b.w.