Writing FAQs

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:bulletblue: How do I write?
:bulletred: You find yourself a keyboard, a pencil, or finger paint if you so desire, and you apply letters to your medium.  You'll likely have learned them in grade school.  You form words, then sentences, paragraphs, and so on.  Now, don't let it daunt you.  Don't think about writing a novel, when you've only gotten two sentences written down.  Just write.

:bulletblue: How do I become a better writer?
:bulletred: Apply the aforementioned methods rigorously.  I mean it.  Writing is a growing kind of talent.  Even the best didn't start out very skilled compared to what they later became.  You write, you accept criticism, and you make a conscious effort to improve.

:bulletblue: Where should I seek tips?
:bulletred: Be careful about this one.  A Google search of that will drain your wallet faster than a summer gas pump.  My personal recommendation is Stephen King's On Writing.  There are other useful tip books, but you'll have to discern for yourself which are scams and which are not.

:bulletblue: Will a college class turn me into the writer I dream to be?
:bulletred: Nope.  No tip book, tutor, or Journal FAQ will turn you into the next Faulkner.  Sorry, you'll have to rely mostly on yourself and dragging up the "writer within" to attain that dream.  Now, I will say a willingness to take classes and learn is important.  Don't read what I write here and take that as an excuse to drop out.  Pursue knowledge with zeal, but don't put all your eggs in the education basket.  There are NO silver bullets to writing perfection.

:bulletblue: How do I handle critics, both good and bad?
:bulletred: With an open mind.  If you're the kind of person that defends yourself every time someone makes a negative comment, you might want to think about selling your pencils for a bag of dirt.  You aren't perfect, and if you work to improve on a critique, then you'll eventually overcome that weakness in your writing.

:bulletblue: How much should I write?
:bulletred: As much as you can but don't worry about that being too little.  Push yourself to get something accomplished, but if all you're doing is stressing over a daily quota, you may be more suited to writing tickets to speeders than getting a novel published.

:bulletblue: When should I write?
:bulletred: Whenever you can.

:bulletblue: Do I need an office?
:bulletred: It's important to have a private place to write, away from distractions.  Does this mean that you need to halt your writing projects until you can clear the garage?  Nope.  But it does mean you should get yourself away from things that cloud your mind and ideally have a private room to do so in, but it isn't mandatory, and it doesn't need to be anything close to luxurious.  A closet will work, really.  Or a porch, a tree house, and the underside of a trailer.

:bulletblue: Pen or pencil?
:bulletred: Chalk.  Don't get yourself mixed up in puritanical discussions about what writing tool is best.  Write with whatever is available and easy for you to use.  Metaphorically speaking, we all need to be using a pencil with a good eraser.  Pro and amateur.

:bulletblue: What do I do when I feel uninspired?
:bulletred: You write anyway.  You'll be surprised how well uninspired pieces will hold up against inspired ones.  And unless you keep going, you won't get to the other side of the "meh" sections.  Writing can be a real chore some days, but it still needs to be done.  Keep that in mind.

:bulletblue: How do I cope with writer's block?
:bulletred: This is different for different people.  Most people experience it, and some never get through it, usually because it's a tough obstacle, and difficulty can be too much for the whimsical writer.  Just remember basic sentence structure.  Bob jumped.  The cat meowed.  Those are complete thoughts, and if it comes down to it, it'd be better to write like that than to be forever quagmired.

:bulletblue: How do I write good dialogue?
:bulletred: Well, ask yourself where dialogue comes from.  Go speak with real people and genuinely listen to them.  And don't overuse the ellipses.  Please, I beg of you. "I love you . . . b-but . . . I-I . . . ." This is trash, plain and simple.  No one but Porky stutters like that, not even when they're nervous.  And any eleven-year-old who thinks ellipses are just the best ought to wait ten years and try again.  And be careful about dialogue modifiers. "'I hate you!' She said hatefully." That kind of redundancy will have readers rolling their eyes.  If you write like that, chances are your readers skim what you write or just don't bother (I can't read that without choking, myself).  Just remember that readers don't usually need their hands held with lengthy dialogue exposition, and if the surrounding narrative is grasping enough you won't need to explain your dialogue tones.

:bulletblue: I've been critiqued on every point, and nothing I do is good.  Maybe I should just quit?
:bulletred: Go on ahead.  And while you're at it, go tell a newborn how bad he or she is at walking, talking, and finding a job.  Tell the kid they ought to just give up.  After you do that, think about how ridiculous quitting is, when you ought to be excited about all the room you have to improve.  You're not going to flip and be excellent in all those areas tomorrow, just so you know.  But there may come a day, with enough determination, that your old flaws become strengths.

:bulletblue: How do I make good characters?
:bulletred: Think about some good characters you've read about.  They probably reminded you of real people, maybe even yourself.  Even in fiction, there needs to be a few anchors.  If your characters are plastic or unbelievable, then the narrative around them becomes weak.  Think about what drives real people.  Have an understanding of the human psyche.  Did the aliens really invade earth because the alien queen was mad at her parents, or did they invade because of greed?  And don't argue that aliens have different motivations than humans.  By that logic the bad guy conquered the world because his big brother was a bully and he was sad but the good guy stopped him because the good guy was really his older brother who knew little bro was bad all along AND NOW I'M WRITING LIKE A CHILD.  So just don't.  Go and get yourself an understanding of human behavior and don't think that that is limiting.  Humans react in a vast array of ways but, surprisingly, not in very many of the ways new writers believe.

:bulletblue: Vocabulary
:bulletred: It's important but don't sit and read straight through the dictionary and be cautious with your thesaurus.  Understand connotation.  A thesaurus does not understand this.  Example words: Ghost, phantom, specter, phantasm, poltergeist, spirit, wraith, soul.  A thesaurus might say these words are all synonyms and, therefore, interchangeable, right?  Wrong.  You would never say, "I loved my grandma.  I think her wraith is still with me today, protecting me." Well, why not?  Because of connotation. "Wraith" has a bad connotation and would fit better if Grandma were evil or were haunting you in some negative way.  In this case, you would be more apt to use "spirit" or "soul." This is a skill that grows with time, so don't be consciously worrying about it.

:bulletblue: Grammar
:bulletred: Pay attention in English class.  That means the whole time, every year, all the way through Senior year.  Just do it.  English bored me, too.  If you can't properly use modifiers, punctuation, and tell the difference between "there," "their," and "they're," you are lost.  If you go "must of" and not "must've" or "must have," your writing will soon be cut down by intellectual individuals.  And unfortunately, readers are often the brainy type.  And believe it or not, if you know your native language well enough, you can cleverly manipulate the rules.  Like hyphenated words (the not-so-fast-car).
Personally, I like to use correct grammar even when I'm not writing in a serious way, like text messaging.  Even then, I make myself use proper grammar and avoid "text talk" so that I don't fall into any bad habits.  It takes more time, but it's a good way to train yourself.

:bulletblue: Inspiration and Encouragement
:bulletred: Read, watch movies meant for people with IQs over 30, and pay attention to life in general.  Knowledge is transitive and is constantly being passed down.  What took centuries of research to discover can be read and learned in minutes.  Read the old greats and see what made them so good.  Also, read bad books.  Very few things are more encouraging than seeing a shoddy bit of literature make oodles of cash.  It makes a writer go, "Huh, I can do that.  Why, I could do that even better!" And don't be complacent. "Write what you know and write what you're comfortable with." That statement can go crawl back into the sewer where it came from.  Just how much did you know when you were five?  I'll bet very little, and I'd also bet you weren't comfortable with much either.  So why ever settle for how it is now?  Go ahead, break through your current boundaries, even if they do feel a bit awkward or frighten you.

:bulletblue: Editing
:bulletred: It's important to let a finished piece sit for a while before you go through and do your edits.  Right after you finish, you still feel all gooey inside about your story, and you'll be blind to all its faults.  Wait a time.  For small stuff, I'd say wait a week.  For books, wait a month or two.  Seriously.  If you do, you'll be able to look at your work like an impartial person and have an easier time cutting out the junk that looked so good when you first wrote it.  And did you know edits make your work shorter, not longer?  No joke.  It's almost always better to cut things out rather than add things in.  Short and sweet, not long and boring.
And also be sure to have someone or a few someones read over your work before you submit it.  Do your own edits first, as you don't want people to jumble up a story before it's even done.  That means not letting too much of the story out until you've already done your own polish.  Unless you're co-writing something, your friends really don't need to be there every step of the way.  Especially friends who aren't writers themselves.  After all, there's a reason why you do the writing, and they do the reading.  But after you've cooled down and done your edits, it's always good to have a few trusted friends read over what you've done, point out errors you've certainly missed, and ask about holes in the plot and all that.

:bulletblue: Explicit Content
:bulletred: If you're the architect George RR Martin Quote you probably have some control over this.  If not, then you don't.  And if you aren't writing stories for children, chances are something illicit is going to come up at some point.  For sake of keeping this journal safe for all, I won't go into too much detail, but let me say a bit.  People swear, a fact I can attest to.  They do some nasty stuff, and their thoughts are downright gross at times.  You don't want to sugarcoat your stories too much.  Even in fiction, a reader will believe only so much.  A reader can believe that Captain Roswyn sails a spaceship from the Ozon Nebula to the Stellar Shores every third terra-cycle, but if he stumps his toe, no will believe that the old space dog whose laser saber has cut down countless alien lives responds with "Oh, dagnabbit!" On the other side of the spectrum, don't overuse vulgarity.  That's just lazy.  New writers tend to think the more drugs, sex, and language, the better.  But overuse weakens it, just like using too many ellipses.  If you feel uncomfortable putting anything of that nature into your work, remember no one is holding a gun to your head and making you.  But if you can see how believable it can make a story, when used responsibly, then see what you can do.  And don't beat yourself up for putting it in.  If you're the gardener, and you know that a character does something against the moral grain, then you must tell the story the way it is, the true way.  It doesn't make you a bad person for telling it how it is, honestly.

:bulletblue: How do I become more popular?
:bulletred: Personality matters.  It's important to be unique, to be yourself.  Clones rarely ever match up to the one they mimic, and people would rather have the original than an imitator.  The only reason the Elvis impersonators can get by is because the original is dead.
If you cater to a certain genre, let's say horror, then it would be wise to seek out Groups with that particular focus.  It's always good to find people who are looking for the kind of content you tend to have.  Engage with others and take the time to be thoughtful.  Writing is tough, and becoming well-known is tougher still.  It doesn't just happen, and yes, you will have to put a great deal of your own effort into your growing popularity.  And don't be stingy with your work.  It can be very upsetting when someone steals your work or pirates it in some way, but "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." -Tim O'Reilly.  Also, don't forget about patience.  Popularity very rarely happens over night.  In fact, you might go ten or more years without really being noticed, but don't lose hope.

:bulletblue: Publishing
:bulletred: This is a big one, since it can change whether you write for fun or for a living.  Technically speaking, you're published as soon as you've shared your work, but anyone can do that, while having a professional publisher take your work is a bit (read: enormously) more challenging.
First and foremost, be prepared for rejection, a lot of it.  Harry Potter was turned down by a dozen publishers, and King's Carry was turned down about thirty times.  To help prevent some rejection, make sure you understand a publisher's submission guidelines.  Use the format THEY want, length, all that.  Be absolutely certain that when writing query letters to a publisher, you use correct grammar and spelling.  These companies get plenty of submissions, and they're quick to chuck anything that doesn't look polished.
For tips about writing query letters and a list of publishers, I suggest buying a yearly copy/subscription of Writer's Market.  They have listings of all sorts of publishers and what kind of work each is looking for, from high fantasy to documentaries and poetry.  Link to their site. Amazon usually sells the physical book, if you prefer that.  
And be very wary of publishers that contact you.  You will be crawling to publishers, not the other way around.  It doesn't matter how good you are.  Until you've sold some bestsellers, you will not be on anyone's radar.  Typically, publishers that come to you are scams.  Searching your search engine for publishers will usually yield a list of 70 or so companies that are looking to siphon your bank account and don't care at all about your written work.  Remember, publishers pay you, you DO NOT pay them.  If they ask for fees for print costs, editing, or what-have-you, you're probably dealing with a vanity press or a pay-on-demand.  While these are legitimate businesses, they are not the publishers you probably want.  They will publish absolutely anything for the right price, and they usually don't do diddly-squat to help you make sales.  It would probably be cheaper if you opened your own press and self-published that way.
Don't be rude if you are contacted.  My advice is to look up on forums the credibility of the company that claims interest, and don't use their site and their "testimonials" do so.  And don't let them intimidate you.  These people can be like used car salesmen and will twist your arm every way they can to get you to consent to one of their "publishing packages." I've had these companies threaten to put my work on a blacklist that would prevent any publisher from accepting it, if I didn't go ahead and work with them.  Scare tactics is all that is.  So be careful; they prey upon authors who are desperate to publish and will milk you for everything you've got.
In summary, find the verified publishers (Writer's Market isn't free by the way, so be prepared to shell out a few bucks), follow their rules, and don't get upset about the rejections.

:bulletblue: Should I self-publish?
:bulletred: That's up to you, quite literally.  If you decide to go with that route, keep in mind that anyone can go that route, meaning it will require some good ole fashioned elbow grease to work.  Remember that when self-publishing, you need to have the same amount of discipline you'd have going the traditional route.  It isn't as simple as saving your Word document and uploading it to Kindle and Smashword, because innumerable masses of writers DO exactly that.  You'll have to stand out, and that's going to call for effort on your part.  You'll have to do the marketing out of pocket, pay for an editor, and it's always wise to have a professional make you a book cover.  Now, we were all told in kindergarten not to judge books by their covers, but everyone does it even so.  A good cover is paramount to self-publishing.
Don't overprice.  It can be pretty easy to look at the hundreds of hours you poured into your first novel and price it around six to ten dollars (or a comparable unit in your country's currency), but you must resist.  In fact, if you're self-publishing a series, a good strategy is actually to make the first book completely FREE.  Yes, I said it.  But, you're wondering, how will you ever make a living giving your books away?  I ask: how will you ever make a living selling zero copies of your first two-dollar novel?  Don't worry about making a fortune just yet.  At first, you'll probably put a lot more money into your book than it will give you back.  What you're trying to do first is get your name out there, which means getting your book to as many readers as possible.  It's an investment.  And if you put enough polish on your work, gave it a good rap (and wrapper), and got it out to enough people, you'll find your audience.  After you've found interested readers, then you can start thinking about putting a price tag on your next book.
And don't forget to be patient.

:bulletblue: Romance.  Good or bad?
:bulletred: It can be either, as can anything else.  Love is a strong topic and tends to get misused as a writing tool (see the section about vulgarity and drug use above).  This is going to come down mostly to your own understanding of the subject and how maturely you approach it.  Teen romance is and always will be, honestly, rather feckless.  A great example is Romeo and Juliet, which shows the kind of drama teens get themselves into when swamped in hormones.  Does this make it bad?  Not necessarily.  What makes it bad these days is the light it's shown in.  We have this idea going around that love is impatient, jealous, and vain.  While, that does apply to young situations of love, it does not exemplify a more cultivated, mature love.  The general populace seems to think romance ends at the hasty start, but this isn't true.  A developed romance tends to be more subtle, level-headed, and surprisingly far more powerful and stable.  Believe that, that there's such a thing as a secure romance?  It's true.  Love doesn't need to be dramatic all the time.  Can there be drama?  Oh, yes.  But be sure to use it appropriately.

:bulletblue: Collaborating with others.
:bulletred: Personally, I'm not too experienced with this, but I'll share my knowledge of team skills.
No "I" in "team." We've all heard that one, and it can be especially true when writing a piece with someone else.  For starters, I wouldn't suggest collaborating with someone before getting to know them.  You're going to want to develop a strong chemistry.  Be considerate of your partner's ideas, and dare I say it, you may want to swallow your pride.  It's easy to feel puffed up, writing solo.  You're the one running the show, after all.  But when working with others, you're going to have to play off each other's strengths.  That means giving up the reins here and there as necessary.  On the flip-side, don't be lazy.  Moral support isn't the same as collaborating, and you're going to have to chip in.

Leave suggestions in the Comments, and I'll add it to the list or clarify points . . . or guide you to someone who can answer better than I.
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Leopold002's avatar
Excellent advice, timeless!