Day 31: You’re a Ninja Writer! Now What?

(Day 31) You're a Ninja Writer!You did it!

You made it through 31 days of assignments. You’ve written every day for 31 days. You’ve read every day for 31 days.

You’ve thought about your platform. You’ve made yourself the boss of your career. You’ve built community and put yourself on the path for learning more about your craft.

Not only are you a Ninja–you’re a freaking ROCK STAR!

And I’m so stinking proud of you.

Here’s what I don’t want to happen though. You know how sometimes you do something big and exciting and you finish it–and then the momentum just fades away. You slowly slide back to where you were before.

God, that sucks.

So, here are some ideas for how to actually be a Ninja Writer, now that you’ve become one.

  • Keep writing everyday.
  • Keep reading everyday.
  • Keep logging your work in your FRED.
  • Visit Ninja Writers on Facebook and actually participate!
  • Start by visiting today and letting us celebrate finishing this series with you.
  • Continue with Hump Day Prompts on Wednesdays and Ninja Writers Academy on Saturdays.
  • There are new things happening at Ninja Writers all the time: participate in those, too.
  • Give yourself a year. Write every day and just see what happens.
  • Join the book club next month.

If you really want to take the next step, enrollment in A Novel Idea is open now. ANI is a year-long course that will take you through plotting, writing, and editing your story. But, it’s so much more than that. It’s a powerful, engaged community full of people who are intensely dedicated not only to their own writing, but in helping each other succeed.

If you want to check that out, click here. The doors close on November 7.

This month has been so much fun for me. I feel like it’s been a game changer for the Ninjas as a whole. Thank you so much for being a part of it!

 

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Day 30: Watch TV Like a Writer

(Day 30) Watch TV Like a Writer

I fully admit that today’s advice is probably not something you’ve heard before.

I mean, even Stephen King said: If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far. Just an idea.

But, I want you to watch TV today.

I want you to watch TV like a writer.

Stay with me here. Television can be a time suck. It can steal your writing time. BUT, it can also be some of the best writing there is right now. (And, Mr. King is pretty hard on a medium that’s told some of his stories very well. Dead Zone, anyone?)

Television is one of the most time-efficient ways to take in a full story arch. And writers need to be story consumers, right? They just do.

I know I promised you that none of the assignments in this series would take very long. This is the only exception.

I want you to pick an episode of any show and watch it through the lens of a writer. Here are some questions to think about:

  • Why did you pick this episode?
  • What works about it for you?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • What did the writers do to make you want to watch the next episode?
  • How were the characters developed during this episode?
  • Did the characters interact with the setting?
  • What part of the story was resolved within this episode?
  • How was the larger story arch moved forward?
  • Can you tell where the three acts are in this episode?

ASSIGNMENT 30

Choose an episode of television and watch it like a writer. Come on over to our Facebook group and share what you learned!

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Day 29: Don’t be a Perfectionist

(Day 29) Don't be a Perfectionist

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” –Anne Lamott

Here’s a good way to shut writer’s block down.

Give yourself permission–absolutely permission–to write the worst sentence that’s ever been written in human history.

Just put down words. Make sure they move your story forward.

The other part of Anne Lamott’s advice is to shut down the voices in your head so that you can produce a shitty first draft.

That voice says: no more words for you, until what you’ve already written is perfect.

And it’s such a reasonable voice.

I mean, what kind of idiot wouldn’t want their work to be perfect? Who WANTS to produce a shitty first draft? OF COURSE you have to get every word perfect.

I want you to actively flip that voice the bird. It’s not helping you. It’s doing its best to save you from the hard work of writing, but giving you something to do that feels like writing, but isn’t.

There is a time for perfectionism and it’s not when you’re working on a first draft.

ASSIGNMENT 29

Here’s all I want you to do today: write a really terrible sentence. Make it bad on purpose. More adverbs! Clunky attributions. Make it run on. Use a dangling participle. Whatever!

 

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Day Twenty-Seven: Welcome Your Muse

(Day 26) Call Your Writing Muse

“One reason I don’t suffer Writer’s Block is that I don’t wait on the muse, I summon it at need.”

— Piers Anthony

Writers Block.

WRITERS BLOCK.

Uuuuuugggghhhh!

It’s the literary plague. The thing that looms over all of us, heavy and threatening, determined to kill our dreams.

I have a secret for you, though. It’s something I learned when I was a in my mid-twenties and working as the only newspaper reporter at a tiny newspaper in rural Nevada town. A town that was literally named the Armpit of America.

This is a truth that just about any journalist who has to produce writing on a deadline. Day after day after day.

Here it is: Writer’s block isn’t a thing.

Oh. I know it feels like a thing. I actually call it writer’s brain. See, writing is hard. Super hard. It’s so hard and so cerebral that our brains will do literally anything to give us an out.

So, suddenly we can’t write if our muses don’t show up. We can’t write if we’re not inspired. And it make sense, right? Who can write without inspiration? It’s insane to expect it.

See? Your brain gives you a way out of the hard work, while still letting you feel like a writer. Not only a writer–a TORTURED writer searching for inspiration. A writer abandoned by the muse.

Here’s what I want you to do today. I want you to figure out how to call your muse. Pull her right up out of wherever she’s hiding and put her to work. No more waiting on inspiration. You’re in charge here. You decide when your muse is going to inspire you.

Call Your Writing Muse

Here’s how I do it, on days when the idea of writing for even ten minutes feels monumental.

I light a candle. A yellow or orange candle, because those are my creativity colors. A citrus scent is best, but not 100 percent necessary. And I invite her. Verbally. Nothing as serious as a prayer or an invocation. I just say, “Hey, muse, let’s work.” Then I work. (That’s the important bit.) And when I’m done, I blow out my candle and say, “thanks for showing up today, Muse.”

That’s it.

Today, I want you to think about what you can do to call your muse. And remember that what you’re really doing is A) appeasing your writer brain and B) indicating to all of your systems that it’s time to work.

ASSIGNMENT 27

Come up with a little routine that you can use to call your muse. Come on over to Facebook and share it.

 

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Day 26: Participate

(Day 26) Participate

If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of Ninja Writers.

If you’re not, you should be.

Writers are often introverted by nature and it can be easy to isolate yourself when you’re doing such isolated work. Especially when that work involves building who worlds in your head that start to feel very real.

That just sounds crazy, right? I don’t want you to go crazy! So, for today’s assignment, I’m going to encourage you to participate in the writing community you started building a couple of days back.

Specifically, in Ninja Writers.

Here are a few things you can do:

Come introduce yourself, if you haven’t.

Respond to a thread. (I’m going to start a few getting to know you type threads today.)

Ask for a beta reader.

Offer to be a beta reader.

Share a link to your blog or something online that you’ve written.

If someone else shares a link, follow it and respond.

Sign up for the Ninja Writer’s Academy and do the assignments on Saturdays.

Do the Wednesday Hump Day Prompts.

Ask a question.

Answer a question.

Be present. Participate!

ASSIGNMENT 26

If you’re not part of the Ninja Writers Facebook Group, get over there and sign up today. And be active. Today.

 

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Day Twenty-Five: Show Don’t Tell

(Day 25) How to Show Not Tell

I’m going to give you one more technical editing assignment today.

You’ve probably heard (over and over and over) that writers should show not tell.

Here’s a quick primer on what that actually means.

Telling is talking to your best friend about a party you went to the night before.

Showing is taking her with you.

Telling is letting someone know you had a baby last night.

Showing is having them in the delivery room with you.

Telling is exposition. It’s narrative.

Showing is scene.

How to Show Not Tell

So, here’s what you’re going to do. Take a look at your work in progress. Look for a place where you have a character or the narrator telling about something. Then open it up. Bring the reader to the party. Bring the reader into the delivery room.

This is going to kind of suck for you, because once you really understand how to show not tell, you’re going to start seeing exposition all over your work in progress. And you’re going to know you have to do the work of opening that exposition up into scene, for the good of your story.

ASSIGNMENT 25

Open your work in progress and look for a piece of exposition–a place where you’ve told something that you could show. Think about a place where you’ve glossed over some piece of backstory or jumped ahead in time. I’m confident you’ll know the exposition I’m talking about, because you’ll know that you probably should have done more with it.

You know how I feel about editing while you’re writing. (In case you’re new, I think it’s a bad idea.) So all I want you to do is highlight the scene and make a note to yourself that you need to open it up when you’re in revision. Go ahead and find a few more, if you have time.

Come over to our Facebook Group and let us know how you did.

 

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Day Twenty-Four: Use Strong Verbs

(Day 24) Use Strong Verbs

After I wrote my first (terrible) draft of my first novel, I spent a couple of years learning everything I could about how to write a good story. Every time I learned something, I went and applied it to my entire manuscript.

The one thing I learned that changed my writing the most was how to use strong verbs.

A lot of times people confuse weak verbs with passive verbs. They aren’t the same thing.

A passive sentence looks like this:

The street was run down by Mary.

The story isn’t doing anything, right? It’s the subject of this sentence, but it’s just sitting there having something done to it by Mary.

The good news is you’re probably not really using passive tense in your writing.

The same sentence written in active tense, but with weak verbs looks like this:

Mary was running down the street.

Now the subject of the sentence is Mary and she’s doing something. She’s just doing it with pretty weak verbs.

And the same sentence with a stronger verb.

Mary ran down the street.

Simple past tense (or present tense) is almost always stronger than the combo of a to-be verb + an -ing verb.

You can, of course, make it even stronger by using a more precise verb.

Mary sprinted down the street.

Mary jogged down the street.

Mary tore down the street.

Mary stumbled down the street.

Mary skipped down the street.

See what I mean? Each of these nice, strong verbs adds something to the sentence, which adds something to the story.

If you use a strong verb, you take away the need for an adverb. You don’t need to write Mary ran quickly down the street if you use the verb “raced.”

There aren’t many technical assignments in this series, but this one is really important. It will improve your writing instantly.

ASSIGNMENT 24

Open your work in progress, or something else you’ve written. Search for the “-ing.” How many combinations of a to be verb and and -ing verb did you find? Could you use a simple, stronger verb instead? Start fixing them. I promise by the time you do that in a whole manuscript, you won’t use weak verbs anymore. (Or not as often. This exercise is still part of my editing process.)

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Day 23: Learn Your Craft

(Day 23) Learn the writing craft

I told you guys about my NaNoWriMo experience. I wrote the first draft of my first novel during NaNoWriMo in 2004. Once I knew that I could actually get through a first drat, that was it. I was hooked. I just needed to learn how to write well.

So, I started to study. I went to college and studied creative writing. I read (and really studied) every book on writing I could get my hands on. I found other writers to learn from.

I think that taking the time and the effort to learn is a major difference between someone who wants to be a writer and someone who really is one.

So, today, I’d like to encourage you to take a class.

I just put a free course up on Teachable that would be a good place to start. It’s a series of exercises that will help you plot Act I of your novel. (It’s a chunk of my course A Novel Idea.) You can also sign up for How to Develop + Test a Story Idea. (Also free.)

If you want to put some money into it, you can contact your local community college to see if they offer any community education writing courses. (You can also take one of my more advanced classes.)

Writing Groups in your area might offer one day workshops or have authors in to teach.

You can learn from authors online, too. Two of the most generous with their wisdom are Hugh Howey and Chuck Wendig.

ASSIGNMENT 23

Get signed up for The Plotting Workshop: The Hero’s Journey Act I or H2DSI (or both!) Come on by Facebook today, too. It’s the first Ninja Writer Novel Writing Day.

 

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Day 19: Pull the Trigger

Use Duotrope to research where to publish short stories.In our Facebook Group, I hear Ninja Writers talking often about being afraid of sending their work to readers–whether that’s a friend, a beta reader, or a publisher. Writing a story can feel like having a baby, and then suddenly shoving it out into the world, unprotected, straight into the arms of people who feel like it’s their purpose to be judgmental.

I want you to pull the trigger. I want you to think, today, about the places where you might be able to place a short form work.

Whether or not you have something to send out into the world, you should be familiar with the market. Whether you write , poetry, or creative non-fiction, there are publications that are eager to see new work. In fact, they spend all their time seeking it out.

Spend a little time today exploring the market. Just get your feet wet. If you have a short story or poem or essay that you feel is publishable, consider sending it out. But, even if you don’t, this is a good step toward that day.

Duotrope

Duotrope is a website that lists more than 6000 markets for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. It also features a submission tracker, which will help you keep track of where you’ve sent your work. It costs $5 a month after a week long free trial, but even if you don’t feel ready to pay for a subscription yet, check it out for a week.

Click around. Visit some publication websites. Read some submission guidelines. Start to familiarize yourself with what’s required if you want to be published in short form.

EXERCISE NINETEEN

Go to Duotrope and get signed up for a free 7-day trial. Come on over to Facebook today. Let’s talk about pulling the trigger.

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Day Eighteen: Murder Your Darling, or Not

Murder my darling, or not.

William Faulkner said: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

Stephen King said: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Kill your darlings, is perhaps, the scariest, most intense piece of writing advice ever.

But I don’t want to murder my darling!

I’d like to make a case, today, for the idea that you don’t actually have to do it. At least, not every time. Instead, you just have to identify your darlings. Then make a decision.

So, a darling is a piece of your writing that you’re super attached to, to the point that you’re not seeing it objectively. It’s a scene or a character or some other part of your stories that you’re bending over backwards to make relevant.

And sure, sometimes you have to kill your darling. You just do. Maybe your story has changed to the point that the scene you love so much just doesn’t fit anymore. Maybe your favorite character just has to wait for another book.

But sometimes you can make it work.

The key is to remove ego from the equation. Forget that it’s your hard work you’re going to have to toss if the scene gets a double thumbs down. Look at the problem with fresh eyes (if you can actually have fresh eyes take a look, even better.)

Here are the three steps to (Maybe) Killing Your Darlings.

Identify the Darling

If you really love the thing, but you have to keep fighting with it–you probably have a darling.

If your beta readers are confused by it, but you feel heartsick when you think of cutting it–you probably have a darling.

If you have a scene that’s your best writing ever, but feels like it belongs in a different book–you definitely have a darling, Darling.

I’m willing to bet that as soon as you read the title of this post, you thought of a scene in your work-in-progress.

Evaluate the Darling

Ask yourself what it is about the scene that’s giving you fits. If you cut it, will you have to write something else in its place, or could you lift it out whole and not really make a difference in your work? Does the darling scene play well with others–does it interact with the scenes before and after it?

Most important: What does the darling do for your work and what would happen if you took it out?

Kill it, or Not

The hard truth: If you can lift the scene out of your story and you won’t have to do any work to cover the loss, you probably need to do that. Every scene in your book should be indispensable. Often what makes a scene a darling is the fact that it’s too separate from the rest of the story.

The better news: If the scene is an important part of the story, but just doesn’t quite blend just right yet, you might be able to salvage it in revision.

The best news: You don’t have to actually revise it unless you’re finished with your first draft. Remember the one rule?

If you’re in revision, then evaluate your darling scenes with open eyes and an ego-free heart. If you do have to cut it, place it gently in it’s own file for later use. (Even if you never use it, you’ll feel better if you know it’s there. Just in case.)

ASSIGNMENT 18

Identify a scene in your work in progress and ask yourself: Am I going to have to murder my darling? (You don’t have to actually do it now. In fact, you’re not allowed to unless you’re in revision!) Just make a note of the scene in your writing notebook.

If you need some commiseration, come on over to Facebook. We’re here for you.

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