The Importance of Word Count

Why is there so much talk about how many words a writer writes?

Because words have meaning. They carry weight. They paint pictures, but they can also bog the reader or the story down.

Word count determines how long your story will be and that will determine whether it is a piece of Flash Fiction, a Short Story, a Novella, or a Novel. Yes, each of these has a range of acceptable word count.

So, should you write 1,000 words or less, 3,000-5,000 words, 30,000-45,000 words, 65,000-120,000 words? That depends on which of the items above you want to write. It may also depend on your genre or whether your are writing for Silhouette Romances or a Fantasy Novel, etc.

I have had people praise my writing. Several have told me, “You are a good writer. You don’t waste words. Every word you use counts.” Of course, that made me feel good. However, because of that, I have to be sure that I work hard to include the things my readers want in my writing as well as maybe include a few more scenes, which means coming up with a few more conflicts, in order to produce the proper-size novel.

What do I mean “what my readers want in my writing”? Well, my critique partners say I do not include enough description of things like the weather on a particular day or what a place looks like nor do I include enough of my characters’ internal thoughts.

Therefore, while others may have to cut words when they do their revisions, I will most likely have to add words/scenes.

What have you learned about your writing in regard to word count?

The Christian Controversy About Christian Fiction

Christian writers constantly face the dilemma about whether or not to mention God or Jesus in their fiction or how much Biblical information and Christian morals should they put in their writing. They have to wrestle with the decision of trying to reach the unsaved or simply write for the Christian reader.

But what about the Christian reader and/or the traditional Christian publisher? If you write for this market, does your entire manuscript have to be squeaky clean? Do your characters have to be perfect? Do you have to be preachy?

Of course, almost everyone has a different opinion. I entered a contest for Christian writers a year or so ago and I am hoping that my novel will reach both Christian and non-Christian readers who like historical fiction stories that don’t have profanity, explicit sex, or excessive violence.

Does that mean my characters are perfect and the story squeaky clean? Absolutely not because real people would not be able to relate to such a character or story. We all make bad choices and have to live with the consequences, and those of us who live the Christian life also do our best to change our behaviors/choices for the better, but we all struggle.

So, back to this contest. My main character is an honorable man who believes in the Lord and tries to do what’s right, but like everyone else, he faces challenges and temptations. Very early in my story he tells a lie, but before the scene is over, he admits the truth. My submission to the contest didn’t go to the next level because one of the judges was highly offended that my main character–the hero of the story–tells a lie and gave me low scores in all areas because of it. The judge also proceeded to tell me that the Christian Hero in a story must be righteous and cannot do something like tell a lie. This judge also said that no traditional Christian publisher would publish such a story.

Now, since I still haven’t quite finished the story, I haven’t even begun to look for a publisher of any kind, but I do know that I will never create a perfect character for thee reasons: 1) I want my readers to be able to relate to my characters; 2) I want my characters to be realistic; and 3) I want my stories to be interesting and hold my reader’s attention/keep them turning the pages.

I know that I would not read a story in which the main character does not face any struggles and does not show growth and change by the end of the book because such a story would be boring!

What about you? What are your thoughts about Christian fiction — perfect characters or characters who struggle with some of the same things you struggle with?

The Great Debate: Traditional vs. Indie (Self) Publishing

I’ve been back in the writing world for three years and seven months being part of a local writers’ group that meets monthly and has critique groups that I have participated in, and an annual writers’ conference. I’ve also attended two writers’ luncheons, put together my own little group of writers who meet weekly, and in the past two years have been involved in an online writers’ group as well as being involved in a critique group for the past two years that meets every other week. I have also been reading books on the writing craft.

During the past two years, I have been researching and exploring the publishing possibilities, and I have found, as the title of this post suggests, that there is a Great Debate among writers: to publish traditionally or indie (self) publishing.

I have found that many older people are quite adamant about traditional publishing but when asked why can’t really give me a satisfactory answer. I have also found that many writers who have already published books seem adamant about starting with a traditional published. However, I have also heard some of these already published writers talking about their desire to switch to indie publishing. (For the sake of simplicity in the rest of this blog post, I will only refer to traditional and “indie” publishing because, though “indie” and “self” publishing are quite similar, “indie” publishing is publishing completely on your own and most of these writers are determined to put out their best writing, whereas “self” publishing includes the writers who just want to put out their writing as quickly as possible and don’t spend enough time on edits, as well as those who publish through vanity publishers (these are publishers who allow you to keep all of your rights and maintain all decision making, but you pay them a fee to help you publish and do some marketing). “Indie” writers/publishers have a better reputation than “self” published writers.

I have found it quite confusing to speak with published writers about the publishing options because they stand firm in telling me that I should seek an agent and go the traditional publishing route first. But, when I ask why, they offer no real good, solid reasons.

I even know of a writer who insists on the traditional route, but after trying that route for a few years, and even gaining an agent, is preparing to self publish the book through a small publisher, which is what the agent found for this writer. To which my question is: will this writer still have to pay the agent for this?

Okay, so here’s what I have learned about traditional publishing: the first step is to acquire an agent who will most likely have you make lots of changes, and, possibly, rewrite your entire manuscript. Then the agent will help you find a possible publisher, who may require you to make more changes and, possibly, rewrite your entire manuscript yet again, and even change it for a different target audience, and then, that publisher may or may not actually publish your manuscript. The entire process can take two to four years for your manuscript to get published, maybe even longer, if ever. If you are blessed enough to get the manuscript published, first of all, it may not be the story you originally intended in the first place. Secondly, your agent and the publisher get a cut of your sales, and you will be extremely blessed to receive even 10% of your sales. Also, you will be required to do as much of your own marketing as possible, which used to be the traditional publisher’s job. Finally, if your first book is part of a series, depending on the sales of the first book, the rest of the series may never get published, and if it does, traditional publishers stop publishing and remove your book from the market after just four years.

Now, here’s what I’ve learned about indie publishing. Yes, you must do ALL of the work yourself. You write the manuscript, AND, if you’re devoted and committed to doing the absolute best work you can do, you will have it critiqued; you will make appropriate changes based on those critiques; you will self-edit and do several rewrites; you will hire a professional editor to give you feedback and then rewrite yet again; you will have beta readers (if you don’t know what beta readers are, read this post), then you may make changes again. Then you will finally publish it through an indie publishing venue like Amazon’s “Create Space” or “Book Baby” or one of the other indie publishing outlets. While you are still working on your manuscript, you may want to begin to think about building a group of followers who would be interested in reading your writing. A good way to do this is to start a blog and share things about your writing and about yourself, as well as becoming active in other social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, etc. When your book is published, it’s a good idea to do a Book Launch (next Monday’s post will be about Book Launches). You will also want to put the information out on your social media, do book signings and/or speaking engagements. Get creative about how and where you can promote your book, but don’t over-saturate your social media or you will turn people off because they will think the only reason you’re on social media is to promote yourself and your writing. Your readers want you to be real and to care about them.

Another thing I want to share with you here is some interesting information one of my writing friends recently shared with me on this subject:

One of my other writing friends has also been researching these options and questioning other writers about their opinions. She shared with me that she recently spoke with some writers who have had books published through traditional publishers and tell newbie writers that they should go the traditional publishing route. She began to ask them: “How did you find an agent or publisher?” She said that most of them said that they found their agent or publisher through a friend. What she realized is that all of these already published writers are telling newbie writers to go the traditional publishing route, but they aren’t offering to introduce you to an agent or publisher. They don’t even tell you that they found their agent or publisher through a friend unless you specifically ask that question. Her thought is “so these already published writers are telling all of us newbies to go the traditional route while they are trying the indie route, like they want us to try the traditional route while they flood the indie market with their works.”

I apologize for such a lengthy post, but I hope you have found it informative and that it gives you something to think about and consider in your own writing journey. If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer or point you to where you can find the answer.

Writing Flash Fiction

I hope many of you will or have checked out last Friday’s Flash Fiction story here on my blog. Writing flash fiction helps to strengthen a writer because you have to be able to tell a story in as few words as possible, so it helps writers learn how to really tighten their writing. Writing flash fiction also allows writers to explore other genres. All writers tend to write one or two genres of long fiction, but often wonder what it would be like to write a different genre, or just want to play in another genre, and flash fiction is the perfect outlet for that.

I’ve been writing the Flash Fiction Friday posts for almost a year now, and in all honesty, I have been disappointed that more people haven’t “liked” or “commented” on my flash fiction posts. As a writer, I really want to engage my readers, and I really want to know what you like and/or don’t like because that also helps me be able to improve my writing.

When I first began writing my Flash Fiction Friday posts, I did so because I saw them on Melanie Noell Bernard’s blog (she doesn’t do them anymore), and decided I wanted to try writing flash fiction too. I even left some comments on her flash fiction blog posts to which she responded to encourage me and offer me some tips. She, however, liked to leave her endings open, allowing readers to use their own imaginations to finish the story, which I thought was kind of cool.

However, friends and family, who have read my flash fiction posts and spoken to me about them face-to-face, have expressed dissatisfaction with incomplete endings. Then I began to run out of ideas for flash fiction posts as well. So, I did a little online research about flash fiction, and what I have read is that the actual rules of flash fiction say that flash fiction is to be a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.

I’ve also been reading a friend’s blog, who has been writing flash fiction posts all centered around an interesting character she has created. Each flash fiction post is, indeed, a story in itself, but continues to follow the lives of this one character and his coworkers, and often, new, minor characters are introduced in one particular story.

Therefore, after studying more about flash fiction, I decided to try to try writing flash fiction that follows the rules, but I struggled for ideas, and I thought that if I could come up with an interesting character, like the friend mentioned above, that I could write flash fiction stories about, I might be able to come up with some good, fresh material. I continued to think about it, and I suddenly got an idea.

So, I have created a character who had her first adventure last Friday, and each week, she will have a new adventure. I hope you will read about Amelia Merchant and her adventures and don’t be afraid to leave comments telling me your thoughts. I welcome them!

Update on My Writing

Yes, I’m skipping Flash Fiction Friday again this week. I’m sorry. I’m struggling with my writing right now, and here’s why:

I entered part of my novel in a contest that I felt was a worthwhile contest with a prestigious organization. I didn’t make it past the first level of judges, but that doesn’t bother me.

So, what does bother you? You may ask.

What bothers me is the fact that one of the judge’s feedback can be completely tossed out the window because the judge micro-focused on one thing that I had my character do that this judge felt was unacceptable without knowing how or if the character’s action would be redeemed by the end of the story,  and this judge ranted about it for most of the feedback and gave me a ridiculously low score because of it.

Now, I am not one who gets my feelings hurt about my writing very easily. I have learned how to be thick-skinned. I have been having people critique my work for two years. No, not this same manuscript. This is my second attempt at writing a novel in two years. The first one became trash when I tried to add 15,000 words to it in 30 days and it became so much of a mess, I felt it was just better to put it away and chalk it up as a learning experience.

The thing is, the other two judges who judged this same piece gave scores that were more closely related, and closer to what I figured I may score. They also offered some constructive criticism and neither of them mentioned the one thing the other judge couldn’t shift his or her focus from. I also had two different critique groups critiquing this WIP for months, and I have been working hard on revising and editing as I continue to work on the story itself, and I know that I have improved. Many of my critique partners have also pointed my improvement out.

However, the two judges who gave me worthwhile feedback made some good points; points that a couple of other people had also mentioned, which is a good thing.

So, you repeat, “What bothers you?”

What bothers me is how HARD writing is! So, if you are a newbie, be sure you understand WRITING IS HARD WORK — at least good writing; writing that readers will want to read; writing that you put your blood, sweat and tears into because YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST WRITER YOU CAN BE, not just a writer who writes a story and self-publishes without having anyone edit or critique the story just because they can. No, I WANT TO BE THE BEST WRITER I CAN BE, so I’ll be rewriting chapter one A-GAIN, and probably making a lot of changes throughout as I strive to complete this manuscript; to make it a story that READERS WILL WANT TO READ.

So, that means that this story will take me much longer than a year to complete. Yeah, NaNoWriMo may say you complete a novel in a month, but I got news for you, that’s just the ROUGH DRAFT! Then come the critiques and edits, at least one of the edits should be a “self edit”, and the critiques should be done by people you know and trust who know about writing. Then you should have an actual editor edit it and this all leads to MULTIPLE REWRITES! Then, if you really want your manuscript to be the best it can be, you send it to Beta Readers for feedback, and then revise and rewrite one more time! And then, if you’re lucky, it will finally be the best it can be and you can then publish it.

And, no, I did not participate in NaNoWriMo. Maybe some day I will, but right now, I have enough hard work to do on my writing without having to meet daily writing goals to finish a novel, that won’t be publishable in a month anyway.

How about you? Have you learned that WRITING IS HARD? Do you keep writing anyway? Have you done NaNoWriMo and what was that experience like?

Critique: Does It Have To Hurt?

On Saturday I attended the monthly meeting of Lancaster Christian Writers and the speaker talked about critique. What do you think of when you hear the word “critique”? Do you think “criticize” and immediately jump to thoughts of being attacked or hearing lots of negativity?

Why do we as writers fear critique? I believe it is because we pour so much of ourselves into our stories, and because we work hard to create our stories. Therefore, it can hurt when others don’t tell you that your writing is great, fantastic, perfect just the way you wrote it.

However, the truth is, even writers who have been writing for a long time, use critique groups or critique partners because the reality is no one is perfect, no matter how many years we write, we can still have areas in our writing where a reader may feel lost, confused or miss a connection we were trying to make because we didn’t write a scene or connection as clearly as we thought we did.

As hard as writing is, allowing someone or some others to critique what we have written can be harder because we don’t want to hear that we have to go back and make more corrections or cut scenes or do more showing and less telling or any of the many other issues that can show up in our writing. That’s why it’s so important to find a good critique group or partner that you can be comfortable with and that you can trust.

So, how do you find such a critique group or partner? There are lots of options, but the first thing is to be brave enough to start searching. Then, as the speaker on Saturday suggested, ask questions like “What is your writing practice?”; “Where do you want to go?”‘ “Do you have something to share now?”; “How often do you want to meet and/or share (because you may choose to meet in person once or twice a month and share through email in between)?”; “How much time can you commit?”

The idea is to find a critique group or partner who has a shared direction or similar goals.

So, once you become part of a critique group or partnership, what should critique look like?

It should be as kind and as helpful as possible. Saturday’s speaker shared that when you critique, before you speak, think about how you would receive the feedback that you are planning to give. And, when giving feedback, follow these steps as shared on “The Insecure Writers Support Group”:

  1. Remember, this isn’t your story. It might not be your genre and it will not be your voice.
  2. Approach with caution.
  3. Don’t assume automatically. If you are part of a group that only meets once a month and you only see a small sample of someone’s writing, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of something before you offer feedback.
  4. Make suggestions; offer a suggestion instead of just stating the problem. This can be very helpful to the writer.
  5. Limit the proofreading. In other words, don’t worry so much about misspelled words, grammar and technical stuff, as those should be pointed out by an editor or line editor. A critiquer should be more focused on the content of the story: what works or doesn’t work and why; is a scene confusing; do you get a clear picture of the time frame and the setting, etc.
  6. Praise what works. This helps the writer go away without feeling total failure and defeat, but it also helps the writer to know what works, what they did well.

You may want to look at Critiquing in levels, as the Saturday speaker shared:

  1. Cudos and congratulations for completion.
  2. What did you notice most? And use “I” statements: “I understand why this character did this.”
  3. Ask questions: Why did the character do that?
  4. Comment on what worked why.
  5. Comment on a problem but do not tell how to fix it.
  6. Make a suggestion on how to resolve a problem.
  7. Read through it carefully and do things such as line edits.

What are some tips for how to react and respond to receiving a critique (as per Saturday’s speaker):

  1. Listen without responding.
  2. Take 24 hours before responding (it’s a good idea to have contact information of your critique group or partners for this purpose).
  3. During the 24 hours, walk away. Try not to think about it and rehash it in your head. Instead take a walk, maybe tell yourself some nice positive things.
  4. After 24 hours you should feel better and be ready to make improvements to your writing. You will realize you have room to grow.

Also, when you are being critiqued, remember to ignore personal attacks and don’t take it personally. Remember, that even though it may feel like it, you are not your writing. Then look for common themes from the critique group. If several people mention the same thing, it may show a legitimate problem that needs fixing. Look for “why” something works or doesn’t work.

The speaker of the Saturday workshop was Lisa Bartelt. You can find her at Beauty on the Backroads blog.

I have read several of James Scott Bell’s books on writing, and one thing he says is “Never stop studying and learning your craft.”

So, remember, there is always room for improvement. Also, remember that writing rules and what editors/publishers look for do not always remain the same. Things in the writing industry are not static; things change.

Do you have a critique group or partner? I hope it is a mostly positive experience for you, and if it’s not, you may have to look elsewhere for a critique group or partner. You may even want to be part of more than one critique group.

Feel free to share your critique experiences in the comments section, but even if the experience you want to share is negative, please be respectful with your comments.


Writing Strengths and Weaknesses

Today I’d like to share about the strengths and weaknesses in my writing in hopes of encouraging some of you.

I’ve been writing for a long time, although I took quite a few years off to raise and homeschool my two older sons.  I returned to writing three years ago and now am fairly immersed in the writing culture as I am a member of a large local writing group, a huge national writing group (most of which I participate in online), a small writing group that I started which is quite different from the first two mentioned, as well as two critique groups — one online and one that meets face-to-face.  In addition to that, I attend at least two small writers’ conferences a year and have connected with quite a few writers online through social media. In addition to all of that, I have this blog.

All that to say that I AM WRITING!  Also, I have learned A LOT over the past three years, and continue to learn daily.  One of the things I learned most recently is what I am really good at writing and what I really need to work on in my writing, novel writing/fiction writing.

So, I will start with my weakness — description/setting the scene.  You see, I have the scene and the characters so ingrained in my brain that I forget the reader cannot “see” it and I simply write the action and dialog with very little description and scene setting.  Another reason this happens is because I have heard many people, in the writing world, over the past three years, say things like, “Be careful not to include too much description because it will bog the story down”; “readers don’t want a lot of description”; “too much description can be too telling instead of showing”.  Because of these statements, I think that I simply avoided description.

However, over the past three months other writers have been explaining to me how important some description is so that your reader can picture the scenes in their minds.  I’ve been told how important it is to include the five senses.  I have some wonderful suggestions and examples from other writers that are helping me learn to do this, but I have to be deliberate about it.  I have to re-read every scene I write to be sure I included some great description and use of some of the five senses to bring my writing to life.

Yes, as I use description and the five senses, I do see my novel coming to life.  So some description and use of the five senses is important because it breathes life into the story!  This is hard work for me because it doesn’t come naturally yet.  As I said, I have to be deliberate about it, but I am finding it very rewarding, and I believe it will come more naturally the more that I do it because the more that I have done it over the past few days the more comfortable I have gotten with it.  However, I will still rely heavily upon my critiques to be sure that the descriptions I write are of good quality.

Now my strength — dialog!  Good dialog just flows from my brain onto the page.  I was recently made aware of this when several other writers and my critiquers commented and praised my written dialog.  I believe this is because I am so in tune with my characters and their personalities and character traits.  I’ve never had to work hard to write dialog.  It comes easily and naturally.

What do you find comes naturally from you for your writing?  What do you have to work deliberately on in your writing?  Leave a comment below and share.  I’d love to hear from you.