• How to Handle Harsh Critiques

    As a former English major with a concentration in creative writing, I’ve had my share of harsh critiques. I’ve probably even given a few. With each workshop class I participated in, I received constructive criticism and learned to thicken my skin. Does that mean I’ve transcended hurt feelings? No, I’m only human. However, what I have done is learn how to handle any harsh critiques I may get with an element of grace.
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    Don’t Take It Personally

    Most of the time, it’s nothing personal. If someone sends you a harsh critique, it doesn’t mean that they hate you or your work. Although it may sting, keep in mind that your reviewer is trying to be helpful. And if the comments seem particularly mean-spirited, that person may simply be having an off day. Try not to take it personally.

    Ignore the Haters

    Don’t feed the trolls. If a critique comes across like a slap in the face, or it’s clear that someone is trying to start a fight with you, do not engage. It won’t end well for you or for anyone else involved, trust me.

    Remember the Intent

    People want you to succeed. More often than not, your reviewer is trying to be helpful. If they’re critiquing you, they want to help you make your work better. Keep that in mind when reading feedback.

    Think It Over

    Your reader or critique partner might not mean for their words to come across the way they do. Technology has made modern communication so much easier, but subtext and inflection get lost in translation. Before lashing out at someone regarding a comment they made, consider all the different meanings it could have. If you’re still uncertain, feel free to ask for clarification.

    Focus on the Good

    Note the positives. A good beta reader or critique partner will sandwich constructive criticism between praise. If the criticism stuns you, take a minute to consider the compliments, too.

    You’re in Charge

    Remember: you’re the expert. If someone says something about your writing that you don’t agree with, you don’t have to change it. You know more about your story than anyone else. At the end of the day, you’re the boss.

    Getting a harsh critique may feel like the end of the world. Using these tips, you should be able to handle any constructive criticism that comes your way.

    How do you handle harsh critiques?

    Have you ever received a harsh critique? In this post, @brianawrites shares her tips for handling criticism. (Tweet tweet)

  • How to Write With Someone Else

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    Twelve years ago, I met Emily.

    If you have no idea who she is, I’m sorry. Emily is one of the most important people in my life. We met on Neopets and started a roleplay, which basically involves alternating writing different pieces of a story. I’d write one character; she’d write another. The story has never ended, but it has changed and evolved. The same could be said for our friendship.

    While writing with Emily, I learned that writing with someone has many ups and downs. It can be simultaneously nerve-wracking as well as satisfying. Since mine and Emily’s collaboration has lasted so long, I thought it might be a good idea to share our secrets for success with you. If you want to write something with someone, here’s how you can avoid wanting to kill them.

    • Lower your expectations. If you’ve read their writing, you know what to expect, but if you haven’t, you should approach the collaboration with an open mind. Sometimes even the best writers get nervous working with someone new. I was lucky to get Emily, but sometimes, you may feel as though you got the raw end of the deal. Relax and focus on having fun. You don’t need to write the Great American Novel.
    • Be willing to compromise. You might write a post expecting one reply and getting another. Roll with the punches. When working with someone else, flexibility is key. Also, remember that all relationships require compromise.
    • Communicate with them. If you thoroughly enjoyed their last post, tell them! If it’s something they worked hard writing, they’ll be thankful for the praise. Likewise, if they’re doing something that bothers you, let them know right away. Bottling your frustrations is likely to make you explode and take out your partner in the process.
    • Set ground rules. Before you get started, exchange limits from you. If you’re not a fan of swearing, sex, or violent behavior, be honest up front. Once they tell you what they won’t write, respect their limits, too. If you get the feeling that someone won’t respect you, forget about writing with them. It’s best to move on.
    • Be patient. Life happens. You might not get a reply every day. Don’t freak out about it. As the two of you spend more time together, your partner might feel more inclined to reply regularly – or maybe not. Give them space if they need it and they’ll do the same for you.

    I could go on and on about what writing with someone else has taught me. There are so many benefits to working with another person – I think it’s something every writer should try. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be having fun.

    Who knows? You might even still be friends after twelve years.

    What are your tips for writing with someone? Have you collaborated with another writer before?

    Tweet tweet:

    What do you think about collaborating with other writers? @brianawrites gives some tips for writing with someone. (Click to tweet)

  • Stop Saying “Aspiring”

    Red Stop SignI’ve noticed a troubling trend in the social media world. That’s not to say I’ve only seen this happen on social media; I just think its prevalence on the internet is further proof of an unfortunate epidemic.

    More and more writers are labeling themselves as “aspiring.” While I understand the place of humility that this label comes from, it nonetheless upsets me.

    When it comes to writing, above all else, you must believe in yourself–even if no one else does. Self-confidence is the cornerstone of a successful career. And again, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
    Confession time: I used to label myself as an “aspiring author.” I had that title plastered everywhere from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest. It even fell out of my mouth when I met somebody new. I was writing every day and finishing what I wrote. I read all the time. I took classes. Still, I didn’t feel that I was good enough.

    One day, I had an epiphany. If I write, I’m a writer. There’s no “aspiring” to it. Like Yoda once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” You either write or you don’t. Simple as that.

    Let me tell you something right now: Even if you’re not published, you are a writer. Even if you only write a sentence a day, you’re still a writer. Just because you’re not on the New York Times’ Bestseller List doesn’t mean your work is worthless.
    The next time you’re tempted to describe yourself as an “aspiring writer,” ask yourself why. Why don’t you feel good enough? What do you think you need to accomplish in order to drop the “aspiring”?
    If you’re reading this post, you have my permission to drop “aspiring” from your title. Go ahead. I won’t tell.
    You might be surprised by how much better it makes you feel.
    What do you have to say to writers who think they’re not good enough?

    Tweet tweet:

    Writer @brianawrites has something to say to writers who think they’re not good enough. (Click to tweet)

  • Watch Your Mouth: Tips for Writing Profanity

    Photo credit: Christian Bucad on Flickr

    Many writers worry about putting swear words in their writing. For one reason or another, I’ve had several people tell me that they want to keep curse words out of characters’ dialogue. I believe in using profanity, but only when it’s needed. Cursing works well if it’s done correctly. Check out these tips for writing swear words without going overboard.

    Moderation is Key

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I enjoyed reading the book, but there was too much profanity. It was distracting.” When it comes to using swears, a little goes a long way. When every other word sounds like sailor speak, you’ve ventured into dangerous territory. Try to use profanity only when it feels absolutely necessary.

    Diction Reveals Character

    The words that your characters use say a great deal about them. If a character would swear, let him swear; if not, you shouldn’t force it. In one of my short stories, a woman preaches against profanity and disciplines her son whenever he uses “off-limits words.” However, when the woman finds out that her husband is missing in action, she is so shocked that she curses: “You’re shitting me… what the hell does ‘missing’ mean?” In this example, the shift in diction shows the woman’s inner turmoil.

    Consider Your Audience

    You should probably steer clear of using foul language if you’re writing a novel for the Christian fiction market. Likewise, if you’re writing YA, make sure you’re aware of profanity guidelines. For example, words like f***, g*d***, c***, and m*****f***** are hot-button swears that a lot of YA publishers would prefer not to see. Also, just so we’re clear, Go the F*** to Sleep, is not actually a children’s book (though it is hilarious).

    When in Doubt, Take It Out

    If you don’t get the warm fuzzies reading something you’ve written, make some cuts. Most likely, your work won’t suffer if you take out some bad words.

    You’re more than welcome to use profanity in your writing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The key is making sure you don’t use them excessively. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you write swearing and you should be good to go.

    How do you feel about reading profanity? What about writing it?

    Tweet tweet:

    Afraid your swearing will scare off readers? Writer @thecollegenov has some advice about profanity. (Click to tweet)

  • Maleficent and Writing Villains

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    The other day my mother and I went to see Maleficent. In spite of not knowing much about the film going in, she and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. From the cinematography to the makeup to the characters themselves, everything was wonderful.

    What captured my attention most of all was Maleficent.

    Why?

    Because she was portrayed as a sympathetic character rather than a one-dimensional villain.

    I’ll refrain from spoiling as much as I can. All you need to know is that in this version of the classic tale, we get much more of Maleficent’s backstory. We see her as a young faerie and learn about the events that have hardened her heart. It is easier for us to understand her (otherwise questionable) actions because we know her past experiences and have a better sense of her wants and motivations.

    Most importantly, Maleficent is dynamic. At the end of the film, she is a different woman than she is toward the beginning. Once again, I don’t want to spoil, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

    Maleficent was delightful, refreshing, and entertaining. While watching the film, I also learned a great deal about writing likable and three-dimensional villains. Whenever you want to add depth to your baddies, make sure they have a backstory, clear motive for what they do, and some kind of arc.

    If the villain hasn’t been changed by the events of the story, then what is the point for the story at all?

    Have you seen the movie? What did you think? What do you think is the key to creating quality villains?

    P.S. The 4 “A”s of Characterization, How to Develop Stronger Characters, and How to Get into Your Characters’ Heads.

  • Twitter for Writers

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    Twitter is one of the greatest under-utilized resources for writers at the moment. It’s a great way to promote your work, communicate with other writers, find some writing advice, and have a fantastic time. I only recently started spending some serious time on Twitter, and I could kick myself for not using it sooner.

    So why should you set up a Twitter account?

    Well, this social media platform is a spectacular way to get your name out there and build up a following. You can promote your work, support other writers who want to promote their work, and link to content that you think other people might find interesting. I promote my blog posts and freelance work through Twitter and it’s gotten me a lot more exposure than I would’ve gotten otherwise.

    Twitter is also a great place to get in touch with other writers. I’ve met so many wonderful people on Twitter, most of them writers. They support my work and I support theirs. We talk about all things writing and non-writing. If you’re not currently involved with groups of other writers, Twitter is the best way to meet like-minded individuals. Whenever I interact with other writers on the site, I feel as though there is a sense of community.

    Another good reason to use Twitter? Writing advice. Seriously. There are so many amazing tips that get passed around for free. All you have to do is type “writing tips” or “writing advice” into the search bar and millions of helpful Tweets will pop up. The internet is truly a glorious place.

    If you don’t have a Twitter account, you need to sign up. If you already have one, you should be using it more. And you should definitely be following other writers (*ahem* ME). Tell me you followed me over from this blog and I will most likely follow you back.

    What do you think of Twitter? How does it help you as a writer?

    P.S Avoid Distractions While Writing.

  • Book Review: The Successful Novelist by David Morrell

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    David Morrell is a genius.

    There’s no getting around that fact. After reading this book, I am more than convinced that this man has more writing talent in his pinky than I do in my whole body.

    I digress.

    When I mentioned on Twitter that Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most influential books about writing that I have ever read, someone suggested that I look up David Morrell’s book The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.

    I’m delighted I did.

    This book, like King’s, provides a veritable treasure trove of knowledge regarding the craft and the business of writing. However, Morrell takes a much more practical approach, giving out advice for you to use in your daily writing sessions. King’s book is largely memoir with some practical bits sprinkled in. On the whole, Morrell seems so much more approachable.

    The Successful Novelist is suitable for writers of all skill levels. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been writing for ages, this book is for you.

    It’s also short, succinct, and easy to read and understand. What more could you want?

    Go out and pick up your copy today. This book will change your life.

    Have you read this book? What did you think of it? What book would you like to see me review next?

    P.S. Book Review: Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown.

  • 3 Types of Scenes to Cut from Your WIP

    Upturned Silhouetted Profile Against a Blue-Green Background

    It never ceases to amaze me how much bad writing there is in the world.

    Truly, when you think about it, you can most likely remember more poorly-written books you’ve read than well-written ones. Why is that? Bad prose tends to stick in our memory. Think of it as a kind of gruesome car accident–you know you shouldn’t watch it, but you can’t look away.

    Bad writing is almost predictable in its awfulness. That is, there are several contributing factors to a poorly-written piece that can be seen almost across the board.

    If you want to avoid bad writing, you need to avoid the factors that contribute to bad writing. One way you can do that is by cutting these scenes.

    1. Mirror Scenes

    Nothing in prose irritates me more than getting character description from a reflection. Most of the time, these scenes consist of a character peering into the nearest reflective surface–whether it be a mirror or a lake or even a spoon–and commenting on his or her appearance as though noticing it for the first time. How many times do you look in the mirror and look yourself over from head to toe, noting your “caramel-colored eyes” or “luscious red curls.” Probably never. Honestly,there are better ways to reveal a character’s appearance.

    2. Dream Sequences

    Oh, goodness. Dream sequences, for me, are right up there with mirror scenes. The only difference is that, unlike a mirror scene, a well-written dream sequence can serve the plot. For example, in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, dreams form an integral part of the story. Unfortunately not all dream sequences are created equal. I’ve seen authors slip in dreams seemingly only for the sake of making word count. Don’t do that. If you’re going to use a dream, make sure it’s relevant to what’s going in in your story.

    3. Commonplace Exchanges

    I once read a novel in which a whole chapter was spent chronicling a trip to the grocery store. I wish I were kidding. If your scene or chapter doesn’t reveal character or move the plot along, you’re better off without it. No one wants to watch your protagonist picking out produce. We do that enough in our own lives as it is.

    These are just three types of scenes that can be removed for the sake of strengthening your piece. I know there are others, but these cover most of the big-picture problems.

    What types of scenes do you cut from your work? Do you agree with these three?

    P.S. The Art (Not Science) of Chapter BreaksAvoiding Genre Fixation, From Daily Writing Tips: 34 Writing Tips That Will Make You a Better Writer, and Said Isn’t Dead.

  • What the HIMYM Finale Can Teach Us About Writing

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    I’ve been told a few times that I shouldn’t blog angry.

    I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while, but I didn’t want to address it until my fury subsided. Since the How I Met Your Mother finale aired two weeks ago today, I think it’s time to write this post.

    Some viewers enjoyed the HIMYM finale. An overwhelming majority did not. How can that be? It all comes down to writing–bad writing, really, with terrible choices. Die-hard fans of the show who had watched nine seasons of heartache, growth, and yearning felt betrayed to see relationships dismantled, plot lines overturned, and characters behaving inconsistently.

    Clearly, the HIMYM finale has a lot to teach us about writing, especially what not to do. So, fellow writers, here’s a brief lists of don’ts, epitomized by the disappointing conclusion to a beloved comedy.

    1. Don’t dedicate an entire season to preparations for the wedding of two characters that end up divorcing almost immediately.
    2. Don’t force two characters together, spend one episode per season explaining why they aren’t right for each other, and then throw them back together at the end of the series.
    3. Don’t transform a womanizer into a monogamist and then back into a womanizer who doesn’t know the name of the woman who gave birth to his child (he doesn’t even make up a name, just refers to her as a number).
    4. Don’t kill the mother when the entire show is about meeting her.
    5. Don’t kill the mother.
    6. DON’T KILL THE MOTHER.
    7. While I’m at it, don’t build sympathy for a character and kill her offscreen as little more than a footnote. It’s cruel and will only make your audience resentful.
    8. Don’t have your protagonist continue to pine for the same woman even after he’s found the love of his life (he claims), married her, and lost her.
    9. Have a legitimate reason for the protagonist to divulge his past to his children.
    10. Don’t have your protagonist show up at The One That Got Away’s house with a nostalgic item to help win her back… and then imply that the woman will have him (of course). THEY ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE THAN THEY WERE WHEN THE ITEM MADE ITS FIRST APPEARANCE. WHY WOULD YOUR PROTAGONIST TRY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

    Maybe I’m still blogging angry. I promise I’m not only trying to rant. I want you all to become better writers. You can do better than the How I Met Your Mother finale. You should.

    After all, that show made it through nine seasons. Anything is possible.

  • Avoid Distractions While Writing

    Weapons of Mass Distraction

    One of the most difficult things about writing is avoiding distractions.

    Sometimes the lure of social media is too strong to resist. For instance, while writing this blog post, I had to really force myself to concentrate on the task at hand instead of compulsively checking Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’ll be the first to admit – it’s tough to focus. Of course, the Internet is not the only evil in the world. When it comes to writing, you can also be distracted by a myriad of nuisances, such as pets, friends, family, the telephone, the television, and sometimes even the weather.

    What’s a writer to do?

    If you’re working on a project and don’t want to be distracted, consider these tips to help you stay focused:

    1. Disable automatic log-ins. If you know you have a tough time resisting social media, make it a little bit harder on yourself by logging out of your accounts before sitting down to write. Human beings are nototriously lazy. If you have to log-in before looking your ex-boyfriend up on Facebook, it might give you a moment’s pause. Hopefully, with this added step, you’ll realize you shouldn’t be on social media and get back to work right away. But if not, you can always…

    2. Block all time-wasting websites for the duration of your session. If logging out of your accounts isn’t enough to deter you, download an app such as StayFocusd or Strict Workflow for Chrome, Leechblock for Firefox, SelfControl for Mac, or even Cold Turkey. Once you’ve discovered your demons, add them to the lists of sites to block, set a time to block, and let the program do the rest for you so you can focus on writing.

    3. Turn. It. Off. This tip applies mostly to the computer but can be extended to all manner of technology. If you don’t need it to write, power it down. If you write with pen and paper, you should be nowhere near your laptop. It shouldn’t even be on. If you use a word processor, go ahead and write on your computer – just make sure to switch off your wifi. That way, if you’re tempted to access the Internet, you’ll feel guilty when you see that you’re unable to connect. Sure, you could flip the switch back on just as easily, but for most cases, turning it off should be enough to stop you. The same goes for your cellphone – turn it off or silence it. Let everyone know how long you’ll be working and tell them to leave a message if it’s anything important. I promise you the world can do without you for an hour.

    4. Write or Die. No, I’m not just being dramatic. Write or Die is a life-changing webapp that encourages you to reach a custom word count in a certain amount of time; say, fifteen minutes. If you slack off and stop typing for a long, the program punishes you with an unpleasant noise (such as “Mmmbop” by Hanson) and a bright red screen. Honestly that red screen scares me more than anything. I usually set my word count at 1,000 and the time period for an hour. I’m always amazed by how much I manage to accomplish. Check the program out.

    5. Play some music. This tip isn’t for everyone, but I’ve found that tuning into Pandora’s “Classical Music for Studying” really does wonders for my productivity. If classical music isn’t your thing, try to stick to some kind of music without lyrics for maximum concentration benefits.

    There you have it: a few simple solutions to help you overcome distraction and make some progress with your project. Once you’ve made some headway, feel free to reward yourself with a social media or texting break. After all, you deserve it. Just make sure not to cheat and reward yourself early!

    What do you think of these tips? How do you avoid distractions?