Monday, December 18, 2017

How to Maintain Your Writing Sanity During the Holidays

With the holidays coming up, many writers begin to stress. Here are a few tips for surviving without losing your sanity:

Pay attention to details and people. You’ll probably be around a lot of people and maybe in some new locations. Take advantage of it. Jot down notes about what you see and what people say.

Let family know you need a small block of time to write. If you let everyone know you need thirty minutes first thing in the morning or a little time before dinner, you’re more likely to get that slot of time to actually write. You can call it a little personal time or treat it as a business and say you have to do a little work.

Use down time and travel time well. Maybe you’re visiting the West Coast from the East Coast - and your body still wants to wake up early. Use that time to write. Or perhaps you are traveling in a car or by plane. Don some headphones and tune out the world around you to write.

Set a routine but be flexible. A designated time to write will prompt you to do so. But maybe one evening during your scheduled writing time, the family wants to go out and look at Christmas lights. It’s okay - write later or the next day.

Don’t expect too much of yourself. Yes, we just came off a productive NaNoWriMo month. But the holidays are about spending time with people and celebrations. Don’t expect a NaNo pace unless you’re having a really tiny Christmas and a lot of time off. Ease back and relax a little.

Know you don’t have to do it all. There will be parties and gatherings and family - you don’t have to attend everything. Also know there will be days that you might not get to write. Again, that’s okay. Maybe the holidays should be a break from writing.

The holidays should be joyous. Don’t let your family or a lack of writing keep you from enjoying it.

We'd like to welcome our newest member to the IWSG Admin Team - Tyrean Martinson.
Tyrean will be running our IWSG Instagram account.

The IWSG Admins would like to wish you happy holidays. We will see you again on January 3rd for IWSG post day when we announce the winners of the 2017 IWSG Anthology Contest.

In the meantime, we invite you to visit some of our most popular posts this week and thank you for helping us become a Writer’s Digest 101 Best Website for Writers.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Writing About Emotional Trauma Without Triggering Readers

Trigger warnings are often debated in the writing world. Some opine that readers should be warned if something potentially harmful is included in a book, and others feel the audience shouldn’t be bubble-wrapped and need to chin up if they want to read fiction. Like most things, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. 

It can be easy to scoff away the idea of “being triggered” if one has never experienced damaging trauma, or if they have, they were able to process it in a healthy way.  The reality is that dealing with emotional trauma is 100% personal. Even people experiencing the exact same event will cope with it differently based on their personality, age, support system, past experiences, education, and a host of other factors. So, assuming everyone should react the same way is ill-informed. 

Where does this leave us, the authors? Ironically, in the same place had the trigger debate never occurred: we do our best to respect our readers, and use good judgement as we write. 

No matter how dark and gritty our fiction is, we should never be gratuitous, meaning we should only show what we need to, not more. Genres will vary, but even if writing a torture scene, there’s no need to slap every scream, sensation, and sweat drop onto the page. Overdone description will kill the pace and the impact will be lost under a wall of sensory words. Just like any other scene, our description should be balanced, pulling readers in without overwhelming them. 

Here are a few ideas on how to handle potentially triggering content. 

Use Symbolism and Mood to Seed Hints

The back jacket copy should indicate some of what will unfold in the story and perhaps even allude to trauma your character experienced in the past. But, you will still need to show a scene (or several), that portray these wounding experiences. If you are worried about triggering, then don’t have this event slam into the reader out of nowhere. Lay a few clues so they can put emotional safeguards up if they need to. 

Mood, for example, is an excellent way to steer reader emotion. Weather, light and shadow, and universal symbolism can all help you nudge the reader toward the dark content about to be shown.  Personal symbolism tied to the POV character can also lay the groundwork that something hurtful may be about to unfold: a sound, a smell, an object, a texture, a place that has specific meaning for the character. Including something that triggers their memory can help foreshadow something uncomfortable may be coming.

For example, if your character is about to be assaulted behind the restaurant where she works, take a moment to show her reluctance to take the garbage out. Maybe it’s because of the lack of alley lighting, or a memory surfaces of being surprised by a ranting homeless man who was digging in the trash another time she performed this chore.  You could have her ease the door open and try and listen for hidden noises before venturing out to the bin. Or have an unpleasant odor hit her as she enters the dark. Symbolism and mood not only increase tension, they can give a subtle heads up that something significant is about to happen. 

Vary Your Narrative Distance

Deep POV is all the rage these days, but there are times when we shouldn’t use it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that emotionally difficult scenes should be reported rather than experienced from within the character’s shoes. I’m suggesting that you can pull readers in using deep POV to feel the intimate sensations and horror of the moment for a while and then zoom out to give them a break. A bit of filtering language (she thought, she smelled, he reached, he felt, it seemed, etc.) can achieve this as it adds distance. Or you could occasionally choose to name an emotion rather than show it in depth (NOTE: be careful with these techniques—always have a reason for using them or it will come across as lazy writing).

Weave In Facts (Telling) To Give a Break From Showing

Show, Don’t Tell implies “all or nothing,” but really this rule is meant to convey that writers should knowing WHAT to show (and when), and WHAT to tell. Deeply emotional scenes work best when there’s a good mix of show AND tell. Breaking up painful emotion and sensory detail with a few factual statements creates a balance, and if you need it to, will slide in a touch of distance so readers aren’t overwhelmed. 

A good example of this is the Hunger Games, when Peeta and Katniss are on the Cornucopia as a fellow tribute is being torn apart by genetically engineered dogs. Susanne Collins doesn’t describe every gore spray and tear although she could have (the book states this goes on for over an hour, because of course the game makers are all about putting on a show). Describing such a horrific scene in full would be gratuitous and most would stop reading. As someone attacked by a dog as a child and dragged around in the snow, helpless, I know I would have. But Collins handled it well, using narrative distance, selective show and tell, and information to get the horror across without overdoing it. 

Only you can decide how close and personal you want to get with emotionally traumatic situations. It’s your story, your art. If you can justify to yourself what you need to show and why, you are respecting readers. It will feel authentic, not gratuitous, and they should respect your storytelling style in turn. 

How do you handle difficult scenes? Let me know in the comments!

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus, as well as five others (including The Emotional Wound Thesaurus). Her books are available in six languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an powerful online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

#IWSG 5 Year-End Questions for Writers

It's hard to believe this is the last IWSG post for the year. Today is the day when we share our insecurities, as well as encouragement with other writers. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month and encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Captain Alex will be ably assisted today on his rounds by 
 Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner!

The optional question for December is - As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

5 Year-End Questions for Writers

It's that time of year when many of us scribes are thinking about what's ahead for the New Year. If you're super organized, you would already have that in the bag, but some of us stragglers will still be working out what's critical and what's not for 2018.

Analyzing what has gone and what is to come is important for planning. It not only helps us to determine how much ground we've covered, but it's also helpful in trying to come up with a practical approach to what we want to achieve.  Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself as you plan for the coming year.

1.      What didn't you complete this year? Is there a chance you will finish before year end? If you don't, this task will likely be at the top of the following year's list.
2.      What things worked and didn't work for you this year? If you have one, did you get your newsletter out on time? How did you do on the social media platforms you frequent? Is it time to think about dropping any and focusing your efforts in one or two places?
3.      What do you hope to achieve in terms of writing and publishing? This is the fun part where you get to document in black and white what you will be writing and decide on deadlines.
4.      Is there any area or special skill set you're interested in that you could take the time to learn to enhance your personal development? This could be learning a new programme or researching a genre you may be interested in learning to write.
5.      In all of the figuring you do, don't forget your personal life. Do leave yourself some wiggle room to try some fun activity that's new to you or simply time to work on being a better you!

Have you decided on your writing and publication list for 2018? Do you know what shiny new thing you are going to attempt next year?