What's Horrifying to Writers?

Horror for Writers. What are your greatest fears? How can you keep those horror stories from happening to you?

Maybe this episode can help.

Welcome to the Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels who want to improve their skills. We focus on process, productivity, craft, and tools.

Just in time for Halloween, The Write Focus has 5 horror stories that any writer can face. While these can happen to anyone, a bit of due diligence now can prevent great unhappiness later.

Listen on PodBean only.  or on YouTube.

We’ve all heard the list of what writers shouldn’t do:

·         pester well-established writers for a newsletter swap or hashtag them in an announcement, in the hopes that they will spread your own announcement on.

·         Make public our jealousy about other people’s success.

·         Claim an honor that wasn’t deserved (like your small story in an anthology that became best-selling only because a best-selling author had the first story in the anthology). You then go on to claim best-selling status—when it wasn’t your story that sold the anthology.

·         Claiming an award or a skill that’s not really an award or a skill.

·         Not doing your research—your story gets factual information totally wrong or you never bother to look at basic writing information. You want other people to answer your questions quickly rather than spending the time to discover the answer for yourself.

These are all DON’Ts. They burn bridges, but they are not truly horrorifying.

Here are the 5 major Horrors that Writers can Face. These are true horrors that can send you into panic.

First major horror. Falling into Writer’s Block.

That’s a definite fall. We never expect writer’s block to happen. We wake up one morning and we can’t put words on the paper.

I’ve sent myself into Writer’s Block a couple of times. Once was when I was looking for a better / easier / faster way to get a novel written.

People tout outlining and blocking out scenes. That doesn’t work for me. It stymies me. A couple of years ago it stymied me for three solid months. Only when I abandoned the blocked scenes did the words surge back. I added a new character’s voice as a subprimary, and writing his scenes without plan broke the block.

Outlines must kill the surprise and curiosity that I need to get through the sloggy middle of a novel. I need that surprise and curiosity to get through the hardest part of writing.

My FIX for this mistake? I am still trying to ignore everyone else's solutions for writing and just doing what should come next for the story I want to tell. Remember, I understand story structure, so I understand pacing—which is what story structure is. I do have one structure that stays in mind while writing. That gives good guidance. I talked about it in the previous episode.

What about other kinds of writer’s block?

In my book Think like a Pro, I listed three reasons that writers tumble into writer’s block. Writer’s refusal. (That’s the one I previously encountered.) Writer’s procrastination. Writer’s inertia. All but inertia can be easily overcome. Take a quick break. Try writing something completely different for a few days. Then come back to your project and write the first sentence then the next and the next, aaaannnd the block is passed.

I’ve also experienced procrastination. Although my conscious brain didn’t tell me that something was wrong with my story, my subconscious did and refused to let me work on that story. I would sit down to write, and in 5 minutes I was off working on something else. I was procrastinating on the focus for that time. Once I worked out the problem, I returned to my focus project, and the words poured out. This will happen with you as well. Follow where your brain goes, but also bring it back to the primary project.

The third type of writer’s block is Inertia. That is a true bad boy. Inertia is more than unwillingness. It resides in stagnation or depression. Many creatives have experienced inertia in our coronacoaster plague year.

For stagnation, take a break from your current writing and do something completely different for a brief while. For depression, change your eating and hydration and exercise habits. These habit-changing activities may require three to six weeks to overcome the depression.

This is not clinical depression, that is something else. For that kind of depression, you seek professional help.

Maybe a life change is driving the depression. After a death—a family member dies or a divorce occurs or a job is lost, a house completely burning down, the economy tanking or a worldwide pandemic—we experience the emptiness that swallows everything, a huge blackhole that sucks in everything.

Time is the only thing that will get you through the inertia. Just keep trying to write. One day the words will start pouring out.

Here’s a second horror for writers. Losing your work. Crash and Burn, in other words.

Losing your file on the hard drive has happened to some writers. They take a break from their primary project to finish something about another one—such as edits and more. Before you know it, many files have intervened between you and the primary project, and you can no longer find it in quick access.

Or one of the those life-changing events occurs. When you have time to recover, you temporarily forget the project and launch into another one.

Whatever happens—and I’ve heard writers talk about finding old forgotten stories on their hard drives, something causes that file to fall into disuse.

If we don’t set up proper systems for organizing documents, any file can become lost by everything that comes behind it.

Losing it on your hard drive doesn’t mean that it’s lost. You just can’t find it easily. Sometimes we can have so many documents on a drive that the whole system can be overwhelming. Sometimes we can have so many VERSIONS of the same document that we lose track of the last one.

Last thing First, don’t make so many versions of the same document. If you want to save the original one as distinct from a later one, then give them completely different names. Or print out the original one. (You can always recycle the paper later.) Call one rough, call the second draft, call the third final. Use a system. Make a note of your system until the system becomes habit.

Second, create a folder for each project. This is easier now than from the old days when files and folders could only have 8-character names.

Making saving a constant behavior. Every time you go to a new page, do a quick save. CTRL S.

When you finish for a particular writing session (even if you have multiple sessions throughout a day), then do a full save. What do I mean by a full save? Save to more than one place.

Don’t just save to the Cloud or your Hard Drive. Save three separate and distinct electronic copies EVERY TIME. I use my hard drive and two more separate places, a flashdrive and a separate hard drive.

Reliance on the Cloud doesn’t suit me. Until three years ago my local internet service was highly unreliable. If I had saved to the Cloud, I would not have been able to access my documents. Now when the internet goes out, I turn my phone into a HotSpot. Unreliability of the internet service means that I don’t depend upon it when I want to write.

I’ve been around computers since the mid-1980s. I can remember using MS-DOS, but not for long. I remember the advent of the Icons to find files. I remember being excited about WYSIWYG, What You See Is What You Get with printing, that is, the way it looks on the screen is the way it will look when it comes out of the dot matrix printer. I remember being totally excited when the memory drives of computers did not require you to put in a floppy disk to start the program and save work to another floppy disk (an endless round of in one disk then out in order to put in 2nd disk for saving, then out and in, out and in, over and over in order to save documents). I remember Windows 3.1; I fell in love with that operating system and its Word program. Great days.

Since I’ve been around computers for that long, I know that electronic files get corrupted or can decay. (Magnets!) I know that computers crash. Sometimes when computers crash, the open document is corrupted. Sometimes the crash fries everything. So, have multiple places to save documents. I also print out, chapter by chapter, and sometimes half-chapters.

I’m paranoid. Raising my right hand here to swear to it. And I know how to recycle paper.

Even after I’ve uploaded a project to the distributor, I keep a hard copy as well as three backup copies. That’s four electronic copies: hard drive, two thumb drives, and an external drive, whether that is the cloud or a secondary hard drive.

Here’s the third Horror, which is related to the final project I just uploaded. Uploading the wrong thing to the book distributor.

As for uploading the wrong thing, well—just take it down and put it back up. If the rough version goes out when the final version should have, apologize and upload the correct version. Some online distributors allow you to mark something as a revised copy. Give your readers the steps to make the correction to their devices—just in case they do not have automatic revisions checked for their accounts.

Mistakes do happen. Usually when we are stressed or rushing to get things done. Slow down for the really important things. Speed through things when you aren’t at your writing desk. You can recover lost time by avoiding one of your daily checks of social media.

If you make a glaring and public mistake, with that apology, explain what happened and how. When we admit mistakes, people forgive more easily. Should we go along without recognizing our mistakes or ignoring them, we’re burning bridges with our readers. We are human, and humans make mistakes. Admit it and move on.

Another side of uploading the wrong thing is creating the wrong promotional post for the wrong book or the wrong day. A good calendar can keep this one straight. If you do wind up promoting as new a book that came out four years ago, follow up with an Oopsie Post. Wonder in the post the reason that book was on your mind. Here’s an opportunity to engage with readers.

And that’s the whole point of social media posts: to engage with your readers. So be human, admit mistakes, apologize, and open your writing self to questions and comments.

A third side of uploading the wrong thing is uploading content that’s full of errors, such as a promotional post. Even when we read and re-read and read again, mistakes will slip through. As soon as you spot it, delete the post and create a new one. People may screenshot your errors—but really, you should be held accountable for mistakes in a post only if you are purporting to be perfect.

And is anyone perfect? No.

If the screenshot shows up—and it may, some people are jackasses who keep receipts—then apologize and use it as an opportunity to thank the person. Be gracious—even if the person is a jackass. BTW, you don’t have to point that out. Other people will notice who is the jackass and who is not.

We’re on to the 4th Horror, each one more terrifying than the one before. This one is Revision Hell

I will tell you about one horror story of a manuscript.

Before I started my epic publishing journey, I had one novel that I continually played with, writing the whole thing in pieces.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Which also had a major problem called "VERSIONS of the SAME SCENES". This is not good, people.

Some scenes had over SIX versions. Different points of view. Or the same point of view with different opinions about the events. Or the same purpose of the scene but different events in the scene. Or the same events but different outcomes.

As I finally put the novel together, I would lay out all the versions, highlight where the differences were, then start trying to figure out which version was the best one. Then I would decide what should be left out, what needed to be melted in with the other details, and what actually belonged earlier or later in the novel.

Pulling that MS together was a nightmare. I don’t pull my hair, but I wanted to.

I am still happy with the final manuscript, but for weeks I stressed about tying everything together into a cohesive novel, about meshing and melding the best parts of those different versions to create a coherent scene.

I had a second manuscript that I had tinkered with in the same way over several years, with versions of the same scene while the sequel elements between scenes were not written. When I decided to finish that MS for publication, I did not want to repeat that long summer of writing horror. So, to approach the revision, I didn't try to pull the scenes together.

I knew the goals for the scene. I would skim the old scenes for ideas and ... then I wrote completely new words and shredded the old as each scene finished.

I finished that book in less than six weeks as opposed to over three months. I’m also very happy with that novel.

Finally, 5th Horror. Screwing up your author brand

One simple way to screw over your readers is to annoy the heck out of them. How do you annoy readers? 1] You write cliffhangers. 2] You present the story as one thing when it is something else. Wrong cover for the genre, wrong book description (this can be an honest mistake from our lack of clarity about what we are actually writing). However, adding an opening to hook the readers when that’s not really what the story is about, such as having a spy thriller opening while the novel is actually a simple romance—that screws over the reader. Do you think they will trust your next book description? The 3] is my pet peeve: Writing characters that are TSTL too stupid to live (classic example: running upstairs rather than out the kitchen door). Or presenting a character as brilliant but they make the same mistake over and over again, like using their credit card repeatedly even though they know they’re being tracked by sinister villains.

Another way to screw over your readers is to argue with a reviewer, either by complaining about a one-star review in a public post or by starting a back-and-forth heated exchange with a book blogger or reviewer. You’re not going to make followers with this behavior. You WILL make people think that you look down on your readers.

The truly horrible way to screw up your author brand occurs with a public post over something much more serious than simply annoying readers with a TSTL character or a cliff-hanger when they expected a completed story.

In the past decade, a well-known and celebrated writer claimed a religious stance which offended quite a number of people. To me, that stance was antagonistic to the violence in his best-selling novel. One didn’t match the other. Why was extreme violence acceptable to him but the other behavior was not?

Recently, one famous national writing organization was littered with racists and misogynists in the upper echelons. People complained, but action against the racism and misogyny was lacking. The perpetrators were giants in the field, well regarded, in positions of power for the national publication and the national awards ceremony. Then another famous national writing organization tried to cover over its racism with backroom dealings. Exposure of its behavior hit the headlines first, and the zeitgeist forced changes there. Those changes trickled into other organizations and on into conferences that writers attended, including the first one mentioned. Once enough people see a change that needs to happen, those changes do occur.

You and your circle may believe or talk the same way, but when you take a public political or social stance, realize that your small-circle beliefs can backfire on you. You see, you don’t know who your readers are. You may think that you do—but not really.

If someone posts or tweets something that makes you personally angry, something that steps on your pride, before you fire off a response, take a step back. Count way past 10. Go past 10 minutes. Pride is a deadly sin, remember. Think about your readers. Put yourself in their shoes. Who do you want to offend? Do they want to hear about which candidate you support? Or what you consider moral and ethical? Or do they just want to hear about your writing? Will they want to hear political, moral, ethical stances 10 years from now?

Your readers may not stumble across you at this very moment in time. Once out of the proper time context, meanings change. Your books will last as long as a digital copy or a paper copy is out there. Your opinions may change over time, in ways that you may never anticipate.

Here’s the thing: Once you post something into the ether, it’s going to be there. And people today are savvy enough to get “receipts”—screenshots of your jackassholery. If you are desperate to put your political or moral or ethical stance into the ether, then do so in such a way that separates your stance from your author brand.

Savvy readers will figure out your belief system from your stories, anyway. What’s interesting is how many writers reveal a personal belief system contrary to their author brand persona. Most savvy readers, though, won’t say anything unless you do something that triggers them. Most readers just want entertainment, not political activism. They need escapes from the stresses of the world. They don’t want the world’s stresses stomping into their escape.

Am I saying that you shouldn’t take any public stand? No. But land on the side of moderation, on compromise and consensus, rather than a scorched earth policy. If your public stance triggers a backlash, don’t whine about it. Either deal with it or learn from other perspectives.

Here’s the thing, the real and honest true thing. Whatever you do, give other people’s opinions the same consideration that you want for your own. Treat everyone equally and fairly. You don’t have to be gracious, but you should be cordial. Inform yourself of other perspectives.

What do you do when you’ve burned your author brand to the ground?

You can hide under a different pen name.

Or you can apologize. A simple apology, not one that slides around and makes other people at fault for your wrong-thinking. Then figure out why so many people state that you are wrong.

Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you are right and they are wrong. Whichever, you weren’t treating people equally and fairly or cordially. And that’s your guiding behavior in life as well as in the writing world.

That’s it. I’m running overlong, so this summary is brief.

First, Writer’s Block has a purpose; analyze what it is—because you’re never truly blocked. Not if you can tweet or write an email. Second, organize yourself on the computer. Use a calendar. Tidy your desk. Save copies in multiple places. Third, we all make mistakes. We’re human. Apologize and move forward. Don’t hang out in the past. 4th, Revisions can be terrifying, especially if you have multiple versions of the same scene. Get the highlights then draft anew. Finally, most importantly, don’t screw over your author brand. Treat your readers as the intelligent beings they are—they bought your book, didn’t they? Treat everyone equally and fairly. Pride is a sin; don’t let it send you to the fiery pits of Hell.

That’s it. That’s all for this Writer Horror Stories.

Join us next Wednesday for The Write Focus. We have to finish the six steps that takes an idea to the tangible product in a reader’s hands.

If you find this podcast helpful, please drop a comment at winkbooks@aol.com. Resources mentioned in this episode are listed in the show notes, with links or enough info to find it.

Thank you for joining us. Write on.


Three Types of Writer’s Block :: M.A. Lee Think like a Pro https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DYMYQNJ/

Link to the Podcast: https://eden5695.podbean.com/e/1-4-whats-horrifying-for-writers

For Newbie Writers ~ Write the Novel

 Story ideas but no story? Great character but nothing else? Action-packed scenes but no idea about the primary character?

Is all the writing advice for developing a story driving you insane?

Maybe this episode can help.

Welcome to the Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels who want to improve their skills. We focus on process, productivity, craft, and tools.

Listen on Podbean, best version.

Listen on YouTube. Glitch city.

This episode—in fact, the whole Write Focus blog and podcast—developed after an email conversation with a newbie writer asking questions. Find our blog at thewritefocus.blogspot.com.

My credentials? Well, I listed them in the first episode, but a question came in asking for more information. For 30 years I was a professional purveyor of English composition (Ha! I enjoyed that description.) I worked at the high school and college levels. For most of that time, the students in my courses didn’t want to write OR read any of the required coursework, so they had little incentive to do their best. My job became scaffolding writing techniques for students so they would become successful. Those techniques had nothing to do with programmed writing and everything to do with discovering what was unique and individual to each student. Now that the intensive career is over, I can concentrate on pursuing my own particular loves in the world of writing. Since 2015 I have self-published over 20 works of fiction along with several guidebooks for writers at all levels. The guidebooks draw on my own experiences, the successes AND the failures, and the knowledge and expertise gained from a Master of Arts degree in English literature and composition and those 30 years of experience. Credentials OVER. From now on, I will point any questions to the opening of this episode.

Which is our 3rd  episode. Officially Series 1, Episode 3. 1 : 3. (2:00)

This 3rd episode continues from the first two, which are answers to questions that a newbie writer asked.

One question was about my process of writing novels (which is different from writing nonfiction).

For years I tried, seriously tried, to follow what every writer in the major markets said about story development and character revelations and more. Whenever I applied it, I failed. It clogged up all creativity. I gradually found what worked for me and what did not. All writers have to discover this. It’s a matter of practice.

Dean Wesley Smith, one of the Pro Writers that I consistently follow, uses something that he called Writing Into the Dark. He published his method with that very title, Writing into the Dark, and you can find it on major online distributors. Smith’s advice reinforced what I came to believe about my own creativity and writing style.

Smith writes one clean draft, gets it proofed, then launches the story into the world. What he means by “clean” is that he doesn’t write gobbledygook like “put something romantic here” or “another red herring here” or “a fight scene”. He works through the problems as they occur. (3:00)

One thing to remember is that every story is different. Writers can define themselves as plotters or pantsters or puzzlers.

Serious Plotters plan the whole book in advance, every chapter, every scene in a chapter, blocking all the details before they write the first sentence. True pantsters launch without any plan and never plan at any point; they save everything for revision. Puzzlers write an intriguing scene, figure out where it lands in the course of the novel, then write another scene and another and another, then determine what needs to be written next and go from there. They begin as pantster but quickly become plotters.

 I launch every book the same, with a general idea of story arc, a clear idea of my tagline or theme, and the goals, motivations, and conflicts for my primary characters. About 50 to 100 pages in, my process begins to alter. That process may change twice or three times in a single book. I launch totally into the dark, plot the next scene, plot the arc of the story, then I may abandon that and go pantster again. I may plot several chapters in detail, follow that plotting, then head into later chapters as a total pantster. I may be a pantster for the majority of the book then plot the ending.

Whatever method you choose—and it’s a choice—the ONLY thing that matters is that your ideas AND words are flowing. If they aren’t, switch it up.

Many people give advice about the Snowflake method or Save the Cat or the Beats or Plot Points with their pinches. Or even following the story structure taught in colleges and universities, known as Freytag’s Pyramid with rising action and falling action. These are ARTIFICIAL constraints used to analyze finished stories that are now handed out as gospel. They are not gospel. They are methods. Each has helpful insights into plot, but none of them have to be followed blindly. You can mix them up. You should mix them up.

About 15 years ago I discovered Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey which is based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. (5:04)

This story arc offers the best plotting method for me. When I explore other plot structures, I see their weaknesses based on this as well as where those structures actually follow the Hero’s Journey, whether that is a literal or metaphorical adherence to the structure.

The 12-Stage writer’s journey can be applied to Jane Austen’s novels and films, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Dorothy Sayers, Stephen King, virtually anything on current and past fiction bestseller lists, Finding Nemo, Shrek, Last of the Mohicans (the film with Daniel Day Lewis—that long drink of water), anything action-adventure, anything romantic, anything mystery and suspense.

Here it is in brief.

1] Ordinary World – present the character in daily life. This is to show how the character will change through the course of the book. My struggle is to keep this stage extremely short!

This step meshes with writing advice from ages ago about “starting at the first moment things are no longer normal,” meaning that the character encounters something that changes the ordinary progression of life.

Of course, we have to show the character in that ordinary progression before we explode it.

2] Call to Adventure – this is the event that starts the conflict. (6:12)

3] Refusal of the Call – Most people don’t want to change their life. They try to return to things as they were. This stage shows that attempt as well as how the change cannot be stopped. More action. More angst.

4] Meeting with the Mentor – this can be a friend or an actual wise person. I once had a taxi driver speak the words of wisdom to the protagonist. This can be the character thinking words of wisdom while on a phone call to a sister or brother who tries to convince them not to go down a path. The mentor’s advice doesn’t have to be followed.

5] Crossing the First Threshold – whatever event occurs here, the protagonist cannot return to the Ordinary World from this point. Pure action or pure internal revelation.

6] Tests, Allies, and Enemies – this seems like a single short stage. Nope. It can turn into a series of chapters. This will form the bulk of the middle third of your novel. You can drop back and add in a new mentor or two, cross another threshold then restart the TAE as many times as you need. It’s up to you.

7] Approach to the Inmost Cave – nearing the crisis point. The bad part is coming. The angst in deciding to risk everything to achieve the goal is all that matters here.

8] The Ordeal, the Dark Moment, the crisis point. It’s about the 65-75% mark of the story.

9] The Reward – the moment when the protagonist realizes that yes, this journey is changing, is life-threatening or emotionally threatening. BUT—and it is a powerful BUT—the reward makes all the hardships mentally and emotionally and physically worth everything. (7:56)

10] The Road Back – things are settling, but hardships still occur.

11] The Resurrection – Evil resurrects and nearly kills the protagonist (either nearly killing a relationship or nearly killing the dream or nearly killing the person). AND the protagonist resurrects (relationship / dream / healing of the physical body somehow).

12] Return with the Elixir – which is pretty much self-explanatory.

These 12-steps are the story arc that I have in mind when I first start writing. I don’t develop anything other than a brief sentence or two and sometimes not even that. I may launch into the story without having Stages 10 and 11 figured out, or even the Ordeal, which is Stage 8. I do have an idea where I want my primary characters to be at the end. How they get there, however, can be a mystery.

You should have a character arc for all of your primaries. If you have subprimaries—characters who recur constantly and have their own viewpoint scenes BUT who do not control the majority of the story—they should also have a character arc. You definitely need a character arc for your antagonists (not the villains. Just the antagonists who create the central conflict that lasts from beginning to end). Yes, a thing like an EMOTION or a PAST EVENT that creates trauma can be an antagonist. (9:12)

My work process is currently this—and this is the method that I used to help my students with their compositions, the ones that revealed their individual selves on the page.

Sketch ideas and develop the tagline (or the theme or thesis) and the basic character information. (For a composition, this would be the topics for the body of the essay).

Write the rough draft, following the sketched ideas. Create the MasterBook while writing. The MasterBook keeps up with character and setting details, basic sequences of events and any clues (like red herrings in a mystery or quest elements in a fantasy).

Read through the rough draft to see how it works for pacing. Make brief notes as you read. Use the 12-Stage Journey to determine pacing and flow of story. Suspense and tension get the story moving, but down times are necessary for your primaries. Those downtimes offer opportunities to develop character angst and to reveal relationships.

Write the good draft. Add details for depth, for sensory experience, for character development and interaction, for relationship building—whether you have to destroy it before you can re-construct it, and more. This is actually the REVISION stage.

Revision means looking at the manuscript with New EYES. You want to make it clearer and better. You want to make it STANDOUT by being different from the expected.

This is where my students began to excel. When they looked at their compositions, considered what everyone else would say, and tried to say something different. Something NOT commonplace. Not pedestrian. Where truth lives. (10:37)

As you read through the rough draft, look for places where the story events or character reactions are too predictable. You know the ones: you’ve seen those story lines or behaviors on TV or in films. Avoid those.

In the crucial points of the story—the opening action, the first major stress point, the betrayal, the twist on expectations, the Ordeal, the last action—you should surprise the reader. Use Kate Wilhelm’s Law for originality. The first thing you think of is what is in the rough draft. Toss it out. Most people will think of that idea, too. Toss the second idea; many people will think of that. Only a few will anticipate as far as a third thing. To be totally original at the three major points (opening action, betrayal or twist, and Ordeal), you have to totally surprise all readers.

Character reactions have to be consistent. A hero will not unexpectedly become a coward. An honorable person will not lie without a good reason for that lie. You have to present the intellectual and emotional thought processes for that character to behave against type.

If you have multiple viewpoint characters, then you need to consider which character is best to present a scene. Whichever character has the MOST to LOSE is the best choice for the viewpoint. This allows more interesting motivations and opinions to be expressed.

Does the story slow down because the pacing dragged? Or did the pacing speed through something that you actually needed to write a few more hundred words for? (12:03)

As you consider adding, also consider subtracting whatever is repeated more than three times. Your MasterBook tracking will help here. Overkill on description needs to be wiped out. A scene you loved that doesn’t develop the characters or the story needs to vanish.

Editing is the next stage. BUT—well, Wow. We’ve reached the end of this episode, and we still have a lot to talk about.

Editing. Basic Publishing. Basic Marketing ideas. So, we’ll talk about these after our next episode, Horror Stories for Writers. I already have three horror stories to talk about, and I haven’t even thought seriously about drafting it.

Join us next Wednesday for The Write Focus.

If you find this podcast helpful, please drop a comment at winkbooks@aol.com. Resources mentioned in this episode are listed in the show notes, with links or enough information to find the information.

RESOURCES ~ Amazon links given because I’m lazy

Dean Wesley Smith Writing into the Dark 

Christopher Vogler The Writer’s Journey

Joseph Campbell Hero with a 1,000 Face

Kate Wilhelm Storyteller

LINK to Episode on PodBean

For Newbie Writers ~ Transcript 1:2 ~ 3 Notta Mistakes

 What’s Notta Mistake?

How about 3 Notta Mistakes? 3 Notta Mistakes for Newbie Writers. That’s this week’s episode for The Write Focus.

Listen to the podcast at this link. or listen on YouTube.

Welcome to The Write Focus, a podcast for writers on productivity, process, tools, and craft.

This is our second episode, following our inaugural episode on 7 Mistakes that Newbie Writers make.

The Write Focus is a production of Writers Ink Books. I’m M.A. Lee, here to share what I’ve learned in my years of writing and teaching writers as well as my years of pursuing self-publication. My first books published in 2015, and I haven’t looked back since. I write both fiction and nonfiction, and M.A. Lee is just one of my pen names.

Because, you know, we change names to protect the innocent.

The mantra for Writers Ink is Dream It / Believe It / Do It. Hopefully, that will become your goal as well.

The topic for this episode is 3 Notta Mistakes by a Newbie Writer.

First, a little context. This episode and our first one last week arose from a question that a newbie writer asked on a forum hosted by a national writing organization. The Newbie wanted to know what we wished we had known when we launched our careers.

I’m sharing my responses to her emails with you. Because—well, these are jam-packed with lessons about productivity and craft and tools and more.

What is a Newbie Notta Mistake? It’s a mistake that many, many new writers make—but which you can avoid, just as I did.

Here’s Newbie Notta Mistake #1 ~ Knowing that First Impressions Matter.

The Mistake would be to do every job related to publishing by yourself, especially the most important job, which is the First Impression on the reader.

My Notta Mistake—I hired a cover designer.

Unless you truly understand graphic design (direction of eyes, color contrasting, proportional sizing, foreground against background), then hire a cover designer.

The cover is the first thing that attracts a reader. You have nanoseconds to snare readers; a great cover will draw readers to your book.

Great cover designers understand the needs of genre as well as branding for the book, the author, and the series.

I talked about Author Branding in the 1st episode. Branding helps you focus closely and maintain that focus as you write then launch your manuscript into the world. Pick a genre. Pick a series. Pick a main character. A brand means that you are laser-eyed on that genre and series. These reinforce your Author Brand,--who are the writer are, what you write, how you present your writing to the world.

In 2013 and 2014, when I launched into my indie writer journey, the independent marketplace for electronic books offered a wide range. It still does, but the lower end of the spectrum is gradually going away.

Excellent covers. Cheaply made covers (all words and no images). Horrible covers. That’s the spectrum mark-points.

Whenever you consider self-publishing, you have to juggle what you can do with what you shouldn’t do. One part of the decision-making processes is WIBBOW: Would I be better off writing? That should drive the first and strongest part of your decision process.

The other considerations are cost and time.

When I launched, I wanted to spend my time writing, not learning cover design. I still want that focus.

Looking for a cover designer on the internet would surely not be hard, I thought.

Looking wasn’t hard.

Finding cover designers wasn’t hard.

Finding a cover designer that had a portfolio that fit my own vision as well as one who clearly presented the cover design business as a professional endeavor – extra hard.

Three parts to that one. Did you see them?

Portfolio means that they were generating work over and over again.

My own vision means that we would have few clashes over aesthetic differences.

Professional means … Well, there are more and more horror stories about graphic designers and money down the drain and covers yanked back after they were published and stealing cover designs and not properly licensing images used and on and on. Yikes!

Longer story shorter, I thought finding a cover designer would be easy. Nope. Took 18 months of on and off looking, month after month, to find a cover designer that matched my aesthetic and that showed promise of staying as a professional business—rather than starting up then closing down in three to five years.

I searched online repeatedly. I scanned online bookstores and opened up a lot of samples to search for the cover designer. I bookmarked several sites, but something about the portfolios didn’t fit what I was looking for. Sometimes the price was unreasonable. Sometimes the information that accompanied the portfolio didn’t connect with me. In that 18 months, some cover designers vanished. New ones came on.

While looking, I managed to write the third book … while holding down a horrible creativity-sucking job … and format the other three books to electronic publishing standards … and even tinker with a few as-yet-unwritten ideas … along with pulling from storage another HistRomSusp but in a different time period. 18 months.

In that time, I also set aside a little bit of money every month to pay for the cover designs of four books.

I actually located the cover designer that I would use by browsing online bookstores. The website had a professional look with several varieties of covers. More than one designer worked for the company. The site listed what to do when problems occurred, and a three-page template anticipated design questions and opened up creativity for the designer.

I contracted for my first cover in 2015. Since then they have created over 10 NF covers, 15 mystery covers, and 10 fantasy covers plus covers for bundles—and I remain in awe of their work.

Want to do it yourself? Then pay the bucks for a quality program, like InDesign > not Canva or Powerpoint.

Still determined to Do It Yourself? Seriously study your competion. Do your research. Admit the ones that look crappy, and admit what your skill level is.

Finally, use the greatest writer test in the world > WIBBOW … Would I Be Better Off Writing? That’s your question, every time you start to take on additional writer jobs.

Cover Design: Yes or No? WIBBOW.

I managed to avoid this first mistake because the intensive, stressful job I once had sapped my creative energies, which slowed my writing. Knowing I could not quickly learn cover design or a software program for cover design, I decided my spare time should be on writing.


Newbie Notta Mistake #2 ~ Finish Before Sharing.

The mistake is to share your ideas and your draft. Sharing piecemeal, a chapter at a time, never works – readers need to see the whole work. Sharing your ideas—well. Let’s talk.

If you are desperate for other eyes on your work, then find good Beta readers who spot plot and character discrepancies as well as proofreading errors. ONLY give these readers a FINISHED manuscript.

Finished is the most important word here.

Write the story in your head—not the story in someone else’s head. You don’t need developmental editors to write that story. You may need a good friend who will tell you when scenes need to be improved and ideas need a logical sequence. That ONLY occurs, though, with the finished MS.

Have them read the finished manuscript and tell you where they got lost. Then dig deep into those areas and work it out.

Please do not give readers a chapter at a time. Can they remember the flow of the story? Maybe. Can they remember your hidden clues and foreshadowing? Can they remember the symbolic metaphor that you planted in chapter 3 which will recur in chapter 15 then lead to the climax in chapter 36? Remember, they are looking at these individual chapters or scenes with days or weeks or a whole month intervening?

Good friends will read the whole thing for you—might take them a while.

Great friends will tell you what doesn’t work.

Bad friends will tell you how to fix it.

Yep, I said “bad friends”. Because it’s your story, you need to figure out how to fix it. Your muse will do that for you—once the muse knows to work on a particular area. If your muse tries to work with other people’s ideas, she will shut her trap on ideas.

Here's a third reason to avoid sharing before you are finished. Superstition.

The writing world has a myth that story ideas shared before completion will dry up and shrivel or be cursed when published.

I don’t know the reason for the myth. That reason never is shared.

But I have seen story ideas bounced around in a group, and the writer’s enthusiasm for the story is then dead.

I have shared a story idea—and watched another writer spin it in a better way than I had planned—which killed my enthusiasm for the story.

We’ve all heard anecdotes about writers sharing ideas only to see another writer (with flying fingers) get that story out into the world.

Yeah, don’t share your ideas until they are done.

Finally, when you send the draft into the world, the universal ether thinks it’s a completed story and directs the muse to dance around the next story Maypole.

So, finish the dang thing before you hand it off to good and great friends.

I avoided this second mistake from the sheer luck of living 2 ½ hours away from other writers like me. At the time, my town did have writers, but they weren’t pursuing publication the way I was. They were writing only for the name of being a writer. They were also elitists. (I talked about them in the first episode.)

A decade later I found two other groups, both were a half-hour away and only met on weeknights. The meetings ran too late for the early wake-up my job required. You know, that stressful, creativity-sucking job.

By the time I had an opportunity for an easily accessed writers group with critique groups, I had learned my lesson about finishing before sharing and about learning from pro writers as opposed to NON professional writers. (I talked about that in episode 1, too.)


Newbie Notta Mistake #3 ~ Keep Learning As You Live the Writer Life

Here’s the Mistake: Thinking you are a talented writer. Or Thinking you have learned everything about writing. Nope. Not possible.

Keep learning and practicing your craft. Even after 30 years of teaching literature (high school and college), even with advanced degrees in English and composition, even after over five years of pursuing self-publishing, even after over 25 published books—I am still learning.

New information keeps us fresh.

Practicing that new information >> that stretches our skills and builds improvement.

Analyze your weaknesses. One of my weaknesses that I diagnosed early on was understanding little about the new world of self-publishing. In hunting up information, I stumbled into Pro Writers teaching craft lessons. One online workshop turned me into a believer.

No one will ever know everything there is to know about writing. But we can try.

I have three courses to take this year: two on the craft of writing, one on marketing. I am learning a lot.

I’m still trying—just like a doctor practicing medicine. The only difference is—I might speak with authority, but I will freely admit that I have more to learn.

Think a doc will say that?

Find a pro that you trust. Make sure that pro is still producing words and publishing those words, not a pro resting on dried-up laurels. Many pros offer a variety of online courses. I talked about one of the pros that I follow in the first episode.

If you don’t want to take a course, then do your research. Read books on craft. Not academic books. Books by writers. Books about writing.

This 3rd Notta Mistake was another lucky chance that I stumbled into. As I prepped for publication, I discovered tons of information I didn’t know about the new indie publishing and the world of marketing. I’m still learning that, by the way.


Here’s the Summary

First, Understand that First Impressions Matter. The #1 impression is your cover.

If you’re not excellent at design, hire a contractor. Not great at grammar? Hire an editor.

Your guiding question is WIBBOW. Would I be better off writing.

#2. Finish before sharing.

Sharing is not wrong. But you need to send out a completed draft. This helps your readers and you. Your readers will see the whole vision, not the fragments. As for you, your story ideas won’t be killed by other writers.

Remember the difference between GREAT friends, who tell you something’s not working for them, and BAD friends, who want to tell you how to fix it. That’s more of other people’s sticky fingers in your work.

#3. Keep learning. Look for ways to grow. Analyze your weaknesses. Research and teach yourself or go to the Writing Pros.

That’s it for this second episode of The Write Focus.

Coming UP: We’ll continue with that Newbie Writers questions by focusing on the steps to get a book from the idea stage to a tangible product in your hands. Don’t forget to check the show notes. Thanks for joining The Write Focus.


Inaugural Episode Transcript ~ 7 Newbie Writer Mistakes

 Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Write Focus, a podcast for writers on productivity, process, tools, and craft.

Listen on YouTube > Glitch city. No problem with the mp3 file. No problem with the mp4 video file. Uploaded to YouTube AANNNNNDDDD problems.

This is episode 1 (but actually 1:3). You may find 2 earlier promotional episodes for a book. Those were actually practice podcasts to force me to take this leap.

The Write Focus is a production of Writers Ink. I’m M.A. Lee, here to share what I’ve learned in my years of writing and teaching writing as well as my years of pursuing publishing. My first books published in 2015, and I haven’t looked back since. I write both fiction and nonfiction, and M.A. Lee is just one of my pen names.

Because, you know, we change names to protect the innocent.

The topic for this episode is Newbie Writer Mistakes. I have 7 to share with you.

First, a little context. This list of 7 along with the following 3 Notta Mistakes arose from a question that a newbie writer asked on a forum hosted by a national writing organization. She wanted to know what the published writers wished we have known as we launched our careers.

Usually I skip past these questions. I don’t know why I answered the question this time. I offered encouragement and hoped she avoided a lot of the newbie mistakes that I had made--you know, before I became older and wiser but still mistake-ridden. Then I admitted my mistakes as well as those 3 Notta Mistakes because 7 + 3 gives me 10, a nice round number.

I’m sharing my response to her with you. Because—well, this is full of lessons about productivity and craft and more!

Here's Mistake #1. (1:35)

I'm an eclectic reader and writer, so I'm writing fantasy and romance and mystery and two types of nonfiction. What I should have done is focus on one genre (or series) rather than scatter my writing time--which slows down publication.

No, I didn't think anticipate that problem.

I claimed I was after publication, but I wasn’t acting professional about it.

My lens focused too broadly on what I like to read rather than what my writing self should create.

There’s the lesson, and it’s called Author Branding. Before we finish that first manuscript, we need to know what our writing self will be. That writing self will guide the direction of our writing.

I’m still too scattered. That’s a mistake I continue to make. I have tempered the effects by using three different pen names for my three divergent interests. In the world of 20 to 30 books before Discoverability, this greatly slows down my attainment of that goal.

Newbie Mistake #2.l (2:32)

My sales copy didn't intrigue and told too much plot.

Okay, let me back up. The sales copy is the description in an online book store or on the back of a paperback or the flyleaf of a hardback book. In the publishing world, the book description is often called the BLURB. That’s the term I learned years ago. Sales Copy is the better term.

What makes people buy books from writers they don’t know? Well, ads and word-of-mouth information.

If we writers are looking at books spread out on a table, what can we see that makes people pick up a book? The cover, first. Cover tells genre, hints at story or character, and gives the tone of the book. Even browsing an online store, people will see the cover first.

Then comes the book description.

In my early book descriptions, I wanted readers to know the exciting parts of the story. But if we writers share too much of the exciting parts of the story, why will the reader than buy the book?

People buy books for entertainment. Entertainment is based on surprise and curiosity.

My blurbs killed both surprise and curiosity.

Dean Wesley Smith calls this the Author Problem. When I finished his class on Fiction Sales Copy, I realized how BAD all my original blurbs are. Now I am rewriting Every. Dang. One.

Look for links to Mr. Smith’s blog and his Teachable courses, managed by WMG publishing, in the show notes.

Newbie Mistake #3. I call this one “My Arrogance.” That’s capital letters, people. (3:54)

I understand story structure. I taught it. I taught it from the analytical side and from the writer side. Therefore, I arrogantly thought I knew how to hook a reader.

The class on Fiction Sales pointed out that my books are actually slow starters.

Books should start with that same surprise and curiosity to lure in readers.

Some writers can do this with great first lines. Others do it with immediate action. Pro writers usually say something like “start the book at the first moment when things become strange.”

Basically, we should consider the best vivid start for each book. That happens on the first page. Don't bury it three pages in. This is a lesson that I have learned in the past few years, and I am trying to apply it now.

Newbie Mistake #4 ~ Trying to do It the Way Other People Do (4:45)

I keep trying to outline when I know—KNOW—it cages my creativity.

Writing is fun. And writing is hard. I keep looking for ways to make it simpler and faster.

There is no simpler method than to put one sentence after another. You can dictate to make it faster. A lot of writers use Dictation and the like for their sketch of the story which they then tinker and revise into a manuscript. That’s a writing tool you may want to investigate.

I use the voice recorder on my phone app for sketching ideas when I have to. I don’t like to because then I have to transcribe … and for that there HAS to be a better way. I’ll be looking for that, and I’ll share it with you when I find it. Transcription is no fun.

However, a one-page transcription can turn into six or seven or 12 or more pages of a manuscript.

Newbie Mistake #5 (5:42)

For several, several years I looked for a good critique group to help push me to the next level. One day while I was sitting in a critique group, listening to my fellow newbies pick apart a best-selling novel for story structure and character development, I realized that I was in the wrong room.

Publication is the goal. Why was I listening to people who were not published?

The FIX: For improving my writing, I needed to find veterans who are STILL publishing--not the ones who had published 1 or 3 books and were done. So I have found my veterans and follow them closely.

I have writing groups that I follow on social media, usually as a lurker. I choose those that have multiple writers actively pursuing publication, ones that are inclusive and welcome indie writers as well as the traditionally published.

I avoid the literary fiction groups. My encounters with those have taught me that they do not really want the kind of writing I am after. Most have writers who merely want you to sit quietly while they read their enlightened drivel then applaud politely and gush at the end of it.

I hope your encounters with literary fiction groups are better than mine. There have to be good ones out there.

Newbie Writing Mistake #6 (7:00)

In the past, I had nebulous goals about yearly / monthly / weekly / daily writing.

I would say, “This month I want to work on my novel.” But I didn’t say how many chapters I would attempt to write, or how many pages or words. I didn’t consider what development the story would take. I didn’t think about turning off the TV or getting off social media and spending an hour each evening at my writing desk.

When I started doing that, an hour each evening after work, whether I wrote a couple of sentences or a couple of pages or more, that’s when my indie dream started becoming reality.

It took a year, but I began to become specific with my goals. I’m slow. I know.

Once I started setting up my plans with such specific goals, tinkering was needed to learn how to work this new method, but eventually I figured it out. How long would it take to write a complete manuscript? How long was the manuscript going to be? How did that translate into chapters and pages and words? How could I break those chapters and pages and words into months and weeks and days? That’s what we have to figure out.

The only way we writers can achieve our goals is to set a specific weekly word count based on daily possibilities.

Also, I need to write every day or impetus is lost. I can write a lot of words or just a few, but I need to know that I am working for the completion of a manuscript. I still get derailed. I still struggle with daily writing, but last year I wrote over 800,000 words--best year ever. I published 5 nonfiction titles, three mysteries, and one fantasy novella.

Specificity is not a word, but it creates success.

So the FIX: Look at the week ahead with its planned distractions and disruptions, then set a realistic daily word count. When I go over the count, I keep going. I don’t consider the extra words part of the next day’s words. I start over with the next day’s words on the next day. Something will happen to throw a spanner in the works, to use a cliché, so those extra words that you’ve written will cover those times.

Here’s the last Newbie Mistake … #7 (9:10)

Over several years—before I started my self-publishing journey—I tinkered with the idea of being a full-time writer. I would play with a story until it became difficult then jump to another. I accumulated a lot of story starts.

Eventually, I heard the advice about finishing what you start. If we only write story starts, we never learn to work through the dreaded middle or achieve the climatic ends. I still remember the first novel that I wrote from beginning to end, all 50 pages of handwritten story.

For years I played with story starts. Gradually, more manuscripts got finished. Now all of them get finished—although sometimes that’s an eventually finished rather than currently finished. When I’m slogging in the middle of a manuscript, sometimes I take a break to think about an upcoming book, but it’s a one-day break, not several days. Then I’m back to the sloggy middle of the manuscript.

Which means that other story ideas start percolating in my brain, and when I finish this MS, another one is ready to be poured onto the page.

So, here are those 7 mistakes once more.

1.       Figure out your goal as a writer and determine your WRITING SELF as you are finishing that first manuscript. Focus on that writing persona rather than scattering your efforts.

2.       Learn how to write Sales Copy. Remember, it’s the second thing that convinces readers to buy your book. The first thing is the cover.

3.       Just because you’ve learned the lesson doesn’t mean you understand the lesson. Apply the lesson. My lesson to apply was starting stories on the first page, not the third page. You may know it, but you may not have heeded that lesson.

4.       Find the method that works for you. Admit writing is hard. It’s also fun. It’s not easy. But it is rewarding. Don’t force yourself into a working process that doesn’t fit you. If the words are not flowing and everything else in life is fine, then the working process may be the problem. Don’t cage your creativity peg by forcing it into round holes.

5.       Pay attention to the advice of published writers, and don’t be enthralled by NONpublished writers. Find a couple of good sources along with a couple of welcoming organizations, and stick with them.

6.       Be specific with your goals. Know what your project will be. How many chapters? How many words? How many words can you accomplish in a week – realistically? How do those words translate to the chapters? Set your goals for the year, then the season, then the month, then week by week.

7.       Finish what you start. Then start the next one.

That you for listening to the inaugural lesson for The Write Focus. Remember to check the show notes for links.

Dean Wesley Smith's blog site.

WMG Publishing courses on Teachable

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