Writing Tips

The Roller Coaster of Writing

I find that sometimes writing is a real roller coaster. There are times writers may have a “love/hate” relationship with writing. It can be so exciting and rewarding. You create something and just watching the magic come together is an emotional high like no other. But then there are other days. Days where writing can seem terrifying. You might feel your work is awful. “What’s the point?” “You’ll never be as good as…”

It’s a strange phenomenon. I haven’t had too many of those scary days lately – but they do creep up when you least expect it. So how do you get through those times? Do you give up? Throw in the towel? Hang up your pen?

Or

Do you take a step back? Take a deep breath? Take a break? These are certainly great options, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes just going for a walk to refresh your mind will help. Sometimes just writing through it helps. Look to a journal or a blog about your writing progress to sort out those complicated feelings.

But, when you’re done, that story you were working on? It’s still there. Your muse will return because chances are, if you have a story idea in your head – that Muse will not leave you alone. So do what you need to recover from the writing lows when you have them. There will be many more writing highs to look forward to.

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Writing Tips

Using Your Senses in Writing

“Describe a moment in time. Make me feel like I am there.” This was an English assignment I had in college.

How do you do that? In a sense, we do it when we are “showing” in our writing verses “telling” the reader what to see. The key words in that English assignment was “Make me feel like I am there.”

In order to make the reader feel what our characters are experiencing, we have to make them become the character they are reading about. We can do this by using our 5 senses in our writing.

Sight

Pretend you are a camera following this person around. What does your character see? Do they see a “scary figure” or do they see “a seven-foot man holding a sharp object in his clenched fist”? Show your reader what your character sees.

Some sensory words for sight include:

Appearance:

  • Blinding
  • Tall
  • Hypnotizing

Colors:

  • Red
  • Aqua
  • Purple

Shapes:

  • Round
  • Octagon
  • Rectanlge

Hear

Sight shouldn’t be the only sense we adhere to. Hearing plays an important part in what the character percieves is going on. They might hear a “loud noise” or they might hear “a thunderous BOOM. When we tell that the character heard a noise, we don’t get what they are feeling. However, if there is a thunderous BOOM, we understand that there is a more threatening situation.

Some sensory words for hearing:

  • Boom
  • Screeching
  • Thump
  • Roaring

Smell

I used an example in A Star in the Night of showing what my character experienced. Instead of saying, David liked the smell of the bakery, I wrote, “Sweet smells of sugary cakes and icing swirled through the air. David’s stomach growled.”

Taste

The sense of taste instantly gives us a positive or negative experience. If our character tastes something they don’t like, we want our reader to understand the extent of what our character feels. Instead of saying that the character didn’t like lemons, we might say that he pursed his lips in response to the sour taste.

Since smell and taste go together we often can use the same or similar sensory words. Some examples of these sensory words are:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bland

Touch

Much of what our brain percieves is percieved through touch. Let’s look at a character holding a brush. If this is important in the scene or the story, we want this to stick out in the reader’s mind. So, instead of saying that the brush was too rough for the dog, we might say, that the brush’s bristles scratched the back of her hand.

Some sensory words for touch include:

  • Bristly
  • Sticky
  • Fluffy

In my research for this post I came across a senseory word list from the 34 Kiwis blog. This is a great start to help brainstorm some of these sensory words. Using sensory detail in writing amplifies your character’s experience and goes a long way in “showing” instead of “telling.”

For more tips, first look at interviews, free coloring pages and a free lesson plan, click here.

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Show Don’t Tell

My daughter’s 7th grade classroom has an amazing teacher who is enthusiastic about writing and the writing process. After hearing how they are learning about “Showing, not telling,” I recently offered to do a classroom visit to reinforce the concept they are learning. 


As an author and editor I was thrilled to hear how the teacher is sharing with them about the real writing process and what matters to editors. When we show instead of tell in our writing, we make the writing jump off the page.
I asked the children for examples of showing for the sentence “He liked this safe place.” My favorite response? “His eyes lit up when he walked in”. Amazing – and from a 7th grader. I suspect us writers are going to have some strong competition in a few years. 

Some more examples of showing versus telling:

  • Telling:    It was a nice day.  
  • Showing: The sun gleamed through the bright blue sky. The warm breeze tickled my cheek 

  • Telling:  He was sad.
  • Showing: A frown crept across his face as a tear escaped from his eye.

  • Telling: My room is a mess.
  • Showing: Clothes lay strewn all over the room. Checkers decorated the remaining visible floor. 

Join in the conversation. What are your Showing Versus Telling sentences? 
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SCBWI’s Conference Blog

I stumbled across this blog – the SCBWI conference blog. Though I will not be attending the Summer Conference in LA due to the fact I’m on the East Coast, I have benefited from the conference in New York and local confrences in my home state. If you’re an SCBWI member, give this site a visit.

Many of you know I’ve been adding writing tips to my blog. The biggest tip I can offer you is to attend a conference now and then. Of course, you won’t be getting anywhere if you don’t write, but the fellowship, networking and learning from other writers at the conferences are definitely a plus.

Check out the blog at http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com/

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Jen’s Writing Tip #4: Watch Passive Voice

Jason ate the cookie.
The cookie was eaten by Jason.

Which sentence above do you find more interesting to read? Did one of them provide a better picture in your head of what was going on? Both sentences tell us about Jason eating a cookie, but the first one was more clear and you can easily visualize the action.

The first sentence is Active Voice. The second sentence was Passive. Active voice makes for more interesting reading and is likely to keep your reader interested. The readers will find themselves caring more about your character as well because it would be as if they were actually there.

There’s a bonus to using Active Voice – it helps when you are revising and cutting words. If you take a look at the two sentences above again, you’ll notice the first sentence (Active Voice) has four words. The second (Passive Voice) sentence has six. Imagine cutting two or more words from many sentences in your manuscript. You may find it easier to meet your word count requirement, which can only improve your chances of publication.

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Jen’s Writing Tip #3: What’s in a Guideline?


Answer: Your best shot at publication with that company. Remember that Writers’ Guidelines are not just a preference. Editors are looking for something specific and to be considered for their publication, it is in your best interest to follow the guidelines to the letter.

When I submitted my work, I created checklists based on the Writers’ Guidelines. After my manuscript had been through the critique group a few times, I ran down the checklist and marked off each requirement.

Not every manuscript ended up as an acceptance, but it certainly made sure it was considered and not tossed on a technicality.

So remember, one key to publication is following those guidelines.

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Jen’s Writing Tips #2 – Come in With a Bang!


NO! Don’t do it!

Okay, now that I have your attention, what were you thinking when you read that line above?
No, what? Don’t do what? Why? What does that have to do with the title?

When you approach an editor with your manuscript you want it to stand out above the others. Open with a bang to grab that editor’s attention. Remember the key is to get their attention so they’ll want to read more. A great way to do this is opening with lines filled with emotion, as done above. Maybe the line you use is suspenseful. Maybe it asks a curious science question. All these should grab the editor’s attention and they will want to read more.

Once you’ve gotten that far, it’s up to you to follow through. Keep that story interesting. Make that article answer fun questions or provide amazing facts. If you make your manuscript stand out, you have a good chance of keeping the editor’s attention. And that is definitely a great start.