Monthly Archives: April 2018

Websites All Writers Should Check Out

We all love to waste time on the internet, right?  Here are a few websites I’ve found helpful when I’m in the process of writing.

Idioms.thefreedictionary.com – For a little bit of fun, go play with some idioms!  This site is great for titles, especially of cozy mysteries.

Mithrilandmages.com – This site has name generators for characters, places, and settings even if you aren’t writing fantasy.  

Wordthink.com – improve your vocabulary.  Challenge yourself to use the word of the day in your writing (but don’t do it if it will compromise the quality of the piece).

Wincalendar.com  – This is a great source of templates!  I most often use the monthly calendars to keep track of my social media scheduling, but it’s also helpful for freelance work deadlines and tracking your word count per day.

TED – Like a more sophisticated YouTube, there is nothing more inspiring!  Explore videos on numerous topics, including art, science, society, and everything in between.  I had an online college class that required watching TED videos, and I never minded doing my homework!

Thesaurus.com – There are experts who say you shouldn’t use a thesaurus, but I say they’re wrong.  It’s incredibly annoying to see the same word used over and over again, and that’s difficult to avoid depending on your subject matter.  You might also find a word that’s more suitable for your piece.

Sometimes it’s okay to waste a little time on the internet, especially when it’s inspiring or helpful!  What websites help you?  Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

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Prewriting: An Important Step You Shouldn’t Skip

For a very long time, I felt it was a waste of time to do anything other than sit down and write the story.  Writing time is precious.  We all know that.  So why bother with anything else?

Prewriting is pretty much just preparing yourself for the work you have ahead.  It doesn’t have to be painful when you realize that it will make the writing itself so much easier.  You don’t have to stop and decide where your characters are going to meet for lunch or wonder if you got the color of Billy’s car correct.  You won’t be interrupting your writing time by searching the internet for the perfect house for your main character.  So just how do you perform this miracle, anyway?

Character Profiles – If there’s anything I hate, it’s getting halfway through a story and forgetting what color a character’s eyes are.  Cue the character profile!  You can find templates for these all over the internet, but I often just make my own as I go.  You need to know what your character looks like, any quirks they might have, what they do for a living, or how they might act in certain situations.  Personally, I like to put a picture in my character profile so there’s never any question what they look like.

Plotting – This section is not for the pantsers out there!  I find great benefit in writing out my plot.  I like to know where I’m heading and how I’m going to get there.  That’s not to say that things never change as I’m writing.  My characters have been known to do what they want occasionally, but I don’t like to feel stuck partway through the story.

Settings – Where is your story taking place?  Is there a quaint café in a small town?  Or a biker bar with vintage beer signs?  Having a sense of setting is important to making a story seem real, and this can be even more important if you’re working in science fiction or fantasy.  Make drawings or look up pictures that ring true to the story you’re telling.  If the book takes place in the town you live in or grew up in, don’t just assume you know it the same way that someone who had never been there would.  Go out and find the little details that make the story real.

I know there are plenty of people out there who still aren’t interested in prewriting.  That’s okay, and you should do whatever works for you.  But I find that when I’ve done my homework, I can crank out 2,000 words in less than an hour.  That’s all the proof I need.  I never really understood the importance of prewriting until college, but I wish I had discovered it much sooner.

How do you write?  Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

 

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Quixotic Undertakings or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write Nonfiction – Guest Post by Jennifer Kelly

by Jennifer Kelly

About five years ago, I was ready for a career change. I taught college writing classes, preparing students for both writing in college and for writing in the workplace, but, after more than a decade, though, I was ready to concentrate on my own writing career. That was when I decided to write my forthcoming book, my first attempt at nonfiction. After earning two degrees in English and years of teaching writing, I thought I had the right qualifications for that kind of project: I had conducted research, I had written many pages as both an instructor and a student, and I was a fan of the subject I had chosen. Surely, this would be easy, right?

Boy was I wrong!

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

At this point, outside of my academics, my writing had been focused on fiction. I had written a novel in middle school and had a long list of potential projects, but I needed something I could jumpstart this career with. The project that appeared to have the most potential was a book on America’s first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. When I started in 2013, the 100th anniversary of his accomplishment was right around the corner – 2019 – so I had time to research and write, but I knew I could not take the whole six years to get it all done.

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Now, nearly five years later, the book is on schedule for a spring 2019 release from the University Press of Kentucky. With the manuscript done, I enter the final phase of the process where I contemplate revisions, marketing, and my future plans for both sides of my career, fiction and nonfiction. Here is what I learned about writing nonfiction after a lifetime of academic and fiction writing:

  • Academic background helps, but is not necessary – Though much of my academic writing technically was nonfiction, I did not have as much experience with the storytelling side of the genre. I was able to use my previous experience to conduct the research and to plan out the writing process for this type of book. However, you need not be an academic to learn and grow those skills. These can be picked up in other ways, such as writing for other publications in your field and researching the techniques of writing nonfiction.
  • You can be creative, just not in the same way – While all of the information I presented came from sources like newspaper articles and books, I still had leeway in how I wrote about the events in Sir Barton’s career. Nonfiction does not have to mean dry; while I must be objective, the language I use or the way I craft the timeline allows me to tell the story of this life in a way that is as engrossing as fiction can be.
  • Plan, plan, and plan – I know writers who use outlines in crafting their stories and others who might write in chunks they later weave together. For nonfiction, like the research papers you wrote as a student, you need a plan. Start with something simple and then layer in more information as necessary, but a plan is a must, especially if research is a big component of your project. Plan your research, your writing, and your search for an agent and a publisher.
  • Document your research and use tools to make citations easier – The two tasks that took the most time were not the actual writing, but the research and its accompanying documentation. Not only did I plan time to research, but I also kept tabs on the search terms, the libraries and other organizations I had searched, and the people I contacted. I also needed to be meticulous in keeping track of my sources; often, a paragraph might use five more sources and I needed to make sure that each one had its proper attribution. This can get unwieldy and complicated, especially as I had to create citations for each source.

One tool that can simplify that task is the citation generator that many word processors come with now. You can select your preferred citation style and then use the generator to create each citation; if you need to switch styles mid-project, your word processor can help you with that too. This tool can save so much time and grief! Even if you are using a limited number of sources, keep track of what you use to save you a step at the end.

  • Write a book proposal and query agents BEFORE you finish writing – I went to a writers’ workshop where I discovered that I need not finish the book before I started looking for an agent and a publisher. For that, I needed a book proposal and a list of possible agents. I crafted my book proposal and query letter and then searched for potential agents. By the time I finished my third draft, I had a publisher and a deadline in place.

Research your field. What companies publish books in your area of interest? What agents look for projects like yours? What should your book proposal include? Start querying while you are writing and you might find the right agent and publisher before you have typed that last word.

There you have it: a bit of what I learned writing my forthcoming book. If you want to hear more, I am happy to share my perspective on this process. My journey into writing Sir Barton’s story might have felt quixotic at times; nevertheless I found that I had the right stuff to finish it as time went on. Good luck on your writing journey!

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Jennifer Kelly’s first book Sir Barton: Conqueror of the Classics (tentative title) will be out in spring 2019 from the University Press of Kentucky. See more from Jennifer on the companion blog The Sir Barton Project (www.thesirbartonproject.com) and follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jenniferkellywrites/

Interested in writing a guest post for my blog?  Contact me!

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5 Things You Need to Do Before Hiring a Ghostwriter

So you’ve got a great story in mind, but maybe you aren’t much of a writer.  Or maybe you just don’t have the time to get it done.  For whatever reason, you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter.  Congratulations!

When I started freelancing full time, I never expected the vast majority of my work to be ghostwriting.  I’ve done many different kinds of work, but my calendar these days is chock-full of stories to write for others.  I love doing it, and I feel that it only enhances my craft, but along the way I’ve noticed a few things that would make things go a little more smoothly.  While there’s a lot you can do to prepare for the ghostwriting process, here are my top 5.

Know What You Want – If you know there are certain plot points or scenes that you want in your story, then you need to tell the ghostwriter up front.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to do a story, only to have the client come back and say, “Oh, but I wanted my character to do this.”  Sometimes it’s more difficult to go back and rework a scene than to just write it correctly in the first place.  You can’t expect Burger King to make your chicken sandwich with extra bacon if you don’t tell them that’s what you want.  Give yourself some time with your story so that you understand everything from the tone to the color of your main character’s shirt before you hire someone to write it.

Understand Stylistic Differences – The writing world is not an objective one.  While there are several standby rules that most people follow, everyone has different stylistic preferences.  Your ghostwriter might have a different style of writing than what you’re looking for, and you should ask for samples so you know what kind of work he or she does.  If possible, send over examples that show what you like.  This goes back to telling your writer what you want, but it’s something that spans the entire story.

Edits Aren’t Free – Well, they might be up to a certain point.  Establish a contract with your ghostwriter that outlines how many times they will go back over a given piece of work before charging more.  It takes time and effort to redo something, and you can’t expect a writer to do this for free simply because you’ve changed your mind.

Know What You’re Doing – Ok, I know this is turning into a bit of a rant.  The truth is that I’m very grateful for my ghostwriting clients, but this is one of my pet peeves.  If you don’t know how to construct sentences correctly or the proper way to use punctuation, then don’t criticize the way your writer does things.  I’ve had a client “edit” the work I sent in, only to add numerous comma splices and unnecessary phrasing.  It’s obnoxious.  Really.

Be Honest – If your ghostwriter is doing things that you genuinely don’t like, tell them as soon as possible!  Don’t slog along through an entire novel and wait until the end to ask them to change things.  With that in mind, I always think it’s a good idea to split a large piece into several sections so that you can provide feedback to your ghostwriter along the way.

The big idea here is to make sure you’re really ready and that you’ve thought about all aspects of your story before getting started.  Good luck!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

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Tiny Tips for Crushing Your Writing Goals

If you’re looking for writing tips, then you’ve probably heard all about having a dedicated space for writing and establishing a routine.  While there’s nothing wrong with these ideas (in fact, I’ve found them rather useful myself) I’ve realized over the years that there are some very small things I do that make a big difference.  These things are so small that they might not seem significant, but I’ve found that they’ve made a huge difference in my productivity.

Auto-Save Features:  I’ve always been a big fan of Microsoft, and I was thrilled when Office got an auto-save upgrade.  Every time I start typing, Word is backing me up.  I did a decent job of saving my work on a regular basis, but if you’ve ever lost an amazing paragraph that you could never make right again, then you know where I’m coming from.  This feature is becoming pretty common on word processors, so use it.  Automatic cloud-based backup is also essential.

Timers:  I used to sit down at my computer and feel as though I needed to force my way through several hours of writing before I deserved a break.  I could do it, but it left me feeling burnt out.  My body was stiff from sitting still so long, and I was constantly looking for reasons to avoid my work.

I’ve found, however, that it’s much more effective for me to get up and away from the computer regularly.  I set a timer on my computer for an hour (and I really try not to look at it), after which I get up and move around for ten minutes.  Do whatever works for you during those ten minutes:  clean the bathroom, take your bearded dragon for a walk, or see how many sit-ups you can do.  Just get away from your desk and move your body.  It’ll keep you from getting stiff and sore, and I find that it refreshes my mind and lets me come back to my work with more enthusiasm.

Time for walkies!

Good Health:  I know, it doesn’t seem like it should have much to do with writing.  And there’s no doubt that some great writing can come from going through very debilitating situations.  But overall, I’ve found that the better care I take of myself, the more energy I have.  That makes it easier to get the creative juices flowing without falling asleep at my keyboard.  Take your vitamins, eat right, and don’t OD on coffee just because you’re a writer.

Background Noise:  Something can be said for silence, but I really prefer to have some music going when I write.  Since I don’t like anything with lyrics, I go for soundtrack-style stuff.  On Pandora, I like the Blue Man Group and Audiomachine.  YouTube also has some great stuff, and you can check out my playlist here.  It’s even more effective with headphones to better drown out the chaos around you.

What little things do you do that help your writing?  I’d love to hear about them!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

 

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