writing process

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How To Use Writing Tips

Published November 27, 2016 by nruhwald

**This blog is on hiatus until the New Year. Thank you for reading.***

It occurred to me lately that I could use Pinterest to collect writing help articles as well as blogging help articles. Since then I’ve been swamped in writing tips. I think I have to start saving more dessert recipes and crocheting patterns just to keep things in balance.

But with this newfound access to a ton of internet knowledge, came the responsibility of using it properly. How and when do you apply writing tips? Are you supposed to have a list of writing rules open beside you as you write and keep referring to them?

Duh, no.

You’d never get anything done. When do we use writing tips, then, and how?

The short answer: during planning and editing.

For the long answer I’m going to go through some common types of writing tips and how to use them.

The Word List

(This also applies to your thesaurus)

Many of these lists have themes, such as words to use instead of “went,” words that evoke sensory details, words that “every writer should know.”

In general I think these lists are good, but use with care. Just like a thesaurus, it is very easy to look pretentious if you use words your audience doesn’t understand. There is also the risk of using a word incorrectly because you don’t understand what it means.

In which case you end up looking silly to those readers who do.

However, you can use these lists. These are best used in the final polishing, or line-editing, of your work. For instance, if you notice your characters are constantly “dashing” everywhere, a good word list with action verbs can help you out. A thesaurus is also helpful if you are struggling to remember a word. Often you can find it by looking for words with similar meanings.

The only “words to use instead of” list you should never use is the “said” replacement list. Do not, ever, replace “said” with anything. Except perhaps “asked,” although some suggest that a question mark is sufficient.

Unlike pretty much any other device used in fiction, “said” is supposed to be boring. It is there to be skipped over, so that the reader sees the character’s name and knows who’s talking, and that’s it. The dialogue itself does the rest.

If you must specify that a character is shouting or whispering or whatever, use an action tag.

Lists of “words every writer should know,” are a particular danger zone. While I agree writers should probably know what these words mean, they are almost always exactly the sort of words writers should use very, very infrequently. Or not at all, unless needed for voice or characterization purposes.Use a thesaurus with the same caution.

With one exception: if you have a very-highly educated and/or pretentious character, it is perfectly fine to use these words.

How To Plot A Novel

These articles usually cover things like the progression of suspense/conflict in a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, ending). Or they may cover plot points, and any of the other large-scale building blocks of novels generally. This also applies to articles on how to write a scene.

This kind of information you should know and have in the back of your head when you’re going through the plotting stages of the novel. Which, depending on your style, may occur before any writing begins or intermittently during the process of writing the novel.

It may also help you realize what a horrible mess you’ve made of your novel after you’ve written it. For example, if you go over your novel’s plot and realize you’ve glossed over the climax entirely, or you have no plot points at all…

…then you’ve probably successfully created a first draft, and are now ready to begin the arduous process of rewriting it. Congratulations.

How To Write The First/Last Chapter/Page

These I also find useful in the planning stages. Or if I’ve tried to write the first scene (or whatever) a few times and it just doesn’t seem to be working. They’re also a handy guide for rewriting said sections.

Oh, and the first page of your novel is absolutely the most important part and you should rewrite/edit it fifty bazillion times. Of course, you also have to back up your fabulous first page with a high-quality novel, but the importance of first impressions cannot be overstated.

Unless of course you are paralyzed with doubt about your first page. In that case, just forget it for the moment and move on.

Character/Setting Profiles

I think these are super neat. Ideally these are used in the planning stages, where they have the greatest potential to save you grief later on, but can also be used if you find yourself running into problems during writing, or as a primer prior to rewriting.

My deal is, although I think these are really cool and I like the idea of them, so far I have never used any. I tend to daydream up sufficient detail about most places and people organically.

While these profiles certainly can be useful, they also feel a bit artificial to me. Like a school project. Which is also why I don’t normally make use of writing prompts or creative writing lessons, even though those things are probably beneficial too.

Unless the writing prompt results in you writing a cliché or the creative writing instructor doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. Which can happen too.


God bless, and happy writing!

(Come back next week for a new sneak peak of The King’s Children.)



When Failure is a Good Thing

Published October 30, 2016 by nruhwald

writeTo begin with, let me explain what I mean by “failure.” I’ll spare you the dictionary definition, we all know what the word means. But by failure, I’m talking about anything that didn’t go the way you wanted it to.

For writers, this could mean rejection by an agent, a bad review, a harsh critique, or poor sales or blog statistics.

For many of us, it’s very difficult to think of failure as anything other than an abysmal reflection on our efforts. It probably starts in school. Even in subjects where technically there is no wrong or right answer, for grading purposes, some answers are better than others. You either gain or loose marks, and that is it. Gained marks are good, lost marks are bad.

The world outside of school is a bit more nuanced.

Sometimes it’s not you

How people react to what you put out there, be it writing or anything else, is as much about them as it is about you. Oddly enough, I learned that playing an online rpg. Some of the characters thought I was fantastic, while others hated me.

Obviously, it was all preprogrammed. I could only complete the quests. What the characters said or did as a result had nothing to do with me.

It may have been just a game, but it translates into the real world. Just as the characters in the game had preprogramed responses, people you meet come with their own set of likes and dislikes. If someone doesn’t like what you wrote, it could just be that you queried the wrong agent, or for some reason attracted the wrong audience.

Whether you “succeed” or not sometimes doesn’t have much to do with how well you do it. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the writing world. But this fact doesn’t let you off the hook.

If the bad result isn’t your fault, you have to try something different. Find out where your audience really is. Find the right agent.

Sometimes it is you

But this isn’t a bad thing either. You have simply discovered a problem that needs to be solved. Finding out you write query letters badly, for example, isn’t objectively worse than finding out you queried the wrong agent. It feels worse, I won’t deny that.

But it doesn’t mean that you are doomed, or that you’re a bad writer (or a bad whatever-you’re-trying-to-be). All that’s needed is a bit of learning and practice. Possibly a lot, but that’s okay.

Mistakes are good. They help you learn.

Failure sucks. Sometimes a lot. There are numerous, rather common, experiences in writing that easily elicit in emotional crisis. You’re entitled to feel awful when this happens. But when the storm is over, remember that you’ve just discovered an opportunity.

Learn from your mistakes. Success is great but it seldom teaches you anything.


Writing Weirdness

Published October 23, 2016 by nruhwald

book-read-relax-lilacI apologize for missing last week. It’s midterm week at the ‘ol tech school.

Given that writing a blog post is not necessarily a great drain on time you wouldn’t think it being midterm week would mess up my blogging schedule so much.

But hey, look at that. It did.

Without further ado, I’d like to talk about writing weirdness. Not writing weird things, but the weird things going on in the writing world.

Specifically, something I keep hearing people say. Usually something like: “I don’t use my writing to express my viewpoint,” or “nobody likes to be preached at” etc.

The thought pattern behind this, I suppose, is: writers should avoid putting their personal opinions into their writing because people do not like encountering viewpoints contrary to their own, and heaven forbid anyone should mistakenly think the person with an opinion is “judgy.”

By the fact that I’m bringing this up, one could assume that I don’t agree with this kind of thinking. It’s not so much that I don’t agree. I just think people who say this are missing something rather obvious.

We are all unique. Our opinions and worldviews are as unique as our fingerprint. This is why nobody ever writes the same story. We all know this.

Then why would anybody think that at least part of what they believe and how they see the world is not evident in their writing?

Whether a writer makes a point of discussing something in a novel is irrelevant. Who they are will show up in what kinds of characters they create, and what kinds of stories they tell. It’s not a bad thing.

How you view the world and what kind of experiences you’ve have will shape your idea of what a lousy person looks like. Your choices of antagonists will reflect that. Likewise for your protagonists.

Your opinions are going to be in your story anyway. Other people may not notice. Some of them will.

Sometimes I like to read through another writer’s work, published or otherwise, and make guesses about what they believe from that. And then find out more about them from their profiles and bio’s and such to see if I was right. (Saying this just to prove a point, not to brag,) but I’m right about 90% of the time. I can spot a fellow Christian from a hundred yards.

People who can write convincingly from another perspective are rare. I can also tell if a writer chooses to have religious characters, (because, you know, most people do believe in something) but are not religious themselves.

Okay, I guess it’s obvious I don’t agree with the kind of thinking that says you shouldn’t put what you believe in your writing. I think it’s silly, because what you believe is in there anyway. (Especially when people say they don’t put their beliefs in writing and then advocate for diversity in writing. Isn’t diversity all about different world views and experiences? How do you keep opinions out of that?)

It’s okay to have an opinion and put it somewhere where people might see it. All else being equal, a well-crafted story with someone’s opinions in it is still a good story.

People are too scared of opinions other than their own these days. Knowing this, it’s tempting to pack our own away. But wouldn’t it be better to learn to express our views and receive other people’s views in a non-combative way?


We are Peculiar People

Published September 25, 2016 by nruhwald

pretendI don’t normally participate in the daily prompt, I prefer to write about what I planned to write about. I suppose one could tailor the post to fit, but that seems so contrived somehow.

Fortunately, this week I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about. Fortunately, daily prompt came to my rescue. This prompt is perfect because so much of my life has been about pretending.

As a child I spent much of my time in a pretend world, I suppose that’s why writing novels, especially fantasy, came so naturally. Not the technique of writing a novel properly, but the creative process.

Even now, I may not be daydreaming all the time (though I often am), but much of my life is pretend. I pretend I know what people mean. I pretend I didn’t hear what someone said across the hall from me. I pretend I really want to write a blog post on the one day I reserve as a homework-free zone. I pretend I’m absorbed with whatever I’m listening to on my Ipod, and not listening and watching out of the corner of my eye.

That may sound a bit creepy, but we writers are observers. How can we replicate life if we do not observe it?

Besides, as Patrick Hood is fond of pointing out “it’s not eavesdropping if I can’t help it.”

It is only in observing other people that we realize that everyone is pretending. Pretending they’re really listening, pretending to pay attention in class, pretending everything’s okay. Sometimes, you also find out they’ve been watching you, too.

Pretending is necessary to the writer’s craft. Writers must know how to pretend, or else I suppose just write non-fiction.

But everyone pretends. Everyone sees that other people are pretending, at least if they care enough to look.

We are peculiar people.

via Daily Prompt: Pretend

Stumped by Stress

Published September 11, 2016 by nruhwald

beach-1085999_640For many of us, the beginning of September brings with it the beginning of a new school year, and whole boatload of stress. Today I’d like to talk about what effect that stress can have on your writing.

For me, stress tends to bring my writing output to a screeching halt, or something very much like it. The first week of school is not a good writing week.

How do you deal with that? Gaps in writing output are bad, right?

I have heard some experienced writers say that, with practice, it is possible to harness whatever emotions you’re experiencing and channel them into productive writing. Needless to say, I have not yet achieved that state of emotion-harnessing. There’s the odd time I escape into my writing just to get a break from whatever is going on, but most of the time I retreat into something less demanding.

Writing has its own stresses, and can be both emotionally and mentally taxing. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, trying to write, particularly trying to write well, may be next to impossible.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? If you don’t deal with the stress and stay in that non-writing place for an extended period of time, yes. But taking a break from your project for a while can actually be good for both you and the project.

Sometimes ideas just need some time to simmer.

This last week, I did no writing at all. But I realized that I had telegraphed a particular event in my novel instead of foreshadowing it.

For those of you who don’t know, telegraphing is essentially being too obvious. Foreshadowing should just be a hint, I pretty much told the reader exactly what was going to happen later. That’s bad.

So if you find yourself stumped by stress, whether because of the start of school or another reason, don’t freak out about it. Maybe a little break to recharge while you ride out the storm is just what your story needs. Just make sure to come back as soon as possible.

via Daily Prompt: Stump

Pick up Your Pen and Write

Published June 20, 2016 by nruhwald


Sometimes I don’t feel like it.

I have a headache.

I’m not feeling well.

I don’t know, I’m just in a slump.

I just don’t feel as wonderfully creative as I did yesterday when I wrote practically all day and cranked out over 2000 words.

So do it anyway. Because, just do it.

One might say this is part two of an earlier post I wrote entitled Why I Don’t Want to be a Serious Writer. I still feel the same way, I think.

I don’t want try to be someone I can’t be yet. I just want to be…a novelist.

I like that word, okay?

Since then, I haven’t changed much. Mainly I think I just obsess less about the things I should be doing that I can’t do.

Even so, never let that be an excuse to “not feel like it.” That applies to blog writing (etc) as much as it does to my other work. Sometimes I don’t feel like putting in the two posts a week, or trying to connect with a million strangers in the hopes that someone will care when I am eventually able to self-pub my debut novel.

Sometimes…I just have to suck it up and use it as inspiration for the blog post I was supposed to write yesterday.

Get Past It

We all struggle with motivation from time to time, so in the second half of this post, let me share with you how I escape the doldrums and move back into the trade winds of productivity.

First of all, you won’t always “feel like it.” At least not until you start doing it. I often find I get into a mini-slump after a really, really good day of writing. That’s because I contrast how creative I felt at the time with how I feel after a relatively long break (a night’s sleep, lets say).

But I didn’t start that creative day feeling like that. I still had to get into it, and then yes, the creative juices got going and practically nothing could knock me out of it.

Don’t tell my profs, but I’ve written straight through some classes riding a creative high. Sometimes I wonder, though. I’m not really a note-taker, and then they see me studiously writing away. And what about the quotation marks and the big paragraphs and the lack of bullet points? Can they see that? Do they know? But I digress.

To get into the creative mindset, I usually start by thinking about what it is I have to do while doing something else. I may type up what I last wrote, or do some light editing. Or read what I wrote last and then go play some computer games, so I can think about it for a bit.

Sometimes this works, and sometimes I get tired afterwards and just go to sleep. Usually this just means I have to stop watching TV and go write earlier, but sometimes I means I gave up. Don’t give up. Just do it.

That sentence. In your head. Write it down. Even if you’re not feeling it. Pick up your pen, and write it down. Even if you don’t have a sentence in your head. Pick up the pen. A sentence will come to you if you stare at the page long enough.

It’s taken me as long as half an hour. Or more, I don’t really pay attention. But I find typing up or reading what I wrote last can shorten this time. It gets my head into my story.

How do you stay motivated?

The Importance of a Good Pen

Published June 14, 2016 by nruhwald

writingfantasyPens in the Writing Process

Everyone writes differently. Personally, I like to write everything out on paper first, and then type it up onto my computer.

But that sounds like a lot of work, you say. What’s the point of making more work for yourself? It’s really less of a make-work exercise than it sounds. I do this for two reasons: creativity, and editing.

Writing is a lot of work. More to the point writing-editing-rewriting-editing-editing is a lot of work. While I type up what I’ve written, I get a good opportunity to give my prose a once-over, tightening up sentence structure and sometimes adding things when needed.

Of course, there are always those days when I’m feeling a bit lazy and just highlight trouble spots for later.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to do anything deeply creative with a pen and paper. The keyboard is the realm of blog posts, school assignments, and editing. Although occasionally if I have a creative moment and want to vomit it onto something in rough strokes, I will use a keyboard because I type faster than I write with a pen.

Qualities of a Good Pen

A good pen has to be your partner in the editing process, an extension of yourself. In order to fulfill these requirements, a pen has to have three traits: a soft grip, easy flow ink, and a fine nib.

The soft grip is a must because if things are going well, you’re going to be hanging onto that sucker for a long time, and you don’t want to be interrupted because your fingers are getting sore. Or because of the dreaded writer’s cramp.

Easy flow ink is for me by far the most important attribute. I hate having to fight with the pen to get it to write for me. It also has to be dark ink, so I can read it easily. I have enough trouble reading my own writing without having to strain my eyes because the ink is too pale, or a weird colour, or I used a pencil. I like gel pens for this, preferably the ones that don’t leak at the nib too much.

The fine nib is more of a personal preference. I think it looks neat and professional, and it means I can write smaller, thus making the best use of my writing journals.

What do you like to write with?

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