Writers are Team Members Too

June 25, 2014

Most people think of writing as a solitary activity. But writers don’t work alone. They look to writers groups for feedback, to editors for suggestions and fine tuning, to proofreaders, agents, designers, printers, reviewers, and on the list goes.

If you think of those who help you in your writing as part of your team, you may see each person’s contribution differently.

Since teams are made up of people and people are individuals with varying perspectives and preferences, it’s important to think about the best way to work with each person on your team. Although I’m not a great believer in putting people in boxes, sometimes categorizing preferences helps me better understand people’s behaviors.

Here are four areas of human behavior and their characteristics. See where the members of your writing team fit best so you can better understand and work with each one. As a bonus, you may also want to use the list below when developing your characters as well.

IDEA PEOPLE

  • Expressive, perhaps a bit emotional
  • Intuitive
  • Creative
  • Enjoy people and relate better to people than to tasks
  • Like to influence others
  • Easily bored

STRATEGY PEOPLE

  • Act quickly
  • Want immediate results
  • Are goal-given
  • Authoritative
  • Self-assured
  • Like to plan

SUPPORT PEOPLE

  • Easygoing
  • Reliable
  • Helpful
  • Adaptive
  • Promote harmony, especially between the logical and intuitive team members
  • Support team effort

DETAIL PEOPLE

  • Quality-conscious
  • Like to look for inconsistencies
  • Follow rules and standards
  • Research before deciding
  • Employ critical thinking skills
  • Cautious

When possible, build a team containing all four types of people so you get the benefit of interacting with all of them. I’m confident your end result will be better than if you surround yourself with people who always agree with you or who never challenge you. Happy writing!

 


Make Better Decisions

June 19, 2014

Writers constantly make decisions as they write. They decide what to include, when they’ve done enough research, who their characters are, what their characters do and when, etc. Perhaps the hardest decision is deciding when an article, story, or novel is finished.

When the writing is done, writers make decisions about whether to self-publish, royalty publish, or subsidy publish. If they decide to self-publish, they also decide what type of book to publish–hard cover, soft cover, audio, e-book. Then there are decisions about editing, cover design, interior layout, pricing, etc.

Once published (and it doesn’t matter whether an author is royalty published or published some other way), marketing the book is totally up to the author. That means more decisions about publicity, book signings, publish parties, media coverage, web presence, etc.

Here are some questions to help you make better decisions.

  • Is this something you want, or is it something you need? Life is full of wants, but you’re better off to take care of deciding the things you need first. It might help you distinguish between wants and needs if you try to imagine life a year from now and the impact your decision will have on your writing, publishing, marketing, budget, income, etc. in a year.
  • Have you investigated all your options? It’s easy to justify a bad decision with “I had no choice.” As a friend told me at lunch this week, “You always have a choice, but every choice has a consequence. You have to decide if you can live with the consequence.” For example, if you decide to pay to publish, there are consequences involving budget and  decisions on editing and design, etc. But if you decide to find a royalty publisher, there are consequences involving ownership of your intellectual property (you no longer own it) and basic decisions about your book.
  • Are you being honest with yourself? If you’re telling yourself what you want to hear, you may not be completely honest with you. I’ve often told the story about a member of a writing group my husband and I belonged to. It was hard to follow this writer’s writing because it was disjointed, angry, and venting. Finally, after this writer was done with a reading and the room was silent because it was hard to comment on what we had just heard, my husband  asked the writer, “What are you trying to say?” As if really thinking before answering, the writer looked at my husband and said, “Good question.” The writer never came back, but he and I happened upon each other during a business call a few years later. Since we were on the phone, I didn’t recognize his voice, but when he heard my name, he introduced himself and told me to thank my husband for asking the question years earlier. It made him really think about his writing, and he was happier because he moved on to other things in his life.
  • How “right” does your decision feel? It’s hard to define what feels right, but you know it when you feel it. If you’re struggling with a decision, tune into your body. Does the option you’re considering make you feel energized or drained? The answer is a good beginning for determining how right a decision feels.
  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid? If you’re afraid of something, that fear will hold you back whether it’s a realistic fear or not. Just because an option instills fear into you doesn’t mean it’s a wrong option. Do your best to avoid letting fear make your decisions.

Consider the idea that most decisions can be changed with another decision. If you’re a writer, you’ve got lots of decisions to make. Today’s as good a day as any to start making them. Happy writing!

 


The Right Way to Write a Story

June 11, 2014

Every writer writes stories. Even nonfiction writers include stories in their narrations. So what’s the right way to write a story? Here are some general guidelines to help you.

  • Brainstorm or mind map your story components, asking “What if?” for each one.
  • Review the components of your story and create a skeleton (outline) to organize them.
  • Take your original idea, then expand it by adding a problem.
  • Take the problem, then stir it up by making it worse. Sometimes you’ll have to implicate things rather than state them outright.
  • Connect your characters to the problem. You do that by asking how your characters feel about what’s happening and asking what they are willing to do about it. NOTE: When things start happening and when characters do things you don’t expect is when your story comes alive.
  • Get to know your characters. Who’s who? What’s what? Learn about the main character, then expand your knowledge of the other characters. See how the characters relate to each other. Name each character, then write a list about them, describing each one.
  • Hook your reader in the first page or two of your novel. Let your reader know who the story is about, where it takes place, and what the problem or conflict is. Begin dramatically with action or flashback, but begin!
  • Sit down, brainstorm, move your character around, rewrite what’s already written if you find yourself stuck in your writing.
  • Write with the end in mind. Your protagonist should solve the dilemma in a logical way. Most likely your protagonist will have changed in the process of finding the solution.

Here are a couple of other tips that might help you as well.

  • The story title should hint at what the story is about. Titles should be catchy and interesting, not corny or dumb.
  • If you need more pages in a novel, create another villan.
  • If you decide to write a prologue, it should be terse and a rapid description of the tension in the story.
  • As you read other stories, notice how little dreams are used. Why? Dreams are weak and cheat the reader of real action and tension.

The years I served as president of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime offered me wonderful opportunities to meet many successful fiction writers. To me, writing fiction is the most difficult writing there is because the author is accountable to the reader for creating the entire world in the story. If the reader finds any inconsistency, the author risks being rejected or at least ridiculed. Fiction is fun reading, but only when the author has worked very hard on writing it. Happy writing!