Thursday, January 25, 2018

Forming a Writing Habit: Using to Kickstart My Daily Writing Goals

Originally posted on

I’ve been writing at for 51 straight days now. I started on Nov. 20 and missed just once, on Nov. 24. On Nov. 25 I did 1561 words to make up for that omission. To keep me from slipping again, I entered their Monthly Challenge for December and was one of 156 to make it all the way through. There were 462 signed up, making a 33% success rate. I signed up again for this month to keep the ball rolling. So far, there are 270 of us out of 557 who started Jan. 1 still in the running.
Leading off with these numbers might make it seem you’ve got to be competitive to make this site work. I’m not very competitive (unless we’re playing Scrabble or you cut ahead of me in line or on the road). But I do respond best to some form of accountability when setting major goals. This website in general, and the monthly challenges in particular, are helping me keep on track.
If you also need structure and outside encouragement, might be what you’re looking for.
Some days I only manage to write just before going to bed. This is technically acceptable—you just have to complete 750 words by midnight in your time zone to get credit for that day. My ultimate goal is to write every morning, before doing anything electronic, preferably before 8:30 a.m. Writing at night, or any old time I feel like it, is like winning the battle but losing the war.
Also, this hasn’t yet given me any substantial movement toward my larger project goals. There are lots of other things I want to write. Blog posts. Essays. Even two novels. Most days, it’s been a struggle to manage to fit in my commitment.
Some would say that I’d be better off spending the twenty minutes minimum each day on these “real” writing endeavors.
Yes, all I’m doing is journaling every day.
But, wow! I’m writing every day. That hasn’t happened—ever.
The results may not be something anyone else is going to want to read. No one in my writing group wants to be exposed to my stream-of-consciousness ramblings. I rarely even go back and re-read them.
As the intro text on the site explains, this is supposed to be the digital equivalent of Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” from The Artist’s Way. A way to prime the creative pump and get the early sputterings out so the rest of your words can flow smoother and stronger.
Although Cameron was firm in saying this is best done by writing three notebook pages by hand, even purists would admit that twenty minutes of any sort of getting the cobwebs out is good for you, no matter how it’s accomplished.
Better something than nothing.
If your writing habit is strong and consistent output isn’t your problem, you’ll probably scoff at using this site. And if you’re super suspect about security, you won’t want to put anything on it that is deeply personal. They do use https to secure the site, which is fine by me, but anything is possible in today’s hacking culture. Anyone leery of using cloud storage in general won’t feel comfortable here.
A feature I didn’t think I’d like: You have the option of sharing the stats on your writing, including or excluding the automatic analysis of word usage the site provides. I elected to have the site share my stats automatically as soon as I hit 750 words, though I removed the analysis feature. No one needs to know my most frequently used words or what mood or mindset I appeared to be writing in. Here’s what people can see if they click on my name when it appears in the continuously updated Today’s Writers section.
My next goal is to get to the 66 day mark because according to research, it takes that long to rewire your brain into a new habit (thank you Robin Sharma). At the rate I’m going, it may take many, many sets of 66 days before I start every day writing in the morning.
I said earlier that I started on Nov. 20. Actually, I first joined this site in April 2011 when it was fairly new. I wrote there once, and only made it to 416 words. In 2013 they started charging $5 per month join but grandfathered early adopters in as free users. I don’t know that I’d pony up $60 annually to use it, but I’ll probably make a donation at the end of the year if helps me reach my goals.
Not “if.” When.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Favorite Writing Advice: Adding Tension to Your Story

One simple idea can give your story much-needed tension.

One phrase — one sentence, really — can help most authors make their stories more tense, more dramatic, more gripping.
“If your characters ever meet you, they should punch you in the face.”
I don’t know who said it, but that may be the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, most authors don’t seem to follow it.

So what does it mean? How do you get your characters angry enough that were they real, they’d want to punch you silly for all the things you put them through?

Four Ways to Add Tension to Your Book
  1. Don’t take it easy on your characters. Follow the three D’s: Disappointment, Danger, and Dire Straits. In fact, if you can, have your character experience all three. No matter what the genre, your character can experience disappointment. Even in a hard-boiled war novel, a character can watch a comrade die, lose the battle, or fail to get promoted. Even in the softest piece of chicklit, a character can experience danger, whether a threat from a lover, the fear of a secret romance being discovered, or a vengeful neighbor/relative/friend. Not all danger has to be physical or deadly. It can simply be a threat to a way of life, security, finances, etc. In other words, dire straits. Whatever you choose, give your character obstacles to overcome.
  2. Don’t wrap up problems too quickly. Remember Indiana Jones? Every time it looked like a scene was about to end, something went wrong. Those scenes went on for ten minutes without ever feeling like it. Yet, authors often seem to be in a rush to wrap up their characters’ problems. Just remember, nice, neat chapter endings don’t push the story forward. It’s rare that an argument ends with a nice cup of coffee and a heartfelt apology, so why should it for your character? If your character is locked in a room (whether real or metaphorical), don’t have them suddenly discover a hidden key. Make them work to get through their problems, even if it takes several pages or chapters.
  3. Keep the problems coming. One problem should lead to another, should lead to another, should lead to another… or maybe three or four problems at once, because if you think juggling three balls at once is hard, try juggling them when they’re on fire. Problems can wax and wane, but they should keep coming, and in different spheres of the character’s life. Personal, professional, expected, unexpected — you name it, keep ’em coming. It doesn’t have to be a breakneck pace, but it has to be often enough to hold our attention — unless, of course, you’re writing a thriller — then keep it at a breakneck pace.
  4. Create problems big and small. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus faced the big problem — the trial — as well as even bigger problems, like an entire culture’s prejudices, a small-town’s biases, threats to his children, and smaller ones, like raising Scout and Jem as a widower. Heck, he even faced a rabid dog. Not all problems need to be huge. After all, life gives us big problems and small problems, often simultaneously, so mix it up. And while you have to build your problems to build tension, meaning your conclusion needs the biggest problem of all, don’t be afraid to drop in small difficulties, even annoyances, along the way. It will keep your readers engaged and rooting for your character(s) to persevere.
So there it is. Make your characters hate you. After all, if you knew someone was pulling the strings — playing God with your life — wouldn’t you be angry if they didn’t take it easy on you? For not making your life cotton candy and milkshakes? That might make for a good life, but it makes for bad fiction. In the end, I want my characters to metaphorically punch me in the face while screaming, “How could you do his to me? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you have children of your own?”

Which is part of the problem. A book, and by extension, its characters, is an author’s baby. Oh, it’s easy to heap misfortune on your villain(s), but it’s hard to hurt your heroes. You want your antagonist to get his comeuppance, but good authors come down hard on their protagonists, too. They try the very souls of the characters they love. It’s not personal; it’s just good literature.

So, ask yourself when writing your story, “Would this character want to punch me in the face after this?”

If not, find a way to make sure they do. And if they do, make sure they go for a knock-out blow.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

5 Steps to Making Your Minor Characters Exciting

Memorable minor characters
Keep your characters from blending into the background.

I’ve known plenty of authors who spend hours creating character sheets for their main characters, worry about what their shoe size is, favorite color, and the name of their childhood pet. They rewrite them to seem more alive, but forget that their minor characters, even those who appear for several pages, have personalities, too.

Remember, your story may have minor characters, but no one believes they are a minor character in their own life. Everyone has a personality.

In other words, even a wallflower doesn’t have to be as bland as wallpaper paste.
So how do you make sure they leap off the page? Here are five ways to give your minor characters some pizazz.

1. Create a dominant personality trait. You only need one. Is this person obnoxious? Patient? Overly nice? Angry? Don’t use this trait in every sentence, or use shades of it, but use it often enough so that it stands out. If you’re character is a clich├ęd angry cabbie, not every line has to be full of rage. Use a variety of expressions from sarcasm to swearing to hand gestures to get this trait across. Even humor could work, or a sense of satisfaction that he got his opinion out. Tie it all in to the dominant trait, but don’t make it overbearing.
2. If the dominant trait is positive, create a negative trait, too. The opposite of this is also true. If you have an extremely patient waitress, perhaps she gets frustrated as a character makes special requests or tries to order off the menu or gets drunk, etc. Of course, being a nice waitress, she keeps her temper in check, but the frustration at the other character’s action is evident.
3. Create a style of talking all their own. This doesn’t mean revert to some strained vernacular. It’s easy to stick in a foreign accent, even if that means a Texas drawl in a New York bar or a Brooklyn accent on an Iowa farm, but that always raises the question, “Why is this character there?” No, keep your characters believable. A style of talking can be a favorite word or phrase they like, a sense of humor, inappropriate words, the use of too many questions, overly eloquent phrasing, or short, clipped sentences that are little more than grunts that make it seem like Hemingway is typing away in your character’s brain.
4. Give them something memorable to wear. This doesn’t mean make them outlandish, but it does mean something that stands out, like a particular hat, or a pair of glasses. You’d be surprised how far a uniform can go. It’s easy to remember somebody in playful scrubs, a postal worker shirt, or police uniform. Even in a story full of uniformed people, like a crime or military drama, differences exist, from rank to tattoos to the way clothing fits. Exploit your minor character’s fashion sense.
5. Have them act and react. One of the biggest mistakes I see is characters that don’t react to what’s going on around them. They’re statues. They take a lunch order, but don’t interact with customers. They witness an accident, but don’t want to get involved. It’s not believable, and makes it seem like you just threw someone in there to move the scene along. Maybe you did, but it can’t feel like that to your readers, or you’ll start to lose them.

None of this means you should overdo it. Don’t let minor characters steal a scene or overshadow your main characters. Keep them in their places, but make them memorable. They may be people you made up, but your minor characters are people, too, and they should act like it.

(For a great example of how to make minor characters exciting, read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Even characters who appear for little more than a paragraph stand out. If you have examples of any other books with great minor characters, please list them below. Thanks!)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New Member Profile--Bri Lebrecht

The Glens Falls Writers Group caught my attention a couple months ago when I was looking for a local critique group. I had just finished my second Camp NaNoWriMo in April, in which I was reorganizing and revising a young adult (YA) WIP I've spent the better part of four years playing with. I completed the first draft of Revealed, a dual-narrative about a secret society of people with special abilities, roughly two years ago. Between homeschooling my two young children, running my hobby craft businesses (Baroness Caps and Fiction Stitches), caring for our flock of chickens and new goats, leading the Glens Falls chapter of Holistic Moms Network, and reading to keep up as the resident reader for Across the Board blog, my writing often takes the back burner, even when my characters are echoing in my head. Hence the four years part. ;) 

Before finding the group, I had tried my luck with online critiquing, which I found lacked the personal connection and experience I was looking for. I didn't want sugar coating or a pat on the back for effort. I wanted to know how to make my story better, how to grow as a writer, and what I could learn from someone else's experience. Finding this group of diverse writers has been something of a blessing for all that.

I remember the first meeting I attended. Simply put, I was in awe. The way the group interacted with one another, how honest their feedback was, and the questions the writers asked while being critiqued... I knew I had found a new home that would help me with what I wanted to achieve. After the meeting, I mentioned to Kay and Zackary how much I loved this blunt honesty and Zackary said that they were honest so we would know they meant it when they said it was good. And that's exactly what I was looking for when I began my search for a critique group. 

For every new meeting I attend, my excitement and passion for writing is renewed, and my determination to grow as a writer is replenished.  With their valuable feedback, I'm hoping the next draft of Revealed will be finished within the next few months. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Member Profile--Kat MacKenzie

I recently joined the group, and it's a really good mix of different writing styles and opinions.  Although while I lived in NYC I took a lot of writing workshops, I hadn't written lately. Something just keeps holding me back, which was weird, because it used to be as necessary for me as breathing. For me, joining this workshop was an attempt to tap back into that well that used to keep me writing all the time. I was the chick who wrote late into the night, who went to poetry readings, and who still reads so much that my boyfriend's nickname for me is Bookworm.

My first poem for the workshop was "Drawing Down the Moon," about a trip I made to Peru to visit a friend. It was the first time in four years that I was able to write about that friend. She broke my heart. I honestly think that she is the living embodiment of evil. But I didn't always feel that way. 

I wanted to write about what I loved about her. I wanted to write about how she hated her own name because the word meant bitter. I wanted to write about the moments where we believed we'd be friends forever and the journey that took us to where we are today. So I decided to write a chapbook--40 pages of prose poems--about that journey. I'm on page three now. The idea is to write the 40 poems through time, edit it, then workshop it to get feedback. 

I want it to show the way we love, and the risks we take by loving. 

I plan on submitting it to different contests for chapbooks that they list in Poets & Writers Magazine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Writing to Persuade

The following blog entry has info that would be helpful to the GFWG, both as writers and as those critiquing others' writing. Below are my excerpts but definitely check out the original post.

Writing to Persuade: Convince People With Your Pen
by Matthew Johnson

The main objective of persuasion is to convince – you may be trying to convince someone to do something, to think something, or both…. Persuasive Writing …. gets into the head of the author, and he or she explains their opinion about something. Not only is an opinion stated, they are also attempting to either change the reader’s mind about the subject, or to reinforce an already held opinion.

Getting Others On Your Side
Writers whose job it is to persuade must do more than just say “I’m right,” or “Buy this,” they have to appeal to the readers in different ways. Changing someone’s mind about something requires more than just being the loudest or the most abrasive – there needs to be some thought put into it...
Appeal to Logic Logic makes use of facts and figures to appeal to someone’s sense of reason. The use of logic in persuasion is meant to keep out any emotion and anger when appealing to a reader, not just on the writer’s side, but they also want to prevent the reader from getting too worked up, as well. Not only does it prevent negativity from creeping into the discussion, it also lends an air of credibility when a writer can back up their claims with hard facts. Logic is useful when used in dealing with more controversial matters…
Appeal to Emotions More broad and easier to understand than an appeal to logic, the use of emotion in persuasion is very effective. Great care must be taken when using this approach, however, as credibility may easily be lost if the emotional appeal is poorly executed. If an emotional appeal lacks substance, the reader may feel manipulated and alienated, but when done well, especially when combined with logical appeals, it can be quite effective.
Appeal to Ethics Using ethos in persuasive writing requires a credible writer (and sources) for it to be effective. Not only must what they say be true and able to be proven, but the reader must see the writer in the best possible light for the message to take hold. An example of an appeal to ethics would be to convince a family member to stop smoking because of the effects of secondhand smoke on the rest of the family and the pets.

Writing Techniques
…. Good reasoning, ethics, or a well thought out emotional appeal aren’t enough – they must be presented in a manner that ensures that the message takes hold in the reader, and the following techniques are just some of the tricks persuasive writers rely on.
Repetition Not only must a point be made several times in order to be persuasive, but it must be made in different ways. The repetition makes it stick in their head, and the different approaches keep the subject matter from getting stale to the reader.
Agitate and Solve This technique is meant to create empathy in the reader. The writer first works up the reader, mentioning a problem that will get a reaction, then tells the reader that they understand and are able to solve it.
Storytelling Ideally, all other persuasion techniques culminate in this one. If you can deftly blend other techniques while simultaneously telling a compelling story, you’ll be the most persuasive person on the block.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Work in Progress Update--Syrl Kazlo

My current project is a “cozy” mystery novel. The working title is Kibbles and Death, A Samantha Davies Mystery. Sam is a 50ish, divorced freelance writer, who, with her dachshund, Porkchop, stumbles on the body of the not-so-lovable animal shelter owner, Calvin Cobbs. When Frank Gilbert, boyfriend of her nosy neighbor Gladys O’Malley, is accused of the murder, Sam gets involved in proving who done it. 

In this genre, all the sex and violence occur off screen or should I saw are only alluded to. Its audience is mainly women and they often contain, what I call, a lot of fluff. Sam has a love of designer purses and '50s era music.

This work is a complete departure from the children’s novels I usually write. It has been a challenge as children’s literature follows a completely different set of writing rules. But as  I  read more and more “cozy" mysteries I found myself drawn into the fun and humor so often found in them. Fleshing out my writing and adding a sense of “place” has been a challenge.

The critiques from this group are invaluable to my writing. They are my “nuggets of gold.” They help me strengthen my writing and push me to write a better piece. They keep me on my literary toes for any inconsistencies  I may have written and improve the flow of my story.  The GFWG members really care about what we write and want us to pen the best work we can.