Learning How to Deal with Rejection

You’re Not Alone

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers have a hard time dealing with criticism – constructive or otherwise. After all, our written words are our babies, and how dare anyone criticize or edit them! Right? Wrong. That is a beginner’s belief (and, of course, you may be a beginner). When you can ask for, receive, and apply constructive feedback, you have made the first huge leap to successful writing.

One of the best ways to do this is to join a writing club. There are dozens of them, but two of the best are writing.com (larger) and mywritersgroup.com (smaller). You can publish your stories on the site and let other writers read and rate them. Then it’s your turn to visit their port, read, and rate their articles.

Will anyone hurt your feelings? Probably. But what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And if anyone gets downright nasty with you, report him or her to the site’s headmaster. Rude critiques are never welcome on either of these sites, but once in a while it happens.

For example, many years ago I had one story that consistently drew a five star rating, but one day a woman rated it one star and wrote this message: “If you really want to be a good writer, you need to read good authors so you’ll know what good writing is. I rated your story one star only because I couldn’t rate it one-half star, but I admit I only read the first paragraph.”

I felt like a wooly worm, squished by a dump truck full of manure. I didn’t know I should have turned her in, so I licked my wounds and stayed quiet, but a supervisor happened by my site and saw the message. She told the headmaster, who wrote to the woman and banned her from ever reviewing anyone again. As for me, the damage was done. I didn’t accept another critique for a year, but I learned two things.

1 – Pay no attention to rude people with swollen heads.

2 – Write snappy first paragraphs!

A year later I received another critique which read, “I hope you’ll receive this critique in the spirit in which it is given as I only want to help you.” My defenses dropped like a rock. The point is – criticism can seriously wound a new writer – and genuine help can heal a wounded writer. To this day, I accept 95% of all critiques. At first I did it as an experiment, but when my ratings soared, I did it because I knew I was learning.

Dealing with rejection is a part of every writer’s life. Learn who to share your work with. Don’t let family members or friends (who are not published writers) read your work. They don’t know what they’re talking about and they’ll run over you rough shod. It’s much easier to learn from strangers.

When you try to sell your work, you’ll receive rejection slips. Keep them. I know one woman who made a collage out of hers and saved the middle space on her wall for her first acceptance slip.

Rejection is a continual learning process. Ultimately, you will either grow a thick hide or get out of the writing business.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website: www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

Choosing the Right Writing Course

Course Selection Advice

by Deborah Owen

Writing is a quickly learned skill for those who approach it properly. Within a year or two, most writing students are ready to charge into the future fully prepared.

But which writing courses should you choose and where should you begin? Take it from one who has tried all the shortcuts and found none – you’ll save yourself time and grief if you start at the beginning. This is an investment, and you’re worth the time and money it takes to reach your goal.

The writing course you should choose does not depend on what talents you have, what experience you have, what education you have, but on your level of knowledge and your goals. The chances are good that you already have some foundation, but you probably have holes in it. That is to say, you will know some things, and not others. In such a case, determine your lowest point, or “hole,” if you will, and begin there.

If you have problems with punctuation, start with a Basic Punctuation Review class. You’ll learn when and how to use proper punctuation, as well as some of the most common rules in grammar. This is an excellent refresher course for older students.

Dynamic Nonfiction is the base class that will provide you with the best writing foundation. It will teach you how to write for magazines and newspapers, develop creative thinking, develop articles, and cite properly with MLA and APA. Even if you hate nonfiction, this course is valuable beyond your wildest dreams. The values of learning nonfiction:

  • This genre is the easiest to break into
  • It is the easiest to write
  • It pays the most
  • Has the least amount of rules
  • It writes more quickly
  • 95% of all writers break into publication with nonfiction

Creative Writing 101 builds directly on Dynamic Nonfiction. Think of this class as the framework for a house. It teaches basic structure, foundational writing rules, and how to avoid pitfalls. It’s a great class for those who are interested in cross-writing (that is, writing for more than one genre instead of finding a niche and staying in it). This is the only course that includes both fiction and nonfiction, and thus provides you with the opportunity to try both.

Short Story Safari builds on the Creative Writing 101 class. This course will put the roof on your house. It will teach you methods, techniques, tips and tricks of the trade, Show, Don’t Tell, and much more. You should know the rules of English, have good sentence structure, and practice the basic rules of writing before you attempt this course.

If you like to write children’s stories, you would love Writing for Children, but this is an intermediate class. Writing for children is no easier than writing for teens or adults. It can, in fact, be harder, so be sure you have a good foundation before attempting this class. Be prepared with proper English and the basic rules of writing.

If you are into fantasy writing, you will love Fantasy World. Have you wondered how to invent those far away places you see in your mind? This is the class for you. It is an intermediate class, so be sure you get your foundational courses first.

If you are an advanced student, Wordsmithing is the class for you. There you will learn writing skills that no other class teaches. This class will explain how other authors can string words together in an artistic style. It will teach you to recognize things like assonance, consonance, asyndeton, and many more little known techniques so you can apply it to your own writing. This is the final stop on how to jazz and edit your writing with snappy styles and techniques. Wordsmithing is a unique class because you can take it at the beginning of your career, or the end. For me, it was the technique that put me over the top.

If you’re unsure whether you need a certain class to advance to a higher level of learning, the chances are, you DO. Your subconscious is telling you that your foundation isn’t complete. Don’t challenge yourself with more advanced classes. You need all the rules of writing in order to succeed. Skipping ahead usually means having to return to a lower class at a later time to pick up on what you missed.

When you have your foundation and pass through the various stages in order, the advanced classes will blend and mesh all your learning experiences into one vision. I can’t reiterate this strongly enough – get your foundation first. Start at the bottom and learn every single rule. You’ll save yourself grief in the future.

If you liked this article, be sure to follow our blog here on WordPress! You can also find links for our Facebook and Twitter pages at our website: www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

How to Find Work as a Reporter

Reporting is Tough Business

by Deborah Owen

Do you want to be a reporter? It’s a great way to break into print, and jobs aren’t that hard to find.

Writers seem to think finding a job as a reporter is hard. Granted, that may be true in some parts of the country, but such jobs are more abundant than you realize. If you live in the city or suburbs, chances are good that there is an opportunity less than 20 miles from home.

Getting work as a reporter is all about understanding the kinds of stories local newspapers print. When people hear the word “reporter”, they picture someone trotting in and out of a major news conglomerate, spilling the beans on an adulterous President, unveiling “Watergate”, or changing into Superman in a phone booth. Unfortunately, reporting is not always a glorious job. A reporter is defined as “a person who investigates and reports or edits news stories”, and more often than not, this is very hard work.

Reporting Opportunities

Fortunately, almost every local newspaper is hard up to find a sports reporter, and/or someone to cover PTA or political meetings, as they pertain to local government. If, by chance, there are no openings in these areas, there is also the possibility of covering traffic accidents or reporting odd news.

For example, I once saw a man skiing in the middle of a western town. What made this a newsworthy event was that his skis had wheels on them – and he was skiing on dry pavement. On another occasion I saw a broken fence, bulldozer tracks across a yard, and road equipment sitting in front of someone’s bedroom window. It turned out to be a theft of the government’s road equipment. On a third occasion, I watched a sheriff’s car flip upside down as it tried to round a corner too fast. Stories are all around you.

Apart from odd news, another great source for local newspaper articles is unusual hobbies and crafts. While on vacation in the Rocky Mountains, I saw awesome statues that were made out of iron and wood. I was fascinated by the idea of a sculptor living in the boonies selling intricate merchandise to tourists in his spare time. I knew readers would be interested, too.

Always Be Prepared

As these examples show, one important point to keep in mind is that most reporting opportunities are unexpected. Always keep a notepad, pen, camera, and tape recorder with you in case you encounter a great story. Many stories are time sensitive and you will be required to write and submit your article by early the next morning.

If you are looking to have your stories printed on the front page, increase your chances by submitting a picture with your article. Call the newspaper ahead of time and ask them how they want pictures submitted. Digital pictures taken on a 35 mm camera are usually acceptable and the newspaper should pay you at least $5 per picture. An article usually pays about $10. No, you won’t get rich, but it’s a good way to break into print.

While finding a reporter’s job isn’t that hard, remember that the key to success lies in good research and timely reporting.

Feel free head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and learn more about us. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook from our site or in the sidebar!

16 Golden Rules of Creative Story Writing

Storytelling at its Finest

by Deborah Owen

Stories will differ in message, content, and characters, but each one must have more than theme, plot, and dialogue to be complete. Check your stories to ensure they contain the following 16 elements:

  • Theme – This is the thread that runs seamlessly from beginning to end telling the underlying morals of the story. For instance, Gone With the Wind is not about romance and war. It is about control, manipulation, and weak character.
  • Plot – Usually encased in the central climax scene, or possibly in a series of events.
  • Arcing – The gradual increase of momentum and interest that builds at the beginning, reaches a fever pitch in the middle, and declines into the resolutions of story conflicts at the end. Does your arc come too soon? Too late?
  • Pacing – Some stories move fast and some slow, but all of them move at some rate of speed. Use pacing to make them a combination of fast and slow according to the scenes. High climax scenes move fast.
  • Outline – Whether you do it mentally or by proper analysis, most writers will profit by some form of outlining. Knowing where your story is going will save on rewrites and editing.
  • Resolution – Have you ever watched a TV show and watched the story end, only to say, “But what happened to… ?” Be sure to tie up every loose end.
  • Hook – If you don’t have a hook in the first or second paragraph, you won’t have a reader to worry about entertaining!
  • Point of View – Which will you use? Right now, stories written in third person limited are the best sellers.
  • Story Essence – Every story has characters, theme, plot, and resolution. What makes your story different? Answer: The details.
  • Dialogue – The trick is to make it sound natural. Use contractions, poor English, and half sentences. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue.
  • Characterization – Every character must bear their own bag and baggage of physical descriptions, emotional hoopla, and psychological concoctions. This is what makes a character 3D. Make a list of the 50 characteristics of your two main characters.
  • Research – Absolutely essential! Sometimes it may only define how insane a person can be, how irresponsible parents are, or how careless children can become – but it’s still research.
  • Timeline – Are your scenes out of order? Does your flashback convey the reader back and forth in the proper way? While some authors may dwell on the same scene for a whole chapter, others will skip years in a single sentence. Make your timeline clear.
  • Setting – Your reader is landing in a new story. Let him know where he is. Hint: All stories use settings, but elite writers use imagery – settings that are mixed with one of the five senses. For example: The smell of salt in the air.
  • Verbiage – Believe it or not, you can delete 300-500 words out of every 2,500. Fall out of love with your work. Delete favorite phrases. Slash words that end in ­–ly. What remains will be solid meat.
  • Show, Don’t Tell – Every story must use some “telling,” but hold the narration down and show the scenes instead of telling them. One good way to do this is with dialogue. Here is an example that displays the difference between showing and telling.

Telling: “Mrs. Adams walked into the classroom with bloodshot eyes, visibly upset.”

Showing: “Mrs. Adams stormed into the classroom and slammed her books on the desk. Without looking at the class, she picked up the chalk and began writing on the blackboard. Her shoulders started to shake and she let out a sob.”

See the difference? In the first, you’re thinking for the reader. In the second one, you’re painting a picture and allowing the reader to think for him/herself. That’s the difference between showing and telling. General rule of thumb: never narrate emotions; always show them.

If you include all of these things in your story and it still doesn’t sell, either you need more help in some of these areas, or your sentence structure isn’t up to par. Best of luck!

And as always, be sure to check out www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into one of our fantastic creative writing courses!

Basic Story Structure

Story Structure 101

by Deborah Owen

All creative writers are bound to an invisible law of journalism. From the beginning of time, the same structure has been used. All of the great writers use it. But after this lesson, you will see that story structure is far more than the initial breakdown:

  • Exposition – the beginning, what the story is about
  • Conflict –  man vs. man, man vs. nature, or man vs. internal conflict
  • Climax
  • Resolution

If you google “story structure,” you will find many variations. You might find plot, conflict, conclusion – or theme, climax, and conclusion. No matter how you word it, the basic answer is the same. Without any one of these elements, the story will flounder.

But you must expound on the following things, no matter what kind of story you are writing:

  • Point of View (POV)
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Writing style
  • Genre

If you want to transfer your reader from their sofa or chair to the scene in your mind, you must use settings. This can be anything from an open window with a curtain blowing in the breeze to a murder scene in progress. The best idea is to open midway through an action scene. This will grab your audience quicker and keep them longer, as they read to find the outcome.

There is a difference between plot and theme. Plot is the event (or series of events) that occurs in the story. Plot is the central heart of what the story is about. Theme, on the other hand, is the underlying motivation that drives the story.

The open window with the curtains blowing in the breeze is part of a setting, which in turn is part of the larger picture, the plot. Every time there is an event in the story, you must ask yourself these questions: “Why is the window open? How did the window get opened? Obviously, someone opened it. But why?” These questions move you into the theme of the story. Always ask yourself, who, what, when, where, why and how. The answer to these questions is the theme that drives the story, the underlying motivation of the story – if you will, the reason why the story is there.

Point of view is how the reader sees the story. If you tell it in first person point of view (I went to the store…), the reader will see the story through your eyes. If you tell it in third person point of view, (he went to the store…), the reader will see the story through the character’s eyes. New writers usually like to write in first person, but the majority of editors are now mostly buying third person. This new trend makes a huge difference in choosing your POV.

A few brief words on some of the above: Characterization – make your characters real to the reader by concentrating on descriptions, attitudes, failures, and quirks. Dialogue – it’s okay to use accents, but preferably not on the main character. And for settings – use anything that describes where a person is, or will be in conjunction to plot or theme.

Have anything you need a little more clarification on? Don’t be shy–let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to stop by www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and sign up for some of outr awesome creative writing courses!

Novel Writing Isn’t for Beginners

Some Novel Advice

by Deborah Owen

There’s no use in attacking me. I already have 100 beginners beating on my door. By the time you arrive, there’ll be nothing left but a greasy smear and a bloody pair of shoes – but you could extend your sympathies to my husband.

Like most writers, I thought I could write a book without taking so much as one writing class. It took ten years, but I did it. When I had finished it occurred to me that I had no idea how to market it –- and what were those things called query letters and cover letters? Where did they fit into the picture? Thus, I began to see my ignorance.

I shared this story with a 15-year-old who responded, “Just because you couldn’t make it, doesn’t mean I can’t.” That little gal has a lot to learn, and like me, she’ll learn it the hard way.

If you can be the first person to successfully write and sell a novel without learning a thing about writing, please let me know. I’ll buy a copy and send you a medal.

Does a kindergartner toddle down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance and start high school that fall? Would you hire a mechanic who has never worked on a car? Would you go to a doctor who has never attended medical school? Would you hire a plumber to fix your sink if he didn’t know one size wrench from the other?

Thank goodness there are some areas of life that don’t require profound expertise. Writing a novel just isn’t one of them. Most writers break into the field by writing articles and move up to short story writing. Later, they may try novel writing, but one thing is sure, the odds of writing and selling a book without previous training are almost nil.

Why People Write a Book

Most authors write a book because they have a story to tell, knowledge to impart, or they want to help others, but the brutal, searing fact of life is this: total strangers don’t care about you or your life unless it can be of practical value to them.

But let’s suppose that you’re still not convinced and are determined to write that book without committing yourself to a writing education.

See How You Fare on This Quiz

  • What is a hook and how do you make it? (Hint: we aren’t talking about fly-fishing.)
  • How do you build a 3D character?
  • What are 2D characters?
  • How many words are in the average line? Average paragraph?
  • What is a theme and how do you demonstrate it?
  • What is a plot and how do you structure it?
  • What is the acceptable percentage of passive sentences?
  • What is the difference between active and passive voice?
  • What are warts?
  • What are red herrings?
  • What is verbiage?
  • What are polysyndeton, asyndeton, onomatopoeia, epistrophe, and anaphora?
  • What are parallel sentences?
  • What is an arc and where should it fall?
  • What are resolutions?
  • Name three methods of discovery.
  • When should you not send a query letter?
  • What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter?
  • How do you analyze a magazine?
  • How many chapters does a publishing company usually request?
  • Can you properly craft and sell a 2,000-word short story?

If you don’t know all of this and a whole lot more, you’re wasting your time writing a book, unless you do so for genealogy purposes or as a hobby.

Maybe you’re wondering where to learn these things and how long it will take. Start with the three basic writing courses in this order: Dynamic Nonfiction (whether you like to write it or not), Creative Writing 101 (or Mechanics of Grammar), and Short Story Safari. Each course will take about eight weeks. Although it takes years to become a seasoned writer, you can be selling nonfiction within two months. It’s a beginning.

Some folks might also need a Punctuation Review course, but punctuation is covered in all classes to some degree, so you might not need it. But if for some reason you can’t take these courses, read every article you can find on writing and take notes! Subscribe to The Writer Magazine, which (in my opinion) is the best writing magazine on the market. Find experienced writers and ask questions.

Join writing groups. I like Writing.com. They have a five-star rating system where you can rate each other’s work. Before you join any writing group, determine that you will accept 95% of the suggestions you receive, and won’t wear your feelings on your sleeve.

This is good, sensible advice and it will save you years of needless labor, but make no doubt about it, learning to write is very much like learning to play the piano. It takes years to become a professional. Why not start today?

If you’ve attempted to write a novel, what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to swing by  www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into our creative writing courses!