Writer’s Digest, Updates, and Good News

So a lot has happened since I was last posted. Most recently (and most excitingly) my short story “Baby Doll” was selected as an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 84th Annual writing Competition. A few weeks later the same short story was picked up by a literary magazine and will be published in the spring.

16339 AW

My super duper fancy shmancy official Writer’s Digest button. As you can probably tell I’m pretty excited about it.

“Babydoll” won’t be published for a few months but if anyone is interested in reading my work my short story “Sin Eater” was published in the online literary magazine Beorh Weekly a few months ago.

That’s about it! Expect new posts on creative writing portfolios, short stories, and editing soon.

Alex

(Photo by Szabolcs)

10 Things I’ve Learned from Creative Writing Workshops

Now that I’m engaged in my third creative writing workshop I figured I’d share a few of the more pertinent tidbits I’ve picked up during my time at the roundtable.

1. Experimenting with genres outside the ones your most comfortable in is one of the best ways to hone your craft.

2. You don’t have to be an incredible writer to be a good editor and offer valuable critiques.

3. Good writers accept and consider criticism. Defensive writers don’t grow. A writing workshop helps you develop thick skin.

4. Noting the mistakes in the works of other’s can help you to recognize the same mistakes in your own work.

5. A group of writers who are collectively committed to becoming better writers is one of the best writing resources around.

6. Good critiques aren’t knee-jerk reactions to a text. It takes time to cultivate fully formed ideas and opinions.

7. Reading books on writing is one of the best ways to develop your craft (I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird)

8. Sometimes workshop assignments can detract from time spent on other projects and that’s okay.

9. Short stories are great ways to experiment and challenge yourself as a writer without committing to long-term projects.

10. Public speaking is important. Very important. Knowing how to read your work in front of a crowd is a skill that’s honed with practice.

Until Next Time,

Alex

(Image by Max Klingensmith)

Ten Tidbits of Writing Advice

1. If you’re trying hard to sound smart chances are you sound dumb.

2. A writer should strive to say complicated things simply.

3.Good writers read the works of other good writers.

4. Defensive writers don’t grow. Take criticism with grace.

5. You don’t have to be talented, you have to be determined.

6. If you’re not serious about your writing chances are no one else will be either.

7. No amount of writing advice will write your work for you.

8. Platform isn’t everything. Your craft should always come first.

9. A blank page is nothing to be afraid of.

10. You may never be satisfied with your work. That’s okay, it means you’re getting better.

Until next time,

Alex

(Badass picture by [AndreasS])

 

Plotting for Pansters: A Brief How-to

As a natural panster I find that sitting down to plot a book before I’ve begun it is one of the most challenging, parts of the writing process. I’ve tried everything from flow charts to mind maps to chalk-board wall decals, summaries, outlines, you name it. What I came to realize that the way a story unfolds is unique not just to every writer, but every story as well. However over the years I’ve compiled a couple cheats and tricks into a sort of plotting process for scatter-brained pansters like myself.

Start by taking the scenes you want to write, settings you’d like to explore, snippets of dialogue or even feeling and place and compiling all of your ideas into a folder or word doc. Then draw parallels with the information you need to communicate and the imagery that inspired you to write the story in the first place. You’re trying to create a complete image, develop details and ideas into full-fledged scenes, plot points and story arcs. This is, essentially, the brain storming phase.

Once you’re finished developing your ideas try  to arrange the scenes/images based on tension and significance to the plot. This is the tricky part, and as a panster I can say with confidence that this part of my haphazard “plotting” is where poop starts hitting the fan. It helps to have some idea of what scenes come first, create connections (I find that the free web app Realtime board is great with that) you’re looking to create a sort of chain reaction.

Once you’ve got a rough idea of where your story is headed, try to group scenes together into chapter and look at the chapters as mini plots of their own. Each should have a rough arc, and defined beginning middle and end, even if there are unanswered questions and cliffhangers there should be a general sense of story. During this process a range of problems are going to become apparent, your plot is too fast, the estimated word count is too low, the estimated word count is too high, there are too many introspective moments, your scenes are too similar, your scenes seem disconnected, etc. DO NOT DESPAIR. This is where the whole plotting thing can become a panster’s salvation. Essentially you’ve made your job easy by fixing mistakes before you make them.

After you’re finished working through all of these issues give yourself a firm pat on the back. You’ve got the bare bones of your story and are now free to enter the trenches and write the damn thing.

Until next time,

Alex

(Photo by: Sonny Abesamis)

How to Write Around a College Schedule

With winter break ending and the spring semester around the corner (cue the chorus of weeping students) I wanted to draw up a little cheat sheet on how to write productively while balancing a load of college courses.

  1. Schedule classes with your writing schedule in mind. This may seem slightly crazy to some, but in a previous post (link) I mentioned the importance of being territorial about your writing time and that principle still applies when it comes to school. I’m not going to advise anyone to put their writing before their school work, however there is nothing wrong with trying to accommodate and come to terms with your writing and school schedules in order to find a happy medium between the two. Have I switched classes and altered my schedule to better suit my writing? Yes. However, I would warn any freshmen, sophomores and even upperclassmen to get those required classes out of the way fast.
  2. Finish assignments and homework Fast. Do your work when it’s assigned if possible, that way you’re not forced to write through guilt. It’s tough to be creative and devote yourself to your work when you have the thought of that paper you didn’t write or test you didn’t study for lingering at the back of your mind.
  3. Utilize the library. Where else can you find a silent environment with comfy couches, free books, free wi-fi and almost unlimited resources. In the library I’m able to get some of my best work done, and in between breaks sometimes I like to thumb through volumes on the Anthropology of Death or textbooks devoted to parasitic diseases or whatever strikes my fancy. You’re paying enough to go to school, so make use of all the features that are afforded to you. The library is chief among these.
  4. Learn to write on the go. Download a word-processing app for your phone and write when you have the spare time to. I’m talking in the minutes before class starts, in line at the coffee shop, on the walks between classes. If you can text on the go you’re already writing on the go so why not devote some of that word count to your WIP. Make a point to write something (one sentence or five paragraphs, it doesn’t matter) , anything, when you leave your dorm, house, apartment, whatever. Try to create a habit. Next time you’re standing awkwardly among of group of people and you’re preapring to pretend to text someone so you don’t look like an idiot, enter your note/writing app and writing something instead. It doens’t have to pertain to your story, do a word chain or character descriptions, poetry, song lyrics, dialogue it doesn’t matter. Just try to make it a habit. You’ll be surprised by your productivity, trust me.
  5. Take Writing Courses and Join Writing Communities. A bit of a no brainer, but I think that college students tend to underestimate just how much the act of writing (in all genres and mediums) can affect them. Write a lot, surround yourself with writers, join writing communities and clubs and get creative about keeping yourself inspired.

Good luck and happy writing!

Alex

My 2015 Reading Wishlist

One of my hopes for 2015 was to be more ambitious about my reading. I set a high (likely unachievable) goal to read fifty books this year and decided to draw up a reading list to keep me on-track and inspired. So, without further adieu, my 2015 Reading List.

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  2. The Blind Assassin by Margret Atwood
  3. 1984 by George Orwell
  4. We the Animals by Justin Torres
  5. Leaves of Grass by Robert Frost
  6. Into the Woods by Tana French
  7. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger
  8. The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
  9. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  11. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  12. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  13. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  14. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  15. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
  16. The Bees Laline Paull
  17. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  18. Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  19. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  20. Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri 
  21. The Simarillion by Jr. Tolkien
  22. Stone Mattress by Margret Atwood
  23. Wonder by Ralph J. Palerio
  24. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
  25. X by Ilyasah Shabazz
  26. 10:04 by Ben Lerner
  27. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  28. The Shining by Stephen King
  29. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
  30. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  31. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  32. Unwind by Neal Shustermand
  33. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  34. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  35. Young God by Katherine Faw Morris
  36. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  37. Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
  38. The Road by Cormac Mcarthy
  39. Insomnia by Stephen King
  40. The Magician’s Land by Levi Grossman
  41. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  42. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicker
  43. Anna Karinina by Leo Tolstoy
  44. Game of Thrones by George R. Martin
  45. A Clash of Kings by George R.R Martin
  46. A Storm of Swords by George R.R Martin
  47. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
  48. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  49. The Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary T. Hamann
  50. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Time to go stick my nose in a book,

Alex

(Image by Lawrence Wong)

Winter Thoughts on Writing

So. It’s been a while.

I’d like to say that’s because I’ve had some massive workload but in reality the last semester was moderate at best. In reality my absence from this blog was really more me coming to an understanding of myself rather than some sort of writer’s block or lack of inspiration. I have blogposts on the back burner, lot’s of them actually. I had book reviews and how-to’s and those boring semi-life updates like the one I’m writing now edited and untouched in my drafts folder. It wasn’t that I forgot about them I just stopped wanting to put myself out there.

I’ll admit my manuscript was a problem. The feeling that every paragraph here was part of a scene unwritten, that my time could be better spent with my draft rather than maturing my platform. It was only recently that I realized that the two are intrinsically linked. I’m not instruct readers when I write on this blog I’m instructing myself. This blog is of more help to me than it will ever be to anyone and that’s enough to keep me writing, enough to make me want to continue.

I think at the root of it the tension stemmed from my own indecisiveness. The fear of me not knowing exactly what I wanted to be, how I wanted to make myself appear on this blog, in the pages of my manuscripts and elsewhere. In my head it all made sense, there was no identity crisis or great change but rather a disconnect between me and the me I present to the greater world, this blog being only a small part of that.

So yeah. I’m back to posting (hopefully) now that I’ve worked my way through all of that. I won’t make any concrete promises because I don’t believe in New Years Resolutions but hopefully I’ll be updating semi-regularly from now on.

Happy New Year,

Alex

(Image by Magdalena Roeseler)

10 Ways to Finish Your Draft Fast

  1. Have a Plan: Create a schedule, a daily word count of what you need to do and when you want to do it. This can be as strict or lax as you want it to be, as long as you’re careful to cater your plans to your life and the way that you write.
  2. Be territorial about your time: In order to stick to your plan you’ll need to establish set time periods that are devoted to writing. Guard them the way you would a shift at work. For many this may mean disconnecting from social media, forgoing time that would typically be spent with friends (or even family) in addition to other sacrifices. Make your manuscript a top priority.
  3. Enter the zone: Studies show that “the zone” is actually a neurological state (often called flow state) where your brain reaches a production peak. In order to find your own flow you’ll need to eliminate distractions (many people find music helps with this) and, in doing so, enter the mental space where you feel most comfortable creating. Essentially you’re trying to lose yourself in your work.
  4. Plot: I know this is difficult for a lot of my fellow pansters (expect a post on plotting for the non-linear minded sometime in the near future) but it will save you a lot of time and a lot of strife if you have a vague idea of where your story is headed before you begin.
  5. Don’t use getting stuck as an excuse to stop: If you can’t force yourself to write then plot, if you can’t force yourself to plot then read, if you’re not in the mood for reading research by watching films that inspire or educate you. Just because your muse hasn’t showered you with grace does not mean you should abandon your efforts. Remember time is of the essence.
  6. Stay Energized: This means managing your sleep schedule, eating well, and doing all of the things that help you stay healthy both physically and psychologically. You can’t expect to produce when you don’t give your body the basic components it requires to function. Be kind to yourself.
  7. Read: Read good books and read them a lot. They will help you, they will inspire you, they will help you become better and write faster.
  8. Don’t second guess yourself: It’s not the time and it’s not the place. This means no massive revisions, no obsessive editing. Take notes as you go and save your misgivings for rewrites and revisions.
  9. Push Yourself: Of all the things I’ve mentioned this point is the most difficult for me (and I think many other writers) to grasp. In order to finish a novel you need to force yourself to write when you’re tired, when you’re uninspired, when you’re angry, when you have other things to do and when you have other things you want to do. It’s a commitment and it’s a challenge and it’s one you have to devote yourself to completely if you want to finish fast.
  10. Keep your eye on the prize: This is imperative. If you fail to do this you will drag your feet or abort the idea of finishing entirely. Remind yourself why your story is valuable to you, reread your favorite parts, write the scenes that give you chills. Indulge yourself by loving your story, your characters and your work.

Happy writing!

Alex

(Image by David Mello)

4 Free Apps I Use While Writing

  1. Realtime Board: This app is a writer’s wet dream. Essentially it acts as a digital whiteboard allowing you to create sticky sheets, diaphragms, mind maps and much more. Of all the apps I use while writing (even the ones I’ve paid for) I’d say Realtime Board is among my top three, second only to Scrivener which I consider to be the holy grail of all word processors and one of the best purchases I’ve ever made (expect a post on that in the future). With Realtime Board I find that plotting is easy, the lining tools allows you to join your ideas fast and create complex plots as easily as you would be able to draw them on a whiteboard except without all the clutter. The experience of working with Realtime Board is both tactile and clean. With it it’s easy to translates your ideas into charts, diaphragms and systems, which is why it’s such an imperative tool when it comes to my story plotting process.
  2. Evernote: Easily one of the most well-known, and most trusted, organizational apps for not just writers but creators in general. I find that Evernote is great for storing details and the more complex bits that go into developing stories. I tend to use it a lot when I’m developing characters, and researching. Both the mobile, and computer app, synchronizes to an online cloud making it easy to save, store and update your work regardless of where you are or what device you’re using. I  love how quick and easy it is to add media to documents and I’ve found that both the computer and mobile app are virtually glitch free.
  3. Fast Notepad: This is another notepad note that is incredibly simplistic when pitted against the complexity Evernote, but one I use a lot. Notes are easy to save VIA email, and there is a very basic folder system allowing you to organize your notes by category. In my case I separate them by story, and then another folder called Writing on the Go where I store bits of description or character concepts that come to me when I’m away from home (i.e my Macbook). There are many apps like this, available on both android and apple smartphones, but of all the ones I’ve experimented with Fast Notepad works best for me.
  4. Spotify: As someone who considers musical a critical part of my writing process, Spotify makes it easy to create story-specific playlists without the cost of buying new material every time I change projects. Spotify also has a feature that creates radio stations based on entire playlists, not just songs or albums, which I often use when I feel my selections are becoming stale or repetitive.

Happy writing!

Alex

(Image curtesy of Jason Howie)

3 Quick Tips on Titling

  1. Word Vomit.  Think of it like an association chain, scrawl or type whatever words you associate with your work.Try to capture the essence of your work. Write until you run dry and then write some more. Enlist the help of a Thesaurus if you have to and be sure to use your manuscript as a reference.
  2. Examine your prose. Comb your manuscript for metaphors and phrases that could potentially act as a title. If your manuscript is complete, pay special attention to the final chapters and scenes. Figure out what sticks out to you, and why, then go forward from there.
  3. Mix and match. Take all of these resources and pair them together to see what works. Write them on index cards, read them out loud, type them in different fonts and if you’re good at graphic design create a mock cover. Familiarize yourself with them until they feel natural, then select the one that is best suited to your work.

Thanks for reading!

Alex

(Image curtesy of Etienne)