There are so many resources out there that it is hard to know where to start. Finding a course, or book, or even software that actually helps you write (rather than helps you procrastinate writing) is tough. But I have found a few that I really liked and felt like were helpful.
The very first stop for me, as is probably quite common, was NaNoWriMo. Write your 50k words in 30 days and you are a winner! With a novel! Well, sort of. Still those words have become manuscripts that are becoming novels, and short stories so all those Author Pep Talks and late night reaches of word count goals did help. And the forums there pointed me in the right direction to find even more help.
Even having ‘won’ NaNo a couple times, feeling like I could reliably finish things (of any length) was still a mystery. I stumbled onto Holly Lisle's site (https://hollyswritingclasses.com) and onto her free flash fiction course. In just a few weeks I had 8 shorts that just kept multiplying and became my first self-published collections. Her forums are great and everyone on them is so helpful. It is a great writers community.
I wasn't in a place to be able to purchase her bigger courses so i kept poking around. I had been on Coursera.org for other things and found a neat set of courses presented by Wesleyan University (https://www.coursera.org/specializations/creative-writing). I’ll admit I found some of the lecturers more engaging than others but the prompts were interesting and helpful all around.
The most surprising, and the most fun, course I’ve done was also in Coursera, it is a screenwriting course (https://www.coursera.org/learn/script-writing/). It teaches the format for screenplays but also the 3 act structure and great dialog. The best part of this one though was that it was a close group for peer review. It was required to review others work and to get feedback on your own, even with the completely free version! I got some amazing notes on my story and learned a lot about the process by reading others first drafts.
If you are searching for knowledge I definitely recommend checking out some of these places, I don't get anything for posting the links so I have no reason to over-sell them. What are your favorite online (or print) resources? Drop links in the comments, I love to keep learning!
I am waiting at the edge of my seat at the airport as I finish rereading the first two novels in a trilogy that is going to release the final installment while I am on vacation. I’ve already preordered it so it will be waiting in my kindle for me to read on my return flight. I am not one to be patient with books. I am a slow reader - probably with some level of undiagnosed dyslexia (thanks school for never noticing because I was an otherwise good student) so rereading books in general is something usually only saved for my all time favorites (The Phantom Tollbooth, Einstein's Dreams, Princess Bride, Harry Potter*) but when I have to wait long periods I need to catch back up.
Which leads to me usually not reading anything in a series until they are all released. *Harry Potter being the exception. I was the magical generation who had to wait for each book release to find out what happened next. And I spent an entire summer wondering and worrying what it might mean if Harry was indeed a horcrux. I feel like I’ve put my time in waiting wise.
Still I picked this one up as an Amazon First read without realizing it was a trilogy until I was 75% through it and thoroughly involved in the world. When I hit ‘the end’ in the second installment I nearly threw my kindle. It was a rather dirty (IMO - not explicit just mean) cliffhanger to leave us waiting another 13 months on. Now I am there again, but with the promise that my wait is only a week this time. It makes me wonder though if this is the reason why I only write stand-alone pieces.
It’s a see-saw between, why don't I just do it better (not knocking what I'm reading, besides the cliffhanger) and why bother if that’s not what I like? Are you a re-reader? Do you love serials or stand-alones? Reading them? Writing them? I know it's popular, but is it only popular because it's popular? I guess I just have to wait for the final installment and see if the payoff was worth the wait.
Sometimes the blank page dares you to start anything and sometimes inspiration just gets dropped right in your lap. When I'm not writing I train horses and teach riding lessons. Most of my students are young children just starting out. With the slow beginning work often comes lots of chatter. The kids like to tell me about anything and everything while I try to get a word in about their position as we head down the trails. Some of them hardly even stop to take a breath.
Their rambling runs the gamut from a stream of consciousness recap of their day at school. Class is boring... a boy threw a spoon at me at lunch... we had a substitute so we got to watch a movie. I do my best to steer the conversation back to our lesson, but it doesn't always work right away. Others drop some oversharing bombshells. So and so doesn't live with us anymore because Mommy stopped loving him... I only have random cash because Mom was sleeping and the money box is under her bed... I did have a brother but my sister never got to meet him. [for the sake of my students privacy some of these are made up, although all fit with the type of stories I get – I wouldn't be surprised to hear any of these.]
They always cut off right near the most interesting parts to go on another tangent and you cant ask a seven year old for elaboration. But I file away some of those strange details, they make for excellent scenario builders. A few have even made it into stories already. The best fiction is that which sits closely to reality.
What surprising places do you find your plot bunnies? Are they nesting with mine just outside our riding ring?
I have always kept my involvement with writing - and being a writer- on the internet. It's not that I don't tell people that I write - I do. But I don't have an in person writing group or crit group or anything. I went to a Thank God it's Over NaNo party last year and the small turnout left me feeling like the internet was where I belong. That and the ever present social anxiety (yay!).
Last month a neighboring town had a ‘Bookfest’ local writers and writers groups gathered to share and sell and promote. Cool, I thought I could go wander around and see what's out there. I wouldn't have to interact if I wasn't up to it.
Then I saw that the local writers workshop had a booth. They were offering free 10 min sessions of editing. Now I had a dilemma, I could really use a copy editors eyes on my Nth draft to see how far off I was. That meant sitting down and talking to someone- about my writing no less.
I bit the bullet and signed up for a time slot. They were super friendly and seemed genuinely interested in my work and where I was in the process. I couldn't spit out much of an answer. Online I can stop and think and find some confidence to say that I write - I have a few flash collections self-pubbed and have been ghosting writing successfully for about a year now. But did any of the come out of my mouth? Nope. something like -’ well um, I've got this draft. I had a beta reader- they liked it?’ fumbled off my lips. Great.
I was able to sit patiently as the editor marked up my first chapter (not as badly as I had feared!) and gave me some feedback. Another staff member asked how I felt getting feedback (positive or negative) I didn't have much of a reply to that either. Realistically - I am a horse person. We literally pay people to judge us. Feedback - no problem. But that was all locked in my introvert brain until about ten minutes after I left the table.
So wonderful PVWW people, if you happen to read this I really appreciate your editing and one-sided conversation, even if I was fairly unable to add anything to it. All in all, I would love to be the type who wants to convene around a table every month or so and share pages, but that life's just not for me. Thank god for the internet where I can collect writing buddies and keep conversations on the page where I can actually make my brain work.
Finding someone to beta read your work is not as easy as it sounds. Sure people will read it but finding people who can and will give thoughtful, helpful feedback can be tougher. Writing groups are great and all over he internet. You don't even have to leave Facebook if you don't want to. Join some groups and interact. The more active you are the quicker you will get to know other members and the quicker they will get to know you. No one likes when the person who just joined's first post is asking for something. Don't be that guy.
Once you have some people on board be sure to be specific about what you want to get out of this. Do you have a very clean late draft and just need a final run through or is it fresh off the fingers and you are looking for plot help? Do you want/need grammar edits now? Do you usually have trouble with dialog? The more you know about your pitfalls the better. As a beta reader I love to get specific directions and I am learning to give them too.
When you have a set of questions be sure to include a couple 'whats your favorite....?' it can be hard getting back a manuscript with all critical comments, but that is hat sticks out to people. Without direction they will likely point out flaws to you assuming you know whats good. Give them a little hint and you will get a good idea of what a reader likes. It may or may not be the same as what stands out to you.
Finally, and my biggest mistake, give a timeline. Make it a reasonable one, but be sure to ask people to read/critique within some kind of deadline. Without this you manuscript can end up in review limbo where you don't know if they are just reading slow, getting busy at work or have lost interest. Then you don't know if or how often you should check in and if you're like me write the hopes of feedback from that person off. I you have a deadline it sets a limit. Either you get the feedback by then or it gives a built in check-point.
Overall, being on both ends of beta reading is a great experience as long as everyone goes in knowing what is expected. Whether you're the reader or the writer ask questions, set time lines, and be open to whatever the story or comments bring!
As my beta readers finish up with Excite (my 2017 NaNo Novel) I am overwhelmed with their thoughtful and positive feedback. I hadn't looked at this one all that much after banging it out in November. Aside from tidying up some grammar and POV issues and adding one additional chapter I kind of decided on a whim to send it out when I did a reading exchange.
I am actually finding it is much cleaner than I thought. I haven't touched anything yet as I still wait for one person to finish the last few chapters but I have some ideas to tweak some minor things then I may send it out once more to a couple readers for specific things. One is a police officer that I’m hoping will read for procedure accuracy- which will be great to get some ‘real knowledge’ in there.
The other thing that the positivity is making me consider is going a traditional route with this one. I had slated it to self pub and cross my fingers but now I am looking at putting together a query letter for it! It is hard to map in a genre so that will be a bit difficult but I think it will be worth it. Even if I end up getting a pile of rejections it will be a new experience so that’s always good, right?
Anyone have good tips on query letters? Especially of genre-fluid novels? Leave them in the comments!
I have been getting a lot of questions in my writing groups about my ghost writing. A surprising number of the comments are that people didn't know that it was a big thing outside of non-fiction. Even I am surprised the more I learn about how prolific it is at all levels of writing. I picked up my first ghost writing job on the freelancing site I was using for design work. A job listing popped up and it looked interesting so I sent over a cover letter and some samples of my writing. I got an answer back pretty quickly and got the job! Now that one didn't pay much - but I wasn't sure if I could even do it (yay writers doubt!) but even on a tight schedule I worked with the client and we finished a book that I really liked. Better yet, this one will end up coming out as a co-author novel meaning my name will be on it! So stay tuned for updates on that. It is currently in editing with the client.
That one I was given a first chapter, and an outline of how the story should unfold. Beyond the two main characters I was free to add to the world however I saw fit. YA fantasy was not always my go-to even though sci-fi is and I was able to bring in elements that worked for me to make it the best story possible.
With that success I looked for my ghostwriting. I found another client who had a very detailed outline that was written in preparation for a screenplay that never came to fruition. So they decided to go the novel route. This one YA sci-fi and totally up my alley. I had a detailed world and backstory along with the characters and their arcs. We brought in common and current issues so that our characters not only learned the lessons themselves but it gave readers something to think about. I got to work closely with the client on this one, sharing chapter by chapter for feedback and that was a lot of fun. It even paid a little better too!
My current gig is a on book two of a series, we wrote book one and started book two as an editor took over the first then moved back and forth to rework what was needed in the first novel. This one has been more tricky, we have not only a major time difference but also a bit of a language barrier with the client. They have a detailed outline but I have to work to sway their vision towards things that ‘work’ in novel form. The book is also a challenge as we opted to write in present tense, which is new for me. Challenging as it is, all the editor's notes are being shared with me. Which is great as I have not had the funds to hire a professional for my own work at this point so even with the challenges it is a very valuable experience.
Those are just my stories on ghost writing. But I think that it is a great way to get out and get writing. You have real deadlines, real collaborators and a guaranteed payout. (Sorry to my own books on amazon, but you guys are slacking!)
Finishing things even for other people - or maybe especially for other people is giving me a ton of motivation for my own pieces that are sitting partly done on my hard drive. Helping others get their stories on the page only makes me that much more eager to work on my own. The anonymity of ghost writing might not be for everyone, but if you have even the slightest inkling I think you should give it a try. You may be surprised what it opens up for you.
There’s a strange thing about me. Time slows down when I am in trouble; the more trouble, the slower it goes. I know that sounds like something people say and when I tell people they nod and agree. Some even give me scientific explanations. Adrenaline gets your heart racing, and when you’re used to sixty beats a minute, jumping up to one twenty can makes things seem twice as long. And sure, I get that. I understand the internal workings of that. With me it’s external. It happens before the adrenaline rush, before I know anything is going on.
That’s the best I can explain it and I don’t know if anyone else has this happen to them. Most people just think it sounds crazy. I’ve been called that enough times in my life to not talk about it too much. Part of me always hoped I would grow out of it like childhood buck-teeth or something, but alas, no such luck for me. I don’t even usually go this far in explanation except today, today is too weird.
Just now, I woke up and it seems like I am the only thing moving. It’s almost too much to even think about. I have no idea what I should be worried about. Usually the danger is kind of obvious. I mean, I can see if I’m standing on a street corner at a busy intersection or on some rickety bridge. But I’m just here, in my apartment, waking up after a good night’s sleep.
I look around my room for a clue. It’s 8:37 a.m. and the world is so frozen that the two dots on the digital clock face stands steady. I can feel the panic rising from worry. The unknown is enough to set it off I guess. I lean over my window to look at the street below. The cars look like set pieces. Even the exhaust fumes hover behind them like clouds in a Bob Ross painting. The window creaks and I jump back. The sound is low and slow. Will it break? Will it give out under the pressure of my hand? The building is old but not that old. No, it’s not the window.
I move out into the large open room that serves as living space as well as dining room and kitchen. I don’t smell gas. No blockbuster movie explosion. Then I see it. The door is open. Just slightly, as if someone meant to close it but didn’t know that the latch is sticky and the hinges are crooked so if you don’t turn the handle back it won’t actually stay closed.
I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s never been like this. I must be in true danger: life-threatening danger. Is someone here to kill me? Why would they be? That’s not their job, after all. Right. I forgot to mention, I may or may not be an assassin for hire. The time thing opened up a few doors for me. This one is the best paying. You can’t avoid a bit of danger in this line of work and that danger only makes the job easier. This though, is different.
Another creak, louder than the one from the window, makes me spin around. I catch sight of the man in dark clothes in the corner. I let out a snort. Now that I know the threat I can avoid it. My advantage is almost unfair – a few quick steps and he hardly has the time to blink. I grab for a knife from the block. It will be messy but clean up doesn’t faze me. I am in his space and it seems like he hasn’t even moved.
I raise the knife and look into his eyes. He winks and I feel the sting of a bullet in my stomach. I fall to the ground and he bends over me.I hear the ticking of my kitchen clock- the danger is over. I am almost relieved. I am not the only one after all.
I’ve had my freebie up on amazon for awhile now. It is a complication of the free stories on my site and/or ones from previous blogs. Each one has had their own reviews from blog readers as they came out and I was glad to put them together in a more user-friendly way. But, now even with well over 200 downloads I have no reviews. It's solidly in the top 20 in sci-fi/fantasy short reads, top 100 for Literature & Fiction Short Reads and even top 500 in all horror in the kindle store.
I know that some people ‘acquire’ reviews and honestly I have been given physical products in exchange for reviews - never fiction though - and I have seen books with reviews that give me an inkling that this has happened. But I don’t want anyone to get that kind of inkling from my works.
I dont have the budget to back any big marketing push or anything right now, but as I look forward and think about querying my novel I would love to get some reviews up. Ugh. If however you would be up for thoughtful review trades I would be up for that and I don’t see that as being an issue for Amazon. Feel free to comment or email me if your hook book is in the same situation as mine. Or if you have the magic secret of kindle reviews and are willing to share it, drop that in the comments too?
Anyway, shameless self promotion link here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MTSQ4QQ
We all need beta readers. Obviously for your own work to get it through revisions, but I also think we should all BE beta readers too. All writers read a lot, and in doing that it is easy to forget that every published, well reviewed story was once a first draft (and a 2nd and 3rd and 5th). And those drafts often don't look anything like what comes out in the end. There are plot holes, underdeveloped characters, typos, and the list goes on.
Taking on the role of a beta reader you get to see those early drafts. Often they have had some sort of preliminary edits done, but they are still fresh. They're not perfectly polished yet and they are an excellent reminder that every manuscript starts somewhere.
Offer to trade beta reads, or if you don't have something ready but have some time just make the offer to read. It will give you a whole new outlook on the process and you will see that while everyone writes differently everyone has stages of imperfection. That will probably allow you to give your work the time and space to improve. You will see that you are not special in you (perceived) awfulness. (No offense to anyone - but haven't we all put out a terrible sentence at least once?)
Looking behind the curtain is a great way to understand that you are not alone. Plus you get to help a fellow writer and I guarantee that you will take back something to your own manuscript too. So go forth and find some writing buddies!