How to choose beta readers – creative writing 101

deer beta readersBeta readers can be an invaluable tool for writers.

For example, they can alert you about problematic aspects of your manuscript well before you send it out to an editor and potentially waste a lot of money.

Beta readers can also help you understand aspects of your manuscript that have nothing to do with editing, but that can have a huge impact on marketing. For example, you might think the book you just wrote is a perfect match for YA, and then discover that your beta readers think otherwise.

As a result, from the get-go it is important to be aware of the characteristics that can make a beta reader really invaluable.

In fact, having dozens of mediocre beta readers going through your story and throwing at you all kind of nonsense disguised as feedback isn’t just useless, it’s damaging. Both for your story and, more importantly, for your sanity. Continue reading

Psychology and creative writing: overcoming self-doubt

woman psychology and creative writingBoth in psychology and creative writing self-doubt is an evergreen subject.

This is so probably because even if feelings of self-doubt can be harrowing for anyone, in artists self-doubt can grow into a ravenous monster, gnawing so hard and deep into their soul that they end up feeling like they and their works alike are completely worthless.

Really, just think of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut: When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.

Another factor to consider is the link that seems to exist between creativity and mental illness.

As a result, nowadays artists might have the feeling they are walking a tightrope between sanity and lunacy, and might end up considering even a minor setback like an irreparable failure.

Luckily, psychology and creative writing need not to be linked in negative terms exclusively. On the contrary, when it comes to creative writing, psychology can offer invaluable insights to help us look at self-doubt from a more profitable point of view. Continue reading

Creative writing advice – never explain too much

creative writing adviceIn chess they say you have to follow just three rules to play like a Grandmaster.  You have to play carefully, carefully, carefully.

Something similar holds true when it comes to creative writing advice. Only, it’s something you have to avoid doing rather than the other way around. Namely, you should never explain too much.

Yes, you read it right. Never, ever, explain too much.

At first blush, this might look like a fairly banal mistake. Yet it isn’t only beginning writers who tend to explain too much. Now and then also more experienced writers make this mistake. Writers who should know everything about creative writing advice and a lot more.

I’m writing this because last week I read a novel from a relatively well known author. A novel that was well written, more than adequately edited, and perfectly formatted.

Yet it made me cringe. Over and over again.

The reason for my cringing was simple. The author had the pernicious tendency to conclude many scenes with a sort of summary, some sort of explication of what had just occurred. Continue reading

A holistic approach to creative writing – self improvement

holistic approach to creative writingCreative writing is a rewarding activity, no doubts about that. Sometimes however it’s also quite demanding. In fact, it’s an activity so complex and multifaceted that escapes any attempt to simplify it into an easily manageable model.

This is why I believe a holistic approach to creative writing can be effective in ways others approaches are not.

However, with this holistic approach to creative writing I’m not trying to ferry creative writing into any mysterious or rarefied realm. On the contrary, my suggestions are rooted deep in what we all innately tend to do.

I mean, just look at kids. When they want to learn something new, they approach the learning process from a holistic point of view. First of all, they observe someone else doing what they want to. Then they go on trying to put immediately into practice what they have just learned from observation.

Really, it’s a simple process repeated over and over. They observe. They try out the process in first person; get feedback; evaluate such feedback and then try again. Over and over, till they get it. Or decide otherwise.

Really, the difference between great performers and below average ones is often just in the amount of time each devotes to this process. Nowadays we call it deliberate practice. And we work according to its principles, aware of what it entails and why it works.

However, discovering and naming a principle has almost nothing to do with rules.

Indeed, the truth is that we humans can at best come up with sets of rules that at the first chance get as muddy and contradictory as possible. Instead, principles never waver–they represent the skeleton the universe uses to go around.

For example, a rule can be as arbitrary as stating that you cannot eat apples when it rains. A principle instead is something that, irrespective of your following it or not, is always true. Just think of gravity. You can disregard it. But your disregarding it doesn’t weaken it in the least. Continue reading

How to use stereotypes in books – writing myths debunked

cowboys stereotypes in booksStereotypes in books… Shouldn’t they be like the kiss of death for the story you want to tell?

Well, not necessarily.

First of all, let’s consider what a stereotype is according to the Oxford Dictionary: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified idea of a particular type of person, group of people, or thing.

In this definition the adjectives “fixed” and “oversimplified” are the ones that make any serious beginning writer consider stereotypes in books with diffidence, to say the least.

Besides, in the past, some psychologists believed stereotypes were used exclusively by people particularly rigid, repressed, and authoritarian–the exact opposite of what any writer should aim to be.

Indeed, at times stereotypes can make us blind to what is out there in the environment. But they can also enable us to respond rapidly to a wide array of situations we have already encountered.

In addition, we should also note how in the definition, stereotypes are also “widely held ideas”. And if an idea is widespread, no matter how strange, biased, or abusive it is, this is so because it is easy to put into words, it’s short and direct, and at least on a superficial level seems reasonable to most people. Continue reading