Take Your Writing to the Next Level

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How can you become a better writer? Let people rip your work to shreds so you can rearrange the pieces to create a shinier, more engaging novel. Ok, maybe that’s a bit drastic, but by how much? I’ve had many conversations with newer writers who think their novel is done but it’s only been read by their mom or a friend. What? That is not the kind of feedback that will lead to quality. It might boost the ego. I mean, how many moms are going to say your manuscript sucks? A few, yes, but most would not.

You cannot write your best piece of work without high-quality feedback from multiple people. You need people to read it who know about the craft of writing, are discerning and careful enough to pick up on problem areas as well as strengths, and most importantly, have the gumption to tell you the truth about things.

Case in point: The Muse Crew. They just finished reading a draft of my incredibly rough (did I mention this was very rough?) draft of my 4th book. I knew it needed lots of work. It was only my first go of translating ideas to page. I had the group read it early in the writing process so I could think about the overall content, character arc, and story arc as I did my intense revisions. I did this before with the group and it worked well if I could handle the critiques. You have to expect them that early (and even later) in the game. The rewards that come with those hits to my self-esteem are well worth it. I get a sense of what works in the big picture and what doesn’t. I see the story more clearly as I understand how others are interpreting it.

There is always someone in the group who picks up on something that I didn’t think of and that will require quite a bit of reworking. When this happens, there is this moment where everything slows down like in the fighting moments of The Matrix (or insert your favorite action movie here). In that slow-motion moment, I briefly become a broken writer. I thought I had one thing but now I see through the eyes of others that my characters need more development to reach the level I was shooting for or that maybe there is a plot hole that will lead to major revisions. Whatever it is, it hurts for a moment (or to be honest two). Then, there is the slow-motion rally, where I switch movements, thwart the negativity (or in our analogy here, the bad guy) and move forward with action and back to regular speed.

I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. Constructive criticism can be difficult to take, especially when it means more work. But, look carefully at the constructive. It will help you build a better version of your book and make you a stronger writer. The end goal should be to produce our best. In order to do that, you need to have multiple high-quality critiques from people that you trust who know about writing. Then, look carefully at their comments, take what you can from them, let go of the ones that aren’t helpful, and create a shinier version of your masterpiece.

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

Write What You Know

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Write What You Know…

It’s a phrase attributed to Mark Twain but I’m not sure what he meant by it. I don’t want to speculate on his thoughts. I just want to take the phrase and dissect it. See what its insides look like, dig for any value, sift through the interpretations.

How can we write what we know? In non-fiction, this seems like a valuable approach. We don’t want to learn how to be happy from angry people. It doesn’t make sense to write about building things if all you have ever built is a sandwich. We certainly don’t want to hear financial advice from a person in debt. You get the idea.

Yet, in fiction, it seems like we must write what we don’t know. How boring would fiction be if we didn’t? We’d be severely limited by writing about our singular existence. Isn’t the point of fiction to do more than the ordinary and to reach into the extraordinary? If we can’t imagine a better existence, how can we create one? We can create worlds with alien creatures, out of body experiences, incredible adventures that change who we are, or worlds where peace reigns. The possibilities are endless. The world would be sad if we confined ourselves to only what we know.

With that being said, there are some grains of truth within this phrase that do apply to fiction. We need to be cautious and learn about the worlds we create. We must make our fictional worlds believable, and in order to do that, you have to create them and know them in your mind. If you don’t bother to do that, your readers won’t either.

We can’t just imagine what it’s like to be a person completely different from us. We must research things to make them believable. We have to be astute observers of the world around us to create characters that seem real. If you’ve never heard a person from the south talk, you will probably ruin their accent in your writing. If you’ve never stepped outside your own experience to imagine the experience of others, you may never reach the full potential of your character creation. Research to know your fiction and it will be more powerful.

So, to avoid creating books where we’re given bad directions and false information or offered flimsy fiction with no backbone of consistency and sense, we do need to heed Twain’s advice. Then, on the other hand, we need to reach deep into our creativity to give life to things that are new and interesting. Those things we create we should know intimately by fleshing out our world and characters to create believable fiction. The answer to Twain’s advice, like many things, lies in the middle.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this phrase. Please share.

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

How Misdirection Makes Your Novel Interesting

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I never know where I’m going and neither should your reader!  Okay, never is an exaggeration, but I have what I like to call directional dyslexia. I know they haven’t created this term yet (that I know of) and I’m not belittling dyslexic people (many of my students are dyslexic) but I literally get directions turned around in my head. If I make five turns, then reverse order, I often want to go the opposite way! I don’t know why! If I think it through, I can get it, but it is tough for me!

Why am I sharing this embarrassing detail? Well, I feel like books need to do this to us on occasion. I don’t mean never let your reader know where your story is going, but certainly don’t give them a perfect map with precise directions. Give them MIS-direction.

I have to be honest here, if I read a book and I know within the first few chapters where the story is going, I feel cheated! Why should I give up my precious time to something so predictable? I’ve read lots of books, watched my share of movies, I have an idea how these things work. It doesn’t mean that I need the tables turned 100% every time, but give me something interesting. Don’t just replicate a story that’s already been told! UGH!

How do we do that? There are lots of strategies to achieve this. The one we’re focused on today is misdirection. Misdirection means exactly what you’d think…point your reader in one direction while going the other. This can be subtle or a big part of the story. Use your judgement for what is best for your book.

There are many ways to accomplish this. The options are limitless. Want grand examples? Think of Snape in Harry Potter. What did you think of him in the first few books as opposed to the end? Remember the movie Sixth Sense? The whole movie rests upon masterful misdirection. I’ve added some links below if you want to further explore this technique.

Just make them wonder. Respect your audience. They don’t want to be spoon fed a story. They want to be enthralled with one. Misdirection is one of the things we can do to help accomplish this.

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-create-tension-through-misdirection

https://www.writing.ie/resources/the-unreliable-narrator-the-art-of-misdirection/

https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/articles/the-art-of-misdirection

Happy Writing,

Madelyn

 

Something to Muse about…

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The Muse Crew

Do you like books? Do you write books? Are you a person, with a pulse? Well, you’ve got to check out my newest project.  The Muse Crew 

These ladies and I have shared so much through the years…thought provoking discussions, tear-inducing laughter, and the tremendous growth of our writing skills (which both tears at the ego and then rebuilds it).

Now, we’re ready to share the wonders of our group with the WORLD! Yes, I’m thinking big here…world! So, if you like to read books, then take a look, because we’re working to find the best of the bestbooks. Writers, we’ve got your back because we’re willing to review your high quality books.

Please, come and join us, you’re sure to find something to make the visit worth your time at The Muse Crew.

Happy Reading,

Madelyn March

 

Unbound

 

I am bound by my maladies–

fears, pain, insecurity, perception,

they keep me from seeking,

they keep me from being,

all that I could be–

my dreams, possibilities, potential,

left like limping question marks.

They shall claim my life no longer.

Freedom is not free,

but I am ready, willing, able

to stake claim and break these chains,

no longer shall fear shackle and bind me,

it will not control me.

I will chart my route, take the steps,

not without fear, but in the face of it.

 

Madelyn March

 

Dreams

“Dreams.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Immerse yourself in yours.  Remember, they exist today, in the here and now, in the what you do in this very moment.  Dream big, break goals down small, and start checking them off the list.  It’s empowering.”

This is part of an email I sent to some of the high school students that I work with.  One of my jobs is to mentor students in an online program.  Many of these teens need to hear that they are capable, that dreams are possible, and other positive affirmations.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for all of us to dream, and dream big.

Whatever the goal–being a writer, promoting world peace, making a decent living doing something you love–it is okay, imperative even, that we are dreamers.  Dreamers have created the beautiful parts of humanity and advancements that have altered how we live.  So, go ahead, dream a little, and if you have kids, encourage their dreams too!

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United We Write

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I am a lucky gal.  I’m part of a writing group that challenges me to be a better writer, tells me when my writing rant has gone horribly wrong, and notices my strengths.  I suspect that I might not have finished three novels without their continued support and I’m certain that my stories wouldn’t be as good without the critiques of my writing sisters.

We didn’t set out to be a women’s writing group.  We’ve had men before, they just didn’t stay.  Could it have been that we have some romance writers?  I mean some of their stuff makes my cheeks glow fire red.  Maybe it was too much for them.

I’m not suggesting that you seek out an all male or all female group (so stop writing the hate mail right now).  I am insisting that you find a writing group that feeds your talent. I’ve said it before, you can’t grow as a writer without input from people reading your stuff. You can’t!!!  Or, if you can, it’s at a snail’s pace.  Trust me.

Anyway, I’m thinking about my sisterhood of writers, otherwise known as the Muse Crew, because we’re going to start a writing and reviewing website/blog.  We’ve been working together for years, expanding our writing skills, critiquing the work of others, and exploring countless nuances of the writing process.  Now, we’re going to invite others to share in our discussions and help other authors (many of them will be self published) by reviewing their work.

Did I say that we’re not any ordinary group of writers?  We all come from vastly different life experiences and writing backgrounds.  That’s part of what makes this group so special. (Am I partial? Yes, but you would be too!).  Our group combines expertise in the areas of writing, editing, psychology, teaching, business, and more.  We have writers in different genres of fiction and non-fiction.  Our varied backgrounds give us unique perspectives to what we read and have enriched the way we approach authorship. We are driven by our shared passion for the well-written page.

You can probably tell that I could go on, and on…. and… well, you get it.  It’s a great group of women and I look forward to expanding our writing journey online.  I’m telling you so that you know and if you have suggestions about what you would like in a website and blog like this, please share them in the comments.

Happy writing!

Madelyn

 

 

Who’s Driving This Story?

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Yes, I’ve had a bit of a blogging break, but I rarely take a break from thinking about writing.  What’s been on my mind this summer is an issue I’ve had with my second novel.  I’ve been revising it and changing the POV and tense.  I’m changing it from third-person past tense to first-person present tense.

I’m not switching tense and POV for fun because it is TOUGH work!   In fact, I dragged my feet in protest, but the story insisted on being told this way.  I think the present tense and first-person narrative will increase the tension, intensify the action, and give the reader more insight into the character.  My goal is to create a mind-bending novel and I think this approach will help. If it were any other novel, I would likely write it in third-person past tense or at least past tense.  It is tough writing this way.  Did I already say that?

(I would give specifics about why it works for this story, but I hate giving the plot away to books that aren’t out!)

As I researched the advantages and disadvantages of this POV, I found that some people are very offended by this type of writing.  I’ve read horror stories from other writers that people have given them bad reviews for this POV without even reading the book!!!  How do you feel about this POV and tense?

Sometimes stories demand certain things from us.  They may scream it from the mountaintops or whisper it in our dreams.  In this case, my story kept pushing to be told from this particular perspective.  What are some demands your stories have made of you?

If you’re facing this dilemma, here are some resources that will help:

https://preciseedit.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/writing-fiction-in-the-present-tense/

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-tense/

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-tense/

http://booksbywomen.org/writing-advice-past-tense-present-tense/

Another great resource is to read authors who have written good stories from this perspective.

Happy Writing,

Madelyn

It’s Out!!!

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This day took a mountain of other days to reach, but finally, publishing day has arrived!  Am I nervous?  Yes!  But I’m ready to offer Anna’s story to others and hope that they find the experience worthwhile.

Read it for free!  It’s available on Kindle for free starting tomorrow.  Read the blurb below, if it’s not your genre of choice, no problem, but please pass it along if you know of someone who might enjoy it.

Darkness is growing within Anna Montagna and she can’t control it. She’s hurt someone that she loves. She fears that mental illness is descending upon her, like it did her mother, except her mother never hurt anyone.  Scared and alone, Anna flees to small-town Mikamaw in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to save her family from the monster that she has become.

Anna hopes to find anonymity and solitude in Mikamaw, but instead finds a slightly-psychic friend, nosy locals, and the healing nature of the landscape. Despite the hundreds of miles Anna travels to escape her past, it continues to haunt her.  She tries to drown her life’s regrets in alcohol and deep water, but they always resurface. When her husband and best friend find her in Mikamaw, she must decide whether to confront the past or turn and keep running.

Are You a Writer?

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When is it okay to call yourself a writer?

If you are reading this, you probably have some interest in writing.  Have you written poetry, essays, novels, or all of the above?  Do you call yourself a writer?

When is it okay to label ourselves as such?  For me, this was tough.  I am not the type to talk much about myself, much less advertise that I write novels.  I know, we have to promote ourselves and such, but like many “writers” it’s just not my thing.

I have spent years writing, editing, and working to grow as a writer, but I still find it difficult to label myself as much.  We had a similar conversation a long while back in my writing group and someone simply said to me, “you are a writer” and hearing it come from someone else’s lips helped quite a bit.

Now when the what-do-you-do conversation comes up, I list my other occupations and include that I write novels.  It’s hard for me not to cast my eyes down when I say this part but I resist because if I can’t call myself a writer, why would anyone else?

So, when should we call ourselves writers?  When the big publishing house calls?  After our self-published books sales reach some magic number?  Or after we’ve invested years of time and energy in developing the craft even if the masses yet haven’t consumed it?

I’m not blogging this because I have the answer, clearly I don’t!!!  But I’m curious on your thoughts out there.  So, I put it to you…  When did you start calling yourself a writer?  Or when will you?