How to Add Pandas into Your Daily Mix of Writing: 5 Easy Steps

Writing new work for me is a time of creativity and exploration. I certainly have many more starts of stories than I have finished pieces but I never feel as though I have wasted my time writing those unfinished starts. Why? Well, because I tend to view any writing as time at practice of my craft.

So, here’s my promise to you today. The answer to that gnawing question: how do I include Panda bears in my daily writing? I think we might all agree that a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness will be employed. But, really, the reason for this post is because of the video at the end. I saw it on Facebook and simply had to include it in today’s how-to-write article.

Normally, when I begin writing a story, I think in terms of the beginning, middle and end.

  1. 14PandaBabiesAnd, typically, I start writing at the… wait for it… the beginning. Voila! I start by doing some free writing in order to uncoil images planted in my subconscious brain. As I travel through this beginning journey, I usually come to a stopping point and must consider why readers might care about the characters in this beginning. What is the character’s problem and how will she solve that problem. In this beginning time, I write until I stall out on how the story is unfolding. When questions begin to outweigh the story coming forth, I stop and move to the next step…
  2. EndangeredPandaI jump to the end and ask myself: is this going to be a happy story or a tragedy? I know. Right? I didn’t go to the middle first. It’s okay. Don’t call the writing police. If this process doesn’t work for you, no worries. Proceed with what works best for you at finishing your novel. During this second step, I ask several more questions. They are: what is the ultimate action outcome (i.e. does someone die, does someone have a child, does someone get married?). Other important questions include: what will the character learn at the end of the story? What will immediate other characters learn? What will the community learn? But most imperatively, I ask: what will the reader learn?
  3. panda-hanging-from-treeAfter considering the end, then I consider the story’s climax action–the big blow-out, the major point at which we see the protagonist pitted against the antagonist. This occurs at the very end of the middle part of the plot–as close to the end of the story as possible. Because to have a bunch of stuff happening after the climax is just… anticlimactic.
  4. After the first draft is a time when you can weave in elements you deem important to your story such as theme (pandas), metaphor (pandas) and mood (pandas).
  5. Mood can move throughout the story, for instance, we might first see playful baby pandas. Then, later on, we might see (skip to the 3rd image) a panda thriving in the wild. And by the end of the story we can see redemptive images of humans feeling bad about the blight we have placed on pandas. By the end, you have successfully woven in several elements all pointing to the end. What has the human character learned? What has the panda learned? And, most importantly, what has the reader learned?

So, that’s how you add pandas into your daily writing. Maybe I have fulfilled my promise? And… maybe not. But I had fun!

Now, here’s a little extra panda wonderfulness that you should view. Enjoy!

And, you can buy my latest book #1 Amazon bestseller THE DEER EFFECT by Clicking Here!

10 Ways to Improve Your Writing Productivity

This post represents my beliefs as someone who has been writing full-time since 2004. First off, let me say that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think writer’s block is an excuse to stumble. Productivity, or word count, must remain high on a writer’s list of most important things in their daily work. Why? Because with any business having a product to sell will determine whether or not you will succeed–not marketing, not social media. If you don’t have books to sell then you won’t sell any books. Pure. Simple. 02122015-IfOpportunityDoesntKnock-BerleQuote

So, how does a writer improve their word count? By improving their habits. And, as a side note, excuses irritate me. Don’t tell me why you can’t do something. Tell me how you can make it work for you.

I’ve developed the following list of 10 items to help improve your productivity and to add word count to your stories.

  1. Decide how many days a week you will write–Knowing your current schedule will limit your time to write. Some people rue over this, that all they can write is in the evening after the kids go to bed or only on the weekends, on Mondays and Thursdays, or on Sunday after Church. No need to rue when you have solid information that tells you, “Well, I can write between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening.” Basically, you’re turning your negativity and your limited time into a huge positive. When people have limited time for an activity–whether cleaning the house, playing a round of golf or writing, they tend to fit in the time for that activity. It’s all about choice here. If you want to write and you prefer to write, you will find time to write.
  2. Set aside time to work on your writing–Setting aside a specific amount of time each day to write will not only help improve your craft but it will also add word count to your story.
  3. Write in Segments–Segment writing will cause you to focus on what’s important about your current story. Break your writing up into several 15-minute chunks. Set a timer and begin and end with your timer. If you are not currently writing to a story, segment writing can be a great way to find a new story to expand into a longer piece. Segment writing is what I like to call “free” writing in that you can play around with new ideas, techniques, ways to format, new genres, poetics, and any other idea you want to practice on such as deepening characterization through voice, setting through applying different sensory perceptions, and conflict by employing hooks, foreshadowing and cliff-hangers.
  4. Read books about writing–Reading books on how-to-write or how-to-edit your work will make you a better writer. Much the way watching golf instruction on TV has made me a better golfer (no lie), reading within your craft about how-to develop character, setting, and conflict will strengthen your writing. Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King, will help you avoid common writing mistakes before a real editor gets hold of your manuscript. Titles like The War of Art, and Bird by Bird are other books that focus on craft and the writing life.
  5. Writing-MotivationTake defined breaks–Defining your writing between stints at work and stints during breaks is key to being able to get back to writing. Allowing yourself “coffee” breaks of 5- to 10-minutes each, allows your mind to settle on what you have accomplished during your time at writing. Taking a defined lunch break allows you time to refuel your brain (see my “healthy choices” post). Eat, relax, walk the dog, read a book. Hey! You can even fold laundry or clean the toilet. All these things will fuel your writing mind to create better scenes with more visceral imagery to strengthen your story.
  6. Make sure to edit–Editing your work at the end of your writing session and again at the beginning of your writing session is always a good practice. At the end of writing, is when I catch all of my major boo-boo’s. I run my spell-checker to catch spelling errors and then go to my “usual” problem children such as to and too, they’re and their, hear and here–those problem children. I use the find and replace function in Word and fix those problems. When I come back the next day, I re-read what I wrote yesterday (or last time) and I edit for word choice and sentence structure. By the end of my story, my manuscript is fairly clean when I hand it off to an editor… can you guess what item #7 is going to be?
  7. Hire an independent editor–Editing your own work is great and makes your independent editor happy that she doesn’t have to delete or correct silly spelling errors and typos. It allows them to line edit for structure and grammar, syntax and clarity. Never send out your manuscript or self-publish without using an independent editor. Your work and your sales will suffer. Believe me, I know. I learned the hard way. Editors like Emily’s Eagle Eye Editing, Jim Thomsen, Jodie Renner, Renni Browne will strengthen your work and make it look professional when it arrives at the agent’s or the publisher’s desk. Put your best foot forward by hiring an independent editor to go over your work before sending it out.
  8. Set deadlines–Self-imposed writing deadlines will keep you on track. Sometimes. However, when you tell someone outside of you that you will be completed with a writing project within 6 weeks, you subconsciously make yourself accountable to that person. This works too, sometimes. So, why not make yourself accountable to your editor? Tell them you will be done with a project by May 13th (or whatever) and you will get them your MS on or before that date. What happens when you work with an independent editor is that they will clear their schedule for you. And you had better get them your work on or before that deadline or else they will lose money. Being responsible for someone else’s financial losses is a huge motivator but it can also be key for you to complete another project and get that story to an agent or a publisher for consideration. I like to set up deadlines for myself because when I meet the deadline I get a great sense of accomplishment in that I’m doing something to further my career by staying on track, by getting another story finished and by clearing the slate for my next writing job.
  9. Join a writing group–By meeting up with other writers on a regular basis will focus you to get work done on time. You will clear your slate when one or more authors are relying on you to give constructive comments about their writing in exchange for their comments on yours. I have been involved with several groups and the most successful ones are those who allow 5- to 10- double-spaced pages of work. Also, join groups where the writing is of fiction or nonfiction. Mixing genres can lead to weird dissatisfaction among members. Don’t ask me why but I have found that either fiction or nonfiction groups work well–but not both intermingled.
  10. Find a mentor–I often mentor fiction writers. I write fiction so mentoring students who write in nonfiction doesn’t work for me. I had a mentor early on in my career. Michael Collins will remain a key figure in my writing career. He gave me expert advice when I was flailing. He motivated me to write and encouraged me to continue a career in writing. He was honest sometimes brutally but I grew from our mentor-mentoree relationship. It was a priceless experience.

There are many more methods on how to become a more productive writer, I’m sure, but this list will help you right away. Basically, buckling down and pressing ahead are the ways to succeed in this industry. Try not to be discouraged and if you do, drop me a note. I’ll be your encouragement and will try to talk you out of your frustration. We’re all in it together. So let’s help each other the best we can.

I write books about God. Amen. 😉 ~Susan.

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Writing “The End” on Your Novel

I was once told by a self-proclaimed writing guru that writing the end of a book shouldn’t be an event. That we shouldn’t get all wrapped up in the fact that we finished a book–your first or your fiftieth, that we should simply move on to the next story and plow through that one too.

And I get that. You don’t have to tell me to keep my nose down and my fingers flying. I write daily.

But, here’s…

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Writing “The End” on Your Novel

I was once told by a self-proclaimed writing guru that writing the end of a book shouldn’t be an event. That we shouldn’t get all wrapped up in the fact that we finished a book–your first or your fiftieth, that we should simply move on to the next story and plow through that one too.

And I get that. You don’t have to tell me to keep my nose down and my fingers flying. I write daily.

But, here’s the thing: I would understand this setting aside of emotional attachment to my writing more if I were a robot having zero feelings and no degree of the understanding of one’s own self-worth. But, I’m not a robot. I’m a human being with all the longings anyone else has.

So, as a human being who also writes for a living, the satisfaction I feel from finishing another story is tantamount to, say, crossing the finish line for the career marathoner.

Completing a first novel exemplifies my point even greater but the satisfaction is still worthy of a celebratory glass of champagne for even a tenth, a twentieth or a one-hundredth novel.

I write for myself, of course but sometimes I write for other writers. In fact, I am currently under contract with a NY Times Bestseller. We’re working on a 3-book thriller series. I’m finding that finishing those books gives me equal satisfaction as finishing my own.

Maybe all that the finishing of a novel is, is that simple joy one gets from completing any project that has a beginning, a middle, and a ending. I’m sure the building contractor feels similarly about putting the final touches on a house. It’s a big thing building something from the ground up. Even a novel.

And, yet, although the guru makes a good point–one where we are just another writer in the flotsam who needs a substantial inventory to make a living and, so, we are to press, press, press through to that next unwritten story–I fear he’s missing a major point. Because a big part of this writing thing we do, as with any job we choose, should allow feeling joyful after our work is done.

I write books. ~Susan.

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I Don’t Believe You! How’d You Do That?

Lately, I’ve been finding great joy in writing anti-heroes where my main character (or a central character) has some pretty big problems. Double that with a sense of unreliability in the character and that character will have automatic depth.

Let’s look at the anti-hero.

122014-antiheroThe character will have a few flaws but will also be the person in your novel expected to “save the day.” His (or her) flaws…

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I Don’t Believe You! How’d You Do That?

Lately, I’ve been finding great joy in writing anti-heroes where my main character (or a central character) has some pretty big problems. Double that with a sense of unreliability in the character and that character will have automatic depth.

Let’s look at the anti-hero.

122014-antiheroThe character will have a few flaws but will also be the person in your novel expected to “save the day.” His (or her) flaws can run lightly or severely. Here are a few examples from books and even movies if you can believe it.

I’m using movies too because even though they may not come in the form of a book, someone must write them to create the story.

Arthur: this character is a happy drunk (a comedy)

The Giver: this character is a gullible boy (literary fiction/children’s)

The Wedding Planner: an overly controlling woman who has many rules for herself (romantic comedy)

Anna Karenina: a man who refuses to conform (even when it means becoming ostracized by the people he loves the most). (literary fiction)

Even my latest novel, The Deer Effect: a married man who is tiring of his wife. (Christian fantasy)

I’ve added the genres of each story for a reason because unreliability will be exacerbated by the genre.

So, now, let’s look at unreliability in a character.

122014-unreliablenarratorBasically, as the image suggests, writing the unreliable narrator shoots holes in the story. It’s up to the author to fix everything by the end. When used correctly, unreliability can add great depth to each of the anti-hero character traits. Unreliable narrators are often written in first person point of view but a crafty third person limited point of view can also bring in a sense of unreliability for your main character account of the story. Still, any first person account gives an automatic sense of unreliability simply because all people when telling a story tell it from their perspective, thus giving way to elaboration and how they feel about what happened rather than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

For the writer, when we move away from an omniscient point of view to a very personal first person POV, we move away from truth. Not that we’re lying but more that we’re able to give a solely personal account of what’s happening in the story.

Omniscient is the God’s eye POV and a very truthful position to take when writing because the reader is “seeing” many different angles of the same story. With third person limited POV, again, we’re as close to first person as the writer can get and staying within the confines of a third person tale (using “he” and “she” as devices) without slipping into first person or even second person. Second person POV is fun to play around with and uses devices in storytelling as if speaking directly to another person. In second person POV, the writer employs the “you” and “we” to tell a story. For instance, “When you go to the store and you see a gal who looks like a million bucks, you end up walking up to her and handing her your business card. You flash a smile and tell her you think she might be the most beautiful gal you’ve ever seen. Does she respond? Maybe. Maybe not. But you don’t care. You walk away thinking you did the best you could.”

Second person isn’t used all that often in today’s literature simply because not many people enjoy reading it but also because second person is very difficult for the writer to maintain throughout the length of the novel. If you want to read a novel written in second person, an excellent one is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

Here are the same characters from above but with unreliability woven in:

Arthur: his judgment is skewed by the wealth of his family and his pending inheritance.

The Giver: he is told he can lie.

The Wedding Planner: she falls in love with a client thus breaking one of her strictest rules.

Anna Karenina: the man falls in love with a Christian woman out of his class structure and begins to doubt his own sensibility.

The Deer Effect: his grief and weak faith make him doubt what he’s seeing happen right in front of his face.

Upon further examination of each story, can you not see how the characters have been set up to either fail or succeed? Of course, they should fail a couple of times before finally figuring things out and succeeding.

The beginning writer may ask why adding unreliability to an already faulted character is necessary. Well, it gives the reader more to sink their teeth in with the character. It adds more interest. It also makes the character act in ways they would not if the character were absent of those other unreliable considerations whereby making the reader feel unsure of what will happen next.

When we write an unreliable character, we set the reader up for disappointment, surprise and humor. When a character doesn’t do something the reader expects, she will think, “Well, I didn’t see that coming,” and will, most likely, keep turning the pages.

These two aspects of writing character go to storytelling quality and ability. There are many resources on the internet that teach how to write the anti-hero and an unreliable character. You might take a look. Not only will you build your craft but you’ll also have fun reading about how to tweak your characters.

So, how do you write unreliability into your characters? There are many ways to create the anti-hero and unreliable character and I’d love to hear yours.

I write books. ~Susan.

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Nevermore the Frigid Day

fawnRunning on chocolate chip cookies that’s how it felt running over the frozen mud. Astrid tried not to fall and pulled over the hood of her cloak as she entered the zone.

Ghosts whorled in front of her mouth. She craned her head back and heard their wailing–the ragged bark of their call–a fox team alerting her they had caught her scent.

Water could douse her smell. Assuming she might find a break…

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Nevermore the Frigid Day

fawnRunning on chocolate chip cookies that’s how it felt making her way over the frozen mud. Astrid tried not to fall and pulled over the hood of her cloak as she entered the zone.

Ghosts whorled in front of her mouth. She craned her head back and heard their wailing–the ragged bark of their call–a fox team alerting her they had caught her scent.

Water could douse her smell. Assuming she might find a break anywhere along the thick ice. Landing her boots flat onto the slippery zone, Astrid slid upright until she lost balance. Falling hard onto the frozen crust, her body moved out of control, spinning and spinning until coming to a sudden halt. The brunt taken against her right thigh, with her momentum toppling whatever was in the way.

“Ooph.” A young voice broke the sound of Astrid’s rapid-fire of her breathing.

“Wha–?” She whispered.

“The least you can do is say excuse me.” A fawn squinted and, with graceful control, pushed off the ice.

But Astrid’s face didn’t change. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the first of the fox team enter the frozen field.

***

I write books. ~Susan.

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The Responsibility of the Author

PeopleReadingA few years back, another author and I were talking. She said that authors and readers make a contract together–we supply a decent story and they will buy it. But I believe authors have more of a responsibility than that.

Our most loyal readers chat us up via social sites and comment on our blogs. They pass off our eBooks to others to read and they care about us almost as if we were family to them. I know this from the comments I get from some of my readers. Their words touch me. Sometimes bring me to tears that they find some slice of joy from reading one of my books. They become friends and because of that, they reach out to us. They want to be close. How awesome is that? That someone wants to be my friend? Someone I may not have even met in person? What a gift.

I guess I want to say this to other authors: Human beings are reading our stories. Human emotions are at stake. For me, I want to be worthy of touching someone else’s heart.

So, here’s a BIG THANK YOU to those wonderful folks who are reading my work. What an incredible honor to be with you if only through my words.

God bless you. ~Susan.

10292014-TDE-BookCover1THE DEER EFFECT is out today. I hope you love this story as much as I loved working on it. 🙂

I write books. 

SusanWingate.com

Yesterday and Today and Tomorrow… “The Deer Effect”

Antlers-tumblr_nefkzeBamI1th75fgo1_500Yesterday I was anticipating today. Today I am anticipating tomorrow. 

The eBook giveaway on Facebook for THE DEER EFFECT is today and what a successful showing! Thank you all for joining in the fun. Each person who sends me their email address will receive a free copy of my latest release.

The release date for THE DEER EFFECTis tomorrow. And, I’m thrilled to be exposing another slice of my true…

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