Category Archives: Struggling Writers

Surviving Bad Reviews

In October 2014, I published my first two books, YA fantasy: The Seeker Must Awaken and Book of Shadows. These two novels are the first two books in The Lux Seekers series. I’ve been writing for years, and trying to perfect my craft, daily. It is a struggle and there is always something new to learn. I revised and revised and revised some more. When I thought the books were ready, I decided to self-publish.

I had put so much time and effort into the books, I became attached to the novels and thought of them as my “babies,” an extension of myself. So, when I got two negative reviews, I took it very personal. It felt like an attack. I took it very hard.

I reached out to one of my Goodreads groups with the post: “Bad Reviews and the Star Rating System.” I’m glad that I reached out. I’ve received so many helpful replies to that post. To this date, there are 150+ replies and new comments are coming in daily.

At first, I wanted to give up and quit writing. Then, I was reminded that writers keep writing, no matter what. I learned that I can’t take it personally. I must look for something useful and constructive in the review. There is always room for improvement. I must take the review at face value. I must take the comments that are valuable, and use them constructively to improve my work.

After I calmed down from my initial reaction to the reviews, I decided to email both reviewers. I asked if they would like to be Beta Readers on my next project, a YA sci-fi dystopian, due in the Spring of 2015. One of them has agreed to be my Beta Reader. This reviewer is also a writer and I have agreed to be her Beta Reader on her project as well. I believe this will be mutually beneficial to the both of us. I am very grateful for this reviewer’s honesty.

What I’ve learned:

  1. Writers keep writing, no matter what.
  2. Don’t take it personally.
  3. Keep practicing your craft.
  4. Look for constructive elements in the review.
  5. Never give up.

These have been hard lessons to learn, but this is just the beginning of my writing career. Bad reviews happen. What we do with them, makes all the difference in the world. I hope this article may be of help to any writer going through the pain of a bad review. Taken in a constructive manner, it can be a learning, growing experience.

Willow A Renner, YA Author
http://www.willowarenner.com/
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Writer’s Block

writers-block_Joanne

Types of Writer’s Block

Fear of the Blank Page

Lack of Ideas

Too Many Ideas

Paralyzed By the Inner Critic

Keep Going Back to the Beginning

 

Fear of the Blank Page

That endless sea of white is staring you down. Taunting you. Intimidating you. What to do? Relax. The more you fear writing, the worse it is going to get. Losen up. This isn’t rocket science. Start Free Writing. Write what’s on your mind, write about what’s bothering you. Write about what makes you angry. Write about what makes you sad or happy. Don’t worry about what you think you have to write, just get something down on the page. These writing exercises help loosen you up and release stress. You’ll soon be on topic again.

 

Lack of Ideas

What if you feel you have nothing to write about? Look back to exercise one. What makes you angry, happy or sad? Write about it. Look for articles in the news or social media. Take a situation and play the “What If?” game. Choose a news article. Ask how can this event be made more exciting? What genre would you set it in? What characters would best tell the story? Can you add an sense of urgency? Example: ticking clock. Write down a list of intriguing articles or ideas for future articles, scenes or a book. Keep these ideas on file for future reference.

 

Too Many Ideas

With too many ideas, you can have sensory overload and feel overwhelmed. What to choose? How to choose? Well, you could throw darts at a board or flip a coin. But you could pick your top three ideas and evaluate the merits of three only so you are not awash in a sea of choices. Which one has the most potential for an article, blog post or a novel? Do a light outline for each idea to determine the strongest idea. Which idea has the best potential to be fleshed out? Which one is the strongest contender? Pick the strongest of the three and develop the idea further. That is not to say that your other ideas are no good. This exercise is just to narrow your focus to one idea at a time. You can only write one idea at a time, so focus.

 

Paralyzed By the Inner Critic

Perhaps you are staring at a blank page wondering if you have anything good to say? Is it going to be boring? A waste of time? You will never know until you get it down on the page. Writing is the creative stage. The idea and generative stage. Now is not the time to go into editing mode. You can’t edit a blank page. Do whatever is necessary to shut the critic up. Put your ideas on the page, even if you think it’s lame. Decide later. Create now. So, you have your ideas down on the page. Still don’t like them? Go back to your outline. Have you veered off topic? Gone off on a tangent? Fix it with your outline. Get back on track. This is now the revision stage where you REVISION your project. Look at it from different angles. As in a novel, is this story told by the character that has the most to lose or that will be the most changed at story’s end?

 

Keep Going Back to the Beginning

You’ve gotten at least halfway with your article, post or novel, but now you’ve hit a brick wall. What happens next? Don’t go back to the beginning and keep polishing. Get your whole draft down on the page first. Write now. Polish later. If you’re at a loss, go back to your outline. Outlines aren’t written in stone. They are meant to be flexible, a guidepost. If you come up with a new plot twist, great! Add it to the outline and rework from there. Outlines are a guide, a road map to get you to a destination. You wouldn’t go on a trip without an itinerary or a plan would you?

 

 

There are many forms of writer’s block. But basically it boils down to fear. Fear of failure. Am I good enough? Has it been done before? Don’t let fear paralyse you. Write to the best of your ability. Strive to learn more about your craft everyday. Don’t worry about being the greatest or the best. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Just be the best writer you can be, for you. Talke satisfaction and pleasure in your writing.

 

Blog It: Setting Realistic Writing Goals

FPen

Time

You only have so many hours in a day. If you have a day job, your time is even more restricted.  Your job is non-negotiable. Your sleep time is non-negotiable. That leaves your leisure time.

How do you spend it?

TV

Internet

Gaming

Priorities

Something in your leisure time has to go to make room for your writing.  What is more important to you, the internet, or your writing time? If it is your writing, you will make time for it.

Schedule

Carve out block of writing time throughout the day. Small writing block are easier to manage than one large block of time.

When to Post

Do you want to post on Monday or Friday? Pick a day that works for you. If you don’t work over the weekend, then pick Friday. If the weekend is prime writing time for you, then pick Monday.

Blog Topics

Not sure what to blog about? Do a Google search of blog topics. Keep a list of blog topics on file so you will always have ideas at hand.

15 Popular Blog Topics

1. The inspiration for your current WIP.

2. An author who inspires you.

3. The moment you decided to be a writer.

4. How to deal with stress.

5. When is the best/worst time to write?

6. Review a book that you have read.

7. Fiction: Share your character’s back-story.

8. What do you struggle with as a writer?

9. Write a movie review.

10. Your favorite book growing up.

11. The most valuable writing tips that you have gathered.

12. Who is your writing hero?

13. Fiction: What struggles does your character face?

14. What is your writing ritual?

15. A list of blogger that you follow.

Set a Blogging schedule

You’ve set your priorities

You have a list of blog topics

You’ve carved out writing time

Set your post day and stick to it. Be consistent, your followers will expect it. You can type your blog posts ahead of time, and save them as a drafts. Then, you can publish as needed. You can avoid writers block with your pre-made list of topics. You will never be at a loss for words.

Write

You’ve done all the pre-planning, now write! Be consistent with your schedule. Write daily to get in the habit. Actual writing is the only way to get better at writing. Now go, write, and may the words fly from your fingertips.

Dreaming Up Writing Zen: Planning Your Writer’s Work Space

What does your writing desk look like?

Is it neat and organized, with everything in its place?

Or is it a hot mess of chaos, with no discernible filing system known to man?

Productivity

You will be at your most productive with a neat desk. Every time, you have to search for files, papers or that bit of research, it is eating into your writing time.

Dedicated Writing Room

You will get the most out of your writing time if your desk is in a room designated as your work space. This room should have a door to close, away from noise and distractions. When the door is closed, no one should disturb your writing time.

If you have a spare room you can claim, great! If not, claim the wall of a room as your writing space.

Get serious about your craft. If you want your family to take your writing seriously, treat it as a profession, not a hobby.

Tools of the Trade

You need a desk. No, the corner of the dining room table will not do. Remember, this is your profession, not your hobby.

A good table or floor lamp, that simulates natural daylight, to prevent eyestrain.

Laptop, printer, software, etc.

If you write everything long-hand, first, as I do, you will need:

Paper, pens, pencils, highlighters, post-its, post-it flags, index cards, binders/notebooks, etc.

Basically, Staples will love you.

On your writing wall:

Bookshelves: for your writing craft books, reference book, dictionary, binders, etc.

White Board: To Story Board and plot scenes.

Cork Board: to outline and to plot scenes on index cards.

Filing Cabinet: Keep track of your submissions to editors, agents, contests, etc. Keep important names and websites on file. Yes, you can do all of this on a computer. But when my laptop crashed, I was glad I had hard copy records.

Flash drive: back up your files daily!

Final Thoughts

In this room you will dream * write * create. This is your creative sanctuary. Guard it well.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Anything I forgot? Something else you would add? Please leave your comments below.

Time Management: Don’t Let Time Make You Her Bitch

clock

We all need more time.
We can’t fit every activity we want into our day.
But how do we get more time?

We need more hours in a day to write. But Willow, you say, Albert Einstein had the same 24 hours in his day and look what he accomplished. To that I say BS! He was using wormhole tech. Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Seriously, he set his priorities. He had a goal. Let’s say it was writing because I’m not getting into physics here. He decided he wanted to get published in one years time. He did the research of everything he needed to accomplish in one year to reach his goal. He broke that down into 12 month blocks/goals. Then weekly blocks. Then further still into daily goals. By breaking a large goal down into smaller more manageable blocks, the goal does not seem impossible.

Now, I picked one years time as an example. Your timeline may be different, put you must set a date. To say that “one day” I will be published, is not enough. Because, “one day” never gets here. It is always in the future and you can never get any closer to it.

So, what is the first step to reaching a goal?

 

 
Priorities
Figuring out priorities is key to fitting in time to write. But you must schedule time for other activities or run the risk of writer burnout. Here is the schedule I came up with for me. Now, this is what works for me. You will come up with activities to fit your own life. But I had to schedule the whole day, even mundane activities or they would be forgotten and not get done. Also, I get up at 5am so that is when my day starts. Your’s will, of course, start at a different time.
Write Your Schedule
If you work a 9 to 5, your schedule will be much different and you must get creative. Keep a notebook with you at all times to jot down notes or scenes as they come to you. Get up an hour early to write before work, on your lunch hour and after work. Take full advantage of your weekends to get more time in.

Since your day will look different than mine, you must write down your complete schedule first. NOT the schedule you wish you had, but the schedule you actually have!

Write down each item as it occurs in your day. Record the time and how much time you devoted to that activity.

At the end of the day, tally the numbers. 

What activity is taking up most of your day?
Are you happy with the way your schedule looks?
Are you spending enough time writing?

No?

First, decide you many hours you can PRODUCTIVELY work in a day. 3 to 6 Hours a day is a good number to shoot for. No more than 6. You don’t want your mind to associate writing with work or punching in a time clock. Plus, you don’t want to suffer burnout.

Try to break up that writing time to small blocks throughout the day or night depending on your schedule. No writing in huge long stretches.

 
 
Avoid burnout.
Schedule in regular activities: eating, hygiene, fun, internet. It may seem silly, but if you don’t schedule it, it might not get done.

Now write up this ideal schedule and tally all the numbers.

If you’re like my first attempt: I had too many activities/hours and not enough day! I had to prioritize. I looked at my first/actual schedule to see where all my hours were going:

I spent a staggering 6 HOURS ON THE INTERNET!!!

How had this happened?
What was I thinking?
Where were my priorities?

 
 
I wasn’t spending enough time writing and too much time on the internet. So, I cut my internet time in half and took those three hours and added them to my writing time.

See where your time is going.

Could be Internet, Gaming, TV, Social sites, etc. Whatever it is, you must decide:
 
Is this activity more important to me than writing?
 

Schedule time for work and play
If you don’t schedule it, it will not get done
No more than 8 hours of writing in a day
Break up your 8 hours into smaller writing blocks
throughout the day
If you work a 9 to 5, be reasonable about your time
My Ideal Schedule

Write down your ideal schedule and work toward it everyday. Don’t expect to nail it on the first day or week. Keep working everyday and you will reach your goal.

And remember the wisdom of this writer advice:

All work, and no play, makes Jack…
Lose his mind and go after family with an ax!
 
Thank you to Steven King for that writing wisdom.

So, until next time…
Good luck, stay safe and may the words fly from your fingertips!

– See more at: http://willowarenner.com/

Finding Your Voice in YA: Tapping a Painful Past

past

 

 

Okay, the books I love to read are Young Adult. I love the passionate intensity in which they live their lives. The stories I want to write are best told in a YA voice.

 

My Problem?

I am way past the age of 16! I need to tap into that passion, excitement and urgency of my teen years to write with an authentic teen voice.

My Question?

Must I relive my painful teen years in order to write authentically? Is there any other way to accomplish this? Truthfully, I am in my 40′s and I still have nightmares about being a teen. I definitely do not want to go back there! But I suppose I will have to relive the past in order to have an authentic YA voice.

 

The Critique…

I recently received a brutally honest critique that was awesome! I knew that there was something wrong/lacking in my YA manuscript, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. But she saw it immediately. I wasn’t Writing in a teen voice. I am an adult trying to mimic a teen voice.

Wow. She opened my eyes to the problem in my manuscript. I looked at my manuscript with a critical eye and realized that I had written it with an emotional distance. It lacked intimacy and accessibility between me and the reader. What a revelation!

 

My Task…

I now must redo my entire manuscript. I don’t mean scrap it, just a major rework. My action story-line is sound and is my framework. I now need to layer in the emotional story-line to add depth. I will re-outline the manuscript. This time, I will define the mood and emotion I want each scene to convey.

 

My Process…

Now, I have some ideas how to accomplish this…

Relive my painful past. That would definitely put me in the moment. Using the emotional story-line outline, I can access an appropriate memory that fits the mood of the scene.

 

Using Music…

Music is such a strong way to convey emotion. My teen daughter gave me a list of groups she likes. I now listen to them as well. I love the music, especially the dark angry music. But that’s another story.

So, I made a playlist of 15 songs that I feel define the emotion of the story. What I will do now, in the rewrites, is pick a song that defines the emotion I want in each scene. I will listen to the music and be in the moment as I revise the scene.

What I Need…

I would love to know how you, as a writer of YA fiction, writes with an authentic teen voice. I would love to hear your suggestions and comments. It fascinates me to hear about another writer’s process. Your comments/suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Wrestling With Words: Beating Writers Block

Writers Block
Do You Have Problems With Writers Block?
Do You Struggle With Your Words?
Are You Having Trouble Keeping the
Forward Momentum in Your Writing?
 
RELAXThe first thing you need to do is relax. Worrying or trying to force the words to come will only cause stress and block the creative flow.

REMEMBER

There is no perfect first draft. Do not cause yourself stress by worrying over each word choice. Just get it down on paper. Revising/editing is a necessary step in the writing process.

HELP

If you need answers quickly and are on a deadline, try the suggestion below.

MIND MAPPING

This is just a basic overview of Mind Mapping. It can be done free-hand or as part of a software program such as Scrivener, SimpleMind or eDraw.

Write down your keyword, problem or question in the center of a sheet of paper and circle it. Now, write words that you feel go with your question (in clusters around the center question). This is a free association exercise and there is no right or wrong answer.

Circle these words and draw lines linking them to the center question. As a pattern begins to form, you can follow the word-ideas or answers/solutions to your question.

With this exercise, you might surprise yourself with the answers that result.

DISTRACTION

Another option is to distract your self. Instead of obsessing on the problem and trying to force the issue, do something not related to your problem. When your mind is free to wonder and you are relaxed, the answers often come to you.

BUSYWORK

Doing something monotonous or boring frees your mind to think of other things.

Housework: Cleaning, laundry, washing dishes, vacuuming, etc.Yardwork: Mowing the lawn, gardening, trimming shrubs, trimming trees, etc.

MUSIC

Play something instrumental or classical. Do not use music with lyrics as the words will distract you.

DAYDREAM

Just let your mind wonder. Do not think of your problem. Just see where your mind takes you.

PLAY

Doing something fun helps calm the mind.

Desk Toys
Puzzles
Clay
Fingerpaints

SHOWER/BATHThe hot water is relaxing, soothing and allows your mind to drift.

NAP

When all else fails… sleep on it. A nap is calming and peaceful. You will come back to the problem refreshed and alert.

ZEN

Try something different. It might feel strange at first, but give it a try. You might find something enjoyable and useful to add to your creativity tool kit.

MEDITATION

It can be as simple as sitting quietly for five minutes with your eyes closed. Let your mind wonder and do not think about your problem.

GONG

The gong will train your brain to associate the sound with writing. Sound the gong at the beginning and end of each writing session.

TIBETAN SINGING BOWL

A beautiful and soothing sound whether playing the bowl or listening to a recording. Use it in the same manner as the gong.

POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS

Words and thoughts are powerful. Negative self-talk can damage self-esteem, cause stress, ruin productivity and even make you sick.

Positive self-talk can provide motivation and reinforce goals.

THE WRITER’S NOTEBOOKKeep a notebook and pen on your bedside table. Inspiration can strike at any hour.

When all else fails…

When you are stuck with a scene or don’t know how to move forward: write it down in your notebook. Spend time thinking about the question/problem before bed.

As you drift off to sleep, your subconscious mind will continue to work on the problem while you sleep. It is very common to wake up, in the morning, with the solution.

I hope you find these tips useful. Add the ones that work for you to your writing tool kit and you’ll never be at a loss for words.