Behind “The Process”: Sentence Design 101 (The Art of REARRANGEMENT)

Hey dude!

I’m far enough into my current WIP–which means Work In Progress, if you weren’t sure–that I’m doing a bit of editing. I wrote out a few chapters by hand and put them on the computer. Now I’m taking a peep at what I’ve got. It’s not a full-blown edit, mind you. What I like to do is read back a bit before writing down some fresh ideas. Gets me back in the right mindset, and also makes sure I don’t write anything redundant. I highly recommend not going into a writing session totally cold if you’re writing something kinda long. (Like a novel.)

I think going over something several times is important, hence writing it first, then typing it. I believe writing by hand frees the mind, but the typing what you wrote is important too. You’ll catch things, tweak things during the process of having to read and re-transcribe your ideas. Then when you read it again later–as I am now–you’ll have a more polished product that only needs minor adjustments. Well…hopefully. Assuming things are mostly cool, and it the issue is one like this:

The content is fine, it just doesn’t sound right for some reason…

Then this post is for you. It’s about finding that flow in your style where the reader’s eyes move across the lines you’ve crafted without effort. Real quick, here’s what you shouldn’t do:

JUST CUT ALL OF IT!
Photo by Gary Chan (Unsplash)

Sometimes the issue is that something needs to go. If the information within the sentence isn’t relevant, or it’s redundant (the same info is in another preceding sentence/paragraph and doesn’t need re-stating), or you were drunk when you wrote it and it’s actually quite horrible.

Other times you might only need to rearrange the sentence a little. Below is a paragraph from my current WIP. I came across it and thought, Mm-mm, not gonna work…

Version 1:

He flicked a butt off to his side, bent over for his beer, downed it, crunched and threw the can, then started reeling in his line, ready to call it a day. But something caught Chuck’s eye on the other end of the pond. There was a small patch of fog floating towards him over the pond. 

That first sentence is loooooooong. I broke up what was happening into separate sentences. (Quick Tip: Readers naturally read shorter sentences at a faster pace than they do longer sentences. If it happens quickly. Show it in quick sentences rather than saying “She quickly did yadda…yadda…yadda…”) I mentioned a few sentences earlier that this character often discarded cigarette butts and trash, so I focused on the more immediate and tangible experiences–savoring the last drop of a beverage as it comes of the can, then crushing it in your hand. Then I realized I might want to indicate that this dude definitely drank enough that he shouldn’t be getting back into his car to drive.

Version 2:

He bent over for his beer and downed it. After crunching and tossing the last can of the six pack, he was ready to call it a day. Chuck began reeling in his line, but something caught Chuck’s eye. There was a small patch of fog floating over the pond towards him.

How much did he down? A whole can? Half a can? Little sip? Let’s throw in that it was cheap beer. I don’t know why, but I feel like this guy drinks the cheapest thing he can find. Throw in that he picked it up on the way. Maybe from work. Maybe not. Let the reader decide. And let’s give an indication where the thing is that caught his eye, then it’ll make sense as to why it was floating on the water. (*It was floating on the water because I liked the image, but you can’t tell the reader that, goofball.) I say Chuck twice in the same sentence, change the second one to his. Floating is a bit over-used…. Gliding on the water sounds a little creepier than floating on the water. The rest is just a few words being out of place, which you can mostly fix with some copy and paste. (*If part of a sentence doesn’t work but you don’t want to scrap it completely, put it in another sentence–at the end, beginning, or splice that monkey’s uncle right in the middle like I’m about to with the “ready to call it a day” line!) When all was said and done, I wound up with this:

Version 3:

He bent over for his beer and downed the last few mouthfuls. After sucking the last drop from the edge, he crunched and tossed the last can of the discount six pack he bought on the way over. Chuck began reeling in his line, ready to call it a day, but something on the other end of the pond caught his eye. There was a small patch of fog gliding over the pond towards him.

Photo by Zachary Nelson (Unsplash)

It’s not perfect, but, ya gotta admit, it’s a lot better than what I originally had. AND THAT’S WHY YOU DON’T JUST SCRAP WRITING THAT ISN’T “GOOD ENOUGH”! Trust the writing process. And believe me, it’s a process. But a fun one.

Hopefully this helps!

-CT

Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? High five!

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Behind “The Process”: Writer’s Anxiety (Pros & Cons)

Photo: Andrew Neel (Unsplash)

Hello persons of quality!

There are many joys and agonies associated with the writing process. When an idea hits and words flow out of you, there’s few things one can do (by themselves, anyway) that feels better. When you actually finish a story…WOOOOO!!!!!

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels.com)

On the flip side, sometimes you aren’t feeling what you’re writing. Maybe you reread something and decide you have to cut a big chunk. (Been there. It sucks.) Sometimes you write and, thinking a few moves ahead, you can’t figure out where the story is going. I finished Switchers awhile ago–still working on trying to get published–an now I’m on a new project. I’m still early enough in it that I have absolutely NO IDEA where it’s going to go. After spending many hours working on a project and finally completing it, starting from the beginning again is…kinda scary.

Writing isn't always easy. Writer's anxiety is real, but it doesn't have to be a burden.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels.com)

I mean, I got used to working with a mostly done project after so long that now, I feel like I’m learning how to write a book all over again. The only difference is, having written enough stories, and now a novel, I’m not worried about whether or not I’ll be able to simply finish this, but whether or not it’ll be any good.

Is Writer’s Anxiety Bad?

Writer’s anxiety, like any anxiety, is bad when it gets left unchecked and builds up. Anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic, can present itself through these symptoms:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

For me, “the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety” is my go to. Always has been. I love to write, but the anxiety actually makes me want to not write. However, not writing doesn’t stop the anxiety! The urge for creative outlet persists, like a the need to eat.

So not writing–not an option.

At this point, writer’s anxiety sounds like a pain in the ass. At best! Most would probably say, Writer’s anxiety is bad then, right?

Not necessarily.

How Could Anxiety Be Good for A Writer?

Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde (Unsplash)

Yeah, yeah. You’re not sure how anxiety can be good, right?

“When left untreated, both stress and anxiety can lead to persistent misery,” according to an article from The American Institute of Stress. “However, when properly managed…it could help us become more productive.” Balance is key. Anxiety can be a tool.

Writers always talk about their danged toolboxes

One tool is your vocabulary, another is your command of grammar, another is your knowledge of plot devices, another is knowing how to vary your sentence structures, and proper use of dialogue tags, and so on, and so forth. Properly managed anxiety–emphasis on properly managed–is a tool that keeps you focused and draws your attention to things you might’ve missed on the surface. If you listen to your anxiety, it can help you.

This story doesn’t feel right. Go back to the interrogation scene and have the MC get trapped, then rescued, instead of a clean get away.

But that was 10 pages ago…

I had a similar situation where my gut was telling me something wasn’t right. I kept thinking about a scene that tilted the story in a way I didn’t like. I thought I could write my way out of it. Long story short, instead of cutting 10 pages, I wrote another 80, then cut about 90.

Devastating. But I didn’t listen to my anxiety/intuition/whatever. It’s rare that I question myself on something I wrote days ago, so when my mind won’t leave it alone, it’s probably for a reason.

In terms of where I’m at currently, the sentence from that American Institute of Stress article that really grabbed me as a writer was this one: “…stress usually occurs when we push ourselves or we are forced into situations that stretch our abilities beyond the familiar limit.”

I’m working on a new book right now. I’ve had the idea for awhile, but I was working on something else. But, ya know, lately when I sit down to write, I’ve get these semi-constipated bursts of 500 words or so. I might get a couple pages, but it feels hard. I know it’s because I’m early in the story and don’t know, ultimately, what’s going to happen. I’ve embraced (and promote) a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants model, which means embracing the anxiety that comes with it. But it’s still a test sometimes, because you always want to try something different–to grow. And as we push ourselves to stretch our abilities and raise the bar, we encounter anxiety:

What if it isn’t good enough? What if it’s a piece of sh*t and I end up wasting a year (or more!) on this stupid thing? Why am I putting myself through this?!?!

When your mind starts going, I can either keep writing when it feels hard, or…give up writing and ditch that anxiety. Which will you choose? Hmm…

Keep Writing!

Listen, if you feel an urge to write, not writing will cause you anxiety too. If you’re wondering how to battle through it, I suggest writing by hand, journal style (see Why Everyone Should Write by Hand), whenever your fiction–for whatever reason–drives you to a panic. Seriously–read the other post if you don’t believe me.

There are ways to write through your anxiety. Sometimes you just have to get a few paragraphs on your WIP, and before you know it, you’re in the driver’s seat and the machine it humming along. If that doesn’t do it, maybe try organizing your thoughts in a journal. Writing your problems out has a way of diffusing some of the stress that accompanies the thoughts. You might try mindfulness exercises, yoga, meditation, or some other kind of physical exercise before you sit down to start in on your story.

Do NOT let your anxiety go unchecked. It can lead to any number of conditions and outcomes, including, according to The Mayo Clinic, these:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders
  • Substance misuse
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Problems functioning at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicide

So if your anxiety goes beyond your writing and you can’t get a handle on it, pleeeeeease talk to a health professional. My friends at Threads Podcast: Life Unfiltered have a great blog, written by an incredibly talented guy, with posts on things like mindfulness and suffering silently with mental illness. They’re sponsored by BetterHelp, a teletherapy company. If you want to try talk and text therapy on your phone, use Threads’ promo code to get 10% off the first month. (NOTE: They aren’t my sponsor; I get nothing if you click on it. Just trying to help!)

Alright, I gotta go play with my kids now or they’re gonna break something…

-CT

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Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? High five!

WebsiteInstagram | FaceBook  | Twitter | Creative Ops (Podcast)

Creative Ops | Ep.6 | Parenting & Hobby Farming w/ Andrea Draft

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-vidrb-e4c19a

My friend Andrea Draft joined us in-studio to talk about stay-at-home parenting during the pandemic, and how important it is to keep your sanity by finding something that brings you joy. In her case, it’s chickens and a plentiful veggie garden.

 

Listen for parenting tips, chicken knowledge, and gardening wisdom!  

 

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Behind “The Process”: FAQ from the Internet writing community

Answering questions on writing from the internet
Photo by Bruce Mars (Unsplash)

Hey everybody!

On my podcast, Creative Ops, I talk to…creative people. This takes all forms: art, hobbies, lifestyle, business, etc…. One of the recurring bits of advice I’ve gotten (and shared) is so simple, you’ll feel like an idiot for not thinking of it yourself. Join a community of like-minded people. This could be a real group that meets in-person. Or, since, ya know…everything, you could find online groups.

I found and joined a few such groups online for writers. As someone who has a formal education in writing and literature, it seems that I answer more questions than I ask in these groups. That’s not me saying I’m a better writer than the newbies, just that I’ve asked a lot of those questions before. But there’s a few questions that keep popping up, so I thought I’d go through some of the most asked questions I’ve seen online. The answers will be brief, but I’ll link you up to other posts if you want a deeper dive.

Here we go!

How do you start writing?

Where do writers’ get their ideas?

First of all, don’t ask a writer this question. At least, not in this way. Why? Read my post, You Should Never Ask a Writer…

Never one to take good advice (even my own), I set out to answer this question with Behind “The Process”: Where DO Ideas Come From? I’ll point you towards free-writing again. Ideas come, seemingly from nowhere, when you do this.

Here’s the kicker, at least for aspiring novelists. A single idea does not a story make. My novel (not available yet) started from one idea. But then I had a different idea I liked better. I didn’t scrap the first one. Not entirely. Instead, I incorporated it. And that is (besides a gross simplification) what makes a layered story–multiple ideas mixing together to make a beginning, middle, and end that work harmoniously. Don’t take if from me, listen to what the legends have to say. In Behind “The Process”: Where DO Ideas Come From?, I refer to a single interview with 4 of the best horror writers of all time.

I need to outline before I start, right?

No. Behind “The Process”: Plotting vs Writing goes into it further. Essentially, and this is my opinion, which you’re welcome to disagree with, plotting (or outlining) is something that can turn your story into a paint-by-numbers experience. There are terrific writers that outline every…single…thing that happens in their story. If it feels good, do it. It just doesn’t feel good to me. I like the exploration of figuring it out on the fly. You’ll rewrite and edit it, anyway. Don’t take your first pass too seriously. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is plotting.jpg
An example of how I outline an ENTIRE chapter. (And I often break from the outline.) It’s more of a mental warm-up than anything.

How do you make characters believable?

Ever read a story where complete strangers bend over backward to help the main character (MC)? I don’t know about you, but I find it unrealistic–most of the time. The answer to realistic characters is quite simple, really. The short answer: at their core, most characters should be looking out for themselves, regardless the situation. Read more in Behind “The Process” Quickie: The Simplest Trick to Writing Believable Characters. (It’s short.)

How important is dialogue?

Elmore Leonard said (not a direct quote) that people skip pages with no dialogue, so he tried to have some on every page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this: If you have the choice of furthering the action with narration or dialogue–use dialogue.

However, you don’t want to use the same tags over and over. Tags are he said, she cried, their voices echoed. Dialogue tags let the reader know whom is speaking. I’m actually quite proud of my post, Behind “The Process”: Proper Placement of Dialogue Tags. I go much deeper into how to use them, how to vary usage, and where to put them in the sentence for maximum impact.

And if you really want your dialogue to work, use this quick tip: Behind “The Process” Quickie: Dialogue Tip

I have my first draft. Now what?

Don’t show it off. Not yet. It’s a baby of an idea that can’t quite walk on its own legs. Here is the part where you have to start questioning yourself. No, not like, Am I a good writer?, but, Is this as good as it can be?

Writing is rewriting. I think King said that. At least that’s where I heard it. I’m sure that piece of wisdom has been around awhile. It’s absolutely true. You could take a shit idea and make it a fun read, if you tool around with it enough. Think of it like an old TV set with a bunny-ear antenna–keep making adjustments until you see what you want. You might get something out of Behind “The Process”: Rewriting.

How do I know when my story is ready for its first readers?

Hopefully you’ve followed (or customized) the earlier info. After you rewrote it to the point you just can’t wait for someone to read it…

Editing.

Some people think it’s a chore, but I. Love. Editing. It’s fun. The hardest part is done. This is just cleanup.

How do you edit properly? Good question. Here’s the answer: Behind “The Process”: Just Kill Em Already (Editing). In short, be brutal. Take out every little thing that doesn’t absolutely, 100% need to be there. There’s a lot to be said for economy of words.

What’s the most overlooked writing tip?

This is easy. Absolute no-brainer. The post, Behind “The Process” Quickie: The most underrated writing tip of all time!, is so short I’m not giving you a teaser. Sorry.

I want to show my writing, but I’m too shy

OK. I realize that isn’t a question, but it deserves to be addressed. For every story you’ve seen on a bookshelf, there are millions that have never seen the light of day.

Behind “The Process”: Don’t Be Shy outlines a few things to keep in mind when getting ready to share something for the first time.

  1. You won’t write something that everyone loves, but you won’t write something that everyone hates either.
    • Not every every story is universally loved. Don’t be offended if someone says, It’s not for me.
  2. If you come across a reader who is mean about your work, they’re probably just an A-hole. Move on.
    • This rarely happens if you’re sharing with people you know. But if you put something online, remember that hurt-people hurt people. Don’t give time or attention to unconstructive feedback.
  3. Check your ego at the door when you ask for feedback.
    • Honest readers will always tell you where something could be improved, wasn’t clear, or whatever. And even the heavyweights still get and use feedback. Don’t be upset if someone doesn’t see it as a masterpiece, use their critiques to make it better!

Parting Advice

Study the craft. Read books about writing, written by people you admire. Get on YouTube and watch author interviews. I put this little thing together: Classic Author Interviews: Christopher Tallon’s All-Time Favorites.

Most importantly, keep writing as much as you can. Keep at your WIP (work in progress), write blogs, write for the fun of writing with no expectation once in awhile.

Keep writing. Keep having fun!

Nothin but love, y’all!

-CT

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Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? High five!

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Why EVERYONE Should Write By Hand

Writing by hand is the best, dare I say, ONLY way to write!
Photo by Kat Stokes

I wrote a post once in which I briefly describe–at least for my first draft–my preference for writing by hand over typing. Over and over again, “try writing by hand” is my go to advice for people. It’s kinda my cure-all.

I have writer’s block.

Try writing by hand.

I’m not sure how to end my story.

Write by hand, either making notes, or writing out that part of the story.

I don’t feel good.

Write about it. By hand.

What Makes Writing by Hand So Special?

An article from Mental Floss lists 4 reasons:

  1. It’s better for learning. One of the most effective ways to study and retain new information is to rewrite your notes by hand.
  2. It makes you a better writer.
  3. It will prevent you from being distracted.
  4. It keeps your brain sharp as you get older.

But this is just a starter list. The truth is, writing by hand engages the brain in a way that typing on a computer simply can’t.

Affects of Writing by Hand on the Brain

An article in Psychology Today tells us, “The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during handwriting, but not during typing.” In other words, reading activates the same part of your brain as writing–but not typing.

Also, when you type, your computer likely underlines things in blue and red, letting you know you should change them. Then you start thinking too much about mechanics, and your style fades.

This came from an article in Forbes: “According to a study performed at the Indiana University, the mere action of writing by hand unleashes creativity not easily accessed in any other way. And high-tech magnetic resonance imaging has indeed shown that low-tech writing by hand increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, much like meditation.” It went on to say, “Mindful writing rests the brain, potentially sparking creativity….”

But writing by hand is even more magical than I realized. (And I thought it was pretty damn awesome already.)

Writing by Hand Is Good for Your Mental Health

I was upset the other day. Like, having an imaginary argument out loud, letting out all the mean shit I was thinking. Then I decided to write about it, journal style. What I found was that by the third sentence, my thinking had become clear, the ridiculousness of how angry I was had become clear, and before I even finished the first paragraph, I wasn’t mad anymore. (But I had a good idea for a blog post…)

An article from the University of Rochester Medical School website says that journaling can help “manage anxiety, reduce stress, [and] cope with depression” by “helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns; tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them; [and] providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.”

An article from Cambridge University says that writing, over time, may even improve immune function.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing! Not sure how? See if these help:

How to Start Journaling for Better Mental Health

Discover 8 Journaling Techniques for Better Mental Health

How To Start and Write a Journal

Eight Suggestions for New Journal Writers

That’s it. That’s all I got. Catch ya next time. Take care!

-CT

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Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? High five!

FaceBook | Instagram | Twitter | Website | Podcast