Thursday, June 10, 2021

Mind and Body: How to Run Longer Distances

This week’s blog post comes to us from guest blogger, Kristen Susiekna. Thanks so much for sharing your awesome tips. Take it away, Kristin!

Running, just like writing, is a trick of the mind. It’s a form of endurance few people decide to tackle. Like writing, running invigorates the mind, stimulates the senses, and pushes us to learn along the way. But how do you train your mind and your body to cover new ground? How do you go from running a mile to running 26.2 miles or more? Like writing, does it get better with practice?



In my opinion, to run longer distances, you should concentrate on three aspects:


  • Strengthen your mind
  • Strengthen your body
  • Strengthen your determination

Together these elements can help you achieve running success and enjoy a longer run. Read on to learn more about the process and ways to achieve a new distance goal.
 

Strengthen Your Mind


Research shows that to run your best you must have focus. Without it, you may cross a finish line, but maybe not in your goal time or with your mind and body feeling fueled and fulfilled.

I’ve experienced this often in my running journey. When I first started, I never thought I could run a mile. Five miles felt astronomical, a half marathon a dream, and a marathon truly impossible. Anything beyond that? Well, people didn’t run that far, did they?

The main issue for me involved the idea of being in my own head for so long uninterrupted. Sure, scenery helped break up the monotony of my thoughts, but what could I possibly think about for that long and longer to make it worthwhile?

However, the more I learned about running, the more I realized that to run longer distances I needed to think of my mind as a tool. It could help me, if I let it.

Sometimes, it would stab me or force me to quit. Other times, it bolstered me on my run and helped me achieve paces and goals I never imagined myself doing.

But how do you strengthen your mind? It comes down to focus and taming that little voice in your head.
In my running, I like to distract myself, divert my attention from the act and think about other things. I find I can do this pretty easily when running with a friend. Conversations flow and make the miles fly.

However, when by myself, my thoughts become less positive and more centered on every little nuance — my breathing’s too fast, my footfall isn’t midfoot, my arm swing’s too stiff, I’ve only run a quarter mile … the list goes on.

When I’ve reached this point, I try to bring out my inner cheerleader, picture myself reaching milestones (a branch, a lamp, a house, etc.), or focus on time. These steps allow me to ground myself and motivate me to keep going.

Another big help for me in strengthening the mind involves speed work. Putting myself in uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing situations forces me to focus on what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and dig deep. Also, when I reach a cool-down stage, I make sure to congratulate myself on pushing past a limit.

If you want to strengthen your mind to run longer distances, make sure you’re taking steps to do so. Try to focus on certain parts of your running, run with a friend, or set small goals for yourself throughout a run.

Strengthen Your Body


Your mind is only part of the deal, however. If you want to run longer, strengthen your body too. My favorite way to do this is through speed work, bodyweight training, and planks. 

We’ve already covered speed work. To summarize: it offers a good avenue to strengthen your muscles, increase your pace, and endure longer mileage by breaking it up into chunks. 

Bodyweight training, however, works your muscles in other ways. What I like about this type of exercise is that you don’t need any equipment to do it. You just need yourself and about half an hour. Focus on running-related exercises, such as lunging and balancing. Yoga also helps strengthen and relax your muscles. 

Planking develops your core strength. You might not know it, but building a strong core can lead to big running gains. You use your core throughout your run. It’s the main body part holding all your other parts together. If you strengthen it, you can become a stronger runner for longer.






Strengthen Your Determination


Finally, to secure your path to longer running, make sure you have the determination to do it. Determination is another element of the mind, but it’s also so important to sharpen if you want to meet your goals and endure longer workouts. 

Try strengthening your determination through:
  • Breathing
  • Reading
  • Meditating
All of these activities motivate you and help you during your run. For instance, you can use breathing techniques to tackle anxiety that rises up in tough moments of your run. You can read inspirational words from athletes just like you and think of them as you run. You can invent a mantra from meditation to help you focus. Ultimately, if you have the drive to succeed, the focus to keep going, and the strength to dig deep, you can achieve great things — including running longer distances.
 
Kristen Susienka is a freelance fiction book editor and content writer. Her articles have appeared in publications like Fleet Feet Journal and Prime Women Magazine. When she’s not working, she enjoys tackling marathons and mentoring other runners. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter: @kristenseditor and Instagram: @kristensedits.


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Friday, June 4, 2021

How to Revise Your Story and See it With Fresh Eyes

This week’s blog post comes to us from guest blogger, Alyssa Colton. Thanks so much for sharing. Take it away, Alyssa!

Many writers and editors use the terms “revise” and “edit” interchangeably, but I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms, even though there is certainly some overlap. First, check out the word revise. It literally means “to see again.” 

How do you see a piece of writing “again”? We tend to think of revising as “fixing it up,” but it might be more helpful to think of it as getting in the muck and playing around. “Revision means making a mess, not straightening up,” advises Heather Sellers, author of Chapter After Chapter. She thinks of revision as simply “making new versions.”


Many writers and editors use the terms “revise” and “edit” interchangeably, but I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms, even though there is certainly some overlap.
 

Revision Tip #1: Take Some Time


Take some time. This time-honored technique works because if you’ve been working on a draft closely for some time, taking some time away from it can give you a different perspective. Resist the urge to just get it done and out there. Put it away and do something else for at least a week. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends taking at least six weeks: “Your mind and imagination--two things which are the same, but not really the same--have to recycle themselves, at least in regards to this particular work.”

Revision Tip #2: Start Over


Start over. What? I have to completely rewrite it? No, not necessarily. After you’ve taken some time away from your work, DON’T go read it. Instead, think about or journal about what you are trying to do. Think about the major questions, like what your character wants and how she or he goes about getting there. What’s the conflict? What’s the resolution? What are you trying to say? And then start over. If you go and read your work, you might get too caught up in the words on the page. Instead, start a new scene, or perhaps use a different point of view, or just start your first chapter in a different place and see what happens. It’s important here that you don’t just go and edit what’s already there--this is just tinkering. You need to REVISE. At the very least, even if you decide not to keep the new bits, it’s likely to give you some insight into what you’ve already written.






Revision Tip #3: Map It Out


Map it out. This is kind of a reverse-outline. Go through and briefly summarize all the scenes. It can be really helpful to do this visually, with index cards or post-it notes on a large board that you can easily move scenes around. I’ve also found using a spreadsheet helpful when trying to figure out how to structure a novel that takes place in two different timelines. If you’ve already done this in the pre-writing stage, now is a good time to take another look at it and see if there are any changes you might make.

Revision Tip #4: Imagine Your Story


Imagine your story or novel as a play or a movie. What would you change? What would you keep? This can help particularly with plotting, if that’s something you struggle with.

Revision Tip #5: Read Other Writers


Read other writers in your genre. This can also give you ideas of how to change your novel if something isn’t quite working. Take several examples and study them. How do they begin? How are they structured? What are some commonalities? What might you “borrow” from another writer for your own work? A way of employing point of view, a structural device, a way of handling exposition? By honing your skills in “reading like a writer,” you can learn from the masters. Just play, and see where it takes you.

Top Revision Tips for Writers: RECAP

As a quick recap, the five main revision tips to re-see your story are:
  1. Take some time. 
  2. Start over. 
  3. Map it out. 
  4. Imagine your story. 
  5. Read other writers in your genre.


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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The First 5 Scenes to Start Your Novel

With these five key scenes, you can begin to write your novel. First you need to be able to define what they are. Once you know your scenes, all you have to do is start writing. You’ll likely still need to create a plot outline at some point, but if you’re eager to get started, this should help.






Key Scene #1


The first major plot point is what some people would call the inciting incident. This is where something external happens to your main character that sets the story in motion, perhaps the discovery of something new, or the arrival of someone or something.

While this is the first major scene and holds a pivotal role in your novel, it is not the book’s opening scene. Once you write this scene, you can always work your way backward and include the details of your character’s life beforehand.

 

Key Scene #2


Next up is what I like to call the gunshot because when you run in a race, the gunshot signals the start of the journey. Yes, many important things must happen after that first scene - before you reach this second main plot point, but this could easily be the second scene you write.

This scene could be when your character gets on a boat, a plane, a train, or a car and physically travels to a new location. Not all stories are this explicit, but the scene you write should represent your character beginning a new journey.


Key Scene #3


The third key scene to help you start writing your novel is what happens in the middle of your story. There is likely a key turning point, or a significant action your character takes toward making progress with their goals.

It could even be when your character meets an important person. Whatever you decide is the third main plot point for your story will be what scene you write here. At this point, there will be a huge chunk of missing scenes before and after, but try to write something to capture the essence of this scene.






Key Scene #4


The next major plot point you can write as a scene is when your character hits the wall, so to speak, and is at their lowest point emotionally, and sometimes physically, as well. Oftentimes, characters are trapped or in some way kept from being able to take action.

When your character is at the brink of despair and doesn’t know how they’ll move forward, that’s the scene you need to write here - even if you don’t know how they’ll get out of it either.


Key Scene #5


The final key scene to help you start writing your novel is the finish line. This is when your character reaches their goal and gets what they want (usually). Even if you have a bit of writer’s block as to how they’ll arrive at such an ending. 

Imagine what your character will think, do, and say when they reach their long-awaited goal. How will they feel? Capture this is the finish line scene, much like a runner crossing the finish line of a race.

Now that you have your five main plot points mapped out - and the key scenes written - it’s time to figure out how your character managed to get from one milemarker to the next.


Which scene will YOU write first? Share in the comments!

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Writing vs. Storytelling

Which is more important: writing well or telling a great story? They’re almost equally important, but one is slightly more important than the other. I tell writers all the time that there are only two things you need to get published (traditionally). One, to be able to write well. And two, to be able to tell a great story.




Why Do Readers Want to Read?


First off, ask yourself why readers want to read a book. Typically, it’s either to learn something or to be entertained. And since I teach fiction writing, we’ll go with being entertained. Readers don’t want to just be entertained; they want to be able to seamlessly read a book without the words or the story getting in the way. 

Ever heard the comment “this takes me out of your story”? Yeah, you don’t want that happening. Lots of revisions and a good editor ensure that most published books don’t have scenes and sentences that do that to a reader.

If your goal is to write a book that readers actually want to read, all you need to do is tell a great story and write well. Easy peasy, right?


The Purpose of Good Writing


The purpose of good writing is so a reader can understand what you wrote and either learn from it or be entertained. When you write well, you use good spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You also have good sentence syntax; things make sense and aren’t confusing. 

Writing well includes varying the length of your sentences, having a good flow with thoughtful cause and effect, and structuring what you want to say in such a way that the reader can easily digest it.

Even if you have a great story, but your writing sucks, it won’t get published. If your writing only needs a little help (as opposed to a lot), your story still has a chance… if the story holds up. Editors will work with you, of course, but if your writing sucks, it’s gonna be a big fat PASS.




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The Heart of Great Storytelling


At the heart of every great story includes interesting and relatable characterization, conflict to challenge them to their very core, and a plot full of things that happen for a reason. What happens if you have POOR storytelling skills, but your writing is stellar? That’ll be a pass too.

But here’s some hope for you. If your story and writing are “good enough” and the premise is amazing, an editor may just take you on. I’ll be sharing my 4-quadrant matrix of how storytelling and writing go hand in hand in an upcoming webinar called Get Your Story Straight in May 2021.


I’ve been talking a lot about storytelling these last few weeks: are you good enough to be a writerstory ideas are like seeds, and how to bust through writer’s block, just to name a few. Because my goal is to help you not only learn how to become a better writer but to also help you tell a great story.

I’d love to hear about your story! What is your current WIP (work in progress) about? Click here to share a comment.


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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Time Blocking for Writers

The #1 challenge most writers face is having enough time to write. Yes, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. And yes, we don’t “find time”, we “make time” for what’s important to us. Is your writing time a priority for you? 

Or are you like most writers… still struggling to find a way to squeeze more writing time into your life? Here are three simple things to think about when trying to fit more time to write into your day.


Where Will You Write?


Most writers will eventually find or create a rhythm that works for them, but this question is something important to consider. Maybe you steal moments of time throughout your day such as the car line, the doctor’s office, a bus ride, your kid’s soccer game, even standing in line at the grocery store. I mean ANY writing is better than NO writing, so definitely steal what you can - when you can - and where you can.

But the important thing is to be consistent. Because if you’re always writing in a different place (and at different times), it’s harder to get the momentum going. The question to take your writing to the next level is, “Where will you write?”

Having a dedicated place to write every day, week after week will help you become more consistent. Will you write in bed? On the couch? Outside in a hammock? At your office desk on the computer? On a laptop? In a notebook? At the kitchen table? In your child’s closet?

Choose a comfortable place. Make it special. Decorate it with pictures, writerly quotes, and things that inspire you. Have books, pens, highlighters, and plenty of paper handy. And when it’s time to write, go there. Take a deep breath. Smile. And do some writing.

When Will You Write?


If you’re like me, you wish you could block off 2-3 hours a day to write. That’s my ultimate dream. One day…

In the meantime, I know it’s important to write when I can (see above). But I also want to make my time more focused and productive, so it definitely helps to set aside a specific time to write. The hard part is sticking to it. But consistency makes it easier over time. Remember that your writing is important, so make it a priority.

Ask yourself how much time you can spare in a day or a week. Twenty minutes a day? Two hours once a week? What feels good to you? Schedule it and show up! Right now, I write on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10 pm. The trick is to not overschedule yourself. Be generous with kindness. But definitely schedule something.



Map Out the Plot for Your Novel





Getting Clear on Your Goals


Lastly, once you know where you’ll be writing, and when you’ll be writing, think about your goal. There are basically two ways to measure it. You can write for time or you can write for distance (word count).

When I run, I often set a time goal (30 minutes), or a distance goal (3 miles), but not usually a speed goal (3 miles in 30 minutes). While speed workouts are great, that’s not how I do it. With writing, I never sit down and say, “I want to write 2,000 words in the next hour.” It’s always one or the other. I choose a word count goal or a time goal.

A third option is to have a scene goal. You write until the scene is finished, no matter how long it takes or how many words it takes. Sometimes I do this when I know I have more time and won’t be stressed about it.

It’s not a bad thing to stop mid-scene though. It keeps the fire alive and the momentum going. Just jot down a sentence or two (if that’s helpful) and what you want to accomplish with your next writing session.

Before long, you’ll see how having a set time and place to write will help you be more consistent with your writing. And oftentimes, you’ll end up squeezing even more writing sessions into your week.

QUESTION:
What’s your favorite place to write? Let me know in the comments!


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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

If you’ve been around the writing world for any time at all, you’ve probably heard about the great debate of panster vs. plotter. If you’ve never been asked if you’re a pantser or a plotter, you might be new to writing. And no, we’re not talking about pulling someone’s pants down. We’re talking about how writers approach their writing. Do you plan? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Writers who write by the seat of their pants are called pantsers.

Pantser


In the 1930s, pilots coined the term “fly by the seat of your pants,” which likely originated in the UK since there are several instances of this American idiom that have been known to use the word “trousers,” which is totally a British thing. 

Basically, it came about right around the time that instrument panels started to become a thing for airplanes. But most pilots of the era flew airplanes with little to no instrument panels. They had to fly “blind” and to use their gut instincts to fly by the seat of their pants. 

In writing, this means that a writer just writes. It’s an adventure to see where they end up. They trust their gut, and just go with it. In essence, they are flying by the seat of their pants, hence the term “pantser”. They don’t have a fancy instrument panel to help guide the journey (a plot outline). They may not even know how the story is going to end. And that’s okay too.


Plotter


A writer who claims to be a plotter is someone who loves outlining every last detail. They know what scenes are in each chapter. They might have a character worksheet filled out for each of their characters and know how the book will end. Perhaps it’s one way to counteract the fear of writer’s block

Pantsers claim that plotters have no fun. Plotters claim that pantsers will take 10 years to finish a book. There’s no right or wrong way to approach your writing. While plotters may take more time up front to plan the book, pantsers take more time on the back end with revisions. Either way, it still takes about the same amount of time to write a book and get your story straight.
 


Learn How to Map Out a
Basic Plot For Your Own Novel





Can You Be Both?


In recent years, a new term has been coined: a “plantser”. That’s a writer who takes a middle-of-the-road approach. I like to call them planners. Basically, it’s someone who starts with the end in mind, has a couple of main characters, and generally works through the plot ahead of time, but not down to the last detail of every chapter and every scene. 

Being a planner (or plantser) is my favorite approach. You get the best of both worlds. Because when you plot out your five main plot points, you’re posting your milestones out ahead of time and you always know what’s coming next. Yes, even the ending. And since you’re not planning every last detail, you’re free to explore different pathways to get to your next milestone, keeping the fun aspect fully alive. 

After all, isn’t that what keeps a writer going… the fact that we actually enjoy it? So, if planning out the basic story structure of your novel is helpful to keep the fun factor alive (while also being organized and helping you feel a little bit in control), then let’s do THAT all day long! 

QUESTION: If you had to choose one or the other, what side do you lean a little closer to? Are you 100% pantser or 100% plotter? I’m 85% plotter. What about you? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How to Bust Through Writer's Block… for Good

Yes, Virginia, Writer’s Block is real. It comes when you least expect it, when you round a corner of doubt, or when you’re excitedly working toward the end of your story. But how can you chisel your way out of this problematic writer’s block and turn it into an exquisite wooden statue of a bear, an angelic ice sculpture, or your own marble masterpiece?






How Do You Define Writer’s Block?


There are two camps of thought when it comes to Writer’s Block: either you believe it exists or you believe it is hogwash. But that depends on how you define it.

The basic definition of Writer’s Block is when a writer feels unable or uninspired to write or continue writing. 

Does this exist? Do writers ever feel uninspired or unable to continue writing or to start a new project? Absolutely!

Or is it just a bunch of hogwash? Is it all because a writer is being lazy?

There are two types of writer’s block - based on why it happens in the first place. And both camps of thought can peacefully coexist in the world of writing.

 

Reasons Why Writer’s Block Happens


There are two reasons why a writer faces Writer’s Block. 

  1. It’s an excuse to not write. You’re being lazy. There’s something unpleasant about the imminent writing task placed before you that is making you procrastinate it. This reason is what leads many to believe that Writer’s Block is a myth - pure hogwash.
  2. You’re facing a problem in your writing that you’re struggling to solve. All writers solve problems every time they add a new chapter, a new character, a new action, or start revising their stories. You can’t always simply “write through it.” This reason often requires reflection, deep thought, and different options to try out in order to bust through the mental block.

So if you believe that Writer’s Block doesn’t exist, you’re right (if you’re procrastinating or just being lazy). And if you believe that Writer’s Block does exist, you are also right! Either way, there is a solution to help you cure your Writer’s Block woes.



Three Things to Help Counteract Writer’s Block


Yes, Virginia, there is a cure for Writer’s Block. How do you bust through that tough block of wood in the backyard of your brain? While there are many things you can do to help combat this common writing problem, these are the three best ways to bust through your mental blocks:

  1. Brainstorm. You can brainstorm out loud with others or brainstorm silently on paper all by yourself. Either way, brainstorming is a powerful way to help you see more options. When you see several paths laid out before you, it’s much easier to take a single step - a leap of faith - than when you are staring at a brick wall thinking you have to somehow figure out how to scale it.
  2. Run (or walk). Running (and of course walking too), is a proven method with science to back it up to help a person become (and stay) more creative. Even horseback riding works! Sure, doing chores or mindlessly watching TV can help switch your brain’s airwaves and trigger a new thought the next time you return to your writing, but running is magical. It has to do with CSF, or Cerebrospinal Fluid. It’s a clear liquid that runs through the spinal cord to the brain, which stimulates neurological reactions. So go for a run!
  3. Go to a writing retreat. If you’re facing a funk due to lack of inspiration, a writing retreat works wonders. Workshops and conferences are good too, but a retreat is my favorite. If you’re struggling with revisions, a writing retreat can provide you with fellow writers to give you personal feedback in real life. A writing retreat can provide you with inspiration, collaboration, feedback, learning, and so much more. Find out about the Writers Who Run Retreat and get added to the waitlist for 2023.


QUESTION: How often do you take your writing with you when you head out for a jaunt? Share about a time when it helped solve one of your plot problems. Share your comment here.


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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Story Ideas Are Like Seeds

You can start a story with a nugget of an idea. Story ideas are like seeds; nurture them and they will grow. Just like humans, plants have a few basic necessities for life - air and water being the two most basic. When you plant a seed, it needs soil, water, sunlight, and air in order to thrive and grow. Stories are no different. 

Stories need four basic ingredients to grow from an idea into a story. You don’t need to have a green thumb to make a seed (or your story ideas) grow, you just need to know that you are good enough to be a writer. And to be patient in the process. Stories (and plants) take time.









Character is the Soil


It’s not that hard to start building a story - even if you only have a snippet of an idea.  Your idea needs a place to live. First, think about who your story might be about and create a character. What kind of strengths and weaknesses might your character have? Once you know who will be in your story interacting with each other, it’s time to give them some water and make them do something.


 

Plot is the Water


When you water a seed planted in soil, it gets excited. Plot is what your characters will do during the story. Plot is basically what happens during your story. What kinds of things will your characters need to do to reach their goal? Once you have some characters and a simple plot, you can flesh it out later.



Conflict is the Sunlight


Next up is a little sunlight. Or in the case of a conflict analogy, probably some shade too. Conflict is the thing that stands in the way of your character reaching their goal. Conflict is what helps make your story more interesting. Ever heard the phrase, “Put your character up in a tree and throw rocks at him”? Conflict makes it hard on your character, which is what makes it interesting and the reader has someone to root for. If it’s too easy, then the story is boring.

As far as fleshing out your seedling of an idea, a good brainstorming session or a little help from a fellow writer might be all you need to get the ball rolling with more ideas before you start to feel like you actually have a great story idea. Just remember to make life hard for your character. Even a tiny seedling has to work to push through the soil and burst into the sunlight. (So maybe the soil should be the conflict?)



Theme is the Air


Lastly, you need a theme if you want your story to matter. Usually, the theme emerges as you write multiple drafts. You can technically start a story without a theme because, like I said, it often emerges later. The theme is basically what an editor is thinking about when they ask, “What’s the point of the story?” 

You already know how to write a story. I just wanted to remind you that the idea doesn’t have to be fleshed out in stone to pursue it. In fact, ALL stories start with a seedling of an idea. As you slowly add a little character, a little plot, a little conflict, and a little theme, your story will begin to take shape and pretty soon, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.



QUESTION: How many ideas do you get in a day, a week, a month? Share your comment here.


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