Writing for the Masses 8: Finding Test Readers

You’ve spent months on this manuscript, discovering your characters and putting their personalities on the page. Just one issue: you forgot to introduce one character in the first chapter.

After all the time invested, we often lose the ability to objectively evaluate and inspect our writing. Any gaps in information are automatically filled in by our mind, which has all the backstories and plot-points catalogued. That’s all well and good if you plan on only writing for yourself, but most of us want to see a return on our investment.

Enter the reader. Our unpublished comrades may not have writing expertise, but their populist perspective will help you gauge how the public may react to your book. More importantly, test readers are great for pointing out errors and slow moments. For that, they’re worth their weight in gold.

Keep finding!

Writing for the Masses 7: Know Writing When You See It

“Keep writing” seems like some obvious advice for anyone with creative writing ambitions, no matter how large or small. There really isn’t much else to writing other than to do it, and continue until you can do it well. You can read fiction, read publishing advice books, read writing websites (like this one!), but at the end of the day, practice is the only way to hone your voice.

I throw the “others have said this much better, but it bears repeating” disclaimer about here in the post. I’m not pretending to have some significant insight, just the experiences of my undergraduate career that I think others could learn from.

First, comrades, we must discuss the idea that we are writing all the time. Many of you will no doubt protest: “But I set aside special time for my fiction/poetry/satire. How can you tell me I’m always writing it?”

Know more!

Creedence Clearwater (and my) Revival

I know what you’re thinking:

Yes, he’s back again. Yet another post about how he had to go off and live his life, but now he’s going to be good to all his readers and followers and never leave us hanging again.

Well, no, actually. If you’re a longtime reader of this website, and I know there are at least a few of you out there, then you’ll know the “I’m back for good” posts are kind of a running gag on this site. Each summer, I write a post asking for forgiveness after school and work wrested my efforts away from writing, and then I promise to keep a consistent stream of content from here on out. After which, I promptly relapse into inactivity.

But I’m not going to do that this time. I won’t make any promises; I’m going to show you, my faithful readers (that haven’t yet found the “Unsubscribe” button), that The Future Writers of America lives on.

Revive more!

Writing for the Masses #6 (Inspiration)

We all know the feeling. You are sitting at your desk, compelled to write but not driven by any of your current ideas. Sure, you could write that mystery, but all you have is one cool scene in your head and a generic villain to drive the plot. Don’t get me wrong, the scene is probably awesome, but one scene is not the makings of a novel. It’s one singular idea.

The purpose of this post is not to bash anyone who starts with an idea and expands the writing from there. I used to do it all the time when I was first starting out and trying not to blatantly knock off better executed stories and movies I had encountered. Problem was, after I finished writing out the scene in my head, I had nowhere to go. If I forced myself to keep fleshing out the story that didn’t yet exist, I went like a sailing ship with no wind. There was potential in each failed novel I produced (and there were many, believe me), but they lacked the spark.

Every once in a while, however, I stumbled on a gem. Something that got my creative forces working in unison. I could see the first scene of the book, and the next, and the next. Almost always, the story involves something I already love: the ocean, seabirds, Loch Ness, history (WWII in particular), the paranormal. These also happened to be things I already knew a good deal about, and the inspiration combined to make something not just exciting in my head (as the first writing expeditions were), but real. Tangible. Concrete.
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Writing for the Masses #5 (Savoring the Small Victories)

Let’s be honest. I founded this article series on the belief that I could incite a populist movement to bring enlightenment and success to the downtrodden masses of starting writers, combined with a dash of charming Marxist rhetoric. Debatable as the likelihoods of that hope are, if you are a follower of the revolution, then we’ll all find ourselves at this point.

Define success however you like: a print publication; the first time you hear “Hey, that was pretty good”; a large blog following; or the completed novel you’ve been pounding away at for months. The reason we hold these dreams as such far off, climactic culminations is because we understand there’s going to be a good deal of work between now and that day, whenever it may come. We’re all going to have to deal with a lot of blood, sweat, and a few tears in our future. But with that struggle will come small victories, sign posts that say we’re growing closer to that high-vaulted goal.

 Savoring the Small Victories

Anyone can (and should) learn this skill. Even if you’ve already hit the big time, a published novel, unless you plan on retiring and pursuing nothing ever again, there’ll be many more projects in your future. And for us at the bottom, my fellow revolutionaries and writers, we’re just beginning the long path to victory. By taking a moment to pat ourselves on the back every now and again, we can make the journey that much easier on ourselves, and that much more meaningful.
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Writing for the Masses #4 (Building from the Past)

First of all, no, I’m not dead. The beginning of a semester is always a bumpy affair, and so I took a leave of absence while I sorted out the muddy road of my future. Apologies to you loyal readers who missed me. But hey, every big shot blogger takes off at some point, so I figure I’m just following the trade.

Second of all, I discovered another technique to share with you. As I went home this weekend, the memories of the past swirled in my head and compelled me to turn on the old desktop. I dived into the Writing folder, the one started in eighth grade, and dug up the horrors of the past. And yet, though the style was crude and the plot anything but subtle, I looked through the first “novel” (even with quotations, I’m being generous) I ever wrote, and something magical happened. I began to write.
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Writing for the Masses #3 (Style)

Welcome back to the revolution, comrades.

Let me start by saying, if the tags brought you here thinking you were about learn about clothing and fashion, then I’m sorry to disappoint. This post will be centered on the idea of a voice in writing, and how to go about refining that voice and make it that much more powerful.

So let’s get started, then. You have your music, and (hopefully), some motivation to sit down and crank out a story. Coaching on how to to write anything is always a tricky business, because everyone’s different. It’s something we’ve all known since our early days. Thus the world can be full of so much strife and misunderstanding, and at the same time such love and joy. But, as I’ve discovered in my own writing, there are general aspects that everyone can agree on.

The universal piece of advice is this:

Show, Don’t Tell

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