Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 2018 — Break the perfection habit and stop editing as you write

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question asked this month is  "How can a writer break the perfection habit, or are there ways to stop editing as you go?"

The fastest way to kill ideas is to edit as you write. 

The fastest way to erode your confidence in getting a project done and doubt your ideas are any good is to edit as you go. 

And the fastest way to stifle productivity is to stop and dwell on a sentence for two or three minutes. That's lost words and lost time. For instance, if you typed 50 words a minute, in those three minutes you have lost 150 words. If you stop every five minutes for three minutes, that means in a hour you have lost 21 minutes (at 50 words per minute that equals 1,050 lost words).

Obviously, editing as you go is destructive. Yet, to understand why a writer is compelled to stop and edit and re-edit sentences or paragraphs or pages, a writer first needs to understand WHY they are compelled to seek that perfect sentence, to use the perfect words, or to form the perfect description.

Two reasons come to mind. The first is fear. The second is logic vs. creativity. 

The fear a writer has lies in the misguided belief that what they are producing isn't good enough, brilliant enough, or that it's the worst kind of drivel or garbage.

This, of course, is a negative message that has to be stopped. The fact is, you cannot judge a work until you have written (drafted) the entire piece and distanced yourself from the story. Once the story fades sufficiently, you can go back to it—with new eyes and a better frame of reference. Then you can look at what was written and better judge the flow and impact of the scenes. It's the old can't see the forest for the trees syndrome. So, keep this mantra in mind when drafting anything you write—done is better than perfect.

As to the second reason, the curmudgeonly problem of editing as you go is firmly rooted in the battle of logic versus creativity. In other words, the two sides of the brain are at war. 

Here's the thinglogic will always—ALWAYS—trump creativity. So in order to become a producing writer of quality stories, it's far better to write creatively as quickly as you can and get that first draft committed to paper. Once it’s down, then you can turn lose the logical brain and take all the time you need to give full attention to editing for the good of the story. (Your readers will appreciate that.)

Now, there are ways to shut the logical, critical tyrant self down and create a story. One of the best ways is to turn off a computer's monitor. That way the eyes cannot see and thus the logical brain cannot judge the words going onto a page.

A side benefit from doing this is that a writer can slow down and concentrate on the imagery the subconscious (imagination) sends up for the story. Even stop-frame analysis is possible because the image can be held longer and better action sequences can be recorded.

Yes, this works for those who touch-type. And yes, when the monitor screen is turned back on the writer will see typos. Some will net hilarious spellings, but it's always good to laugh.

So, I challenge you "perfectionists" to test what happens when you turn off the monitor and write for 10 minutes. Post the results to this blog and I'll send you a free Writers Cheat Sheet on "Functions of the Imagination." 

****Next month: May 2018 —  Why are stories rejected by editors, agents, and readers?

~Follow this blog so you'll always get the updated posts! ~


Thursday, March 1, 2018

MARCH 2018 - Stop falling for the rhetoric of being a Pantser

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been
 submitted to me

 by writers and readers of this blog.

The question asked this month is "I've been told that being a Pantser is the way to write a story. Is that good advice?"

New writers and aspiring novelists for ages have been fed the rhetoric of BICKHOC (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard). This results in a writer being known as a Pantser (one who writes by the seat of their pants). 

Pantsers are told to let the words out, come what may—free the Muse to play on the page—and great things will come.

First of all, let me debunk the Muse rhetoric. You don't have a Muse. You have an imagination, and it resides in your subconscious mind. That imagination is part and parcel of who you are and how you tell a story. The imagination is the inventive, think-outside-the-box creative self.

Pantsers shun rules and restrictions on creativity. They disapprove of outlines. After all, an outline reminds them of the formal outlines they had to learn in school. In actuality, a writer's "story outline" or "plot line" is as individual as the writer themselves and is not restrictive but liberating.

Pantsers will say that using forms is a waste of time, particularly character questionnaires, because the Pantser wants to discover who their characters are while writing and writing and writing, and writing—often to a dead-end story or going off on a tangent or having another character take over the story.

Pantsers will say that any outlining or use of forms or formats takes the joy out of the writing process and keeps them from discovering the wonders that can go in their stories. Hogwash. These are the same writers who admit they have a lot of started but unfinished stories. If they do complete a story, they complain and are frustrated because it is "such a mess" to fix.

Well, stop falling for rhetoric. Stop listening to it. The fact is that logic will always — ALWAYS — trump creativity. Why? Because people want to make sense of their world. And readers are very logical people. As a writer, you need to get readers to suspend their disbelief in order to believe in vampires, elves, or aliens. To do that takes logic and creativity working together.

And here's the best kept secret about producing writers—they use some type of "Structured Creativity." Not the detailed structure of a Plotter, who plots out all aspects of a story before they write—and who may never write the story because they plotted so heavily that they lost interest in the story itself.

Every producing writer has a system that works for them and which they use before writing and even during writing a manuscript. Their system ensures they have characters, plot, and a story to tell. The brunt of the work was done before they committed to the time to produce the manuscript. There was joy in creating the actual story because the writer knew there would be no dead-end, no character taking over. More joy came with putting words to the page because the writer knew the cast of characters as "people" not "puppets." 

Another benefit of Structured Creativity is that nothing is written in stone. There's flexibility and freedom of creative expression.

As to revising the work? Structured Creativity means a first draft is not nearly the frustration it once was. It's more like polishing the work.

Okay, I will admit, when I first started writing, I was told to be the Pantser. I hated the failures of stories dead-ending. I hated rewrites after rewrites and still the story failed. When I took a professional fiction writing course, my eyes were opened to structured creativity and what story was all about. It took me three years to create my Master Project Bible. I use it for all my storytelling from short stories to novels.

So, how about not listening to rhetoric and start learning more about story and using structured creativity for your next fiction project?


Next month's topic—  April 2018 — Break the perfection habit and stop editing as you write.

This is now available as a 1-On-1 Course for Fiction Writers

Thursday, February 1, 2018

February 2018 - Taking Dictation for Dialogue

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been
 submitted to me
 by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "Like most writers, I'm shy, and an introvert. Is there a way to learn to write good dialogue that doesn't involve having conversations with people?"

 Yes, there's a very good way to learn to write good dialogue — it's by listening. 

That's right, not talking but listening for the diction, syntax, and vocabulary of people who are talking and then write down what you overhear.

Okay, so you cannot go around with a stenographer's pad in hand, and unless you're trained in one of the shorthand methods of taking dictation, you're at a disadvantage of getting all the words down. However, you can improve your ability to listen and take notes by using videos and watching movies. 

Screenwriters rely heavily on dialogue to flesh out and make characters realistic. They have honed dialogue to an art. Which means, you can train your ears and inner ear to hear the cadence and rhythms for various types of characters by watching movies that have a specific character you need for your story. For instance, whenever I need a high IQ, arrogant ego, I watch reruns of M*A*S*H and concentrate on Charles Emerson Winchester III's dialogue. 

When I write my story, I do not use his exact words. After all, my character is not Charles Emerson Winchester III.

But there's a trick to listening to videos, movies, etc. That trick is not to watch but to turn off the TV or monitor and listen. Pause the recording and replay the words of the character you most want to emulate in your story. And do write down the passages so you can go back and compare lines, determine the pattern of the words, the arrangement and length of the sentences or fragments. Concentrate on the syntax, the vocabulary, the length of sentences.

Do listen for what transpires in the voice of the speaking character when they are under stress, are frustrated, are angry. How does the syntax, vocabulary, diction, and emphasis change? How does a female's voice differ from a man's? What is the educational level (or lack thereof) revealed in the dialogue?

So, instead of talking to people, listen instead. And while you're listening and evaluating, listen for unique turns of phrases, one-liners, odd and mild-tempered expletives, specific jargon, etc. and record those in a file for future stories (my file is called WHO SAYS).

So, give the TV-video idea a go and let me know what you discover.

***March's topic will be — Pantser Rhetoric?

Connect with Catherine by joining her Writers Cheat Sheet Bulletin list and get notices when this blog updates or news of her upcoming workshops and courses HERE
# # # 

Monday, January 1, 2018

January 2018 - Who should you believe?

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me
 by writers and readers of this blog.

This January post addresses Janet Well's "Please give advice on sorting through writing group feedback. What puzzles me is getting opposite advice. I've heard "your character is too perfect" and "your character is too wacky" about the same character. I've also received "I love the opening. You hooked me on the first sentence." from one reader and "This opening is weak. You failed to hook me." from another. I'm confused. (WCS Comment - October 2017).

In today's publishing world, it's necessary to get feedback from a critique group or from one or more critique partnerships in order to test the merits of a story before submitting for (or committing to) publication.

Notice that I used the word feedback not critique. You see, when you ask someone to "critique" your work, you are, in essence, giving them carte blanch to criticize your work. 

When you ask for feedback, the critiquer changes their mind-set from criticizing to wanting to provide helpful suggestions and reasons why something works or doesn't work. 

Perhaps what would be helpful is to know that feedback comes from Type I or Type II Critiques. A person who gives Type I feedback is objective and deals with the technical aspects, the mechanics, and craft that makes for a marketable story. The person who gives Type II Critiques is highly subjective, dealing with the emotional impact and their feelings toward the characters and the story. Type II's read between the lines and see motifs, personalities, allusion, metaphors, etc. For a comparison of the two types, go to

     - Please note that the Type I and Type II Critiques cheat sheet will only be available until March 1, 2018

Of course, a person might seem a blend of the two types, but their editing strengths and knowledge of storytelling elements, as well as craft techniques and devices, will lean them toward one type more than the other. This also applies to contest judges, authors, editors, and agents.

Whether or not feedback comes from a contest judge, editor, agent, author, or fellow writer, strive to avoid a manuscript by committee. In other words, never let someone rewrite your words or, heaven forbid, tell you that you MUST do this or that. Nothing about storytelling or writing is ever totally black or white and there are countless shades of gray in between. So if you are ever in doubt, educate yourself. Whether searching online for blog posts or going to your local library for a how-to write book to clarify a craft element, the more informed you are means you'll make better decisions for what's best for your story and characters. 

In other words, take those sour-lemon critiques and get sweet lemonade feedback for your story.

Now as we begin the New Year, I offer you this—  


It is Reality not Illusion

It is a Setback, not Failure

It is Achievement not Success

Every hurdle provides Knowledge.

                                                                — C.E. McLean ©  1999


Coming next month:  February 2018 — Taking Dictation for Dialogue?

************** Don't miss out on this online course Feb. 1-28, 2018 

# # # 

Friday, December 1, 2017

My belief is you have one chance to make a first impression. - Kevin McCarthy

Would you eat off a plate that still has spaghetti sauce residue on it because it hasn't been washed? Yuck, right?

Well, that's equivalent to what happens when you write a story and the presentation fails to capture the reader's attention from the get-go and flow effortlessly like a movie in the reader's mind. That's why it's said that you have about eight sound bytes (or one sentence) to catch a reader's attention.

So, what's involved in capturing the reader's attention? It amounts to:

1. A "hook" opening. Such an opening is the "grabber" that creates curiosity or raises a question that the reader becomes curious enough and reads the next word, the next line, the next sentence, the rest of the paragraph, the first page, and even that first chapter.

2. Action. But what exactly is meant by action? In truth, action can be many things. It can be dialogue – one with a speech tag attribute to the reader know if a male or female is speaking. It can be a character facing a decision. It can be a matter of life and death. It can be drama, urgency, or tension from something about to happen. 

3) A problem or dilemma. The problem can be a character frantically dealing with a problem (like being attacked) or it can be the hint of a problem brewing (like being stalked or a dam reaching critical a stage from flooding rains). A problem can be as simple as needing to get a new job or as complex as a group of crooks planning a heist.

Determining what makes a good hook or an intriguing enough story beginning isn't easy. However, determining what turns readers off the quickest is. 

Here are 15 elements of how not to start or open a story:

1) Do not start with spelling errors, grammar errors, paragraphing errors, punctuation errors (no semicolons or colons), or pronoun reference errors 

2) Remember that if you write genre fiction for the masses, the readability scale should be sixth to eighth grade level

3) Avoid starting with a description of the setting

4) Avoid starting with background information on the character's life (the writer needs such information to write the story, but the reader doesn't need it at the beginning of a tale)

5) Do not open with a dream or nightmare

6) Do not open with an alarm clock going off

7) Avoid an absence of dialogue (and avoid wall-to-wall words)

8) Avoid using dialogue from a character the reader has no idea who that character is (or how important to the story that character is)

9) Do not start with the weather

10) Do not start with a description of a character's physical being or attire

11) Do not start a story with a premonition or blatantly telling the reader "She had no idea how bad her day would become." or that "Death would be waiting for him before he had finished his morning coffee."

12) Do not start with a prologue (chances are the writer needed to know the information in that prologue in order to write the rest of the story. However, if anything—anything—from that prologue is in the text of the story, ax the prologue.) 

13) Do not start a story with a minor character. The reader expects the first named person to be an important person, who is usually the protagonist.

14) Do not introduce a cast or group of characters (Start with the main character (the protagonist) interacting with one other character. Then, one by one introduce other main characters.)

15) Do not start with a character thinking (however, if they are planning murder or some other interesting or intriguing course of action. Even so, keep the internalizing to a minimum.)

If you've looked over your manuscript and scrubbed all fifteen of the above from it, good for you. Only doing so is no guarantee the rest of the story is as polished as it needs to be. 

It pays to take the time to learn better storytelling craft and skills, ruthlessly self-edit, and even pay for the best editor you can (one who understands voice and your genre).

Wishing you all the best with your writing this holiday season.

Merry Christmas & have a Happy New Year!

***********January 2018 — Who should you believe?

Give yourself a Christmas Gift -

     Revision is a Process   Barnes & Noble

     144 Aspects of a Novel Online Course (Feb.1-28,2018)

     1 on 1 Courses with real-time feedback