One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with so many amazing, diverse individuals. A lot of people assume that networking is only about getting yourself to the next level, but if you’re focused only on that you miss a lot of amazing people and lessons along the way. It’s important to learn from others’ experiences and processes, and there are so many incredible people in the horror genre. I’m thrilled to have Lisa Vasquez here today – she’s done so much work in the horror community, and has awesome insight into the genre. Seriously, she’s worn so many hats and worked on so many things, it’s kind of unreal. She’s here to share some writing tips with us today, so be sure to take it all in!
Writing Tips from a Mentor, Author, Publisher
One of the most common posts I do are writing tips. For many writers, especially new ones, finding the “sweet spot” is like riding a high.
If you’re serious about writing you will always look for ways to improve. As a mentor, my job is to always look for ways to help. Each of us learns in a different way, therefore it stands to reason there’s not one “correct” way to write. Offering options is the perfect way to keep my authors engaged, keep them excited, and to keep them producing new adventures.
My first tip is one that you’ve seen and heard a million times.
#1 Write Every Day
If you are not practicing, you cannot get better. If a world class piano player stopped playing the piano for months at a time a seasoned music connoisseur can pick up the variations in quality right away. What we also should remember is our bodies are some of the most amazing machines and learn through muscle memory. If you are always writing, you can fall into a plateau, and if you do not write for a long time, your body will need to readapt.
How many words should you write a day? Well, there is a debate about how many words you should write but it also depends on what your goals are. Are you a serious writer who dedicates hours to writing? Or are you someone who has a day job and family, who may write when they can set aside time (more on this later)?
If you are a serious writer who wants to make their living from wordsmithing-my opinion is-you need to write a minimum of 500-1000 words a day. Most articles for news or magazines run about this long. You can pump out a short story in three days if you write 1000 words a day. As Stephen King says, if you write 500 words a day in a year, you’ll have a novel.
#Keep a Journal
A journal is a great way to keep all your ideas in one place and guess what … it counts as writing. When you have a random idea, you should write it down. Write as many details as you can about the idea in the time allowed. Write it down as if you were telling your friend about it.
“I just had an idea. There were two girls sitting at a coffee shop discussing problems with their relationship. They met in an online writing group and became fast friends before they decided they would meet up and discuss writing a novel together. After an hour of coffee and a shared piece of pie, Girl A gets a call from her boyfriend. When Girl B sees his picture light up on the phone, she realizes the man is the same guy she’s been dating for the past year.”
Now, when you go back to this later you have the premise of the story, or an opening scene. Start with dialogue. You have an hour of them sitting there. What did they talk about? Now they discover they are dating the same person. How does Girl B react?
If you cannot write 500-1000 words about this, it’s time to go back to some fundamentals.
#Pantser or Planner?
I don’t care what anyone says, it doesn’t matter which type you are. If you are someone who likes to outline your whole book, it’s OK. If you are someone who likes to ride the emotions and trust your instincts, it is also OK.
Until it is not OK.
If you are not telling a good story, finding yourself in a rut, cutting out chapters at a time, or boring yourself, then you need to switch it up and try something new. I know. New is scary. Just do it.
There are many ways to plan without having to write down an outline. You can find a lot of those methods on some of my earlier blog posts, like WRITING: MAKE A PLAN where I show a method using circles called “sorting it out.”
If you are a visual person, sketch out a scene or main character. I like to look at different artwork and get my imagination riled up before I write. You must find what works for you and what type of writer you are. Not only is your voice important, so is your instrument: your brain.
#Let It Be
No, I don’t mean the song. Wait, yes, I do. When you finish writing a good scene, stop for a little bit. Let your brain catch up and process it. Walk away from the computer or your notebook and do something else if you are too tempted to keep going. Sometimes, after I write an intense scene, I will go make myself a cup of tea. The time it takes for the kettle to boil and the tea to steep is just enough time for me to take in a deep breath of the herbal aroma and put all the pieces together.
I ask a few questions:
“How would the main character in this scene respond?”
“Is this a believable reaction/action?”
“If I was watching this in a movie, would I have doubts or questions?”
“How can I make this better?”
Now, I go back to my writing and re-read the scene. I may continue with the next scene, I may go back and fix something, I may add/subtract something. The point is every word must have a place there. It must serve a purpose to the story. You are leaving breadcrumbs along a vivid path from the start to the finish.
#Read Everything, Live Life
While it is important to know your genre, good stories are about experiences. You must try to live your life and have as many experiences as you can even if the only experience you have for the day is going outside and running your hand along the fence, grass, car. Think it sounds weird? Well, it is. It is also a scientific fact. Your brain learns from all five of your senses. Stimulate them with something different than your everyday norm.
You should also read from different genres. Non-fiction, fantasy, science fiction, etc. Stepping outside of your own box (coffin) is a way to open new doorways of your imagination. Learn different techniques by seeing and reading them firsthand. Do they work for you? If not, why? Don’t believe me? Why do you think much of the horror community looks to Stephen King for tips on how to write? They picked up his book and read it. It works for them. The funniest part? Everything you need to know about how to write is already there.
#Seek out a Mentor
As much as this sounds self-serving, it is not the point of adding it here. As a mentor, I still have my own mentor. I never assume I know it all and I never assume I put every skill I have into action. I’m human (yeah, human. Let’s go with that.) and I am not flawless. Olympic competitors have coaches. They need someone to push them, to challenge them, and to be a guide. Writers are mental athletes and need a “coach” to do the same.
I hope these tips have helped you. I’m unconventional in my methods and find myself in a Mayagi and Daniel-son situation a lot. One thing I can say? Not every mentor is a good fit for you. Do your research.
In Darkness and Light,
The Unsaintly Queen
CEO Stitched Smile Publications
Editor-In-Chief House of Stitched Magazine
Be sure to Check Lisa out in all the places she frequents!