Saturday, November 29, 2014

7 Things to Do Before You Give Up on Your Novel

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

     I bet we've all been there at some point--your novel is just too boring/cliche/unbelievable/plotless/whatever that you feel there's no point in writing it any more.

     You loved this story at some point. It was a shiny plot bunny then, and you could just picture it on the shelf at the bookstore.

     But now it's lost all its charm, and you dread opening up the document. In fact, most days, you don't open it up at all.

     What do you do? Do you give up on the story, and start something new? Do you take a break? Do you force yourself to keep writing, even though you hate it?

     I think the answer is different for each writer. Sometimes you're really just burnt out writing-wise, and taking a few days off will clear up any problems. Or maybe you've taken off for too long, and you're having trouble getting back into the routine.

     But sometimes, the answer might really be that the story just isn't worth continuing.

     Now, before you enthusiastically pump my hand and thank me for giving you permission to ditch your story, there's a few qualifiers. You need to get through the list I have below, and you need to think each item through before moving on.

  1. Are you really sure your story is boring? Or is there just another "better" story that you want to write?

    I won't pretend that I've never had this happen to me. Plenty of times, I'll be about halfway through a rough draft, when I'll get a new story idea--one I'm sure is far better than this story will ever be.

    Sometimes, that really is the case. If you started this story spur of the moment, maybe there's just not a lot of good plot to keep the story going. It might really be best to drop this story and work on something else. But be careful--if you start writing that new story idea right away, what's going to keep it from doing the same thing halfway through?

    Just make sure to identify the difference between a good story idea, and a "shiny plot bunny." Plot bunnies are not reliable, shiny or otherwise. Develop, develop, develop, until you've gotten down to the core of the story. If it's still worth writing, go for it.

  2. Have you taken a break from the story?

    Try taking a break, if you're stuck. Spend the day with your family, or go somewhere with your friends. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Do something away from your computer, laptop, or notebook.

    If you're just stuck on a story problem that needs to be solved before you can keep going--a very crippling issue; I know this from experience--chances are, just ignoring it for a few days will actually help. Your subconscious will be at work solving the problem while you get a break from your story.

  3. Have you gone back to writing after the break?

    I'm serious. After you're done with your break, sit down and write. Don't just say, "Okay, I've gone for three days without writing this story and I still don't feel like writing it. Goodbye, story!" Of course you're not going to want to write. Imaginations are lazy. When you go for an extended period of time without using it, it's going to be tricky getting back into the swing of writing.

    Do it anyway. After your break, spend a few more days writing. If you're still having problems with your writing after a week, maybe it is time to think about moving on.

  4. Identify what your story is really about. Are you still writing that?

    I've had this happen to me very often. I get so caught up in the words, the actions, the scenes, that I forget what the story is about. I have to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember what I'm writing.

    What is your story goal? What does your main character want? What about that unnamable feeling you get when you think about your climax? Are you still writing that?

  5. Is it really a bad story, or do you just have Chapter Seven Syndrome?

    Chapter Seven Syndrome is my word for "I'm about two-thirds of the way through the story and I'm very sure that this is the worst thing I've ever written." It's not usually at chapter seven for most people, but when I started writing using a twelve-chapter outline, chapter seven was always where I lost my enthusiasm.

    If this is where you're at, take heart--it's a passing phase. Take a day off today, and start writing again tomorrow. Write as much as you can, even if it's awful. Eventually you'll get to a scene you've been wanting to write, and hopefully you'll start enjoying it again.

  6. Remember the enthusiasm you had for this story when you started. Is there any of that passion still left inside of you?

    I've found that writing a little note of encouragement to your future self when you start writing a story is very helpful. Take all of your enthusiasm and passion and love for your story, and write a few paragraphs about how amazing this story is. Go ahead and make it all flattery. Just make it sincere. If you have a good writer friend, ask them to write a little bit of something too. Then hide it all away somewhere, and don't look at it again until you're completely stuck and hating the story.

    Can you blow on that ember and relight the fire you had for this story?

  7. Are you really willing to give up?

    It sounds kind of harsh when I say it like that, but it's the truth. By giving up on your novel, you're doing just that--giving up. Are you ready to admit defeat?

     If you've gotten this far, and nothing is getting your interest back in your story, maybe it is time to start something new. Something you're truly passionate about, and something you'll see all the way through to completion.

     Just make sure you won't burn out halfway through again. Develop, develop, develop. Make sure this is a story you truly love. Make it something you'd want to read, and read again. Daydream about seeing it on a bookshelf, on, on a random review blog, read by somebody you've never met and probably will never meet. Imagine what the cover will look like, and the movie that will be made from it.

     Go ahead and dream. That's how we write, isn't it?

Catsi Eceer is an aspiring author of fantasy and dystopian novels. To learn more about her, visit our "About Us" page.

We have currently have a holiday poetry contest open, which you can find here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

5 Quick Tips for Cleaning Up Your Writing

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

     Hullo there, Catsi again. I've got another writing post for you all to suffer through enjoy. Today's subject is on the little things you do after writing to make your prose sparkle.

     This is kind of an after step. Like when you're building a house, you don't paint first. First you have to make sure the building is sturdy, the structure sound, and actually get the house built. Painting is really the last step. You don't make it pretty until you make sure it stands.

     However, it's still an important step. Ever read a book where you couldn't understand anything that was happening, because the writing itself wasn't clear? That's what I'm focusing on for this post--"painting" your writing to make it look nice.

  1. Sentence length and structure.
         When you have a bunch of long sentences in a row, it starts to feel redundant and monotonous. Short sentences, too. By varying the sentence lengths, you'll be making your writing flow smoother and easier to read.

    I ran to the car. Mel glanced at me. "What's up?"
    "Nothing really." I caught my breath. "Where did Anna go?"
         Yay for a bit of example writing I wrote on the spot.

         You'll noticed that all of the sentences are pretty much the same length, not too short, but definitely on the shorter end of the sentence-length spectrum.

    I ran to the car, breathing hard. Mel glanced at me. "What's up?"
    "Nothing really." I grimaced inwardly at the easy way I told the lie. "Where did Anna go?"

         In addition to the conflict I added in this example, we also have some varying sentence length and structure. It makes the reading easier, and makes you want to keep reading.

         This rule goes for sentence structure, too. In my writing, I tend to over use the type of sentence as the first one in the second example -  "I did something, doing something else." Look for the types of sentences you use frequently, and cut as many of them as possible.
  2. Look for adverbs.
         Lots of people are extremely (adverb) against these particular words, but I don't think they're always evil. (Elisabeth wrote a great post on them a while ago, which you can check out here.)

         My general rule is, if there is a verb that describes your adverb-verb pair on it's own, use it. And if you take away the adverb and it doesn't change the meaning of the verb, leave it out. I love strong verbs, and I think using them may be one of my writing strengths. I still use adverbs every now and then, though.

    She walked silently over to him, nervously thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong. He looked at her angrily, like he already knew what was coming.

          Yep, I love my strong verbs. That was a tricky example to write.

    She crept over to him, fingers trembling and mind racing. He turned his glare on her. His eyes flashed, like he knew what was coming.

         See how much more descriptive this example is? It (hopefully) creates a mental picture of our heroine's fear and timidity, and the other character's anger. While we knew those things were there in the first example, we could feel them in the second one.
  3. Look for places you could show rather than tell.
         This is another thing that I love, but I often have trouble making it work in my writing. Instead of telling your reader what the hero is feeling, thinking, or doing, show them feeling, thinking, or doing it. Don't tell what the location looks like--Show it to us.

    The air in the room was hot, and it made Sadie even more irritable.

         There's nothing particularly wrong with this (besides that it's a bit passive), and we know that the room is hot and Sadie's not too happy. However, with a bit of showing, we can make the reader feel the warm air and how grumpy Sadie really is.

       The air in the room felt sticky and humid, and the back of Sadie's shirt stuck to her skin. Her arms prickled from the heat. A drop of sweat dripped down Connor's forehead as he shot her a glare.
       Another bubble of irritation welled inside of her. If he made one more sarcastic comment about this being her fault...

           Do you blame Sadie for being grumpy?

  4. Check for the word "was."
         This isn't always something horrible, and you can't always avoid it, but keep on the lookout. Using the word "was" often fails to create a picture in our head, because it doesn't describe an action, merely a moment in time.
    She was leaning against the wall. Her arms were folded. I was suddenly feeling nervous, and wondering why she was here.
    She leaned back against the wall, arms folded. A flood of nervous questions filled my mind. Why is she here?
  5. Beware passive voice.
         Passive voice is when the subject of your sentence is the recipient of the action, rather than the one performing the action. In the following example, the subject of the sentence is "the gear," and the action is ("was set") is happening to it.
    The gear was set into place by Hawke's quick fingers.
         Active voice has the performer of the action as the sentence subject. Since Hawke is performing the action, we rearrange the sentence so he becomes the subject.
    Hawke set the gear into place, his quick fingers finishing the job in less than a second.
         Now, technically, the subject should be "Hawke's quick fingers," but I've found that it always sounds weird to have a body part as the subject of a sentence. It makes it sound as though Hawke's fingers are unattached to the rest of him, and he has no control over what they're doing. So I took that out, and added the last part of the sentence so we still have the description of Hawke's fingers.
     Now, all of these "rules" are things I think makes writing stronger. Maybe you love passive voice, or adverbs, or whatever else I said not to use in this post. If that's the case, forget what I said. Write what you like to read.

     What are some things you look out for when you're cleaning up your writing?

Catsi Eceer is an aspiring author of fantasy and dystopian novels. To learn more about her, visit our "About Us" page.

We have currently have a holiday poetry contest open, which you can find here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Write Free-Verse Poems

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

     I was looking through the poetry posts earlier, and realized that we'd never done a post on free verse poems. Seeing as I write free verse almost exclusively, I thought I'd step up to the plate and scribble something down.

     Here I am twenty minutes later, still staring at a blank screen.

     The funny thing about free verse poetry is that, well, they're free verse. There's no specific rhythm or meter. They don't need to rhyme. They don't really need to do anything, except convey an emotion. There are no rules to them. Which makes it rather difficult for me to write about them.

     A free verse poem is basically a bunch of words. But somehow, the words need to convey the emotion the writer means them to convey.

     Ack. I'm explaining this miserably.

     Okay, I'll use a poem of mine as an example. I wrote this one a while ago, but I kinda like it. 

Step one: Find some inspiration.

     I was helping out in children's church one Sunday, and there was something about hearing each of the kids pray in turn while my sister played softly on her guitar that just made me want to capture that moment in a poem. It was the kind of bitter-sweet feeling that makes you want to cry when there's really no reason to.

     You can tell a story with your words, or capture a moment in time, or carry an emotion. How you choose to write it is up to you.

Step two: Choose your words. And choose them carefully.

     When you're writing free verse, a large vocabulary is your friend. Being able to choose just the right word is very important to the quality of the poem. Because most free verse poems are quite short, each word counts.

Step three: Just write.

     After that, just let the words spill out. There's no "right way" to do this. I think everyone writes a little differently. Some people might write all of the poem at once, then go through and edit. I tend to edit as I write, meaning I'll go back and fix up each line as I put it down. Do whatever works for you.

Step four: Fix it up.

     Try reading your poem out loud. Even though it doesn't have a set rhythm, the words should still flow. Make sure all of the lines run smoothly into one another, and the stanzas into one another.

     That's pretty much it. Four easy steps to writing a free verse poem.

     Since I promised you an example, here's mine:


Head bowed, eyes closed
A dozen hands-folded kids
The whisper of “Amen”
And the soft strum of the guitar

“Dear God, please help Mommy and Daddy;”
The little girl across from me prays,
eyes squeezed shut tight;
“Make our family happy again.”

“We love you, God:”
The last chorus of Amen
And I look into her eyes
She knows God will make it happen

I want faith like that
so even when it’s tough
I can keep praying

Any questions? Got a poem you want to share? Let me know in the comments!

Catsi Eceer is an aspiring author of fantasy and dystopian novels. To learn more about her, visit our "About Us" page.

We have two current contests, one is a holiday poetry contest, which you can find here. The other is an autumn contest for poetry, prose, and art, but the deadline is just days away! See the guidelines here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Drawing What You Can

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Hello there. If you guys have been reading my art posts, you'll notice that all I post are Photoshop tutorials, while the drawing tutorials are done by Catsi and guest bloggers. Why is this? Because I'm horrible at drawing. Seriously, I can draw two things with any decency: dragon and eyes. The dragons take over an hour, and can't have feet, and the eyes can't be in pairs. So, why the heck am I talking about drawing? What could I possibly have to teach you?
     Well, recently, I've started drawing eyes in my notebooks again, and making them more complicated. I've really been working on shading, making the highlights look right and whatnot. (When you only have a pencil, there isn't much you can do besides highlights.) But here's the thing: they look pretty cool. I'm getting better at them. I couldn't draw a face to save my life, but I can draw a single, unpaired eye pretty well. Well that's nice, you're thinking. But how does that apply to me?
     For one, it shows that even if you're crappy at something, you can still enjoy it. For two, if you simply draw what you can actually make work, you do gain proficiency. Someday I may be able to put my eyes on a person's face. Someday I may even be able to put two eyes on a person's face.
     So, even if you're a pathetic drawer (isn't there a better term for that?) like me, if you can find one thing you can draw decently, then you're on the right track. Eyes may lead to faces, faces to people, people to scenes. Don't give up because you feel that you can't draw. It's all a process. Just like writing, or poetry. The only difference is that it's easier to tell if you're doing well or not. Keep your old drawings, so you can see how far you've come.

     What do you say we all keep track, huh? I'll draw something today, keep it, and next year, same time, we'll all share them. Hopefully I won't be comparing two eyes.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet, as well as a failing artist. (But luckily, she doesn't plan to make a career out of that.) To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

Also, we have two contests currently open. One is for poetry, prose, and art, which you can find here. The deadline is this month, so hurry! We're particularly looking for prose and art submissions.
The other one is a holiday themed contest for poetry, which you can find here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

How Do I know If My Idea Is Good Enough?

Guest post by Emily Tjaden

     Sometimes writing is easy. Sometimes it feels like swimming in a bay, surrounded by a tropical paradise. You can breathe a long sigh of stress-releasing contentment. Other times, writing is like climbing a mountain, lugging a fifty-pound backpack and gasping for every breath. Or, worse yet, dangling off a cliff by your pinky finger. All the time, the life of a novelist is a rollercoaster.

     I’ve recently been climbing the mountain. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I fell off the cliff and had to have someone pull me back up. Around 90% of the rollercoaster ride is a result of the internal war that we authors have with ourselves over whether or not what we’re writing about is “good enough.” We’re worried about people rejecting our stories. Naturally, we want to be accepted, but too often, the fear and insecurity caused by the possibility of rejection makes us slow down writing—or worse, stop.

     But how do you know if your ideas are worth writing? Let’s take a look at a few things that every good story has.

• Unique characters
• An exciting plot
• A compelling theme
• Enjoyable prose

     Four things. They aren’t complicated, but often, we make them so. We agonize over the details, and constantly compare ourselves to others. Maybe you just finished a novel in which the protagonist was a brilliant undercover agent who also happened to be hiding a deadly secret, that, if exposed, could cost him his career, and his life. And maybe the protagonist in your story is a farm boy who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and has to find a way to regain his former life. Each of these characters is beautifully unique, but the temptation is to compare your protagonist to someone else’s. To think he’s not good enough because someone else wrote something different. The same is true for plot, theme, prose; everything. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean your idea isn’t worth writing.

     Now let’s look at a few things that good stories are not.

• Boring to the writer
• Told out of obligation
• A copycat of someone else’s

     As long as your story interests you, it’s worth writing. If you’re writing out of obligation to create something others will like, it’s probably not going to work. If it does, it will be hard, and possibly fruitless. Certainly not enjoyable, to say the least. And stories that are enjoyable to read are the ones that were enjoyable for the author to write.

     One of the biggest pitfalls for writers is the idea that someone else writes better than you do, when in reality, they simply write differently. You have your style and they have theirs. Trying to mimic another author’s prose does not make a good story. It makes a shadow. And who wants a shadow when you can have the real thing?

     Of course, I’m not saying this means you should never change your style. It’s certainly not wrong to desire improvement. For those of you who seek a career in writing, you should always be looking to improve your craft. But improvement doesn’t mean copying someone else. It means developing your own style.

     This is the part where doubts start to creep in. Things like, “What if people don’t like my style?” or “What if it looks like I’m copying someone else, but I’m really not?” Some people’s styles are similar, and it’s okay. All I’m saying is don’t try to make yourself into something you’re not.

     However, I think that one of the biggest doubt-evoking phrases is, “But I’m just a young writer.” The idea that somehow, age is relevant to whether or not you are capable or generating good plots and writing good prose.

     It’s not.

     I’ve seen many people under the age of twenty come up with spectacular ideas and write gorgeous prose. And they all write differently. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of, “My ideas won’t be appreciated because I’m too young.” Writing well takes practice, and it’s true that expertise comes with experience. But don’t write yourself off because maybe you haven’t had as much as some people. Remember what I said about improving? While you’re still improving, so are they. I’ll bet you that Tolkien was still hoping to improve after he finished The Lord of the Rings. Don’t think of yourself as a “young writer.” Instead, just think of yourself as a writer, always going up.

     So how do you tell if your ideas are good enough? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Are you excited by it?
2. Are you writing for yourself rather than someone else?
3. Do you think you can use it to help improve your craft as a writer?
4. Is this a story you would love to read?

     If the answer is yes, then write your story. You never know who might love it.


Emily Tjaden is a novelist, editor, and blogger. At nineteen, she is the oldest of five, and a Lord of the Rings fan who likes hobbits, dragons, and coffee. Aside from writing weird, speculative fiction, her passions include music, photography, and helping others see the potential they have to make a difference. She can be found blogging about various creative imaginings at

Also, we have two contests currently open. One is for poetry, prose, and art, which you can find here. The other one is a holiday themed contest for poetry, which you can find here.

Holiday Poetry Contest

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

This contest is now closed.

     Hello everyone! Had a fun Halloween? I sure did, though no one recognized my costume. Seriously, how many creatures have a tail that splits into two? (I was Espeon, by the way.) Because of this wonderful, festive time of year (Halloween, Thanks Giving, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) Catsi had the wonderful idea of a holiday-themed contest. We're not picky, so you can make it about any holiday you'd like! Valentines Day, Veteran's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Caviar Day... I'm not kidding, that last one is real. Look up "holiday calendar" and you'll find more than enough to write about. Anyway, this is a poetry contest. Any kind of poetry (including freestyle)  on any holiday. They can even be mythical holidays. The prize is, as always, as much publicity as we can give you, unless you ask us not to.

     Include "holiday contest" in the subject line

     Submit to

     Submissions must be attached in doc., docx., or txt format

     You may include a short, 200 word, bio, plus a picture

     You may also include links, either in your bio or separate from them

     Submissions must be PG-13 or cleaner

     ALL rights remain with the creator, we only ask that we be allowed to display your poem and bio on the website and newsletter, but if you would rather we didn't, let us know in the email. It will not impact your chances of winning.

     Please do not include your name in the attached document, only in the body of the email

     You must be the sole creator of your poem, or have the permission of all the other creators and have been an integral part of making it

     Previous and simultaneous submissions are welcome

     You may submit as many pieces as you'd like

     The deadline is December 20th

     Results will be published January 1st

     I can't wait to see what you guys make! With any luck, we'll have those ads up soon, meaning occasional cash prizes! Remember, if you have any questions, you can either comment down here, or email us at the same address as you submit to.

We have one other contest open, this one for not only poetry, but art and prose as well! See details here.