Pocket full of (writer’s) kryptonite

writer's kryptonite
This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week series

Last week we talked about playing to our writing strengths. Knowing your storytelling super power can help you identify the types of stories you like to write as as well, and give you an area of expertise to focus on.

But as Superman has been teaching us since 1938, any super power comes with its kryptonite. It’s a balance of power. Superhuman strength comes with superhuman weakness, otherwise we’d all be monsters.

What is your writing weakness?

So what’s your writing weakness? If you don’t already know what it is how do you find it? It’s hard to look at yourself under the harsh light of honesty and name something you’re not good at. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably really good at pretending that your weaknesses don’t exist. But that doesn’t make them go away.

Take a moment to consider your weaknesses, without being self-deprecating and naming a “weakness” that’s actually a strength (you know you do that, too… it’s practically a hallmark of being a writer). More than likely, your writer’s kryptonite is closely linked to your writing super power. Think about it. Superman’s weakness (kryptonite) came in the form of crystals from his home planet of … Krypton!

If I’m honest, my main writer’s kryptonite at the present time is finishing what I start. Simple as that. I’m sure there are craft-related weaknesses in my prose, dialogue, and story-building that I could work on (I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?). But I can’t get feedback on things like that if I don’t actually complete a project and turn it over so that others can read it in the first place.

Turn those writing weaknesses around

Best thing about knowing what your writing weaknesses are is that you can figure out how to combat those weaknesses. Superman, knowing that kryptonite leaves him vulnerable and weak, chooses to avoid it. There’s not much he can do to change his weakness. But you! Your writing weaknesses are totally beatable. How? Take a class, get some feedback, practice practice practice!

It’s also important to remember that your writer’s kryptonite will change. As you begin to identify and combat your writing weaknesses, new ones will crop up and need your attention. The awesome thing is that you’ll be strengthening your craft with each weakness you take on and overcome!

So let’s empty our pockets-full of kryptonite and get on with the business of becoming stronger writers telling the best stories we can.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

Why I write

Write what you loveI’ve been a reader since very young. At 3 years old, I memorized Peter Rabbit… literally knew which words went with which pages, even though I wasn’t associating words with meanings quite yet. I knew that story so well, backwards and forwards, what happened when… we have a recording of my 3-year-old voice “reading” the story to my aunt, and when I get to the end of it, I just start the whole story over again…

I think that being a reader, falling in love with books and stories, is part of how one becomes a writer. There’s something magic about the way that words unlock the world. They lift you out of your current experience and thrust you into another place and time, be that world fictional or utterly real. We are transported by the words on the page, made to think of something other than ourselves if only for a moment. And once you connect with that magic in such a personal way, who can resist the draw of being able to harness the power yourself?

I wrote my first book when I was in elementary school about dolphins, on construction paper and stapled together, complete with researched and organized chapters and oil pastels illustrations. (If I can find it, I’ll post pictures here.) After that I was hooked. I created stories in my head and in spiral notebooks, about horses and unicorns in elementary and middle school, and about angsty love and rejection when I was a little older. Nothing that was worth publishing, most of which I would never share with anyone, not even my most trusted companions. I stopped writing in college (got distracted), but I picked it up again a few short years later.

Now I write light YA fantasy, crafting strong female characters to speak directly to that angsty, rejected teenager I was all those years ago. I’m planning a self-publishing adventure this summer (follow my progress at http://www.elisabethkauffman.com) and the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself as a teenager to publish something that I wrote.

How we came to this land of writing matters for one very important reason. Your writer’s origin story is what you should fall back on when the going gets tough. If you’re serious about succeeding in this often frustrating and soul-crushing world of publishing, you’re going to have to remind yourself why you started in the first place.

For me, when I get scared of sharing my writing because I’m anticipating the painful process of internalizing feedback (growth HURTS, people, it’s why they call them “growing pains”) and getting better as a writer, I think of that teenage me, shiny-eyed, expressive, and innocent. She wanted these stories to be told because she wanted a story to relate to. When I suffer through the painful parts of this process, I do it for her.

Who do you do it for?

*Just FYI, the fab Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA is releasing a BOOK in June. Learn more about it here.

3 ways to turn off your inner editor

just writeAh, the inner editor. She’s so helpful when you want to be eloquent. But when you’re drafting she can be the bane of your existence, especially if you ever want to finish a manuscript.

If your inner editor is anything like mine, she’s anxious and picky and painfully overbearing. She insists that everything be perfect, so perfect that she makes it difficult to move on to the next scene, or even the next sentence sometimes!

If you take a step back from your frustrations for a moment, you can see that your inner editor is just trying to be helpful. But she can kill your momentum and your self-esteem, getting in the way of your ability to complete a project.

Here are three ways to turn off your inner editor so you can get some writing done!

  1. Put your editor away – Like, physically put her away. You may want to pick an object, or draw a picture, to represent your inner editor, however you visualize her. Then, once you’ve completed it, thank her for her services and put her in a closet, or a box, or somewhere out of sight where she can’t look over your shoulder and offer criticism. You can pull her back out of the closet when you’ve finished the manuscript. But for now, she needs to shut up and let you do the work.
  2. Break down your writing sessions into manageable pieces – When you think about writing an entire manuscript (all 50,000+ words) your inner editor freaks out. There are too many opportunities to screw things up in that giant project, she says. How can you keep track of it all? Instead, think of each writing session as a separate project. Pick a word count (500, 1000, 1667 words) and focus on that. Don’t worry about the larger picture yet. You and your inner editor can have fun working that out later. For now, your manuscript just needs to get written.
  3. Add a little pressure – Don’t give yourself too long to linger over those 500 (1000, 1667) words. The longer you linger, the easier it is for your inner editor to creep back in and start criticizing what you’ve done and what you haven’t done yet. Set a time limit and push yourself to get to your writing goal before she has a chance to stop you in your tracks!

I use Write Or Die, a fabulous little app to keep my fingers flying over the keys and get me to my daily word count goal as quickly as possible. It’s not very expensive and a great motivational tool. You can try Write or Die out for free here if you’re not convinced yet. Or just set a kitchen timer and get to typing! Whatever you need to do to get the words on the page, do that.

Your inner editor can be a helpful tool when the time is right, so don’t banish her forever. Just remind her that, until you’re done creating, it’s not her turn yet.

3 Ways to Trust Your Readers More

Captain ObviousOne main problem that beginning writers have when drafting their novels is making sure that they get their meaning across to their readers without beating them over the head with it.

It might seem like you can’t leave any room for ambiguity in that one scene– you know the one–because it’s important that your reader knows what’s going on so that they understand what happens later. But never fear! Readers are really good at picking up subtext and connecting the dots.

In fact, you’re more likely to lose your readers’ interest by spelling things out in too much detail because you’ll leave no room for their imagination. Here are three ways to trust your readers more and keep your writing from seeming coarse and redundant.

  1. Use fewer “creative” dialogue tags – It might seem like you’ve used the word “said” a thousand times in your manuscript. And you probably have. But do you know how many times your reader has noticed it? Zero. If you change it up, however, she’s guaranteed to start noticing and possibly getting irritated at having the dialogue explained to her, and that’s going to draw her out of the story. Unless it’s really important to know that a line is whispered or shouted and the context of the dialogue is not going to help the reader get there, you can stick with said and not worry about boring anyone in the slightest.
  2. Try not to spell everything out – Occasionally you might need to clarify what your characters mean, but more often than not you’re wasting words by stating the obvious. And your reader is going to notice. This includes “on-the-nose” dialogue. In real life, people rarely say what they actually mean. Your characters should be no different. Choose your details with care and have your characters keep some of what they mean to themselves.
  3. Resist the urge to reiterate – Repetition has its place in a novel, but there are limits to where you can use it without causing your reader to feel talked down to. You don’t need to remind the reader of major plot points every few pages, or tell her more than once that King Triton is Ariel’s father. She’s going to remember.

The writer-reader relationship takes cultivation, certainly, but remember you don’t have to do all the work. Stop stating the obvious and allow the subtext of your novel to shine through. Your reader will thank you for the opportunity to let her imagination run wild right along with yours.

Four Ways to Choose Your Novel’s Title

lady hitchhiker
Can you come up with a creative title for this story?

The first thing your readers come into contact with as they discover your book will be the title. While the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” may still hold, the same is not true of a title. A title gives the reader a tiny snapshot of what is to come within the pages of the book. A title should at the same time encapsulate the themes of the novel and intrigue the reader, drawing him in, making him want to know more.

If your title is too obscure, your potential readers may not be able to relate or understand what you’re trying to tell them your book is about. If you’re too explicit, though, you could end up turning readers off because they feel like there’s no mystery to be found between the pages.

With genre fiction, you have to make sure your potential reader knows what’s coming (Interview with a Vampire or The Rake and the Reformer). Genre readers like to know what they’re getting into, and people who don’t normally read genre need to know what they’re getting into.

Four Ways to Title Your Book

But whether you write genre fiction or not, a good title will capture the essence of your novel. So in order to give a good title to your work, you have to know what the essence of your novel is. Once you figure out the essence of your novel, what makes it tick, you can write your title to describe it. Here are four ways to choose your novel’s title.

  • The Main Character – such as Jane Eyre, Harry Potter [and the…], Carrie, and The Great Gatsby.
  • The Setting – such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Fablehaven, or Howard’s End.
  • A Line of Poetry – such as Of Mice and Men, Tam Lin, or This Raging Light.
  • The Major Theme – such as Pride and Prejudice, Wicked, or Great Expectations.

Your title will likely be what makes people pull your book off the shelf. Whatever you choose, make sure that the title is honest, descriptive, and memorable.