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  • By Kara Newcastle

Writing Wednesday: Ten More Writing Tips from Yours Truly

Writing Wednesday: Ten More Writing Tips from Yours Truly

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo-Signorini Telemaco, Non potendo aspettare o La lettera

Once again, I thought up some more tips to help you with your writing. All of these I’ve learned on my literary journeys and have been a big help to me. Hope they help you too!

1. Have everything you need at your desk: I might go into more depths about this later on, but when you sit down to write, have everything you need close by so you’re not constantly getting up to go look for something. Tissues, waste basket, a drink (preferably not right next to your electronics, if at all possible—you might want to invest in a resealable container otherwise), dictionary and thesaurus (for when you’re going nuts trying to find the right word and your computer has no clue what you’re trying to spell, or to look up definitions—your computer’s dictionary might be limited and going online to look it up can lure you into checking other sites instead of writing. TRUST ME ON THIS), blank discs for backing info up, notepaper and pencils or pens, for starters. Keep the loose stuff like pens in your desk drawer or in a cup, and whatever doesn’t fit on your desk put on a nearby table. The idea is to stay at your desk and keep writing, not jumping up to run upstairs for Kleenex when you’re right in the middle of an awesome scene.

2. Save A LOT, save OFTEN, save on DIFFERENT DEVICES & MEDIAS: It’s gonna happen. You may like living in denial, but one day you’re going to be really into a story you’re writing, the best one yet and then—PFFT!! FIZZLE!!—it’s gone. Maybe your computer glitches or dies, maybe you accidentally deleted it, whatever, you’re going to lose the story you’ve been working so hard on. First, go into the settings on your preferred word processor and look up the auto-save options (you can find directions online) and set the timer to automatically save every five minutes or whatever you prefer. On top of that, make it a habit to hit the Save icon periodically, just to be sure you don’t lose anything in between auto-saves. Frequently save or transfer your story and all related documents to an external hard drive or cloud storage—or both!—and burn the story to disc at least once a month. If you can afford it, it might be a good idea to print copies of your story each time you make substantial revisions too.

3. Get beta readers: Sigh. I know, this one sucks. It’s intimidating and annoying, but it’s necessary. You need somebody to read your story—somebody that would be in your target audience, ideally—to read it through and find any weirdness, like plot holes or run-on sentences, inconsistencies with the characters, etc. You’re not going to see them all the first time you read through your manuscript (or the second time, or the ninth time), and you want to have their opinion on how good or (shudder) bad the story is. You can ask friends and family, and there are sites online like Wattpad where you can post and have strangers read for free (make sure the site will protect your work first!)

4. Develop a thick skin: Newsflash: people are crap. Okay, okay, that’s nothing new, but that’s something you have to remember if you’re going to let anybody read your stuff. You’ll run into people who, for whatever reason, are just outright jerks, and they have no problem saying something that’s going to hurt you. Who knows or cares why they do it, they just will. Others are just missing that chip in their heads that says, “Huh. Maybe I should choose my words carefully so as not to upset this person who has put a lot of effort and love into this book,” and they’ll just blurt out something stupid. They think they’re being helpful—and that sad thing is, they are—but they’re just so freaking blunt that it comes across as insulting. Oh, and beware the “author wannabes”: they’ll get so into your book/story that they’ll start making suggestions or even demands (this has happened to me) that you change something in it because they didn’t like it or that’s not what they would have done … it’s not their damned story, so don’t listen to them.

5. Don’t set up “due dates”: Ugh. Due dates. One of THE biggest mistakes you can make as a writer is setting up self-imposed timelines for your work. You might be sitting there and thinking, “Okay, so I didn’t get any writing done today, so I’m going to make sure that by Sunday I’ll have written TWENTY pages to make up for the time I lost,” or “I’ll have the finished final draft of this ready by August.” For the love of God, don’t do that! If you’re not working for a magazine or blog that demands that you hand in written material by such and such a date, you’re only going to add more pressure on yourself and make your writing time more stressful. Worse, if you don’t manage to accomplish what you wanted to do by the date you set for yourself, you’re going to feel frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Don’t set up due dates because you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure. Let the writing come naturally and in its own time.

6. Avoid jealousy and enviousness: This is a hard one. It affects everyone who does anything creative (it probably affects anyone who does anything at all) because deep inside we want to be the best and we haaaaaaate it to see somebody else who’s “better” or more successful than us. Writers have it pretty bad because we tend to have our objects of scorn staring down at us from our bookshelves—all those books are sudden reminders of our competition, or people you have to live up to. And if you’re in a writing group and trading stories off with other people, you suddenly feel very inferior to the person sitting next to you. It’s especially bad when you read books by people who really have no business writing books at all, and these travesties to the literary world suddenly become mega-bestsellers. I spent a year or so seething over that, trying to understand why books that were so freaking bad were getting printed, whereas I couldn’t get an editor to so much as give me the time of day. I then worried myself sick that I could never become as good of a writer as Insert Name of Big Time Author Here, and therefore no one would ever bother with my books. Please please please don’t do this to yourself; you are a good writer, you will become a better writer with time, everybody’s writing abilities and styles are unique, and book trends come and go … and seeing a cruddy book being ultra-successful should just drive you to write an even better book.

7. Research: Hear the sacred law of Kara Newcastle and obey: YOU MUST DO RESEARCH. No, you don’t have to get a doctorate in engineering or memorize every little nuance about Gothic architecture, but when you write a story or book that has an element of real world in it (in other words, not a zany fantasy where the laws of physics don’t apply), you need to be as accurate as possible in your descriptions. Make sure that if you’re writing a story that takes place in a certain time period (one that is not like an alternate universe-type story, i.e. Harry Turtledove’s books) that you have the right descriptions of clothes, food, language, societal structure and historical events. If you’re trying to remain historically accurate, you can’t say that the colonists used Bowie knives on the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War (Bowie knives weren’t invented yet) or in a medical thriller that the patient’s heart was located in their stomach (it’s not), or in a non-scifi spy novel that the hero was able to single-handedly carry a nuclear warhead out of enemy territory (even the most ‘roided out dude on the planet couldn’t pick up one of those suckers.) Not doing your homework on these things will make you look careless and amateurish to your readers, particularly the ones that have a lot of knowledge on the subject (that’s probably a big reason why they picked up your book/story in the first place!) And for God’s sake, if you’re not writing about characters or a culture that is your own, do your research; different countries have different cultures and they’re not going to appreciate it if you don’t represent them accurately. Ignorance is one thing, willful ignorance is never acceptable. Do your research.

8. Take breaks: When you feel like you need a break, you really do need a break. Forcing yourself to keep writing when you’re tired or frustrated is just going to lead to bad prose, and you’ll just get irritated with it later on. Get up and get a drink, take a walk, rest your eyes, read a book, do whatever you need to rest and recover before writing some more. Not only will you feel more relaxed, you will think more clearly, and that could help you get past that tricky part you’re hung up on.

9. Adjust your screen brightness: People have a weird tendency to stare unblinking and wide-eyed at a computer screen for hours on end, and that is not helping your eyes any. Tinker with the settings on your computer to find a setting that dims the screen enough that it doesn’t feel like a million pixelated needles are stabbing you in the cornea all the time, but still bright enough that you can see comfortably without strain. I also highly recommend using the night light feature if you have one on your computer; you set the start and end times, and the computer will automatically dim the screen at night to reduce the blue light. This reduces strain, and helps you sleep better too, since blue light has a weird ability to mess with your sleep cycles.

10. Have fun: It’s my genuine opinion that at no time should writing ever feel like chore or like a job; putting a rigid attitude on something that’s supposed to be creative and rewarding is a sure-fire way of wrecking it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take your writing seriously, but if you feel like you’re trudging reluctantly to your computer every day to write, dreading it, not getting any enjoyment out of it, THEN YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously. Let go of whatever expectations you have or disappointments you’ve accumulated or frustrations that build up. Have fun writing.

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