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  • Writer's pictureFallon Clark

Skip the Hacks. Find the Grit.

Updated: May 2

MetaStellar Magazine's Writing Advice of the Week for April 28, 2024

Want the video instead? Watch it on Rumble.

Before sitting down to write your story, you probably hammered out a few key details, like the setting, and the characters, and the overall plotline. And there are details of your story that will come through naturally as you write and revise, aspects like the tone of the piece, the perspective voice, and the message to your readers. Starting your writing process from a solid foundation often helps to benefit the story and your eventual readers, so it’s good to prepare for your writing.

But there are three big things you don’t need to start writing: motivation, purpose, or vision for the future.

Like our crafts, our purposes as human beings, writers, and creatives evolve over time as we learn and change and grow. Our visions for the futures of our work do the same.

And motivation? Well, that tends to come fairly quickly once we begin seeing the fruits of our labors, but it doesn’t always come before.

The one big thing you do need to start writing?

The guts to start.

That’s it.

No hacks or tricks, just good, old-fashioned grit.

When I work with authors through book coaching, I sometimes suggest the writer begin their weekly goals by journaling, asking themselves:

  • What called you to this work today?

  • Why are you prioritizing this piece right now?

  • What important decision do you need to make?

The goal of these questions is to jiggle loose that all-important grit, to empty it into a bowl where the writer can eat it for breakfast and steady themselves for the week of determined writing ahead. And maybe journaling can work for you, too. But if these questions don’t immediately spark joy (thanks, Marie Kondo), there are other methods you can adopt to loosen that gritty energy, get some words on some pages, and start building a habit that will lead you to purpose, motivation, and vision.

If you’re a writer who feels most at home in nature, I feel you. I’m my best self when I’m elbows deep in soil, or grounding under the sun, or tending to one plant or another. And if this sounds like you, you probably know how difficult it is to hold a pen while wearing thick, leather gloves.

To wit, it ain’t easy. Not to mention how dirty that notebook gets.

On the scale of “Most Amazing Method Ever” to “This Method is Trash,” I give writing while wearing gardening gloves a solid, “Do Not Recommend.” One star. Would return to the store if this was a purchase.

Instead, when a spark of inspiration sticks my gray matter the way a pitchfork sticks the soil, I dictate.

Dictating allows me to mentally organize my thoughts, to make sense of the chaos of storytelling, and gets me on my way to a productive writing session. And I’m in good company.

Linda S. Clare also champions dictation in an article she wrote this week, titled: Writing While Walking. And Linda cautions that dictation alone won’t a story make. You must also commit yourself to putting your butt in the chair and actually translating your dictations into text or using an AI tool like a personal secretary. The bonus of dictating while moving is that is combines creative energy with physical activity, a powerhouse duo that supports mental and emotional health.

And being healthy is a solid productivity hack in itself.

If you’re the type of person, however, who prefers the indoors, doesn’t always have their phones on them, or otherwise dislikes the idea of speaking their story into existence, you may prefer a method closer to the hand: pen and paper.

This week, R.J. Huneke for SFWA wrote an article titled, Writing SFF With Paper And Pen Spurs Memory And Creativity. The neuroscientific research is enough to make this article a worthwhile read, and what I liked most about it was the acknowledgment that we are more active in our thinking, synthesizing, and editing when we write by hand. In fact, writing by hand often translates to less time spent developing our writing because we’re more in tune with our words from the get-go.

Part of story development comes in developing the story for the intended reader. So when you’re mustering up the grit to get the writing done, come hell or high water, thinking about the future audience may set you up for the careful selection of words, settings, and situations most appropriate for the work.

This week, Eldred Bird for Writers In The Storm asks, Writers: Do You Know Your Audience? And it’s an important question. I mean, you’re probably not using words like “lugubrious” while penning middle-grade fantasy stories, or having your 40-something protagonist refer to their matriarch as “Mommy.” Certain (intentional) exceptions apply, of course, but you catch the drift.

Now, regardless of genre, intended reading age, and other audience factors, the role of the author is to get the reader to care about the story and the characters living it. And the key to caring is understanding the stakes at play in the story and why those stakes matter to the characters (and also to us as writers). Tiffany Yates Martin of FoxPrint Editorial shared an article this week titled, Character Stakes: The Key To Making Readers Care.

If the stakes are too low, readers won’t get much past “meh.”

It’s hard to care when there’s nothing to care about. And if there are no consequences for the choices made, the choices the characters face amount to little more than creative back-and-forth. The story then becomes about as exciting as watching a character select either the green T-shirt or the blue one.

Are you riveted?

But maybe you’re writing a more literary story, where the choices to move along the plot events are rather small or inconsequential to the world at large, even if they matter a whole lot to your character. How then can you get readers to care?

Humans are disastrously flawed. We procrastinate; we give up when faced with challenges; we think and talk negatively about ourselves and our situations. We daydream. We are bad at relationships. We don’t take care of ourselves. We spend time with the wrong people. We don’t take risks, or appreciate others enough, or work to keep our passion fires burning, or value our own time. And worst of all, we don’t like to fess up to our flaws.

Ane shared that if you’re a people watcher, you’ve seen a few flaws in action, from gluttony to addiction, gossip to envy, spoiled to abusive, tardiness to narcissism and everything in between. Peruse Ane’s bulleted lists of character traits and flaws for inspiration, and see how flawed (read: human) you can make your characters, so your readers see themselves in your book’s pages.

When writing (or dictating) your very human characters, don’t forget to give both your protagonist and antagonist attention, especially if your antagonist is an actual villain, not merely an environmental or social force.

Your villain may be the primary source of conflict for the hero in your story, but it’s unlikely you’re writing that villain as a two-dimensional moustache twister like Snidely Whiplash. Instead, your villain should have positive traits that shine through the negative so they become complex individuals with complex motivations, goals, and needs — not just archetypes. This week, Arja Salafranca for Now Novel wrote an article titled, Exploring The Depths Of Villainy, which talks through how to write villains well.

In the article, Arja wrote that, “Villains serve as reflections or mirrors of humanity. We all have aspects of ‘villainous’ behavior in us, and there are few among us who haven’t done something which we’re ashamed of.” And while Arja points out that some stories need villains, like crime thrillers for example, all novels can benefit from well-written villains, even those using villains as sociopolitical or cultural placeholders.

So make your readers care about your hero, but don’t forget to share that care with your villain if you want to write a story that persists in the minds and hearts of your readers.

At some point during your writing, something interesting will happen: Motivation, purpose, and a vision for the future of your work will emerge, like the Lady of the Lake, and you may feel a surge of strength, as if your pen has become Excalibur itself. Use this newfound strength to propel your writing career and keep yourself safe while doing it.

I know we’re all using social media as a marketing tool these days, and it seems like everyone has a personal brand. But even if your social media accounts are blowing up, don’t overlook that notion of audience ownership.

I know, I know. Some of you hate this term, but hear me out.

If you use platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, or others to build your audience, the platform owns that audience. The key to cultivating an enduring career is to call your audience to you on a more personal level, to get them off-platform and into your contacts. That’s why, when I talk with new authors and even editors, I relay the importance of having an email list.

Dale L. Roberts and Holly Greenland for Self Publishing Advice teamed up for a podcast episode this week titled, Five Reasons Authors Need An Email List, so listen in and start future-proofing your writing career.

Have Feedback?

The right writing advice for one person is trash for another, so when writing these articles for you, I try to keep the information high level enough to apply to most genres and broad enough to speak to most writers. But I also know I can’t please everybody all the time. So, I’d love your help.

Please take a moment to let me know in the comments what advice is effective and what is not effective. And if you have burning questions or topics you’d love to see covered, hit me with ’em. Your feedback will help me curate better content tailored to you.

Happy writing!


Want More?

I like your style, you go-getter, you.

Maria Korolov at MetaStellar Magazine collects at least 50 links each week, far more advice than I could share in a single article, so be sure to check out the overflow at MetaStellar if you need something I didn’t include.

Peruse, choose, and use at will.

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