Archive for the ‘how-to’ Category

Photo by Hamed Saber

To put it bluntly: if you’re known, it’s easier to promote and sell your work. It’s a fact that JK Rowling sells more books than Tess Gerritsen, even though in my humble opinion JKR has nothing on Tess. But Ms Rowling gets a lot more publicity and that helps her secure that “Richest Writer in the Universe” spot. Any wanna-be writer who takes their writing seriously should make sure they get as much publicity and interact with as many people as possible. All of them could be potential readers of your books.

The question is how to achieve as much visibility as possible, while still maintaining your regular job, proper contact with your family and still writing your novels. Well I would say good time management skills, ability to prioritize and coffee, but I don’t want to sound like one of those people always giving lectures on business management.

Instead I want to give you ideas of where to start and how in small steps get people to like you and care about your work.

Web site

I feel like stating the obvious. Every writer who is serious about their work should have their own web site.

It’s a place where people can learn some basic information about you (often listed in “About” or “Bio” page) like when did you start writing, why do you like it so much and so on. It helps you establish that, in fact and contrary to a popular belief, you are a human being with a passion.

And when you finally publish your work, your web site is where your readers can easily find all your works no matter how many different publishers you have. I know writers who publish their books with four different publishers and if reader were to follow them to a publisher, they would miss out on all the books published with someone else.


Nothing helps you to connect like a blog. Regular posts about your life, funny anecdotes, complaints about the recent problems you have with your characters… Blogging can be about everything. Not only you keep writing (and that as we know helps to keep the writer’s block away) but blogging is also a great way of meeting new people and finding friends.

It’s good to blog for the sole purpose of blogging, though. Because if you blog with a secret agenda of selling your books, or ideas or anything, it will soon because an exhausting errand or worse, your readers will realize that your passion is somewhat fake.

Remember it’s okay to create a post “OMG! I got published LOOK!” and put up a link in the sidebar. However mentioning at the end of every post “see this book I wrote buy and review PLZ!” is simply annoying. Not to mention bordering on Spam. That won’t help you start friendly relationships with people who later on could support you and help you solve your plot problems.


Personally, I find forums overwhelming and slightly chaotic. But that’s because I prefer cozy, little groups of people who know each other well. But I’m a minimalist and prefer to have few small circles of friends than one huge group of people. However even with my personal preferences, I can’t deny, that forums are simply irreplaceable when it comes to establishing visibility for a writer. I experienced the magic when before NaNoWriMo 2007 I posted on their forums a link to my Random Prompt Generator.

If you like the format forums offer before posting, you should pay extra attention to both your profile and your signature. You should use both with caution. Don’t overdo it; there is such thing as “too much”. You’d be surprised how far you’ll get by simply placing a link to your website/blog/newest book. If people like what you write in your posts to the forums, they will follow the link and you don’t need a huge banner there.

Network sites

You know, MySpace, Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Digg. Places where you can friend people, exchange comments and basically have fun. Though I wouldn’t recommend signing up with all of them. That would make you lose your mind. But one or two (preferably ones you are already using) will help to get your name out there.


Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want to get some exposure online to promote your future work. It can’t take over your life, nor should it take you away from your writing. Self-promotion is something you can do at any given time. So you should make sure you have your priorities straight. Your writing comes first.

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Photo by Hamed Saber

You decided to write this nice little story. You had enough information, characters suitable for a story under 10000 words and a plot that was supposed to be just enough for your needs. And then you started to write it. And it was like suddenly you were writing an epic.

I’m terrible at estimating how big a story might get. I don’t pay much attention to the word count, unless it’s my goal. However, even I can notice the difference between a ficlet and a novella.

Identify the problem

Why is your story getting bigger? Is it because your plot turned out to be a bit bigger than you first anticipated? Did your characters suddenly gain a significant background that contributes to the story? Are there small bits of information your reader might enjoy knowing but nothing crucial to the plot?

I’ll risk sounding redundant, but indentifying the problem might lead to solutions.

Try to name everything that may be influencing the lenght of the story. If it’s the fact that you’re getting into too many details, try to think how much detail your story really needs. Maybe you’re simply overdoing it. I know how difficult it is to judge your own work, but if the story is to be posted online, then all kinds of funny random trivia can be posted separately. And that might actually save your story.

Are the characters taking over? Revealing more and more about themselves? And it seems as if all of it is very important to the story; in terms of explaining why characters react to the events the way they do.

Well if that’s the case you need to think whether or not some mystery about characters’ motives won’t actually help the story. If you want to write a ficlet or a short story, it’s sometimes good to leave the reader not understanding the actions your characters took. It will keep the readers intrigued and interested.

Plot is getting bigger? And you really want to write something short. Maybe it’s because you don’t have time or really want to publish something. The solution to that might be simply writing a series of short stories instead of one long one. And if done right it might even be more satisfying to both you and your readers.

To Cut or Not to Cut.

The real question is. Do you really want to keep writing a short story even though you have a possible novel on your hands? Afterall, most writers want to write a great novel etc.

However there are valid reasons to fight the growth of your story. If you have short attention span and know that in a week the story will be forgotten. If you’re writing for a contest or a challenge and you have to close your story within a given wordcount. If you know that while you have the beginning and the end of the story, the middle will drag itself and lull the reader to sleep.

Anything above is true for you? Then I really suggest you work on getting the story shorter. But so it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time, I’d also cupy and paste the pieces you’re cutting out to a separate file. You never know, they might turn out to be a useful ideas for your future work. Any possible plot bunnies should be stored somewhere and cared for. You never know what masterpiece they might result in.

But if the only reason for making your story shorter is your fear that it won’t be any good, then I suggest you suck it up and keep writing the epic. be brave and finish the first draft. Maybe it won’t be all that bad. Hell, it might even be brilliant. And look at it this way: if it really is as bad as you anticipated. Nothing stops you from transforming this not-so-good novel into a better short story. Simply don’t give up before you try. And have faith in yourself.

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Photo by D’Arcy Norman

For whatever reason, every writer takes a break sometimes. But I know from my own experience and from my friends’ testimonies, that the longer the breake, the harder it is to start writing again. Here’s something that might help you get back on the writing horse.

On-line Social Life

I do realize that the Internet is usually the reason why you’re not writing. But sometimes it also can help you to start writing again. If you take away the Youtube, reading articles and any passive behaviour, all that is left is essentially writing.

You write comments to people’s posts. You write blog posts. You write twitter entries. You spend hours on Facebook. But the fact remains. While procrastinating, you are writing hundreds of words. The key is to put that into good use.

Try to make your comments longer than one sentence.

If your comments look more like “Oh shiny!” or “Agreed!” you should try and work on making them longer, including an actual thoughtful opinion in them. Not only this will make your social interactions more effective (who cares about that?) but you will make a habit of putting your thoughts on paper… err… screen/keyboard.

Get on the roll.

It might happen that you have an unusually big amount of time on your hands. And instead of doing something productive you choose to go online. Well good for you! Choose that time to get ‘on a roll’. Answer comments, comment yourself, blog, twitter… Do everything involving writing. Those activities might not be extremely creative (in most cases, there are of course exeptions). But they set a good background for writing a paragraph or two and finally moving the plot a bit further.

I often open all my online social activities in new tabs and things I should write in a new window. And after two hours of typing my thoughts in responce to someone’s post or article. I suddenly find a strenght and determination to write a new article, a new paragraph. True, it’s not always effective. But nonetheless it works for some people.

Whiny friend

I bet some of you have a friend who reads your work. Maybe they even express their opinions and/or are really excited about your stories. If you do have a friend like that, keep them. If you don’t… Try to find one. A big fan of your writing will be very enthusiastic about reading the next chapter/installment/paragraph/part (however you post your stories) and will make a point of telling you that any time. If said fan is also your good friend you will feel uncomfortable just ignoring their inquiries.

No matter how annoying the constant whining is, when they are not irritating, your friends really are helpful and supportive. And in the end, it’s better to write that damn paragraph to shut them up instead of yelling at them and losing possibly the most useful people in your life.


Too much guilt in your life in unhealthy. True. However. If you work yourself up. Feeling guilty about not writing might actually be very useful. There are many factors that can lead to guilt. Your own actions, or lack of therof. Reactions of others. But the most important is your own point of view.

If you decide writing is something you should be doing and it’s not just your hobby, you will feel guilty about not meeting a deadline or failing to complete a story.

My friend Nix is a great writer in the Fandom. But for quite some time she had a dificulty of meeting deadlines she set up for herself. With a mixture of progress reports for her readers and guilt, she managed to get into the right state of mind. And from what I can tell, she’s been meeting her deadlines for few months now.

Threats a.k.a. Outside factors

You may believe it or not, but fear of concequences is a great motivator. This is why deadlines set by an outside factor (publisher, or a challenger) work so much better than the ones you set for yorself. That’s why writing for someone/something if a very good way to keep moving forward.

Of course I’m not talking serious concequesnces like financial fees or anything. Those would drive any writer into a stress driven paranoia that “they are out to get us”. However any contest or bigger community event such as NaNoWriMo or any kind of flashfic community can be a boost for your writing.

If you’re more serious about your writing and need something bigger, than a deadline set by a publisher or an agent might be a perfect choice for you. Though be careful in this case. Because official deadlines does influence your professional life.

However you look at this, everything mentioned in this post can be useful to force yourself back to writing. However you need to keep in mind that not only it all depends on your inner strenght and the way you function; but it’s quite possible that what works for others might not work for you.

All you really need is taking a deep breath and deciding that you want to write something. Sooner or later you will.

Good luck.

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spring has sprung by awfulsara

1. Stumble Upon. You just click a button and you’re taken to another website. The best thing is that you actually can limit Stumbling to topics you’re interested in. Great for research but it’s a terribly addictive tool. Use only when you have a lot of time.

2. Random Generator. Anything that has ‘random’ in the name, threatens to be addictive. And if you’re just one click away from any number of possible scenarios for your work… It’s an even bigger threat. For more sophisticated time-wasters there are also Seventh Sanctum Generators. Use with causion.

3. Bejeweled 2. Don’t question the power of this wonder. It’s the most addictive, mindless game there is (unless you’re one of those Zuma freaks) and nothing wates time like their ‘endless’ option. But it’s refreshing and allows your brain to relax. So it helps in the end. When you force yourself to hit ‘exit’.

4. Fanfics. Think John Sheppard and Rodney McKay from the sci-fi show “Stargate: Atlantis”. Now think the movie “The Lakehouse”. Apparently there is a fic. A remake of “Lakehouse” with Sheppard and McKay as Keanu and Sandra. It’s an absolute waste of time, those fics. They might cause a head trauma (a permanent one even) and they are generally unhealthy.
But they definitely teach you how to look at things from a whole new perspective.

5. Watch grass grow. Or do something equally unproductive. When you don’t do anything, your mind takes a break. It goes places you’d be surprised to visit when functioning normally. Personally, I managed to create two separate universes just by staring into the distance.

6. Donate rice to charity. Oh yeah. You can also expand your vocabulary, but really, who would care about that. You donate to charity! Now!

7. Archives. Of blogs you read frequently. Go back to their beginning. Watch how they evolve. See the improvement. And well… Enjoy them. Especially if they are popular blogs, the beginnings can be especially amusing.

8. Comment. To people’s posts. Master the idea of saying a lot of things in just a few words. Or if you think people are idiots, comment to this post. I, unlike people, have cookies.

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RJ hdr by longristra

As a writer you need to work on your skills all the time. But for your own good, you should try different ways of learning new things. Only if to ensure that your brain doesn’t get bored, because that’s one of the reasons people get Writer’s Block.

So here I provide you with tools to sharpen your ‘pen’.


No matter how you look at it, blogging is writing.
While you create your blog entry, you need to go through almost the same process as you do while writing a story.
There’s an idea, execution of said idea and almost immediate feedback.

It doesn’t matter if you write an online journal about your daily life. Or if you post funny comments along the lines of ‘mmmmm waffles’.

However you decide to express yourself and whatever blogging platform you choose; your blog is the best place to try new things and quickly know if it’s working.

When I entered the blogosphere, I started to meet amazing people. But after I became friends with some great writers, I actually started to pay attention to what I write and how I write it. Even more. after meeting people who write and are good at it, I started to push myself harder.

If you compare my stories from now and those I’ve written a year ago, no matter how harsh the critique you’d have to admit there’s a big improvement.


As in: writing about writing. About the process, about the technicalities. It helps you improve in two different ways.

It gives you extra motivation to finish your work.

Every time you post a progress report on your current project, you get that extra ‘kick’ to write more.
When you share a bit of insight, about problems with the plot that you are having, you help your brain to organize everything. By naming the problems you’re actually halfway to solving them.

Not to mention that if to do so, you’re using a platform that allows your readers to interact with you, you’re bringing new sets of eyes that can actually help you put the whole thing in perspective.

Metawriting allows you also to learn more about the workshop

To write about the technical aspects of writing and to do so with a certain amount of authority, you need to thoroughly research the area you wish to post about.

For every piece of my Creative Writing 101 series I spend over 2 hours researching the subject, gathering links and making sure that what I’ve been practicing my whole life wasn’t incorrect.

During the researching process you learn new methods of doing what you’ve been always doing. You repeat the information you already know and ensure that the nest time that particular skill will be needed you will remember the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’.

In most of the cases, metawriting is about explaining something to the readers. Depending on the style you choose it’s also about entertaining them and teaching them something new.

And that particular skill is extremely useful for any kind of a writer.

Academic Writing

Before you start yelling that academic writing is something completely different I hurry to calm you. Yes. I know it’s like two different planets. Or even two different universes. But if you’d commit yourself to writing one academic piece, researched the material and actually wrote it all… Afterwards you’d see how much better you skills are.

Academic writing differs from the creative variety in style, methods of research, vocabulary and the general look. Truth be told it’s easier to create an outline for your thesis than for your novel. To write an academic piece you need to learn how to create long, complex sentences to fit the language, while in your novel it is advised to break long sentences into short ones. The scientific vocabulary used in essays and dissertations might not get used in your stories but as they say ‘knowledge is power’.

How does that help?

It’s something I call learning by comparison. The moment you at least try and dip your fingers into some academic writing, writing a story will seem like something simple. After you realize that the only thing that limits you in your writing is your imagination (and not the paradigm, terminology or anything else), there’s no stopping you.

Feedback and Reviews

This is something I encourage in everybody, not only writers themselves.
People often read the works of others and then move on without a word of feedback. Now, I know that people don’t always have time… But when you read someone’s story with intent to review it or to at least leave some feedback, you read it in a completely different way.
But nobody is telling you to go and edit every story you read. No one requires you to read every story twice. I know how little time writers sometime have.

But if you encourage yourself to read the story beyond the plot and the pure entertainment of it, you will be able to notice the mistakes, the little things that bother you.

And when you notice them, you will be able to acknowledge them and make sure you don’t do the same.
Not to mention that if you actually leave some constructive criticism, other people might return the favor. All in your best interest.

It’s not a secret that we’re more eager to point out mistakes in other people’s doing. The key is to consciously erase the similar mistakes from our own writing.

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Photo: inspiration-journal2 by french-skits

I already wrote about a relationship between the writer and his or hers muse. And deep inside you already know who’s in charge in this relationship. But what if your Muse leaves the country and only drops an occasional e-mail? Where to find a new one? How to bring the old one back?

Well read on, because Dr Jane is about to give you advice on how and where you should look for ideas.

Stop waiting for things to happen

If you’re going to wait for this huge, amazing idea for a story that will blow everybody away and will make you famous… STOP! If you simply expect the inspiration to come over to your house and hit you over the head with a shovel… err, I mean with an idea; then you will end up having a regular job and a dream to become a writer one day.

The muse left you for a plumber? Well instead of waiting by the phone (or in this case the computer) either fight to get her back or go out and pick up someone new!

Ready? Good writer. Have a cookie.

Seek Inspiration in random places.

Look at some photos. Or, if you have a camera, take some random photos. Don’t try for anything ambitious. Hell, set the camera of a series of photos and just walk with it. Let the machine take pictures. Don’t interfere. After you’re done, just look through pictures your camera took. Maybe they are telling a story. Maybe there’s a plot hidden in one of them.

Listen to some music. Jeffrey Baumgartner recommends Bach. Me, I say simply turning on the radio will be just fine. If you can’t stand the newest ‘hits’, Turn on MTV or VIVA or any other music TV station and watch the video clips on ‘mute’. Each music video tells a story. Maybe one of them will spark something for you. Hell I know I have at least three versions of what really happens during, before and after ‘Sk8ter Boi’.

Read some children’s books. They are often simple and operate on some basic themes you can use for any story. It sounds silly now but for me, the Snow White can spark at least three types of stories and don’t let me start on the whole debate or whatever or not the Evil Queen was a sociopath.

Everything I know I learned from TV.

If you actually watch a lot of TV, you realize that some ideas are used in more than one TV production. Therefore, TV might be a great source of ideas for a writers currently looking for inspiration.

Create a Mary Sue for your favorite TV show. Yes. I know I said Mary Sue is bad. And it’s difficult to explain in theory so I’ll just give you an example

I’m a huge fan of the CSI franchise. And because I tend to create a Mary Sue for every show I watch it was just a matter of time for it to happen in the CSI universe. In my brain I created a huge crossover between CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. I wanted my Mary Sue to show up in all three cities. And because it would be difficult to work into the storylines I created three sisters, triplet. All looking the same. All pursuing careers in different places. Body of the first one was discovered in Miami. The evidence leads the investigators to New York where the second body is discovered. With two sisters dead, the investigators go to Vegas where the third sister works as a waitress. There’s even a plot twist and the revelation that there is also a fourth sister trying to make sure she’s unique. See? A bit of crack, I know. But it’s a summary. All I have to do is to place the events in different cities. Give the whole case one detective, probably FBI since it’s happening in different states and give all characters some original treats and I’m set with a usable story idea.

Try to figure out the next plot twist. Every episode has a certain structure. Everything is leading up to that one plot twist at the end. Well, try to figure out what’s the plot twist. It turns out to be different than what you anticipated? Well even better because you are left with an idea for a story. There is a cliffhanger at the end of the season? What do you think would happen? How does your idea work with completely different characters and background?

Read a summary for a TV episode or a movie. They are often one or two sentences. So it’s a great way to spark some ideas without actually copying the whole movie plot. Let’s face it. How many stories were about bunch of teenagers trapped in the woods, chased by a serial killer? I can bet everything that you can write that story better. Mission to Mars that went wrong? Oh come on! You know you would pen the awaiting death better than all those amateurs!

Art imitating real life.

Look around. The world is full of ideas that simply wait to be turned into stories. You just need your brain to play along. Those ideas are locked inside you and maybe you just need to break in.

Pick a person in a coffee shop you frequent. What do you think he does for a living? Who is he waiting for? What could be going through his head when he typed on his laptop? And of those questions might be a beginning of a plot. All those people around you can serve as a blueprint for a brand new, amazing character. Why let such an opportunity pass?

Read/watch some news. Someone was killed. Someone was kidnapped. There was an Earthquake. Two gangs have a war. Serial killer is out there killing blonde college students. Yes, all those news are terrible and world can be a scary place. But you can make it all better. Your detective can find the killer. Your FBI team can find the missing kid. Your characters can survive the Earthquake. Your college student might escape the murderer. Nothing limits you here. Write the happy ending to the gruesome truth. Or not. However you like it.

The question isn’t how to find ideas. They are everywhere. You’re tripping over them on your way to work. You just need to try and see them. Good luck! And if you have your own ways of finding ideas, share them!

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Writing 50000 words in 30 days is, in fact, a really scary thing to do. Yes, some people want to write a great book in one go. Some though, understand it’s merely a first draft. First of many, on the road to The Novel. This post will be concentrating on how you can achieve the magical 50000 word count through various tricks and bribes. Obviously, if you’re a white hat and are repelled by any kind of manipulation… Or you wish to reach your target with true and honest work… Well, then this post is not for you. Everybody else? Come to the dark side. We have cookies.

Forget about abbreviations

Now this is something I should never encourage as an editor. But it’s also a great way to get ahead on your word count. Use “he is” instead of “he’s”, “did not” instead of “didn’t”, “have not” instead of “haven’t”, and so on and so forth. Yes, it’s annoying to read later on. Yes, it probably will be extremely annoying to edit after you’re done with the novel. But look at what you’ve already written. How many abbreviations you have in the text? How many extra words would you get just by using this trick? Doesn’t seem a lot, right? Now think in terms of the whole novel. Now’s a bit more, eh?

Don’t go back to fix things

You hear me? Don’t go back. Even better, don’t look at your screen while you type. Fix your eyes on the keyboard and type. Tell your story not looking at the typos or mistakes. They don’t matter. All you need right now is to get on a roll. Every time you go back to fix some typo, or rephrase a sentence, you’re putting a stop to the huge line of words that just begs to get written down. You’re risking forgetting what kind of point you were making before you stopped. And therefore you have to waste time on re-reading a paragraph or two to get into the situation again. Katster called it “keeping your inner editor in a box”. And that’s a great visualization. Your inner editor, of all editors in the world, is your biggest enemy in November. So just shove him into a closet and lock him up.

Describe, describe, describe

Another of Katster’s great advises. “When in doubt, describe”. Katster is right in this one. Descriptions eat word count like nothing else. You can describe everything around. Normally it’s what I refer to as ‘unnecessary details’ but here, you want unnecessary information! You want word count! So include all the ingredients of that pizza your character is eating. Every step of fixing the car. Technical details are even better, because instead of wasting time on research, you just describe that rectangular metal tool that’s crucial to fixing the engine.

Inner thoughts and feelings

Embrace them, love them, and write them down. Yesterday I was writing a scene where two of my main characters met. Before I knew I was jumping into ‘emo mode’ and describing the girl’s feeling and doubts about the guy she just met with so much cheesy lines that even the character had to call herself on it just to stay in character. I can’t say it’s a piece of great fiction, but I’m certainly ahead with over 100 extra words (which I will get rid of the first thing December. But still. Anything for the word count)

Word count, word count, word count

This is your mantra. And pay attention to the way it’s written. It’s ‘word count’, not ‘wordcount’. We’re going for quantity. Quality will come AFTER you win NaNoWriMo. And to actually achieve it you need to realize:

What you will commit in the next 30 days will not be a good writing. BUT! It will be a great base for the later. When you will actually eat something that doesn’t contain caffeine. When you will get enough sleep to this of something that isn’t your character or your plot. Let’s say on December 7th.

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