NaNoWriMo is coming. Are you ready?

NaNoWriMo2013ScrivScreenshotIt’s coming.

It’s time to write the novel you’ve always wanted to write.

Don’t fear the blank page!

Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org today, then follow along here for tips to get you ready. And when your masterpiece is complete on November 30, come back and get it polished up by The Refined Word.

And get Scrivener, a great tool for novel-ing at the speed of NaNo.

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As writers, we’re always looking for something, some system to not only increase our productivity, but also increase the quality of said production. There are tons of ideas about this floating around on the web, from the micro-level minutiae of Getting Things Done-type systems to the time-based systems like the Pomodoro Technique.

But maybe the answer is in biology!

Check out the link below. As a former professional French hornist, I can attest that this kind of productivity rhythm works. What works for you? Shoot me a link in the comments!

Why You Need To Unplug Every 90 Minutes | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

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The business side of writing is what comes after you’ve crafted your masterpiece. If you’re not keeping up with publishing trends in our fast-changing industry, you’re going to be way behind the eight ball. Check out contract lawyer David Vandagriff’s blog, The Passive Voice. This blog of publishing industry legal and business news is indispensable due not only to its aggregation of the top publishing industry news, but his insightful commentary on said news. Check out today’s post on HBO getting all excited about airing the most pirated show on TV: The Game of Thrones, then add The Passive Voice to your RSS feeds.

5 Random Writing Rules You Can Often Ignore

It has been said – by me, incidentally – that the road to hell is paved with writing rules. Too much adherence to the many rules that are out there can cause paralysis of action in your daily routine, stilted prose… or even the dreaded writer’s block. But writing rules are interesting, and there is truth in nearly all of them.

I was looking around for a compilation of various author’s writing rules and ran across this article in the Guardian from a few years back. I think I remember reading it the first time. Then, as now, I’m struck by both the consistency and the contradictions. Read through to see what I mean. With so many rules, they can’t all be right, right? Here are 5 writing rules (not all of them from the article, lest you think I’m senile) that I think can be ignored or modified:

1. Never start a book in the middle of a fight scene

This definitely depends on the book genre, but the conventional wisdom on this is that you can’t care about a character you don’t know yet, so a fight scene is emotionally meaningless. I think that this is an odd idea. The fact that the author is showing me a (probably main) character in danger from the beginning makes me care more. And you can make your opening fight scene heavy with incongruous character self-reflection or pithy banter that can give the reader important information they need in order to get to know that character quickly.

2. Avoid prologues

If you’re writing epic fantasy, this rule is right out. A thriller or romance probably doesn’t need it, but a prologue is too good of an opportunity to establish an epic feeling or introduce history to your story before debuting the main character(s). Brandon Sanderson confessed to sneaking in three prologues in his Stormlight Archive series opener, The Way of Kings. There is a Prelude, which serves as the prologue to the entire series, the Prologue of the book, and Chapter 1, another prologue-esque section. And you know what? The book doesn’t suffer for it. Robert Jordan became increasingly notorious for his lengthy prologues in the Wheel of Time series. So don’t worry about it in Fantasy. Fans of the genre almost expect it.

3. Write only when you have something to say

This depends on what is meant by ‘something to say.’ If you have a philosophical idea that you want to get across, well you better have an engaging story to use as a vehicle.  If you have no story, then your fiction is going to be a non-starter. But how many great stories or novels have come out of free-writing exercises? Was there a plan there from the outset? If there was, it was probably extremely thin.

4. Stop reading fiction, read non-fiction instead

Ridiculous. If this rule (which is in the Guardian article) was less crazy, I would have ignored it. But, come on… Fiction writers want to write fiction because they enjoyed reading it so much. Why stop? And besides, it’s important to keep up with the trends and styles in your genre and make sure that you aren’t rehashing something that some other author has already covered in the same way you’re planning. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t read non-fiction. By all means, be as omnivorous as possible in your reading, so long as it’s quality.

5. Eradicate all adverbs

This will be the most controversial of my stances, I’m sure. But adverbs, within reason, are fine. It’s true that most adverbs shift emphasis away from good action verbs, so certainly don’t use them in speech attributions like in a Tom Swifty: “I don’t remember which groceries to get,” Tom said listlessly. Adverbs are a quick way to make prose seem more poetic, but don’t  fall into that trap overuse them. And that’s the key: never to excess. Look… adverbs happen. Even the great adverb abolition crusader Stephen King occasionally drops one on us. And he pointed out in his glowing review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, that Rowling’s use of adverbs was “endearing rather than annoying.”

Writing rules aren’t bad things, but watch out for them so that your writing doesn’t get wooden. You’re better off taking a few to heart, then adding your own rules as you gain experience. Or you could follow Neil Gaiman’s ‘rules’ and be just fine.

What are some writing rules that irritate you? Let me know in the comments!

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If you’re a writer – especially one that’s just starting out – and you’re not reading David Farland’s writing tips at his website, or subscribing to his daily email, start now. Dave has a ton of experience as an author and creative writing teacher and is more than willing to share that experience with us. He posted something inspirational recently that I really liked  because it reminds us that there’s more than one way to work towards our writing goals. Money quote:

“If you want to be a writer, think about the time that you first felt that passion. Let it grow in you a little today. Take the steps that you need to in order to grow. If that means that you must sit down and type, then hit the keyboards. If you need to plot a story, get started on it. If you feel like you need to take a class or read a book on writing, do it. If all that you do is study the work of another fine writer by reading a chapter or two before bed, your time will be well spent.

Nurture your passions. Light up the night.”

Talking Voice – Part 4: Non-Fiction

[Other entries in the Talking Voice Series: Part 1: Authorial Voice in FictionPart 2: Tone and Part 3: Character and Other In-World Voices.]

So far in my series on voice, I’ve detailed my thoughts on voice in fiction. But now were going enter the realm of… the real (1). In addition to proper citations (see what I did there?), facts need proper voice and tone. Let’s talk voice in works of non-fiction.

First, remember this: non-fiction books aren’t all lists of facts or instructional. Many of them are stories, and need to be treated as such, including in terms of voice. Particularly autobiographies and memoirs (for the difference, see here). Let’s talk about those first.

It’s easy to think that an autobiographoical book simply needs the author’s natural voice. But in practice, this isn’t really the case. If you are writing memoirs or other first-person narratives, you aren’t really being yourself; you’re being a version of yourself. And guess what? Just like overall voice in fiction, that version of yourself needs to be consistent.

Is your autobiographical story a happy one? A thoughtful one? Or is it a roller coaster of highs and lows? Whatever it is, just like in fiction, you need to handle voice and tone in a manner that serves the story in the best way possible, from beginning to end. This might be as simple as being yourself. Momentum can often carry a writer through an autobiographical process. But lots of people can do that, and the result isn’t always compelling or well-written. Take the time and effort to make it so.

What if you’re writing a book about… say… yoga? In this context, you obviously have something significant to say about yogic practice (breathing, meditation, movement, alignment, or some combination). This could take the form of anything from a straight relating of historical fact (for example, your pictorial on the step-by-step evolution of supta baddha konasana), to presenting people with a new synthesis of yogic ideas gleaned from your own personal practice. If the former, then you’ll want to gravitate towards a more academic voice, whereas in the latter, you are more likely to feature a more informal voice that conveys a sense of discovery. A yoga teacher training manual will have a lot of information in bulleted points, photos, and lists of reference materials, but might also have the personal stamp of the teacher, making it a combination of the above. Make sure that you know what it is that you need to do before you get started and make a plan. Find a good editor to make sure that you stay on that plan!

Academic non-fiction has a style and voice all its own. Generally speaking, academic texts are much more formal, much more aligned with high school and college English essay writing than fiction. There is almost never an “I” and almost no personal stories to be found outside of a preface. Strict adherence to a style guide both in terms of grammar and citations in necessary. And make sure that you do what is appropriate for your discipline. For example, academic writing in music and art differs from that of physics and psychology. While both feature an academic voice, aspects of the voice might be different. Make sure you know what works best and what is expected.

[Bonus tip: when writing non-fiction, especially academic non-fiction, make sure that you make a commitment up front to document your sources! Nothing is worse than trying to finish up your book or manual, and not being able to remember where you lifted a quote or idea from! See this excellent resource for more on what kind of things to cite. When in doubt about whether to do so, cite it!]

And so, my series on voice comes to an end. Hope you had as much fun as I did! Let me know in the comments what thoughts and experiences you might have on voice in non-fiction.

Look for more writing tips – and maybe even a new series – soon.

1 – Wachowski, Andy and Lana. The Matrix. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros.,1999. Paraphrase of quote from the movie, Morpheus to Neo: “Welcome to the desert of the real.”

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Stephen King talks about opening sentences and how hard he works on them over at the Atlantic online. It’s fascinating and worth a read.

I agree that opening lines are important. But what about other ‘opening lines’ in writing? The first lines about a key character or place might need to be as impactful. Unless you’re trying to slide someone or something in as foreshadowing. I’ll have to flesh out my thoughts on this. What other aspects of writing do you think deserve the attention that King gives his openers?