The Write Practice is here to kick-start your practice. You have to write millions of words no one is ever going to see before you can write the ones that will change someone’s life. Fifteen minutes a day, six times a week, you will practice writing like Hemingway, James Joyce, Malcolm Gladwell, and many others.
I recently reached out to several writers in our Write to Publish community to ask whether joining a writing community has helped them get published, grow their audience, and make progress on their journey to becoming bestselling authors.
Getting published is an amazing, exciting process. It can also feel a little mysterious, especially if you’ve never done it before. What does it take to publish? More than that, what does it take to publish successfully—to publish a beautiful piece of writing and share it with crowds of readers?
I’ve worked with hundreds of writers as they navigated the publishing process, sometimes for the very first time. In fact, I built Write to Publish, our platform and publishing program, to help writers master publishing.
There’s one fundamental truth about publishing that many writers don’t realize. Here it is:
You don’t become a successful author alone. First, you need a writing community.
That may sound strange. There’s this stereotype of the great author secluded away in a cabin in the woods somewhere, writing all day and night in an isolated haven of inspiration. Eventually, he emerges with a genius manuscript, sends it off to a publisher, and publishes the next Great American Novel.
Personally, I believed that stereotype for a long time. But what I’ve found, and what the eleven writers I talked to have found, is that it’s simply not true.
On the contrary, if you want to be a successful author, you need other people.
Joining a Writing Community Can Help You Get Published
Some writers knew they needed a writing community around them in order to publish their writing. Rev. Jonathan Srock, an undelivered minister who shares his stories and writing about faith at jonathansrock.com, was looking for a writing community when he joined Write to Publish. “I joined the program so I could learn how to publish my work and be surrounded by a community of authors who understood what it was like. And I’ve made some great friends along the way!”
Others discovered along the way how important community is at every step of the writing journey. Imogen Mann, a recovering lawyer who writes fiction and business documentation at imogenmann.com, says her Write to Publish community shifted her thinking about collaboration. “I’ve learned that the writing process is just as collaborative and multi-tiered as the publishing process,” she says. “This was a bit of a revelation but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense — it’s the same in any profession.”
Pharmacist and novelist Kim Williams (birdsofafeatherbooktogether.blog), credits the community she found with helping her actually follow through on publishing her writing. “Being part of a community of like-minded people is worth its weight in gold,” she says. “Left to my own devices, I may not have pursued my passion.”
Psychologist Suzanne Ruiter, who writes children’s books and articles about education at suzanneruiter.com, enjoys getting to know other writers who “get it,” who understand the joys and challenges of publishing your writing. “We writers need each other to get there,” she says. “We are busy doing a difficult job with a lot of tasks we have to get familiar with, and the best people we can find to support us are people who are learning to do so too.”
Each of these writers have connected with a community that supports them at every step—and each one points back to that community as a core part of their success.
Joining a Writing Community Is the Secret to Finding Readers for Your Writing
When I talk with writers about the importance of finding your Cartel, of building a community to give you a boost in your publishing efforts, I always hear some form of the same question:
But I want to share my writing with readers, not other writers. Why should I connect with writers instead?
I get it. We all want to build an audience of readers who will buy all our stories and books and even share them with their friends.
But here’s a truth that might surprise you: the way to build your audience of readers is to connect with other writers.
“I need to build a solid author platform and I feel that the first and best way to do it is to belong to a community of writers,” says Jane Kavuma-Kayonga, who writes stories to change people’s lives at apagefrommunakusbook834350529.blog.
Horror writer Iseult Murphy, who shares her writing at iseultmurphy.com, agrees. “I loved the emphasis [in Write to Publish] on putting together a team of writers who would support and encourage you, and you them, on your writing journey. Then, when it came to your work being published, you had a network of people to help promote your work. I loved this idea and thought I would get plenty of useful tips on how to get my work read, which I did.”
“Most writers want to be read and I can only do that by sharing and being part of a bigger community,” says author David Rae (davidrae-stories.com). Being part of the community has made me a better writer and more professional and ambitious in my approach.”
“Actual publication is easy, but . . . getting attention to what you publish is hard,” says award-winning children’s story author Tamara Paxton, who shares her writing at tamarapaxtoncopley.com. “I learned that getting an email list, writing cartel, and reviews are everything.”
For Karen Bellinger, a creator of stories across multimedia platforms at thetimescribe.com, connecting with other writers was the difference between successful publication and shouting into the void. “This program has taught me that building a community and using it to help you craft your very best work BEFORE you hit publish is absolutely critical. Not just because it gives you the invaluable feedback needed to improve initial drafts, but because otherwise, your hard work risks disappearing into the internet ether, never to find its audience.”
When you connect with other writers, you gain access to a much wider base of readers. If you want readers to find your writing, reach out to other writers first.
Sharing Your Writing Is Hard—And Rewarding
Publishing your writing is thrilling and terrifying at the same time. When you publish, you invite other people to read your writing. That’s a vulnerable thing to do—your writing is your personal creation, after all, and you never know how people will respond to it.
One of the best things you can do is to share your writing with a few writers you trust before you publish it publicly and send it out into the world. Supportive writers will give you the feedback you need to craft your best piece of writing.
Plus, the act of sharing in a small, low-stakes setting is great practice for sharing your writing with the wider world.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, for many writers, this was the hardest part of Write to Publish.
“[The most challenging part of this process was] shyness,” says David. “We’re all self-conscious shrinking violets. Sharing work and communicating to other people does not come naturally to me at any rate.”
But he says it was worth it to be bold and share his writing. “Almost always, sharing and reading comments on your work leads to improvement and to seeing your work move in exciting new ways. And really, what is better that having someone read and comment on your work?”
Imogen and Karen agree. “Having to collaborate and ‘expose’ myself online was hard. I’m naturally a self contained person, so working with people I didn’t know was initially uncomfortable,” says Imogen. “I’ve always had to do this in my work, and it never gets easier, you just get better at dealing with it.”
“The hardest thing for me has been stepping out of my comfort zone — not just writing my stories down, but releasing them into the greater world and soliciting feedback on them,” says Karen. “Necessary as both publication and critique are if we are to improve as writers, that’s really scary!”
Jonathan appreciates the feedback and support of his fellow writers, which makes sharing more than worth it. “Having others [look] at my work and critique it is extremely helpful. . . . The kindness of other writers . . . is both helpful and welcome. They make me a better writer!”
It’s Okay to Ask for Help from Your Writing Community
For some people, sharing their writing was the hardest part. For others, it was asking for help.
“The most challenging part has been learning to ask for help from other writers. It seemed impolite to ask,” says Cathy Ryan, who writes speculative and real-life fiction at cathyryanwrites.com. But, she adds, “writers need to help each other so our voices can be heard.”
Madeline Slovenz, who writes realistic fiction for children, young adults, and open-minded grownups at madelineslovenz.com, agrees that asking for help takes courage, and that it’s absolutely essential. “I have learned that it takes courage to ask for help, but unless we can step up and say, ‘I’m excited to tell you that I’ve published a story,’ our work will sit in a digital file that is unlikely to be found.”
“Dare to ask,” says Suzanne. “Make that first step with people who are in the same position: you are not the only one who is struggling. There are very warm, intelligent other writers who also try to find their way in this.”
When You Join a Writing Community, You Might Make Surprising Connections
You never know how someone might respond when you reach out.
Iseult knew before she began that she needed the support of other writers. What she didn’t know was how to connect with authors she admired — authors a few steps ahead of her in their careers, people who seemed inaccessible until she reached out.
“Because of this course I have approached successful authors I have read and admired for years and they have agreed to talk with me — something I would never have considered before taking the course,” she says. “I have learned a lot from my conversations with them.”
It’s intimidating to reach out to other authors. But many writers are far more accessible than you might imagine, and are happy to connect with another writer.
They know as well as anyone that building an author career isn’t a solo activity. We all need community to support us along the way.
The First Step to Publishing: Find Your Writing Community
Publishing your writing is an amazing goal. But before you publish, I have a question for you:
Have you found your writing community yet?
Who will support you in your writing and publishing journey? Who will give you feedback, spur you on when you’re discouraged, help you navigate unfamiliar challenges, and celebrate with you when you share your writing with the world?
And if you haven’t found your community yet, or if you want to publish but you’re not sure how to get started, I’d love to support you.
The next semester of Write to Publish is now open. Will you join Cathy, David, Iseult, Jonathan, and more in connecting with writers and publishing your writing?
From Moses to Star Wars, the Hero’s Journey is the foundation of millennia of storytelling. How can you leverage it in your own writing?
Do you want your stories to “work?”
Writers work hard at their craft. They struggle to build a story that makes sense and delivers the goods on emotion and thrills.
And so often, even after months and years of labor, a writer can’t get their story to “work.”
There are a lot of reasons why a story might not work — why it confuses readers or fails to engage them emotionally — but one major reason a story doesn’t work is structure.
Thankfully there’s a structure you can use that has a proven track record of success. This successful record is so long, in fact, that we don’t know when it started.
That structure is called the Hero’s Journey, and it’s going to transform your writing.
What is “The Hero’s Journey?”
Our understanding of this classic structure begins with American literature professor Joseph Campbell. Campbell was interested in the way mythology affects our lives today and began digging into myths — lots of myths.
In 1949 he published The Hero With a Thousand Faces outlining what has come to be known as his “monomyth,” a theory that all stories are, in fact, the same. That “same story” is the Hero’s Journey.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:
A girl from the middle of nowhere wakes up one day to find that things are horrible, and someone has to do something about it. But she’s scared, and can’t bring herself to stand up and fight back . . . until the village elder arrives and teaches our young protagonist the ropes.
The girl sets out to find the source of her society’s problems, forcing her to leave. Along the way she encounters new faces, some of whom join her as companions, others of whom try to kill her or steal her valuables. She suffers some loses along the way, learning some truly difficult lessons.
Then, she and her companions find the source of evil: some kind of mighty fortress. The heroes storm the fortress and come face-to-face with the villain. The hero and the villain square off and the hero is killed or mortally wounded . . . only to use her resources to recover and vanquish the bad guy for good.
The hero and her surviving companions return home triumphant and bestow some kind of blessing, like food, rain, or peace, on the community.
If you’ve heard a story like that, then you know the Hero’s Journey.
Here are some examples.
“I Know This Story . . .”
Have you heard the story of the orphan boy living in the cupboard under the stairs?
Or perhaps the story of the girl in District 12 (the crappiest District) who would not only survive an unwinnable deathmatch, but become a symbol of liberty?
Maybe you’ve heard of the baby boy who was going to die in a mass genocide, but whose mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile River . . .
If you didn’t catch those, here they are in order: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), and . . . Moses.
The Hero’s Journey is timeless. Its elements permeate every great story you’ve ever read, at least in some way.
There are also variations of it, like the Anti-Hero’s Journey, a story arc for characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White. Either way, it’s still based off Joseph Campbell’s foundational research in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
So here’s the big question: Now that you know what it is, what do you do with it?
Hero’s Journey Step #1: Start Ordinary
We have Hollywood screenwriter and executive Christopher Vogler to thank for our condensed version of the Hero’s Journey. If you’re curious, his most notable credit is a film that makes explicit use of the Hero’s Journey: The Lion King.
Fun sidebar: The Lion King and the story of Moses in Exodus have the exact same structure. Attempted rise to power, failure and flight, return and victory.
In Vogler’s simplification of Campbell’s theory, there are twelve steps to the Hero’s Journey (and I’m going to cover each one in-depth in this series, of which this post is the first).
The first step of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordinary World.
6 Common Features of the Ordinary World
Let’s take a look at the elements of the Ordinary World. Some of these are essentials, while others aren’t necessarily essential, but are common in the vast majority of Hero’s Journey stories you’ll encounter.
1. The Average Joe
Every story begins with an “Average Joe.” He or she is someone you could be, or could be near to.
Think about how simple or average Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are, at least at first. Yes, they both have something interesting about them (Harry’s scar, Katniss’s hunting skill), but neither of these things are earth-shattering . . . yet.
Every story begins with an Average Joe. What makes your character an unlikely hero?
2. No Parents
Another notable trope of this step is a lack of proper parents. Think about it: How many heroes do you know of whose parents are either missing, dead, or nonexistent? Orphans abound in heroic journeys.
Harry Potter’s an orphan, and Katniss has to play the mother role. Moses’s father is a mystery and he is given up as an orphan. Luke Skywalker’s parents are . . . well, you know. And Rey, in the newer Star Wars movies, is obsessed with finding out the truth of her family. More on that to come in December 2020.
3. A Disadvantageous Beginning
This has a powerful effect of bringing these heroes low. They begin at a disadvantage. How many heroes do you know of with a rock-solid family and support structure in place? There are some, but they are few and far between.
Take Peter Parker/Spider-Man, another classic orphan. He’s been adopted by his aunt and uncle (RIP Uncle Ben) because his parents are dead/missing/who knows. Even Superman, with his adopted Earth parents, feels like a stranger because his true parents died during the explosion of his home planet, Krypton. Even these mighty superheroes suffer from a trauma that human beings know all too well: the destruction of family and community.
4. A Simple, Mundane, Boring Life
Many elements of the Ordinary World are obvious. Your hero’s life is simple, mundane, even boring. He or she is often from the countryside, or lives as a stranger in the crowded, soulless metropolitan bustle.
5. Low Expectations
Other elements are less obvious. One is that no one expects anything of the hero. He is assumed to probably amount to nothing. That is, by everyone except the Mentor character (coming soon in Step #4!). It will be the Mentor who recognizes the hero’s potential heroism and talent and coaches him into that role.
6. A False Sense of Security
Another element of the Ordinary World is a false sense of security. Everything should seem, at least on the surface, peaceful and well. But in the underbelly of this world — or lingering outside its boundaries — conflict and injustice rages.
I’m reminded of the tranquil peace of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, embodied by the jovial mood at Bilbo’s birthday party. Yet that mirthful spirit is erased once Bilbo uses his magic ring — the One Ring of Evil, we soon learn — to play a trick on everyone. From that point forward, the Shire is no longer peaceful and safe, but a fragile domain whose borders are penetrated by wraiths and wild creatures in search of Sauron’s Ring.
This, of course, is the Inciting Incident, the step where you SHOULD begin your story (for the sake of hooking your reader). But that Inciting Incident, or “Call to Adventure,” must happen in the context of a quiet, seemingly peaceful world where your hero is a nobody who isn’t expected to do much at all.
3 Ways to Create Your Ordinary World
How does this apply to the stories you’re telling? Here are elements of the Ordinary World you can use to bring your hero low before he/she begins the climb to greatness.
1. Upset the parent structure
To keep things fresh, don’t just “kill them off.” Maybe one is missing. Maybe the parents are divorced and mom/dad remarried, while the other is off on some adventure.
A great example of innovation within this element is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, where Peter Quill’s journey (as an orphan, mind you) takes him back to his father with plenty of twists along the way.
2. Lower the expectations
In the beginning, no one can know how heroic your protagonist will be. Don’t fall victim to cheesy irony or heavy-handed foreshadowing. Keep your hero low, and bury him/her in the judgment of the community.
If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The same can be said for the community, or “World,” itself. Often a community will expect nothing of itself because no one expects anything of it.
Think about that town you grew up near that was “trash.” Maybe it was your town. What effect does that have on its people?
3. Create a false sense of security
As the writer, you know conflict is coming. It has to come, either from within or without.
But the community, and possibly your hero, can’t know it yet. Everything needs to seem happy and fine. Remember that the effect of this false sense of security is suspense, a priceless effect you want to provide your readers whenever possible.
Let’s Get Ordinary
It’s time to start spicing and seasoning your storytelling with elements of this timeless and beloved story structure.
What are you working on now that could benefit from some of these archetypal elements? Why not try adding some elements to your current work-in-progress, or to a finished draft you’re struggling to revise?
And be sure to keep an eye out for my next article on Step Two of the Hero’s Journey!
What Ordinary Worlds can you think of in stories you’ve read and watched? Let us know in the comments.
Now it’s your turn to create your own Ordinary World! Get started with these questions:
Where are your character’s parents? (Hint: they’re probably not home creating a happy, secure family.)
Why are people’s expectations for your character so low? (Maybe they’re a farmhand, or a servant, or a short-order cook at Waffle House, or an average but not exceptional student.)
What makes the setting mundane? (Bonus points if there’s a hidden threat your protagonist doesn’t yet know about!)
Take fifteen minutes to answer one or more of the questions above. If you have extra time, start writing the beginning of your story.
When you’re done, share your ordinary world in the comments below. Don’t forget to comment on someone else’s work, too!
Characterization is a huge part of writing, no matter how long the story. You need to know the ins and outs of your character’s personality. What makes them tick? What do they want? Where to do they come from?
Sometimes it’s a little difficult to come up with new character traits and idiosyncrasies that aren’t cliché or contrived.
Today, we’re going to have a little fun with character development. We’re going to think outside the box of character questionnaires and try a writing prompt to help us discover our characters through a different route: What’s in their junk drawer?
Why junk drawers are treasure troves
I’m sure you’ve seen Sherlockian police procedurals where the detective finds some mundane thing lying in a drawer that ultimately ends up being a vital clue to the mystery.
I bet in your own drawers you’ve got random detritus from your life. Concert ticket stubs. Cords from the Blackberry you owned when Blackberries were cool. Notes to yourself or from friends. An old dog collar from a pet who passed away.
Junk drawers collect mostly forgotten things from our lives. Those things we don’t want to part with, but there’s not really another place to put them. Or things we could stand to part with, but threw in a drawer in a frenzy to clean up before the in-laws show up!
Junk drawers are kind of like time capsules for our lives. And they can be for your character as well.
Writing Prompt: Go through your character’s drawers
Ready to dig through your character’s junk drawer? Here’s how.
First, choose one of the drawers below OR make up your own.
Drawer #1: An Eminem concert ticket from 2001 (in Australia); a broken picture frame; a Slinky; a passport; a purple heart medal
Drawer #2: At least 30 pens (half have ink, half are dried up); a worn business card from a psychic; a small book of prayers; small jar full of sand and mini shells; a pressed bouquet
Drawer #3: 6 tea candles; a box of sidewalk chalk; 3 baby teeth in a plastic baggy; a picture of a young couple kissing; a masquerade mask (crumpled and torn)
Now imagine the person that would keep such a drawer. What do the contents say about them? What kind of life have they lived? What kind of person are they now?
Writing prompt: What’s in your character’s junk drawer? And what do those contents say about them?
What’s something in your junk drawer that would provide a vital clue to who you are? Let me know in the comments!
Choose one of the drawers above or make up your own drawer contents. (If you make up your own, make sure to list the contents in the comments!) Take fifteen minutes to write about the character that owns that drawer.
Don’t forget to share your work in the comments and give feedback to your fellow writers!
You’ve put a lot of time, effort, research, planning, blood, sweat, and tears into finishing your book—and you’re almost there! And then you’re not. You’ve suddenly lost the thread, wandering off into strange paths, with no idea how to end a story, wrap it up and call it done.
If this has ever happened to you, you’re in good company. It’s a common issue among writers, and one I hope to help you solve with a few techniques I learned from my mentor, Dean Wesley Smith.
One book’s ending is another beginning
You’ve probably heard the conventional wisdom that your cover, blurb, and opening lines will sell your book but the ending will sell your next book. It’s true. Think about your own behavior when you reach the end of a book.
If you’re enjoying the story, you’ve probably been making mental notes to look up more books by this author. But if you reach the end and it leaves you disappointed and unfulfilled, that intention might very well go out the window. As readers, we demand satisfaction from an ending. And if we get it, it catapults us into seeking more where that came from.
The wisdom of Ferris Buehler
I’m one of those odd duck readers that devours a book cover to cover. I read the introduction and the table of contents, the notes, the acknowledgments, pretty much everything. And when I go to the movies, I’m the last one to leave the theater. I like to watch the credits, and sometimes there are fun little treats tucked into the end of the movie.
For instance, Ferris Beuhler at the end of his day off telling the audience, “It’s over. Go home.” When you reach the end of your story, your reader should know it’s the end. There should be that feeling of finality, and there are a number of techniques you can use to make sure that happens.
Don’t cheat your reader
When you land upon a great story idea, chances are you’re thinking about some great scenes you could write, a few twists you might throw in, and how you’ll build to that glorious climactic moment. Most of us don’t really think past that. The climax is the culmination of the story. What’s left after that?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
You owe your reader a resolution. This is especially true when your main character has an internal issue that didn’t resolve during the story’s climax, as is often the case. You need to provide some closure for that inner struggle, tie up loose ends, and maybe most importantly, leave a few dangling threads if you plan to write a sequel.
4 Ways to Resolve Your Story
Ready to wrap it up? Try one or more of these techniques.
1. Take a leap
One of the best known tricks for signaling the end of a book is a time jump after the climax. Your characters just went through a harrowing, peril-packed, mind-bending experience and someone was injured.
The next scene is set two days later, in a hospital room with characters gathered round that someone’s bed to talk out any details that need a wrap and provide some heart-warming moments for readers. And so forth.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a hospital room and it doesn’t have to be two days. Choose your time and place, but the point is that the characters have moved on, beyond the climactic moment, and the message is that things are getting back to normal. Or maybe there’s no going back. It depends on your theme, but this is the time to let it sink in to your reader.
If you don’t want to jump forward in time, sometimes a scene change will suffice. By placing your characters in a setting apart from where the climax occurred, you signal that the story is coming to an end.
2. A change of pace
Towards the end of a book, the pace picks up, sweeping the reader into the climactic scene. Afterwards, the pace changes, slowing down, allowing the reader and characters to catch their breath. There are pacing tricks you can use—such as sentence length, paragraph length, voice, and so on—to create this altered feeling.
This change of pace allows the reader to prepare, emotionally, for the story’s end, to say her goodbyes to the characters. And if you’ve done it right, making her fall in love with your characters, she won’t want it to be over. She’ll be looking for the next book so she can spend more time with that character she bonded with.
3. A lovely pair of bookends
Readers love a story that comes full circle, tying the ending back to something that happened at the beginning. In order to pull this off, you have to set it up at the beginning. If you’re worried you’re not clever enough to pull this off—stop worrying.
Often, you won’t realize you’re dealing with this type of story until you get to the end. Then, you simply go back to the beginning and weave in the setup. As a writer, you are unstuck in time and can move through your storyline with impunity.
Theme reveals itself to you as you write. You may not grasp the underlying themes of your story until you’ve finished writing it. But that’s great, because you can go back and develop them more fully in earlier scenes, adding richness and symbolism so that the ending really resonates with your reader.
4. Hit the rewind button
Remember the example I used at the beginning of this article? About losing the thread, wandering lost and confused without knowing how to stop or where to end? When this happens, more likely than not you’ve written past your ending. If the whole thing bogs down, back up and take a look.
Chances are, you’ll see the perfect line to end the story.
And now, I’ve ended this article by wrapping back to the originating idea. Pretty nifty, eh?
How about you? Do you find endings difficult? Do you have a favorite tactic for creating a satisfying ending? Tell us about it in the comments.
One of the best ways to learn how to write superb endings is to study the masters. Go to your favorite books in your chosen genre and see how the author handled the end. Look for techniques such as time jumps, pacing, and wrapping the story in a theme, beginning to end.
Then go to your work in progress, or a story you’ve already written, and write (or rewrite) the ending scene using a similar pattern. I’m not talking about the climax, but what comes after the climactic scene. Remember, this is practice in learning to master the techniques of a great ending. You don’t have to use this scene in the finished product, but it gives you a chance to hone the necessary skills.
If you don’t have a WIP or finished story, use someone else’s. This is not for publication, but for your own education. Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your results in the comments section, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
When you’re a part of a writing community filled with great critique partners (like The Write Practice Pro!), you’ll be the happy recipient of lots of feedback on your writing. Sometimes it’s obvious how and when you should address the issues the feedback brings up.
But often it can be overwhelming to know what feedback items you should address first or last, or whether you should address certain ones at all. Should you address every nitpick and complaint? Could your readers possibly be incorrect?
And what if the writing feedback you’ve received is hurtful? After all, readers and critique partners are human beings, and all of us have delivered harmless messages at some point or another. How do you work through the trauma of hurtful words about you and your art and continue writing with confidence?
Here’s how to sort your writing feedback into “Essential” items and “Optional” items, and make sure you take none of it personally!
How to Know if Feedback Items Are Essential or Optional
Any time you learn that your story has problems, you’ll want to do one of two things:
Fix all of it immediately.
Light the story on fire and forget you ever wrote it.
The first rarely works, and the second is something you should never do.
It’s very possible that you’ll receive feedback in all three of these categories. So what should you address first?
That depends if the feedback is, by its nature, Essential. And that depends almost entirely on genre.
What is “Essential” Feedback?
Essential writing feedback will address issues that affect your reader’s expectations and experience in the story.
Put another way, helpful feedback on your story will help you make sure you’re writing within an established and understood genre (what the reader expects from the story’s genre), and telling a story that is clear, engaging, and enjoyable (the reader’s experience).
Anything that helps you with these things — the reader’s expectations and experience — is likely Essential.
Anything else, however, is probably Optional.
Here are issues you will receive writing feedback on that are most likely Essential in each of three feedback categories:
Story: Plot holes; clear and empathetic goals for your characters; conventions and scenes within genre; character choices that make sense; where the story or certain scenes take place (setting); elements of structure like a clear beginning and end.
Style: Whether pacing of scenes fulfills the standards of the genre; whether dialogue is in the correct style of the genre; whether descriptions are within the style of the genre (notice a pattern here?). Style feedback can be a major pain-point for writers, so it’s important to focus on genre and reader experience here!
Surface: Distracting errors that cause your reader to forget he/she is reading a story and start editing/judging instead.
Notice that everything has to do with how the writing affects the reader’s experience with your story?
Nothing establishes expectations like genre. When you write within a clearly defined genre, it’s much easier to know what you might be doing wrong. But if you decide to write outside of a specific genre, the rules and expectations become more fluid.
This may sound like a good thing, but it actually isn’t. Readers generally like to try new stories as long as they arrive in the context of a trusted genre. Readers rarely pick up a genre-less book by an unknown author and say, “This is worth six hours of my time!”
Genre is the true north of a writer’s compass, and this is even true during revision.
Want to know if the feedback you’re getting is essential? Look at how the suggestions affect your reader, and whether it will help you fulfill the genre well or not.
What is “Optional” Feedback?
One of the few drawbacks to getting writing feedback is that you’re probably receiving it from a fellow author. And something authors are given to doing is rewriting other people’s stories.
This is not what you want.
Of course you should humbly accept suggestions that can make you a better writer — no one likes a writing partner who insists he or she is the hottest commodity around. But don’t let a fellow writer take your work and tell you how to write it.
Here are some issues that will come up that might be “Optional” if they don’t directly affect the reader’s experience:
Some people simply dislike certain words (“moist” is a word I despise), and will turn you away from their hated words out of personal preference.
Ask: Is this word in-genre and effectively telling the story?
Readers have strong opinions about characters, since characters are the lifeblood of stories. Some critique partners will urge you to add or delete a character, or make major alterations to his/her personality, goals, or choices.
Ask: What affect will this change have on the story? Does it increase my ability to fulfill AND innovate within the genre, or am I fulfilling my critique partner’s wishes instead?
Large swaths of the population detest certain kinds of content, mainly cursing, sex, and violence/gore. Some readers aren’t quite mature enough to realize their own aversion to these things, and will tell you to “tone it down” out of revulsion on their own behalf, rather than on behalf of the reader.
Ask: Is my use of this offensive content genre-appropriate? Have I executed it in a way that is “earned” by the story and its characters?
Some critique partners will literally rewrite large portions of your story for you. Do not let this happen. Thank the partner for his/her enthusiasm, but then ask him/her to make suggestions rather than rewrites.
Ask: Does the suggestion make sense within the genre and the story I’m telling? How can I take the ideas of the rewrite and completely own them in my own voice and style?
Random Grammar Preferences
Generally speaking, about 99% of the grammar feedback you’ll receive is Essential. But every once in a while you’ll write for someone who learned a “rule” that isn’t really a rule.
For example, you’re not supposed to begin sentences with conjunctions, like “And” or “Because.” Is this a rule? No, it is not. It’s a preference. And you are not asking for others to share their grammatic preferences with you.
Ask: Will observing this “rule”/preference really make a difference in my reader’s life? What do I risk by making the change or leaving it alone?
How to Handle Optional Feedback
This is where prioritizing your writing feedback gets extra tricky.
The most important thing is to leave your ego out of it.
Don’t get defensive when someone gives you Optional feedback, or feedback with a weird blend of Essential and Optional. Your partner probably doesn’t realize that the advice he/she is giving you is off-target. You can be a big help by talking through the feedback with your partner, avoiding defensive speeches, and keeping the conversation focused on genre and the reader’s experience.
As long as you focus on these two things, you’ll find it much easier to know if the advice you’re getting is something you should be paying attention to.
Your Turn: Share a Traumatic Feedback Experience
Perhaps a good first step is to think about a time you received Optional feedback, but it was given to you as if it was Essential.
This is a traumatizing experience for any artist. So much of what we do is subject to opinion, and our fragile senses of self can be rocked by just a few words.
Before you give or receive any more writing feedback, take some time to reflect on a moment in your life when you experienced the trauma of poorly delivered feedback.
And to get the ball rolling, I’ll start.
When Feedback Doesn’t Work
Back in 2005, I wrote a play that some friends of mine produced in college. It was called Coffee Bar, and it was my attempt at bringing Samuell Beckett, perhaps the most famous aburdist playwright of all time, into my own style and vision.
The show was attended by a professor from a nearby college who, after viewing our final performance, was going to give us feedback during a “talkback” session. And going into this talkback, I was on top of the world. I had written a “deep” and “important” play that “was going to change the world.”
Actually, I was an insecure 21-year-old kid who didn’t know how to tell a story. And when I sat down at that talkback and heard this man point out all the issues with which my precious play was plagued, I grew furious. I refused to acknowledge any of these supposed “deficits” and insisted that I was a victim and he — the professor — was a jerk.
For the next seven years (yes, years) I fumed over this man’s words. Looking back, though, I realize two things:
He was mostly right about my play’s Story.
He was wrong about my Style.
A lot of what the man said to me was probably Essential. He pointed out serious flaws in my Story that needed to be addressed.
But so much of what he said was aimed at my Style, the aspect of storytelling that is the most personal! And since it was a talkback, not a talk, and I didn’t learn anything from the process. I felt judged, belittled, and ashamed. And anytime an artist feels these things, he or she will never grow.
So instead of studying the professor’s feedback on my Story (at least until I began rewriting it as a novel in 2014), I obsessed over his hurtful, presumptuous words about my Style . . . or should I say, about me.
What Comes After Feedback?
Here’s the big takeaway: Words matter, but what you do with them matters more.
When you receive hurtful writing feedback, or a laundry list of to-do’s that seems Optional, you need to know what to do with it. You need to put your ego aside like I didn’t do back in 2005 and start sorting through the pile of feedback, searching for the good stuff.
Because if you don’t, feedback will continue to be nothing more than a source of trauma for you and those around you.
But if you do process feedback in a healthy and helpful way, it has the power to transform your writing into the best it can be.
How do you determine what writing feedback you should apply to your story? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to reflect on and write about a traumatic feedback experience. Please don’t use names, but refer to others as “my critique partner,” “a fellow writer,” or “my beta reader.”
Try to identify where the process broke down. Were you given Optional feedback that didn’t address your genre or reader experience? Was the feedback too personal, perhaps fixating on your Style and nothing else?
Share your story in the comments below, and then leave an encouraging comment on someone else’s story!
While it can take years to write and edit a book, the state of publishing and marketing seems to change monthly. With the pace of at which publishing is evolving, it isn’t enough to know what is happening right now. We need to be able to anticipate what is coming. Below are three simple things you can do to stay on top of publishing trends.
3 Ways to Keep up With Publishing Trends
The author world moves fast. When I started publishing four years ago, setting up book funnels, managing your Amazon “also-boughts,” and making books permanently free was the primary advice given. In a short time, those ideas have already become mainstays. Now the talk primarily discussion revolves around utilizing Amazon keyword ads, rapid releasing, and finding ways to include audio versions of your work.
For comparison, I worked in the non-profit world for fifteen years and nothing really changed. The debates going on about fundraising, growing membership, and building organizations were pretty much the same. The tools changed, but the opinions didn’t. And I’m fairly certain if I returned to that world, some version of the same arguments would still be going on.
The publishing industry is in the midst of disruption and it has been for some time. When industries are evolving, they can feel chaotic and unpredictable. Yet, if we intend to sell books, understanding the industry is critical to our success. To stay on top of publishing trends, there are three basic things we need to be doing.
1. We need to participate in communities of authors.
The best way to learn what everyone else is doing is to stay in contact with them. We can’t do this alone. We need a cartel.
The author community is shockingly generous in their sharing of best practices. We need to be listening and talking with one another about what is working and what isn’t.
The key is to find something that works for you and lean into it. Once you find your community, invest in relationships with the other authors there so you can share ideas and work together to understand this rapidly changing industry. The best way to anticipate what is coming is to join together as a cartel and help one another keep watch.
Whenever someone recommends to me that I listen to talks and/or podcasts, my inner complainer kicks in and starts yelling about how I don’t have time to do that. Every time I have to remind myself that it would only take me three-and-a-half hours to listen to all of these resources. That’s less than three episodes of Stranger Things.
It’s not that I don’t have the time. It’s that, for some weird reason, I have a knee jerk reaction about investing it into understanding my industry.
Don’t be like me. Take advantage of the fantastic sharing that’s going on all around us.
3. We need to read books on the industry.
My inner complainer also rages about being told to read more. Here is the good news: books about publishing tend to be cheap, short, skimmable, and yet still incredibly helpful.
Take for example Craig Martel’s recent book on Release Strategies. The work is 160 easy-to-read pages that will set your next book launch up for success, and you couldn’t ask for a better source. Craig has published over fifty books and has successfully built a publishing empire around his stories.
Or take Jim Kukral’s new book, Unskippable. Jim has worked for 24 years as an internet marketer and is one of the hosts of the Sell More Books Show, a news podcast focused on books that has given Jim a front-row seat to the quickly-changing publishing industry. His book, Unskippable, is a smooth and entertaining read filled with thought-provoking insight into writing and publishing. It’s a quick and easy read that will push you to consider your publishing practices.
The Evolution of Publishing
As writers, we live in a changing world. If we want to get our books in front of readers, we need to stay on top of publishing trends and keep an eye on how the industry is evolving. The good news is that there are an abundance of resources available to us. I’ve linked to many of the resources that have helped me recently.
Of course, there are many more out there, so keep listening, keep reading, and above all, keep connecting with your community.
What resources about the publishing industry have you found helpful? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to write about the future. Maybe write a short story that takes place twenty years from now, or write a short article making predictions about how something you love will change in the next decade.
When your time is up, share your writing in the comments for all of us to enjoy. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
Revising a story is arguably the hardest part of writing. I know many writers who refused to revise at all when they first started out. Personally, I also felt like my short stories were gold in just one draft. Then I realized having to revise is a necessary part of the process. That means it’s important to learn how to revise a story.
Revision is Necessary
Having to revise your story doesn’t mean you’re an awful writer. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed in any way. Every successful author out there revises their work. They revise before they send it to their publisher and then they go through more revisions after their publisher sends it to an editor.
The bottom line is, as painful as it is, writers need to learn to love the revision process. Or at least tolerate it relatively well.
In today’s interview, we’re talking with Christina Weaver about how to revise a story. Christina may not be in love with revision, but she knows how vital it is to your story.
Christina Weaver (who also writes as C.M. Weaver) lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, son and a rescue dog named Ariel. She’s published two books and has had multiple stories in anthologies. She’s won multiple awards for her short stories.
The Vanishing of Katherine Sullivan was inspired by a post from a classmate’s memoir. I couldn’t figure out why an entire town would turn against a woman and take her children from her. It happened at the end of WWII in Italy.
The story intrigued me and I kept asking questions. The man who was writing his family’s story didn’t know, he had only what his father told him. I asked if I could take the incident and write my own story. He said yes.
Silent River was a different story. Back in the mid-1980s my mother, whom I’d been visiting, handed me a full page article from the Oregonian newspaper and said, “Tina you need to write about this.” I read about a family that disappeared into the Columbia River on December 7, 1958.
I started writing a story, but it ran into a wall. I couldn’t figure out how this fictional story might end. I had done very little research on it and had the police reports from the state.
So you had to do a lot of research for Silent River. Can you give me a little insight into your research process?
This was fun and lots of work. I began writing a story by the seat of my pants (panster) and after a few pages ran into a wall.
I had the phone number of the detective that was on the case, provided by my best friend who worked for the state police. I called Walter [the detective] and tried to get him to talk to me. He asked me a couple of questions then asked what the weather was like in Minnesota and hung up on me.
That went on for four calls. He [was testing] me and then it took a couple more phone calls before he believed me and would open up and talk. The last time I called, I told him I had his reports and all the police reports I could get.
[He finally gave in and dug up] his interview of the waitress at the diner where the family last ate. The next conversation revealed the key to the story and I began to write with all my police reports.
Wow, that took a lot of persistence! I also have a lot of fun doing research for a book, but often find heavily researched stories can turn out stale and textbook-like. Did you have that issue with your novel? What did you do to liven it up?
Let’s say when I first wrote the novel I’d never written one before. I wasn’t a very good writer but I could tell a good story. After sending that rough novel to the detective, who loved it, I put it away for years. Thirty-five to be exact.
I began to study the craft of writing and after a renewed interest in the story, I dug it out and began to edit and rewrite. I’d say I did more rewriting than editing.
My main character was flat. He needed something to connect to the reader. I added emotion to the story where I could. Gave him a love interest to keep it real and a partner to help tell the story.
When I was first starting out, I had a hard time getting rid of prose I really liked but that just wasn’t serving the story. I can now “kill my darlings” with the best of them, but it took some time to get to that point. Is that a hard process for you and how do you deal with that? How do you know what “darlings” to kill? Do you recommend keeping those bits for something else or deleting them entirely?
My first draft of Silent River isn’t much like the published version. The process the detective took is the same. Police work is what it is.
“Kill your darlings”? I didn’t have any. I kept this story true to the plot line of police work. What I changed was what I’d developed as a writer.
I learned early on there are great writers and critics. They usually are there to help you. If they say cut, I cut! Even if it hurts.
Now saying that, in The Vanishing of Katherine Sullivan, my original publisher wanted me to cut all dialect from the novel. I refused. I told her my reason why. I don’t know if she agreed or not, but she gave in.
When you read this book, you’ll notice only Sam speaks in the dialect. Katherine doesn’t correct her husband’s speech as she does herself and her children. She wants her children to have culture or class. The townspeople speak revealing education. She wants that same respect.
You obviously felt quite strongly about keeping that dialect to go up against your publisher! What made that element of the story so important?
The reason I gave the editor for keeping some dialect was the desire of my main character, Katherine. You will see through the book she tries to better herself. She had moved out of the hills of West Virginia and into the town of Millerton. I told my editor I needed to show the reader the difference between how Katherine spoke and how the rest of the town might speak.
There are times when you feel the reason behind keeping something is important. Weigh it against the story. If you take it out will the reader lose something? In this case, I felt showing the reader Katherine’s desire was one of the reasons the town turned against her.
In your novel, if it doesn’t change the story, cut it and see what your beta readers think.
Speaking of beta readers, getting critique is a vital element in the writing process, but it’s often discouraging as well, especially for new writers. What advice would you give to writers about taking and applying critique?
“Pull up your big girl/boy panties and deal with it!” I look at the person giving the critique and if I care enough I’ll look at how they write. How long have they been writing?
Most critics are there to help you become a better writer. If they just red line everything and smash your work then walk away, put their review to the side.
Look at all the reviews [they give]. If they seem to be saying the same thing then you’d better change the way you do something. [For instance,] if you have a problem with POV [point of view], you’re going to have to do a rewrite.
I met a wonderful woman in one of the classes on The Write Practice. She’d written a 350-page epic. After a number of reviewers began saying the same thing she took another look at what she wrote, then at what I’d suggested. I try to always include the way you might write something to show a change in POV or by adding emotion, setting or even movement. You don’t want to have a chapter of talking heads.
Since she lives just a few miles from me we met and began to rewrite her story. She told me right off the story had to have this and this and that. Okay. We are now a few months into the rewrite and she just told me she could get rid of those very things she’d been so attached to.
“Writing is a learning process. It takes the willingness to let go, or at least rewrite it differently, to perfect your craft.” —Christina Weaver, @TWbookmiss
How do you know when your book is ready to go out into the world?
To some, it will never be ready. I see that as a lack of confidence. If you have told the story from beginning to end and the people you trust have critiqued it with no more edits, you’re ready.
However, the next issue is how much money do you have to have it edited and proofread? Are you willing to sit on it until you can afford to have this done? If not then do your best. If you have friends that can read it and look for any obvious mistakes, buy them a book they want or lunch or something.
After that, take a big breath and hit the PUBLISH button.
You say “do your best.” Do you have any advice for editing your own work? Any specific programs or ways to tackle the process?
I use Grammarly when I’ve completed the manuscript. I use Word (and a notebook) when I’m writing.
I’m still trying to learn Scrivener. I haven’t used it to do a full novel. It’s a learning process.
I look at new ways to write all the time. I just bought the Thesaurus of Emotions. It’s been quite helpful. I have many books on writing and technique.
One thing I learned about writing is to write and have better writers review it. Join writing sites that help you. The one I joined was the most instrumental in making me a great writer.
Want to join a community of writers giving feedback and supporting one another? We’d love to see you in The Write Practice Pro. Click here to learn more »
How many revisions on average would you say you go through before your book is ready to be published?
Not all that many. I have the original rough draft. Then I put it through an online critique like 100 Day Book, or put Silent River on the Writer’s Workshop. I took the suggestions and rewrote what was wrong.
If I’m happy with the book and my critical sisters are happy, then I’m good with it. I don’t over stress about mistakes. Even the big publishers don’t catch everything. It’s no excuse, but it’s reality.
What’s been the hardest part of the writing process for you and how did you overcome it?
It depends on the story. [With] Silent River it was/is the ending. This is an unsolved murder. I wrote it as close to the possible truth as I could. I had to have an ending and it took a number of tries before I could accept the one I have.
The manuscripts I have now have other problems. Sometimes it’s the middle and in Twisted Roots, I’m nearing the end and struggling on how to end it. I have plots semi filled out that have missing sections I don’t know what to do about.
I ask friends, other writers and my sisters for suggestions. I may take all of them and suddenly the ending will come to me. How it happens I don’t know, it just does.
Any other advice you’d like to give new writers out there?
Write. Good, bad or ugly, write your story. THEN put it out for review. Look at what people say and fix it.
I’d say start writing short stories and don’t start with a novel. Take the premise of your novel and write it in fewer than 2500 or 3000 words. If you can tell the story in that amount of words and hook your readers, you are getting there.
I have stories that when they are reviewed, I get the request to make it into a novel. Perfecting the craft of writing short stories is the best place to start.
When you get that done, then stretching them into a novel is just expanding the plot line, adding setting and emotion to the three acts of your story. You can do it if you put your ego in the drawer and accept help.
“Put your ego in the drawer and accept help.”
Christina is right about ego. I said at the beginning of this post that I thought my stories were gold after one draft when I first started writing.
That was ego.
I had to learn to ignore my ego in order to move forward and revise my writing. In order to learn how to revise a story, I had to realize nothing is perfect the first time, no matter how much you want it to be and how much it hurts to hear criticism.
Revision is necessary. Learn to appreciate the process.
Thanks to Christina Weaver for her very real advice on revision!
A heinous murder. A jilted lover. An angry hero determined to get justice. Revenge stories are a vital part of the human experience. Let’s take a look at how to write one of your own.
Willa Cather famously said, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”
I don’t know if the number is really two, three, or ninety-seven, but her point that humans keep doing the same things over and over throughout history is sound. We act, strangely enough, according to human nature and our stories reflect that. Consequently, there are patterns that recur time and again in the stories humans write and read, because that’s what resonates in our souls.
I’ve long been a believer that, as writers, we should concern ourselves less with finding a story that’s never been told before, and more with expressing our story ideas with our own unique voices and perspectives. That’s what makes it ours, and that’s what will draw readers to our version of a story pattern they’ve surely read before.
A dish best served cold
One of the oldest story patterns is the revenge story. Revenge is visceral—it grabs us by the gut, sending feelers deep into the bed of our emotions. We hate to see a grave injustice go unpunished and most of us, as law-abiding as we may be, can get behind a little vigilante action in our fiction. We itch to see the scales balanced, the savagely maligned victim avenged.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is probably the most famous example of the revenge plot, and makes use of some of its stock devices—the ghost crying out for vengeance, the feigned madness, the play-within-a-play, and the ultimate carnage that results—but the Bard was not the first, or the last, to use this pattern. He simply wrote it in a way that made it undeniably his.
If you’ve got an idea for a revenge story, and want to write it in such a way as to make it undeniably yours, I’m here to help.
Assemble your cast
You’ll need a hero. Make your protagonist a basically good person who’s forced to take justice into his own hands when the law fails to provide satisfaction. Take care to round your character and make him real and likeable because you’ll want the reader firmly in his corner.
You’ll need a villain. The antagonist is the character who committed the unpunished act. Keep in mind the range of crimes that might apply and the fact that it may be real or imagined. Maybe the hero is placing the blame on the wrong culprit. Maybe the hero has bought into a false portrayal of the situation. There are all kinds of twists you could throw into the works to cast a different light on the story.
You’ll need a victim. The victim’s purpose is to arouse our sympathies and ire. The hero could double as the victim, as in The Count of Monte Cristo, or it may be a family member, love interest, or even someone the hero barely knows but whose situation inspires him to action. However, you must give the hero a personal stake of some sort, an emotional tie to the victim.
Behold, a heinous crime
The more monstrous the central act—murder, rape, torture, and so on—the more justified your hero is in seeking out and dispensing revenge. And it strikes a nice balance if the punishment fits the crime: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
The desire to overstep those bounds may eat at your hero, may comprise his inner struggle, but if he can exercise a degree of restraint in administering the proper punishment, he’ll gain reader respect and provide a nice catharsis—that final release of tension that leads to reader satisfaction.
Typically, you want to start by firing up your audience with a portrayal of the crime. You present happy people, going about their own business, whose lives are interrupted and forever changed by the commission of a shocking crime that goes unpunished.
In some cases, the crime occurs before the story begins. Done right (as Shakespeare did in Hamlet) this can work, but it’s a safer bet to actually dramatize it for your reader and let her experience the pain and indignities first hand. This allows the reader to form an emotional bond with your characters, getting good and outraged, wanting revenge as much as your hero does.
The hero may try to go through official channels, such as the police, but these efforts fail and he realizes that if there’s to be any justice administered, he must do it himself.
This is the planning and preparing stage of the story. The hero researches, trains, tracks down the antagonist, or whatever needs to be done to put his plan into action. If your story involves multiple villains who need to be dealt with, as in The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville, your hero may start dishing out revenge during this phase.
To add even more conflict, you may introduce a third party who is trying to stop your hero from exacting revenge—a law enforcement official, family member, or religious personality, perhaps.
This is where the confrontation happens, when your hero and the villain go head to head. If your protagonist has been dealing out serial revenge to a list of offenders, this is the final confrontation and involves the most important villain.
This is your hero’s moment of triumph! Or his ultimate failure. Readers will be most satisfied, of course, if your hero prevails in dispensing the requisite justice, but there are instances where failure is called for at the end. If this is the case, keep in mind that it doesn’t release you from the responsibility of providing satisfaction for your readers.
Think of the movie Braveheart. In the end, William Wallace is viciously executed, drawn and quartered, but he goes to his death with such dignity and courage that it drives home the point of the movie and delivers a fitting conclusion that viewers can live with.
Usually, though, it’s best to conclude the story with a sense of mission accomplished.
A twist ending to die for, or not
Sometimes it’s possible and fitting to build right up to the point of revenge, that culminating moment the protagonist and reader has anxiously been waiting for, and then let your hero reach an epiphany that drives home an aching truth: vengeance will not call back the original crime, undo the damage, or restore the hero’s world. It will only serve to inflict further damage on those who are left.
Though our hearts sometimes rage with a desire for revenge, deep down we know it can’t bring real or lasting relief. We strengthen our families and enrich our societies when we go beyond the “eye for an eye” mentality and remember the injunction to forgive seventy times seven.
Never easy and never neat, it can nevertheless provide a heart-rending and satisfying ending to a revenge story, and is certainly an option you can consider.
Will your revenge story end in the hero exacting vengeance? Or will they choose something far more difficult—forgiveness?
The lighter side of revenge
Most often, revenge stories involve horrific crimes and violent reprisals, but the patterns of revenge can also be used to write comedy or other types of lighter fare. The same basic tenets apply, but violence doesn’t usually rear its ugly head. For instance, The Sting, where con men are beaten at their own game, is a revenge story. Other examples include John Tucker Must Die, 9 To 5, and The First Wives Club.
Everyone loves a well-told tale of revenge with a cleansing cathartic ending. Why not try your hand at writing one?
How about you? What’s your favorite book or movie revenge story? Have you ever thought about writing your own? Tell us about it in the comments.
Today we’re going to practice patterns of revenge to get the hang of the three phases and how they work together. First, choose the tone you’re going for—dark crime, comedy, sting—and come up with a suitable crime to kick off your story. Write it down.
Sketch out rough details for your hero, villain, victim, and possibly a third party character who tries to stop the hero from accomplishing her vengeance. Brainstorm ideas for phase two—the planning and preparation for the revenge—and phase three—the confrontation. Write all these things down and expand on them for fifteen minutes.
When you are finished, you’ll have an outline for a revenge story. Post it in the comments and be sure to give feedback for your fellow writers. Then go write the story!
I often hear the same questions from writers, questions like, “How do I make a living as a writer?” or, “How do I write a bestselling book?”
These are the wrong questions, and that’s a huge problem because I believe the questions you ask yourself can change your mindset and how you approach your writing.
What are the right questions? In this article, I’m going to share the five essential questions every writer should ask themselves.
Essential Questions for Writers
I first had the idea become a writer when I was 17 years old. I was in my room, reading a novel by Charles Dickens, probably A Tale of Two Cities, and for some reason the characters and the story touch me so deeply that for a moment I felt connected.
As I read the book, I felt like I wasn’t alone.
You see, like many kids, I was bullied in school, and for me it had the effect of silencing me. I didn’t trust people and I had very few friends. But for some reason, reading that book at that moment, it was as if Charles Dickens had reached through 120 years of history and spoken directly to me.
In that moment, that question people always ask when you’re growing up popped into my head: “What do you want to be when you grow up?
Somewhat naively, I thought, “Maybe I should do this? Maybe I should be a writer. Because wouldn’t it be amazing to inspire this feeling in others? To reach through words and pages and connect with someone so they know they’re not alone, that there is one person, at least, who feels like they do, who sees the world in the same way.”
In other words, I wanted to become a writer so I could connect.
[We write out of] sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one…. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
In other words, Orwell says we write to be admired.
But honestly, I think George Orwell was wrong. Fame, admiration, self-centered vanity aren’t really what we’re looking for.
We write to connect.
The truth is, being known, being loved, is so much better than being admired.
For most of human history, artists have been part of the community. Connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance. But the internet—and the content we’re freely able to share on it—is about taking it back. It’s about a few people loving you up close, and about those people being enough.
Ask yourself, “Why do you write?” Why do you really write? Is it about fame? Vanity? Celebrity? Or is it deeper than that?
Do you write to connect?
The Second Essential Question: How Do You Change People?
I think it’s great to make money at writing. I think it’s important to get paid for your work.
However, the question, “How do I make a living writing?” is the wrong question.
Instead, how do you CHANGE people with your writing?
Because if you can offer transformation people will pay whatever you ask.
The Third Essential Question: What can you write that no one else can?
Because if you can write something unique, something different from anything else in the market, something that people also like, your fans will buy everything and anything you ask.
The Fourth Essential Question: How do you connect your emotions to your story?
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” said Robert Frost.
How do you get so deep into your characters (or else choose characters similar to you and your story) so that you can summon the emotional depth necessary to tell an entertaining and transformative story?
The Fifth Essential Question: How can you LIVE a story as interesting as the ones on the page?
Because of you look at the writers we most admire they took risks with their lives.
Ernest Hemingway, Mary Shelley, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf—they all lived lives as interesting as the ones they wrote about. Part of their marketing (their platform you might say) was based on how they lived, not just how they wrote.
Your biggest asset as a writer is your experiences. How are you going to create experiences that help you be a better writer?
What are some other questions you’re bringing to your writing?
Here are some questions I’ve heard from other writers:
Why do I struggle at the end?
What if no one connects with my art?
What if I try to write one story and it becomes something else?
What do I do with my fear?
What if I’ve outgrown my story?
Does rewriting always make your story better?
How about you? What questions are you bring to your writing? Let me know in the comments.
Pick one person you would like your writing to connect with.
Then, write something just for him or her.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, share your practice in the . And if you share, please be sure to give feedback on a few practices by your fellow writers.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably received feedback. While some writing feedback is easily processed (like quick compliments), the best feedback takes time and energy to deal with.
This is the kind of writing feedback we give and receive in our premium writing community, The Write Practice Pro, by the way!
Receiving a flood of critiques can feel good at first. But after reading a deluge of opinions and observations and judgments, it can get really overwhelming.
Here’s how to organize the feedback you receive so you can approach the next draft with confidence!
How to Organize Writing Feedback
Writing and revising use different sides of your brain. One is creative, explorative, and free — the right side. The other is analytical and critical — the left.
Similarly, you should separate the documents you use to create and critique.
For that reason, I like to create a new document to organize my feedback. No matter what word processor you’re using (Word, Pages, Google Docs), just create a new document and add the word “feedback” to the title, like this:
If you’re using Scrivener, you can just create a separate folder for feedback.
The point is to separate the feedback, and any notes you take on it (more on that later!), into a separate document than your manuscript.
Keep the creation where it belongs, and the feedback where it belongs!
Segment the Feedback
Not all writing feedback serves the same purpose. Nor is it all targeted in the same direction.
Yet we receive it that way. Anything constructive tends to feel negative or critical. Anything positive is encouraging. And so on.
But this doesn’t help you build an action plan for revising your story. Instead, you need to segment your feedback based on the specific area of creation it affects.
In your feedback document, you need to create three sub-sections with the following titles: Story, Style, and Surface.
Here’s what each of these means, and what you need to do with it.
Without a doubt the most important writing feedback you’ll receive, Story Feedback concerns the choices you’ve made that pertain to the story: Characters and characterization; character choices; stakes and what’s at risk; setting choice; plot holes and logic; whether your genre is clear or not.
Let’s not mince words here. These are major issues to resolve.
When you receive feedback on any of these things, it’s imperative to document it (use your device’s Copy-and-Paste functionality to grab any written feedback and post it in your Feedback Document) and sort it into your Story Feedback sub-section.
In terms of priority, Story Feedback is the very top. If your character choices don’t make sense, then readers won’t empathize with them. If your characters aren’t risking anything, then readers won’t care. If plot holes riddle your story like machine gun bullets, then readers won’t believe it.
When you receive story-based feedback about any of these things, value it. Put your ego aside. I know it hurts — I’ve received more than my fair share of humbling feedback.
But it’s more valuable than a diamond. Any reader who gives you this feedback truly cares about your success as a writer, and by proxy, the experience of your readers. Treasure these readers and the Story Feedback they give you by organizing it and making it your top revision priority.
Feedback on your story is a gift. It means people care about your writing and want to help you be successful.
The second kind of writing feedback you’re likely to receive is Style Feedback.
This usually pertains to how you handle things like characterization, setting description, dialogue, pacing, or other issues of style that concern your critique partner’s personal preferences.
This gets tricky because Style Feedback is just that: Feedback on how you create stories. The instinct to get defensive is strong, and there are times when you will actually be right (or your partner might be wrong).
You still need to document and consider this feedback . . . even if it hurts.
Since style is so personal, this is where we tend to fight to the death over trivial matters like word choice or a particular way of crafting dialogue. They are the little stylistic hills we are delighted to die on because we are in love with our own voices.
(And by “we,” I mean myself.)
But a humble writer is a growing writer, and to become the kind of writer who attracts readers like J.K. Rowling, you’ll need to be willing to make stylistic adjustments for the sake of your readers.
Here’s a three-step process for handling stylistic feedback that will rarely let you down:
Assume the best (don’t assume the reader hates you or your style).
Validate other people’s preferences.
Practice writing for those preferences.
A good example here is the use of cursing. Many readers simply don’t enjoy foul language of any kind. It is an immediate turn-off, and no matter how good your story is they won’t finish it.
This was true for me when I read the first page of American Psycho — it was so profane that I had no desire to continue. And I proudly filled my own first novel with dozens of F-bombs!
Again, humility saves the day here. Are you “wrong” for using curse words or any other stylistic choice?
But you may not be enjoyable or welcoming or comfortable. And these are things that readers crave.
So take each piece of Style Feedback with a grain of humble salt because it could save your writing life (and make you a pretty penny in sales someday!).
The final kind of writing feedback you’ll receive is the kind you probably got from your high school English teacher: Surface Feedback.
This has everything to do with the Grammar Nazis’ laws of grammar: Spelling, punctuation, syntax, and other so-called “rules,” like not beginning a sentence with a conjunction or ending one with a preposition.
And that’s not all they’ll come up with!
As a high school English teacher myself, I’ve heard of a zillion rules that actually aren’t rules… and they’re paralyzing young writers.
The truth is, many of these rules aren’t actually rules, but personal preferences. And you deserve the freedom to tinker with language in order to tell the story you want to tell.
That being said . . . don’t tinker too much!
As we just discussed in Style Feedback, it’s important to tell a story that is welcoming and comfortable for your reader. That means following the rules of grammar to the best of your ability.
As a former judge of several writing contests here at The Write Practice, I can testify that poor grammar has disqualified several entries.
Grammar matters for two reasons:
It establishes logic.
It establishes credibility.
Let me put that in laymen’s terms for you: If you suck at grammar, then you won’t make sense and people won’t respect you. It’s just that simple.
Plus, when you are good at grammar, most folks won’t notice when you break one of the little stylistic rules that your old English teacher clung to for dear life. They’ll be too absorbed by your thrilling story and voice to care.
So take notes on Surface Feedback. Take that feedback seriously.
But don’t make it your first priority. You’ll get to it — after all, it’s probably the fastest and easiest thing to get to — but not yet.
Hit the story first, then your style. Those things matter most of all!
The Organized Writer
It’s a blessing to receive a lot of writing feedback. Yet it can become a curse when that feedback seems too plentiful.
Thankfully, now you have a method to organize that feedback into meaningful sub-sections. Now you can approach your future drafts with clarity, purpose, and confidence.
Commit to organizing your feedback with a Feedback Document that uses three sub-sections: Story, Style, and Surface. Your rewriting will be energized and targeted at what readers what and need!
What do you do with feedback on your writing? Let us know in the comments.
For today’s practice, you have two choices:
Have you received feedback on your writing recently? Now is your chance to process it. Is it Story, Style, or Surface Feedback? What changes will you integrate into your story? Take fifteen minutes to review your feedback and edit your story, then share your revision in the comments.
Don’t have feedback yet? This is your chance to get some! Take fifteen minutes to write a new story based on this prompt:
If she could only find a pair of scissors, this would be so much easier.
When you’re done, share your story in the comments below to get feedback from the community. Be sure to read three other writers’ pieces and give them feedback, too!