The Importance of Description (and three tips for doing it well)

I often rage about overly-detailed books. I don’t like being bogged down with unnecessary information.

But you can’t strip it all away either.

I mean, you could, but the result may not pull your readers in.

It’s a fine balance, and the line lies somewhere different for everyone depending on style and genre. But no matter what, you need some scene descriptions. Your characters probably don’t exist in a void. They interact with things around them, and those things interact with them.

If they’re outside, the wind might tousle their hair.

If they’re in a kitchen, they might lean against the counter while talking.

These little things that might feel superfluous are important because they connect the character, and thus the reader, to their world. It means that, instead of floating in a dark nothingness, the characters have mass. They take up space within a world, even if it’s a made up one.

That gives them weight. It makes them more realistic and thus, more relatable.

So, while you don’t want your reader to feel like you’re suffocating them under red velvet curtains layered over lace sheers that pool on the white marble floor whose mineral veins streak and sparkle from one ornately wrought wall to another…

You do need some detail to make sure the character feels grounded, in a literal way.

But how do you do it without overwhelming your reader?

Broad strokes first.

Maybe their eyes drift over the forest before them, rising to the mountain range behind it. Or maybe they’re looting in the apocalypse, and enter a trendy office space with colorful furniture.

These general notions give the reader an idea of what’s around the character without slowing things down or becoming overwhelming.

Sprinkle in some details.

Don’t info-dump. Instead, add a detail every so often, punctuating dialogue or movement with it.

When I enter a room, I don’t often stop in place to take in every detail down to the fabric a certain item of clothing draped over a chair is made of. Most people don’t.

These things are noticed slowly over time, if at all.

Show it through the lens of your character.

Instead of describing the room in the aforementioned (and dreaded) info-dump and then saying that your character is walking through it, maybe say that their footsteps echo in the cavernous space, boots thudding against the stone floor. That gets the action and some description taken care of in one sentence without bogging anything down.

Or instead of detailing worn down furniture and then describing your character’s anxiety, show them worrying ceaselessly at a loose string on the threadbare couch.

Showing what the character interacts with directly really helps to anchor them.


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Artbreeder Tutorial for Authors: A Crash Course

Artbreeder is one of those amazing websites that has the potential for truly wonderful things (portraits, landscapes, anime, buildings, paintings, etc.). Or… images that seethe with existential horror.

And depending on your needs, either of those could be perfect.

The latter seems easier to make by accident, so today, I’ll be covering the nicer looking images.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

Artbreeder is basically a place for people to smash pictures together, edit the individual components (aka genes), or use their “Children” feature to get similar pictures, all with a few clicks.

Copyrights for the images created on the site belong to the individual user, since the user created those images through a series of personal creative choices, though they’re also public domain. (Here’s the official terms and services. Don’t worry, it’s surprisingly concise at a mere 4 pages with reasonably-sized text.)

I use it primarily for headshots for my book characters (which is what I’ll be doing in this little tutorial of sorts), though the basics apply across the site.

As you can see above, the things you see on this site will run the gamut. That’s just the main screen when I visited, and it will likely be different when you visit.

Now, up at the top of that image, there are two choices. Images and Genes. You can click either one, or at the top right of the screen (not in the picture) there are the options to Create or Browse.

I usually sift through images to find a hairstyle close to what I want. (There are more options for tweaking facial features than for hairstyles.)

Today, I’ll be making Jake, one of the characters from my NaNoWriMo Project (The Monsters that H(a)unt Us), as I walk you through this.

So, go ahead and pick a character and find a picture that gets close, even if only in the hairstyle. Or if you’d like to just wing it for this first experiment, pick a random image that you like and maybe this will inspire a story about the person you create.

Jake tends to sweep his sandy hair to one side, so here’s the image I’m starting with:

Below are options that other people have made from that image. Off to the right are the options Edit-Genes, Children, or Cross-Breed. I’m going to start off with the Children option, as shown in the picture.

The site’s Morphogen algorithm makes new randomized versions of that image for you, and gives you an automatic separation from the original image. You have a little bar below the three auto-generated options to select how similar you want the children to be to the parent.

But if you like one of the kids, you should click it. Once you hit the little refresh button (right below the bar for similar/different), the kids that were on screen disappear. If you click them, they appear in your profile under images you created.

So, I chose my favorite child, as seen here:

But he still wasn’t quite right for dear old Jake. So, I clicked on Crossbreed, clicked search, and typed in blond (I left the ‘e’ off because he’s a he, and the ‘e’ is typically for women, and I wasn’t sure if that would matter).

The guy on the far right is the one I decided to cross breed with.

With this lovely picture to smash together with the favorite child, I actually got something I like right off the bat (the far left). But there are slider-bars beneath the two images on the right to choose which image you want the new one to take after (face structure and art style).

Since I’m pretty happy with my turnout, I’m going to move to Edit-Genes, but you feel free to move those little slider bars to your heart’s content. Just be sure to click Save (below the slider bars) if you like the image on the left (so it doesn’t disappear). Once saved, it’ll show up at the bottom, as well as on your profile under “Created” so you can come back to it later.

Now, I’ve saved and clicked my new image, and I’m ready to edit some genes. This is where the finesse comes in (or the existential horror).

As you can see, there are a lot of options.

Gene Explanations:

I haven’t quite figured out the Chaos gene, which makes sense. Chaos is, well, chaos. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

But other genes available to edit are a little more intuitive. Age and Gender do exactly as they say. Width makes for a wider or narrower face, where Height lengthens or shortens their head. Yaw adjust whether they’re turned one direction or the other. Pitch is whether they’re tipping their head back or down.

Then, there are the various race options. These adjust bone structure, hair color/type, skin tone, eye color, etc.

Art affects the realism of the image. Less means it looks more like a photo. More art means it looks like graphic art.

Then, there are color options, if you want to add more of a general shade. Hue runs through a slider bar rainbow, casting a filter over the entire image.

After that, there’s Saturation (low means a black and white image, high means a very very brightly saturated image), Brightness (to lighten or darken the image), and Sharpness (blurry or super crisp).

Happy (adjusting squint of eyes and the creases at the corners of the mouth) and Angry (adjusting the furrow of brows and the set of the mouth) come next.

Then, Blue Eyes and Earrings, both of which would be tricky to get without these little options.

Eyes Open and Mouth Open come in handy when making a character happy. The happy adjustment usually closes the eyes and doesn’t always look right with a closed mouth. So, anytime I make a character happy, I adjust these two things as well, as evidenced here:

Just Happy….
Happy with eyes and mouth adjusted… Doesn’t that look more genuine?

Then, there are options for hair color (Black, Blonde, or Brown) as well as Makeup, Glasses, Facial Hair, and Hat.

Below all of these, there’s an option to Add Genes, and let me tell you, those genes get wild. There are options for Orcs, Vampires, Forest Creatures, Cyber Noir, Sad, Gene Combo Sixty Nine, and something called “Brown to Fish,” as well as many others to play with.

But Jake is a human, so I’m not adding those to him.

Now, I adjusted his gender a tad to the right to get a bit more ruggedness, and his age down just a bit to get him closer to 26. Then, I added just a touch of facial hair, and I got this:

Note the very minor adjustments. -0.07 (age), 0.2 (gender), and 0.116 (facial hair), as well as 0.172 to get his hair a little lighter.

And I have to say, I’m pretty happy with how he turned out.

Caution with the Genes.

My two biggest pieces of advice to you are to be cautious and save often.

Move slowly when making adjustments on those genes. A little change can have a big impact on far more than just the single aspect you want to change. (For instance, Pitch and Yaw can completely change facial structure. Morphogen seems to have some difficulty with the perspective change.)

Hat and Earrings can have some… interesting effects, too. Hat at -2 does this:

Whereas Hat at 2 does this:

I don’t know why.

But as long as you save your product often, you can always come back to it if you want to start over, and each gene has a little refresh button by it to move it right back to 0 with a single click.

Oh, and beware of using this site on your phone. The slider bars are very sensitive and sometimes the different genes overlap on phones, resulting in unintentional changes.

Play around a bit.

This site has a learning curve, but it’s worth it in the end. You just have to give yourself permission to play around a bit. There will be some absolute monstrosities along the way, but that’s part of the fun sometimes.

And as long as you save often, you can always go back.


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Why I Love Having Multiple Works in Progress

With the exception of this month (because my NaNoWriMo project has absolutely dominated my book time), I always have at least one WIP in the writing stage and one in the editing stage.

But I’ve never really explained why.

Partly because I’ve learned that I can, and since I have a tendency to push myself to the fullest of my capabilities, that means maintaining multiple WIPs.

But it’s also to keep them all fresh and exciting.

It sorta helps to keep the “oh look, a shiny new WIP” syndrome at bay.

No matter what mood I’m in, I have a WIP to suit it. I can pick and choose which one to work on, day by day, hour by hour.

So if I sit down to do some book stuff and don’t feel like fantasy, I can jump into sci-fi instead. If I just don’t want to edit, I can write instead.

That means that I can always make some sort of progress.

And at the end of the day, all that matters is that progress of some sort was made.

Of course, I’ve made an exception for NaNoWriMo, as many writers do. This month is basically the month where a ton of writers collectively lose their damn minds, and for once, I’m not exception.

I’m giving it a go, and my NaNo project has sucked me in.

But even so, I plan to try and sneak in some editing this week. (Because deadlines are a thing, even in the self-publishing world.)


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Maintaining Sanity During NaNoWriMo (and writing for deadlines)

NaNoWriMo is intense. This is my first year trying it, and it’s one hell of an undertaking.

But here are a few ways to maintain your sanity.

(And these tips work outside of NaNo, too.)

Move around.

Go for a walk to get a change of scenery. That might be all you need to get past a bit of writer’s block.

It also helps reduce the risk of blood clots.

So, at the very least, you should get up and move around once every half hour or hour.

These breaks also give your eyes a chance to rest since staring at a screen for a long time can cause headaches (which never help anything).

Have a snack and drink at the ready.

You know you’re going to get all settled in, start typing, and then need something to drink. Then, you have to move the cat off your lap, unplug the laptop, set it aside, and haul yourself out from under five blankets.

Okay, so the details of that scenario are just personal experience, but you get the gist of it.

It’s always frustrating to have to get back up once you get into the groove, so just make sure you have a drink and a snack on hand.

Water is probably the best choice for that drink, btw. Most people I know walk around partially dehydrated all the time, and much like staring at a screen for a long time, this also causes headaches.

Try a different font.

It sounds silly, but sometimes typing in a different font can actually help. It just breaks things up, keeps it fresh.

I alternate between Comic Sans, Calibri, and Times New Roman so my brain doesn’t get used to any particular one.

Minimize distractions.

Some distractions can’t be avoided (small children don’t always listen and just might interrupt you despite all your attempts at privacy), but most can.

Either turn the tv off or switch it to something you won’t get caught up in. Sit in a room by yourself if you need to.

If you can’t leave your phone alone, turn it off or leave it in another room.

And no social media. That’s for break times, not writing sessions.

Let go.

Writing is supposed to be fun! So let yourself enjoy it.

Yes, NaNoWriMo is a marathon.

But don’t let it ruin writing for you. Give yourself permission to miss a word count goal for the sake of enjoying your writing process.

Letting yourself relax into your writing sessions might actually end up being the thing that helps you reach your goals anyway.


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Creating a Fictional Language: Things To Consider

Whether you’re new to writing or a veteran, creating a language is a daunting task. It’s a world all unto itself.

Language is usually a fluid thing that adapts and changes over centuries, even more so now that the internet has forced nearly every aspect of life into hyper-evolution.

But when creating a language from scratch for our books, we don’t exactly get centuries to perfect it. (Not unless you’re secretly a vampire.)

So, to help break this herculean task down into smaller pieces, I’ve put together some tips and things to keep in mind while creating your language.

Admittedly, I’ve only made one language for my series, The Regonia Chronicles, (and I’m still filling out the dictionary now that I have the things below ironed out) so this is not a comprehensive guide to language creation.

More like… a jumping off point.

Alphabet

Your language does not have to have the same alphabet as ours. Much like English vs. Chinese vs. Arabic, there can be some major differences.

So, your language will likely have its own alphabet, especially if it’s on a different world. And those unique letters can represent any sound.

Maybe they have a letter that’s a combination of v and k. That combination may not happen much in English, but their language is different. Maybe they have a letter that represents a “tick” sound.

Just keep in mind how you’re going to write these things for people who don’t speak that language to understand. In the book, it’ll likely have to be spelled out in the language you plan to publish in, unless there’s meant to be a language barrier.

When creating mine, I sidestepped the language barrier with technology (that particular story is a distant future sci-fi epic). The tech fits into the plot and world and helped me avoid having my characters make awkward attempts to mime their meanings.

And since the characters understood things with the help of their tech, I could just type everything in English.

But you might need to consider a means of communication if there is a language barrier.

Common sounds

Every language has specific sounds/letters that get a lot of use and others that are rarely used.

In English, A, E, L, M, N, and S are incredibly common. But Q, V, W, X, and Z aren’t.

That’s inevitable and should be considered when making a language.

Though honestly, it’ll probably happen by accident. When creating my language, I learned quickly that there are certain sounds/groupings of sounds that I gravitate toward.

Should it be Phonetic?

Do the letters always make the same sound? Are there ever silent letters?

English and French are particularly bad about both of those things, but Spanish and Japanese seem to be very phonetic.

English is so bad that I think only four letters are 100% true to themselves at all times.

And I hate that.

My language turned out very phonetic, partly because I hate how changeable the English alphabet is, and partly because the race that formed the language is a very logical race. They would never stand for something as varied as English.

But if your characters live somewhere that has blended cultures and languages, there will be inconsistencies.

Word order

Not all languages put the words in the same order. Some put the adjective after the noun (Spanish), some before (English).

And with your language, you can mix your word order even more. So long as it follows a pattern, you can put the verb first and the person doing the action at the very end of the sentence, strange as that would be to do if you tried it in English.

Grammar

You need grammar rules. They don’t have to be the same as ours, but you need to have them.

Do your people use conjunctions? Do they use commas or some similar punctuation? Do they put ‘e’ before ‘i’ instead of the other way around?

Do they have their own special grammar rules that we don’t have?

Verb Conjugations

How do you show past or future tense? In English, we add -ing or -ed (though as with everything in English, there are exceptions), but that doesn’t have to be the case for yours language.

And Spanish verb conjugations get even more complicated than that, conjugating for the noun they relate to as well as the tense.

For mine, keeping with the logical society that formed the language, I kept it straightforward. A prefix for past tense, a suffix for future tense.

Showing Posession

Is this as simple as adding a punctuation? Or does this require an additional word?

(For mine, I decided to cut this completely. The society that formed the language didn’t have personal belongings, being something more of a hive mind society, and the society that adapted the language just goes by context when placing the person with the object.)

Plural

Showing plural can be a complicated thing. Some languages pluralize only the noun, while others pluralize the adjectives too.

You could do either, neither, or make the entire sentence plural.

But you need to decide how to show pluralization. It doesn’t have to be adding an ‘-s’ or ‘-es.’

Specific phrases for culture

The culture will likely be woven throughout the language. Idioms (24/7), curses (bloody hell), and pleas for help (please, god) that are common place in our world likely won’t apply in your language.

They’ll have different religions to influence their speech patterns, as well as different views on time and life, in general. Their language will reflect that.

For my formative culture, they didn’t have turns of phrase, couldn’t be bothered with them. But the culture that adapted the language is more emotional and individual. They value sound and music, so they have many expression relating to that.

Evolution

This kinda goes hand in hand with the above section, but it’s more than just one culture adapting someone else’s language.

Older people will likely speak differently than young people. Words in ancient texts might make no sense to someone reading it a thousand years after it was written due to changes in the meaning, usage, or connotations.

Now, go forth and make up words. Be patient with yourself. It’s a lengthy process.


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Are You Querying Too Early? How to prepare yourself for the trenches.

Though I ultimately chose to self-publish, I did take a run at the query trenches. There are a lot of reasons for agents and publishers to reject a book, even if it’s a good book.

One thing you can do to up your odds of getting your manuscript accepted by an agent or publisher is to make sure you’re actually ready to submit it to them.

How do you know if you’re ready?

Here’s a little checklist.

Finish your book first.

Partial books and outlines are not ready for submission. (Not unless you’re already famous for something else.)

Almost every writer I know has unfinished books lurking on their computer that may or may not ever get finished. It happens. A lot.

Sometimes the author loses steam with the project. Sometimes a new story idea distracts them. Sometimes the aspiring author just decides they don’t want to write at all anymore.

And agents and publishers know this happens.

They will not accept submissions for incomplete manuscripts because they don’t want to even risk wasting their time.

Do a couple of rounds of self-edits.

Submitting a completely unedited manuscript only hurts your chances. You need to look through it, make sure your characters are consistent in their behavior and appearance through the book, check for plot holes, that sort of thing.

Anything you can fix before submissions will only up your odds.

Have beta readers go through it.

You need other people to look at your book. After spending tons of time in that world/with those characters, you know exactly what’s supposed to be on the page. Your brain will fill in the gaps.

A beta reader can find those gaps, those places where you didn’t explain a concept that you understand (because you created it). They’ll find plot holes. They’ll find things that your characters do (or don’t do) that just don’t feel consistent with their personality.

And it’s so much better for them to find these things (so you can fix them) than for an agent to find them (and reject your book for something that could have been addressed).

Research Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing.

Traditional publishing is not for everyone. It works for many authors, but not all.

Querying is a grueling process. Going through it only to realize months (or years) later that self-publishing is the better route for you personally… is a waste of time and effort.

Do some research before submitting to any agents or publishers to make sure this is the right path for you. Weigh the pros and cons of both.

For me, self-publishing makes more sense, but that may not be the case for you.

I’m willing to take on the extra work of formatting and metadata and copyrights and lining up editing and cover art in exchange for the creative control allowed by self-publishing.

But if the idea of that extra work makes you cringe and you just want someone else to handle it (even if it means they get the final say over what they book looks and reads like), then traditional might be better for you.

Look into it for yourself.

All of the above steps are necessary early steps whether you go with self-publishing or traditional publishing, but from here on, it’s specific to the query trenches.

Research publishers and agents.

There are so many out there, but they don’t all want your book. Each publisher and agent has a network in place for books of a specific genre, a specific age group, specific tropes, etc.

Furthermore, they don’t always accept submissions.

Many have specific dates/times of the year where they open for submissions. Agents can only work with so many authors at a time (varies from agent to agent), and publishers only publish a certain number of books a year (varies from publisher to publisher depending on the size of the company).

Some publishers only accept submissions from agents, not directly from authors.

So do your research here. Compile a list of places to submit that accept your genre, age range, level of gore, level of sexiness, tropes, etc.

Submit to the ones you can. Set reminders in your phone to submit to places that open later in the year.

Prepare your submission materials.

Every single agent or publisher has a whole slew of things they want submitted alongside the manuscript (or a portion of the manuscript). Take the time to get these right.

If you don’t include a cover letter when they specifically requested one, they might not even bother to read your first page.

If you don’t format your manuscript how they want it formatted, they might not read the first page.

If you give them a three page synopsis instead of a one page synopsis (Because you already had a three page one and surely that’s good right? That’s giving them extra.) they probably won’t read the three page synopsis. Or your manuscript.

These submission materials are basically like a job interview. They’re seeing how well you pay attention to basic guidelines, how much you’re going to fight and try to slide by with stuff they don’t let fly. After all, anyone they offer a contract is going to have deadlines and things they have to do (to the agent/publishers standards) within that time.

But these materials are also meant to show them if your book is a good fit for them and make it as easy to digest as possible. They look at thousands of manuscripts, and they have to be able to pick out the ones they want relatively quickly.

Making their lives difficult probably won’t get you a book deal.

Personalize the submission materials.

Show them that you actually looked at their website, their catalog of books, the authors they work with. (Which you should do to see if your book is actually a good fit for them.) Show them that you did some research, that way they can take your submission seriously.

Check out Query Shark.

This website has a lot of help for getting a solid query letter. Don’t just submit yours to them for critique though.

Read through the ones that have already been critiqued/revised and apply the advice to your own query letter.

You can find those here.


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On the Dilemma of Genre Hopping

In the past week, I’ve worked on writing a literary fantasy romance and editing a literary sci-fi fantasy epic, thought of ways to advertise my recently released literary thriller romance, and came up with ideas for a sci-fi novel and a literary zombie apocalypse romance.

So, to say that I hop genres might be an understatement.

Now, every big marketing expert whose classes I’ve taken said that hopping genres is a bad idea.

Truthfully, it does make marketing a great deal harder.

But.

I can’t imagine sitting down to force myself to write something I hate just because it’s in the same genre as something else I wrote. The idea of spending months with a story or world or plot or character that I just couldn’t sink myself into seems exhausting, and I’m pretty sure it would ruin writing for me.

So I refuse to settle into one genre.

And I don’t have the energy to maintain a social media platform for pen names for every genre.

Which means that it does make marketing harder.

But it isn’t impossible.

You just have to find the unifying theme in all your books and really lean into that. In blurbs, in ads, in social media posts, everywhere you talk about your books, lean into that unifying theme.

For me, it’s the grit and psychology, the character development and the fact that these characters go through real shit (even if the world they’re in is far from real).

That, and my writing style. Lyrical, full of sentence fragments and short paragraphs for the sake of flow, providing only necessary details, first person/present tense.

Those things all together mean that my books, even when they’re fantasy or sci-fi or a thriller, are literary fiction.

So, I need to lean into that.

Character profiles and details about their struggles, their traumas, their strife.

Things like that.

So if you’re debating on whether to hop genres, you need to make a decision.

Which is more important, writing what you want or having a more straightforward marketing path?

If you plan to hop genres, going wherever your heart wants with your books, then you need either multiple pen names or you need to find that thing that unifies your books.

Maybe it’s that all your books have a love triangle. Maybe it’s that they all contain a clean romance tucked within the larger plot. Maybe it’s that you prioritize world building.

Lean into that in your marketing efforts so you can attract the right readers, people who’ll want to read all your books, regardless of the genre the story is contained within.

(My main problem so far, if I’m being completely honest, is that I tend to prioritize every other aspect of the writing and publishing process over marketing/advertising.)

But if you really lean into that unifying theme across your books (and actually market and advertise), you can hop to your heart’s content and still build a fan base that will follow you through the genres.


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Plot Armor (And How To Avoid It)

We’ve all seen it. The character that always scrapes by because they’re the main character (or the main love interest), no matter how ridiculously high the stakes are and no matter how unrealistic it is for them to come out okay.

Some genres demand a happy end for the book (Romance, in particular), but that doesn’t mean that your characters should just have everything work out through sheer force of luck and having you on their side.

That level of un-realism takes away from the story.

So here are a few things you can give your character in lieu of plot armor.

Knowledge

Give them the information necessary to realistically survive what you’re throwing at them. Some battles are best won with brain rather than brawn.

Build a subset of knowledge into their background (a hobbyist in the family who liked learning about the things they’re facing or maybe a previous job that had parallels). Make them research and plan.

Or just straight up give them a teacher.

Mentors can be excellent side characters.

Skills

Make these people practice. Make them learn combat or lockpicking or endurance running.

Maybe they ran track in high school. Maybe they were in the army or your book’s equivalent. Maybe they dropped out and lived on the streets, stealing what they needed to get by.

Or maybe their life changed at the beginning of the book and they found a mentor for the skills they’d need. Trial and error is a pretty harsh teacher, but also an option.

Allies

More than one person working toward the same goal will almost certainly increase the chances of achieving it.

Now, these people aren’t meant to be bullet sponges or cannon fodder, though some may end that way.

But a prepper friend can teach your MC about filtering water and keep them from getting dysentery in the apocalypse.

A friend who’s also a cop could help them talk down (or subdue) an assailant.

The Ending

Maybe give them the realistic ending. Tragedies may not be as common now, but they are part of literature. And though it might mean a genre change for some (dark romantic fantasy instead of dark fantasy romance), it could be worth it to stick to what would really happen.

That last one is the choice I would go with, but that’s just me.


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Writing Rules Are More Like Guidelines

There are so many rules for writing that it’d be hard to count them all, even more so if you consider all the advice that’s out there.

Show don’t tell, don’t edit as you write, write every day, avoid adverbs, write in the morning, write at night, write drunk/edit sober, avoid passive voice, plan your book, don’t plan your book, write to market, don’t use sentence fragments, avoid dialogue tags other than ‘said,’ avoid using the dialogue tag ‘said’…

The list goes on and on and on. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Following them all is pretty much impossible, especially when they contradict each other (like some of the ones I mentioned up there). Not to mention the fact that following every single one eliminates any wiggle room for personal style.

Which is why I like to think of them as guidelines.

Everyone is different.

That’s a pretty well accepted fact.

And it means that everyone works differently and likes different things.

So, for the sake of standing out from the crowd, for the sake of truly expressing ourselves and the stories we have in our heads, for the sake of allowing ourselves to write in a way that actually works for us and our lives/personal challenges, some rules must be broken.

Or at least bent.

I use sentence fragments and short paragraphs all the time. I start sentences with conjunctions (which is technically a correct sentence format but everyone thinks it’s wrong). I don’t write every day, I never plan my books, and I always do some level of editing while I write.

Because those are some of the rules that just don’t work for me.

But it is important to learn the rules, to understand why they are the way they are, so you know when to break them.

For example, writing every day is a good way to get into a habit and keep the creative juices flowing.

But allowing myself to skip a day of writing helps me not feel guilty so that when I do write, I’m not psyching myself out by trying to make up for lost days. I don’t have time on days where I work twelve hour shifts, and sometimes I need to edit instead of write.

So, skipping days is fine for me. I don’t need the habit to get myself to finish my books.

Another thing I do that isn’t necessarily correct according to rules… Sentence fragments, short paragraphs, and starting sentences with conjunctions.

People just aren’t typically accustomed to these things. There is the risk of pushing a reader out of the narrative simply because these aren’t the norm. Same with first person/present tense.

But.

They work for my writing style, my author voice. They go a long way toward establishing flow, getting the cadence just right. And for me, that’s important. It fits with my writing style.

So, take the time to learn some of the writing rules. You should know them, really. But don’t be afraid to step outside the lines and move beyond those rules.

Writing is, at the very core of its essence, an act of creativity.

Just like some painters throw colors together that shouldn’t go together (and somehow make them work) and some musicians combine genres that just shouldn’t work (and somehow make them fit), writers have the amazing ability to do things that just shouldn’t make sense…

And somehow, make it work.

Learn some rules, and then decide if they work for you, your story, and your style.


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A Message To New (Or Experienced) Writers About Doubt

Do you ever feel like a hack? Like a terrible writer masquerading as someone worth reading?

I do.

I wish I could tell you that it goes away, that once you write a certain number of books or sell a certain number of copies, you’ll magically feel better about your writing and never have doubts ever again.

But that isn’t quite how it works.

How do I know that?

I’ve written 12 books, working on number 13 at the moment, and I’ve published 7 of those so far. I have a small group of people who love my books, who follow me from one genre to another because they like my writing style. I’ve sold a respectable number of books (not a bestseller by any means, but respectable).

But this past weekend…

I’ve been questioning everything, wondering if I’ve lost my touch, if I ever really had it at all, if this next book will be the one that shows everyone that I’m actually terrible and should be shunned or laughed at.

All authors go through that, time and time again.

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are pretty common among creatives.

It’s an unfortunate side effect of working with such subjective mediums. Whether it’s painting, writing, sculpting, playing music, whatever. Anything so subjective as art leaves the artist (yep, that includes writers) open to potential criticism that might conflict directly with praise from another source. It makes it hard to evaluate our work objectively.

And that’s where doubt comes in.

It makes us wonder which piece of feedback was right, and the worst part is… sometimes it’s all correct because opinion plays such a huge role.

Add in the struggles of actually writing (writer’s block, the absolute mountain range that is advertising, avoiding scam publishers, etc.), and there are a lot of things to get a writer down.

And it all contributes to the self-doubt.

Some days, you feel equal to the task at hand. Other days… not so much.

So how do you combat it?

First, by learning to trust yourself and accepting that you’re human. Which means that achieving perfection isn’t possible.

Second, by getting feedback from multiple sources. Assess all feedback for common threads. Then, hold onto the positive comments and learn from the negative.

Doubt doesn’t have to be a stumbling block.

It can be a tool to hone your skills.

After all, a person who never doubts their abilities never sees either a need or a way to improve.

Third, and most importantly, write anyway. Even if you’re doubting yourself, write anyway.


Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books here.

Want to help fund this blog and my writing efforts? You can support me directly here.

Subscribe for sneak peeks and updates on my upcoming books (and get a free short story).