How I Wrote More Fiction in 2016 than In Any Other Year (Despite Two Small Children)

Ali's writing retreat: photo shows her laptop, notebook and mug of tea.

I finished two full drafts of my novel, the third Lycopolis book, by mid-November 2016 … the most fiction I’ve ever written in a year.

This is despite 2016 being a pretty hectic year, with two small children, limited work hours, and fiction-writing being squeezed into a 30 minute slot most days.

During 2016, I wrote more fiction than I did:

  • When I was in school, with hours to spare every day … and plenty of time at the weekends.
  • When I was a uni student with 28 weeks vacation per year (yes, 28!) – I did work some of that time, but I had oodles of hours where I could’ve been writing and didn’t.
  • When I was working full-time, and had no dependents. (Weekdays were busy – but I could’ve written much more at weekends than I did.)
  • When I was taking a part-time degree in creative writing. I wrote a fair amount of fiction at this point – more rapidly than in the past – but still not as much as a I wrote during 2016.

So what changed?

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Ten Sentence-Level Mistakes to Watch Out for When Editing Your Fiction [With Examples]

Magnifying glass over text.

When you’re editing fiction, whether it’s a short story or an epic novel, you need to edit on several different levels.

There’s the full-scale revision stage: where you go from first draft to second draft, and probably lose or gain some characters, cut or add a bunch of material, and make some major alterations to your text.

Depending on how tidy your first draft is, you might go through several complete rewrites. But at some stage, you’ll get to a point where you’re fairly happy with the broad strokes of your novel: you’ve got the right scenes, in the right order, and you’re pretty happy with the general progression of paragraphs: the pacing feels good and you’ve got a balance of dialogue and narrative that’s appropriate for your style and genre.

At that point, you’re into the “sentence-level” of editing. This is where you zoom in on the details and make sure that every sentence is pulling its weight … and that there aren’t any awkward words or phrases that distract your reader from your story.

Quick note: I’m not going to cover common typos and misspellings here, or how a sentence is put together in English. If you want advice on those, check out Your Dictionary’s list of commonly misspelled words and About.com’s information on Subjects, Verbs, and Objects.

Here are ten common sentence-level mistakes that crop up for a lot of writers (me included!) and that you might need to fix when you’re editing at this level:

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Anti-Heroes and Villains: What’s the Difference (and How Do You Write Them Well)?

 

anti-heroes-villains

Most stories, at least these days, don’t have flawless heroes and evil cackling villains. Readers – and writers! – tend to enjoy more complex characters.

At what stage, though, does a dark hero (aka “anti-hero”) turn into a villain?

The line between them can be a little blurry, and is as much about story role as it is about morality. Some characters can be tricky to categorise, and may potentially move from one role to another – especially in a series of novels. (In the Marvel movies, for instance, Loki is arguably an anti-hero in Thor and a villain in Avengers.)

In writing and literary circles, you’ll often hear “protagonist” and “antagonist” being used instead of “hero” and “villain” because these are a bit more emotionally neutral and describe a function within the story rather than a type of character … and this is the framework we’re going to use.

Quick note: if you’ve studied literature as part of a degree, you might have a rather different, more classic, definition for “anti-hero”, along these lines. That’s not what I’m discussing here (sorry)!

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Should Your Blog Have a Narrow or Broad Topic?

blog-niche

Back when I got into blogging, in 2007, new bloggers were often told to choose a “niche”. If you wanted to be successful – so the thinking went – you needed to have a very specific topic, to differentiate yourself from all the other blogs out there.

Today, there are obviously even more blogs (not to mention podcasts, twitter chats, Facebook groups…) competing for attention.

Some bloggers still feel that, to succeed, they need to have a really unique topic or a very narrow niche, like “iPhone covers for the over 60s”.

But I think the “niche” advice is outdated … and I’m not sure it was ever quite right in the first place.

Many blogs – including many very popular blogs! – cover relatively broad topics. Write to Done, for instance, has advice on all sorts of aspects of writing – covering fiction, freelancing and blogging. Michael Hyatt’s blog centres on leadership, but takes in a huge number of diverse topics, from blogging and platform-building to hiring and managing a strong team.

So do you really need a niche? And if you do … how narrow should that niche be?

Let’s take a look first at why the “niche” advice became so popular in the first place.


Why Going TOO Broad Can Be a Problem

In the very early days of blogging, most blogs were essentially personal journals. Their “topic”, as such, was the blogger’s life and interests. There are still plenty of these blogs around (I like Richard Bartle’s) and they certainly still have their place.

However, if you want to get a large audience for your blog, you probably need to narrow your focus a little more than “everything I’m interested in”. (You might get away with it, though, if you’re an outstandingly good writer, or you have a particularly exciting and unusual life.)

If you’re struggling to see why blogging about anything and everything is a problem, look at it this way: most people will, inevitably, not share all your interests. They may well drift away if they’re only interested in, say, one out of every ten of your posts.

Here on Aliventures, I blog about writing. I occasionally mention other aspects of my life – like my two small children – but I don’t blog about, say, raising kids, or cooking, or great books I’ve read, or stuff to do around Leeds (where I live) or any of the other things going on in my life!

Why Too Narrow a Niche Won’t Work Either

When you pick a topic for your blog, though, you don’t want to rein yourself in too tightly. You want some room to develop and grow your ideas, without being tied into a very rigid and specific topic.

For instance, if you chose to blog only about “writing dialogue”, you’d probably find that you ran out of ideas and resources after a few weeks or months. Your blog might well become the go-to place for people wanting to craft better dialogue – and you could have a fairly static website designed to support, say, a book or course on the subject – but you’d be unlikely to want to write about dialogue every week for several years.

When you launch your blog and choose what to call it, you’ll also choose a domain name. (For help with that, check out my post Three Different Ways to Name Your Blog or Website.) If your name is too restrictive, it can make it difficult to change direction: writingdialogueforyournovel.com, for instance, is very specific, whereas something a little more general like talkingheads.com gives a bit more scope.

Finding a Middle Ground

A good blog topic, then, is one that’s clear and defined but that gives you some breathing and growing room.

And while on the surface of it, your topic might seem like the main thing that distinguishes you from other blogs, there are actually plenty of other ways to stand out:

  • With the “angle” you bring to your topic – e.g. The Write Life covers general writing advice but with a focus on freelancing and making a living.
  • With your voice or style – e.g. Naomi from IttyBiz very much built her blog on this, plus her specific audience focus on tiny businesses.
  • With the type of posts you publish – e.g. Smart Blogger have very long posts that go into lots of depth; Seth Godin is known for short, pithy but insightful posts.

 

If you’ve been blogging for a while about several quite different topics, you might want to survey your readers to find out what topics they’re most interested in (you could also look at which posts are performing best in Google Analytics).

 

There’s no “right” answer when it comes to blogging, and of course you should feel free to write about whatever you want – whether that’s one very narrow topic or several very broad ones! Keep in mind, though, that if you want your blog to gain readers, to make money, and/or to raise your profile in your field, you’ll do best if you focus on a clear topic that gives you – and your readers – room to grow.

If you’d like a bit more help with your blogging, do check out my free ebooks Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger and Ten Easy Ways to Attract Readers to Your Blog … And Keep Them There. They’re quick to read, packed with tips you can put into practice right away, and completely free – you can find out more and sign up for them here.

Getting Apostrophes Right: From the Easy to the Tricky Cases

 

apostrophes-right

I think it’s a safe bet that you’ve come across the apostrophe before! (If not … there are two in the previous sentence.)

But even experienced writers can struggle with this punctuation mark.

In this post, I’m going to try to explain apostrophes as clearly as I can … and give you some help with the tricky cases that often trip people up.

If anything isn’t clear, or if you have any questions, just pop a comment below.

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Interview with Mark Gottlieb, New York Literary Agent

mark-gottlieb-interview

What are literary agents really after? Do they want first-time authors who’ve already built a huge platform … or simply a great book?

New York agent Mark Gottlieb, who’s currently building his list, has been kind enough to answer some questions about his job and the state of publishing in general.

If you’ve been reading Aliventures for a while, you’ll know I’m very much a fan of self-publishing … but I also think traditional publishing still has a huge amount to offer. Mark argues the case for going down the agent and publisher route here.

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A Quick Guide to Formatting Your Microsoft Word Manuscript for Amazon’s Kindle

 

word-manuscript-for-kindle

One daunting task for many self-publishing authors is how to get their finished book up for sale on Amazon as an ebook. It’s not as simple as just uploading your manuscript … right?

Well, it can be!

Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) service gets easier to use every year. If you have a fairly straightforward manuscript – like a novel, collection of short stories, or text-only non-fiction book – you can upload your Microsoft Word document, preview it, and have a finished ebook in minutes.

In this post, I’ll explain how.

Quick note to Writers’ Huddle members – you have a much fuller version of this now available as a video seminar, with detailed step-by-step instructions. There’s also a transcript with screenshots.

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Is Writing a Novel a “Someday” Dream for You?

 

writing-novel-someday

Are you thinking of writing a novel someday?

Maybe you’re waiting because you don’t have an idea, yet.

Maybe you’re waiting because you don’t have much time, right now.

Maybe you’re waiting until you feel more confident: until you’re a good enough writer to tackle the challenge of a novel.

I’d like to – gently – suggest that perhaps it’s time to stop waiting.

Yes, a novel is a big undertaking. Yes, your life is hectic and you don’t feel ready and there are a dozen good reasons to wait.

Here’s why I think you shouldn’t.

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Three Different Ways to Name Your Blog or Website [Pros and Cons]

name-blog-website

If you’ve ever thought about starting a blog – or a website of any sort – you’ve probably run up against a pretty obvious problem.

It needs a name!

Choosing what to call your blog tends to be wrapped up in a whole host of other problems – like knowing what topics you want to write about and what sort of tone you want to use.

I’ve got stuck, plenty of times, at the naming stage: sometimes, it’s meant delaying projects for months because I just can’t figure out what to call the website.

In this post, I’ll run through the three different options you have, and explain why (or why not) you might want to go for each.

Note: This post is based on material from the Blog On ecourse in Writers’ Huddle – if you’re a member of Writers’ Huddle, do check out the rest of Blog On Module #1 for help with coming up with ideas for your blog. If you’re not a member, you can join the waiting list (and get some exclusive goodies) here.

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Why Being (a Little) Selfish Might Be the Best Thing You Do for Your Writing

 

being-selfish

One of my writer friends – and my fiction editor – Lorna Ferguson wrote some wise words in her email newsletter recently:

Praise yourself for what you’ve achieved. Keep your promises to yourself when you say ‘I’ll have an early night’ or ‘I’ll go for that walk’. We don’t ever want to be described as selfish – but sometimes you have to think of self.

When I read that, Lorna’s words “we don’t ever want to be described as selfish” stood out to me. Because of course no-one does … but I think some writers go too far in avoiding this. They give so much of themselves to others that there’s very little left over for writing.

I think that we writers, by our nature, tend to be quite concerned with people – and not just imaginary ones!

We want the best for our children, friends, partners, and other loved ones. But this doesn’t mean putting everyone else’s needs and wants right at the top of the queue, every time.

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