How to Write A Book


Focus.

That’s all it takes.

Focus on writing everyday, no excuses because even five minutes of active writing will increase the word count of a book. This may require rising before the sun, or burning the midnight oil, but if that’s what it takes to get hands on the keyboard or pencil/pen to paper, then commit to it. If it’s too difficult to get in touch with the muse early in the morning or late at night, sketch out the scene (or tell) what’s supposed to happen and use it as a guideline to flesh it out (or show) as much as possible during a lunch break, during the train/taxi ride home, or whenever time is available. If it’s a too busy family life that interrupts writing time, create a writing schedule, bargain if necessary so that each partner gets equal free time, even if it’s only half an hour.

Photo by Frank Selmo (frankselmo on Flickr)

When that free time is available, whether or not the muse is talking, make sure each scene has focus. These are the things I aim to include into each scene:

  • Conflict. Gotta have it, otherwise why are people reading the book. The main character (MC) has to have a goal from the very first page. Something is bound to stand in the way. I invite Murphy’s Law to stomp all over my characters life. I love when I’m reading a book and the MC gets backed into a corner from which I can see no way out, yet I know they get out cause there’s still 72 more pages left. In each scene, I focus on making my MC work toward her goal, ensuring the things she need don’t happen to fall into her lap, and amping up the conflict.
  • Character. In order for readers to care about said MC getting out the corner, they need to care about said character(s). I try to fall into my characters. Instead of observing the scene unfold as if watching it on the big screen, I imagine myself in the scene and employ all the senses to make the characters’ reaction to the setting real. I focus on staying in the MC’s POV throughout the scene, and if the POV changes, I add an extra space and stay in the other character’s POV for the remainder of the chapter. Continuous head hopping can be disconcerting.
  • Setting. Have a clear understanding of when and where the story takes place, but don’t try to include everything. Focus on a few select things which breathe life into the setting. There’s always time to build in more elements of the environment in the next scene.

Focus on the endgame. Figure out the common word expectations for the genre/target audience because it’ll be hard to sell a low word count sci-fi novel or a high word count realistic middle grade novel.

Last, focus on having fun and enjoying your characters and the world you’ve built for them.

What do you focus on when writing? What elements do you try to work into your scenes? How do you find time to write?

For a humorous take on How Not To Write A Novel, check out my crit partner’s post here.

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Wordcount Dracula

Contest Ready?


Ever feel like the bio section at the bottom of your query letter looks a little skimpy? How about the “About” page on your blog, Facebook profile, Twitter profile, etc? For unpublished authors, winning writing contests is a one way to build a writer’s bio.  Word count limitations which challengers writers to keep the ‘short” in short story helps hone skills. Having deadlines provides motivation to complete work in a timely manner. Plus, writers get exposure of their work, and based on which contests entered, that attention could come from publishers or agents.

Here are my tips on increasing your chances of winning:

  • Check and double-check the contest guidelines to make sure your entry fits within the theme, word count, format guidelines. Don’t give the judges a reason to disqualify your entry.
  • Vanquish every typo, grammar, and spelling error from your story. It might not help you win, but a polished  entry can’t hurt either.
  • As with manuscripts, a great hook will draw the judge in. The writer’s job is to make their entry stand out above all others.
  • Unlike with poetry, short stories cannot get away with “Untitled”. Give a lot of consideration to the title for your entry. It tells the judge what to expect. For example, I recently entered my YA short story “Zombie Kibosh Crew” in the OWFI 2012 contest. The story genre is right there in the title and it helped me eliminate backstory. With a 1,200 word limit, cutting words was vital.
  • Stay focused on one point of view. Trying to work in multiple POVs can muddled the entry, may bump you over the contest word count limit, and might confuse the judge.
  • Only enter your best work, especially for fee-based contest. Otherwise, you’re just throwing away your money.
  • Don’t give up!

After you’ve researched which contest are right for you, all that’s left is mustering the courage to enter. One popular contest is the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. This fee-based contest gains winners publication, potential exposure to editors and agents, and recognition on the Writer’s Digest website. Writer’s Relief List of Writing Contest offer information on contest for creative writers. This site also offers links to anthologies open to submissions, for those chose that route. One of my critique partners recently wrote a post on ongoing contest (here).

Related Articles

10 Tips for Winning Writing Contest
20 Tips for Winning Writing Contest
Why Enter Writing Contest? Let me Count the Ways… (this one includes tips on avoiding scams)

Do you have any writing competition tips? Do you have suggestions for finding other contests?

Keeping the Short in Short Story


(view source)

Ever sit down with the intent to write a short story only to have it turn into a novella? Or even a full-blown novel? In my recent preparation for the OWFI 2012 conference contest, I re-discovered how difficult it is to keep the ‘short’ in short story. This year, I wrote a piece for the young adult short story category which had a limit of 1,200 words. Eeek!

My characters wanted me to write a story slightly outside my genre, they demanded a novel length story (which they deserve at a later time), and they had no desire to live confined within the contest guidelines. I knew going into it, they were going to be unruly. Usually when I write, I’m not concerned about word count.

In order to keep it short, I had to change my mindset. Here’s what worked for me:

  • Let the story title work for you. Choose something creative and short that fits the genre of the short story. For tips on attention grabbing titles, check out this article.
  • Strong, fleshed out characters help hook a readers’ interest. Character development is important, because even though your characters are part of a short story, they deserve full attention.
  • Don’t let backstory side track you, no matter how tempting or interesting. There’s no room for it in short fiction.
  • Stay focused on one plot, one event. The more linear time you try to cover in a story, the more complicated the story becomes which may increase word count. This one might not apply to short stories with a word count above 1,200.
  • Limit the number of characters, for the same reason listed above. More characters equal a more complicated story equals more words.
  • The story must have a complete story arc, no matter how limited the word count. The story must have a beginning, middle and end. Lesann Berry, one of my fellow campaign bloggers, recently wrote a post on story structure.
  • Make sure every word belongs. This applies to all fiction. Vanquish weak words.
  • Every item (backpack, gun, frying pan, etc.) you mention should add value to the story somehow or reveal something about your character. For example, if your character uses a frying pan as a weapon in addition to a cooking utensil, it demonstrates that the character is practical and resourceful. Also, if the character doesn’t aim, shoot, and/or threaten someone with the gun by the end of the story, the reader may not need to know about the weapon.

Do you write short stories? What technique works for you?

Nano Mid-Week 2 Update


I’ve compromised my writing morals. I feel so dirty, accepting every single word that wishes to grace the page, going for quantity rather than quality, turning a blind eye to passive voice, overused weak words – sure no problem, the more the merrier. It feels so so wrong, but it has to be done. I can take the stink out of the manuscript later, but I can’t take the stink out of a blank page.

NaNoWriMo and the quest to write 50,000 words in 30 days is almost half way through. I’ve been getting up at crazy hours in the morning, staying up well past a decent bedtime and I’ve reached  just over 12,000 words. At this rate I’ll finish by December 7, which means it’s time to wrap up this post, put on some mood music, and hit the writing.

I’ve got goals to conquer.

Are you participating in NaNo, and if so how’s it going? Are you planning on giving it a try next year? Or are you staying away from the insanity of it all?

Getting Unstuck


I love my new adult paranormal WiP, DARK INTENT (excerpts here and here). Sometimes, the words flow from your fingertips and on to the keyboard. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for me. My muse and I haven’t exactly been getting along lately and I refuse to let it stop me. My word count is slow, but I like to think the progress I’ve made is quality over quantity. Although I have technically typed THE END on this manuscript, I don’t feel it’s agent ready yet.

Right now, I’m stuck on a new scene near the beginning. I already know where it starts and how it needs to end. I keep sitting down to write it, and ending up revising other sections of the manuscript instead. So, I contemplated the value of the new scene (another stalling technique – or is it?).

I asked myself things like:

  • What’s the purpose of the scene?
  • What’s kind of conflict is in this scene? How does it worsen things for my character?
  • Or does it resolve a minor conflict from earlier chapters?
  • Does it move the story forward?
  • Does it reveal important information about the character, setting, plot?
  • Which characters will make an appearance?

After I broke the scene down into parts, rather than trying to write the whole thing at once, I started making progress. I wrote one-word lines and the value I thought they would bring to the story.

Pain (worsen, reveal setting)
Hunger/Thirst (worsen)
Embarrassment (external conflict, worsen, reveal character)
Escape? (physical conflict, forward progress, reveal plot)
Failure (physical/emotional conflict, backward progress, reveal plot)
Frustration (internal conflict, worsen, reveal character)
Iago (appearance – POV character)
Adele (appearance, forward progress)
Minor characters (appearance, external conflict, worsen)

Next, based on those words and values, I wrote sentences starting with the conflict I planned to introduce, how my characters would respond to it, what would result from their actions. Then, I looked at those sentences to find places where I could bring in sensory information (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) and considered how they might affect my characters’ actions/thoughts.

Before I knew it, words covered the blank page. Words I could revise, and edit, and sculpt into something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with my critique partners. I got unstuck!

Do you ever get stuck when writing? How do you deal with it?

Ever Wonder About Word Count?


I’m such a goal orientated person. I love to make lists and spreadsheets to track projects. It’s only natural I would want to track the word count in my WIP Blink. But what does the current word count mean for the overall manuscript? I have an outline and a rough idea of how many chapter the finished book will have, but what I really wanted to know was how the actual writing impacted my word count goal.  Which made wonder, what is my word count goal?

Word count expectations vary by target market and genre. What are they? I found my answers in Chuck Sambuchino’s post Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post on the Guide to Literary Agents (GLA) blog. I encourage you to visit his site for word count information for your genre. For YA Sambuchino says, “Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible. For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range.” Even within YA, the word count varies by genre. Sambuchino gives examples of when a higher word count might be acceptable, and just how low might be pushing it.

Now I have my word count goal plugged into a spreadsheet, which may sound very boring, but the Type A side of my personality is thrilled to know Blink is 13% -15% complete. The writer in me, however, wants me to end this post and get back to work!