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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.

Guilt

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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Photo by vieuxbandit

1. Ten Things That May Indicate You’re Writing a McNovel – it’s almost like a Mary Sue test for the whole novel

2. Internet-Resources.com – Writers’ resources on the web

3. NotWriting – stuff one writer does when he should be writing

4. Notebook in Hand – mingle with other writers in forums

5. Storyist – software for writers with Macs. Makes you want to buy a MacBook

6. Seventh Sanctum Generators – Random fun for those who need inspiration

7. Story Spinner Online – gazillions creative writing exercises

8. Fiction Factor – online magazine for fiction writers

9. 10 Things to Write in Your Notebook

10. A Dozen Online Writing Tips – written by a journalist but also useful to other writers

11. BBC Get Writing – mini-courses to improve your writing

12. Writerisms and other Sins – A Writer’s Shortcut to Stronger Writing

13. Language is a virus – huge resource page originally designed to help you with NaNoWriMo

14. Writing-World.com – impressive list of articles on how to write a good novel

15. 50 tools which can help you in writing – lifehack’s take on the subject

16. Writer’s Resource Center – targeted at US writers

17. TOC about Writing – serious and humorous articles from sci-fi and fantasy writers

18. National Punctuation Day – mark your calendars

19. Creativity at Work – quotes

20. Cliche Finder – pick a word and the site will find all cliches using that word

21. Writers Online Workshops – Instructions on how to improve your writing whithin weeks

22. SoYouWanna – how to publish a book

23. Gnooks! – find new reading material

24. Common Errors in English

25. Guerrilla Press – free independent publishing resource site

26. Word Perhect – a new way of writing

27. Hit Those Keys – site for creative encouragement.

28. NewPages.com – News, information and guides to independent bookstores, independent publishers, literary magazines, alternative periodicals, independent record labels, alternative newsweeklies and more

29. 110+ Resources For Creative Minds – List of must-visit sites and articles

30. BetterEditor.org – online resources for editors and writers

31. Wikimedia Foundation – Links to all official Wiki sites

32. The Care and Feeding of Writers – funny approach to little quircks typical for writers

33. Non-errors – Those usages people keep telling you are wrong but which are actually standard in English

34. Dictionary of British slang – for those non-British authors who wish to use Brits as their characters

35. Q10 – Free Word Editor for writers.

36. One Sentence – true stories, told in one sentence

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Finding an Editor

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Photo by lo83

You should know how to edit your own story after my previous post. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for someone who would look through your story.

Why do you need an editor?

Let’s start with the obvious. New set of eyes. Your editor will probably be able to catch things you missed. And that is always good.

If you did edit your story before sending it off to your editor it means that he or she will be able to concentrate not on grammar and spelling but on ensuring that the plot is great and accessible to the readers.

And isn’t it better to hear something needs tweaking while you can still fix it? Editor gives you that luxury.

Where to find an editor?

You can look on one of the portals for writers. Like writers-editors or beta_readers. There is a lot of people willing to help you make your story better.

Like me. I already posted about this offer, but it still stands. You can send me your story for editing and I’ll help you as much as I can :).

If you’re not very comfortable with strangers editing your work, you can always ask your friend or a family member. Simply remember to choose wisely as sometimes people who love us don’t want to hurt us by pointing out our mistakes.

How to keep an editor?

Once you found the editor you like to work with and you see your writing is profiting from that relationship, all you need is to learn how to keep that editor.

1. Acknowledge the work your editor is doing. And if it’s possible, credit him or her for it.
2. Be nice. That goes a long way.

And remember. Love and cherish your editor. Send your editor Christmas cards, babysit your editors children, buy your editor expensive gifts *g*

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Secrets of Self-Editing

Every writer needs to be able to edit his or her own work. Without self-editing you’d never create a story that would catch readers’ attention.

And to be honest, self-editing is not all that difficult. Here’s some advice on how to make it work.

Realize that what you wrote is NOT the final version.

Very little writers can write a novel in one go. I could even go as far as saying that no good story gets published without any corrections.

What you have before you is merely a first draft. One of many. And there’s still a lot of work to be done before the story is readable.

How and what to do to edit your story well?

First of all, take a deep breath.

Yes, you just finished a novel. It’s the most precious thing in the world. And even a slight thought that the novel is not perfect causes you pain.

Go slowly and don’t read it for some time

When it comes to editing, your best friend is time.
You need to take it easy. Allow your brain some rest.
After a day or two (preferably three or four), you will be less likely to miss the mistakes that are for sure there.

It’s better to take a break after every stage of editing. That will assure that you’ll have a fresh mind. And that’s what really matters when you’re correcting your own mistakes.

Fix big things first

I do realize that often you are advised to start with small things and work your way up to the major problems.

But look at it this way. You have this huge amount of words, maybe even hundreds of pages.
You fight your way through grammar and typos only to discover that some parts need total re-writing, whole paragraphs need to be added and that one of the chapters doesn’t even need to be there.

Exactly.

So start by fixing your plot holes. Then ensure everything makes sense. That there is a clear chain of cause and effect.

Unless your story is shorter, you’re probably a bit tired by now. So just go for a walk. Take a breather. Because you’re not done yet.

Now turn to your characters. Do they sound differently? Do they have enough of quirks, mannerisms and such to make them look three-dimensional? Are they involved in too much exposition (never a good thing. Ask Dumbledore)? Do they know more than they should?

Also, I noticed that in some of the stories I edit, make sure to check characterization. Especially in longer stories. Authors tend to forget themselves and they pay less and less attention to how they write their characters. And characters are what in fact readers come back for. They want to see what happened next to the characters. So you really want to make sure that you’re consistent, when writing characters.

Concentrate on small things

After you’re done with the big stuff, I strongly suggest you once again leave the story for a few days (I know, I know I am repeating myself. But I can never stress it enough. Taking a break between editing stages is crucial). Fixing plot holes and characterization in an exhausting task, but one that has to be done. Before you start the next stage, make sure you have a clear head.

Now it’s time to take care of the technicalities. Typos, grammar and other small irritating things.

When it comes to that, you can use one of the tools some word editors offer (like Microsoft Word). But don’t trust software completely. Yes, let it run. It will help you catch the majority of mistakes. Simply don’t take its suggestions for granted. It’s a machine, and they aren’t perfect.

Even if you run an automated grammar and spell check, you should then read through the whole story and make sure everything sounds right.

To be honest, that’s the last step. You just edited your story. Read it. I bet it’s a lot better than your first draft. Good job :).

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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’.

Blogging

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.

Metawriting

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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