How to Deal with Writer’s Block (featuring a T-Rex)

How do you deal with writer’s block? That’s a question many authors ask. Learn how to overcome writer’s block with these simple tips…presented by a T-rex!

 

Having any other methods you swear by for getting over writer’s block? Share them in the comments!

6 Common Struggles Writers Face and How to Deal With Them

Writers face issues great and small that have an impact on how well and how often they write. Some are more serious than others, but they all deserve attention in order to make sure you’re the best writer you can be.

1.) Not Having Time to Write

Many writers complain about not having time to write, and this is a major setback. Children, spouses, work always seem to come first.

Solution: If this is the case, then you need to treat writing like an obligation. Mark specific time on your calendar. Get up an hour earlier. Write on your lunch break. Hire a babysitter or join a mom’s group so you have someone who can watch your children every once in a while. It might even take finding a writing buddy that you meet up with once a week so that you’re held accountable. Or, instead of taking bits of time here and there, try blocking off one weekend where you can lock yourself in and write.

 

2.) Never Enough Syndrome

So many writers, published and unpublished, seem to suffer from what is commonly deemed “Never Enough Syndrome.” This can encompass everything from feeling like you’ll never be good enough to wondering if you’ll ever have a good idea again to feeling like you can never share your work with others because you fear what they’ll think.

Solution: First, recognize that bestselling authors feel this way, too. You’re not alone. It’s scary to put yourself out there, so start small. Find someone you trust with your writing- a friend, mentor, family member- anyone you can show it to at the start. Slowly start showing it to more and more people. Or, open a book by an author you love. Pick out one single sentence. Really look at the words. You could’ve written that sentence. It’s just several words strung together. You can do that. Also, surround yourself with other writers who can help pick you up when you’re having doubts, or attend workshops and conferences so you can constantly feel like you’re improving your skills.

 

3.) Anxiety

Along with Never Enough Syndrome, many writers suffer from anxiety and depression. It can be hard to write when symptoms set in. Just getting out of bed can be a victory.

Solution: Do whatever self-care you need. Talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or a psychiatrist. Whatever you do, don’t add to the weight on your chest by worrying about not hitting your current writing goals. Remember that your mental health is more important and needs to be addressed first. And once it has been, you’ll be in a better place to write.

 

4.) Rejection

If you are a writer, at some point in your career, you will have to deal with rejection. It usually comes from agents and editors turning down your book.

Solution: Find what makes you happy. A chocolate bar? A warm bath? A nice long run? Find that thing that will take the edge off your disappointment. Know that it’s not personal. There are so many reasons agents and editors reject a book- everything from already having a client who writes something similar to someone having a bad day and not being in the right frame of mind to read your work. Generally, you will never know why you were rejected, so don’t dwell on it. Instead, always make sure you’re writing something new so you’ve got something else to query or sub if this manuscript isn’t the one that lands you your agent/editor. (More often than you’d suspect, a writer’s first manuscript isn’t the one that lands them their agent/editor anyway.)

 

5.) Loneliness

Writers spend all day thinking about and talking to characters who are only real in their heads. It’s a very lonely profession.

Solution: Join a writer’s group. Write at a coffee shop. Call up your critique partners to chat. Go to a writing conference. Join Twitter and discover all the writers on there. All of these can help you realize you aren’t alone out there in the writing world.

 

6.) Writer’s Block

The plague of writers everywhere, writer’s block seems to rear it’s ugly head at the most inopportune times. Maybe you’re in the middle of a chapter. Or you’ve finished one book and don’t know what to start next. Either way, writer’s block stinks.

Solution: Read. Read a lot. It might just get those creative juices flowing. Or, try brainstorming with a friend or critique partner. Go for a walk around the block to clear your head, or come back tomorrow after you’ve slept on it. Don’t beat yourself up. The more stressed you are, the less likely you’ll be to come up with a good plot point. Maybe a yoga or a meditation class could help if you find yourself falling into that trap.

 

Whatever struggles you face as a writer, know you’re not alone. There’s always hope and help out there. Have other issues you’re struggling with or solutions to the problems above? Post them in the comments!

 

 

What to Look for in a Critique Partner

My last post focused on where to find critique partners, and this week’s post is all about making sure you’ve got the right ones.

Here are some things you should look for in a critique partner to have the best chance at being compatible.

  • Can you be candid with one another

The point of having a critique partner is so that they can help you make your work better through constructive criticism. If your critique only tells you how good something is or how much they like it, they really aren’t helping you revise and grow as a writer. They need to be able to approach your work with a critical eye in order to help you gain deeper insights into your work and what issues might need addressing.

  • Write for the same age group

This may not seem important, writing is writing, right? Well, to a degree. However, someone who writes for the same age group is going to understand that reader and the pacing of the story. Plots and timing are going to be very different for an adult novel versus a middle grade novel.

  • Write the same genre

Like #1 above, writing the same genre can be helpful because someone who writes science fiction or fantasy might understand world building and what needs to go into it better than someone writing a contemporary novel. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. As long as a critique partner gets your work, that’s what’s more important.

  • Make sure they have time for you

People are busy these days. If they’re not doing their own writing, they’re off doing any number of other tasks. And there’s nothing more frustrating than sending out your work and never getting it back. On the flip side, make sure you have time to help them with their writing in return.

  • Try trading sample chapters to make sure you like their writing

Before you officially agree to partner, try trading sample chapters. Maybe you’ll hate their writing. Maybe you’ll love it, but it’s better to know before you commit yourself to a whole book.

  • Different perspectives

It can be good to get different perspectives. Is your main character a female? Have a male critique partner read it and see what he catches. Or, if you’re a female writing a male character, see what a male critique partner points out as unnatural. (Side note: for certain works you may also want sensitivity readers if you’re writing outside your own experience.)

Other aspects that might signal you’ll be good partners include having the same sense of humor, liking the same authors/books, and being able to articulate feedback in a way that makes sense to each other. Keep these in mind when you meet potential critique partners, and you’ll be off to a good start.

What do you look for in a critique partner? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

8 Places to Find Critique Partners

If you saw my post last week, you read about the 5 critique partners every writer needs. But now, I’m going to clue you in on how to find those critique partners.

Finding critique partners can be hard. Everyone is busy, so you need to find people who can make the time to help you (but you also need to be prepared to help them in return- that’s where the “partners” part of it comes in.) So where can you look to find people willing to read your work?

1.) Writing Conferences

Almost all my critique partners have come from people I’ve met at writing conferences. It’s an easy place to ask what someone writes to see if you might have similar styles. If you can’t afford to attend one in person, look into online conferences like WriteOnCon, where the critique forums are open free for all to use.

2.) Twitter Pitch Contests

Follow the feeds on major pitching days like #Pitchmas or #PitMad. You’ll find fellow authors whose work is in the same genre as you and who may be interested in helping.

3.) Family

I know, there’s STILL that whole contingent of people out there who say you shouldn’t have family read your work, but let’s say your sister is an English major, then maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

4.) Local Writing Centers

Many larger towns have writing centers. See if they know of anyone looking for a critique partner. Better yet, take one of their classes and see if you click with anyone there.

5.) Librarians

Unless you have a really, really good relationship with your local librarian, I’m not suggesting you ask them to read your book. However, they may know of other local writing groups or authors who may be able to help.

6.) MFA Programs/Degree Programs

Did you get an MFA in Creative Writing or take undergraduate classes in writing? Perhaps some of your former classmates would be willing to help.

7.) Book launches

If you find an author whose work you love, go to their local book launch or signing if they have one. Talk to others there. You just might meet a fellow writer.

8.)Book Stores

Writers spend a lot of time in bookstores. Next time you’re there browsing your favorite aisle, why not strike up a conversation with the person down the row. Even if they’re not a writer, maybe they’ll be a new friend.

 

With many of these options, don’t blurt out first thing that you want that person to be your critique partner. Get to know the person first if you can, then ask. This especially applies to platforms like Twitter. Don’t message people out of the blue asking them to read your work if you’ve never even had a Twitter conversation before. Otherwise, good luck!

Let me know in the comments where you met your critique partners! And don’t miss next week’s post about what to look for in a critique partner.

10 Things Writers Should Know About Writing Military Characters

Hey Ya’ll,

Before I begin to blather my 3rd grade dribble across the wonderfully pure pages of Annie’s site; I would like to thank her for her generosity in allowing me access to the airwaves. I would like to also thank all of you for caring enough about your writing to give this list a glance. I hope you find it useful, if you would like to ask more detailed questions, please contact me at robakers19@gmail.com

1.) In today’s age, no one was drafted.

The draft was abolished in the early 1970s so anyone who had been drafted has already retired. But that isn’t true of other nations or worlds (especially if you’re writing fantasy), so it is perfectly acceptable to have a character who was drafted or one who volunteered.

 

2.) Rank is based on experience and merit.

The rank structure is broken into two categories. Actually, it can be three but we should keep it simple for now. The junior ranks are the Enlisted ranks. The Officer ranks are the leadership structure of the military. Note that I am not listing the names for these ranks because it varies between the individual services. Generally speaking, the higher one progresses up the rank ladder, the less time they spend in the field and the more time they spend in an office making command decisions.

If your character is someone who needs to be in the action; make them a squad leader of 8-12 men with a mid-level Enlisted rank. If they are in command 30 men, make them platoon leader as a junior officer. If they are in command 200 men make them company commander as a mid-level Officer. If they are in command of the battalion of 1000 men or in command of an entire ship, they need to be a high-ranking officer but below the level of a General. In the modern military, Generals do not lead from the front and Privates do not make strategic decisions like authorizing the release of nuclear weapons.

 

3.) Nearly 99.9% of the Officer ranks have a college degree, but a vast majority of the Enlisted members also have a college degree.

The difference is that a college degree is a requirement to become an Officer while most Enlisted folks get their degrees after they join. There is a thing called a battlefield promotion. It isn’t a common practice in today’s military, but in World War II, it was not uncommon for exceptional Enlisted members to be promoted on the front lines to an Officer position. A common drinking toast of the junior officers of the British Navy is called the Ensign’s toast. They hold their drink up and offer a salute before they drink “To Death, War, and Famine.” At that time, the only way that they could progress up the ranks of command was for someone higher ranking to die.

 

4.) Not everyone has been shot at.

In fact, the actual number of people who have heard a bullet wiz by their head is relatively low. The vast majority of those who serve in the military have not been in combat. That doesn’t mean that their service is any less meaningful, just that they don’t have that experience even if they served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is okay to have a character who served in Afghanistan for an entire year and never was in danger. Or you could have a character who was injured during their first encounter in combat. In Vietnam, the average life expectancy of a 1st Lieutenant in combat was nineteen seconds. If they survived that first day, then the odds were that they would survive the entire war.

plane-taking-off

Kuwait, winter 2004 with a C-130 taking off in background.

 

5.) Not everyone who has served will have PTSD, but PTSD is very real and it takes on many different forms.

The forms of PTSD are different and vary widely depending on the individual. Even two people who served side by side for the entire war can have different reactions to their shared experiences. I would not say that I have PTSD, but like clockwork, I become irritable with a vague sense of nerves every March. And it magically goes away in May. Usually my wife notices it first and will remind me of the date, and from that point on, I am able to control the feelings. But they are there, and they are very real. I know people who saw real combat and have no issues and others who have deeper issues. PTSD is a mental health issue, and if you choose to give your character this issue, it is okay if the cause is not something tragic. Ask any mother if they jump when they hear a baby cry. Ask them if they feel a need to aid that child. Ask them if they feel an internal sense of dread when they hear that cry. That is a common form of PTSD.

military-temp

Outside the tent in Qatar, June 2003. The temperature was almost 140 degrees.

 

6.) A military member is a regular person.

They can have any belief system that you chose to give them. They can be an atheist or extremely religious. They can be conservative or liberal. They can be heterosexual or homosexual. They can be tall or short. Fat or slim. For the most part, they will be in a descent physical condition as most handicaps or severe childhood diseases will eliminate them from service. But I know military members who recovered from cancer or had a traumatic battlefield injury. The thing to know is that they had to demonstrate an ability to perform all the tasks required for their job before they can return to service. Strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes are generally disqualifying events.

Your character can have any believe system that you choose. But the farther from the norm that you make them, then the more they will have to deal with their fellow teammates. I am sure there is an individual who is an ultra-liberal, homosexual, Christian, Navy SEAL. But that person would not only be rare, but they would get a lot of grief from their teammates. They would constantly be mocked, teased, and mentally abused. However, the only thing that his teammates would really care about is if the SEAL in question can do their job without hesitation. Because as much as you think it matters, all they really care about is if they can be trusted in the middle of a fight.

 

7.) Asking a young soldier to charge a hill requires a mentally that doesn’t exist in the civilian world.

The young soldiers have to be accepting of the fact that their life is meaningless when compared with the fate of the entire Army. They are taught in boot camp about the heroics of those who died in the past. These heroes have buildings named after them. They have camps named after them and entire bases named after them. They live on in history because they made the ultimate sacrifice. The men and women in boot camp are taught that to have eternal honor they must make eternal actions. The beginning of that process is to strip away the individual and promote the collective. That is why everyone in the military wears the same type of clothing, marches the same, salutes the same, and has all the other outward appearances of similarity.

 

8.) Every one in the military is different from their peers in some way.

There is a pack mentality among with the military, and that pack will attack any perceived weakness. In the civilian world, we would call it bullying. In the military, it would be called training. Everyone gets picked on because it is a rite of passage, and it is a test to see how they react to stress. If a person cannot take a cutting insult, then how will they react when their life is in danger?

 

9.) Most everyone has a nickname or a call sign.

This can take many forms, and it is not gender neutral either. I know of a lady who had a bad hair day and earned the name “Wolfie.” Sometimes, the name is given quickly based on their last name. Someone with the name of Bob Smith might be called “B.S.” or “Smithy.” Or their name might come from something they did. I have a friend called “Sleepy” because when he drinks alcohol, he tends to fall asleep.

 

10.) The men and women of the military don’t fight for big goals like freedom, democracy, or justice.

They might go to battle for something heroic and noble like one of these causes. But when the bullets start flying, they fight for only one thing: each other. That is the only reason that matters because their survival is dependent on the people in the fight. This is the only reason why one person would lay their life down for someone else. When I was in Iraq, I was in charge of a crew comprised of a wild-eyed southern boy, an African-American homosexual, a super smart atheist, a stanch Southern Baptist, and a self-proclaimed thief.

The six of us were together for 24/7 for six months straight. We slept eighteen inches apart, we showered together, we ate together, we laughed together, and we cried together. Never have I been closer to a group of people before or since. That was because we allowed each other to be individuals with respect. There was no topic that was off limits for discussion, but there was an understanding that we might not agree. But we depended on everyone else to do their job as professionals. We were a machine that accomplished every mission, and we returned with honor. But the truth is that we did everything to the best of our ability because we didn’t want to let down the other five men.

 

There you go. The top ten things that you need to know to write a convincing military character. Please, email me when you have questions.

 

Until next time, keep on rockin.

Rob

rob-bio-pic

About Robert Akers

Robert Akers holds a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from Arkansas State University and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Memphis. He began flying airplanes in 1991 before joining the West Virginia Air National Guard in 1995. He traveled to five continents and was deployed to Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan as an Instructor Pilot. He left the military in 2008 at the rank of Major with four Air Medals, Five Aerial Achievement Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals, and two Humanitarian Medals among others. He is currently a 757 pilot with a major airline. He makes his home in West Virginia with his wife, two children, two cats, and one dog.

 

3 Tips for How to Write a Great Opening Line

It may be true that covers and jacket copy sell books, but you’re going to need a great opening line to even get to the point where someone’s going to pick up your book. Why’s that? Because you’ll need to wow both agents and editors with your opening line so they’ll keep reading.

What makes for a good opening line? It’s should have a good hook. You need something so compelling that the reader wants, no needs, to go on to the next sentence.

Here are 3 tips, with examples, so you can take your first lines to the next level.

1.) Use contrast

Compare:

Timothy took the school bus to Park Elementary, and today was like any other.

Vs.

Normally, Timothy took the school bus to Park Elementary, but today was no ordinary day because there was no bus in sight.

Don’t have your character start out with what they always do. Draw your reader in right from the start by having something new, something different going on. Plus, it can be a good way to show character by throwing them out of their comfort zone.

Famous example:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

 

2.) Leave your reader with questions

Compare:

Nina woke up and rolled over, pounding the alarm clock with her fist.

Vs.

Nina woke up and rolled over, only to discover she wasn’t in her bed anymore.

Did the first sentence really interest you? Maybe you’d read on, but there’s nothing dynamic there. There’s nothing unexpected there. The second one makes you stop and wonder where she is, how’d she get there, and what’s going to happen next.

(Note: Many agents and editors don’t always like it when a book starts with characters waking up, so keep that in mind.)

Famous example:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

(1984 by George Orwell)

 

3.) Be unexpected

Compare:

Cinderella grew up with two evil stepsisters.

Vs.

Cinderella had never worn high heels.

The first line is expected, ordinary, common knowledge. The second one takes a little more thought. It catches you a little more off guard.

Famous example:

Marley was dead, to begin with.

(A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

 

Using these tips, you can take your opening lines from boring to extraordinary and increase the chances that agents and editors will want to read your work. What are your favorite opening lines from literature? Share them in the comments.

Need Help With Characterization? Look No Further Than Tonight’s Costumes.

Happy Halloween!

I hope you’ll all find some time to dress up in your favorite costume today. And whether you’re out trick or treating or staying home handing out candy, I hope you’ll pay particular attention to the costumes that are out and about.

People often choose costumes based on their favorite characters, right? So make a game of trying to figure out why someone picked that costume. What about that character makes them stand out to someone of that age group? This also applies to villains. What about that villain makes them appealing? What quirks, what powers, and what weapons make them an ideal choice?

Once you figure out the answers to those questions, apply them to storytelling. Do people like Maleficent because of her cool, commanding costume? Is Loki a favorite because of his mischievous nature – or is it because he was played by Tom Hiddleston? What about the little girl dressed as Cinderella? Maybe she just loves the dress. But maybe she also loves that her costume allows her to believe that her dreams can come true with a little luck and some hard work.

Whatever the reasons, they can help you figure out what makes these beloved characters tick and what makes them memorable. And you can borrow these reasons for your own characters.

So while you’re out and about this evening, pay attention to these details to really take your characterization to the next level:

1.) Outfit
One of the easiest ways to make a character stand out is to give them something memorable to wear. (See the Maleficent example above.) Moreover, make sure you have a good reason for them to wear it. Or, play with what readers would expect your character to wear and change it up. Why does your character always stay covered from head to toe, even in the heat? Is it because they have scars they don’t want people to see? Everything they put on needs to say something about them.
2.) Accessories
Everything from the locket that holds the last picture of your character’s parents to the mismatching socks your protagonist threw on in the rush out of the house tell us something about your character. What would Cinderella be without her glass slippers? Also, what they don’t carry with them can also tell the reader something about your character. Do they refuse to carry a sword because they don’t believe in fighting? Do they always forget to grab their house keys?
3.) Weapons
Not only do kids like weapons (for good or bad), but a unique weapon can make a character stand out. What would Darth Maul be without his double-sided Lightsaber? Just another villain.

So whatever character you’re trying to write, make them stand out using key details that will make them feel real to your readers. These small details will go a long way in making your character unique, believable, and relatable.

Are you dressing up tonight? What are you going to be be, and why did you pick it? Share in the comments below!

 

10 Ways to Add More Tension to Your Stories

Looking for how to add tension to you novel? Think back to the old saying:

“If there’s a gun on the wall in act one, scene one, you must fire the gun by act three, scene two. If you fire a gun in act three, scene two, you must see the gun on the wall in act one, scene one.”

            -Anton Chekhov

Essentially, that loaded gun triggers tension because you’re expecting it to go off, waiting for it to go off, maybe even wanting it to go off.

But why is tension in stories so important? Because without it, no one is going to read your story. Would you read about Cinderella if she never had to work a day in her life, waltzed into the ball, and married the prince? No, the heart of Cinderella is in her overcoming her circumstances, overcoming the tension in her life.

You could even go far as to say that tension is the heart of any plot. It’s what keeps the pulse moving, increasing and decreasing based on how much tension there is.

So what are some ways writers can add tension in addition to introducing a weapon into the scene, like Chekov prescribes above? Check out a few tips below:

  1. The ticking time bomb: This is the fastest, and sometime the easiest, way to add tension because all you have to do is give something a deadline. Max has to clean up the raging party he threw before his parents get home. Lianna has to find the wizard before evil wipes out all the light in her land. Cinderella’s spell breaks at midnight.
  2. Being trapped/lost/losing someone else: Whether it be in prison, a maze, or even mentally, being stuck can up the stakes. Now, your character has to escape, has to find a way out of their current situation. Or, if someone else gets lost along the way, they have to find a way to go back for them or save them before something terrible happens.
  3. Being chased/followed: The opposite of being stuck in one place is having to flee from one quickly. The fear of getting caught is a great motivator of tension. Even just being followed on the streets, the constant looking back, changing direction, crossing the street, can go a long way in getting your reader’s heart pounding.
  4. Secrets/Lies/Who can you trust: Finding out someone has lied to your character can result in an immediate loss of trust, and when you don’t know who to trust, that instantly puts things on edge. Characters start questioning themselves and those they thought were on their side. Are their plans still safe? Should they call off the attack they had planned? Tension. Even a devoted husband planning a surprise birthday party for his wife can soon look suspicious through the eyes of a wife certain he must be hiding an affair.
  5. Rumors: Gossip can kill. The wrong words whispered into the ear of the king by his loyal advisor could sentence your main character to death. Someone hinting a character is really an undercover cop might be enough to convince the mob boss to do him in. Even going out late at night can set your neighbors’ tongues wagging and have deadly consequences. Just look at the episode of The Twilight Zone called “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” where neighbors turn on one another when it’s rumored one among them isn’t entirely human.
  6. Being threatened: The promise of an event can almost be as tension building as the event itself. Even if the threat isn’t immediate, just having it out there lingering can add slow burning tension. This is what the Chekhov quote is essentially getting at. Maybe it’s could be enough to have the gun go off in the end of the story, but as Chekhov tells us, it’s even better to let that threat simmer for a while, adding tension with each passing scene.
  7. Action scenes: Assuming these are fast-paced and full of heart-pounding action, then this is a quick way to add tension fast. It goes back to bringing in that loaded gun and having it be shot at our heroine as he or she breaks out of the lab with the formula for the cure that the world needs. As an add-on to this one, make sure that you actually include physical descriptions like your main character’s heart pounding and palms sweating, as those will also help add tension.
  8. Rage: People can be unpredictable when they’re angry. They can go off the rails. They can do bad things, things they wouldn’t even normally consider, things that might just keep your reader reading.
  9. Making the wrong decision: You can sometimes hear people shouting during movies for someone not to go to the basement alone in a horror movie…because you know the killer is down there! Making a wrong decision can throw your character into danger and probably give your reader anxiety as they wait to see how this will affect the plot.
  10. Give the reader information the character doesn’t have: If the reader knows your character is walking into a trap set by the main character’s best friend who we’ve discovered is the killer, there’s going to be some tension as the reader waits to see how this plays out. This might be more easily done in third person, but it’s not impossible to do through strong clues and actions in a story told in first person.

In the end, there are a myriad of ways to add tension. You just have to find the right combination to keep your story going and your readers on the edges of their seats. Having enough at stake helps get your readers invested, too, so make sure that your character faces not only obstacles to what they want, but that what they want is big enough to justify going through those obstacles to get it.

What’s you favorite way to add tension? Or do you have an example of a book that does it well? Share it in the comments.

Why Carving a Pumpkin is Like Revising a Story

Fall, that time of year when leaves are changing and sweaters are being pulled out from closets. It’s also time for Halloween, costumes, and turning regular old pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns.

I like to think of pumpkins like a first draft of a story. They’re fine. They’re complete. They’re pretty solid. From the outside, at least.

pumpkin-1

But, if you were to cut that pumpkin open, you’d find a gooey mess inside, carefully hidden under that solid veneer.

That’s what you need to revise. You need to scoop out the messy stuff, using a spoon, a knife, even your fingernails when it comes down to those last stubborn bits of orange goo that cling so tightly to the sides you think you’ll never get them out. You toss it all into a bowl and assess the situation.

pumpkin-guts2

You separate the orange goo from the seeds, those inklings and good ideas to make use of later. You cover them in salt and bake them in the oven and turn them into something worth keeping by giving them a little attention.

Next, you need to…plot…I mean plan. This is when you need to look at the whole story. Look at the pumpkin from the outside. What face is it calling for? What shapes lend themselves to its curves? What needs to happen next to bring it to life?

Start carving away. Cut away the unnecessary bits. Refine the story. Maybe the face begins to take shape, and you realize you don’t need that extra tooth because it’ll be overwhelming or that the eyes should be triangles instead of circles because they fit the character better. You slowly learn what the story needs and how it’s going to appear to your reader.

pumpkin-2

After you’ve got the face cut out, you go back in and refine. You level out where the smile isn’t quite even. You make sure those triangle eyes are the same size. You look at the little details to make sure it all comes together evenly.

Finally, put a small candle inside and close the lid. Watch as the pumpkin takes on a face of it’s own and comes alive, polished and full of the heart you put into it.

 

 

 

Forget Pantsers and Plotters: Be Like a Traveler Instead

It’s generally accepted that there are two schools of thought in how people approach writing: Pantsers and Plotters. Each has their benefits and challenges to the writing process.

What is a pantser?

People who “fly by the seat of their pants.” These writers don’t meticulously plan out the plot before they start writing. Pantsers aren’t wed to a story idea, which means they can be open to the creative muses that arise in the middle of writing – without it threatening the rest of their plot. These are the people who can walk into an airport and book the next departing flight to an exotic locale and not look back.

Downside: When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost. A story you thought was taking off could get stranded along the way if writers block sets in. For example, they’re the ones who didn’t book their tickets ahead of time to Dracula’s castle and had to wait 2 hours at the ticket window, losing valuable time because they didn’t plan ahead.

 

What is a plotter?

People who have exact road maps that they follow on the path to writing the words “The End.” Plotters know their scenes and what needs to be written. These are the people who have detailed itineraries to follow. They’ve been planning for months and have booked hotels and trains weeks in advance.

Downside: If they stay too tightly to their course, they may miss out on the things off the beaten path. For example, they bought the tickets to Dracula’s castle ahead of time but rushed through the rooms in order to make it to their next scheduled activity.

 

While these two different camps work well for many writers, perhaps there’s another approach somewhere between the hopping on the next flight and scheduling down to the minute. It’s what I call a Traveler because not only do you travel between the two extremes, but you do it like someone traveling the world would do by being open to new ideas while exploring your intended path.

While there will always be travelers who stick to their carefully detailed itineraries or the ones who have no itineraries at all, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the ones who know what country they want to go to. They’ve done enough research to know some of what they want to see. But, they’re not afraid to veer off course when they learn there’s a hidden waterfall that only the locals know about or to drop everything to go hear Desmond Tutu speak. Because it’s these special moments, the ones you didn’t expect, that create the best memories and will be the most memorable for your readers.

desmond-tutu-photo
Annie and her family meeting Desmond Tutu after hearing the day before about the opportunity.

So if you’re a pantser, try and at least look at the path so you’re not wandering around lost or trying fourteen different directions until you find the one that leads to the right path. And if you’re a plotter, don’t forget to stray from the path every once and a while. You might just discover something that will give your story the edge it was missing.

Are you a pantser or plotter? Or do you think you’re more of a hybrid Traveler? Let me know in the comments!