Guest Post For Wide Open Writing

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Hi everyone 🙂

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to be a guest writer for Wide Open Writing, an awesome place that supports writers on their specific goals, by connecting them to resources and others who share their vision. They offer online courses, virtual writing groups, retreats, and so much more that I would like to participate in the future.

Nevertheless, they also run a blog, featuring posts from writers sharing helpful advice or discussing specific writing projects and goals. I really can’t say enough, so I encourage everyone to check out their website to see what I mean.

My post featured is on finding success as a published writer. I wrote this originally a few years ago, but it has since been updated to reflect how I currently feel. I mention four major things that I think are essential to finding and keeping success, whatever success means to you in terms of your writing. But ultimately, I point out what is truly important in being a successful writer and why that must be the foundation in order for success to be possible. I think for those of us who write, we already know what that is.

Here’s the link to the guest post: Finding Success As A Published Writer

How Do You Come Up With A Book Title?

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For many of the stories I’ve written, coming up with titles was no struggle at all. They simply just came to me—popped up in my mind like it was meant to be. For 2 of my stories, the titles arrived before I even started writing the stories.

However, with the story I recently completed, I am still without a title that I feel would represent the story. And to make things a little bit challenging is I have very few ideas. Before and probably due to titles coming so easily for me, I thought titles were one of the easiest things to decide when putting a book, or story, together. Now I am beginning to find them to be just as challenging as creating physical character descriptions.

A title is essentially like the book cover, a gateway or introduction to the story. Just like a book cover, a title is one of the first things that will capture the reader’s interest and draw them to reading the book. There could be a great story that lies within the book, but if the title is not capturing, many readers will bypass it.

Here are 2 major challenges I currently face in developing a great story title:

Challenges:

• Common Titles

Common titles consist of words or phrases that have been heard many times in many places, such as “My [brother’s] Keeper”. I remember for my 2nd story, I was going to title it, “My Daughter’s Keeper”, but at the time I was hearing movies and books with that title and felt it was not unique and may get lost in the shuffle. And that is the concern with common titles. If there are many items (books, movies, etc.) with the same title out there it may be difficult for one’s book to stand out. However, if one strongly believes that the title represents their story well and it is the only one that will do, stay true to that title.

• Vague Titles

Vague titles consist of words that do not necessarily tell what the story is about, such as “Christy” or “It”. In a way, a vague story title, such as these, might draw readers’ interest because it presents itself as a mystery, but this all goes back to the challenge of whether the title is representing the story correctly. To me, if I give a vague title, then I feel my story must be one of mystery or that it is solely based on the subject or character of the title. And in the end, with a vague title, will it fade into the background, never to stand out?

Here are 6 suggestions on how to develop a great story title. These suggestions developed while I was doing internet research and these are things I will utilize as I develop a title for my story.

Suggestions:

• Avoid Dull Titles

This is related to what I mentioned in the challenges earlier. Readers will be drawn more to titles such as “Gone With The Wind” and “Watership Down”, then “The House” or another title that has been heard many times before.

• Create A Rememberable Title–Literally

Titles that are simple but bold are likely to stay in readers’ mind for a long while or forever. And a rememberable title is likely to be marketed easier through readers and anyone in the literary business. So one should stay away from titles, such as “Murder on the Wzcyiubjekistan Express”. Instead, it may be easier to abbreviate Wzcyiubjekistan to “W” and include the actual name in the blurb.

• Create An Appropriate Title

This is similar to what I was explaining in the challenge of vague titles. One should choose a title that will not give the reader a different idea or sense of what the story is about. If I choose a title “Christy”, the reader might interpret the story as a mystery. Of course the book cover may change that a little, but in either case, the reader may think the story is about the character, Christy. If that is not the case, choosing such a title may not be ideal. Another example of this mentioned in a website was a book called, “Secret Lovers”. The book is about spies who love secrets, but because of the title, many readers thought it was a romance book.

• Look For Key Words Hidden In The Story

One way to begin developing a title is to look at key words hidden in the story that illustrate important parts or messages. Maybe the key word could be a place, location, object, thought, feeling, person—something that stands out and plays a big role in the story.

• Enhance Key Words

Once one discovers what that key word or words are, one should think about how they can describe them to make them stand out more. For example, if the key word is “music box”, what is it about that music box in the story that makes it unique or intriguing? Is it the way it looks, behaves, or even how it came to be?

And even with key words, one should think about not using the exact word in the title. So instead of, “The Lonely Music Box”, maybe one could use, “The Lonely Tune” or “The Barren Tune”.

• Combine Title With Cover Design

As mentioned earlier, depending on one’s story and the message or “feeling” one wants the reader to get by reading their story, sometimes the title in combination with the cover design can make a big difference in drawing the reader’s interest. Sometimes a vague or common title that were challenges can become powerful and stand out with a strong cover design. In the end, the writer will know best, but as I sort out how to come up with a great title, I hope my suggestions and what I discovered are helpful. Below I will include the link to a website that has great advice and examples on how to develop a strong book title. It is from this website, where I pulled some examples as well.

Writing-World.Com

Finding Success As A Writer: Part 4

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***If you haven’t read my previous post to this topic, Click Here.

TIP #4:

HUMBLE YOURSELF

Learning how to accept or even hear feedback is not always easy, especially when negative. However, I believe it is essential in order to develop fearlessness.

Humbling yourself doesn’t always mean not being boastful or arrogant over your work, although that is another thing to be mindful of. It is being able to accept criticism or negative responses of your work without being defensive or giving up. Some criticism is good because it can bring to light aspects of your writing that may not be connecting with others. Especially with my lyrical poetry I really appreciated the feedback I received early on because it helped me recognize areas in my writing or habits in my writing that made it difficult to understand or read (i.e. wordiness). Looking back, I see these problems and I am thankful I was able to get such feedback. I believe that when one humbles one’s self, they are able to clear—open their mind to see things that may not have been obvious to them. Of course all this is useful when you receive constructive criticism and not vague criticism, such as “I don’t like this.”

Another point, and one that I have come to realize, is that negative feedback is inevitable, especially as your audience grows. And some may provide constructive criticism that you may not agree with. At the end of the day, and especially if they are not pointing out typos or errors, it is best to take them with a grain of salt and move on. Some feedback may be valuable, but a lot is opinion. You as a writer know your work best. Decide what to do with the feedback you receive—take it or leave it. But anticipate these things, don’t take them personal, and use feedback to build fearlessness and grow as a writer.

IN CONCLUSION:

The best thing to do in ensuring successful publishing and long-term success in your writing is to have Passion, Patience, Humbleness, and Fearlessness. Building an audience, getting your work to be read and heard by others, takes time, it does not happen overnight. For me, I learned to never forget, never lose the reason I began writing in the first place—because I enjoyed it. To me, writing was my outlet to set my mind free, to express how I felt about others, things, and myself. It was my chance to create a world—a life in which I didn’t necessary live in but envisioned where I saw myself. It was a chance for me to face challenges that even as I write, I didn’t know how they would play out. Your writing should be genuine—you should have fun. If you don’t have that, then nothing else will surface. Don’t see your audience as a number, a goal to obtain. See them as an important community to interact with, get to know, and learn from. To me, any important audience is one that is responding to what you do, whether big or small.

But quite possibly the biggest most important thing I have come to realize is this: creative writing is more of an art than a structured, technical, construction which must meet criteria and follow guidelines in order to be relevant or successful. When one focuses more on the business side of writing, writing can lose its “art” and start to be tedious work as it was starting to become for me. There is no wrong or right way to write a story or poem—or any literary work, as long as it is readable and free of errors, such as grammar and spelling. It is worth being shared and read by others. There is no unintentional silly or nonsense story, poem, or literary work because you never know what readers will like. Who knows, your off-trend and unique writing could start a new trend as others have done before.

Finding Success As A Writer: Part 3

misty swamp

***If you haven’t read my previous post to this topic, Click Here.

“A Writer Must Take Risks And Humble Themselves. They Must Not Fear What Lies Ahead Or The Unknown.”

 TIP #3:

TAKE RISKS

This was a major problem area for me and still is in a way, although I have improved in the past year. As a writer, don’t be afraid to share—put what you feel is your best work, out there. Don’t be afraid to make sacrifices, of money especially, to create something that is professional and stands out. And don’t be afraid to make big steps, such as traveling to events, conferences, and other opportunities that arise and are within your reach to achieve your writing goals. Of course when I say do not be afraid to take risks, what I really mean is well thought out and purposeful risks. If you feel in your mind that you must do something in order to move toward reaching your writing goals, that is the type of risks I mean. Not risks that don’t ensure a high likelihood of success or one that risks losing or hindering something of more importance.

Going back to exposing your writing, there may be hesitance for a number of reasons. I had this problem and in some cases still do. One of my reasons was thinking that others would see my writing as silly. However, I learned that my writing is not going to appeal to everyone but at least someone and that is what matters. When it comes to taking risks, evaluate and weigh out your reasons, get feedback from others, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to take them. That is the only way your work will reach others and you will achieve your goals.

Finding Success As A Writer: Part 2

misty swamp

***If you haven’t read my previous introduction post to this topic, Click Here.

TIP #2:

PATIENCE

This is very important. More than many may realize. Without patience, decisions will be poorly thought out that can lead to failure and spiral to where one may give up entirely in writing or publishing one’s work. When I think of patience, self-publishing comes to mind. From what I have heard from others, many do not take the time to put together a well-written story or book. A self-published book can contain grammar and spelling errors and the cover can look elementary. I’ve seen some and though a book with errors and a bad cover does not mean the contents—the story itself, is bad—it could be a diamond in the rough, it masks its true quality and can deter others from wanting to read it.

I can relate to this when I first self published my 2 poetry books. Although I thought my cover and contents were error free and okay, I thought it could have been better developed. I don’t know how others who came across the books perceived them. One thing I didn’t do was take the time to have it reviewed by others or even sought services to design the cover to what I believe represented the collection of poems (the cover was an old photo but not one created or taken specifically for the book). But I had little money and was anxious to put them out there. Since it could be done on Amazon CreateSpace—I thought it didn’t matter. If I had patience, I would have done more research and waited until I had the financial resources to create a professional book.

But besides the product is the marketing piece which definitely relies on patience. I honestly believe the greatest determiner of selling your writing, whether through self-publishing or a publishing company is if you have an established audience. If you don’t have an audience by the time you publish your work, it will be challenging to reach success in selling, though it is not impossible. If you have strong connections that can promote your work though such means as word of mouth, or if the book (title, cover, blurb) stands out, success can be found without an established audience. But again, it takes time to establish an audience and strong connections, or even develop and put together a stand out book. It takes time to establish things, even build funds to create something great. It takes time to write a solid story or collection of poetry—whatever you write. It takes time to learn about publishing and marketing. It just takes time. But with time and patience, one can build a solid foundation for future years and literary works to come.

Finding Success As A Writer: Part 1

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There are many tips and advice out there on how to find success as a writer. What I mean when I say success is, becoming a published (whether self published or traditionally published) writer who is able to make a living writing and selling their work. With all the information out there, it can be overwhelming and different people are going to have different ways of finding success. However, I do not think that any of the information out there is false or ineffective to finding success, for if it worked for one writer, why not share what worked with other writers who are trying to find success. Anyways, to get straight to the point, through my “research” and hearing from successful writers, I have boiled down my advice for success to 4 tips. I believe if you have these tips and hold on to them, eventually you will find success as a published writer.

“A Writer Must Have A Solid Foundation. They Must Possess Passion and Patience.”

TIP #1:

PASSION

I believe that those who enjoy writing—to where they believe it is their calling and their life’s work, will never give up in the process. It is simply what they do.

There was a time, especially when I was writing songs, that I aspired to be a songwriter. I joined local music associations/clubs/groups to network and build connections. I thought about enrolling in music schools. I even thought about traveling across the country for internships and jobs in the music industry. I entered many songwriting contests and competitions. Though I got some recognition for my efforts, many things fell through and I became unwilling to take any chances as I realized the odds of becoming a successful songwriter was small. So I turned my focus to other more attainable careers if not meaningful to me. But nevertheless, I still wrote lyrical poetry and even music for fun. It was something I enjoyed and at the time I wasn’t sure if I would ever share them with others.

So with this story in mind, one must have passion. One must naturally find interest in writing and want to write whether they become published or not, receive recognition or not, make income from it or not. Passion is what is going to banish discouragement when specific goals are not met or dreams do not work out. Passion is going to be the driving force that picks one up, make one re-establish thoughts and goals, and pushes one to try again.

Character Descriptions: Personality and Behavior

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Personality and Behavior

Character descriptions are important in many stories. Especially if the story is not illustrated, where the reader can see how the characters look like–your vision, or the vision you want the reader to have of a character. To be honest, even after you describe a character, you and the reader’s vision may be different.

I find character descriptions to be the most challenging thing about writing a story. Often, I will put that off until after I’ve written the entire story. After writing the story, I will, during the editing process, go back and include descriptions. But even then, I feel the descriptions will be vague. The questions I have always asked myself when describing a character are:

  • Are they short, tall, or average height?
  • Are they over, under, or average weight?
  • Do they have grey, red, brown, black, yellow, green, or purple hair?

The list goes on. Although these descriptions are helpful for the reader to know since it will leave them with an idea of how the character looks like, to me, it doesn’t necessarily describe the character. It doesn’t really tell the reader anything unique about them.

Another favorite website of mine, Writing Helping Writers, has a library of character descriptions and list many ways to incorporate them into a story. The thing I like most about this website is though they discuss how to use physical attributes to describe a character, they also include how to use behavioral/emotional attributes to describe a character, which I believe is the most effective way of uniquely describing characters in a story. On this website, they list an attribute, for example sentimental, and give examples of stories that had characters who exhibit that behavior. They will also define what the attribute means, what causes one to have such an attribute, the positives and negatives of having the attribute, who likely has been portrayed as having the attribute (i.e. teenage girls, women, children), clichés to avoid when giving this attribute to a character, ways you can change the way you use this attribute, and conflicting characteristics you can also attach to a character who has this attribute to make them truly unique and interesting.

I discovered this website a year and a half ago, so in the struggle to bring my characters to life— give them more of a unique standing instead of just describing them physically, I believe this website made a difference in teaching me how to bring out my characters’ personalities, thus fully describing them. I think it is important to incorporate personality into physical descriptions. This is especially important if the character you are describing does not really have a unique physical attribute.

Quick Thoughts: Main Characters vs Extras

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Main Characters vs. Extras

In writing stories, I often wonder how much thought or emphasis should be put on secondary characters—characters that may only make an appearance for a moment or two within the story. Do they need to be described fully or can they only be described if they have a distinctive attribute that will add to the scene or part of the story?

For instance, in one of the stories I wrote, I thought every character had to be known. Even the baker that would sell bread would be described head to toe. The baker was not an important character in the story, he was more of an extra—someone the main character came in contact with in passing. Knowing how the baker looked may not matter much to the reader since this character would not make another appearance again and especially since there was nothing distinct about the character. But even if there was something distinct about the character, would that add to the plot of the story or goal/resolution that the main character is seeking?

Sometimes, through reading other stories, I find that even extras are fully described. I can see that being necessary or helpful when the author seeks to describe the atmosphere/environment in which the main character is in, the type of population/people, or maybe even an era/time period. In such cases, it would be a good idea to describe extras since it can enhance the reader’s understanding of the environment and time frame in which the story takes place. But sometimes, when such things do not matter, it may be nice to leave character descriptions of extras to the mind of the reader—let them imagine for a moment or two who or what that character is to them since it does not affect the story.

Quick Thoughts: Accuracy in Fiction

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How Important Is Real World/Historical Accuracy in Fiction

I guess the answer to this question should be simple—if the work is fiction then real world/historical accuracy should not matter. But for me, as a writer, this area has often disturbed me. I want to create a fictional world but certain things and subjects, such as royalty, culture, and environments have stumped me and made me feel that the story won’t be believable or that it won’t be taken seriously if I do not research and try to be somewhat accurate.

For example, in one of my stories that I have written, the characters are of royal descent. But I know little about royal titles and roles, so as I wrote the story, I made things up. Through reading the story back I felt, from a reader’s point of view, that it would be nice to know about the titles and roles that are within a royal life. So I felt I had to do research.

Another example is having characters of a certain cultural or ethnic background. In another story some of my characters are of Italian descent, although their background doesn’t have much to do with the plot of the story or how they react to situations—it is there mainly to introduce and describe them. I often wondered if it is even necessary to add information such as that if it will mean nothing in the story.

One last example is environment. In the current story I am writing, I created a fictional environment but I placed its location somewhere in the Middle East. Now that can change as I revise the story, but unless I do some research, I feel I would have to remove the Middle East and just make up an unknown and nonexistent land in order to make the environment believable.

These things and more make me think closely about accuracy  in fiction. From the books I have read, when I see descriptions of environment, culture/ethnicity, and titles, there has been research, even if simple, done to give the reader a sense of understanding of the plot that often can bring the story and character to life. As I think about it, research for accuracy does not have to be extensive, especially if the story is fictional and the plot is focused on other things than what is being researched, but it shouldn’t be completely ignored.

The Short Story Versus The Picture Book

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The Difference Between The Short Story and The Picture Book

I’ve viewed short stories and picture books similarly for a long time. When I wrote Seraphine’s Escape, which was intended to be an online picture story for The Sims website, I wrote it in the simplest way possible. There were very few descriptions and of those descriptions, they pertained to things that stood out and grabbed the main character’s attention, such as environments and surroundings. There were no descriptions that showed the reader how Seraphine—the main character, and other characters, looked like. And of those environmental descriptions, they were not extensive—there was still room for the reader to decide how the environment appeared to them in their mind if no pictures were present. All of this was not important to me as a writer because those descriptions would be seen—would speak for themselves through the pictures.

However, going back to the differences I see between short stories and picture books, some major difference are:

Descriptions versus No Description

In a picture book, there is no need for descriptions because those descriptions are being illustrated—the reader can see how the character, including their personalities and the environments in which they live in, look like. Sometimes with picture books, there may be some physical descriptions but they are likely to be few. Such descriptions usually come up when a reaction is being explained, such as the little girl was frightened when she saw the large monstrous dog with its piercing red eyes and shaggy orange fur. Or Martha was disappointed when she saw that the children had trashed the whole living room, leaving popcorn all over the floor, sofa, and tables and cola pop soaked heavily in her new embroidered area rug.

In a short story book, physical descriptions are just as important as they would be in a longer novel length book. Unlike a picture book, the writer cannot skimp on descriptions because there is no other support for those descriptions. A typical short story will not have pictures, although some child and young adult short stories have included drawings, like the Wonderful Wizard of Oz shown above.

Plot versus Message

Every story will have some sort of plot–some mission or problem that will have an end. In a picture book, the focus can be on the message because the plot may be incorporated in the illustration. A good example is the Berenstain Bears picture book series, such as The Truth About Strangers (or Count Their Blessings, shown above). The illustrations do a great job showing how the cubs interact with other bears daily, and gradually illustrating their realization about the dangers their interactions can cause. If one wanted to they could look at the illustrations alone and understand what is going on in the story. The written words add to the illustrations in conveying what the cubs learn about their behavior with others day to day and how to appropriately behave with strangers in the outside world. Without the written words–the plot, the story can still be understood but the words help summarize the message of the story.

In a short story book the plot is very important, sometimes more than the message because the plot adds to the interest and entertainment of the story. It is the plot where the characters are developed and introduced, and also where the problems are presented. Attention needs to be given to the plot to give the story meaning. Sometimes the message can be lost in a poorly developed plot. A strong plot is needed to bring the message into the light.

Building Connections versus Connected

This might be a questionable point, but I will plead my case. Having a reader connect with characters, or the main character, can be an important part of having the reader understand the message of the story. Pictures, even a cover picture, can effectively depict a character’s emotion, personality, actions, and more—things that help the reader relate and connect to them. Picture books have many opportunities to do that and more effectively, because the character is being seen through many difference situations and circumstances, showing their behavior and reactions to such things.

With short stories, the character and the connections take more time to build. In fact, more has to be done, in terms of writing, to accomplish that.

In sum, these differences are not to say that picture books are better or more successful than short story books. Picture books generally are written for children, with the exception of some comic or comic like books, which can be written for any age group. With this in mind, the overall goal of the picture book is to have illustrations that will speak for themselves and grab the reader’s attention, while short story books are written for older children and adults who although may not mind illustrations in their stories, will be able to grasp and find interest in more complex and descriptive writing, creating in their minds a world, or a similar world, the writer had in mind.