Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Rewriting Prose

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on a major editing skill – rewriting!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5.Critically Read The First Version You Made

I don’t mean just remember what you wrote last time.

Unless there’s a good reason to ignore what you’ve already done, look at what you’re trying to replace and figure out why. Write some of those things down if you want. Know where you are and where you have to go. I’ve rewritten the entirety of novels before, but I needed to understand what sorts of things went wrong the first time.

Another point of reading critically is to decide if you need to rewrite or if a passage just needs editing. It’s really great if you can have an alpha or beta reader, because they can give you another perspective. Rewriting is done when a scene in its entirety needs to change. This usually happens to me when the process to get from A to B doesn’t make enough sense.

Read it critically. Make notes about what you want. Then put it away as much as you can. If you use the old version too much, you’ll end up with the old version at the end.

4. Does It Need to Exist at All?

On major hurdle I have toward rewriting is getting rid of useless statements and passages. If I wrote it in the first place, it needs to be there, darn it!

But we all know that’s not necessarily true. When you read, you want the author to give you good stuff to read. A bunch of useless babble can slow down the book, make it confusing, or make readers focus on parts that aren’t important. This isn’t Victorian England, and you’re not Charles Dickens – in today’s market, you aren’t going to be promised payment per word before you show your chops.

Here’s some tips to  clean out unnecessary stuff:

  • Did you skip over it when you read the paragraph? People skip things when they read, and it’s for one two reasons: either the info isn’t worthwhile, or they’re looking for something different. If you skipped it when reading, consider if it needs to be moved or get the ax.
  • How many times do you say it? If you’ve given that piece of information before in a similar manner, you might not want to do it again. Give the statement a good think.
  • Do you feel bored? Don’t fool yourself that you’re bored because you’ve written/read it before – try to think critically about it. Get rid of boring.
  • Delete it. Read the paragraph/passage again. Did it flow? If so, you can probably keep it out.
  • Give yourself a break. Don’t work on that story for a while; when you come back, you might have a fresh enough outlook that you can read what you actually wrote, not what you intended to write.
  • Listen to your beta readers! If they’re bored with a passage, pay attention – even if you don’t need to delete it, figure out what kind of oomph the passage needs.

3. Remember, Rewriting Isn’t Editing

Part of why I suggest writing something brand new without using the old version as the skeleton is the temptation to change individual words or fix grammar and call it good enough. Changing words and grammar is important, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, you want to add a new feeling, change the logic of how the characters got to a certain plot point.

Put away the old version while you’re rewriting. Make something new, make what you think you want this time. Think about where you want to go and write it. If you use the old version, you’ll end up with something substantially like the old version. Remember, it’s fine to edit, but when you need to rewrite – i.e. when you need to do something substantially different – it can be helpful to get rid of what you don’t want.

2. Merge the Old and New Versions

It helps me, once I’m done, to re-read the old version and try to see if there were old parts that I forgot in the new version. I have to be really critical about this, though, because I didn’t think the element was important when I started the rewrite. Usually, I rewrite for a specific scene to get from point A to point B, and the things I add back in are hints or foreshadowing that I had left out.

Another reason to merge the two at this point – being selective with what you use from the old version – is you can examine who the characters are. If you’ve finished a book or story with dynamic characters, you may want to check afterwards to be certain you have the right stage of character. You will want to make sure they don’t know twists or secrets they learn later in the book.

1. Save The Old Version

I can’t stress this enough – SAVE OLD MANUSCRIPTS! You probably won’t come back to it after enough time has changed, but you never know. As well, just having that older version on your computer gives you more evidence of when you wrote it, gives you a record of your process, and may contain ideas that you’ll want to re-use later.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten a story then wished I could at least compare it with an older one and make sure it was the best it could be. Save it for peace of mind if nothing else.

When I write a book, I create a dated version. If I’m just adding a chapter to the end, I just keep the same file. When I need to edit or rewrite any portion of the file, I’ll create a new version with a new date. At the end, I’ll put all the versions except the final one into a folder, then zip them together. You can use 7zip to compress it further than you can with just a .zip file.

At some point, you’ll declare your work done. Be proud of where you’ve taken it.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Other people have a ton of advice about editing and rewriting.

Necessary Fiction’s “A Month of Revision” (Strongly recommended – lots of tips for novel writers)

7zip zipping software can help you store a lot of archival information in a small space. You’ll never have to feel bad about taking up too much memory on your laptop or desktop ever again!

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s prompt!

Witty Nib Writing Club #2 – Rewriting Your Prose

06092019 Writing Club

The Witty Nib Writing Club seeks to provide an opportunity to engage in constructive writing activities online. Comments are key here at the writing club, and we’d love to have you join us!

For more information on the Club, follow this link to the club’s main page.

Quick Rules of the Club

To have your post included in the roundup, do the following:

  1. Make a post that follows the month’s theme. Using a pingback or a comment on this post, make it available to other club members.
  2. Comment on someone else’s post. Be constructive!
  3. Fill out the form below. Make sure you put good links – both to your post and the post you commented on.

Unless there’s a lot more responses than I expect, I’ll be checking those links! Even if you don’t want to comment, you can put your post in the comments and I’ll do my best to check it and comment myself. 🙂

This Month’s Theme

This month, we’re going to focus on something important in writing – heavy editing! Editing can include linguistic changes, character changes, or changes to the entire course of the passage.

  1. Choose a passage, 500 words or less. It can either be one of your own works, or it can be from a published work (make sure you cite it!).  I’m going to use my favorite whipping boy, Eragon, in my post next week. You can use that passage if you want!
  2. Rewrite the passage, improving it. At the end of the post, point out one thing you did that improved the passage. You can change whatever you want!
  3. Comment on at least one other person’s post. Be constructive if you can, supportive if you can’t!

This means linking to your post in the comments below.  I’ll approve pingbacks, but you might want to comment if you don’t see it show up soon. I’ll read your stuff if no one else does!

The Form

Leave a link in the comments for other people to participate with.  This form is for the end-of-the-month roundup.  If you want to be included in the roundup, you’ll need to use this form.  If the form doesn’t seem to work, I’ll see what I can do for the next post.

 

Cover Making On a Dime

There’s an evil trifecta that will always affect everything you do. You must choose between:

  1. Good
  2. Cheap
  3. Fast

And I’ve not figured out how to get around that. Sometimes you can get good and cheap, but it probably won’t be fast. Good and fast won’t be cheap, and fast and cheap are almost never good. This is true for food and books, and it’s also true for book covers.

So let it be known that if you follow the advice on this page, you’re at best going to get good and cheap. It won’t be fast, and at some level the “good” part will depend on your skill level. That being said, here’s how I make my covers.

1. Choose a Style

I like to pick a style first so I know what I’m going for. My cover for American Chimera, for instance, was done in an art-deco style. Evolution of the Predator was supposed to make you think of a peaceful homeland, and If I Only Had No Heart was honestly just bad but was supposed to make you think of evil computers. Good Intentions is a God-don’t-let-it-off-my-computer werewolf story that I wrote to prove that Twilight could have been “cool” instead of “garbo”, and I chose to go with something that reminded me of gangsters. The Poet of the Week Compilation was made with a style to imitate Colleen Chesebro’s website, nature-inspired works, the feel of the contest, and the need to have a printer-friendly cover. The Mercury Dimension is deceptive because it’s hard to see the stupid spaceship I painstakingly shopped in.

They’re all different, and I’ve learned over the course of all of them.

2. Make a Crappy Idea Drawing

Let’s say I have an idea for a book cover in my head. If I don’t commit it to paper in any form or fashion, I’m not really going to have an idea how it will look. I won’t know what kind of space it will take up on the page or if it makes sense.

Once it’s on paper, I can gauge if it has any merit at all. Sometimes I put it to paper and realize it’s melodramatic, or I realize it won’t have anywhere for a title to go. The other thing I realize by making a Crappy Idea Drawing is if the cover is too ambitious. Like on the Great British Baking Show, going for something too ambitious for your skill level can lead to despair later. If you’re having too hard a time drawing the crappy version, you can decide if your idea is just too much for you.

Once I settle on the Crappy Idea Drawing, it’s time to move to a computer.

3. Get GIMP

GIMP is a freeware photoshop. I guess you can get Photoshop instead (I can confirm that it’s better and more intuitive), but it’s so much less free than GIMP.

All of the covers I’ve made have been in GIMP.

4. Get a Template

No, not an art template – a template for the size of your cover! Amazon has standard sizes for their Kindle and Print-on-Demand services, and you can download a template for your book. If you plan on including the back and spine, though, you’ll need to have your book written already; that will allow Amazon to calculate how big the spine will actually be.

If you’re not going to do Print On Demand and just want a front cover, then huzzah and hurrah! You can choose whatever you damn well please.

5. Choose a Color Palette

This is most important if you’re making graphic art, but even if you’re going for something more natural, you’ll at least want to make some decisions about colors. With American Chimera, I wanted to evoke thoughts of gold, of riches, of opulence, which is why I went with the yellow and yellow-gold tones. Evolution of the Predator is a survival tale on an alien world, so I went with natural tones and then a red for a standout title.

6. Choose a Font

If there’s nothing else on this stupid post you pay attention to, this is the big one.

A font is everything. The font should match your style, should be daring. Yet, it should be legible, clear, easy to read. Serif and non-serif fonts have an enormous difference between the two and can make huge impacts on your work. Go to font download sites and look for exactly what you need. Then keep looking. Keep looking. Find the perfect font, and the rest of the cover will be easier.

Be sure to choose fonts that don’t require attribution.

7. Le Sigh… Draw It On GIMP…

Ok, this one’s the major step, and it’s the one that will screw with you the most. However, since no two covers will be the same, it’s excessively hard to tell you every step for your book specifically. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments, or there’s YouTube videos for almost anything you want to make.

Here’s some hints and tips, though:

It Will Take Forever

You’ll get dispirited if you’ve never used GIMP or Photoshop before. It takes such a long time to get a handle on the program. But that’s where your crap drawing and style will help you – figure out what your goal is, and you’ll be better equipped to put questions into Google. Take the time to figure out the how, and you’ll get better. Be patient and forgive yourself for sucking. People take classes on this crap for a reason.

Use the Pen (it takes forever)

The “Pen” tool (in GIMP, not sure if it’s the same in Photoshop) allows you to draw vectors or paths. These paths can be resized without diminishing image quality, which is something I wish I’d known when making that Good Intentions cover seen above. With American Chimera and the Poet of the Week compilation, I knew about paths and could make good use of them. Paths create smooth, crisp lines on any size document you want to make.

Understand Layers

A layer is like adding a clear piece of plastic overtop the image for you to draw on, except it remains stable and in place. You can afterward pull that piece out of the way, or you can switch which piece you’re working on. Or you can toss the crappy pieces. If you’re new to photoshop or GIMP, look up layers so you can get this concept.

Start With the Background Layer and Work Forward

Let’s pretend you want your cover to be a landscape. Start with the sky, then make a new layer and put in any mountains or items in the distance. Then draw the foreground. Put in another layer for things on top of the foreground. Work your way closer to the camera, putting layer on top of layer.

Keep A Color Palette Layer

It’s easy to lose track of what colors you have and where you want them. If you have a layer just full of stupid splotches of the colors you’re using, you’ll never completely lose it ever again.

When In Doubt, Start a New Layer

If you start a new layer, you won’t screw up anything you’ve done under or above it.

Use Guidelines

Guidelines are lines that don’t show up on the final image but help you with placement. Put them where you want them to be, and you’ll be well-off.

Huzzah! You’ve Got a Cover!

And, at last, you’ve drawn something. Like I said, a lot of it will depend on your skills, but these things have helped me make a lot of perfectly ok covers.

Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Memoir Writing

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on memoir!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5. Tell the Truth

Sometimes you’ll want to embellish it.  Sometimes you’ll want to tone down some of the bad stuff.  In both cases, however, you’ll want to avoid it.

Telling the truth enriches your story and allows a human element to shine through.  When someone is reading a memoir, they’re looking for a story that draws them into the reality of someone else’s experience.  Stories from your life already come with a richness and detail that make them full of character and drive.  Tap into those feelings, share the themes and drive within your story.

Even if you’re able to create a convincing lie, a story that isn’t true isn’t doing service to a reader who believes it.  Respect the reader and give them something about you to chew on.

There are two instances where a lie may be necessary: the easy one is a lie of omission.  Since you won’t be telling your whole life story, either for this club or in any medium, sometimes you’ll need to cut things that might seem important.  The second is to change people or place names in order to protect the innocent.  If you don’t have permission to post a story with a real person in it as a character, change enough identifying information that they can’t be picked out. If you can’t protect others, consider telling a different part of your story.

4. Focus on a Single Story

I love reading biographies, but they’re not the same as a memoir.  A biography states the course of an entire life, focusing on how formative events in one era can shape the decisions in a later.  It is more factual, dry, and somewhat historical.  A memoir is a small story that focuses in on small, formative events.  These events are told in a narrative form and evoke emotions.  They entertain. 

When people publish their memoirs (plural), what they’re publishing is a collection of memories and small tales.  That’s why you often see memoir, singular, to describe a small story.

So get into small, gritty details.  Look for formative events and determine what messages they sent to you and will say to your audience.

3. Determine Your Audience

Memoir is often used in a therapeutic sense.  In this case, writing the memoir can help one work through a tough time, or help us remember a good event.  It can be peaceful and calming to recollect the past.  When writing with therapeutic purpose, however, the audience is the self – or the self and a loved one or therapist, at most.  When the self is the audience, the goals are to please yourself and follow the flow that helps you.

When writing for a larger audience or with the intent to publish (i.e. if you were writing a Chicken Soup for the Soul story), things change.  How do people other than you look at the story?  Are the same things important?  Is there an overarching feeling or message conveyed in the story?

When writing for self, the purpose is to get your emotions out.  When writing for others, you need to suck their emotions into your story.  This doesn’t mean you can’t write about the same events for either cause, it just means you may need to think about where the entertainment and enjoyment are coming from.

2. Don’t Worry About Having a “Boring” Life

I’ve read plenty of great memoirs in which nothing of real, plot-worthy note happened.  Sometimes it’s just a person sitting around, doing nothing, while the world seems to crash in on them.  It’s about the development of character and emotion.

As well, something to remember: your ‘boring’ life is someone else’s exciting.  When I was growing up, I thought nothing about my grandparents’ rug, but then in college my now spouse alerted me to the fact that normal people don’t put actual sawblades on their floor.  My spouse thought swimming was something normal people did, but I was very impressed and interested in how people could do competitive swimming.  You are never too boring.

1. Remember, Good Writing is Good Writing

Check your grammar, read over your writing, tag dialogue appropriately: these are things useful for any prose.  Just because you’re writing a true-to-life story doesn’t mean you’re safe from these elements.

One important element of memoir is voice.  You want your voice to come through when you write, and sometimes it can be tempting to do this as literally as possible.  As a redneck, I have plenty of relatives with speech patterns that don’t fit standard English.  However, standard English is what most people know how to read and interpret.  Find your balance between good sentence structure and your own dialect, and don’t underestimate the importance of being able to read something without much effort.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Looking for more things to consider as you write a memoir?  Perhaps just want to listen to someone with more authority than me?  Then enjoy these links.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the same advice floats around, so definitely check out how many hints are shared between them!

Reader’s Digest “Great Tips on How to Write Memoir

New York Publishers’ “How to Write a Memoir that People Care About

Standout Books’ “Six Tips for Writing Memoir

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s first prompt!

Introducing the Witty Nib Writing Club

06092019 Writing Club

When I was involved with a writing club, I learned a ton of excellent strategies, styles, and other writing niceties.

Since then, I’ve found blogging, Twitter, and other social media to be great for meeting other writers and readers interested in the craft, but there’s something missing in the sphere: a low-risk, accessible outlet for creative growth.

That’s the niche Witty Nib Writing Club hopes to fit into.

Interactivity Centered

In the Witty Nib, one of the cornerstones of the club is comments.  In fact, the submission sheet requires you to give the URL of a post where you commented.

One of the great things about WordPress and Twitter is the encouragement you get from other writers.  99% of the time, that’s exactly what you want.

Sometimes, though, it can be useful to receive constructive input. When you comment on a Witty Nib post, remember to say something constructive.  Use techniques like compliment sandwiches, asking thoughtful questions, and using quotes or evidence from the original text to comment on.

Witty Nib Themes

Each month, Witty Nib participants can partake in a writing theme. These themes can be genres – like fantasy, drama, or historical fiction – or they can be techniques, like alliteration or onomotopoeia. I’ll post here some hints, tips, and thoughts to get you started, but it’s up to you to take that and make it into something awesome.

I’ll post a new theme on the first Wednesday of each month and do a roundup at the last Wednesday of the month.  Responses need to be given by the Saturday before the last Wednesday of the month in order to be included in the roundup.

Your Responses

There’s three parts to getting the most out of the club.  You can do parts and not all of the response, but I’ll only include complete responses in the roundup.

  1. Write a story, poem, or essay that fits the theme and can be critiqued by other people. Your story or poem responses should fit the theme and be less than 500 words long.
  2. In your post, point out 1 or more elements your response contained that could help improve others’ writing.  If you got the idea from someone else, mention that!
  3. Comment on at least one other person’s post. Be constructive if you can, supportive if you can’t!

This means linking to your post in the comments below.  I’ll approve pingbacks, but you might want to comment if you don’t see it show up soon. I’ll read your stuff if no one else does!

To go into the roundup, I’ll need you to fill out the form.  The reason I want this is because I think it’d be crazy for me to go through all the comments to make sure you commented – I could be searching for eons!

Witty Nib Month #1 – Memoir

Memoir is a great way to start so we can meet each other and practice writing flash fiction.  Write something fun, fresh, or frightening for others to enjoy.  Remember to put one hint or tip at the end of your post, leave a link to your post in the comments below, and comment on another person’s post!

Because this is the first month and I’ve expounded upon the rules in insane detail here, I’ll be making a follow up post with hints and tips for writing memoirs.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

The Form

Leave a link in the comments for other people to participate with.  This form is for the end-of-the-month roundup.  If you want to be included in the roundup, you’ll need to use this form.  If the form doesn’t seem to work, I’ll see what I can do for the next post.

 

Blogger Recognition Award

I would like to thank Colleen Chesebro of Word Craft for nominating me for this award/game. If you’d like to read her very sweet and awesome responses, you can do so here! I really do enjoy these sorts of games, so anyone who wants to tag me in this sort of thing can do so.

If I nominate/tag you and you want to participate in the game, here’s the rules:

  • Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Write a post to show your award.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  • Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to. (No response required).
  • Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.

It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to participate! If you’re here reading, though, it’d be great if you could choose one or two blog posts tagged at the end of this.

How Did I Start My Blog?

I actually started the blog in 2013 with the short story Waiting for Company. It was a Southern Gothic horror based strongly on my grandmother, and it’s so bad. So, so bad. You can read it if you want to know how far I’ve come. I then published several more shorts, then the short novels Evolution of the Predator and If I Only Had No Heart, both of which you can download as a PDF by clicking on the links. All during this time, though, I wasn’t very serious; the blog was mostly a place where I could leave stories, have a link, and email that link to my mom so she could read them.

Then, in January 2018, she told me she’d never clicked on a single link I’d sent. She’d never read a single story and didn’t have plans to, no matter how many I sent.

That was about the time If I Only Had No Heart went up. I was pretty depressed after my mom said that, so I decided to see what blogging was really about and start connecting with other people.

Speaking of Connecting…

My first piece of advice to new bloggers is to connect with other bloggers. You never know who is going to come up with something so creative and helpful that you must love it.

What’s hard about getting into that mode is the time it takes to build these connections. Yes, it will entail reading and commenting on other blogs. Yes, it will mean paying attention to other people. But the payoff in friendship and camaraderie was worth it for me.

Decide What is “Worth It”

So it was worth it for me.

But it might not be worth it for you.

You can only do so much social media before your ability to function explodes. Blogging, while my favorite social media, does take up quite a bit of time. So, if you decide to blog, come up with a goal for it. Is it to have 5,000 followers in a month (lol, good luck)? Is it to sell your books? Is it to meet other people and learn about your craft? It doesn’t matter what you want out of it so much as understanding what is possible and understanding if the effort you need to put in is worth the reward.

If it’s not worth it? Don’t be afraid to quit. Your blog will be here if you want to come back later.

Some Excellent Posts to Read

I’m behind on my reading, but here’s a few posts you’ll want to see by authors you’ll want to follow. Technically, this is the “nomination/tag” section, but once again I’d like to say that no one I’ve tagged has to continue this, no do they have to like or comment or any of that jazz.

  • Kevin Parish’s Daddy – An absolutely heartbreaking poem. I’ve long had a terrible relationship with my dad, and this one got to me because of the goodness and strength of the titular father.
  • Chelsea Owens’s A Starving Writing Muse – A clever piece about writing, recent motherhood, and toilet humor, I enjoyed reading this piece quite a lot. Chelsea’s hilarious and fun to follow.
  • Joanne Fisher’s Gnome Help – Cute as fuck flash fiction that made me feel cozy to read. She often has great poetry and flash, and many of her love stories are lesbian, which can offer you a fresh perspective to read about.
  • Charli Mills’s Carrot Ranch Writing Prompts – In addition to Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday prompts (Colleen nominated me), the Carrot Ranch is a great community to join. Check out the most recent prompt and consider joining yourself!
  • Aak Fictionspawn’s Crystal Clear – Honestly you guys, I need more people to read this and solve the riddle. I think I was close.
  • Crispina Kemp’s Raised Against Us – This was such a poignant story. I thought the twist was really good. As well, check out her Crimson’s Creative Challenge writing prompt!
  • Lorraine Ambers’s Blogging, Social Media, and Marketing Tips – Lorraine is one of those great bloggers who gives out good advice articles. I always look forward to her tips and tricks.
  • Alexander Eliot’s Dragon Series – A long ongoing series with a great Mid-Grade or YA feel. Tackles some more difficult subjects along the way and has great monster building.
  • Violet Lentz’s Stories of the Forgotten – Violet’s stories always have an intensity to them that you just don’t get with other blogs. This one will hit you in the feels like a bus.
  • Ari Meghlen’s Should You Plan Out Your Whole Year? – Ari Meghlen’s blog is great because she makes her life story and brand so exciting. I love watching how she chooses to do things and trying to figure out how she makes it look so cool.
  • Jules’s Gnawing Chills – A great poem about squirrels that I think will give you some good feelings.
  • Hannah Russell’s Reading Games – I love following this blog because it keeps me inspired to read more. I think it’s done more to make me want to read than any other set of reviews.
  • tnkerr’s Midriff Culture – I thought this one was pretty funny, if a bit risque and a wee bit old-school. A great blog to follow for occasional flashes and fun times!
  • D. Wallace Peach’s blog – I can’t pick out a post, but I love Peach’s work. Everything she writes is fantastic, and you should follow her. Also has great indie book reviews. Didn’t link to a post because they’ve probably been nominated.
  • Sue Vincent’s blog – another blog with a ton of great posts. I especially like her Midnight Haiku series. Didn’t link to a post because they’ve probably been nominated before.
  • Roberta Cheadle’s blog – Fantastic reviews and responses to prompts. I know for certain they’ve been tagged in this game, so I didn’t link to a post.

So, there you have it! Please check out some of the suggested content and start conversations with someone new!

Also, sorry for forgetting the title, for those of you who get the email updates… 😦

People Who Don’t Read

Recently on Twitter, I’ve been seeing a few tweets where people complain about their fellow humans failing to read. The complaints indicate a frustration with people’s continued decrepity and closedness of mind. While this was the sort of reasoning people gave, I think complaint is about something different.

I think people want other people to read the books they worked so hard to write. I think authors want to get that jazz from making someone happy. I think authors want to see any possibility of making money from their product. One way to make money and gain reviews is to solicit people who read a lot; another is to expand the market base.

Anyway, it got me to thinking, and here’s my two cents: I don’t think people should be forced to read.

Let me blow your mind.

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Kids Shouldn’t Be Forced to Read

I made that the title of the section to rile you up. I do think children should be taught to read as early as possible, and I do think they should be encouraged – however, I don’t think they should be expected to read an assigned book of the teacher’s, school’s, or state’s choice quite so early.

Children who learn to read earlier have the opportunity to read what they want while the teachers beat the other kids into understanding the symbols. This gives them the time to realize what a gift reading is, how fun it can be. I was one of those kids, and it took me a long time to understand why other kids didn’t like reading.

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The other kids? As soon as they’re able to trudge through some words, they’re forced to begin analyzing crap they didn’t choose. There is no fun involved, no encouragement to own the skill. Rather than having the time to increase reading comprehension with enjoyable stories, they’re thrown into doing more work. When reading becomes work, it becomes less fun.

I saw this with my younger brother. I think he’s probably about as smart as me, but he’s always found it hard to sit still. Reading was hard for him because he didn’t see the point and just wanted to go play. When he did learn to read, he was immediately forced to read books he wasn’t interested in. To him, reading seemed a chore.

And it has ever since.

That Crap Carries Over to Adulthood

If you find reading to be hard and unenjoyable when you’re in school, what happens when you graduate and realize you’re not going to be tested on it later?

As my brother said upon receiving his high-school diploma, “Mom, I’ll never have to read again!”

And can I really blame him? He was miserable doing homework. He hated every second of school. I wouldn’t want him to have to essentially get triggered by being forced to do something he associates with anguish.

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So if people don’t want to read, I can’t fault them. Just like you might not have enjoyed PE, some people can’t stand other subjects.

I’m not a fan of forcing adults to read, or even shaming them for not reading. You don’t know why they choose not to read.

Get Your Head Out of Your Wallet

Squidward Life Goals

Or out of your reviews, if that’s what you’re more concerned about.

I do understand that apprehensions about overall literacy are real. I understand that a broader or deeper education in the arts is important to appreciating the cultural and human conditions around you. But these are problems not solved by complaining about “people who don’t read.” These are problems we solve by a combination of efforts to make reading enjoyable.

And making reading enjoyable is a huge burden that authors are suited to help fix.

Write what you want to read. Make it enjoyable for you, if no one else. Write such that someone who may not have picked up a book in ten years would kindle or rekindle that creative spark. Don’t convince yourself that your target audience doesn’t read. Convince yourself that your target audience has just never read something they’d want to read.

And about the money – sure, it’s an issue. Authors don’t make enough of it. But don’t let that get you mad at people who won’t buy your product. Don’t let being a salesperson ruin your desire to express.

The Big Blog Question: Quantity vs. Quality

Choose Two: Quantity of posts, Quality of posts, or Your Non-Blogging Life.

Well, one of those is probably going to take priority (unless you’ve gotten past that ‘needing food’ conundrum), so the rest of blogging is just figuring out how to deal with balancing the other two.  Here’s some hints and tips I’ve learned to help with that balance.

Schedule Posts Ahead of Time

By scheduling your posts ahead of time, you can bank up time for when you need to be busy.  If Saturdays are your blog days, you can make all your blog posts then and not worry throughout the week.

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As well, many people can work faster when they’re on a roll.  If you write all your blog posts at once, you won’t have to get into or out of the mood as much.

Keep Most Posts Below 1,000 Words

The longer your post, the more likely people will get bored somewhere in the middle.

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By limiting the size of your posts, you reduce the chances for boredom and, thus, reduce the chances that your reader will leave before finishing.

As well, limiting the size of your post will help you decide the scope.  If you don’t have a scope, you might end up with enormous articles that take too much of your valuable time.  Remember – you can do a lot of work, but that will eat away at the time you could be writing your books or other publishable goods.  Keep scope creep down and cut your posts off when they need to be.

Decide On A Pattern

Do you post weekly?  Daily?  Something else?  Once you’ve figured out your routine, decide on what kind of posts you’ll make.

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I post daily, and right now I follow a week-by-week schedule as follows:

Monday – Book Review
Tuesday – Tanka Tuesday (Poetry practice!)
Wednesday – Prompt Showcase
Thursday – Blogging/Writing tips or Longer Stories
Friday – Carrot Ranch Prompt (Flash fiction!)
Saturday – Sammi Scribbles Prompt
Sunday – #CountVlad Guest Posts from Dracula

Because I follow this schedule, I know which posts I can write ahead of time.  I know what formats and types of information needs to be written.  This can almost act as a prompt, helping to give me a start on each of the posts.  That takes care of the hardest part – just starting.

Don’t Waste Your Readers’ Time

If you wouldn’t want to read the article, you can bet your bottom dollar that other people wouldn’t want to.  If you start an article or story and can’t stand it, think about if it’s worth your time to finish it.

If it’s a very short article, like a prompted flash fiction, you might as well finish it.  But if you’re prepping your major articles, stop before you think it’s going to fall apart.  Save what you’ve written and try to repurpose it – WordPress let’s you have plenty of drafts, so make use of them!

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How do you save time?  Are there methods you use to ensure quality?  I’d love to hear about some of your tips in the comments!

5 Ways Getting Personal Can Affect Your Blog

Now before you think this post is going to get raunchy, settle down.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

This is about when your Real Life intersects with your blog (and perhaps business, depending on the importance of your blog) life.

5. Posts About Your Life Let People Connect with You

It’s all over the ‘how to blog’ or ‘how to market’ world – you, yourself, are a major part of what needs to be sold.  If people like you, they might be more likely to buy your stuff.  They might just want to hang out with you ’cause you’re cool.

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Cool as f*ck.

By depicting your journey, whether it be in writing or video gaming or even mommy-blogging, you can also elicit help and advice from people who know what to do.

Or, if you get famous like J.K. Rowling, people will flock to those posts and think they know you.  It’ll give superfans something to focus on without mobbing you, y’know?

One of my online heroes is MRE reviewer Steve1989.  He’s one of those people so invested in his hobby that he’ll probably die of it.  And, surprisingly, he’s one of the few internet famous people we know very little about beyond the fact that he didn’t have health insurance in 2016.  You could use this as proof that you don’t need to be personal to get famous, but then again you’re comparing yourself to a guy who’ll eat a 150 year old cracker on Youtube.

If you don’t want to be extreme, consider letting people into your life a little more!

4. Your Memoir Stories Are Great!

This is probably the benefit of being personal that I take advantage of most.  If you’ve had an interesting life or are basically cursed to live through unlikely circumstances, you can write something that people don’t even realize is real.

Your connection to your own life allows you to tap deeply into the emotions.  You can play off relationships, events, and knowledge from your own life.  You can make that time your great-aunt challenged your mom to a pudding contest seem much more intense than if you wrote about some vague, unreal people.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Not only that, you don’t have to come up with a plot for a memoir-esque tale.  On a day where you just can’t put something together, drawing from your own life can give your writing that extra ‘boost’ so you can finish it.

3. Make use of “Stay Tuned!” Moments In Your Life

Do you follow people and root for their success?  Do you look forward to posts about “I published my book” or “I published a short story”?  I do.

A lot of people want to watch you to see how you might succeed.  There’s this secret hope that you’ll crack into the published and/or famous world, then it’ll all seem possible.  And, as long as you don’t give up, people will want to check in and see how you’re doing.

Unless you give up on a goal or die, your life story is basically constant episodes of a soap.

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Every episode leaves a reader at a cliffhanger, and every post gives this need to keep following up.

2. Heckin’ Cathartic

Life sucks hard sometimes.

And, sometimes, it can feel pretty good to just get something off your shoulders.  In 2018, Hurricane Florence had my house clearly in her sights, and I was feeling pretty wary what with all the intense forecasts.  I wrote a lot of frantic, overly-zealous articles about getting ready for the storm (which last-minute zipped around me).

Even so, people online are usually nice and can help you out.  Sometimes they can be a bag of awful, but that’s when you can bring down the ban-hammer and know they won’t be back in that guise, at least.

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So write about your life.  Put what you need to say in order to move on.  Accept what comfort randos give you.

1. Sometimes, It’s Easy

I hinted to this one earlier in #4, but it’s true.  Writing about yourself can be easy.

Copying is terrible, since it’s basically cheating if you don’t cite (and sometimes if you do). However, you can copy your own life and no one will give a crap.  No one’s going to ban you from art school for writing about yourself and taking credit for it.  And, yet, it’s kind of like copying a story from a known source!

So use your life as a cheat sheet.  Write what you know doesn’t just improve your quality – it can also just give you an easy time.

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Have you shared personal stories or updates on your website?  Have you found any additional bonuses or – perhaps – downsides to sharing your own life story?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Worldbuilding in Fiction – Geography 1: Maps

While setting usually doesn’t make a story in and of itself, a well-defined setting that is fitting with its plot can make a story far more rich and engaging. At the same time, a poorly thought out story can confuse readers as to locations, distance, and travel.

One book with fantastic geographical features, a well-thought out set of locations, and gorgeously written pieces on travel and setting is Watership Down by Richard Adams. A classic novel written for children but enjoyable on a different level for adults, Watership Down follows a set of male rabbits as they leave their home warren in search of a new one.

So why praise this book, a book about anthropomorphic rabbits, on its geography? Don’t many fantasy books have maps and plans and fantastic journeys? Does not the average fantasy writer have a much wider variation of settings, with grander and more pointed importance?

Perhaps. But what Adams does in Watership Down is make the journey come to life. The obstacles that are carefully and purposefully placed are intrinsically important to the story. The lay of the land, the placement of roads and railroad tracks, the idea of the existence of an ocean, and the presence of enemy forces are all important to the way the story plays out. It’s one of those stories that feels like the place existed before the plot.

So how can this lesson be applied?

Even if a reader won’t keep up with exactly all the directions and landmarks of a place, they can keep up with whether or not your travel times make sense. If you travel between the same two places and take half the time in one instance, there better be a reason!

It is easy to forget, though. A reader can focus on the inaccuracies in subjects they care about, whereas the writer must be concerned with inconsistencies in every realm. One way to make your geography and travel make more sense as you write is to make a to-scale map to help remind you.

Making A Rough To-Scale Map

A functional map doesn’t need to be very in-depth, just have a rough outline and enough room to write details as you figure them out.

If you have already written your story, it’s always a nice idea to make a map to be certain that your geography was consistent. Read over your work and take notes like “Main character traveled from the city to the village in 2 hours.” Collect all geographic information you can. Below is a table of cities and travel times that I came up with for a modern setting.

Travel Time in Minutes by Car

New Alcaran Karlotte Port Rumber Davistown
New Alcaran 38 89
Karlotte 38 51 46
Port Rumber 89 51 18
Davistown 46 18

In your book, you may not have so many details concerning your cities or places. Don’t worry, that’ll be fine. You’ll have more leeway to change up your places and positions.  If you have as much data as I have above, you’ll easily be able to tell if your story’s geography makes sense – you’ll see why later – but you won’t be able to adjust and make a different map.

Gather Your Materials

To make a useful map that makes sense, you can take a long time measuring distances (take the travel times above, figure out a scale with a ruler), or you can cheat with the following materials:

  • Materials for Map MakingPushpins – the number of these should match the number of locations on your map.
  • Wide rubber bands – the amount of these could vary depending on the distances and amount of data you have, so I suggest having more than you think you’ll need.  I guess you could also use string, but you’d have to tie knots and that could mess up your scale and be tedious.
  • Ruler – to help you determine the scale
  • Scissors
  • Paper(s)
  • A bulletin board would be nice, but I’m cheap and lazy and just used a couch (don’t tell anyone…).
  • Permanent Marker, Pencil and Pen
  • Scanner and GIMP or Photoshop if you want to make it pretty later

The first batch of steps is determining the scale.

  1. Label your pushpins using the permanent marker so you can identify which landmark or city is which.  I numbered mine 1 through 4.
  2. Cut the rubber bands so that they’re flat strips rather than curved bands.
  3. Choose the two landmarks with the largest distance between them.  Poke each of these pushpins through the ends of a rubber band.
  4. Measure the distance between the center of the two pushpins with a ruler.  Divide the distance by travel time (see note at the bottom of the page for multiple travel methods) to get your scale.  Calculate the length of each trip in rubber-band-distance by multiplying this number with the travel time (as seen in the table above).  You’ll come up with a new table like this one.  My scale was 19 cm/89 minutes.
    Rubber Band Distance in Centimeters

    New Alcaran Karlotte Port Rumber Davistown
    New Alcaran 8.1 19
    Karlotte 8.1 10.8 9.8
    Port Rumber 19 10.8 3.8
    Davistown 9.8 3.8
  5. Cut pieces of rubber band so that your trips are the right length.  For instance, I cut an 8.1 cm rubber band for New Alcaran to Karlotte.  Then, poke the two appropriate pushpins through the rubber band.  You may end up with some pushpins that have collected several rubber bands.
  6. You’ll have what looks like a mess of rubber and pushpins.  Choose one of the pushpins connected to your longest rubber band and poke it through your piece of paper.  Push the other end of the longest band into the paper, keeping it taut (or, if your travel must necessarily wind, leave it appropriately loose).  Here it is helpful to have a bulletin board so your pushpins will stay in place in your piece of paper.
  7. From there, take a connecting pushpin and extend so the rubber band is taut but not forcefully stretched and push it into your piece of paper.  Keep going until all the pushpins have been inserted.  You can rearrange to get everything onto one page, or just add paper to use multiple pages in a pinch.

Push Pin MapSo, as you can see to the left, what I made was pretty simple – only four landmarks, or cities, as per my plan.  More cities will take more time and be more confusing, but it can be sorted out.  These towns worked out nicely, with taught lines between them.

This is also where you’ll find out if your geography makes sense or not.  If you have any three cities that connect with each other, your bands will form a triangle.  However, you may experience floppy lines that you can’t get rid of.  Why?

The rule for triangles is that the lengths of two sides added together must be longer than the remaining side.  So, let’s say that my Port Rumber to New Alcaran rubber band length was 20 cm.  This is longer than the sum of Port Rumber to Karlotte and New Alcaran to Karlotte, or 19.9 cm.  If I don’t want to add ‘difficult terrain’ or have my cities be in a straight line, I’ll need to re-think my travel distances.

You may have cities with only one connection, so you can move those around until you have what you want.  If in the end you have nice, straight lines, everything makes sense and you can continue to the next step.

The next set of steps are how to draw your map and have more than just a piece of paper with holes in it.Map Scan

  1. If you have a lot of connections, consider drawing penciled lines beneath your connecting bands.  That way you have a nice guide once the pins are gone.
  2. Pull out your pushpins and, using a pen or pencil (pencil can be erased, so I’d go with that), draw the coastlines, rivers, roads, and any other feature that you think important for your map.
    (You can depart from what you saw exactly with the rubber bands – in fact, natural barriers make it preferable for humans to build curving roads!  You can see a scan of what I drew to the right, complete with a few leftovers of what was on the back of the page.)
  3. Get a new sheet of paper and poke new holes if you don’t like what you come up with and can’t erase it all.
  4. If you want to stop here, label your pushpin holes with city names and call it a day.
  5. If you want to make your map pretty, scan in your lines to the computer or ink them with a pen.

Making Your Map Pretty

You can try inking your page and carefully drawing your letters, which is a good option and can lead to some gorgeous maps, but I’m not going to detail that process here.  You can take some ideas from my computerized process into account, though.

I have Photoshop CS6 because my company has a contract that allowed me to get it without paying from my own pocket, but you can achieve the same quality of work using the free program GIMP.

Map LabelsIn Photoshop, I opened my scanned sheet and shrunk it down to make a smaller file (and a smaller photo to work with for a website space).  After that, I added a new layer (CTRL+Shift+N for those on PCs).  On this new layer, I used a 1-px black brush to follow the outline of the coast.  You can alternatively use color selection on the background layer to re-draw your coasts or roads, but this act can give you the chance to make a more detailed coast or fix some of the problem areas on your map.

I then added another layer, switched the brush to orange, and drew in the roads.  If I were actually going to use this map, I might consider adding a few more roads to nowhere, perhaps making up a few random towns as I went.

Anyway, after that, I made the labels using the text function, then the key by making a straight line of the appropriate color next to my labels.  After that, I cropped the picture to cut off the edges, made a new layer underneath that was white, and deleted the old background to get rid of all the trash from the backside of my paper.  Map Colored

You can stop here, or you can add color or more details.  I suggested above to put your roads and coasts on a different layer because, here, you can copy the coast and paste to a new layer.  This will allow you to select either land or sea to mess with.  You can use the magic wand to select, for instance, just the land pieces.  From that, you can use brushes however you want and not worry about coloring outside the lines.

You can see to the right that I chose to make Port Rumber and New Alcaran port towns on the coastlines.  I used green round brushes with 60% opacity to make the trees around New Alcaran, then 100% opacity left slanted brush to make the eastern shrubbery color.  100% opacity gray brushes created the city color.

For the ocean, I paint bucketed blue then used the magic wand to select the ocean.  For a quick wavy look, I filtered in the oil paint effect then blurred it just enough that you couldn’t tell that’s what I’d done.  Spending more time on this could have given you a better look, but I think that’s pretty good considering the effort I gave it.

All told, this took me about an hour.

You can also make these maps look old, or give them a photographic feel (I have an example of this below).  This will probably take significantly more time, but it can feel rewarding once a major effort is complete.

Now… I didn’t make up these distances.  I copied the driving times from Google maps for four cities in the San Francisco Bay Area and, from that, constructed my map.

Map Side by SideSo, as you can see, if you have appropriate travel distances when you make your rubber bands, your distances between your towns on paper will be roughly what they have to be.  If your map cannot work, you may want to make some changes to your geography to keep everything aligned.

Making Your Maps Super Pretty

I’ve made several maps.  Below, see a world map I made to go with my novel. I tried to give it a futuristic feel.  Whereas the above took me an hour, this took me several.  I find this to be my prettiest, so that’s why it’s here.

World Map

I’ve also made other maps for a more fantastical setting, with older appearance.  It’s one of my favorite parts of worldbuilding, so I hope you can enjoy map-making too.

Notes

What if your travel times aren’t all the same?  For instance, what if your characters are flying on dragonback between two landmarks, but riding camels between a couple of others?  You can take that into account with your scale.  Divide the speed of the ‘normal’ (or most common) travel method by your second travel method to get your relative speed.  To get the length of your rubber band, multiply your travel time by your scale (described earlier) and then by your relative speed.  Here I’ve tabulated the speeds of several common travel methods.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to determine the airspeed velocities of dragons and unladen swallows on your own time.

Transportation Method Speed in mph Speed in kph Notes
Ships
WWII Era Aircraft Carrier 37.4 60.2 Other battleships in the group can be estimated at the same speed
Modern Era Aircraft Carrier 38.7 62.2 Other battleships in the group can be estimated at the same speed
Modern Ocean Liner 25 40
Spanish Galleon 9.2 14.8 As in pirate ships
The Mayflower 2 3.2 Other old sailing ships
Land Vehicles
Car on Highway 65 104.6
Car in Cities 25 40.2
Steam Engine Train 78 125 Technological developments may alter this. Estimate for late 1800’s.
Electric Train 300 482 Technological developments may alter this.
Subways 33 52
Bicycle 15.5 24.9
WWII Era Tank 28 45 M4-Sherman
Modern Era Tank 45 74.2 M1-Abrams
Aircraft
Commercial Jet 591 951
Modern Fighter Jet 1385 2228 F22-Raptor
WWII Era Fighter Plane 400 643 P51-Mustang
Horses
Horse, Walking 6 9.6 Normal horses for long distance
Horse, Trotting 8 12.8 Like fancy walking, but less sustainable
Horse, Gallop 28 45 Only over short distances
Horse, Ambling 15 24 Sustainable over long distance, but only select breeds
Horse with Wagon 3 4.8
Humans
Walking 3.1 5
Jogging 6 9.6
Running 12 19.3

Note: This was published by me in June 2015, way before I was trying hard with the blog.  I think this post could be useful for way more people than the 2 I think read it before, hence why I decided to post this again.