Thursday, July 29, 2010

Procrastination is the dreadful diet for writers

“How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time,” said Fred Brooks, software engineer and computer scientist. Does this sound familiar? I bet we all have been in this predicament whether we're writers, students, homemakers, or business people.

One of my readers asked me to write a blogpost on how to end the vicious circle of procrastination. So here are some tips that my mentor, poet and author Michael Mirolla gave me.
1. Set up a specific timeframe and schedule for doing things (writing, I'm assuming).
2. Set up a specific place for your writing.
3. Force yourself to sit down and write even if you don't think you have anything to say.
4. If you do find yourself blocked in the middle of a piece of writing, go to some other piece of writing or start something new.
5. Have all these elements in place for when the spirit moves you (that's one thing that you can't control as it can come on at any time).
6. If none of this works, then try breaking your routine completely: a walk, a movie, reading a book, listening to music -- whatever has inspired you in the past.

I'd like to add two more tips based on my personal experience:
1. Use writing prompts to warm up. The Writer's Digest has some good ones. Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes to write a short story. You'll be amazed at the newly-found energy/inspiration: one that'll last for at least three days.
2. Join a small writing group or create one yourself. Ask 3 or 4 people to join you once or twice a month for a writing day. This has helped me and my writing group to get us in writing mode.

I would love to hear your comments on finding a cure for procrastination.

In the meantime, enjoy this youtube video courtesy of Lev Yilmaz:  "Procrastination" Tales of Mere Existence

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Creating a great female protagonist

Just because I’m a female writer doesn’t mean I can easily create an amazing and “credible” female protagonist. It sounds ironic but it’s true. I’m editing two short stories where my protagonists are women (both are the antithesis of one another). Fortunately, (yes, I said fortunately because I can redeem myself by fixing them) my mentor pointed out that these female characters are not credible due to their erratic actions in different scenes. So I did some research on how to create a “great” female character whether she’s despicable, humble, loyal, or a traitor.

I found an article by Jessica Strawser where she says that according to bestselling authors JT Ellison, Alex Kava and Erica Spindler, there are five key ways to make your heroine shine.

The key, they say, to a great female protagonist is to shun stereotypes and double-standards and instead focus on simply making her believable in every way. Once you’ve done that, you can make your own rules.

Here are their top 5 tips for making your heroine shine:
1. Go ahead and let people underestimate your female protagonist at the start of your story. This will give her a chance to prove herself (and prove them wrong).
2. Follow Alex Kava’s rule of thumb: “Make your female stronger than your gun.” Otherwise, she could be seen as weak or vulnerable. Give your heroine a strong intellect, a sharp wit, or some other quality that will make her a character who has what it really takes to be tough.
3. That said, don’t get so carried away trying to make her tough that you forget that she’s a real woman, not a superhero. Erica Spindler says great female protagonists don’t have to be defined by big, heroic things, and recommends giving her a little touch of normalcy, something readers can identify with. (An example from Spindler: Maybe she’s incredibly gutsy by day, but when she’s alone at night, she finally breaks down.)
4. Don’t be afraid to victimize your protagonist. Victimizing the heroine can be a catalyst to allow her strength to come through. If she has a horrific background (she’s been attacked, she’s lost a child or someone close to her, etc.), she has something to overcome—she now has a reason to be strong.
5. Try giving your character a fear. This may sound counterintuitive to making a tough protagonist, as with Indiana Jones and his phobia of snakes, relatable fears can make characters seem real—and give them more plot-building obstacles to overcome in the course of your story.

Are you ready to create an amazing heroine or she-devil? Experiment a little and mold your female protagonist/antagonist until she becomes an unforgettable character.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Failure is not an option

Do you sometimes feel discouraged or worried that some of your stories aren't that good and were a waste of your time?

Look at the bigger picture. Remind yourself that you are not the first one on this journey. Did you know that 18 publishers turned down Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1970? By 1975 it had sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone. And, Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories by James Joyce was rejected by 22 publishers. Let’s not forget famous American poet Emily Dickinson who despite her prolific writing, fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime. These are only a few examples of many authors who didn’t give up so, why should you?

How many stories do you produce per week? In my case, one to three when time permits. So if you start five stories and complete a rough draft of one, consider yourself successful. For every five completed rough drafts, one will be a finished product; the one that you deem ready to be sent out to contests or literary magazines. For every five stories you send out, you’re lucky if one of them is accepted for publication.

You're probably asking yourself how I know this. Well, I’m speaking from experience. I keep a log of all my stories including the ones I’ve entered multiple times in different contests with no positive results. However, for every rejected story, I get the chance to revise it again and make it better every time. And yes, the result of such grueling task has paid off.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try to see these weaker stories as the foundations for something bigger. Instead of considering such stories failures, think of them as experiments that were not entirely successful. Delve into the basic elements such as the POV, the tone, the dialogue, diction, or characterization. Sometimes it could be as simple as a particular scene.

Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.” Inspiring words to those who think their writing is a failure. Keep your chin up and your pen moving!

Friday, July 16, 2010

How to Win a Short Story Competition


These tips are not cast in stone. They are just guidelines to help you create a more polished story. You take and leave what you deem is necessary. In the end, you're the author.

• Choose a good title. A bad title will reflect on the story no matter how good your writing is.
• Choose good names for your characters.
• Write in the active tense of verbs instead of the passive. The active tense moves the story faster. The passive tense always has some part of the verb to be in there somewhere.
• Write about what you know, but also stretch your mind and write about what you don’t know. This will make you do research. Publishers like to know the facts are accurate.
• Keep the story and action in one place.
• Keep to one time slot.
• Keep to one story, don’t go off on a tangent because you are fascinated with your own characters and plot line. Writers often have two or three stories in one.
• Always write with the reader in mind.
• Let the character and action carry the story.
• Make sure the tone of the story is consistent
• Make sure there is conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.
• Make sure the supporting characters are needed, if not kill them off.
• Make sure the story has a start a middle and an end; otherwise the story is not a story but a treatise.
• Make sure the events in the story have changed the protagonist by the end.
• Edit until you are sick of the thing. Allow lots of time to write and edit. Walk away from your story for a few weeks. When you come back the awkward bits will stand out.
• Read the story out loud, the mistakes will hit your ears. Take out any word or sentence that does not move the story along.
• Be honest and sincere and always write from the heart.
• The best stories are the simple ones, and above all, enjoy your writing. This will show in the finished story and there is nothing like a positive confident attitude to make a story work well.

• Try not to use more than five characters: a protagonist, an antagonist and three supporting others. Remember: the fewer characters the tighter the story.
• Never give the best lines to any character other than the protagonist.
• Never give the highest value to any character other than the protagonist.
• Don’t ramble or titivate.
• Don’t describe the actions; instead let your character go through the actions. Your readers will want to experience the events for themselves, they will want to be there to laugh or cry along with the characters.
• As the author, don’t let your ego get in the way of the story. You don’t have to use big words to show how clever you are, readers know you are clever because you are writing the story.
• Don't use your travel experiences in a way that comes across as look at me, I was there. That could be seen as arrogant bragging.
• Don’t let your presence get in the way of the story. The characters are the only ones who should be there. In other words don’t manipulate, describe or explain.
• Don’t use words ending in ly, these are adverbs and are not useful in a story; words such as these slow the action: He sat down clumsily; she laughed happily. Let your words show that he sat down in such a way that the reader sees the man as clumsy. And don't forget to go easy on the use of adjectives as well.
• Don’t look back at older writing as an example, no matter how famous the author was. What was allowed back then is not acceptable today.
• Don’t start sentences with the words IT, THERE WAS, AND THERE IS: sentences starting this way should be re-written. Sentences starting this way leave the reader wondering what IT is. Also, don't use overused words such as discerning, or overused phrases: You know what I mean.
• Don’t use colloquialisms, slang UNLESS the character uses slang, but the best thing is to stay away from this altogether. Readers are not always familiar with street slang. And you should not use swear words; this is not cool and shows a publisher you are inexperienced as a writer. Again, unless this is to show who your character is.
• Don’t use porn, don’t use racial slurs.
• Don’t copy other writers: Stephen King or other books: Harry Potter These books can only be written by the authors who wrote them. Find your own way to write, a way that only you can do.
• Don’t use big words or complicated sentences. Don’t forget who you are writing for many readers are not qualified to read.
• Don’t use similes or metaphors to make your point. The sentences should stand on their own without being compared to something that is not useful to the action.
• If your story is rejected or an editor pulls it to pieces don’t email the organizers of the competition and go off on them and don't get mad at your editor if the editor seems abrupt and overly critical. Instead, you should use the experience to learn to write better for the next competition. Failure is the best teacher. You will learn very little from success; you have nowhere to go from there. This goes for submitting to book publishers as well.
• Never argue back at people whose job it is to help; this is not positive and leads to nowhere. Instead, ask questions: Why does that part not work? Why can't I describe the scenery at that point? Etc.

I hope you find these tips helpful when you write your next story. Keep on writing!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer Writing Contest

Get your pens out (or keyboard) and turn your story into a winner!

If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ve read all my tips regarding writing. It’s time to put your knowledge to the test. If you are currently working on a short story that needs tweaking or major editing then you’ve come to the right place. There’s NO entry or reading fee, so what are you waiting for?

The guidelines for submission are simple:

1) Length must not exceed 2,500 words (Word count is strictly enforced).
2) Manuscripts must be typed, double-spaced, and in Word.
3) Font should be either Arial or Times New Roman, size 12. (This will make it easier on our panel of readers’ eyes)
4) You must be an aspiring or emerging writer.
5) You must be working on this story (not published before).
6) Only one story per participant.
7) You must register to follow my blog.
8) Deadline to enter July 31, 2010. Winner will be announced in my blog on August 18th.
9) Click on the icon "Follow" on the right-hand side.
10) Send it via e-mail to:
11) In the e-mail subject line, please write: Writing Contest: (Title of your story)

The prize: You’ll get to work with a Canadian author, editor, and poet. He’ll give you feedback on this story in order to make it better. You’ll have the opportunity to revise it twice and ask him questions. He’ll give you overall comments on POV, dialogue, and characterization. I am giving this opportunity to aspiring writers because I know how difficult it is to make it into this business. I bet you’re asking, so what’s the catch? An easy one! Join my blog. Click on the icon “FOLLOW”. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain by reading my tips and advice on everything there is to know about writing, editing, and publishing. Is that so bad? If you have any questions regarding this contest contact me to the e-mail address above. Keep your pen moving and your eyes on the prize! Good luck to all participants!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Is writing taking over my life?

If you’re an established writer, then this question doesn’t really apply to you. But what happens when you’re an emerging writer? Should writing come second?

Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you’re really saying is, something else is more important right now than writing. On the other side of the spectrum, emerging writers find themselves feeling guilty for not writing enough. True, writing shouldn’t take over your life. Instead, it should be part of it. Now, I’m not suggesting you should neglect your children, husband, and/or daily responsibilities for endless writing sessions. However, incorporating short writing sessions in your daily routine would go a long way. Get a small notebook and take it everywhere you go. Write down everything you do and how long it took you to do it. In ninety percent of cases, free moments for writing will be found.

1) Create a pattern: Make writing one of the first things you do each day (or the last, if you’re a night owl).
2) Don’t force yourself: If you do, you’ll be unhappy therefore, it’ll show on your work. Instead, use life itself as a “prompt” for your writing. For instance, if you see someone or something that’s interesting or unusual, jot down the main idea on a piece of paper. When you get home, write 300 words about it. You can develop this story later.
3) Make it a realistic goal: Some people exercise for an hour every day. Some read two books per week and others practice a sport once a week. Why not do the same for writing?

You have to decide whether writing is worthy of your time or not. Be honest with yourself. Just remember that successful authors manage their time, pure and simple.