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  • Writer's pictureFallon Clark

Write While Nobody is Watching

MetaStellar Magazine's Writing Advice of the Week for April 7, 2024

Want the video instead? Watch it on Rumble.


“No one is waiting for you.”


Brenden Pugh for Writing Quest offers this powerful punch of a six-word sentence to kick off this week’s writing advice in his video, Books Worth Writing Are Worth The Time Needed To Write Them. Brenden suggests (and tell me if this is you) that newer writers feel a pressure to write books in a certain amount of time or they’re somehow failing at the business of writing.


I understand why they may believe they need to write books on a deadline; I’ve helped authors do just that. Setting goals to stay focused is kind of my thing. Deadlines are good. They help motivate and keep on task. Many writers agree.


In his craft book, Story Engineering, Larry Brooks posits that you can write a novel in about eight weeks when you plan properly and understand your turning points. And the prolific Stephen King discusses a 90-day timeline in his memoir, On Writing. These compressed timelines work well for writers making careers of their works because they have the hours each day to write.


Most of the authors I work with, though, don’t have that kind of time. They’re parents, caretakers, employees, volunteers, and freelancers writing books as a side hustle, often after their daily obligations are done and their brains have already been properly fried by any number of stressors. Some of my clients can dedicate 30 minutes per day to their writing, some an hour, and some don’t even write daily because they know their limitations and how to manage their energy stores.


Whether you’re committed to writing daily, a few days a week, or whenever the mood strikes you, there’s no reason to rush through your work. In fact, committing yourself to your writing, no matter what form that commitment takes, is a big part of successful writing. And according to Hilary Linnertz, “Success is dying knowing you did your best every single day.” Her article, Commitment = Setting Yourself Up For Success for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, explores what it means to be successful and how to achieve success by committing yourself to it.


All the goals and vision boards in the world can’t replace dedication to the act of writing. I’ve said it before: To write a book, you have to write a book. There’s no other way around this fundamental step. To do that, though, often means knowing at least a little about craft.

Character arc is a large part of craft. Even plot-based stories often have a character arc of one kind of another, loose as it may be, to fit the tale being told. This week, Philip Athans for Fantasy Author’s Handbook asks Do Your Characters Exhibit Greatness And Grandeur? And he takes a wide view of greatness and grandeur, explaining that even the ordinary doesn’t have to feel so.


Athans shows his wisdom when he says, “We all need to start with characters who are in one way or another “grounded” but as soon as possible start to lift them out of the ordinary and into . . . well, wherever the heck you want them to be.”


Backing up that smart statement is this one by Angela Ackerman for Writers Helping Writers from her article, Why Writers Should Use Psychology In Their Storytelling: A writer’s job is to do one thing well: pull the reader in.


What’s better to pull in readers than inviting them into the swirling abyss that is the writer’s brain?


Using psychology in storytelling means understanding the underlying physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences your characters may face as they make choices and navigate or direct plot events. Stories rife with tension — the kind that keeps readers . . . well, reading — are full of moments that matter, moments that agitate, moments that disrupt, challenge, and test.


Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort you feel when your thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, or values are contradicted. Most humans suffer this to some degree, and since characters are people too, well . . . you know what to do.


When you’re doing the thing, Janice Hardy for Fiction University offers 3 Mistakes To Avoid When Creating Stakes In Your Story. Don’t start too high; escalate and continue escalating; keep things personal. Hardy reminds us that, for many readers, the broad ending of the story is known. Hardy writes, “The killer will be caught, the girl will be rescued, the world will be saved. Stakes that only focus on the win or lose aspect are weak, because no one truly thinks the protagonist will lose.”


This is largely true, and there are writers and creatives alike who snub their noses to ideas of originality in storytelling (here, here, and here, for example), those who point out that all the stories have been told; writers just put their own spins to them, add their voices, and churn stories out afresh.


After all, if I asked you to share with me the title of a story you read with a last-minute rescue of a damsel in distress, a monster in a house, or an inanimate object that played a character role, I bet you could give me one.


The originality of any story comes in the how. One obvious but sometimes overlooked way to enhance character interactions and show psychology and stakes at work to create the feeling of originality for the reader is in choosing the right settings.


K.M. Weiland for Helping Writers Become Authors shares How To Choose Story Settings: The 4 Basic Types Of Setting. Weiland points out that the setting chosen shouldn’t just be whatever the author desires it to be but what the characters need. And characters, just like people, are social beings whose motives, goals, and hang-ups come through to the reader more clearly when the characters have a chance to talk with each other, to share a space or a moment, to react, to reflect.


And some stories focus much on the setting, especially when the story is one of institutionalization, such as Barbara Taylor’s memoir, The Last Asylum, or Crystal Hana Kim’s literary novel, The Stone Home.


If you’re writing an institutionalization-centric story, Robert Lee Brewer interviewed Crystal Hana Kim on beginning with a premise and a question for Writer’s Digest. Kim discusses how The Stone Home (which is now on my TBR) came about and how dramatically it changed from inception to publication. And there’s some subtext in the article too, a nudge for pre-writing research to really understand from what perspective your characters operate in the world you’re creating.


While starting a book with a premise and a question makes sense, you’ll also need to get to the end. PeggySue Wells for The Write Conversation shares Unexpected Tips About Writing The Last Chapter Of Your Book. In the article, Wells urges you to pace the ending, surprise the reader, tie up loose ends, and close the proverbial loop for both characters and the reader, to share a few points from the article.


But if the ending of your story eludes you or you find that the story’s ending falls flat, ask yourself whether you’ve checked on your story’s throughline in a while.


Stories have a way of changing even as write them. What might have started as a rom-com can become a literary novel. A quippy space race may become an historical saga. Keeping in mind that Kim wrote and revised The Stone Home over seven years, by the time you write the ending of your story, you may be rather disconnected from the beginning.


Chris Winkle for Mythcreants writes Finding Your Story’s Throughline, a practical guide to ensure the ending of your story matches or responds to the beginning.


If your main character travels to a strange land, sees all the things, and is transformed by the peculiar new world, the ending should show either the character’s return to their homeland as a changed person or their resolve to remain in the strange land.


If the story begins with a question (What was that?), you must answer it at the end (A hairy, scary monster!).


If there’s a catastrophic event threatening the status quo . . . you get the idea.


And, of course, once the story is complete and ready for the world, you’ll need to tell the world it exists! Get ideas on Different Ways To Market Your Book With Joanna Penn for The Creative Penn, which covers a host of techniques to get the word out. Penn also reminds us that there’s no right way to market a book, no magic bullets. You have to show up consistently. So do the marketing or ask for some help to make sure readers know your work exists and can try it for themselves.


And when you’re thinking about marketing, remember that word of mouth is the most powerful way to market your books, though word-of-mouth marketing is well outside your control. What you can control, though, is crafting stories your readers want to shout from rooftops.


One piece of marketing many authors overlook, at least early in their careers, is the almighty website, that sacred space on the interwebs dedicated to you, your work, your readers, and your people, broadly. If you’re thinking about creating your website or are looking at your (lack of) website traffic in disdain, Lisa Norman for Writers In The Storm shares The Truth About Website Growth.


If you’re an elder millennial like me, you may remember the spectral voice in Field of Dreams whispering to Kevin Costner’s character as he treks through his corn field:

If you build it, they will come.


It’s a nice saying, but, like the promise of cake in Portal, it’s a lie . . . as least as it pertains to websites.


Because if you build a website and then never touch it again, site visitors most assuredly will not come. Write those blogs, entertain the future site visitor, refresh your content, and consistently release new content for readers to mull over.


Given that website creation is an iterative process, take the time to build your little bookish corner of the wild web while nobody is watching.


 

Have Feedback?

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.


Did I overlook a golden nugget of advice you heard this week?

Have something else to add?

Just want to say, “hello?”


Comment below and start a conversation.


Happy writing!

♥ Fal

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