Research How-To…and Why

[found on copyblogger.com; by  ]

“I’m going to talk about research. No, research is not very fun, and it’s never glamorous, but it matters. A lot.

If you want to be able to make compelling case for something — whether it’s in a book, on a blog, or in a multi-million dollar VC pitch — you need stories that frame your arguments, rich anecdotes to compliment tangible examples, and impressive data so you can empirically crush counter arguments.

But good research doesn’t just magically appear. Stories, anecdotes and data have to be found before you can use them.

You have to hunt them down like a shark, chasing the scent of blood across the vast ocean of information. The bad news is that this is an unenviable task … but the good news is that it’s not impossible.

It’s not even that hard … once you learn what you’re doing — and I’m going to teach you those skills.

By the time I was 21, my research had been used by #1 New York Times Bestselling authors like Robert Greene, Tim Ferriss, and Tucker Max. Was I a slave to study? Did I have to become a library hermit to accomplish this? No, I did it all in my spare time–on the side, with just a few hours of work a week.

Here’s how I did it …

Step 1: Prepare long before gameday [sic]

…This is the mark you must aim for as a researcher, to not only have enough material — and to know where the rest of what you haven’t read will be located — on hand to do your work….

Step 2: Learn to search (Google) like a pro

…How do you find a needle in haystack? Get rid of the extra hay….

Step 3: Go down the rabbit hole (embrace serendipity)

…One of my rules as a reader is to read one book mentioned in or cited in every book that I read. It not only solves the problem of ‘what to read next’ but it sends you on a journey down the rabbit hole….

Step 4: When in doubt, turn to the classics

…The Classics are “classic” for a reason. They’ve survived the test of time….

Step 5: Keep a commonplace book

…a book of quotes, sentences, metaphors and  miscellany that he could use at a moment’s notice….”

To read the entire article from , click here.

[found on http://www.copyblogger.com/content-marketing-research/]
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A Writer’s Time Management

[found on wrwdc.com; By Joan Whetzel]

“Many writers find time management at least a minor issue, while for others it may be a major issue, especially those who can never seem to find the time to write. The following tips may not completely get rid of all writing time management issues, but hopefully they will reduce the time management problems to a minimum.

1. Track Your Time. If you find you simply have no idea where the time went on a consistent basis, then it’s time to start tracking your time. Take a week or two to record how you spend your time from the time you get up in the morning until you go to bed. Use a spiral notebook, split into columns: left hand column for the start and end time, middle column for a brief description of each activity, and the right hand column for the amount of time to complete that activity. Record the day and date at the top of each page. Then go through the journal to determine where you can shave time off activities (or remove them from your routine) in order to create more time for writing.

2. Set Goals. Goals give writers something to aim for. It could be a minimum word or paragraph count per day, a minimum word or page count per week, or a minimum article count per month. Meeting your goals will keep your writing progress moving forward.

3. Set Aside Time Just for Research. Having to keep stopping to research facts that you don’t know disrupts any writing schedule, cuts down on the available writing time, and distracts writers from their writing goals. Set aside a regular time to research the information you need to do your writing for the week. Then your writing time will be available for writing only….”

To read the complete article by Joan Whetzel, click here.

[found on http://wrwdc.com/15-time-management-tips-for-writers/]

Get Your Mind Out of Your Way

[found on writetodone.com; by Ollin Morales of Courage 2 Create]

“What if I told you that the biggest threat to your writing is not your lack of passion, your lack of creativity, or your lack of skill?

What if I told you that the biggest threat to your writing is… your mind?

That’s right. Your mind is the biggest obstacle standing between you and all the work you are trying to accomplish.

Our mind is often the one that needs the most convincing that our writing is worthwhile. This is because our mind is hard-wired to protect us from any possible danger.  You see, in order to protect us, our mind initially perceives anything it encounters as a threat—including your writing.

If this sounds strange, and kind of primitive, as if your mind is trying to protect you from a tiger hiding behind a tree in a jungle—then you’re absolutely right.

Your mind is still pretty primordial. So, your job as a writer is to hack into this primordial, hunter-gatherer mind, and update its software so that your mind works for you.

Here are just 4 ways to hack your mind so that you can become infinitely more creative:

1. Bypass Your Mind

…Get rid of all the thinking. Wipe your mind clean. Take a deep breath, and just go for it….

2.  Trick Your Mind

…promise your mind that you will continue to worry about paying your bills AFTER you write a brief outline of that freelance article you’re working on….

3. Lower Your Mind’s Expectations

…If your mind sees that you’re making a big bet, then, it will immediately advise you against it—it may even try to thwart you from accomplishing the monumental task you’ve set up for yourself….

So, don’t make that big bet. Make a small one, instead.

4. Recalibrate Your Mind

…the return on your initial investment does not appear until much much later. This is something your mind has trouble understanding, and it’s your job to help your mind understand it….hack into your mind so that your mind works for you.”

To read the entire article from Ollin Morales at writetodone.com, click here.

[found on http://writetodone.com/4-ways-to-hack-into-your-mind-and-become-infinitely-more-creative/]

Your Plot Needs Planning

[found on fictionfactor.com; by Lee Masterson]

Effectively Outlining Your Plot

“Have you ever had an idea for a novel, and then just sat down and began writing without knowing exactly where the story was going?

It happens to everyone at some point, but most people begin to realize that the events in your plotline get confused, or forgotten in the the [sic] thrill of writing an exciting scene. There are those who continue to write on, regardless, fixing any discrepancies as they work, or (worse!) those who do not check that events are properly tied in place to bring their stories to a satisfying conclusion.

And then there are those writers who believe that creating a plot-outline is tantamount to “destroying the natural creative process”. The belief is simple; by writing it out in rough form, you’ve already told the story, so the creative side of you will not want to write it again.

Whichever type of writer you are, creating a simple, inelegant outline to follow s not the same thing as already writing the story, and it could save you an enormous amount of time and rewriting later.

The purpose of an outline in this case is to be certain that your storyline is not straying too far from the original idea. It is also a useful tool if you need to determine if your idea is big enough to be developed into a novel-length work, and not left as a short story or novella.

Your outline should be a simple reminder that, no matter how many events or characters or situations arise, your main theme will never get lost in the jumble of scenes.

Of course, this brings us to the problem to what was discussed above. There are writers who have a tendency to over-plot, thus really killing any spontaneity as far as the writing process goes. The biggest difficulty here is forcing your characters to go through motions that may not fit into their personality make-up simply to fit into your pre-existing, overly planned plotline.

So how do you strike a fair balance between aimless writing and over-plotting? There are several ways to accomplish this….”

To read the complete article from Lee Masterson, click here.

[found on http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/outlining.html]

5 Creative Flaws Exposing Lack of Storytelling Experience

[found on storyfix.com; by Larry Brooks]

“There are a million ways to cripple a story.  Here are five of them.

 There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being inexperienced (we’ve all been there).  Unless it shows up in your story in a way that detracts from it.

Or kills it.

Pop quiz: which is the more unforgiving audience: agents, editors, or readers?

Used to be that the only answers that mattered were the first two, because you’d never get your work in front of the latter if your story was guilty of and of these five deal killers.  They were grounds for rejection.

Nowadays, though, you can skip the grouchy agents and rejection-happy acquisitions editors and go digitally direct to the marketplace.  And if for a moment you think that this brave new world lowers the craft bar, that digital readers won’t care about the small stuff in the same way that agents and editors do, think again.

This is actually good news. 

Because when you finally conquer these five demons, you’ll stand out as a professional storyteller worthy of publication – even if you’re self-publishing – amidst a sea of competition that, quite frankly, isn’t.Without word-of-mouth buzz, your digital story is going nowhere beyond your circle of loyal family and friends.  And with these five flaws crippling your pages, a wider readership isn’t likely.

Not just because of the technical impropriety of it.  But because the writer who doesn’t recognize the folly of these things isn’t likely to spin a story that competes with those of writers who do.

Here they are, in no particular order of toxicity.

1. Proper Names Within Dialogue

Which equates to bad dialogue.

Listen closely to conversations in your life.  Count the number of times somebody uses your name in those audible exchanges.  Better yet, how often you use the name of the person you are talking to, either face to face or on the phone.

It’ll be a low number.   It is likely to be zero.

And yet, some writers seem to think this sounds cool when written into dialogue.  To wit:

Hey, Bob, good to see you.

You too, Joe.  Been well?

Bob, you have no idea.

Well Joe, times are tough.

Tell me about it, Bob.  I hear you, man.

Only a bit of an exaggeration here.  I see this all the time in the manuscripts I’m hired to critique and coach.  If it only happened once it might fly under the radar – because it does happen, once in a blue moon, in real life, and it sounds odd then, too – but usually when it appears it pops up throughout the entire manuscript like a skin rash.

Rule of thumb: never do this in your dialogue.  Never.

With experience comes an ear for dialogue.  But you can shorten that learning curve dramatically by simply axing out the use of proper names.

Unless someone is calling on the phone and opens with, “Is Mary there?”, don’t make this mistake.

2. Chit-Chat

William Goldman, the senior statesman of screenwriting who is also an accomplished novelist, advises us to begin our scenes at the last possible moment.

This is huge.  Some of the best advice ever, even for novelists.  Because implicit within its genius is the assumption – the prerequisite – that the writer completely knows the mission of each and every scene.

Read that again, it can change your entire storytelling experience.

Skip the pleasantries when two people meet.  Avoid the weather talk.  The how-have-you-beens.  Instead, opt for something like this:

After a few minutes of catching up Laura popped the question she’d come for.

“Are you having an affair with my husband?” she asked.

The first of those two lines can replace many paragraphs of useless chit-chat.  Even when said chit-chat demonstrates characterization, without expositional value it’s a useless distraction that eats away at pace.  And pace is always important.

Characterization when it counts trumps characterization when it doesn’t, every time.

I’ve read pages upon pages of chit-chat before a scene finally kicks in.  I’ve seen entire scenes full of it without the scene ever arriving at a point. And I have to remind myself that I’m getting paid to read it.

But never in the story of an accomplished pro.

It’s a judgment call, and with experience comes an evolved sense of pace and reader tolerance.

3. Too Much Description of Food

This is more common than you can imagine among newer writers.  Meals are described with exquisite detail.  Course after course, drenched with spicy, worshipful adjectives.

Delicious. Steaming hot.  Slathered in a sweet sauce.

The only justification for doing this is when the meal is laced with arsenic.  Because – and I’m serious about that analogy – because in such a case it would relate to the story.

If it doesn’t relate, skip it.

Nobody cares what your hero has for breakfast.  It’s not important to know the menu of a meal prepared with love.

Ever.  Unless, like I said, the meal matters.  Which it hardly ever does.

4. Overwritten Sequential Time Fillers

Your hero has had a tough day at work.  She comes home to shower and have a glass of wine before driving to the rendezvous point for her blind date that evening, which she’d been unable to stop thinking about all day.

As a writer, you now face a decision: cut to the date, or take us home with her for the shower and the wine and some lengthy pondering of her lonely life.  Or better yet, cut straight to the date and cover any prior ground (her bad day at work, the shower and wine) with a short introductory sentence.

Inexperienced writers tend to take us home with her.  Have us take a shower with her and ooh and ahh about how good the hot water feels.  About the taste of the wine, a hint of cherry, a nice finish.

The more experienced writer cuts straight to the date.

This pitfall is similar to the chit-chat and food and transitional red flags described elsewhere in this article.  The same standard applies: if it doesn’t deliver salient expositional information, if it doesn’tmatter, if it just moves the character forward in time (as if the writer is obliged to show us each and every moment and hour of the hero’s day, which isn’t true), then skip it.

Know what matters, what counts, and why.  Then, like a chess piece, move the scenes from one square to the next.  Every time you hit the pause button to take a shower or reflect on the drive home, you’re killing your story’s pacing.

Mission-driven scene writing is the Holy Grail of long form storytelling. It is the context for almost every problem and solution you’ll face.

5. Invisible Scene Transitions

Less is more.  It really is.  Unless we’re talking foreplay, but that’s another blog.

This principle leads us to the best transitional device known to the modern storyteller.  The very best way to get from one scene to the next is… to do nothing.

Literally.

Two words: white space.

Just end a scene cleanly, then skip a couple of lines and jump into the next scene.  Which happens when either time or place or point of view changes.

Read that again, too.  It’s basic and critical.

If you’re jumping to a new chapter this takes care of itself.  But chapters are legitimately able to house an untold number of scenes, and if you want to make sure the reader is as aware of the transitions with them as you are, skip a line or two when time or place of POV changes.

Otherwise, your transition might look like this:

       The meeting dragged on for several hours, complete with boring Powerpoint presentations and the lengthy pontifications of the CEO, who had never been on a sales call in her life.  Tomorrow would be no exception.                                                                                                                                                              The sales call began at noon, with a rubber chicken catered lunch already on the table.  The client posse arrived together, as if they’d marshaled in the parking lot to finalize strategy and send off any last minute texts.

It’s not wrong, per se, it’s just that the transition from scene to scene (note, it’s now tomorrow, a different time and place) is not as clear and efficient as it could be.  A reader who skims is likely to miss it.

Now look at it this way.  A simple thing, with an empowering result:

         The meeting went on for several hours, complete with boring Powerpoint presentations and the lengthy pontifications of the CEO, who had never been on a sales call in her life. Tomorrow would be no exception.

         The sales call began at noon, with a rubber chicken catered lunch already on the table.  The client posse arrived together, as if they’d marshaled in the parking lot to finalize strategy and send off any last minute texts.

Such simplicity.  The power of the skipped line of white space is amazing.

These mid-chapter scenes – especially necessary transitional ones – can be as short as you want.  One paragraph exposition that gets us from one point to the next are wonderful, especially if they replace two-page space fillers that seek to accomplish the exact same thing.  The need to pad these scenes is the paradigm of the beginner… which, after being duly warned, you no longer are.

Such is the case with all five of these rookie mistakes.  Your radar for them is the most important part of your review and edit process.

And if you can’t wrap your head around it, I’m betting your significant manuscript-reader other can.  Because they’re readers, and readers are the victims when these things hit the page.”

[found on http://storyfix.com/5-creative-flaws-that-will-expose-your-lack-of-storytelling-experience]

Today We Remember

Today is 9/11. We remember.

Many books, articles, journals, magazines, pamphlets, and letters have been written about this day—about the trauma and the victory, about the heartache of loss and the joys of salvation.

In the beginning, the words poured from people’s hearts—covering the pages of time, as if simply to cement the moment in history, never to be forgotten. In the years since, stories have been written with greater thought, and deeper research. Our hearts still linger on the loss, but dance in the victory of the survivor stories.

Today, we challenge every Writing Addict to pause, collect thoughts, and write in remembrance of that day. What do you remember?

iwo-9-11-final

Query Query Quite Contrary…

[found on queryshark.blogspot.com]
Query Shark: “How To Write Query Letters … or, really, how to revise query letters so they actually work…” A site that works for YOU. Query questions? Read on…

Example of this tool:

“Dear Query Shark,
 
Winston Smith has been a foolish man, and on Christmas Day of 2012, it’s going to cost him his life.
 
This is a great opening line. Do I want to find out what happened? You bet.
 
On top of a faltering marriage – and there’s been no sex for eight months – not only has he neglected to tell wife, Julia, their heavily indebted dairy farm is up for an income tax audit, but he’s corresponded with the auditor that “the thought of having to hand over my life in letters and source documents for examination by you, a total stranger, on pain of punishment, makes me physically ill,” and he will not be cooperating with the Inland Revenue Department.
 
And then you take veer so completely off the path of taut, lean prose that it’s almost like you’ve morphed into Prolix Man.
 
For starters, don’t quote the novel in the query. Also, we don’t need to know why the marriage is faltering, just that it is. And the only thing we really need to know is the audit is going to be a big surprise to Julia.
 
Tom Parsons life previously could have been summed up in a word: inertia. Married to mousy Sally, the one girl he dated at high school, their marriage has become routine since the birth of their son, Syme.
  
What? Wait. Who? What happened to Winston and Julia?  This abrupt segue is confusing. Remember, I’m not sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea, savoring your query. I’m not reading this like I read a novel. I’m sitting at my desk, I’ve got ten minutes before a scheduled phone call and I’m trying to find the queries that entice me to read on. In other words, I’m reading fast and mostly skimming. Whether you think this is a good idea, or fair is immaterial. It’s reality and  a smart query writer will write to his/her audience.
 
What that means: You make sure I know who a new character is by telling me “Inland Revenue agent Tom Parsons”
 
And you don’t have FIVE NAMED CHARACTERS in the first two paragraphs. At the most you have two….

[found on http://queryshark.blogspot.com]