writing habits

Writing Is A Bad Habit: She did that, then she did this. She did those too. a.k.a. Repetitive Sentence Structures

Usually, the simplest way to say something is the best.  I know, I have little room to speak, as I love to turn a phrase just to do it.  I’m addicted to big words and I cannot lie?

Still, even though I have that tendency, it doesn’t mean I don’t know that simplicity is king (or queen, depending on your outlook).  There is a problem that can arise from trying to simplify your writing style however.  That problem is the curse of repetition.


Writing Is A Bad Habit: Crystal Dragon Jesus! a.k.a. Religions In Fiction

So religion.  Always a touchy subject, right?  Let’s get one thing straight from the get go.  You do not need to deal with religion in your writing if you don’t want to.  However, you might not be able to avoid it, so we should have a talk about using religions, both real and fictional, in writing.

Maybe you want to simply approach a fictional culture in a realistic fashion, thus want to explore said culture’s faith and religion.  Maybe you are dealing with a historical, contemporary, or future Earth and feel a need to address the faiths of the time.  Maybe you want to deal directly with issues of faith and religion.  Whatever the reason, there are some guidelines you should keep in mind when you do introduce religion to your writing.


Writing Is A Bad Habit: Living A Little! a.k.a. Writing Research and Life Experience

As you may have seen from my Monday Musings, this week is supposedly a vacation week for me, so today’s Writing Is A Bad Habit might seem short.  Or perhaps not, because I can get rambling once I get started!  Regardless, today’s topic is research and life experience in terms of writing.  Even if you are a genre author writing about completely fantasy worlds and events, there’s still something to be said for the importance of both proper research and bringing life experiences into your narrative.

The research angle should be obvious.  The majority of fantasy and science-fiction concepts still stem from either our past or are extensions of our present.  Especially any book that still touches on the human experience in any fashion can benefit from research.  Humans work, think, and feel in a certain way, and any author can benefit from a deeper understanding of those things.  Research becomes even more crucial for any historical or contemporary fiction.  Whatever you think you know about your realistic setting, there are those who know more and the more knowledge you have, the more nuanced your writing will become.

Life experience also should speak for itself.  It’s always easier to write about what you have lived through and every author, consciously or not, invests part of themselves into their works.  However, the simplest and most pervasive element of life experience is one that is often discounted, and that is simply interacting with a variety of people from a variety of cultures.  How better to be able to write a variety of characters and understand their feelings, thoughts, and motivations than dipping your toe into the river of humanity that is all around us?  It’s even easier these days with the internet and the Information Age.  This goes beyond just reading about people and cultures.  Now we can interact with them without even leaving our computer desks.

Now, there is one ever-present pitfall when it comes to both research and experience: the desire to over-inform your readers.  When you gain knowledge, there is an instinct to want to share it.  Share ALL of it, regardless of the actual needs of the story.  Always be on your guard against info dumps and boring the reader with too much information.  Use your research and experiences to add flavor and realism to your writing, just be ready to cut back when you need to.

Knowledge and information, when applied to writing, is like any spice in a chef’s spice rack.  You need to use just the right amount.  Too much makes the reader feel overwhelmed and too little leaves him/her lost.

What are your thoughts about research, life experiences, and their application to writing?  Let me know in the comments below!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Entertainment and Fiction, Siamese Twins?

My current Starving Review book is a long one and, while I intend to get a review up tomorrow, I can make no guarantees.  In the meantime, let me regale you with a little bit of thinking I had over the past week.

What is the purpose of fiction?  At its core, what is fiction ‘about’?  What is the common thread that all fiction should share, do you think?

I can only speak for my interpretation, but I would propose to you that the core purpose, beyond any and all other things, of fiction is to entertain.

That isn’t the *only* thing a work of fiction can do, naturally.  A good piece of fiction entertains, educates, enlightens, and many other words that start with ‘e’.  However, and consider this carefully, why would you read a work of fiction if it didn’t also entertain you?  If you aren’t also seeking entertainment, be it fun, thrills, comedy, mystery, drama, or a million other ways to find enjoyment, why are you picking up fiction?

Surely, if one wants pure education, spiritual enlightenment, or religious insight, wouldn’t that one be better served going straight to the factual or philosophical sources?  Yes, I am taking the stance that religious texts are not ‘fiction’.  They are very real for those of their faiths.  Yes, I know that often stories and small pieces of fiction are often included in many otherwise ‘non-fiction’ works.  However, those small fictional bits are not your draw.  You don’t read a math book for the intriguing word problems, right?

By that line of thought, then, why write a piece of fiction unless you fully embrace the need to entertain?  I have read pieces that overwhelm the actual fictional story with heavy-handed philosophy or political subtext or historical arguments, forgetting that crucial need to entertain first.  It’s really annoying as I have also read fantastic, fun volumes that, while fictional, also deliver deep, meaningful insights and themes ALONG WITH their entertainment.  It can be done!

If you ignore that need to entertain first, what most often results is the people you really want to reach with your message never get it.  They never get far enough in the book to absorb it.  They simply give it up, writing off your work as heavy-handed and overly preachy.  If you do remember to properly weave your themes along with an entertaining yarn, however, you can have the world eating out of your hand and learning a bit in the process.

Until next time, good luck and good writing!

Writing is a Bad Habit: Writing Has to BE a Habit! a.k.a. The Title-Drop Episode

My sincere apologies for any delays or short disruption of site updates!  I am blaming this solely on the insanity of the holiday season, especially the insanity of the household vehicle having its engine go A-SPLODY (and that is not an entirely untrue exaggeration).  However, let’s try to get things back on track, shall we?

Getting on the right track is, in fact, the point behind today’s Writing is a Bad Habit article.  Really, the title speaks volumes, but let’s go ahead and state it bluntly:  Writing is like any other skill.  It grows with practice and is honed by experience.  No matter how talented of a wordsmith you may be, that talent can only be refined by constant usage.  How do you practice writing?  The only way you possibly could.

Maybe the methodology of habitual writing isn’t for everyone but I’m not sure how it couldn’t be.  It’s simple.  If you make yourself write everyday, even if it’s just a short scene or a partial chapter or a silly idea, you are still practicing and honing your craft.  You’re keeping the edge sharp on your quill and swirling that creative ink to keep it from coagulating.  Stagnation and inactivity are as much of a danger to a writer, in my opinion, as the echo chamber can be.

That’s really the whole point of this.  Should you take breaks?  Of course, it’s like any other job, albeit one that hopefully provides great personal satisfaction in return for low pay.  But you should never leave your craft sitting and collecting dust for wrong.  Let a story linger too long and it may collect so much dust that it becomes unrecognizable and your own creative juices so thick that you can’t even begin to get the thing going again.

There’s nothing that makes me more depressed than a lost tale, no matter the quality, because even the worst stories I’ve ever read still represent someone’s creative dreams and such a thing is always special.

Good luck and good writing, my friends!

Writing is a Bad Habit: What is That Burning Orb in the Sky and Why You Should See It Sometimes.

I don’t know about you but when I get close to the end of a project, my muse can be a cruel taskmistress.  Whips, chains, Great Danes, all the usual motivational techniques to keep me chained to my keyboard and WRITE THOSE WORDS!  So, sitting here today, perhaps a six or seven chapters from the end of the first draft of Incorruptible, I squinted at my keyboard.  It was awfully bright, wasn’t it?  The Fiery Daystar once more was shining it’s deadly rays into my dark monitor-lit world.  This …. this is not healthy.

There is an important rule to remember about being an author:  You can’t write when you’re dead.  Your health is always important.  Yes, the aforementioned ‘staving off the Grim Reaper’ is the most important reason for this, but there are more.

We think better when we are in decent shape.  Lack of sleep, poor health, poor diet, they can all contribute to aches, pains, fatigue, headaches, all manner of malady that impairs not only your rational mind, but your creative spirit.  It’s hard to write something upbeat when you’re sick and depressed.

It’s even more important if you already suffer from a chronic disease or some other long-term health issue.  Not only does neglecting your health for your art worsen your art, but it can complicate the conditions you already have.  Basically, it’s a bad idea all around.

What does that mean for this starving author?  It’s time to get up, take a stretch, do a mile-walk, and grab something healthy to eat.  Or at least something that isn’t pure junk food garbage.

Good luck, good health, and good writing to you all!

Writing is a Bad Habit: The Horror of Echo Chambers

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for this starving author.  Reading, reviews, planning for the future, reunions with family … oh RIGHT WRITING TOO!  Yes, despite all the blogging and reviewing and general nonsense, I’m still, you know, writing and it was today’s work that reminded me of a very important thing to avoid as a writer, something that I think also applies to many other things in life.  Avoid echo chambers!

What’s an echo chamber, you may ask?  Well, physically, it’s just like it sounds: a room where you can hear your own echoes from what you say.  Really, though, when I talk about them, I mean in a more metaphorical sense.  What I mean is engaging in situations where you have no outside feedback, when you write and create with only yourself as the sole judge and editor.

Now, despite what you may think, you as an author don’t always have the best ideas.  Your core concepts might sparkle but there’s a good chance you’ll make a poor decision somewhere along the way as you write your works.  There’s also a decent chance you’ll catch it on your own.  Your gut will nag at you and you’ll realize, in the end, that it was a bad idea.  The problem comes in when you don’t catch it or, just as bad, when you are nervous about an idea only for it turn out to be a great one and you take it out.

This is just one of the many reasons why you, the author, are your worst editor and your worst beta reader.  YOU already know what you mean and what you want to say.  Left to your own devices, your brain will often change up the input as you try to look back over it, filling in blanks and mentally correct typos.  This is bad, this will mess up what you do!  It’s hard enough to get a perfect book (I haven’t managed it yet myself!) WITH outside help.  So don’t try to go it alone, relying on yourself as the best judge of things.  Get help.  Get support.  Get editors.  Get beta readers.

Don’t get lost in the sound of your own voice in the echo chamber!

Writing is a Bad Habit: A Writer’s Most Vital Quality

This is going to be as short and sweet as I can make it.

There are many important qualities to being an effective writer.  So many, in fact, that to gauge them in importance against each other can be difficult at best.  However, this past year has shown me one quality that shines above all others.

To me, that is determination.  I think it’s a truism that hardship and adversity can breed the best stories.  The best of those adversities and tragedies are the ones we experience ourselves.  To live through these and to be able to express the pain and emotion of them requires determination.

On top of that, every aspect of our trade is one of overcoming the odds.  Continuing to write no matter how many rejections or ‘no’s we receive.  If we can’t do that, if we don’t have the determination to overcome, then we will never ever succeed at our craft.

So yes, no matter how creative or innovative or evocative of a writer we may be, we are nothing without determination.  I’ve struggled through the death of my best friend and now I have just dug the grave of my dog.  I don’t want to write another word, and yet I have to do so.  Not just to honor their memories, but to craft something positive from the pain their deaths have given me.

Writing is a Bad Habit: Wrestling with Preconceptions

Today was the day I began writing the final two books in the two trilogies I have been working on and I found, as I usually do, the beginning of the books to be the hardest.  There is a particular reason for that and it’s something I realized would make for good material for a blog post so … here we are.  The thing I run into most when beginning a new piece, especially one that is a continuation of an earlier work, is wrangling with the possible preconceptions that my readers have.

It is just human nature for a reader to begin to think about the future of the book’s (or the series’) plot and the outcome of the entire thing.  Often, we form our thoughts about those things based on preconceptions and ideas gleaned from other similar works and genres.  It’s how our minds work, helping to sort so many different facts by categorizing and sorting them by similarities and differences.  For me as a writer, and possibly for others, there is a trap in those preconceptions.

If our plots run directly along those lines of thought, those tropes and plot devices, readers may think the whole thing is simply a stale retread of previous works.  As artists and creators, we want our works to be distinctive, to stand on their own, and not be so linked to other works in the same genre that we simply copy what has been done in the past.   On the other hand, preconceptions are not all bad and they aren’t all rote.  Tropes, plot devices, and archetypes are there for a reason … they often represent points of connection to the human experience.  Just as staying to close to them can lead to boredom and unoriginality, radically departing from them or excessively deconstructing them can lead to a sense of wrongness and bad logic to your work.

It seems to me that it is a constant dance we have to deal with as authors, fulfilling enough of our readers’ preconceptions to make them happy while changing or reconstructing enough of them to keep those same readers off-balance and entertained by originality.  That’s the tightrope I find myself fussing over at the start of a new book and I’m fussing over it now.

Oh well, at least it usually passes in a day or two!

Do you feel that same tension when you write a new piece, especially a sequel?  What tools do you use to help get around it?  Talk about it in the comments below!

Writing is a Bad Habit: Go With the Flow!

Today’s edition of Writing is a Bad Habit is going to be a fairly short but important one.  Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about work cycles.  Now, we all know what work cycles are: it refers to our overall preferred work habits and the hours we regularly keep writing.  Even though, for most of us, writing is a self-employed profession and not something we punch a clock for, it’s still important to maintain a work cycle.

Why is that?  Why shouldn’t we just write when we want to and slag off the rest of the time?  Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but all of the writers I know are only really productive when they keep themselves to a semi-regular schedule.  Yes, the freeform nature of writing lends itself to flexibility and I, like all of us, take advantage of that from time to time, but I still enforce a fairly strict schedule and workload.

People thrive on stability and structure makes workloads more stable.  Even on days we are feeling less than creative, when the Muses leave us, there are plenty of tasks involving our works that we can spend time doing.  Editing, proofreading, promotional work, blogging, fan outreach, all of that is an important part of the overall authorial career.  However, if we tie our work only to when our Muses are singing and the words pour out, it is far too easy to neglect all of those other important tasks.  That, my friends, is a recipe for failure.

What do you think?  Do you think keeping a steady work cycle is important?  If you do, what kind of cycle works best for you?  If not, has the lack of structure hampered your work in anyway or led to a lack of discipline?  Talk about it in the comments!