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.

So You Think You Can Write

When I was offered a contract last year by Harlequin, I was not only excited but relieved as well. I believed that my writing had finally reached the point where it was publishable. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening!

So you think you can write? Just wait until your editor gets a hold of your manuscript!I was assigned to an editor and I quickly learned that my book still was not publishable, but it was salvageable. First there was the developmental edit which is pretty much what it sounds like: developing further certain points of the story, fixing plot points and tying up loose ends.

Then came the line edit, which has been a humbling experience. When I received my manuscript back from my editor, it was all marked up in red. The manuscript I had worked so hard on for years still needed more work and by the amount of red on the pages, it needed a lot more work.

Initially, I was disheartened. Was my writing really that bad? I struggled with this. Halfway through the line edit I realized a few things: nine times out of ten, my editor’s suggestions and corrections were spot on, which is why she is the editor and I am the writer. Her ideas made the work cleaner and tighter. Sometimes she pointed out the obvious. Sometimes she made great suggestions and sometimes, I disagreed with her.

Although the whole process has been humbling, I know that it will not only make my book better but it will make me a better writer. Writing is a continual process and there is always something new to be learned.

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.

The Chain Method to Writing Every Day

Writers are often told that writing every day is the best way to stay productive and keep developing as a writer, but it is a discipline I have always struggled with. When a Book-in-a-Week is happening, I find it easier to stay motivated as I see other writers’ daily updates flowing in, but at other times I can easily forget about writing for days at a time. Recently I have been introduced to a method for staying on track which I have found to be the most effective way I have discovered of writing every day: the “chain” method.

Use a print out calendar to track your chain method writing. It can slip into your regular day planner.Often attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, the method is simply to buy, find or make a calendar with a square for each day, and tick off when you have reached your target for the day. Each day, the “chain” of completed days increases, with the aim being to keep an unbroken chain going for as long as possible so that you reap the benefits of writing every day.

At the end of May, I attended a writing retreat and wrote several thousand words in one day, which ended a long slow spell for my writing. Not wanting to lose the momentum, I decided to try out the new method I had read about. I started a chain, placing a tick on my calendar for each day that I completed more than 50 words. With such a low target, it was not too difficult to get started, and most days I went on to write at least one or two hundred words on my no-longer-stalled novel.

My first chain lasted thirteen days. In thirteen days of writing every day I added some five thousand words to my story. When the chain came to an end, I was annoyed at myself for breaking the chain, particularly as there was no good reason for the interruption, I simply got distracted. However, the advantage of this system is that instead of allowing the annoyance at not writing every day to sap my motivation, I instead found that my anger immediately fueled my desire to go further next time.

I nearly suffered a setback yesterday when I was unable to find the cable to charge my laptop. Previously I might well have waited until it turned up before getting back to my writing, but with the chain in mind, I instead decided to pick up a pen and start writing longhand, and was delighted with the results.

I am now three days into my second chain and determined that it will last at least as long as the first. If, like me, you struggle with forming a consistent habit of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) why not give the chain method a go? You might be surprised by your success!

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.

Get Busy Writing

For many of us, writing is a passion. We observe, daydream, jot notes, and become lost in our worlds. Then we come to the paper or the computer and bring those worlds to fruition. We are storytellers. We are artists. Yet, even if we are in the middle of writing and a friend or family member calls to ask if we are busy, we tend to say no (which is always followed by the inevitable “I was wondering if you…”).

Stop hanging out on phone and get busy writing.How could you tell the friend that wants you to come to a birthday dinner or the family member that needs help moving that you are writing and, therefore, busy? You go out, you might have fun, but even in that fun, you have denied yourself your passion. Once you continue to say yes, it gets harder and harder to say no. I used to be one of those people that had a packed social calendar, yet I was miserable. After years of saying “yes”, I learned it was okay to say, “No”. I also learned a few others things that I would like to share with you in case you are denying yourself time to write:

Cut Off Your Phone

Unless you have an invalid parent/child/spouse that relies on you or someone is in critical condition, you need to cut off your phone. Otherwise, incoming text messages and phone calls will distract you. What is the point of saying “I’ll write for an hour today” if you spend half of the time responding to other people?

Create a Schedule or a Promise

If you have a set work schedule where you know what time you will work and what days you have off, plot out time slots to write. Unless an emergency arises, stick to those time slots. If your schedule is erratic, create a weekly schedule based on the number of hours you would like to write per week. Is it 5? 10? Start off with a workable amount then build your way up. If an event arises during your time slot, it is okay to say no. If you really want to go, try to get those hours done before you attend. That way, you will still get writing done for the week and you can enjoy yourself without feeling guilty.

Know Thyself

I am a morning writer. After 4 p.m., I get distracted and after midnight my brain turns to mush. I have a friend that wakes up at 3 a.m. and writes to 5 a.m. everyday. If you are a morning writer and you work from 9 to 5, consider getting up a little earlier everyday. If your body can adjust to daylight savings time, it can also adjust to waking up earlier to write.

Treat Writing Like a Job

No one else around you will take writing seriously unless you do. My friends used to look at me as if I were speaking to them in tongues when I told them I could not hang out with them because I had to write. At first I felt guilty, but the less I wrote, the angrier I became. It was not until I took myself seriously and bowed out of events that they learned to take me seriously. They learned to respect my time.

Find a Support System

Whether it is this wonderful site, a writing group, a writing class, or a writing program, surround yourself with people that take their craft as seriously as you. They will respect your time. They will understand.

I will end with a short story. A couple of years ago I had a friend that had just graduated from college and was unsure if she should get a job. She had fenced throughout high school and college and although she was not sure what she could do with it, she still practiced about eight hours per day. Today, she is a part of the US Team, she has tons of medals, and is one of the top fencers in both the US and the world. What has always struck me is that even before she had achieved any level of fame, she took herself and her passion seriously. She committed. The only way to be a successful writer is to take it seriously. Most of us hope to be successful writers. First, we must simply 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.

One Fictitious Moment — Writing Tidbits

Angela Misri is the up-and-coming Canadian author of the new mystery series, A Portia Adams Adventure. The first book in the series is called Jewel of the Thames and is actually featured on Kindle at the moment for $4.60. But what I really wanted to share with you is the adorable Fiction Writing series that Angela has started on YouTube. The one minute videos feature in-motion illustrations along with her writing tidbits commentary. These are an excellent way to introduce new skills on writing and the writing craft in your already busy lifestyle. The channel is called One Fictitious Moment and it looks like she uploads a new video every few weeks. Here are the first four to get you started. If you subscribe to her channel then you will get an email update when she uploads a new one:

Episode 1: Writing Detective Fiction

Episode 2: Writing a Great Villain

Episode 3: Writing Dialogue

Episode 4: Creating Tension

There you have it! Four minutes of writing tidbits in 1 minute intervals and don’t you feel a little smarter already?

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Topic Links
* Subscribe to Angela Misri’s One Fictitious Moment
* Purchase Jewel of the Thames on Amazon

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Staying Inspired

Sometimes keeping the writing engines revving is all about staying inspired. Lately I have been attempting to dip my toes into the pool of finding an agent. The process is a bit harsh to one’s self esteem, and I found myself going back to my finished novel and examining and reexamining it for flaws. This process is likely familiar for most writers; the reader(s) do not like it, or even just do not respond to it, so something must be wrong with the piece. This week alone I have reworked some areas, reworded some areas, stressed a little, and reworded some more.

Suggestions for staying inspired while writing.Then, I was inspired. I am currently reading Michaio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos in conjunction with Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. They are both fascinating reads about the possibility of parallel universes, and after this week’s announcement about the inflation theory, very relevant. But I digress.

I was reading Kaku’s book and I came across this quote: “[S]cientists believe the universe started out in a state of perfect symmetry, with all the forces unified into a single force. The universe was beautiful, symmetrical, but rather useless. Life as we know it could not exist in this perfect state. In order for the possibility of life to exist, the symmetry of the universe had to break as it cooled.”

This is for all the perfectionists out there, always striving to get it just right, to make everything polished and… well, perfect. Stop. Our very existence is based in imperfection. If we were perfect, we would not exist. Mind blown, at least for me who struggles with perfection constantly. I understand that art is subjective, therefore never perfect, but that understanding never stopped me from trying to make it so; however, this idea, that human beings exist because of imperfection toppled me off my perfection stool.

I felt relief and inspired. With that in mind, I decided to write down a few other things that help to inspire. I wanted them for future reference when I faced these demons again (tomorrow, probably), and perhaps to help inspire a few of you as well.

1. Pulling again from the world of physics; another gem quoted from Kaku’s book. “The quantum theory is based on the idea that there is a probability that all possible events, no matter how fantastic or silly, might occur.” I love this one. Sure, something fantastic might take billions of years to occur, but unless the laws of physics expressly forbid it from happening, it will. Bring it on publishing world, I will make it… one day.

2. An idea that morphs off the thankful jar is an inspiration jar, or box, or what have you. Gather those passages that you have read, the poems, or the quotes, or the little reminders that make you feel inspired, and put them all in your jar or box. The act of gathering these little gems will inspire you, and once assembled, every day you can pull out a piece from the box and be inspired. In the future, when you find another gem, add it to your box.

3. This one might not work for everyone, but it works for me: take a walk in nature. No doubt this is one that you have heard before, but it truly works. I am a writer that sits on my couch in my living room while my three-year-old watches My Little Pony (happening right now). I also write sometimes in cafes, or at my kitchen table. Those moments that I am blocked, or feel frustrated, I force myself out of the indoors and into the outdoors. Taking five minutes to walk under the huge evergreen trees that populate the Pacific Northwest is enough to clear my head. I forget how therapeutic it can be, honestly, so I have a handwritten sign on my fridge that says “go outside”.

Being inspired is a come and go type thing. Inspiration, unfortunately, rarely stays around for long; however, just as it is fleeting, it is rather easy to find inspiration if you look for it. Maybe that is contrived, perhaps inspiration should be more of a spontaneous event, but I take it where I can get it, and if I can help the spontaneous events happen, I will.

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.

Discipline

Sometimes, I find it hard to be disciplined about writing, especially when I am busy with work and family. I realize that if I want to make the jump from amateur to professional, then I better pull myself together, buckle down and get the work done. Discipline takes practice and perseverance.

Institute the "write first" discipline. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you are undisciplined, nothing will get done.

I have an inclination to be lazy, especially on my days off. It is so much more appealing to faff around on Facebook or lie on the couch and read a book. But the truth is, I am absolutely miserable when I am not writing or at the end of the day when nothing has been written. It is the loss of opportunity through squandering of time. Especially when there is so much that needs to be written.

I was raised in a house where the work was done first. Always. My father used to say to the five of us: “Get your work (chores and homework) done first, then you can do what you want.” To this day, I make out a list at work and at home of things that need to be done and usually I do not fool with coworkers or do something inane until the list is done — or most of it.

I have to apply this to writing as well. Those days when I am feeling unmotivated or to be frank, just plain old lazy, I tell myself that as soon as the writing is done, I can do this this and this. Some days it requires a Herculean effort to write. However, once I am in the swing of writing, I am fine, it can be just a matter of getting started. I have to remind myself constantly that the work gets done first and then I can fool around later.

Talent + discipline + persistence = a published writer.

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.

My Writing Journey

It is very easy to give up on writing when you have enough rejections to wallpaper a room. After all, why should we waste effort for something that may never be published? Why should we continue to write year after year as the rejections continue to pile up. But that is not the crux of my writing journey.

The long road of my writing journey.We write because we have to. It is like breathing; all I know is that I am utterly miserable when I am not writing. I cannot give up.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was 9. I wrote in high school–a lot of Civil War dramas that ended up at the bottom of my bedroom closet–I learned so much about the American Civil War that I could have taught a class at 16.

When I was in my 20’s, I dabbled and even managed to finish a manuscript while I was going to college and submitted it the old fashioned way, by postal mail. I received a lot of encouragement but looking back, I realized that that manuscript needed a lot of work.

In my 30’s I was busy getting married, having babies and working. My writing went on the back burner. Then when I turned 40 and we moved to Ireland, I knew for certain that I really wanted to concentrate on my writing. Those seven years turned out to be my most productive: I buckled down and wrote four manuscripts, proving not only that I could do it but that I had a lot to learn about my craft and that my writing could improve with each manuscript.

And all through my life, while I came in and out of writing, there was something inside me that pushed me not to give up on my dream. The fact that my writing journey has spanned almost 40 years from initial intent (circa 1975) to publication (approximately 2015) is not only astonishing to me but very ironic as well. I am by my very nature, a very impatient person. I want everything and everything done yesterday.

I have learned that enough desire and persistence can trump impatience any 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.

Great Artists Steal, Sort of

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” ~ Pablo Picasso

A woman writes in a secluded room all day and submits her story to workshop the following day. The next week she is blasted for the unoriginality of her work. She ponders on how her work could have been unoriginal when it originated from her isolated thoughts.

A woman reading a bookI’m sure a similar scenario has happened to all of us at least once: we’ve been questioned about the originality of one of our pieces. It’s offensive; it hurts; yet there is some basis to that question. I’m going to briefly explore the origins of these thoughts then touch on how we can steal from others and make it our own.

Nothing Is Original

The New Testament. The Iliad and the Odyssey. Star Wars. The Passage. The Lord of the Rings. There has been a theory around for years that if every story were stripped to its bare plot, we would discover that there are only a few original storylines/plots (the current number is seven). If I strip down those aforementioned stories/epics, only the plot of the journey of a man would remain. However, adding the layers back to these stories allows the reader to open a book about Middle Earth and hobbits and say, “Wow, I’ve never read anything like this before.”

Think about the core of Hamlet and The Lion King. Although seemingly different, they are more alike once you get past the surface.

Bottom Line: Accept that the core of your story won’t be original. However, it’s up to you to create unique characters and situations so that when your audience reads your story it will feel brand new to them.

Remixing the Original (or Other Remixes)

“If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you still from many, it’s research.” ~ Wilson Mizner

One of my favorite books that emulate this quote is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. She mentions the classics influencing her work. However, there are other works this book is reminiscent of: The Lottery, Lord of the Flies, and Gladiator. There are elements from each story that appear in The Hunger Games.

Bottom Line: If you see ideas from other works pushing their way into your work, evaluate it to see if your piece would benefit from this idea. If it can’t, chuck it. If it can, mold it into your own.

On the Micro Level

A novel is nothing without the words to build it. I’ve recently been fascinated by how many writers have been influenced by Ernest Hemingway. Two of my favorite: Joan Didion and Raymond Carver remarked on how they marvel at Ernest Hemingway’s sentences. Both of them have completely different styles, yet if you strip away the story and study each sentence, they have both adopted the idea of bare, telling sentences.

Bottom Line: Even Micro-Level art can be stolen. However, it’s the work on the individual’s craft that morphs the idea into its own style.

While the genesis of an idea may not be 100% unique, each unique experience lends to a different telling of that story. Embrace reading others’ works and explore the nuggets of a story that speak to you.

The key to it all: keep reading and keep writing!

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.

Commitment to Writing

I struggle with my commitment to writing. When I worked as a journalist it was easier. I would walk through my day on the look out for good stories, for juicy tidbits, for possible leads, gather all those pieces and head to my desk for some mad writing.

The book cover of the Penguin Classic's The Bhagavad Gita.As a fiction writer, the habit of looking has fallen to the wayside, and as a result my writing has suffered. This came to my attention recently after I reread The Bhagavad Gita. I first read it as an undergrad, one of those “require” texts, but this time I was inspired by so much of the content, especially the idea of immersion.

Out of curiosity, I looked up immerse in my thesaurus and came up with words like drown, fully saturate, baptize, and steep. This, I thought, as I flipped back through the pages of the Gita, is what I have been missing in my writing.

The Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is about a prince who faces a great battle between two peoples. In the face of the battle, he finds himself unable to act. Gita, who is God personified, talks with the prince and throughout the 700-verses, they speak about everything from spiritual monism to transcendentalism, and cover the concepts of yogi and dharma. It is a profound piece of writing, said to have inspirited Thoreau, T.S. Eliot, and Ghandi.  

It has swept through the ages, as all good literature does, touching and changing. In it, the concept of dharma is spoken about in the context that dharma is a purpose in life. Whether or not you believe your life has an over arching purpose, the power behind the dharma principle is that whatever you are doing, do it so fully as to leave no room for any other endeavor. According to Gita, by doing this, the universe will align with your purpose thereby come to your aide.

On Writing

I am not sure if the principle actually applies in such a straightforward way, but it did put me in mind of Stephen King’s On Writing. I went to my bookshelf and pulled out my copy, not opened for a good five years. In this book he also talks about giving writing your all. His 2,000 words even on his birthday and 4th of July are indicators of a purpose that he gives all his time to. He is committed to his writing and has immersed himself completely.

Whether or not this has led to his bestselling status, I have no idea, but according to the Gita it has played a significant role. And King says “when you find something at which you are talented, you do it… until your fingers bleed and your eyes are ready to fall out of your head.” Commit completely.

Immersion

Armed with the Gita and with King, I set out to find ways to immerse myself in writing.

  • Read. A lot. This should be a no brainer, straight from King’s mouth actually, but I never thought about it in the context of writing. I read all the time. I have master’s degree in literature after all and I love to read; however, my reading is rather narrowly focused. I have decided to branch out. Right now I am reading a book that I got in the romance section at the library. When I am done with that, I am going to read a Young Adult book.
  • Carry a notebook. I realize that most writers have heard this one, but how many of us actually do it? I bought a small, green-colored, hard-bound notebook. I write in an observation every day, even if it is right before I go to bed. It is habit forming and I find that the habit is forming, albeit slowly.
  • Describe random things, out loud, to yourself. I was struck in traffic the other day. I proceeded to describe the cars around me as if I were writing those descriptions down in a story. Seeing the things around you as if you were going to write them down is an interesting experience, and one that is easily added to your daily routine.
  • Immerse yourself in your current project. If you can, visit the places that you are writing about. Even if you are writing about a galaxy far, far away, your characters still do things that people on Earth do. Live as they do, if only for five minutes and only doing something as simple as taking a shower.
  • Call yourself a writer. Even if you have never been published, haven’t written but a handful of things that have all landed in the trash, labeling yourself a writer is a powerful tool. If you write, you are a writer.

Taking the Next Step

There really is not a next step. This is the writing life: commit and immerse. Trying to do so is only going to make you a better writer, and just maybe the Universe will get busy and start helping out.

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.