5 #Subtips For Writers

As an editor and now as an author, I know it can be tough to write a great manuscript, write yet another one, slog through the query trenches, go through edits, release that book into the wild, and still keep your sanity. I tweet on my #subtips hashtag on Twitter to share thoughts and tips as I learn them, but several things keep coming up in the slush and with my clients as I edit. So, here’s some of my advice for those most common issues:

1) Keep writing. When you’re querying, when you’re on submission, when you’re waiting, keep writing. Having another project to put your energy into is a great way to help balance the nerves, time, and stress that goes along with publishing. Plus, if you decide to shelve that first manuscript, you’ll be well on your way to having a new one completed, and if you do land an agent/book deal, having another project nearly ready is great.

2) Trust your ability to rewrite. Holding too tightly to sentences and paragraphs and ideas in my manuscripts held me back more than almost anything else. Someone once told me that if I can write one good line, I can scrap it and write another, and if I can have one good idea, I can come up with a second. Skill and talent aren’t accidents you can’t repeat. Doing what’s best for the story and the prose and not keeping myself locked in to something just because I’m proud of it is essential to being a good writer. That’s been a huge factor in reducing the stress of revisions. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.

3) Don’t expect your first draft to be magical. Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise.

4)  Focus on your own writing. When I was querying, it was sometimes a struggle to not be jealous when someone else signed with an agent. When I was on submission, it was hard to not be jealous when someone else landed a book deal. Even though I was happy for my friends, it often made me wonder if it meant I wasn’t as good because it hadn’t happened for me yet. And now that I have a book out, there are other authors’ awards, bestseller lists, and publicity and buzz I could be worrying about. But no one else’s success diminishes mine. One of the most wonderful things I’ve been realizing as I find critique partners and connect and blog with other authors, particularly in YA, is that we’re much more colleagues than competitors. Readers can pick up my book, and they can pick up someone else’s, too. Another author’s success doesn’t limit or detract from mine. What does limit my success is me looking at someone else’s plate, and wishing I had what they had, and letting my own work suffer.

5) Think of writing and the publishing journey as pursuing any other career. Study, learn from experts, network, study more, practice, take constructive feedback, and work, work, work. Writers sometimes have the expectation that it should take maybe a year to write and revise a MS and a year to get the querying process figured out, query, and hear back. Either way, 2-3 years is about the time we expect to have an agent and be on submission by if we’re any good. I don’t think that mindset is accurate or necessarily healthy. Writing is a competitive, demanding, detail-oriented, incredibly complex career. No other career like that gets off the ground in 2-3 years. It takes more than that to become a teacher, lawyer, engineer, graphic designer, or doctor, and even then, most of them have to work their way up. You haven’t failed and you aren’t a bad writer just because your journey takes longer than someone else’s. Treat it like a long-haul career both in your expectations and your work habits. You are the biggest factor in your career.

I originally wrote this post for The Secret Life of Writers as part of my blog tour for my book release– I wrote about 30 posts that went up on different sites over November and December, and with all that content out there, I’d like to keep it all in one place, so I’m posting it here for archiving purposes.

Prose Tips: the Psychology of the Short Sentence

Intentional sentence construction is vital to good writing.  Knowing what you’re doing with your sentences and why you’re doing it is absolutely essential to making the desired impact on your reader. Writers all have different sentence styles, ranging from sparse and cryptic to long and flowing. I prefer short, punchy sentences in general, with longer, more complicated ones taking the limelight where I want some poetry in my writing or else during more contemplative scenes. No one way is perfect, but shorter sentences can bring a dramatic impact that longer sentences often lack.

Readers subconsciously pause when they see the period in a sentence. This pause can emphasize subtext or emotion nicely. Use shorter sentences and back-load them when you want high emotional impact. Readers will process the sentence for a moment more than they might otherwise.

Long sentences (and long paragraphs) can be tempting to skim. Shorter sentences can help your readers stay engaged, because that briefest of pauses between sentences allows a moment to refocus. Be aware that this refocusing happens, and use it to your advantage.

Shorter sentences prompt readers to keep reading, especially sentences with only a handful of words. Because what they are reading now is so brief, it’s just a fraction easier to be wondering “What happens next?” Lining up all these punchy, short sentences together can speed your reader along and heighten the urge to find out what happens in the next paragraph, the next page, the next chapter. They automatically increase the pace of action scenes, as well.

Short sentences are less likely to contain unnecessary words. Because you’re focusing on paring down the thought to something punchy and brief, it’s easier to see what you can cut. Words and phrases like “that”, “there are/is”, and other word clutter are more likely to be tossed out. Additionally, short sentences have a smaller chance of being confusing than long sentences.

Another benefit of short sentences is the flip-side of the point above- as you write your short sentences, you might not only be separating a long sentence into two sentences; you might be reducing your words and turning your thought into something more concise. Conciseness lends itself to subtext- and subtext is a beautiful thing. People aren’t always transparent in what they say and do, and characters shouldn’t be, either. Narrators can use the subject inherent to a great short sentence to full effect, as well. This treats the reader as if they’re intelligent enough to notice and process the subtext, and it makes your characters deeper and more realistic.

A word of warning: Variety is key here. An entire paragraph of four-word sentences would probably bore the most dedicated reader. Be careful that you feed your reader a variety- no one wants the same meal every day, so mix it up.  Long sentences can be a gorgeous, winding adventure full of voice. Don’t avoid them. Just use long and short sentences in the places where the pacing and subject matter are prime for them.

How do you decide what type of sentence to use for which moment? Do you have a specific style, or do you go with your gut on a case-by-case basis? Tell me what you love about short sentences.

A companion post in praise of the long sentence is in the works.