Long Time, No Blog

Sooo… It’s been a while. A long while. About four months, actually. And I’m really sorry about that. I mean, I never meant to neglect this blog the way I have. In my defense, though, I was sort of going through a quarter-life crisis. Graduating college and entering the real world hit me a lot harder than I thought it would, and I’ll admit that I started to flounder. I started second-guessing everything, which led to me overcompensating in some parts of my life while totally dropping the ball with others. But no more! We’re going to get things back on track.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Creative Writing Degrees: Yay or Nay?

When you go to Google and type in “Are creative writing degrees…”, the very first auto-fill that pops up is “worth it?” And, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re going to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education, you want to make sure you’re getting some bang for your buck, right? Because the last thing you want when you leave college is to feel like you not only wasted your money, but your time. I get it. And, having gone through four years of college to graduate with a BA in Fiction Writing, I feel pretty damn qualified to help you make that decision. So, with that said, let’s get started.

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Don’t Let the World Bring You Down

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is getting off of social media.

I know, it sounds crazy. How can an aspiring author exist in this world without social media? How can they live without scrolling through the bookstagram tag or retweeting helpful threads written by agents? If they don’t stay up-to-date on the publishing world every minute of every day, how will they know if it’s the right time to query their debut novel? I wondered all of this at first, too. I believed the lie that the modern professional had to spend hours of their day on social media, or else they weren’t going to get anywhere. But I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t true.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – The Shiny Thing

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The Allure of the Shiny Thing” in which I discussed how I was struggling to write one novel because ideas for a million other novels were vying for my attention. The phrase had been one I’d learned from a professor at Columbia College Chicago, and at the time I was adamant that pursuing the shiny thing was the worst thing I could possibly do. However, recently I actually did give in to the shiny thing. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

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Book Review – Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which was posted on 4/18/2018 (My Channel).

This book was so close to being a 5/5 star read for me. Soooo close! It was honestly that good. It was cute, and fun, and well-written. It was everything I was hoping it would be. Hell, it was everything I was hoping Burro Hills would be (you can check out that review here). So kick back and relax, because this review is going to be a fun one.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Dust Off Those Vocal Chords

The title says it all. Dust off those vocal chords, because today we’re going to be talking about the benefits of reading your writing aloud!

“But Leighton,” you say, “why would I have to read my writing aloud? The whole point of reading is that it’s done silently.” To that, I say: Tell that to the audio book listeners out there. No, but seriously, this advice that I have to give you has nothing to do with whether your book will be read aloud someday or not (which, it totally will). It has to do with making your book the best it can be. That may also seem confusing, though. Like, how could reading a manuscript aloud make it better? Well, it helps in a few ways. Allow me to enlighten you.

First, it clues you in to how your novel’s language flows. As you’re reading aloud, you’ll be two thousand times more aware of any awkwardly-phrased lines, and you’ll be able to get a sense of the rhythm of your writing. For example, when reading your manuscript silently, those five sentences in a row that consist of seven words each may not even register. But when you’re reading aloud, the odds are better that you’ll realize the rhythm is starting to get monotonous, and then you’ll be able to pinpoint the problem and shake things up with shorter and longer sentences.

Second, repeated words and phrases will stand out to you more. As humans, we can sometimes become fixated on certain things. I’m especially guilty of this. Once I hear a word or phrase I like, I use it until I’ve run the well dry. In high school, I had this problem with the word “juxtapose.” I used it EVERYWHERE. The thing is, I didn’t realize I was using it everywhere. But if I had read my essays and writing aloud back then, it would’ve stood out like a sore thumb, and I would’ve been able to exchange a few of the “juxtapose”s with some “compare”s and “contrast”s. And, in case you’re wondering why it matters if you use the same word or phrase a lot, here’s the long and short of it: Word repetition just sounds clunky and lazy to a reader. The general rule is that common words (like “the,” “and,” “had,” “my,” “it,” etc.) can be repeated without someone noticing, but more complex words and any phrases should be used sparingly and interchanged with synonyms when possible. So keep your ears peeled for those repeated words while you’re reading your novel aloud.

Third, it gives you a better idea of your narrative voice and/or the first person narrator’s voice. When writing in your own voice, you want the narration to sound like… Well, like you! And when you’re writing in a character’s voice, you want the narration to sound like your character. As it turns out, this is easier said than done. A lot of the time, novice writers fall into the trap of writing awkwardly, for lack of a better term. They don’t use contractions, their language is stiff… There’s just nothing to the narration. And if a writer doesn’t read their writing aloud, it’s going to stay that way. If they do read their writing aloud, though, there’s a much greater chance that they’ll hear the awkward stiffness, and they can then work on correcting that. (On a related note, if you’d like me to make a post specifically about writing voice in the future, let me know in the comments!)

Fourth, it makes it easier to notice grammatical errors. When you’re reading your writing silently, you tend to skim. I mean, odds are you know your story inside and out, so skimming is only natural. The problem with this is that you can’t catch errors if your eyes are flying over the words faster than your brain can actually comprehend any of what you’re reading. When you read your work aloud, however, it forces you to slow down and actually read. When you do this, most of your grammatical and punctuation errors will be pretty obvious. They’ll make you stumble, trip over the awkward phrasing or oddly placed comma. For me personally, my biggest sin is accidentally putting a period where a question mark should go. Reading aloud helps me spot those moments and correct them without anyone else having to point them out to me.

Fifth, your dialogue will improve tremendously. It’s kind of like the voice thing I mentioned earlier. Many writers really struggle with writing realistic dialogue, and it’s because they allow it to become stiff and awkward. Reading the dialogue aloud, however, is the perfect cure. Doing so will help you recognize all of the parts that feel not-so-realistic. Then, you can work toward writing something more true to life. Sometimes I speak my dialogue aloud before I even write it down, in order to make sure it sounds how I wanted it to sound.

And if you take my advice and find that reading your writing aloud really does help to improve your writing, then I’ve got a challenge for you to take it one step further: Have someone else read your writing aloud for you. Or, at the very least, record yourself reading it aloud and then listen back to the recording. Trust me. Reading it aloud to yourself is one thing, but listening to someone else read your writing is so enlightening. You’ll be able to hear all of these things I’ve talked about in this post, especially if you recruit a friend to help you out and don’t just record yourself. This is because your friend won’t know the nuances of your story, while you do. So, with someone else reading for you, you’ll hear how your reader will perceive things rather than how you, the writer, perceive them. It’s like a beta reader for your ears. This, of course, is not as necessary as reading your own writing aloud, but it will make your book even better if you do follow through with it.

The most important thing to take from this post, though, is to take the time to make your book the best it can be. Dust off those vocal chords and really put in some effort to tidy up your story. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

What I Learned Throughout 19 Years of School

I’m old. I mean, on May 12th I graduated college, which means I must be old, right? And being old in turn makes me wise. That’s just the way it is. I don’t make the rules.

No, but seriously. Nineteen years came and went, and I know that I learned so many life lessons along the way. So, I wanted to share those lessons with you now. These won’t be things I learned in class, though. These are the lessons I learned during the moments in between. In my time with friends and teachers. Some of these will be inside jokes, but most of them are applicable to all.

So here it is. What I learned throughout nineteen years of school:

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Cutting Your Manuscript Down to Size

Today we’re going to be talking about one of the most dreaded words to a writer: “Cut.” The word that makes us quake and hug our manuscripts tightly to our chests. “No, please, anything but the cut!” we cry. No matter how much we hate the word “cut,” though, I think we all realize that sometimes there’s just no way around it. Some things just have to be cut.

Before we get into this dreaded topic, I wanted to remind you that I’m always looking for topic recommendations for these posts, which can be sent to me via Twitter and Tumblr Ask, or in the comments section of the corresponding YouTube video to this post, which can be found here.

Believe it or not, even if you’re an underwriter, you’re not immune to cuts. It isn’t something that only plagues the overwriters of the world. Even the most bare-bones underwriters can insert a fluffy scene that adds nothing to the overall plot, and that’s exactly the type of thing that needs to be amputated from your otherwise beautiful manuscript. It hurts. It sucks. But trust me, it’s actually not as bad as we make it out to be. Us writers tend to have an air for the dramatic. The truth is, if you cut something from your novel, by the next time you pick up your manuscript you’ll have forgotten it was even there in the first place.

So how do you know what needs to be cut? Well, if you have an agent or editor, a lot of the time they’ll tell you what scenes they think are extraneous and need to be given the boot. You don’t have to wait for an agent or editor, though. In fact, you can increase your chances of being picked up by one or the other by taking a surgical eye to your own manuscript and cleaning it up before it even reaches them. It’s definitely more difficult than being told by someone else what needs to go–because odds are, to you, everything seems important–but with a little practice you can definitely pick out a few scenes that really don’t need to be taking up space in your novel. So I’ve got a few tips for you when it comes to cutting scenes from your own manuscript.

1.) Is there a lot of pointless dialogue that goes nowhere? Cut it.

I’m serious. Even it holds some of the funniest lines you’ve ever written, it’s got to go. Your readers aren’t going to want to sit through a shit ton of banter that ends with no real conclusion or purpose. In fact, it may frustrate them enough to shut the book and never pick it back up again, and, like I always say, that’s not what you want.

2.) Is there a scene where there’s one or two important issues surrounded by fluff? Cut the scene and add the issues into a different, fuller scene.

By this I don’t mean over-saturate an already full scene with even more information. But if you’ve got a nice, rounded scene that has room for one or two more bits of information, squeeze them in there. For example, in my novel The Forbidden Prophecy, my main character needed to learn a bit of information about his new teacher. Originally, I had him learn the information while being fitted for his school uniform, a scene that was mostly fluff with only a little bit of stuff. In one of my later edits, however, I cut the fitting scene entirely and gave the information to his new friends to tell him during a fuller scene that was all about learning about the teacher and the school anyway. It just made more sense, and made the novel flow much smoother.

3.) Is there a scene with information in it that really isn’t all that important? Snip snip.

This is similar to my earlier tip, but instead of moving the information, you cut it altogether. Obviously, make sure this isn’t information that’s pivotal to the plot or any of the subplots. This would be more like information about a certain character that isn’t really consequential in the long run. Maybe you learn that a character’s parents are getting divorced, but that information doesn’t really hold any weight in the grand scheme of things. If that’s the case, it should go.

4.) Is there a scene with too much information? Slice and dice, and sprinkle the information throughout the novel instead.

This is similar to tip number two, in that you’ll be finding scenes with space to add some information, but it’s different because instead of pulling from a mostly-barren scene, you’re pulling from an over-saturated scene. If you’ve info-dumped a ton of your research or your world building into one section, you need to split it up. I’ve actually made an entire post about fixing info dumps, which can be found here.

5.) Is there a plot device that keeps recurring over and over again? Get rid of it.

If we’re on the second or third time in the novel that your main character is having an argument with their significant other about how she wants to be with him but he’s too dangerous for her (I’m lookin’ at you, Twilight), and there’s no real progress being made, you’ve got to cut it. Each scene needs to reveal something new about a character, move the plot forward, or raise the tension. If you have a scene like this, where none of that is happening, why is it even in there? Kick it to the curb, my friend.

And remember, cutting scenes is important if you plan on self-publishing, too. Maybe even more so, because unless you hire a developmental editor, you won’t have anyone telling you which scenes to cut. It’ll be entirely up to you.

I know it may be tempting to just leave your manuscript how it is. To you, it probably seems perfect. Like no scenes are extraneous, like every single one has a reason for existing. This is where I stress that you should put on a hyper-critical eye, and view your novel not as the author, but as a reader. If you were a reader, would you really care about a scene where two characters exchanged small talk and then went on their way with no real reason for the exchange to have happened in the first place? Or would that drive you nuts? Of course, your novel should make you happy, but at some point you also have to think about what will make your readers happy.

Hopefully that gave you a better understanding of what to cut from your manuscript and when, and hopefully you’re able to walk away without too much emotional trauma. Cutting scenes from your novel is rarely fun, but trust me, it is rewarding in the end.

Book Review – Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which was posted on 4/18/2018 (My Channel).

I went into this book having read and watched a plethora of negative and/or rant reviews about it. I knew the general plot of the book, I knew about the trigger warning for rape, and I knew about the Spiced Rigna and how “hope is a raging asshole.” So when I cracked the spine of the library book I’d borrowed (because obviously I wasn’t going to spend money on a book people were shitting on right and left) I thought I was in for a dumpster fire. I thought I would be trudging through the book from beginning to end, rolling my eyes at the awful writing and wishing I hadn’t decided to review it for my Book Breakdown. Then, the unthinkable happened.

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Book Review – Burro Hills by Julia Lynn Rubin

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

I was given an eARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review will be spoiler-free.

I’d like to get this out in the open right away: I was disappointed with this book. Now, this may have been partially my fault. I think I went into it with high expectations, hoping it would be similar to one of my favorite novels, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Not that I wanted it to be the same plotline. Rather, I was just hoping it would hit me as hard as that novel had. I wanted this book to make me feel something, and it just didn’t deliver.

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