November Approaches — NaNoWriMo

If you are like me, with a myriad of writing friends spread out across a myriad of different social networks, the buzz word for October is NaNoWriMo. No matter the type of newsfeed, as November approaches friends are posting their intent to participate in National Novel Writing Month, complete with ideas on how to tackle the 50,000 words one must write to be successful.

It's that time again. Get ready for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

Of course, 50,000 words is not an entire novel in most genres, but, the intent of NaNoWriMo is to dismiss the editor in your brain and write nonstop for the month of November. I will not be participating this year, but that doesn’t mean that I wont be cheerleading those that are undergoing the task.

The wonderful, incredible benefit for those of us that do Book-in-a-week, is that we already have the skills and the structure for a successful NaNo event. We already know what it means to put our butts in the chair, typing away madly; the hard part is keeping the momentum through the month; four weeks instead of one. But, as someone that has undergone the challenge, it can be done. My advice on how to do it is very similar to a lot of NaNo veterans, so I thought it would be interesting to post some different blog excerpts of those doling out advice.

Nephele Tempest

Nephele Tempest is a literary agent for The Knight Agency, Inc. One of her latest posts, Ready to NaNo?, tackles the prep of NaNoWriMo. She suggests gathering your ideas regarding character, setting, character careers, and plot before the month begins. These pre-outline ideas are ones that many people tout for a successful month. Without a plan, it is much harder to come out the other end of November with 50,000 words.

Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a New York Times bestselling author and he is a wonderful source of information for a successful month. One of his posts, NaNoWriMo Tips, outlines a ton of ideas that will help when prepping for November, and during the month itself. He also has two posts about what he calls “the kernel idea“:

The kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book. By that I mean it starts your creative process and it completes it.  It is what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.”

He talks of this idea being the excitement that keeps you writing, even past the 50,000 words required. The test of whether or not you have a kernel idea is if you can write out what your novel is about in 25 words or less. Once you can do that, keep it, as that snippet will move you forward when the steam starts to run out towards the end of your project.

Kristen Lamb

Kristen Lamb is another bestselling author who writes blogs that are consistently funny and insightful. Her NaNo posts are all about inspiration, and there are several. In This Month, We Write IN HELL—To NaNo or Not to NaNo she tackles whether or not you should participate, to which she gives a resounding yes, citing that NaNo is a kind of training ground towards becoming a professional author:

“The trick to NaNo is to appreciate it’s PURPOSE. It’s to propel us out of the comfort zone and show us what we are truly capable of if we put our minds to something and refuse to give up. It’s training for the pace of professional author.”

Another lovely quote from Kristen:

“Want to be a writer? Write. That simple. Lose the existentialism. People who have time to discuss what makes a “real” writer have too much free time. The rest of us are busy writing. The single greatest thing NaNo makes us do is it propels us to sit our tails down and get to WORK.”

Moving Forward

NaNoWriMo is really about getting words down. Come up with a plan, get an outline down, tack up your idea so you see it every day, and remember that this kind of writing is moving you forward. The more you write, the better you get, and the better you get, the more you will write. It is a lovely circle that this November challenge can kickstart into gear.

Happy writing!

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Topic Links
* Visit NaNoWriMo if you are up for a month long challenge

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.

How to Get and Use Feedback

Feedback is a valuable tool for writers, but not all feedback is created equal. There is helpful feedback, unhelpful feedback, and feedback which would be helpful if you only knew what to do with it.

Writers must be open to both kinds of feedback.

Many people assume the best feedback comes from paid professionals, and that if only they could afford to pay an expensive critique agency (preferably one who also acts as a talent scout for a major publisher) their problems would be solved. Sadly — or perhaps, happily, for those on a limited budget — price is no guarantee of quality. While many expensive critique agencies provide an excellent service, some do not. While many free peer review sites result in illiterate, illogical critiques, some do not.

Seek Lots of Feedback

One of the best pieces of advice I have received on critiques is to collect as broad a spectrum as possible. Offer your drafts to friends and family who love to read, and ask them what they think, as readers. Submit to peer review sites and swap critiques with other writers, especially with others who work in the same genre as you. And, if you can afford paid advice, especially if you can access discounts through membership of a writing organisation, go ahead.

So, once you have collected all this feedback, what do you do with it?

This is where the best piece of advice comes in. Remember, ultimately, it is your book.

Consider All Feedback Carefully

No matter the source, never take advice without considering whether it will improve your book. Sometimes, for all kinds of reasons, you will receive unsuitable advice. Perhaps the reader has misunderstood your purpose, or they have an agenda of their own which conflicts with yours. For these and many other reasons, you may recognise that their suggestions will not move you closer to the book you are trying to write.

Sometimes you need to have the confidence not to take the advice you are given. However, nor should you ignore their feedback entirely. Before you pull out the “creative control” card, take the time to consider what is behind the reader’s suggestion.

Look Deeper Before Dismissing Feedback

If your reader wants you to add parachuting ninjas to your sweet small-town romance, should you? Probably not. But what might be behind that request? Perhaps your story is lacking in excitement. Could you instead inject a little more appropriate drama in the form of a stranger returning to town, a minor car accident or a surprise party?

The more objectively you can view your story, the easier it is to see what can be improved, and the more feedback you add into the mix (even if you don’t agree with the exact suggestions) the broader and more objective your understanding will be of how you can hone your writing.

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

The Self-Taught Writer

If I had to do it all over again, I would have gone to college for a degree in English or Literature and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, instead of the science-laden degree of nursing. The majority of my writing education to date has been largely self-taught. And yet, there is still a lot more that I need to learn.

Michele Brouder talks about being a Self Taught Writer.

After all of this, I believe that you can be just as good a writer if you have to learn the process yourself rather than university style. You do have to work a little harder though.

Becoming a Self-Taught Writer

Here are some things I would suggest if you are serious about the craft of writing and educating yourself about it:

  • Arm yourself with instruction manuals on anything to do with writing. Start with the basics like a dictionary and a thesaurus. Buy a couple of good grammar books like William Strunk Jr & EB White’s The Elements of Style, or The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus and/or Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty. Writer’s Digest offers a variety of reference books, including the annual Writer’s Market. Read the writing books of those authors whom you admire. Books on writing by Stephen King, Anne Lamont, Janet Evanovich and Elizabeth George are all worth checking out. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is a great inspirational work that will teach you about a different dimension of art, writing and the craft.
  • Take some classes. It does not have to be gearing yourself toward a college degree but it can be something that brings you closer to your goal of becoming a professional writer. With the ease of the internet, a lot of classes can be taken from the comfort of your own home. Make sure they are reputable: read the reviews or try to get a recommendation. You can take a class on just about anything: from crafting a pitch to marketing your book or how to write a mystery.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people. Check out your local writers’ association online or see if there are any groups online in your area. The best writers’ group that I ever belonged to contained members from all over the world. I never met them, but we wrote the same genre and the learning curve was great.
  • Get criticism and feedback. Initially, get it from anyone: family, friends and then other writers. You cannot move forward if you do not know what you are doing wrong or if you are not even aware of it. Many times in writing, when others point out something that is not right, whether it be a sentence construction or a plot twist or even a misspelling, nine times out of ten, you smack yourself on your forehead asking why you did not see the obvious mistake.
  • This sort of goes without saying but you would be surprised as to how many people out there do not realize that in order to be a great writer, you need to read. A lot. Read for entertainment and instruction. Read it from the eyes of a writer. Look at the plot structure. Study the chapter hooks. Listen to the dialogue (dialogue tags could be a subject all by themselves).

You can teach yourself the profession of writing. People do it all the time.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Creating Characters Organically

When I first started writing, I used checklists to create characters. You know the ones – they ask you for the name, height, birthday, favorite foods, favorite movies, hobbies, dislikes, etc. of each character. I would fill out one of those for each of my main characters. Then I would start writing, referring to the checklist every once in a while so that “Robyn ate [look down at checklist] hummus smeared on fresh pita”. It is not that these lists are not helpful but if you are in the zone and you are thrumming away, you should know your characters well enough not to pull yourself out of the zone, run your finger down a sheet of paper to find what your protagonist enjoys eating. They allow you to keep track of certain surface characteristics of your character but not the essence that is your character.

Moving beyond character notes to creating characters organically.

There are a couple of great ways to get to know your characters without using checklists, all of them through organic (rather than forced) ways. First, you can let the character marinate in your head for weeks before you jot a word. There are always voices in my head and I find the stories that seem to drop out of me are the ones when the characters been active in my head for weeks. I wait until I am about to burst then write out the story. I never need to pause and ask: “What is he/she like? What would he/she do next?”

Another way to help you with your characters is to write scenes. These scenes do not have to go into your story or novel, but they allow you to drop you character into situations that will help you understand your character better. How does your character react when he/she is rear-ended by a muscle-head in a truck? How does your character behave at a serious event, like a funeral? Does your character’s interior thoughts match what comes out of their mouths? If so, what does that tell you about your character? What if it does not match?

Sometimes, you just need to write the entire story or a significant portion of the novel to fully understand your characters. The key is to make sure you know why your characters like or dislike certain things. It is one thing to list your character as hating Chinese food. It is another to show that when your character was a teenager, his/her mother worked three jobs and brought home Chinese food every night for dinner and now that your character is an adult, she gets nauseous when she smells egg rolls or fried rice.

Use your lists as a reference point (and not as an organic point) for your characters.

About Sakinah Hofler

Sakinah Hofler is a writer of fiction, screenplays, and poetry. She is an MFA candidate at Florida State University where she serves as the Assistant Online Editor for the Southeast Review. Her work has appeared in Euonia Review and Counterexample Poetics. Learn more from her contributor page.

Food in Your Setting

Food is a large part of most cultures and one of the main guests at any celebration. A lot of our memories of growing up involve food: the smell of a roast on a Sunday afternoon, barbecues in the summer, and special cookies made at Christmas. Food and life are tightly interwoven.

Food in Your Setting

Food can serve any setting well. The ideal thing about food as a part of your setting is that it can engage the five senses. We all know how onions smell frying in the pan. We recall the sizzling sound of eggs and bacon. We do not like the feeling of sugar under our feet. We like our food well presented on a plate. And most of all we know how food tastes.

The use of food is so subtle in setting, that you do not realize that it is employed at all to create an atmosphere. When we were young, we watched the condensation form on the windows as the dinner boiled on the stove on a cold winter afternoon. We knew New Year’s meant corks popping and champagne bubbles. Thanksgiving was about turkey and the following food coma afterwards.

One of the ways we learn about other cultures through reading is about the foods that are eaten. Unfamiliar and mysterious, they make the setting seem exotic.

Incorporating food in setting can help create feelings. We read about a family around the Christmas tree drinking hot chocolate and we feel warm and cozy. Young women sunning themselves drinking drinks with umbrellas in them and we can almost feel the sun on our own faces. We understand the warmth of the nip of whiskey from a flask on a bitter cold night.

The lack of food in writing serves a purpose too. The birthday of the little boy where there is no cake. The overwhelmed mother of six who has one moldy loaf of bread left.

Food is an underrated part of a book’s setting. Try to think about the sights, smells, and sounds of food and what it means to you: good or bad. Keep a mini journal of the food you eat this week and make notes from all five senses after each meal. Then use it as the quiet, very welcome guest in the background of your writing.

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.

Finish Every Story You Start

Anyone who knows my writing habits will know that this title is more than a little tongue in cheek. Not only do I not finish every story I start, but I am pretty much legendary among my writing friends for unfinished projects. If I bring the same piece of work to my writing group three weeks in a row, it is counted as a minor miracle. And yet, somehow, I do, on occasion, complete a project.

Finish Every Story You Start Until The End

Studying those projects I have completed and comparing them to the (ten times more) unfinished ones, I have come up with what I believe is a fail-safe method to ensure I finish every story I start in future.

Plan Every Step

Do not start until you have every step planned. If you do not know the ending and every single step the story will take on the way, how can you possibly set out? Writing should not be an adventurous stroll in the park, but a meticulously planned journey along a well-planned route. If you do not know where you are going, how can you possibly expect to arrive there safely?

One Project at a Time

Only work on one project at a time. It goes without saying that you are more likely to finish a project if you keep going with one idea instead of flitting between half a dozen. Do not let another one in until you have finished the one you are working with now. Not only is this great discipline for avoiding distraction, but it also ensures that your attention is not scattered and your story ideas do not cross-pollinate and become unwieldy.

Block Feelings

Do not worry how you feel about a project. Readers cannot tell whether you love or hate what you are writing. All they have to go on are the words on the page so it does not matter if you are having to fight to get the words out. Nobody is ever going to know. Resist the urge to move onto a story you love more, at least until you have completed, edited, and submitted the one you are working on now… no matter how much you hate it when you are bogged down in the soggy middle.

If you follow these steps, I can pretty much guarantee you will not end up with a hard drive full of half-finished stories, like mine. On the other hand, you might also miss out on some moments of inspiration and end up with some lackluster, forced efforts. Will I be following these steps myself to make sure I finish every story in future?

Well, the one novella I have planned in detail recently has certainly been easier to write than its predecessors, but that is not to say that I might not take off into the blue again on occasions. I believe it may be worth allowing a few false starts for the sake of more fun and inspiration, but I am also learning to give my ideas more of a chance before I write them off. After all, persistence is one of the most commonly cited traits of successful writers, and few editors will print half a book or publish half a short story!

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

Equinox Status Check

Depending on where you live, the fall or spring equinox is one of four seasonal changes that can be used as a status check in your writing. The upcoming equinox falls on September 23 this year and is the balance between an equally long day and night, a point where the seasons change and either summer is waiting or winter is just around the corner. For the creative types, the equinox is an excellent point in the year to review and renew.

The yearly Equinox Status Check encourages you to examine the state of your desk and work space.

Our ancestors were tied to these points in the calendar, measured using the length of days and nights. The turning points in the calender were often celebrated with special festivals, indicative of the time of year. Always, these festivals were a way to prepare for what was coming and say goodbye to what had just passed.

Where I am in the northern hemisphere, the days are starting to get shorter and the nights longer, everything slowly cooling down into the darker, rainier days of winter. I love winter in the Pacific Northwest. I love the rain, the wind, the cool days, and even the darkness. At the point of winter solstice, the sun rises around 8 a.m. and goes down at 4 p.m., and I am okay with this as the cozier it is within my home, the more inclined I am to write… and the more inspired I tend to be.

For me, then, the fall equinox is preparation time for my most productive season. I spend summer gathering my ideas and inspirations (when I am not being lazy), and I attempt to utilize and put those things into a resemblance of order during September.

Organize

A clean desk or a messy desk, there is chaos lurking in the corners of my writing as the leaves begin to fall. I have ideas and thoughts lying about in all sorts of nooks and crannies. The last month or so I have been on a World War I kick, so now my ideas and thoughts and inspirations are contained on sticky notes, brightly colored and peeking out of the four or five books I have on the subject.

Those sticky notes are in no order what-so-ever, just a haphazard attempt at not forgetting the points I thought of while reading the text. Gathering those sticky notes is essential, as is gathering any ideas no matter how you might put them down. Perhaps you write on napkins, or in a small notebook, or a journal; whatever the case may be, take the time to go back and list them out, put them together, create a bit of order to the chaos.

Brainstorm

Freewriting is a method leftover from my university days. The concept of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and just writing is a lovely, and productive way, to work through what you are thinking at the beginning of a project. Even if the equinox falls while you are in the middle of a project, taking a step back and flowing through a freewrite can clarify and crystallize concepts that you might be missing out on.

The biggest thing to remember… for those of us out there that judge ourselves… is that freewriting only works if you don’t judge. I use loose notebook paper for freewriting because it is easy to crumple up and throw in the bin. The idea of freewriting is merely to work through ideas, blocks, or scale blank walls. It just is, and if you allow it to be sloppy and entirely unusable, it will yield the most productive of results.

Clean

No one wants to clean, and that includes me. Why should I clean things when I could be writing or reading the latest book I picked up? But, alas, cleaning does help the creative process and taking the time during these two points in the year allows it to not seem like too much of a hardship. And, when I say clean, I don’t mean take your house apart and put it all back together, rather just the particular area you use for writing.

Purge the books from your desk that you might not be using, stacking or otherwise displaying the ones that you will use or are using in your project. Make sure your drawer of pens, or cup of pens, only contains ones that work and that you like writing with. If there is loose paper, make sure it doesn’t contain brilliant ideas, but then put it in the bin. Also a good area to clean up is your journals (keeping only the ones you are using), and also doing a systems check on your computer.

I don’t often recommend products, but an essential program I use to keep my computer happy is System Mechanic. I don’t know what I would do without it and I always defrag and clean up memory, registry etc. at this time of year so when I sit down to write I won’t start the process by staring at a frozen screen.

Be Productive

Really, using the equinox is just my attempt to create order out of the sometimes crazy roller coaster that is my writing life. When you are juggling writing, family, and jobs it can be overwhelming and we can get lost in the nitty gritty and the mundane. Taking a scheduled time out, something that is guaranteed to come every year, allows us to move away from that day-to-day movement and step back. Whether the equinox point of the year works for you or not, every writer can benefit from taking a moment to review and renew.

Happy writing!

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.

Dealing with Negative Self Talk

You sit down at your desk. In your head your characters are alive and grooving and your plot is rock solid. You are ready. You poise your hands above your keyboard (or pen above notepad). Then the negative self talk begins. You hear a voice say, “You can’t do this.” You find yourself nodding. I can’t, you agree. Or perhaps you are halfway done. You pause mid-sentence. Someone whispers, “This book will be a failure.” You look around and there is no one in the room but you. You think that the voice is a sign. You had always felt like a hack anyway. Sometimes the voice is indirect. It urges you to wash the dishes, to rearrange your bookshelf, or to wash the car. These once-remote activities have now become urgent. You shut off the computer. You are done writing.

Sakinah writes about Dealing with Negative Self Talk.

Often, we are motivated but once we sit in front of the computer, we freeze. During moments such as these, I turn to exercises I have learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.

Recognize Inner Critic

Recognize the voice for what it is. It is merely a block to deter you from writing. These are your inner critics, the voices you have internalized and now live with you. They could be your parents, your third grade teacher, or even a recent creative writing teacher. Those voices are determined to keep you from success.

Look for the Source

I think hard about the source of my doubts. Who is telling me I cannot do this? Who is telling me that I will be a failure? Search for the voice that is haunting you and try to figure out where the original comment came from.

Purge the Voices

Cameron lists a myriad of ways to deal with those voices that are blocking you from the confidence you need to complete your work. You can draw cartoons of your critic then throw darts at him. Anne Lamont once wrote in her essay “Sh*** First Drafts” that she keeps her critics in a jar. Play with different ways of getting rid of your critics.

Journal Your Worries

I have found that the best way for me to deal with my own inner critics is to use Cameron’s journaling suggestion. I write nearly everyday, airing my concerns and my worries. By the time I sit down to work on my story, I have already purged the negative self talk voices.

I am convinced that all writers, no matter what stage they are in their careers, are plagued with self-doubt. You must acknowledge that it exists and comes from somewhere, locate that source, then do your best to get rid of it. Even if those voices do not die, hopefully most of them will fade away so that you can return to doing what you love to do. Write.

About Sakinah Hofler

Sakinah Hofler is a writer of fiction, screenplays, and poetry. She is an MFA candidate at Florida State University where she serves as the Assistant Online Editor for the Southeast Review. Her work has appeared in Euonia Review and Counterexample Poetics. Learn more from her contributor page.

Benefits of Measuring Word Count

For some time I only measured my word count when writing a piece of a specific length, or taking part in a challenge such as National Novel Writing Month or Book-in-a-Week. Recently I have begun to explore how measuring word count on a day-to-day basis encourages me to write more and better.

Measuring Word Count

There are many benefits to being able to track what you are writing and when, but here are the three which have proved most significant to me.

Motivation

I am not always a very visual person but when taking part in National Novel Writing Month I fell in love with the “progress bar”, a clever widget which shows your completed word count as a proportion of your target. Since then I have discovered an Android app called Writeometer which provides a similar function for the other eleven months of the year. The fun of watching the bar gradually approach the target encourages me to sit down and add a few more words on days when I might otherwise have set my writing aside altogether.

Time Management

Setting targets and breaking them down into a daily word count goal makes it much easier to know early on when you need to adjust your targets, or your strategies for meeting them. Again, I have found Writeometer very helpful for managing complete projects in this way, but I also use the excellent Write or Die desktop edition to track my word count across several writing sessions within a day. Using both together recently helped me complete a novella in just under two weeks, which was a record for me.

Knowing What Works

Time management is not always just about fitting everything in. If you record not only your writing goals and completed word count, but also some details of your writing sessions, such as where you worked and how long you wrote for at a stretch, it becomes easier to see what habits are contributing to your successes, and which are keeping you from peak performance.

Rachel Aarons has an excellent post about how she increased her word count from 2,000 to up to 10,000 a day using simple techniques which included monitoring word count. Her results, and mine, certainly suggest that measuring your output is an important part of writing more and better.

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Topic Links
* Get the Writometer from Guavabot.
* Learn more about Write or Die.
* Read Rachel Aarons post on increasing your word count.

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

The Ideal Reader

Do you have an ideal reader? You know the one reader that you think about as you are sculpting your prose; that reader who is sitting on your shoulder as you look for the proper way to turn a phrase, or escalate a series of events? This idea has come and gone throughout my writing career, though not an idea that has necessarily stuck per se; however, it has once again presented itself in discussions I have had with other writers recently.

A future ideal reader to consider.

The thought is that with an ideal reader you are able to really push your prose to somewhere it might not go otherwise. I sort of think of it like going to the gym. When you are at home and you are doing a workout video or running on your treadmill, you can take a break if you need to. The lady on the television is telling you to bring your knees up to your chest, but you are tired, do not want to… and no one is looking. As a result, you do not bring those knees up, lifting more in the vicinity of your thighs, or maybe just turning the television off all together.

But, at the gym, when in one of those classes with all those other people, it is a different story. At the YMCA I used to take my son to they had a kickboxing class that was in the open gym area, where the basketball hoops are located. This area is two stories, with a balcony like area surrounding the top half. That second story area is where the classrooms are located, so after singing ring-around-the-rosy a couple million times, my son and I would pause to look over the balcony at these rows and rows of people doing kickboxing.

Most of them were trying really, really hard. Even the ones that looked like they were struggling, looked like they were giving it their all. The reasoning is simple enough: people were watching them. Having people watch you is a wonderful motivator.

Apparently, the ideal reader is supposed to work somewhat similarly. By imagining that we are writing for a specific person, it brings our writing from the privacy of our home and out into the public, from the very beginning. Of course, editing and all that does it later, but the ideal reader allows a small space of awareness before we even get to the point of editing.

In previous conversations, people have told me that they use their spouse (I believe Stephen King does this with his Tabitha), or their best friend, and some even use famous authors. I thought about the famous writer aspect, trying to discern what famous author I would use as an ideal reader and came up lacking. Mostly, this is because my favorite authors are people like Virginia Woolf, or Cormac McCarthy… and I can just see the disdain on their face as they read over my prose. Brilliance is the name of their game; me, not so much.

Then someone suggested I look at it a bit differently, and instead of thinking of a famous person, or even someone I know, just think of the ideal reader as a more discerning version of myself. Write a book that I would want to read. I have heard that advice before, but never really thought about it in terms of an ideal reader. In the ocean that is the writing life, however, sometimes it is enough to get a bit of direction, and I liked this idea of writing to myself, with a few added tweaks.

The end result: a reader that likes science fiction with a bit of romantic angst, big questions broken into characterization, and simplicity of prose. In other words, my ideal reader is a version of me, and a version of Madeleine L’Engle. I am okay with this, and though I do not know if it will actually help my writing, I plan to use it.

The Exercises

If this is something that strikes you as being beneficial, I urge you to try it with your own writing. As stated, the ideal reader can be a spouse, significant other, best friend, child, or a famous person. Or, perhaps, your ideal reader is a version of yourself.

In order to get a good grasp on your ideal reader, to make them real in other words, write out a profile. What do they like? Not like? What would they expect of you? Boil it down into one sentence and write it out on a post it note. Now put that note where you can find it. A gentle, but constant reminder that you are writing for someone, not just to the void of the Universe.

The void of the universe brings me to another thought, a quote that I just remembered from Kurt Vonnegut:

"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia." Kurt Vonnegut Quote about the ideal reader concept.

Happy writing!

About Heidi Hood

Heidi Hood, former journalist, is now a full time mom and part time novelist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more from her contributor page.