Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Good Fiction Takes Time

This morning, I was reading C. Hope Clark's newsletter, FundsforWriters, and a quote in her editorial really stood out:


"The exceptional author is exceptional in their pursuit of being exceptional. They dissect grammar, voraciously read and analyze the gifted writer, and aim for the best story. They do not settle. They die attempting to be better, even if they've already sold ten million copies. They hold real passion, the kind of passion a lot of people claim but do not fully understand."


I find it interesting that I come across this quote at a time when I had recently returned three story collections I chose to read. I returned these ebooks because the writing was bad. The stories were supposed to be scary but they were not even scary. At all. I know that fear is a subjective feeling – what is scary to one person will not be scary to another – but the author's first story in one book included necrophilia and not only was I grossed out but I had to wonder if the author threw that into the story just for shock value. Does that make a story scary? Well, in this case, it just made the story icky.


But, yes, the writing in a lot of the stories I read (though I did not get very far) was just bad.


Here are the common mistakes I came across in reading them:


1. Too much telling, not enough showing. Remember the rule, "show, don't tell"? It's a rule in writing for a reason. Don't just tell me the story, show me the story. Get me into the character's head!


2. Cardboard characters. In some of the stories, the characters were like machines, doing the author's bidding. There were no feelings, thoughts or emotions.


3. Too much mood, not enough action. Yes, mood is extremely important in horror fiction, but 19 pages of establishing the mood without anyone saying anything, or doing anything, was a bit much. I lost interest.


This experience made me wonder one thing: Did these authors just write the stories then publish them? (They were all available as free reads in Kindle Unlimited.) Did the authors decide that their first drafts were so good that they didn’t need any crits or editing?


Sadly, it would appear that this seems to be a trend. Because everyone is able to publish their writing now, a lot of writers are putting their first drafts out there and calling it “done.” No editing needed. No revision needed. No crits needed, either (though they are bound to get a crit or two in the review sections!).


I have been thinking about this a lot because I am currently revising my own collection of horror stories. This is the second collection of horror stories I am working on. And one thing I have noticed while I work on revising these stories is this: Good fiction takes time. You can’t rush the writing, editing or revising of a story. You have to really sit down with it and work on it at a slower pace. You need to reread scenes and really think about your stories. Read everything you can about how to write fiction and talk with other writers about the craft. Write your stories, let them rest, then go back to them later and give them another read.


But, ultimately, give yourself some time to fix up your fiction. If you want your story to be good and get some good reviews for it, if you WANT readers to read your entire ebook when you publish through Kindle Unlimited, then please take the time to edit it, get feedback on it and revise it. You will be doing yourself a huge favor.


An even better thing to do is have another person read it. Have another person edit it. Hire a professional editor. Believe me, this is money well-spent.


Please do not settle for less when you write fiction. If you want to write good fiction, please give yourself some time to write it. Give yourself time to make your work your very best. It is definitely time well-spent.


I have definitely seen how taking time with fiction – the writing of it, revision and editing – can make our stories even better than that first draft. There are many first drafts of stories I have written that at first seemed awesome when I wrote them, but when I read them months or even years later, they are repulsive and definitely need work. It’s important to put in the time required for that work. I don’t rush the revision or editing of my fiction – I know I must go over the work carefully – and because I don’t try to rush through it, I know at the end that my story is much better than that first draft. At least, I sure hope it is!


A writer of fiction would stand to benefit by taking time with their fiction. Give it the work that it needs to be the best story, and your best writing, that it has the potential to be. Don’t write a story and publish it then and there. Take time with your fiction and if you show that you can write good quality work, you’ll attract more readers who will want to read your next book.


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Monday, October 25, 2021

Can't Write? Live!

If there’s one thing that a writer dreads, it’s going through a dry spell. We writers love to write so much that we want to be doing the writing thing forever – even when we are not making a living from it. For many writers, writing is a passion, and not just something that puts money in the bank. It’s the very air we breathe and a crucial part of our day. We love to write so much that we spend hours at it, just happily typing away and telling stories, writing poetry and putting together an essay.


When something like that stops, it’s as if we aren’t ourselves anymore. And that’s hard. For the writer who is unable to write, it’s like something is wrong in the universe and we gotta fix things before we can be happy again.


This is something that I am familiar with. I went through a dry spell, and it was awful. I had no ideas for anything to write. There was no motivation or desire to write. Writing was no longer a Very Important part of my day and I just didn’t feel up to telling anymore stories. Even if I wanted to tell a story, though, I found that it was easier to actually tell it verbally than to write it down. Seriously; anytime I sat down to even TRY to write, I no longer understood how to do it! Words were not familiar to me anymore.


Ironically, after a while, the only thing I could write were reports at work. But that was it.


So, yes, I was working during the time that I wasn’t writing. I worked a job as a DSP (Direct Support Professional) and I made the mistake of all of a sudden assuming this as my identity. I identified as a DSP and no longer identified as a writer. I thought my writing days were over.


But they weren’t. It was just a dry spell. I didn’t know it at the time, but I WOULD be writing again one day. I just had to get through this dry spell and wait it out.


So, what did I do during that time? I lived! I didn’t want to sit at home and cry about being unable to write. I didn’t want to go into a deep depression over it. I did talk about it here and there on social media, and my fellow writers were amazing in offering support and assuring me that I would write again. I didn’t believe them, but at the same time, I questioned if I was ever going to write again. I even doubted wanting to write again, since my books didn’t sell. I am extremely grateful to them that they took the time to be there when I was going through a rough patch. If anything, this whole experience taught me the value of just how important it is to write for the love of writing rather than for wanting to profit off of it. Writing is good for more than just earning a buck. At the same time, though, it was hell to get through this dry period. I was so confused and unsure of what my future looked like. Not being able to write bothered me a lot too. I was sad I couldn’t write like I used to.


But I didn’t let this whole “being unable to write” thing be the Big Deal in my life. It was hard, yes. And even as I went about my days doing other things, I felt like I was living someone else’s life.


But it is important to do other things all the same. If you can’t write, live. Go ahead and do other things. In fact, give yourself permission to do other things! You will thank yourself for it later on.


The thing is, life is all about change. We are not all going to be doing the same things day after day after day forever. Change comes along and we have to be able to roll with the punches and adapt to that change.


The best way to do that is to keep going on. Just keep swimming. If you’re no longer indulging in your passions or working the same job you have been doing for years, then do something else. Take this time to learn new skills, meet new people and try out other things. Also, if you happen to have a different skill set that you CAN earn a living from, and you are able to do that now, then do that now! Go ahead and earn a living from something else! You are not obligated to only do ONE thing for the rest of our life. We are not meant to only do one thing or only stick with one thing forever and ever. Just do other things. It’s okay to do other things. Because, guess what? Now you will able to write about those other things from the POV of someone with that experience when you start writing again.


And you will start writing again. Know this. The day will come when the muse is back and getting you to pound those keys once again. You’ll get back into the writing game and get back to doing what you love.


That’s what happened for me. And for every other writer out there, that can happen for you too. The writing will come back. Meanwhile, just keep on going and do other stuff.


When I was doing that “other stuff,” it was like a wake-up call. I kept pausing to wonder, ‘Is this really something that other people do??’ It was interesting, fun, educational and quite the experience. I still remember the terror I felt that one time I had to drive a huge van on a narrow road up on the hill and how I was scared about losing control of the van and going tumbling down the side of that hill. I also remember the joy I felt when we made it out of there. Now that’s something I could write about should a character in my story ever end up in that situation! I can also write about somebody giving another person a shave, what it's like to use a Hoyer, the fun of binge-watching a TV show and the patience required in learning how to draw. (I never finished that course, unfortunately, but it was fun!) And there were so many other things too. I saw interesting places, I met interesting people and I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone many times to try new things. I got to hang out at the River House and check out the nearby river. My youngest and I explored woods in the dark, without a flashlight! I took the road less traveled, explored other cities and attended events that were out of town. I did a lot of exploring and read a lot of books.


I would not have had those experiences if I was writing like I used to. If I was writing at the desk for hours like I used to, I wouldn’t have been doing all of that stuff. I’d be at the desk for hours, typing away and staying closed up inside of my house. Instead of out there in the world meeting people and doing things.


And you know what? I am GLAD I did all of that stuff! I am GLAD I got to meet so many interesting and awesome people. I’m GLAD I went through so many experiences and tried new things. Sure, I wasn’t writing and I wasn’t working as a writer, but I am at peace. I have no regrets for getting out there and doing stuff BESIDES the writing. Because that’s how life is supposed to be. Life is about getting out there and DOING STUFF.


So if you can’t write, then do stuff. Go do other things! Try out new things! Do stuff you haven’t done before. And if you are able to work a different kind of job while you can’t write, then by all means, work that other job. It’s not just about adapting so you can keep bringing in a steady income; it’s about putting yourself into new situations and doing something else that you enjoy and earning new experiences. Those experiences are all gold for a writer. All those experiences that you have when you can’t write – working another job, climbing mountains, living off-grid, traveling the country – are things that you can write about later. And, they are the stuff that makes for a well-lived and satisfying life.


Don’t worry about people who judge you for doing this. Unfortunately, people who have been writing for years and see it as a career may see your attempts to enjoy life WITHOUT the writing as you just “giving up” on the writing life. This is not true. If you know in your heart that you are still a writer and believe that one day you will be writing again, then those opinions don’t matter. That is not you. You have not “given up” on writing. Dry spells happen to everyone. As long as you believe that you’ll be writing again someday and just keep getting out there and enjoying life, then don’t worry about those negative opinions or judgments. Those writers don’t know your story. They don’t understand what you are going through. So just let them be.


You WILL write again. That’s why those opinions don’t mean anything. You will write again someday. You will get back into the writing thing again someday. Trust me, that day will come. You’ll be back to pounding those keys and indulging in your passion once again. Only this time, you’ll have more material to write about!


Just don’t forget to keep on getting out there and living life, too. Now that you have realized just how valuable it is to experience life AND write, keep that as part of the picture. Keep experiencing life. As writers, we are better off having the whole experience – living life and writing about it – and one day you’ll be able to write about all of it too. And when that happens, you will keep writing.


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Sunday, October 03, 2021

Finding the Right Title for a Book

 When it comes to titling my books, it’s usually an easy task. For the GHOST Group series, I decided to call the books The GHOST Group because that’s the name of the paranormal investigation group in the stories. For Parenting Pauses, I titled the book after my blog series that ran under the same name.


Some titles, however, took a little work. I had to do a lot of thinking and brainstorming of ideas until I got the title for my nonfiction book, A Ghost on Every Corner. And with the children’s book Wolf Whispers, I had to think some more about that one and really focus on the main element in the book, which was a special kind of wolf helping a little girl find comfort while grieving the loss of her mother.


When brainstorming for ideas for a title, I ask myself these questions:


What is the book about?


What is the theme of the book?


What is the one thing about the book that really stands out?


Are there any words or phrases in the book that catches the eye?


Is there a phrase that can use a little wordplay that will match the book’s theme or story?


If I don’t get title ideas from my answers to these questions, then I try to think about what it was that gave me the idea for this story or book in the first place and what I can draw from that as far as a title goes.


I tried all of that with a children’s book I wrote recently. I got the idea for this book years ago and commissioned the illustrations for it. Took a long time before I was finally able to write the story.


Coming up with the title took me even longer.


All of the usual tricks didn’t work when I was ready to title the story. I couldn’t think of a title before I wrote it and I couldn’t think of a title after I wrote it.


For this reason, it was stuck in production. I could not take it into print until I had the title! That was all that was missing.


So I tried reading a bunch of articles about how to get a title for a book. None of that helped.


I tried looking at a bunch of books for the same audience, in the same genre and with the same theme. I scanned through all of the titles but it did not inspire any ideas for my own title.


I spent some time brainstorming again, writing down a bunch of titles. But none of them looked good, either. None of them grabbed me. It was just “blah.”


And that’s the thing about a book’s title. It needs to grab me. They are the words that stand out and the words that say “I am your title!”


But I just didn’t see anything there.


Then I tried something else: I wrote the book’s blurb. I figured, I have to write one, anyway. Might as well do it now. I don’t need to have a title to have a blurb! I can have the blurb right now, since the story is written.


So, I wrote it. Funny thing happened while I was writing that blurb: Some of the words really stood out. They just hit me like an oncoming train, blaring: “TITLE!!!”


I looked at those words and I all of a sudden had my title. Yes! I hurriedly wrote it down on another part of the page in my notebook and it definitely seemed like the right fit for the title.


It was perfect.


Even so, I ran it by my crew first. I just needed feedback that it sounded like a good title for a children’s book. And, thankfully, they said it sounded good.




So, from now on, I have a new trick in my bag to use when I am struggling with a title for a book: Write the book’s description. Just write what the book is about. There just may be something in those words that will stand out and work as a good title for the book.

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