Category Archives: Writing Advice
Not Alone in the Realm
Writing often seems like a lonely endeavor. I’ve spent a lot of time tapping away at the laptop or scribbling in a notebook. I’ve stared out the window visualizing a scene, softly speaking it aloud to hear how it sounds. I’ve walked the valley of burnout and scaled the mountain of inspiration. The writing comes fast and furiously, or the writing doesn’t come at all.
I presented myself faithfully to my writing (almost every day) even as I wanted to join friends and family in other activities. I declined invitations and didn’t issue any of my own.
I’ve been in the house alone (except for five demanding cats), but if anyone was present, I politely requested quiet, which meant I was alone in my thoughts and in the world I was creating.
As I reflect, though, I have come to realize that I was never alone at all.
There was much about writing/the writing process with which I struggled. I’m not going to detail everything here because it’s deeply personal, but the short version is that I turned everything about writing over to God. I made it my goal that all my writing and my talents would glorify God, and when I did, that’s when I understood that all the guidance I’d been praying for had occurred as I’d hoped, just not in the ways I expected. I wasn’t alone.
Then, a savvy friend, who pointed out that better critiques could be given if the beta reader was familiar with the entire work, committed to being part of my project. We traded novels from beginning to end, and what we came away with was better writing. I was not alone.
Factor in four additional beta readers, all reading the entire manuscript and all providing a different perspective. What each found polished Realm even more. Again, not alone.
Then there was my editor, whose enthusiasm for my project and sharp eye for detail, put the final polish on my novel. We met several times, e-mailed, and texted throughout the process. Amazing critiques and suggestions were offered and applied, we worked through some points to clarify what I wanted to say, and I even got to keep some things I liked without changing them. A working relationship was born, but the friendship that came from it trumped everything. Still, not alone.
Writers’ groups, friends, family, and the occasional stranger all offered encouragement and advice in person and on social media. Slowly but surely, the perceived vacuum of the writing life transformed into a community of support. And this support only intensified once Realm was published. Absolutely not alone.
And then there was everyone at BookBaby from the publishing specialist to the design team to the support staff who walked this first-time author through the process and calmed all her worries, concerns, and not a few fears. So totally not alone.
I mention all of this because if you’re considering taking the first step toward writing, please know that writing is hard. The writing life is full of highs and lows, but one thing it never need be is lonely. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be surrounded by people even when it’s just you tapping away at the laptop or scribbling in a notebook.
Beta Reading in the Realm
Hello, Realmers! Today at Realm Central we’re going to discuss one of the most important steps toward the production of my novel, Realm. Beta reading.
A couple years ago, a friend and I shared the opinion that writing group critiques would be more beneficial if the person critiquing had knowledge of the storyline from start to finish. That sounded like a tall order, especially if the work in progress (hereafter WIP) was a novel, but the idea made sense.
Many times, we had experienced the request for/suggestion of more backstory, dialog, character development, and character arcs from someone in the writing group. These were all valid requests and suggestions, but they were made based on the assumption that none of this existed within the story.
Please don’t hear me say that critiques supplied in writing groups are of no value. That is not the case at all. However, when a writer’s only option is to present 1500 words to one chapter (a generous quantity of writing) because of time constraints, many of the critiques supplied and questions asked could have been satisfied if the reviewer only remembered that he/she was being shown a mere sliver of the WIP and that many of his/her questions were probably already addressed.
Another issue contributing to this dilemma was the fact that the reviewer probably didn’t see the initial pages of the WIP, or he/she would have had foundational knowledge prior to critiquing. Also, when you consider the inconsistency with which members attend a writing group and that they often have no control over which WIPs they’ll review, well, you see how ineffective this process can be.
I’ve witnessed too many writers waste his/her allotted review time explaining all this away. There is, however, a major benefit to attending writing groups, and I’d like to point that out now. Make—great—connections.
If you’re going to succeed as a writer, you need people you can lean on during the entire process, and some of the most important ones will be your beta readers. Beta readers may start as your friends, but eventually, they’re going to need to be more. You need to find people who can be objective and strong, people you can trust and with whom you’ve established a solid relationship. Equally important is the fact that you must be this type of beta reader in return.
May I suggest that you make a connection and enter an agreement with one person who will become your primary beta reader. For me, this is the person mentioned at the beginning of the post. We made the commitment to read each other’s work from beginning to end thus eliminating many of the usual requests and suggestions.
The perspective we brought to each other’s WIP was enhanced by the fact that we read and wrote in different genres with different expectations for both as well as by life experiences in general. This immediately drove our critiques to the heart of our respective WIPs, eliminating all the writing small talk and allowing us to focus on any major concerns that needed to be addressed.
Side Note: Remember that trading whole manuscripts for beta reading requires both partners to have similar availability; to agree upon how long you’ll take to read and critique; to decide when, where, and how often you’ll meet; and to decide what type of critique is expected.
Then I sent Realm thought a round of secondary beta readers. I started with my non-reading reader, who prefers non-fiction when he does read. I knew that if I could snag and hold his attention, I had written something worthwhile. Because he read for different reasons, his unique perspective caught many details that were crucial to producing a great novel.
Next was a couple I knew would view Realm through a unique perception based on their own pursuits, and that was exactly what I needed. They recognized the overarching themes within Realm, proof that my storyline was intact, as well as found the small mistakes that required fixing.
Lastly, and this is where some people may disagree with me, I let my mother read Realm. Yes, Mom loves everything I write . . . until she doesn’t, and then she’s brutally honest. I can’t say how allowing your family members to read your WIP will go, but I know that if my mother doesn’t like it, understand it, or agree with what I’ve written, she’ll make me hash it out with her until I convince her the writing needs to be present and help her understand why. We don’t always part in agreement, but my editing is better because of the interaction.
This was my process for taking Realm from the roughest of rough drafts to a manuscript with which I was comfortable handing off to my editor. I sincerely hope these same people, especially my primary beta reader, will be available for my next novel. I also hope I’ll make many more connections for any future WIPs because the ultimate goal isn’t only to have my manuscripts edited. It’s to make lasting relationships.
Navigate the Realm
As with any new venture, there are often a whole host of things one must learn quickly. Such has been my experience with publishing my upcoming novel, Realm.
Ever since the beginning of the year, my life has been an exciting and scary mixture of “hurry up and do this” and/or “twiddle my thumbs and wait.” Every e-mail from BookBaby that lands in my inbox has evoked both elation and fear. I don’t know why I’m a ninny about such things because I have great assistance from BookBaby as well as a host of amazing, supportive friends and family members.
Anyhow, one of the neatest things I have learned during the whole process has been about metadata. I don’t know about you, but beyond hearing the term metadata, I honestly had no idea what its purpose was or how to use it. That is until it became an integral part of not only publishing my novel but making sure it was easily searchable.
I am proud to announce that the metadata for Realm has been optimized!
Seriously, folks—this is one of the first and easiest things I had to do toward the production of Realm. And now that I’m an expert on it, I feel compelled to share with you just in case, like me, you are unaware of how important metadata really is.
Metadata is data that provides information about other data but not the content of the data, such as the text of a message or the image itself. Descriptive metadata is descriptive information about a resource. It is used for discovery and identification. It includes elements such as title, author, and keywords.
The etymology of the term metadata consists of two words, one Greek and one Latin. First, the Greek word meta, which means after or beyond, and second, the Latin word datum, which means datum, the singular for data. Therefore, the expression metadata means beyond the data. Metadata is a fairly new word, it appeared in the second half of the 20th century, while data dates back to the middle of the 17th century. Are you impressed yet?
By this point, you’re either zoning out because this is irrelevant to your life right now, panicky because you’re about to publish, too, and metadata is probably in your near future, or scratching your head because there is something about metadata that is familiar.
That’s because you’ve been using metadata longer than you realized. This invaluable resource didn’t always bear such a fancy name and wasn’t always digitalized. Remember using something like what is pictured below to locate books in the library whether for pleasure reading or for the purpose of writing a report on a subject assigned by your teacher?
Yep, that’s right. A card catalog is a repository for metadata. All those brilliantly conceived little cards bearing information such as author’s name, book title, subject matter, and key words in case you can’t remember the first three are a basic form of metadata. Personally, I miss the soft, wooden click of the drawers closing as I moved between them in search of a book.
Although you’ll probably never search for my novel in an old-fashioned card catalog, I’ll still provide you with all the optimized metadata to ensure you’ll find my book.
Author: HL Gibson
Main Subject: FICTION
Keywords: Adventure, Christian, Faith, Fantasy, Futuristic, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Imprint: Bezalel Media
Journey Through the Realm
I feel as if a hearty “Welcome Back” is required with this post, but it would be for me! Thank you, faithful following of readers, for your patience during what is turning out to be an extremely busy time for me as I sort my way through the various steps of production for my novel, Realm.
What began as a little spark of an idea has become a big dream come true. I promised updates, so here’s where we are so far:
Metadata optimization is complete. I admit that a quick search on Google backed up by a discussion with the patient, brilliant team at BookBaby helped me understand exactly what metadata is as well as why it’s necessary that it be optimized. Once it’s available for purchase, my book will be easily found.
Interior Design Proof. Wow – BookBaby did an amazing job with the interior design of my novel. As I scrolled through the .pdf in the two-page layout view, I kept whispering to myself, “It’s a book . . . it’s a real book.” The title page and the first page of each chapter were just perfect, and seeing my work portrayed so professionally thrilled me to the point of happy dancing around my kitchen. There were a few tweaks that I requested, so as horrible as it sounds, I had to choose “reject proof” and shoot it back to BookBaby. I’m confident that the minor details will be ironed out quickly.
Cover Design Proof. This was a tear-inducing moment when everything I conveyed to BookBaby was made a reality on the cover of my book. The picture they provided included the spine and the back cover as well. Again, all I can say is, “Wow.” I requested a minor modification on one small section, which required the painful choice of “reject proof,” but still, I was extremely pleased with how BookBaby captured my vision for the cover.
So, as the Design Team goes back to work on a few things, I have turned my attention to marketing research. What a trip that has been sifting through the “dos and don’ts” and “run screaming” world of marketing.
Stay tuned for more exciting Realm updates, and as always, thank you for taking this journey with me.
Step Into the Realm
Have you ever longed for a dream project to become a reality all the while living in a state that hovers somewhere between excitement and fear? If so, then you’re probably an artist. And if you’re an artist, then you know that talking about what you’re going to do is where creativity goes to die and fear to thrive.
For writers, we often talk about all the great stories we’re going to write. Many of us even have a notebook devoted to story ideas where we jot them down so we can pretend to stay focused on our WIP. Then one day, when the guilt gets to be too much, we make the commitment to not just set aside time for writing but actually write.
We attend writers’ groups, join online writing communities, and scour the Internet for writing advice all in the hopes of producing a piece of writing worthy of publication. There are good days and bad days, and then one day, it all pays off.
Stepping out in faith has been a large part of my writing process, and I’d say finding an excellent beta reader was where it started. I have been blessed to have a beta reader who catches my mistakes, asks the right questions to keep my plot on course, and challenges me to see things from a different perspective. He also provides amazing feedback and encouragement.
Then there’s my editor, who is a Godsend. When I was feeling my most resistant to completing my own dream, she entered the picture as an answer to prayer. Her expertise and energy never cease to amaze me. Combined with my beta reader, I have two people in my corner who often believe in me more than I believe in myself.
My blessings don’t end there. My husband has been through every high and every low of the writing process with me. I know I sometimes take him for granted, but as soon as I remember, I express my gratitude. He’s so compassionate and forgiving that occasionally I agree with my mother: I don’t deserve him.
My son lies on the other end of the spectrum from my husband, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, his tougher approach riled me up, but it made me strive to be a better writer and prove to the little upstart that I could finish. Besides, what kind of parental example would I be setting if I didn’t complete what I started, which is the whole point of this post.
It is my very great pleasure to announce that my novel, Realm, is officially in production.
Thank you, dear followers, for taking this journey with me. Stay tuned for all the exciting updates.
Read to Write
Every year I take the Goodreads pledge to read twenty-four books. This year, I finished with sixty-one books. This is a new record for me. I’m actually going to end with sixty-two as soon as I get to the one sitting on my to-be-read stack, but I’m also kind of a stickler about not counting a book until it is absolutely finished. You never know what could occur during the course of my day to prevent me from completing it. I wouldn’t want to offend the Goodreads gods or something.
I’m sure I’ve said it on my blog before, but I’m going to say it again: if you want to write well, you must read well.
Let’s start with quantity first. Get your hands on everything you can and read it. Books, articles, newspapers (do we still have those?), fiction, non-fiction, read inside your favorite genre and outside your favorite genre. Read, read, read.
There are going to be people who tell you what the best is by labeling it classic, best seller, or some other tag to entice you. That’s fine, give it a whirl. Remember, though, that the final decision is yours on whether or not the book deserves such high and lofty praise. Keep in mind, however, that good writing can occur even if you don’t care for and/or disagree with the piece of writing (fiction or non-fiction), so analyze every aspect of what you’re reading before bringing the hammer down on a particular work.
Now let’s talk about quality. The more you read, the more you will expose yourself to the good and bad in writing. Very soon you’ll be able to discern not just what appeals to your reading tastes, but what lends to the foundation of good writing. Again, this will only occur if you crowbar yourself out of your reading rut and into the vast libraries of the world. Keep in mind that the popularity of the book/how well it was received, the money it made, shocking subject matter, being written by someone the public did not expect, and the tale being turned into a movie are not factors by which one should judge the writing.
I’m not going to include the research, data, or links to posts about how much smarter one becomes by reading, but it’s true. It just is. Your vocabulary and knowledge will increase, and at the very least, you’ll spark new interests and have something worthy to discuss with other people.
So, I challenge each of you reading this to set a goal for the quickly approaching new year and get to reading. Take a moment to let me know in the comments what you read this past year, what you loved, what you hated, and why. Word of mouth is often how I find my next great read.
What You Write is as Important as What You Write
What you write is as important as what you write. No, that’s not a typo. It’s the beginning of something I’d like to discuss with you.
Writing inspiration comes in many ways from many different places, and if you’re like me, it never fails to arrive at a moment when you’re unable to grab a pen and paper to jot it down. Regardless of how you gain inspiration, you now have a great story idea in your head that you know in your heart must be released into the world.
The writing process usually begins with some plotting, perhaps a little research, and maybe a smidgen of editing along the way. Before you know it, you have a first draft in hand.
You love this piece of writing because it’s your creation from start to finish. When you dig in for the fine-tuning, you realize that your WIP could use something. It’s good, but it’s not great like when you first conceived it. Obviously, you don’t want to add superfluous dialog or excessive description that reads like filler. Still, there is something needed.
Hopefully, your writing journey has not led you to the dark side of writing. What I mean is the use of foul language and/or violence in any of its hideous forms as a means of ramping up your story.
One of the promises I made to myself and my readers was to realistically portray life in my writing. I don’t shy away from difficult topics. The tagline on my blog says as much: Writing Life One Word at a Time. With that being said, there are certain topics that, if written about, must be handled carefully and certain expressions that should be used judiciously and sparingly.
I remember several years ago attempting to read a novel about a violent assault on a young woman complete with some of the most callous description I’d ever read. The novel was highly acclaimed, but all I could think was Dear God . . . this very thing has happened to someone’s daughter, and here it is being written about most insensitively for use as entertainment. In addition to that book, there have been many other novels that I stopped reading because the language was so vile and added nothing to the story.
Do these scenarios happen in real life? Of course. Do people spew foul language for numerous reasons? Yes. Can a writer incorporate painful situations and extreme emotion into his/her writing without compromising quality? Absolutely. My point is that if you’re including violence and swearing simply for shock value, then your approach to writing is immature.
Another instance where writers need to exercise maturity is when writing about intimacy. I cannot tell you how many cringe-worthy sex scenes I skimmed until I could locate the storyline again. These books were often tossed aside because most people are especially bad at writing a sex scene.
Before you assume that all I read is smut, please be assured that is not true. Unfortunately, though, examples of what I’ve described slipped into otherwise terrific novels written by good writers. I have been shocked out of an engrossing storyline by such miserable scenes, and I had to wonder if the author had a moment in which he/she lapsed into poor judgment.
Is it because we live in an era where everything—no matter how vulgar, painful, or private—is made accessible that writers have allowed this into their writing? I would implore you to exercise extreme caution regarding what you set before your eyes because it becomes that which you take into your heart and mind. And there are some things that are not meant for entertainment.
To take the beautiful tool that is language, drag it through the mud, and slap it on the page for thrills is the shallow end of the writing pool. I encourage you to write deeper. Use your fiction to shed light on the complicated matters in life but do it without glorifying evil.