It’s like I always forget. Life gets crazy during the holidays. I find myself pulled away from writing. And I go with it. But then when it’s time to restart, it’s hard.
Then I finally do it. I write something. It’s probably something short. But I keep at it and finally I dive back into my current novel. It flows better than I expect. I go to sleep thinking about the characters and the plot line. I wake up with ideas. In the shower I have more ideas and I can’t wait to get to actually writing. Sometimes the characters take over and do things I didn’t expect.
Writers write. We might write drivel. We definitely will be rewriting and revising. But getting the words down has to be done. And personally the more words I write, the more I want to write. Getting to it brings me joy of sharing thoughts, even if no one else will read the draft (or even this post).
It reminds me of this quote by Doris Lessing: “You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.” It’s like most anything—the more you practice the better you get. It doesn’t mean it will be easy or flawless, but improvement comes. Sometimes for me it’s been that “ah ha” moment when a concept finally sunk into my brain. Often, it’s less obvious. It’s only when I look back at some old writing that I see all the things I’ve learned since then.
Life is always throwing us off. For me these past few months I’ve had a lot of illness. Sometimes I’ve been too brain dead to write. Other times I’ve been too exhausted. But because I AM a writer, I want to write, and I do so when I can. And again writing makes me want to write more. Writing on one topic or one story helps my brain come up with other ideas for more posts or stories.
Another way words beget words is by being involved with other writers. My critique group will point out where I missed emotion in a scene. Or they’ll ask questions, and those questions will stir thoughts in my brain about my story and I can’t wait to get back to writing the story. Sometimes my reaction to those questions or problem areas happens right away; other times it’s like they have to simmer. I’ll be doing something totally unrelated to writing and an idea pops into my head about the words my critique partner said. Now I know how to fix that! Yee Haw!
Another way I’m inspired is by teaching. When I see students and/or other writers making mistakes, I want to help them and others learn. Or sometimes I want to express my frustrations with those who don’t try very hard. Many of my blog posts get inspired one of these ways. (Especially on my other website: www.susanuhlig.com where I talk about writing for children.)
So life interrupts us all. What is it that inspires you to get back to writing?
Last month someone contacted me with this question, “How do you find a critique group?”
The best way I’ve found critique groups (or beta readers, those who will read and comment) is through writing organizations and groups, and even classes. (I've found both face-to-face groups and online groups.)
May writing organizations (associations, clubs, societies) have local chapters that organize critique groups or connections. These organizations can be focused on writing for children, science fiction, romance, mystery, etc. And even if an organization doesn’t offer formal exchanges or specific critique events, meeting other writers at any writing event is a helpful way to find someone working on similar types of work and check and see if he/she is interested in a manuscript exchange. In the children’s writing group I belong to (scbwi.org), I’ve often seen professional critiques offered by published authors in a roundtable format. Frequently new critique groups are started because of these events. (Organizations often offer discounts to events for members, so consider joining.)
There are also less formalized writing groups. You’ll see a lot of these on Facebook, or in MeetUps, or message boards. Sometimes there will be specific places to ask for critique or to advertise you are looking for critiquers. Sometimes it just happens as people are discussing writing. “I’m looking for some beta readers for my historical novel.” Those interested comment and email addresses are exchanged. You can find these groups by searching by a specific topic “inspirational writers,” “romance writers,” or “fiction writers.” Some groups are open to the public; others you have to join (free). Sometimes you try a group and find out it isn’t a good fit for you, so you leave it.
Check your local libraries schedule of events. Most libraries will allow writing groups to meet for free with the stipulation that the meeting be open to the public. You’ll find formal and informal meetings here. Again, it’s about making connections.
And don’t forget about writing classes. There may be organized classroom critiques, and/or your instructor may offer critiques. But again you could make connections with like-minded writers.
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, but here are some writing organizations I’m aware of. Your community may have regional independent organizations as well as chapters of these and other national/international organizations.
American Christian Fiction Writers http://www.acfw.com/
The Author’s Guild http://www.authorsguild.org/
Mystery Writers of America http://mysterywriters.org/
Romance Writers of American http://www.rwa.org/
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association of America http://www.sfwa.org/
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators http://www.scbwi.org/
This website offers a more extensive list: http://writersrelief.com/writers-associations-organizations/
He said/she said = tagline
Action with dialogue = beat
Both can serve the purpose of identifying who is speaking. Both are needed. But like a heartbeat it’s the beats that will really bring your story alive.
Beats show action, emotions, can set mood, share setting details, slow pacing, and show time passage. This is the place to work in sensory details. Thoughts of the main character can be included as well.
Let’s start with a couple arguing, because conflict is interesting. At first, I’ll only use taglines.
“Ray, I’m not going to do it,” Sally said.
“But it’s the logical thing—” he said.
“Your logic. Not mine.”
“Anyone’s logic. Putting the money in a CD will—“
“Will mean I still have to drive that junker of a car.”
There’s some tension in their dialogue, but we don’t know where they are or who they are. We know Sally is an interrupter. Ray sounds calmer, perhaps. Depends how you read it. But as an author we want our readers to be sure, not guessing how to read it. Beats will do that.
Sally leaned forward across her untouched dinner. The spaghetti had gone cold and was a congealed mass. “Ray, I’m not going to do it.”
Frowning, he set down his dessert fork. “But it’s the logical thing—”
“Your logic.” She took his well-manicured hand in her own. “Not mine.”
“Anyone’s logic.” Ray shoved himself back from the table and out of reach of his wife. “Putting the money in a CD will—“
“Will mean I still have to drive that junker of a car.” She kept her voice low so the other diners wouldn’t overhear.
Now you know they are in a restaurant, probably Italian. He’s starting in on dessert, but she hasn’t eaten her main dish. That implies husband and wife have probably each been in their own mental worlds, not paying much attention to the other. By taking his hand, she’s trying to be conciliatory. He reacts by pushing himself away. We know she doesn’t want to make a scene. It has more than doubled the word count, but oh so much more interesting.
For contrast, let’s try something else with this dialogue.
Sally shut off the classical music playing on the satellite radio. “Ray, I’m not going to do it.”
He glanced at her then focused back on his driving. “But it’s the logical thing—”
“Your logic,” she interrupted. She rested her forehead against the cool glass of the passenger window. “Not mine.”
He steered the vehicle to the side of the road and stopped it with a jerk. The only sounds were the swish swish of the windshield wipers and his fingers lightly drumming the steering wheel. Ray took a deep breath. “Anyone’s logic. Putting the money in a CD will—“
“Will mean I still have to drive that junker of a car.” She stroked the leather seat of her lawyer’s BMW. Not something like this. Her face glowed in the dim light of the dashboard.
It has a different feel, doesn’t it? To me Sally feels greedier. Ray’s annoyed, but trying to keep himself in control.
So questions to ask yourself about your dialogue.
Is there a sense of place where the dialogue is taking place?
Are there any sensory details? (Taste, touch, sight, hearing, smell, or temperature?)
What are the characters doing besides talking? We don’t live in a vacuum—your characters shouldn’t either.
Can you tell anything about the relationship of the characters? Their emotions?
Hear anyone’s thoughts?
Sense any time passing?
Not every piece of dialogue will include all of these, of course, but when starting a new scene, our readers will appreciate some details to ground them.
Like a steady heartbeat in the background, beats will help your story live in the readers’ hearts and minds.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.