1,2,3,Go! The Keys to Writing a Good Story Beginning

Beginning Title

Starting a new story is one of the best feelings you can have. It’s that wonderful moment before your insecurities and paranoia kick in and tear your creativity apart from within.

It’s also exciting not knowing where your characters are headed – at least, not finally. You may have some idea. But it’s not set in stone.

The scene is being set, the characters introduce themselves, and the world you have crafted launches into the imaginations of the reader on it’s maiden voyage. You cast them off into the abyss of your mind, the rough seas of your passions and noticings, and the wonderment you’ve constructed out of your skills with craft and narrative.

However, a poorly written introduction can quickly alienate a reader. It’s much easier to quit a book on page 1 than it is on page 100. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said:

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.“

No siree. This is very important. Reading is a commitment. It could take a few hours to read, or a few months. Either way, it’s going to be valuable time to someone. Cherish it, and respect it.

So, below are some tips to help craft a strong story introduction.

Of course, these should be taken as a guide, as you can’t use all of them at once. There is no definitive way to craft a perfect introduction, as you can’t please everyone. But, with a bit of thought and a lot for practice, utilising some of these will help push your story to the next level.

"Go on..."

“Go on…”

Get Straight To It

“As my cab pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows.”

Money by Martin Amis

Get stuck in. Right away. Don’t worry about building up to something. If anything, get to the thing then build backwards. The mystery of being thrust into the action is much more compelling than “so he woke up and stretched. ‘Yawn’ he said, then made his way to the bathroom to blah, and blah, and blaaaahhh”.

Much better: “The gun went off. That sound of metal exploding, cracking the air like lightning, shook him. He’d never imagined he’d be shot.”

The longer you linger, the more of your precious words are wasted away and lost forever. Trust your reader, and reward them for taking the time to check you out. Jump in two footed, and go from there…

Chop them in the face if you have to

Chop them in the face if you have to

That Said, Don’t Rush Ahead

Obviously you don’t want to chuck them into a situation that will need certain aspects established. If you start off with something too confusing, it will be a struggle for the reader to invest in the story. If it’s too confusing, you may lose your reader.

That’s not to say you can’t leave breadcrumbs in your opening that will make more sense upon reading further, but a good opening will contain both elements for now, and elements for later.

"So that's why the dinosaur had the painting. He's Da Vinci's grandad. Of course!"

“So that’s why the famous dinosaur had the painting hidden on his spaceship. Now I get it!”

Draw the Reader In

“If you’re reading this on a screen, f**k off. I’ll only talk if I’m gripped with both hands.” Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers.

Yeah, so you don’t have to be as aggressive as the above example, but the point I’m trying to get across is that you want your reader to stand up and pay attention. One way of doing that is to engage with them directly, so long as it fits with the theme of your story.

For example, if you choose the above style of introduction, don’t then segue into a world of daisies and polka dots. It will feel forced and inappropriate, and the reader will likely feel alienated and confused. But if your character, or the tone of your story warrants it, there is no problem at all with using a little bit of fire and fury.

Of course, you don’t have to be rude. you could relate to the reader, or buddy up to them, or even flirt with them. Let the narrator’s voice gudie you.

"This narrator would like some tuna. Lot's of tuna."

“This narrator would like some tuna. Lot’s of tuna.”

 

Introduce Your Hero

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The above intro is a great example of a hero introducing themselves, and giving you plenty of evidence of their character. We all know that Holden Caulfield is a sour lad. We know this because from the very first sentence he utters, he sets himself up as thus.

Your audience want to know who to root for, and know why. If you introduce a character who isn’t very compelling, or don’t give them someone to cheer for, chances are you’ll lose the interest of a reader.

"Oh yeah, they loved your story"

“Oh yeah, they loved your story”

Create a Mini-Mystery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984.

Unless you live under a rock (and apologies if you do), you should be well aware of the dystopian bleakness portrayed in George Orwell’s (arguably) most famous work, 1984. This opening line establishes right from the get go just how surreal this alternative future is, and the mystery of something we know so well being changed in this way creates all kinds of questions: Why not o’clock? Thirteen, like, bad luck thirteen? What time is thirteen? Is the day still the same length? How would this work with the Gregorian calendar? Does it? Why is there an extra hour in the day?

And it is these kinds of questions, often raised by a sense of unease, that can keep us reading on.

"What does it all mean!?"

“What does it all mean!?”

Set the Scene

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” — Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

This is one of my favourite opening paragraphs in all of literature. Raymond Chandler has a very distinct style, and was well regarded for his gritty tomes set in a crime-riddled LA. This establishes that world perfectly, giving you not only the place but the mood, the people, the atmosphere, and even the opinion of the narrator about all of these things.

See, a setting can be just as important as a character. Some would even argue that the setting is a kind of glorified character in its own right.

 

"Yeah, don't forget about me!"

“Yeah, don’t forget about me!”

Murder Mundanity

All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

In the above quote from Mr Vonnegut, we are confronted with the fact the upcoming narrative is probably going to be unreliable. Those that have read the story will know that as the story progresses, this unreliability is what lends so much charm to the overall tale, and this in itself represents Vonnegut’s own ideas about the ridiculous and unreliable nature of wars, and the men who fight in them.

Many authors would be tempted to write an account of what they saw in a war with a solemn and powerfully intense manner. By not starting his story in this way, we already know we are in for something different, and this intrigue alone makes us want to read on.

By subverting convention, Vonnegut captivates the reader from the very first sentence.

If you haven’t read this classic, I absolutely recommend it. It was one of the first ‘adult books’ I read as a young boy, and it is still one of my favourites.

"It's great!"

“It’s great!”

 

Consider Forking

Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

There are a lot of different options above, so using this technique will help you figure out which work and which don’t work with your story.

There is more than one way to cross the ocean, and forking is the process of writing out several different ideas that all lead to the same point. So, you may choose to write three different story beginnings which all lead to the same ending, then show these to people who have opinions you trust, and ask them to choose their favourite.

This way, you can know that what you’ve written is something that has appeal, and that captured another person’s imagination (and didn’t just reflect your own). Obviously, make sure you choose people who will give you constructive and useful feedback. Not just flat criticism.

"I don't like any of your s**t"

“I don’t like any of your s**t”

A Word to the Wise

Of course, it’s not always as easy as what you should do. Sometimes, it’s as much about what to avoid. So, here are some quotes from industry insiders about things they don’t like to see in story beginnings:

I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
Dan Lazar, Writers House

I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Daniel Lazar, Writers House

Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
Adam Chromy, Movable Type Management

One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

 

All above quotes were taken from the article The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice From Literary Agents on thewriterslife.com

 

Of course, there are many different opinions on this argument, and (once again) as Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Learn how to use these tools to your advantage, but don’t let yourself be restricted by them.
Be different. Be brave. Be you.

 

ID-10092796

 

So what’s your favourite opening line in a story? Get the conversation going in the comments below.

 

Special thanks to Ambro, Carlos Porto, imagerymajestic, kanate, patrisyu, Photokanok, photostock and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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What’s Your Writing Fuel? Part II; It’s All in the Mind!

Title Banner

We already went into a great amount of detail about the lifestyle choices you can make about what you put in, or do to your body, and how this can fuel your writing in Part 1.

But they aren’t the only ways to fuel yourself.

What’s that I hear you cry? ‘What about how I choose to live my life? What can I do to help fuel my mind?’

The brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle it gets better the more you use it, and it needs to be properly fed and watered to grow.

Practice makes perfect. The early bird catches the worm. And every little helps.

This will of course have an affect on how the writing comes out the other side. So, what can we do to help here?

Let’s have a looksie, shall we?

 

"Ooh, a piece of candy"

“Ooh, a piece of candy”

 

ANGER!

Don’t worry, this won’t end up being a concise list of the seven deadly sins, brought to you by writers helping writers. Au contraire, this may be the most passionate of all human emotions (feel free to argue, this is by no means a claim to be fact). As the saying goes, get that rage on the page! Muster your gusto! Channel your mammal! Write your fight!

Yeah! (Woo).

Ahem. It’s about using that fury to propel you into creativity. You know, from destruction comes creation. Death breeds life. The cycle of emotive response, from ugly comes beauty and so on.

Go ahead, think about it. What gets you mad? Now time yourself. Take ten minutes to write non-stop and see what happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, illegible or nonsense. It’s fuel. It got the words flowing.

 

"Fuuuuuuuuuuudge!"

“Fuuuuuuuuuuudge!”

 

Pain: Therapy for the Soul

Of course with anger, there could be pain. The crushing vertigo of the soul, ripped and damaged by the experiences of life. So sad.

Yet meet your new therapist! The pen (or quill, or keyboard. Whatever).

Scream out what’s getting to you from the rooftops of your novel. Create a city and fill it with people feeling your pain. Use the page as a sounding board to express yourself, and try to connect the dots on what is often the unfair nature of life to cast pain upon us from time to time.

It’s like talking through it with someone, but not having to worry about being judged or categorised. It’s only you listening (unless you want to share it). Some of us express ourselves better in written form too. Embrace that.

Or just write stories about smashy smashy stuff avenging hurty hurty moments. Grr.

Go for it.

 

"Hurty hurty, smashy smashy"

“Hurty hurty, smashy smashy”

 

The ‘Four Energies’ – Blissed, Blessed, Dissed, and Pissed

I read about this on Writers Digest in their article The Four Energies of Writing; What’s Your Fuel?

As they say in the article: “It’s a bad idea to write a book just to write it.” And I completely agree.

Your motivation for writing needs to come from somewhere. A lot of us feel we have a novel inside of us, waiting to be birthed. So what’s yours? We’re not talking about emotive fuels here, but fuels of character and motivation for writing in the first place.

They are split into two positive and two negative energies:

Blissed: The first of the two ‘positive’ emotions, this covers things like “excited, passionate love or fascination for some activity or subject.” You write because you love what you’re writing about.

Blessed: This is literally “the energy released when someone encourages you in your writing life or believes in your promise.” Call it luck, call it right place right time, but it’s opportunity knocking for your writing at just the right moment.

Dissed: This negative fuel covers things such as “the experiences of being wounded emotionally, cursed or put down by others, or disrespected or rejected.”

Pissed: Finally, this other negative energy is similar to dissed, but “it manifests more as anger and righteous indignation than hurt.”

Which corner are you coming from? Do you agree with the writer’s assessment?

 

"You don't like it? No? OK well you're not my target demographic so you wouldn't get it anyway" *folds arms*

“You don’t like it? No? OK well you’re not my target demographic so you wouldn’t get it anyway” *folds arms*

 

Awe and Wonder

The world can be truly fascinating, can’t it? But it’s a lot to make sense of in one lifetime. Many try, and some specialise. But it’s an uphill struggle. From the day you’re born to the day you die, there’s so much to learn. So much to explore.

Write about it.

Write the things that captivate you, and the things that repel and disgust you. Come to terms with them. Analyse them. Play with them and manipulate them. Re-imagine them.

Mess around with perception. With time and space. With social labels, and human constructs.

Ponder it all.

It might not be a best seller, but it will be quite a unique read. And it’ll give you the chance to see what matters to you, and where your thoughts and beliefs come from.

 

"Life. Not always fair"

“Life. Not always fair”

 

Facing Fears

Spiders? Heights? Barbara Streisand? We all have fears. Some of us have more than one. I’ve got plenty. But facing them enriches your life, trust me.

Not ready to take the leap just yet? That’s cool. Start with writing about it.

Scared of dogs? No problemo. Write a story about a dog pound, and how the guy working there used to be scared of dogs but now he works there killing them when they can’t be homed. He loves it. He does this for years, until one day there is one puppy who changes his life, and makes him realise these creatures aren’t dangerous. They are just like me and you! Cue lights, and Disney music and the happy ending as he rides the puppy off into the sunset. And, scene!

Go ahead. Think of your biggest fear now, then think up a story about someone dealing with that fear, or a scenario that having that fear would be very unhelpful. Now imagine how your hero will get through it. Easy, right!

Now you try…

 

"My story is called Meerkat mafia, and it brings together two of my biggest fears..."

“My story is called Meerkat mafia, and it brings together two of my biggest fears…”

 

Gobbledegook

If all else fails, write garbage. Seriously. Scribble down the first words that come into your head. Better yet, just put pen to paper and write for five minutes non-stop, just writing whatever comes into your head. Don’t think about it, just let the words flow.

Now, chances are what you’ll write will be nonsense. Don’t kid yourself, you’re no James Joyce. But, it got you writing, and the surrealist aspect of this form of writing could then spawn into a novella, or a great little abstract short story.

 

"You can do anything if you go for it"

“You can do anything if you go for it”

 

There’s fuel, and there’s fuel. I’d love to hear what gets you fired up and writing. Maybe it’s injustice, or religion? I know some people who write purely protest works, attacking anything they feel deserves to be in their cross hairs.

I know others who only write about hobbies and interests; woodwork, sailing, rare African drums, magic. There are many.

So what’s yours?

 

Don’t forget to check out Part I of this post Juice on the Loose! What’s Your Writing Fuel?

 

Special thanks to AKARAKINGDOMS, criminalatt, imagerymajestic, patrisyu, Prawny, stockimages and Toa55 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

 

 

Juice on the Loose! What’s Your Writing Fuel?

Writing Fuel Title

You wouldn’t know it to look  at me, but there was a time when I was one of the fastest runners in my school. Not over distance, no no no. I could barely sustain myself for longer than about 110 metres. BUT, during that 100m I was almost unbeatable.

I can still sprint these days, but nowhere near the level I achieved back then. The reason for my current dallying?

Fuel.

See back then I had something that made me faster. No, I’m not just talking about a longer leg to back ratio than now. That’s Science. I’m talking about desire.

For me, running was one of the few ways I could be a winner. It was one forum where I was able to outclass the sporty kids.

That passion, that energy, is what kept me ahead.

Well, until I discovered girls and cigarettes. Then it was more about staying cool. And cool kids don’t run, they saunter and jive.

But it got me thinking; what fuels my writing? Sleepless nights fighting fantasy battles in my head I need to get onto the page? A constant re-arranging of the 26 letters of the English alphabet to try and crack a code in life? Dementia?

Writing, like anything, needs some ammunition to get going. From the physical to the existential, it all starts somewhere.

So let’s kick off by looking at what we put in, or do to, our bodies, and see the creative fuel for some of history’s most famous authors.

supakitmod

What’s in your refinery?

 

Coffee

Mud. Joe. The ol’ brown mistress. Whatever you might call it, coffee is pretty much synonymous with writing. I’m sure many of us put a pot or ten on and just see how far we can get before we slip into psychosis and begin to babble and rant into the computer screen until we are repeatedly hitting the space bar and saying ‘come on, come on’.

Breath.

Coffee has all the right properties for a budding writer; energy, reputation, ease of use and wide availability. Plus, without it, where else would you turn up with your laptop and announce to the world you’re a cool, alternative writer than in a coffee shop?

Twist: Some may prefer tea. I know there are times when tea is better, such as when you’re scribbling at 11pm and don’t fancy dropping into the caffeine valley when you need to be up at 7am. However, despite popular belief, tea often contains more caffeine. Be warned!

Personal favourite: Double espresso with one brown sugar lump. For the tea drinker, an iced green tea to refresh yourself.

stockimages

“I have no idea what I’m doing. I just wrote ‘I’m a writer’ twenty times. Is that OK?”

 

Alcohol

Hemingway loved a drink to such an extent they named one after him. The Hemingway Daquiri is delicious, though I’m not sure how much writing you’ll get done after a couple.

He wasn’t the only one though. Raymond Chandler had a pretty well documented alcohol abuse problem, and Jack Kerouac’s death was a result of cirrhosis of the liver caused by a lifetime of drinking.

Let’s not get down though. Many writers drank. Faulkner, Poe, Thompson, Capote, Thomas, Parker, Bukowski… to name but a few.

I can’t say whether the booze is the root of the creativity, or a symptom of it. But I do know that alcohol, like anything, is best enjoyed in moderation. Then again, I’m no literary hero…

Chaiwat

“I’m so hungover from all this writing”

 

Drugs

As with any creative area, or any form of artistic expression, writing has a tendency to be linked with drugs from time to time. This isn’t a recent phenomenon either. Baudelaire often wrote under the influence of hash.

But he wasn’t alone. It’s widely known that Stephen King spent the best part of the eighties churning out record rates of fiction while popping uppers and booger sugar (spot the cocaine inspired characters in his most famous stories – you will).

There’s also the aforementioned Hunter S. Thompson, getting Fear and Loathing in a number of exciting situations. Or Philip K. Dick using his substance abuse issues to inspire a vast back catalogue of sci-fi romps that range in quality from Saturday Writing Club to mesmerising.

Let’s not forget Ken Kesey and his acid, Robert Louis Stevenson bashing out Jekyl and Hyde in about six coke-fuelled days, or Huxley and his mescaline inspired Doors of Perception.

Check out: A Scanner Darkly by  Phillip K. Dick or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

imagerymajestic

Lance Armstrong sold a lot of books…

 

Sex

Sex sells. It’s one of the most basic of human desires, and one of the most basic human impulses. Some writers (I’m looking at you Bukowski) saw sex as the call to arms to try and make relations with every member of the opposite sex. I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that a lot of the previously mentioned alcoholics and drug abusers also happen to be serial womanisers too.

Sex also happens to be the only thing on this list older than the written word.

Norman Mailer didn’t always write about his sexual activity, but it was certainly running in the background behind his writing. And it should come as no surprise that Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was a notorious womaniser.

I digress.

There were some men for whom sex became the ultimate inspiration, not just objectified, but idolised and celebrated. Henry Miller broke down some stigma around sex in literature with his novel Tropic of Cancer.

But it wasn’t all men. Anaïs Nin is one of the most famous erotic writers of the last hundred years, and her work will live on as the foundation for the erotic writing movement.

farconville

… so you can thank her for stuff like this

 

Exercise

Baudelaire is credited with coining the term flâneur. Essentially, it’s someone who enjoys wandering a city or other place purely for the pleasure of walking and taking in the sights and smells around you. Will Self is a modern proponent of it, and he often writes about it too.

For some, exercise was a more a part of the fabric of their writing routine. In a letter to his wife from 1965, Kurt Vonnegut said “I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not” (seen here at Brainpickings.org). The idea being that between bouts of writing, it was important to keep yourself fresh, but also challenged, so as to keep the mind focused.

stockimages 2

“Writing is tiring stuff!”

 

So, what’s yours? Maybe it’s on the list, maybe it’s not. I’d love to hear what gets your writing going.

Part two explores the more mental side of writing fuel.

 

Useful Links for further reading:

www.toptenz.net article Top 10 Substance Addled Writers

listverse.com article Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers

Huffington Post article Women Are Honestly writing About Sex: It’s About time

 

Special thanks to Chaiwat, farconville, imagerymajestic, stockimages and supakitmod @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

NaNoWriMo Now; Tips for Success in November’s Novel Writing Month

quill for logo black700 copy

Ok guys, I know. It’s been too long.

Where have we been?

It’s been one of those months.

But, look around the corner. NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

“Hey there”

NaNoWri… What?!

Some of you know it, some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with this wonderful portmanteau, it stands for

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

It started out in the July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; a friendly challenge amongst 21 pals. By the following year, it had grown to be a (partially) international event, with its own website! It was during this second year that most of the current rules were formed, based largely on the editing experience of the founder, Chris Baty.

By the third year, those running the event had assumed it was going to draw a healthy 150 participants, when in reality around 5,000 showed up! You can read the account of events by one journalist, Kara Platoni of the East Bay Express, here.

After a bumpy year adjusting to increased site traffic and a new found popularity, the fourth year brought harmonious relief in the shape of a more automated and therefore swifter system ready to accommodate the ever increasing number of participants. Of course, that wouldn’t last for long…

Since then it has grown year on year into the mighty beast it is today; represented in nearly every part of the world, from Estonia to Australia, and Seattle to Beijing. It’s had its fair share of challenges, trials and tribulations, but the result is a wonderful annual event for the professional and amateur writer.

The journey from its humble beginnings is one worth a read if you have the time, and demonstrates the power of one man’s dream. See the story in the words of the founder here.

“Dreamy”

OK, but how does that help me?

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, it cannot be denied that an event such as this will:

  • help you focus your writing by forcing you to regularly sit down and knock out some wordthings
  • enable you to see from within what the writing process involves, both the euphoric and disastrous
  • give you a sense of achievement if you actually finish the damned thing

So what’s stopping you?

“You know, besides the obvious”

But I don’t have the time

Which is kind of the point. A lot of people say they’ve got a great novel inside them, but they just don’t have the time to knock one out. NaNoWriMo forces you to engage with your inner word beast, and wrestle the behemoth onto the page. Knowing you only have to keep it going for 30 days means you are much more likely to give it your all; if you really don’t like it, you can count down the days until it’s over. In the meantime, you’ll be writing and writing, and barely have a chance to think about anything else.

Consider how many stories were written in the early hours before work, or late at night after the kids had gone to sleep. So many authors have to juggle full time work, marriage, children and other commitments with their writing. NaNoWriMo is a chance to try out re-adjusting your scheduling, and also a chance to see what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it.

On that note, it doesn’t just have to be for writers. The challenge itself could be for anyone.

“Anyone, you say?”

Sounds great! How do I get started?

Let’s imagine the fundamental elements of a story:

  • An outline = A beginning, a middle, and an end, including the key event that sets up the journey, and the final destination the story is building towards (the climax)
  • Some characters = A hero and a villain (in the classic set up)
  • Setting = The Nile river? London? Palau? Basque Country? The Moon? Once you decide the what and who, start to think about the where
  • The other bits = These can come organically, or prepared, but what will really grab people’s interest into your story is the how (things are going to happen) and the why (should the reader care).
i.e. Make sure it doesn't suck

i.e. Make sure it doesn’t suck

Let’s do it

Grab a pen, sketch out some ideas, and run with it. The goal here isn’t to write the best story of all time, or even of your generation. It’s about finishing something and being able to say “I did it!”

Those who hit the target word count of around 50,000 words are known as ‘winners’, and there’s all kind of memorabilia you can get to symbolize your wonderful achievement, from t-shirts to mugs!

That aside, it’s the personal feeling of completion that rocks hardest. How cool would it be to say ‘I wrote a novel’!?

Visit the NaNoWriMo website today and take a look around. You can set up an account in minutes, find your local writing community, and make a go of it. And the best part is it’s all completely FREE OF CHARGE!!

“Wahoo!”

Tips for Success

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Think about it in terms of daily goals of around 1666 words, not as one big daunting mountain of 50,000 words, to keep from becoming demotivated.
  • Write first thing when your will power is at it’s highest and your brain hasn’t been depleted by a day of work and life.
  • Don’t lost sight of where you want to end up. The story can take a million twists and turns, so long as it ends up at an ending that satisfies the questions that were raised on the way.
  • Try and have fun!

 

We at IQ will be taking part, and we’ll be updating our progress on this blog. If you are also taking part, let us know in the comments. Come along and join us on the journey!

Useful Links

The NaNoWriMo website

Writer’s-World writing tips

Writer’s Digest tips for writing a book in 30 days

The Storyist NaNoWriMo preparation help

Special thanks to Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, marin, stockimages and Stuart Miles,  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

15 Websites for Writers

Writers Logo

What is writing?

Some say, it’s merely the act of putting information into a textual format so as to be understood by another. Do you agree? I’ve always wondered, could it be more? Is it not the coming together of two minds, one active and one passive, as ideas and images are exchanged through the power of words?

It could be time travel, as claimed by Stephen King. Words are bridges from one mind to another, and their power is locked in books in a suspended animation, a lexical and semantic cryogenics that spans the ages.

What of the thoughts of writing as an art form? Tapping the human condition, are those lucky enough to tap the multi-verse of enlightened wit, pomp and vernacular; our writer-come-guides.

But are writers travellers, hiking through the jungle of their imagination? Or are they more wizards, conjuring from nothing? Some might even argue they are alchemists, forging golden words from seemingly worthless parts.

At the moment, the jury is out.

Regardless of your opinion of what makes a writer, do you believe it is possible for anyone to access the vastness of the creative mind and reproduce it in words on a page? I’m an idealist, and a believer in the idea we all originate from one great consciousness. Why shouldn’t artistic ability be a shared trait? Sure, some can alienate their natural talent with distractions and different motivations, but we all ultimately emerged from the same awareness of reality. Why can’t we all be scribes, scribblers and scratchers of the itch?

Whether you write for fun, write for profit, or write because to not write would be akin to stopping breathing or quitting eating, here’s some websites and blogs guaranteed to give you help on your creative journey, from inspiration to tips, grammar help and guides on how to get published!

broad focus

The Write Life

As the tagline of the site itself says “Helping writers create, connect and earn”. Providing a ton of aid to any writer lost in the vastness of the written world, you can expect to find a veritable Santa’s sack of useful information covering literally every aspect of the life of a writer.

Writing.com

A website with 15 years of experience bringing writers together. It’s packed to bursting with tools and opportunities for writers of all levels, from amateur to pro. It acts as a place for established writers to hawk their wares, and for avid readers to seek out the next big thing too, giving it an extra edge on similar help based websites.

Writer’s Digest

Speaking of experience, these folks bring over 90 years of experience creating tools for writers. This website offers a wide range of tools and help for writers of all levels, and is especially useful as the tips are industry specific, with tips and short cuts on all aspects of the publishing and writing world from those who know.

Daily Writing Tips

A great site that offers daily inspiration for all your writing needs, from spelling to punctuation, and from vocabulary to grammar. It also boasts its fair share of prompts and stimuli too.

fiction

Chuck Wendig

TerribleMinds.com is one of my favourite fiction writer websites. The author himself has various published books, and offers some free short stories on his site for you to check out. In terms of tips, his regular blog has many alternative approaches to common writerly questions, but it is the community and flash fiction challenges that really set him apart.

Fiction Notes

Experienced author, publisher and writing coach Darcy Pattison offers a wonderful platform for fiction writers giving extremely helpful blog posts aimed specifically at those putting together their writing. I find her approach to writing both meticulous and methodical, and she does not disappoint either with her approach to writing structure and the drafting process. Offering a very focused and direct view of writing with clear, concise models for you to emulate on your creative journey, it can help you to re-evaluate finished writing, or start off new projects with a much clearer idea in your head. Check out this post on Finding Your Novel Opening and then take it from there.

industry experience

The Renegade Writer

The whole ethos of this website, established by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, is to empower you to live the freelance writer lifestyle on your terms, offering tips and tricks from inside the game.

Jane Friedman

Having over 15 years of experience in the publishing industry, Jane Friedman brings a wealth of expertise to her website, which boasts a blog offering veritable tit-bits of insider knowledge and industry know-how. If you’re trying to get published, or are new to the writer’s life, she’s a great starting point.

published

Writer’s Relief

A great site offering you help with how to submit to publishers. This covers the whole process, from start to finish, and for all levels from short poems and prose to 1,000 page epics. There is also a handy section on book design and e-books, both very useful for those looking to self-publish.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (1st-30th of November) is an annual opportunity for writers from all walks of life to come together and try to bash out a first draft of a novel in a short space of time.

As well as daily motivation and a supportive community of other writers, you will find a wealth of inspiration and information for your writing in their blog. There are also links to help you with what to do after you’ve finished your story, such as publishing and editing help.

prompts and practice

The Write Practice

The emphasis here is on guided practice making perfect. Posts from an assortment of different regular and guest contributors keep the content interesting and varied, and you’ll be hard pressed not to find something here that you can take away with you. Each post is followed by a relevant prompt focused on a sustained writing practice of about 10-15 minutes, with a thriving comments section for scribblers to share their work.

Write To Done

A wonderful site giving budding writers myriad posts to help you learn new skills in writing, and then relevant tasks to help you practice what you’ve learned.

As the Chief Writer Mary Jaksch puts it, “Write to Done is about learning to write better.

grammar

Grammarly

One of my favourite sites to use for checking niggling grammar queries and vocabulary expansion, but also offering a citation suggestion tool, all from it’s rather unique text checker. I discovered it while looking for a plagiarism checking service while marking my students’; another great feature!

Grammar Girl

If you’ve ever found yourself longing for a user friendly website that can cater for all your grammar, word use and punctuation queries, this is it. Chocka-block with helpful info presented in a captivating and concise layout, I thoroughly recommend this site for the budding grammarian!

online

Copyblogger

As Copyblogger says of itself:

“Since January 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content. Not bland corporate crap created to fill up a company webpage. Valuable information that attracts attention, drives traffic, and builds your business.”

If your writing needs are of a digital nature, and popularity/traffic/content are your buzzwords, you’d be hard pressed to top this site.

stock images

Not found anything you like? Check out this post on TheWriteLife.com that offers the 100 best websites for writers. If there is a site you know of that is just dying to be on this list, please let us know in the comments below!

Special thanks to stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Why Blogger? 12 Reasons Why You Should Blog!

title giraffe

I started blogging for the main reason that I wanted a platform that forced me to write regularly, and gave me an avenue to research topics I found interesting in a format that forced me to be accurate and concise. So far at Itchy Quill we have looked at reading, travelling, gender roles in modern society, the history of symbols and the future, using this format.

Through my time in the blogosphere I have encountered other bloggers from many different backgrounds with many different motivations. My favourite blogs are a veritable mixed bag of randomness, from street poets to wannabe chefs, and travelling mums to deaf composers. There is a world of awesome out there to be explored, and so why not get a taste of it from the experiences of others? I’ve always believed reading is a gateway into adventure, giving you a unique insight into how someone else did something and this in turn gives you a grounding for your own escapades. Blogging is a microcosm of that, a peak into the unknown or a glance back at the adored. It’s a wink and a nod at life…

So, if you want to blog, but are not sure why, then let below be a list of some good reasons to try! If you already blog, but are stuck for ideas, then perhaps this list can help to inspire you. For the more advanced bloggers out there, where do you fit in?

Start your adventure today!

Take that first step... see where it takes you

Take that first step… see where it takes you

Helping People

I put this as number one because I want to start on a positive note; the helping of others. The ‘helping’ type of blogs are normally written by people who fall often into two categories; those who are trained in a certain area and want to help those who could benefit from their training, and those who have experienced something and want to share their experiences so as to help others in similar situations. A common example would be some of the wonderful work being done online to help mental health. There are countless blogs here, but that is just the start.

There are many blogs that talk about the ups and down of parenthood, of moving to a new country, or offer tips on certain kinds of work (such as ESL Teaching and Bartending). Sharing is caring, people! Go ahead, right now, write a  problem of yours into Google along with the word blog, and see the links that come up. Within a few seconds, you’ve connected with a stranger whose reality reflects yours. You may not agree with them, but sometimes even seeing ‘how not’ can remind us of ‘how to’. It’s the global conversation, happening every day.

See, blogging is a community. It builds bridges between people from all walks of life and reminds us that we are not alone. Whatever may be happening in your life right now, there is always going to be someone online who feels your pain and has shared their experience. Reaching out to others can be hugely beneficial, and connecting with other people so as to unite against such issues can be a wonderful start on the road to recovery.

“Dr Blogger here, how can I help you?”

You Can Share Ideas and Thoughts

The creative mindset is one that is heavily represented in social media, especially within the realms of Twitter and Pinterest. Many creatives will have links from their social media accounts to their blogs, which are places that give them the chance to showcase their talent for the world to see. Seeing the work of others can be hugely inspiring, as can having a forum to share your own.

Blogging naturally brings people with similar ideas and hobbies together, as the best audience for your blog will be people who share your passions. This can start a snowball effect on your work as it builds steam and energy from feedback and collaboration.

Find your posse

Find your posse…

It’s a Place To Make Snobservations

That’s right, you snotty little tyrant, you. If silently judging from afar just doesn’t quite give you the satisfaction it used to, perhaps unleashing your poisoned vitriol upon the internet will take your internal bitterness to a new level?

Of course, not all of us have such negative energy to spread around the world. Perhaps you long to divulge some peace and love, or you have some whimsical outlook on experiences you feel the internet could benefit from. Go for it!

“How does KFC run out of chickeeeeeeeeen!!!”

Dear Diary… Reflection

These could be two separate ideas, as to reflect is not necessarily to diary. Using your blog as a kind of online diary is a great way to keep it accessible. I have some good friends here in Taiwan who use their blog as a way of keeping folks back home in touch with what they have been up to. There’s no reason why this can’t be the case for those living closer to their nearest and dearest too.

The act of reflection, for some such an integral part of why they keep a diary in the first place, is also something that blogging offers. See, when posting situations or experiences onto the internet in this fashion, you are putting it into a domain where anyone can access it. Sometimes, the impartial view of a stranger can help to give you fresh perspective, or give you feedback on something that may link to their own life and the two of you can both gain a mutual benefit from your shared story.

Of course, don’t forget that as it’s online, people can read everything…

“Dear Diary, I’m still having that dream where I murder my friends”

Improve Your Writing

As a writer, what better practice is there to hone your craft than to write!? I mean, scribbling away odes and novellas is another way, of course, but blogging gives you regular practice that forces you to be strict on daily/weekly/monthly posts, and means you must edit and research it quickly. On top of this, just knowing that your work will be viewed by others means you will have to be more thorough and more appealing, giving you practice in the art of receiving criticism (or, sometimes, in receiving praise) and of marketing yourself through your words.

If you’re not a writer though, blogging can still help you improve your writing skills. I know many bloggers here in Taiwan who blog in English, even though their first language is Chinese, purely as a way of practising and feeling more confident using it.

Find out what your Words are Worth, understanding what the Dickens is so Austen-tacious about blogging. It really Shakes your Peares!

“Wordplay!”

Become an Expert

The word ‘expert’ gets thrown around a lot these days, especially on Twitter. Oh my, you can’t throw a digital stone without hitting a ‘Social Media Expert’ or ‘Marketing Guru’. It’s become rather laughable. The problem is, if you do have a skill, blogging about it is actually a wonderful thing to do! If you are one of the genuine few with something to offer, you should share it!

Fixing old bike engines? Pokemon collector? Butterfly circus? Whatever your poison, indulge your inner nerd and share your knowledge. You’ll be amazed how quickly you find a niche within a community and start to learn more and share more. Just by having a blog, you’ll be researching and learning, just for the benefit of your posts. This will translate to acquired knowledge and before you know it, you’ll be the paramount mind on contemporary dragon raising in the South of England! Boo yeah!

Find them a meaningful career, obviously!

Find them a meaningful career, obviously!

The Blogo-Social Network

Ok, so we’ve already talked rather at length about how community is the foundation of blogging, and vis a vie you will encounter a myriad range of different people and blogs. Truth be told, a lot of the people you encounter will be into similar fields as you, as one of the soul reasons they will stumble upon your blog is that they were looking for something like it.

Using these connections wisely can build a truly beneficial network over time. Many authors, graphic designers and artists use blogging for this very reason, so as to meet others in their industry and connect for the good of both their careers. Being part of a community means being part of something greater than the sum of what is yours and only yours. Use the internet for what it was meant for; the coming together of humanity!

In a good way... coming together 'in a good way' (not pictured)

In a good way… coming together ‘in a good way’ (not pictured)

To Make Money

Making money from your blog is not as easy as simply wanting it, but it shouldn’t take long for the truly dedicated to start to see money coming in from advertising. It is very, very hard to make a lot of money form your blog. Those that make steady revenue tend to be people who are furiously motivated and committed to their blog. That said, it is totally possible to make the big bucks from your blog. To see a list of ways to ‘monetize’ (their words, not mine) your blog, visit this link on about.com for five tips to stimulate cash flow.

Don't let it compromise your artistic integrity though...

Don’t let it compromise your artistic integrity though…

It’s Easy

Really, it is. There are tons of places you can go to find free hosting, and most blogging websites now offer free design and layout templates, with themes that can be customized to fit your blogs vibe. What’s stopping you? Giving it a try gives you the chance to cross something else off of your bucket list, and slowly work towards your ultimate goal of being an awesome you!

You could spend as little as 20 minutes a week posting up some thoughts, and then watch as your circle of influence grows steadily over time.

Check out this post on stylecaster.com to see their choice of The 10 Best Free Blog Sites.

“Me done maked ma bloog!”

To Learn New Skills

Since starting my blog I’ve had to sharpen up on writing skills, practice harvesting research in a swift fashion, find out where to find free photographs, teach myself how to edit my own photography on Photoshop, and also polished up on licensing law with regards to the internet! All skills that are totally transferable to other activities of mine! On top of this, I’ve had to take my twitter game to the next level (follow us here) and master certain other media packages to help showcase my work.

Just from reading the blogs of others I have learned a bit about living in different countries, which non-European authors are worth checking out, how to stay fit, and countless other skills and tit-bits of knowledge.

Who knows what you’ll learn, and how it might change you…

“The greatest wastes are unused talents and untried ideas”. – Unknown

Elvis Kung Fu anyone?

Elvis Kung Fu anyone?

It Builds Confidence

The internet can be a pretty nasty place at times, especially since trolls enjoy wandering from forum to forum, dropping racist, homophobic, sexist malevolence. At other times, people who are genuinely nice in the physical world can be right vipers when it comes to critical feedback and comments.

Responding to these, and developing the thick skin needed to tolerate it without lowering yourself to it, is a self-empowering and rather fulfilling part of blogging. Knowing that you can air your view, and then face down opposition to it in a mature way will help you feel much more at peace with yourself. Most of all, just taking the steps to put yourself out there, about whatever it is that you feel inspired to do so, is a genuinely fantastic experience.

Let that confidence flow…

“Take that, society”

It Might Change The World

Can blogging change the world? Of course it can! If you are someone writing about the impending doom of a zombie apocalypse, why not make the most of it and establish a blog on how to survive? You could go as far as offering tips on negotiating with zombies, finding an antidote in a crisis, and how to out run the undead. These are all fun to read now, but in the future they could very well change the world!

On a smaller note, know that sometimes your blog could be the inspiration someone needs to change their life, and that could be invaluable to a stranger in the trajectory of their personal success. Just look at this story of how two school girls changed their school life.

That’s the point. Blogging puts people around the world in touch with each other on such a potentially detailed and personal level that genuine bonds can be made, and why wouldn’t these change the world?

Who knows what may come from your words...

Who knows what may come from your words…?

The best part; comments! Feel free to comment below and let’s get a conversation going about blogging!

If you know of any great examples of different blogs that are worth checking out, please leave a link in the comments below too!

Special thanks to 1shots, artur84, David Castillo Dominici, holohololand, imagerymajestic, phasinphoto, Photokanok, siraphat, stockimages, vectorolie and winnond @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015