• 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.

  • 3 Types of Scenes to Cut from Your WIP

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    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.

  • Time Limit versus Word Count

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    As writers, daily writing is absolutely vital to our success as artists.

    I’ve discussed the merits and strategies of daily writing before. There’s not much sense doing it again.

    Instead, I’m going to share my new outlook on daily writing with you: focus on writing for a set period of time each day rather than a specific word count.

    Why? Because it works.

    I used to believe in making word count every day. The number varied from 500 to 2000 words, depending on my project at the time, and I made sure to reach that word count no matter what happened each day.

    Or at least, I tried to.

    The problem with writing to reach a certain word count is that life happens. For people like Stephen King, whose entire lives revolve around and are dedicated to the craft of writing, it’s easy to sit down and pound out 2000 words or more each day. For the common man or woman, however, this feat is far from easy.

    I now write for half an hour each and every day. I don’t necessarily have to add anything new to my manuscript, but that time must be spent doing something related to my current project. For example, if I’m busy, I might spend this half an hour working on my characters or doing some research. That way, I’m still getting work done, but I’m not killing myself over it. I’m not stressing out about reaching some number.

    Time limits are flexible. Time limits understand. Time limits help you focus without losing your mind; allowing you to write without taking away the fun of writing.

    If you’re feeling overworked, why not drop the word count? Try setting a timer for thirty minutes instead.

    What do you think about writing for a set time? What are your thoughts on reaching word count?

    P.S. The Kurosawa Guide to Daily Writing, The Importance of Daily Writing, Finding Time to Write, and The Beginner’s Guide to Daily Writing.

  • 11 Steps to Crafting Characters

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    I hate character profiles.

    Don’t get me wrong; I understand their value, I just don’t feel like I have the time to fill out every single detail laid out on the page. Is everything relevant to what I’m working on? I don’t think so.

    If you’re anything like me, you wish there were some way to create realistic characters without going overboard. If you’d rather not wax poetic about your protagonist’s shoe size or most embarrassing nightmares, all is not lost.

    Want to make your characters stand out from the page? All you have to do is follow these eleven simple steps.

    1. What role will this character play? Protagonist, antagonist, love interest, what?
    2. What is their name? Nickname?
    3. Where are they from?
    4. Gender?
    5. Age?
    6. What’s their background? Family history, wealth, significant life events?
    7. Race/ethnicity?
    8. Sexuality?
    9. Personality? Good and bad qualities?
    10. Likes and dislikes?
    11. Goals/hopes and fears?

    You don’t need a complicated spreadsheet to make a three-dimensional character. Ask yourself these questions, answer them, and you should be good to go.

    What tips and advice do you have for creating believable characters? What do you think of these tips?

    P.S. 4 “A”s of Characterization, How to Develop Stronger Characters, and Where to Find Character Names.

  • 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.

  • Lovely Links – April 2014

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    This post should’ve gone live last week, but it didn’t happen. Oh well.

    Here are some cool resources I found around the Internet for this month:

    What do you think? Do you find these links helpful?

  • Avoid Distractions While Writing

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    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?

  • From the Archives: Interview with Molly Ford, SP&A

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    I’ve been following Molly Ford’s blog, Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardfor a few years now. I’ve loved every minute of it. The concept of the blog is simple: each post contains three bits of advice on how to be smarter, prettier, and (less) awkward. Since the simple things in life are often the most captivating, it is no wonder that Molly Ford is as successful as she is. Recently, I set up a couple of interview questions for Molly to answer. She was gracious enough to oblige. Here’s how it went:

    1. In your guest post on The Future Buzz, you talk a little bit about starting a blog. What are some tips you can give about blogging?

    Great question. My best advice that I often give is the Three Month Rule: blog for three months without telling anyone. This gives you time to find your voice in private and confirm that you really like blogging, and it also gives your readers a back log of posts to read and fall in love with for when you do start going public and promoting your blog.

    I would emphasize the importance, especially in the beginning while you are growing your audience, of writing consistently. Everything else—the layout of the site, social media promotion, press outreach, etc. can come later.

    2. In that same article, you say, “I honestly thought the blog would just be a flash in the pan, just something else I would try, but after a month or so I realized how much I was liking it and just kept writing.” What about blogging appeals to you the most?

    I think what appeals to me most about blogging is the ability to share something from my heart to an audience that I hope benefits from my writing. I never write a tip that I don’t do myself or wish I had done, so everything I write feels very personal. I like that.

    3. Also in the Future Buzz post, you discuss coming up with the idea for SP&A. Where did you get such a unique blog concept?

    I honestly wish I had a better answer for this! I knew I wanted to write an advice blog because I don’t want to put super-personal information online, and because I enjoy reading self-help books. Just focusing on “How to be Prettier,” with beauty/fashion tips, was my first thought, but that type of advice wasn’t enough to cover all the topics I was interested in, so I added How to be Smarter. Then I wanted a third topic so the site name would flow well, so I added How to be (less) Awkward to round out the set. I was originally planning for the third section to be called How to be Awkward and have the tips be tongue-in-check and the opposite of what to do, but adding in the (less) made more sense in the long run.

    4. Each post on your blog contains three pieces of advice and an inspirational quote. How do you usually discover these items?

    I write down ideas for tips all day long. I keep a super long chain of notes in my phone, as well as in a physical notebook I carry around in my bag. I also usually keep a running draft email in gmail of links I’d like to use.

    For the quotes, I usually search around for a quote either by a specific author or about a specific topic. Since the quotes are usually the most last-minute thing I include in the post, they are usually the most up-to-the-minute personal: for example, if at that moment I’m feeling happy about a good date or reading a book that references Eleanor Roosevelt, the quote will either be about happiness or relationships, or by Eleanor Roosevelt.

    5. After reading the SP&A Press page, it’s clear you’ve developed a following. How has your Internet presence affected your life?

    I think about this a lot. I think having an Internet presence has probably affected how new people interact with me, but not the people I’ve known forever. Everyone googles everyone before first dates or job interviews now, so new people probably relate to me differently based on what they have seen online, but not the friends or people I’ve met in real life first or had pre-blog.

    6.Based on your blog, you must be a very dedicated individual. How do you stay motivated?

    Probably my best tip for staying focused is: no fluff. It it doesn’t add value or make me happy, I don’t do it. There’s just not time.

    Probably the best example of no fluff in my life is that I also don’t watch (hardly any) TV. I don’t even own a TV or Netflix account or anything. I know it’s not a popular opinion to say that you don’t watch television, but I really think that not having that in my life leaves me with more free time, which I try to then use wisely.

    7. Your About page says that you live in New York City. What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in the Big Apple?

    I will cross the four-year mark of living in New York City this year, and I think I love it more than when I first moved here, which is saying a lot because I cried from happiness on my move-in day post-college. New York City is everything, the good and the bad. And there is probably nothing I could say that would be terribly unique to my experience about living here: it’s wonderful, it’s cultured, it’s full of events, it’s expensive, it’s loud, I live in a shoebox. But to paraphrase an email I sent in 2009 to a friend justifying my decision to live in NYC, “I might have anxiety from living in New York, but I would have much worse anxiety about not living here.” New York City is just the place for me. But I also want to be careful about over-romancing NYC, though: it’s not for everyone.

    But I would wish for everyone a place they love as much as I love New York. You have to find your New York.

    8. Most of your quotes come from famous individuals. Who are your personal role models?

    I love Becky Quick from Squawk Box, Bethenny Frankel, and especially Nora Ephron, who has always been my main role model. I also closely follow Sheryl Sandberg’s career and Lori Gottlieb’s writings.

    9. It’s also clear that you enjoy reading. What are some of your favorite books?

    I read mostly non-fiction, with a focus on business, pop psychology, and narrative non-fiction (memoirs, etc). Nora Ephron’s books have probably had the biggest impact on my life in my college and post-college years, but Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was also a huge influence to me when I read it. I saw Malcolm working in a coffee shop on the east side once, that was awesome. And of course I love Gretchen Rubin…

    10. Finally, since you and I both enjoy The Happiness Project, what habits or practices have you created after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book?

    The Happiness Project was another total life-changing book for me, and I try not to use clichés like “life-changing” lightly. I just love the idea of small tweaks to make life better—that’s the sort of formula my blog is built around. One of my favorite quotes of the author’s, Gretchen Rubin, is that one of the Secrets to Adulthood is to “Be Gretchen.” I love that phrase: “Be Gretchen!”. She’s talking about it in the context of herself, obviously, but I love the idea of just doing you. There are many things I do that others probably would not enjoy, and vice versa. That’s okay. I just have to Be Molly. That’s really the only person that I can be realistically be 100% of the time anyway.

    Molly Ford is such an inspiring woman. She’s creative, kind, and self-reliant. As a role model and a person, I consider her to be someone worth admiring. If you’ve never read Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardgo check it out right now. Thanks, Molly!

    What do you think of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward? What writers or bloggers should I interview next?

    Click to tweet: Read @thecollegenov’s interview with blogger @SmartPrettyAwk! http://wp.me/p2FPLe-EM

  • From the Archives: The 4 “A”s of Characterization

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    Every writer understands the importance of creating believable characters. Story revolves around people–therefore, characters are arguably more important than plot. Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, memoir, or personal essay, it’s vital that you make your actors as three-dimensional as possible. Consider the following four “A”s of characterization:

    1. Actions. What risks has the character taken in the past? How has he or she treated family and friends? What about enemies? What hobbies does he or she enjoy? What has your character done? What is he or she doing in the story?

    2. Attitudes. How does the character feel about gay marriage, abortion, religion, and other  hot-button issues? What are your characters’ views on the world?

    3. Artifacts. What are your characters’ prized possessions? What shelter do they have? What cars do they drive? What’s the first thing they’d save in the event of a fire?

    4. Accounts. What are some noteworthy anecdotes about these characters? What do other people have to say about them? What rumors have been circulated?

    This is a rough list of just a few questions you can use to generate information for your four A’s. If you want better characters, give this system a try. And good luck.

    What do you think of this system? How do you like to flesh out your characters?

    Click to tweet: Want fully-formed characters? @thecollegenov has some tips. http://wp.me/p2FPLe-EH

  • Where to Find Character Names

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    A few years ago I walked into Goodwill with the intention of purchasing a gently-used sweater. I walked out with a baby name book that made my mother raise an eyebrow.

    “Is there anything we need to talk about?” she asked.

    I laughed and explained to her that I was going to use it to find names for my characters. She wasn’t the only one I needed to explain my purchase to. Any time I whipped out the book, my friends, coworkers, and loved ones all wanted to know what use I had for it. If you’re a writer, you need several resources for character names. While a baby name book is one example, there are several other options.

    A close second to the baby name book is the baby name website. The internet is full of these; they’re cropping up all over the place! Some of my favorites include Behind the Name, Baby Name Voyager, and Baby Names. These sites contain lists of popular names as well as the meaning, history, and origin of them. If you don’t want to go out and purchase a book, you should utilize these free resources.

    Here’s a tip for names that I bet you’ve never heard: the next time you watch a television show or a movie, pay attention to the credits. Pick a first name and combine it with a different last name. Congratulations! You’ve named your character!

    Another great method is to take a stroll through a cemetery and pick some names off headstones. If you don’t feel comfortable using names that have belonged to people, mix them up like you did with the movie credits exercise.

    One of the most difficult things about being a writer is knowing what to name your characters. Hopefully these free resources can help. Happy naming!

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