5 Quick Tips for a Better 2015

happy-new-year-celebration-background_zy-bbhuOSo you’ve partied. You’ve made resolutions. You’ve watched fireworks. And now it’s time to think about what the new year means for your writing.

Five quick tips to help the new year get off to a successful start:

  1. If you’ve been thinking of writing something but have been putting it off—write it now. Don’t toast the end of 2015 with the thought, “I should have done that.”
  2. If things didn’t quite come together for your writing in 2014, take a deep breath and turn the page. You probably learned a lot over the past year; you can use it for more success in 2015.
  3. If you’re looking for new clients, students, or a new direction in your writing, stay open. There are always new opportunities available to you—you just need to be ready to seize them.
  4. Stay connected—but not too connected. You probably subscribe to a plethora of professional publications that fill your inbox every morning. This is a good time to look and see if you really need all of them, get rid of the ones that don’t add anything significant to your life—and devise a triage plan for the ones you keep.
  5. Make a pact with yourself right now to write every day. Every. Single. Day.

Writing the Short Story

Writer with a TypewriterFrom an author’s point of view, novels offer a lot of latitude. Think about it: you have time to develop characters, describe places, elaborate on plots and subplots, and explore philosophical questions. There’s a great deal of luxury there: luxury of time, luxury of space.

The thing is that generally when you’re writing a novel, you’re even not aware of the luxury you’re experiencing. You’re agonizing over the novel instead, pacing and muttering and writing and rewriting. It comes home to you, though, when you start thinking about writing shorter fiction. Suddenly you have to telescope everything: plot, drama, characters, background … and still make it sound good!

There are plenty of directions online for how to write a short story, some of them better than others. I’ll leave you to sort through them. In the meantime, though, here are some things to think about before you start writing:

What is the point? Short stories have this in common with other pieces of writing—the question the writer must be constantly asking him or herself is, so what? You may have great characters and a fabulous story arc, but unless there’s a compelling raison d’être, some sort of moral imperative, a point that the reader will take away, then the story won’t work.

Focus on your opening line(s). Readers are less invested at the beginning of a short story—and are far more easily distracted—than they are once they’ve committed to a novel, so you need to grab them right away with a really riveting opening line. Mind you, opening lines are important in any kind of writing—just multiply their importance by 100 for shorter works!

POV: Don’t commit too soon. Choose a point of view that you think will work, obviously. But as you write, you’ll figure out whether your choice was in fact what works best for this story. Be flexible and ready to rewrite if your characters tell you they need a change.

Don’t forget conflict. It’s even more important in the short story than it is in a full-length novel; otherwise the story seems pointless. Often, the conflict is what will answer the so what? question. A story arc may even be more essential here than in a full-length piece.

urban-storyEditing is critical. Pare your story down to the barest of bare bones. On your second draft, try and shorten it by at least a third from your first draft. Be concise, be succinct, be clear. Sometimes a mere suggestion is as powerful—or more so—than a long description. You can trust your reader to read between the lines.

At the end of the day, remember that it’s always about the reader. In many ways, short stories demand far more of the reader than do other genres. In some ways, they demand more of the reader than they do of the writer! There’s a whole lot of trust required: I’m going to plunge you directly into an environment you don’t know, surrounded by characters you haven’t met, and make you think about things you don’t expect. And all of it in the space of five minutes.

If you don’t believe me, try it. Put together a stack of short stories. Read three or four of them in a row. Exhausted yet? It’s tricky to plunge into a reading story and then, just as you start to feel comfortable inside it, find that it’s over. Be good to your reader, and don’t make them work any harder than the genre already requires.

3 Tricks for Overcoming Writer’s Block

writersblockWhether you’re poised to write the next Great American Novel or need to do a company report (that is, by the way, due this Friday), it’s bound to strike you at one point or another. It’s been called the Terror of the Blank Page. It’s been called Writer’s Block. It’s horrible.

So what can you do about it?

1) Outline, outline, outline!

Outlines impose discipline on the writing process, and they prevent losing sight of where you’re going. Keeping an image of where you’re coming from and where you’re going will always help you get to that destination a little (or a lot) faster.

Decide right off what are your top five or ten points and write them down as bullet items. That’s it! That’s your outline! Now all you need to do is look at the flow of the outline and move your bulleted items around until you like the logic. Combine or split bullets if that works better.

letter writing vintage photoSo now, start writing: a 100-word summary for each bullet point.

Next, expand each summary by listing bullets under each one, thus creating a second outline level.

Now turn each of these secondary points into one or two full sentences. Try to ignore the points on either side, concentrate just on that one point you are making. Once you’ve done this for each point, you’re very close to being finished.

All you have to do now is insert an introduction, a conclusion, and the missing transitions between your points. Try not to endlessly revise as you go; save that for the second time looking at your text. When you do manage to get sidetracked, your outline will help you get back on track more quickly and easily.

2) Talk, talk, talk!

It’s often helpful to talk to somebody about what you’re trying to write. I’ve always found that talking about what I’m writing reveals just how muddled my thinking is, and gives me greater confidence in what I do have down. If there’s no one to talk to, draft your ideas as an email or letter to someone else, even if you never send it. The act of explaining something to another person often clarifies it for you.

3) Start new writing habits

Here’s something you probably don’t know: people who keep journals often find themselves experiencing writer’s block less frequently than the rest of us. In that vein of thought, you might want to consider practicing the exercises from one or more of the following:

Finally, many people say that in order to write, you have to – well, write. Write other things. Turn off your inner editor and write for fun. (Surely you remember what that is like!)

What are you waiting for? Do it, and you’ll find yourself… beyond The Elements of Style!

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