Every writer should have someone to tell them their draft is c**p. (or not good enough)

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Seriously, this is a must in every writer’s bucket list, a brutally honest beta-reader who tells you that he/she didn’t care about your characters, your story had a long list of faults, you must show and not tell and whatever else they have found of extremely badly written in your manuscript draft, especially if you are now starting your writing career and therefore clueless of where you have to improve.

If your writing is a career for you, then you need to study to develop your weak spots, you need feedback and you need to hear your beta-readers, even if he/she was brutally honest and even if the way how he/she manifested his/her opinion made you cringe at the sight of that feedback for a whole month.

I remember when I received that brutally honest feedback. I had swapped beta-reading with another writer, but I couldn’t get her story for two reasons:

First, she didn’t tell me that one of her short stories was a spin-off of a novel from her that I haven’t read, so, not understanding at all where her short story had come from, I found it confusing and with an underdeveloped story world. She should have told me as a beta-reader that I would only understand the short story if I read the novel first.

And second, her protagonist failed to do anything out of her own insecurity and misplaced principles until the end of her story. So the protagonist was arrested, the horrible and well-depicted villain won and the third character, whose goals weren’t clear for me since the start, went on doing nothing apart from being the (impossible to understand) passive love interest of the protagonist. It was a weak story without a fully formed plot where nothing happened. It masqueraded as a tragedy, but at least for me, a tragedy without enough reasons for its sad and inconclusive end. I confess that I don’t like tragedies unless that really makes sense in the context of the character arc. Her story didn’t make sense to me at the time so I was sincere enough to tell her my opinion, taking care though to also point out what I had found of positive in her WIP, so it would be a balanced feedback.

As an answer, she sent me a really long email telling me all the things she had hated in my WIP in a really emotional way. To summarize it, her main points were that my backstory was stupid, my writing was beyond terrible and she didn’t care for the characters or the story at all. Her feedback was much more emotional and negative than what I usually received from other beta-readers, so I concluded that being upset about my previous, not completely positive feedback, had influenced the way how she expressed herself in her answer.

I thanked her for her quite thorough feedback and said nothing about the emotional way she had expressed it. I was astonished that my writing had called such a strong emotional reaction, even if a negative one. So, I decided to ignore the emotional coloring of her feedback and concentrated on the more precise advice buried under all that emotion.

And the advice was:

I had to find ways to bring the reader into my story so the reader would care.
I had to flesh out summarized narrative (Change tell into show) and make better description and settings.
I had to make my characters intriguing even if not likable through a clearer character arc.
I had to break the backstory into smaller bits, weaving it into the plot.
I had to show, not tell.

I accepted that brutally honest feedback regardless of how it was expressed and learned from it, instead of dismissing it completely or being hurt/discouraged by it. The harsh way how the critique was written convinced me to study and try to improve my writing in a way that milder feedback had not. So it was a hard experience, but one that was vital and important for my writing development.

Bucket list item accomplished. 🙂

Of course, there are always exceptions. Once I received feedback where it was clear that my beta-reader was disappointed that my story wasn’t a courageous group of marines shooting around to save the world. So I read his feedback taking that into account. 😉

And you? Have you already received brutally honest feedback?

My 10 favorite blogs on writing

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Here they are, not in sequence, since I like all of them. When I’m looking for writing advice here is where I look. Many of these bloggers have awesome books on writing I surely recommend.

 

1. Helping Writers Become Authors
https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/

 

2. Live Write Thrive
http://www.livewritethrive.com/

 

3. Writers Write
http://writerswrite.co.za/

 

4. Rayne Hall, Making Good Books Great
http://www.raynehall.com/

 

5. Marcy Kennedy
http://marcykennedy.com/

 

6. Jane Friedman
https://janefriedman.com/blog/

 

7.Writers Helping Writers
http://writershelpingwriters.net/

 

8. What is a plot?
http://www.whatisaplot.com/

 

9. Jami Gold
http://jamigold.com/blog/

 

10. She’s Novel
http://www.shesnovel.com/

Is the first book the hardest to write?

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I could be mistaken, but I consider my current work-in-progress, my first book, the hardest. So by association, I would say the first book is the hardest for most authors, especially if you are strict on yourself and want to make as little beginner mistakes as possible. If you are in love with your story and must make it the best. Once I heard from a famous writer that you probably should start off with a smaller, not so important project and move on later to the stories you are dying to write. I didn’t follow that advice and neither could I, because I usually am passionate about most of my stories, but I still consider that advice wise, even if it’s meant for less impulsive people than me.

On your first book, you have a humongous learning curve. There are so many ways you can improve your writing that I couldn’t make a list of all of them, let alone which one I would consider more important. I could make a list of the books I already looked in topics like Structure, Characters, Viewpoint, Description, and Setting, but apart from books, there are tons of resources on the internet, amazing blogs on writing, videos, podcasts, online courses and so on.

Books are my favorite source of information though because on the internet you often jump from an interesting blog post on writing to facebook and then all your concentration gets lost. And a book will cover a subject in many more pages, in a longer way than any blog post can. And in a book I can underline the most important tips and read them again, I find that easier than jumping back on a video. Again, each one has their own way to learn. For me the less distraction on the side the better.

Together with learning the craft you have to find your own writing system. Once you establish what works for you writing tends to get easier. I wrote my first draft as fast as I could and then I had to establish a certain order to my rewriting process and this proved to be quite time-consuming. There were too many aspects to revise and it looked the first time as too much to juggle. Later I saw I should make a reread for each of the aspects I wanted to improve. It seems like a simple idea, but it took out the overwhelming side of revising out of the way. Now I just need undisturbed revising time to use all the insights I gained so far.

So, was your first book the most difficult? What lessons have you learned with it?

Author Interview – Jen Ponce

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Jen’s love for reading came from her mom, who valued books above all things (except maybe the Dallas Cowboys and Michael Jordan.) She writes for the same reason some people run marathons, climb mountains, sculpt, paint, or put on suits of Mentos and jump into vats of Coke: because there is a fire burning inside her that doesn’t let her NOT do these things. Writing is necessary, like breathing or double chocolate chip cookies and perfectly salted potato chips.

Reading is not a lost pastime and Jen refuses to believe that something so magical could ever go away. Even during the zombie apocalypse, she will be reading. She will just have to learn how to wield an ax in one hand while holding her book in the other.

Jen Ponce lives in the Panhandle of Nebraska, with her boys, her cats, her goldfish Reggie and a large supply of books that help insulate the house in the winter and expand her mind.

She loves connecting on Twitter and Facebook. You can also send her email and she’ll write back. Visitwww.JenniferPonce.com to figure out how to do all of the above.

Jen Ponce. Writer of kick ass women and oogy monsters. One-handed, ax-wielding zombie hunter/reader.

How would you describe your story in one sentence?

The story I’m working on now: A young woman with a troubled past discovers that evil can wear a pretty face.

 
 

What inspired you to write your story/characters/theme?

This story came from a dream that inspired a three-day writing binge that left me with 275 pages of story. I’ve been picking at it for a long time, trying to figure out what the purpose of it is, what the ending is, why it has stuck with me as something that needed written. I’ve finally gotten the handle on what I want to say with this book and I’m about halfway done with it.

 

Which authors have influenced you?

There are a lot of romance authors who inspired me to start writing way back when: Johannah Lindsey, Laura Kinsale, Lisa Gregory, Rebecca Brandewyne. Then I picked up a novel that looked like a romance (with two lovers in passionate embrace) but of course, the male model was Stephen King. That book was Misery and started me on a nom, nom, reading binge of horror.

 

Which are your favorite literary genres?

Fantasy of all kinds, romance, and historical fiction.

 

What makes a book/story special for you?

Books with female characters who have agency and independence. Books that have fast action, gory horror, engaging characters and magic!

 

Where do you live? Did your hometown/country/culture influenced your story?

I live in the Panhandle of Nebraska and while I have used Nebraska as the location for several of my novels, it’s more because there aren’t that many novels set in Nebraska rather than my desire to write novels inspired by Nebraska. Does that make sense? I think of books like My Antonia inspired by and grown by the land about which they are written. My books just use Nebraska as a backdrop.

 

How long you needed for writing this book/for your first draft/ for your revision/editing process?

I can type words very quickly, but getting them into the right order for a novel is a lot harder. (Imagine that! LOL) If I have a firm grasp on the novel and where I want it to end up, I can usually get a first draft written in two or three months. I set the thing aside for a while, then pick it up again to read through it with fresh eyes. I’ll make corrections, revisions, and then get it to someone else to read. When they send back their feedback, I plunk it into a program that will read the text to me so I can hear all the things I missed during a read through. It’s different for each novel, too. If I write the book more slowly, there are less mistakes.

 

Did you hire a cover artist/editor/proofreader?

I’ve been making my own covers and looking back on some of my first covers, I see that I’ve made a lot of progress as a cover maker. I’ve translated that knowledge to my day job and have won a state-wide award related to the skills I’ve been honing through my writing.

 

What have you learned while writing and publishing? Did unexpected things happen?

I’ve learned that I am very much capable of planning a project, carrying it out, and seeing success from it. Writing will always be something I do, even if self-publishing goes away, even if no one ever sees anything I write. It was really the publishing and all the things that come with it that made me realize that I can accomplish what I put my mind to. I love that feeling.

 

What helped you to get inspired and overcome hurdles along the writing of your book?

I’ve been doing a lot of drawing lately in preparation for another book I’ll soon be writing. It’s an epic fantasy, a genre I haven’t really written in before (aside from some small stories) and it’s both invigorating and nerve-wracking to contemplate a book the size I think this one will be. The drawing helps me focus my creativity in different ways to enhance the writing I do. At other times, I’ve used writing workbooks or creative writing exercises to overcome hurdles, or I completely scrap all that I’ve done and come at the problem from a different writing angle. That one is painful and hard, but I’ve written pretty good stories from those moments of bravery, so as hard as it is, sometimes throwing away all that you’ve done to start fresh can work wonders.

 

What would you do differently on a next project?

I am a pantser down deep in my soul, but I’ve seen the benefits of pre-planning stories in my own work. I’ve done a lot more structuring of plot and character work for the upcoming writing project than I’ve done for most of my stories, so I’m excited to see if that makes a difference or not.

 

Best piece (s) of advice for first time writers?

Don’t forget to have fun with your writing and don’t show your work too soon. Valid or not, other people’s opinions can totally wreck your mojo. Keep the assholes and cheerleaders out of your creative space for as long as you can stand it.

 

Where can readers contact you in the internet? Do you have a blog/website?

You can visit me at www.JenniferPonce.com to see my books, read my blog, and contact me. You can also play with me on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JenPonceAuthor or on Twitter: www.Twitter.com/JenPonceAuthor.

 

What are you planning to write/publish next?

I’m publishing my next book on June 6, 2016. I’ll be writing Brokeneck Raven (my epic fantasy) next, and then I’ll be writing Fungus Queen (horror novel) with the hopes of having it published in October of this year. I don’t think Brokeneck Raven will be done this year, but miracles do happen! 🙂

 

 

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Author Interview – Shannon L. Perrine

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SL PERRINE is a wife to a mechanic and mother of four crazy teenagers (3 are boys) who eat her out of house and home. While raising her kids she has obtained three degrees, and now works to feed this bunch as a Registered Medical Assistant in a private physician’s office in the city she currently resides.
She is a native of Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, New York, having spent equal time growing up in both cities.

Writing has always been a passion of hers since she was young. She finally sat down and finished her first book in 2012 and self-published.

She has several projects in the works.

“If I never make a dime off my books I don’t care, I just love the fact that my work is out there for others to read.”
~SL PERRINE~

Questions:

How would you describe your story in one sentence?

Immortal Slumber is a story about an adopted girl who, on her 18th birthday discovers she’s a witch and all her friends knew about it.

What inspired you to write your story/characters/theme?

I watched a few different movies with my husband and kept saying, “that story would be so much better if it went like this…” Finally my husband got tired of hearing me say that and told me to just start a new series.

Which authors have influenced you?

Originally, Nora Roberts. I had spent ten years getting borrowed books from my step-mom. Eventually I started going to the library, and I was never really sure what I was getting. I kept getting what I knew I liked until the library didn’t have anymore. So I picked up a couple YA Fantasy books and fell in love.

Which are your favorite literary genres?

Fantasy and Romance.

What makes a book/story special for you?

Originality… Nothing beats the feeling of not wanting to put a book down because your so interested in what’s coming next.

Where do you live? Did your hometown/country/culture influenced your story?

I divided my time between parents, so I grew up in both city and country settings in Central New York. I love the country setting, but find I choose more of a urban setting for my books. That’s just how they worked out.

How long you needed for writing this book/for your first draft/ for your revision/editing process?

I think this book took me close to 3 months. About 1.5 to write and then I procrastinated on the editing. I was waiting for a specific publisher to open for submissions. We haven’t gotten to the revision/editing yet.

Did you hire a cover artist/editor/proofreader?

Fortunately I have been given a contract to publish and my publisher will be handing it off to those she has on staff

What have you learned while writing and publishing? Did unexpected things happened?

I learned that really anyone can write a book if they want to. You have to be dedicated to complete a trilogy/series if you start one. Which will keep you going if you have it in you to do it. Then just start another one. Keep the momentum.

What helped you to get inspired and overcome hurdles along the writing of your book?

There were so many days that I didn’t want to write, and so many I couldn’t. But eventually I had to allow myself those days to not write, so that way when I sat down to my story again, I was able to give it my full attention without feeling like the story was being forced. If I began to feel like I was stuck, I’d sit down with a book or a movie and just forget my book for a day or two. Then I was able to go back refreshed.

What would you do differently on a next project?

I don’t know that I would do anything different on my next project. Except maybe the story.

Best piece (s) of advice for first time writers?

I’m asked this a lot. My only advise is this…if you want to write, then do it. Don’t think about it,don’t plan,just sit down and see what comes out.

Where can readers contact you in the internet? Do you have a blog/website?

My new website is now up… http://www.slperrine.com

They can also contact me on Facebook. http://www.Facebook.com/slperrine

What are you planning to write/publish next?

Currently I have two series that I’m working on. Immortal Slumber is book one of The Crawford Witch Chronicles, an will be published by The Dragons Rockettship Publishing, LLC.

The other is The Beast Within Series and The Beast Within: book one is scheduled for release for March 2017 with Burning Willow Press, LLC.

 

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Author Interview – Tony Healey

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Tony Healey is a best-selling independent author based in the city of Brighton & Hove in the UK. His writing has been published alongside science-fiction legends Harlan Ellison and Alan Dean Foster. He has also had work appear with Piers Anthony, Scott Nicholson and J.R. Rain.
Most of his works are bestsellers, including his smash-hit science-fiction series Far From Home. Tony is married and has four daughters. For the latest on his various projects, visit www.tonyhealey.com

 

How would you describe your story in one sentence?

The best scifi adventure book you will ever read hahaha

What inspired you to write your story/characters/theme?

David and I collaborated on this sequel to my book “Age Of Destiny” and it picks up right where that one left off, both in terms of plot and character development. It truly is Book 2 in this series, meaning that it takes everything that next step further than Book 1 did. I’m very proud of David’s work on this one. I think it’s some of his best writing to date.

Which authors have influenced you?

Stephen King (though his later stuff is a bit of a wash-out); Alan Dean Foster; Harlan Ellison; Arthur C Clarke; Lauren Beukes – to be honest I’m just pulling names out of a hat here. There are so many influences. Some of them, like William Vitka, Bernard Schaffer and AD Bloom are indie writers churning out their best work right now.

Which are your favorite literary genres?

Scifi, Fantasy, Action-Adventure, Literary (I’m thinking writers like John Irving and Michael Chabon here), mysteries and thrillers, a whole wide range really. I read what takes my fancy. And from a writing standpoint, it’s good to read across the board. It’s all fuel.

What makes a book/story special for you?

Characters. Emotion. Backstory. The need to know more.

Where do you live? Did your hometown/country/culture influenced your story?

Brighton, East Sussex in the United Kingdom. There are things I work into my stuff, but I’ll leave it to readers to figure it all out.

How long you needed for writing this book/for your first draft/ for your revision/editing process?

It was a very smooth process, working with Dave and we nailed the edits in a couple of weeks. This manuscript is about as tight as we can get it.

Did you hire a cover artist/editor/proofreader?

I did the cover, and I served as editor (though Dave did substantial edits on his own), and a lovely lady gave the book a proofread when she read an ARC, which was very nice of her. There’s an important lesson for writers: network. If you’re creating great content, there will always be people willing to help you make it that much better.

Best piece (s) of advice for first time writers?

Slow and steady wins the race. You’ll get faster as you get better. Write tight prose – be ruthless with your own work. Simplify it down, make it barrel along at a lightning pace. I like to write no-nonsense prose with the odd flourish here and there. Try to be as active as you can, and have confidence. Try new things. Fuck it. When you’re done with your draft, try to eliminate any words that weaken your writing. Do a Find/Replace in Microsoft Word and have it highlight them. You can then go through your document from start to finish and decide which of those you REALLY need. If you don’t really need them, cut them out. Even if that means you have to restructure a sentence. Your work will be all the more stronger for it. There’s a lot to say, but the biggest would be: Don’t be precious about what you’ve written. Chill the fuck out and go with the flow. Roll with the punches.

Where can readers contact you in the internet? Do you have a blog/website?

www.tonyhealey.com and they can catch me on twitter as @fringescientist

What are you planning to write/publish next?

I have a mystery/thriller novel (the first in a series) sitting with publishers (Sorry, I can’t name names at this stage!) and I’m simultaneously working on the next entry in my Far From Home series, as well as a standalone novel that features a husband that goes missing as its inciting incident.

PLANET OF ICE is available NOW : http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AGP28TO

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Ten things I’m tired of finding in stories I read.

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1) The perfect female protagonist

She’s 100% benevolent towards everybody. She has no self-preservation instinct. She always feels guilty about things she didn’t do in a perfect way, even if she was defending herself at that moment. She thinks of others all the time and never on herself. She’ll never say mean words, feel jealous or moody, be lazy, have human flaws or make wrong choices in her life or love interests. She’s always the well behaving girl who never does anything wrong. She’s an unreachable model of a perfect heroine.

2) The heroine or hero who dies at the end for no understandable reason.

They die after three or more books. Usually they sacrifice themselves for a minor character or it only happens for no reason that makes sense to you as a reader, after all they were so resourceful to the very (frustrating) end.

You just invested a long time reading and caring about them so that they would die for something that could have been easily avoided. And what for? Sometimes the end of the story just feels like a devastating funeral after that, worse yet if this happens in the middle of the story and the book goes on, now devoid of the character who gave it life. It feels to me like a cheap story device, that old story of “kill your darlings”, like if the writer is tired of the character and wants to be sure he/she won’t write more about him/her in any future books because they so conveniently died.

What’s the problem with letting the main character live in the end? Has that turned into a cliche lately? Or is it the other way around?

3) The protagonist’s bad family where only the father is a good guy.

Poisonous bad mothers, not so nice siblings and a loving, flawless father completely unrelated to all those problems in an unrealistic way have become so frequent in books that I feel like yawning every time I find them in yet another book. Why not try to change it a bit?

4) The perfect romance that goes on for 350 pages or longer.

All right, perhaps I’m being a grumpy person here. But when I start reading a so called urban fantasy or paranormal fantasy book I expect romance to be interlaced with fantasy or a bit of story at least. Nothing against a bit of romance here and there, but if I wanted only to read about the perfect romance among two – completely devoid of human flaws and drawbacks – characters, I would perhaps look for a book in the romance genre.

5) Good people, bad people and nothing in between.

Good characters who never make a mistake and are never weak, calculating or mean. Bad characters who are incapable of doing anything good. The world isn’t like that.

6) Description that slows the pace down to a point you have to jump fifty pages to see if anything will happen.

After ten pages of description, ten of setting and other ten of uninteresting backstory you feel really sad you bought the book and started reading it. You jump fifty pages to see if anything will happen only to see that you lost track of the little bits of plot scattered in the pages you skipped.

7) Secondary characters who say only nice things to the main character.

“You know nothing John Snow.” How refreshing is that? Ygritte wasn’t only a secondary character and love interest, she also had a mind and voice of her own. And this is a well written secondary character.

8) The romantic heroine who feels attracted to a guy who tried to kill her one page ago.

Usually the given reason is that the dangerous guy is so good looking that the heroine can’t help herself but have romantic thoughts and butterflies in her belly when she looks at him.

Really? This doesn’t seem to me like something a sane woman would do, and it does looks contrived even in a romantic story. Apart from that, as a parent, I don’t think we should be teaching young girls that the violent guy is the hero for them. Often you will find enough apologies in the story, that the guy was trying to kill, or was hurting them, because he knew no better, or he was in a twisted way trying to protect them. I think this all leads to an inversion of values that can at least be misleading to young girls and boys too.

9) Secondary characters who change magically from hating into liking the protagonist

I was reading a story where the protagonist had a brother who hated her. I didn’t find any clue on the first one hundred pages as to why he felt like that or as to why he would treat her badly all the time. Eventually his irritating rude behavior changed to a new direction without any given reason.

I was thinking: “Does the author expects me to sympathize with this character now? But I was annoyed with him one page ago.” If the author had any reasons for the character changes I didn’t get it from reading the story. So that remains a mystery…

And finally:

10) Characters who lack sense of humor and can’t laugh about themselves or the situations they are in.

A story without humor is like food without seasoning. The irony of life shouldn’t go unnoticed, that’s what makes readers laugh and relate to a character.

So make us laugh, we’ll love your characters and your story for that.