Ask the Author: Writing Tips

The following are real questions I have received and my responses to them. Please note that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing. If you're someone looking to get started, or perhaps you've already got a WIP that you're feeling stuck on, I hope this can help. If you have questions of your own you're curious about, feel free to reach out to jwinter@winterwrites.net.


I got my story line pretty much done. Just need to connect them and figure out how to write the actual tale, incorporate details, and create flow…

Getting your story line or outline figured out is a great place to be. If you’re anything like me, having that will help keep you on track while writing so you don’t get too caught up in adding those extras every time you don’t know what your next step will be. When it comes to writing the tale, you just need to begin. I know that’s often harder than it sounds, but you need to trust in your characters and allow them to help you write the events. After all, it’s their story. Details can come with editing, so don’t worry too much about this during your rough draft. Write, and don’t look back until you get to the end. Get the bones laid out first. Then you can work on adding the good stuff that will bring life to your story. As for flow, that comes with practice. No one can tell you how to create flow. You have to learn how to feel it. This is also why you need to learn to listen to your characters. If it helps, act out the conversations as you see it in your head. Or watch other people and try to recreate moments. That’s what writing is. You’re putting a twist on reality. Watch. Learn. And have fun with it!


I forget about what happens where everywhere else when I’m writing.

I totally know how you feel. When I first started writing, I just wrote stuff. There was no organization whatsoever. I thought outlines were a waste of time. As it turned out, I was the one wasting time by not having one. Every author has their own method of what works for them. For me, it’s having an outline, no matter how basic. That’s my first step. I hash out what my main plot points are, split them into chapters, then make basic outlines for each. This way I can just write. Things change along the way, but I make notes for myself in a separate file so I can fix everything during the edit. Some of the thoughts or questions will come in handy while others you may never use. That’s okay. As an extra help, I’ve even started drawing crude maps for myself and dotting the path my characters take so I know where they’re supposed to be and where they’re meant to go. Use different colours to represent various characters. Have this and your outline somewhere that’s easy to access. You can even post it on your wall. Whatever resources will help you, pin them all where you can see them for easy reference. But most importantly, try different methods until you find what works for you, then stick with it (or keep experimenting). Also, remember that it’s okay if you sometimes get lost. Often, that’s exactly the place you need to be to find the magic.


How do you keep from overwhelming yourself when thinking of the whole plot at once, plus all the others that come to mind?

This is an excellent question that I get asked often. I have something like 30 different story ideas documented at all times, and the list keeps growing. So, how do I keep them straight? I decide what I’m focusing on and just write one chapter at a time. This may not work for everyone, but it does for me. I choose my focus project and more-or-less ignore all the rest. I do tend to have side projects for those times when I’m in a rut in my main project, but I try to stick to one project at a time. As for not getting overwhelmed by the project I’ve chosen, I try to take things one step at a time. Instead of worrying about the whole plot, I create my outline and then take it chapter by chapter. This way I can focus on each moment rather than worrying about what’s going to happen next. Since I’ve already plotted out everything from beginning to end, I already know where I want to go. That gives me the freedom to play with each scene and let the characters take over organically – as they often tend to do anyway. This doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed sometimes, but having that outline definitely helps take away a lot of the stress.


I don’t know what tense I should write in. I have a story that’s currently in first, but I also like third because that’s how I did the prologue and I’m happy with it. Sometimes I just want to get inside the heads of other characters, but then I get worried that the reader will get confused if I randomly write another scene from a different point of view than that of my main. My main is the one telling the story!

Tense can certainly be tricky, and sometimes it’s hard knowing which tense will be best for your story. Many people will tell you to pick one tense and stick with it. I will now tell you something different. You can and are allowed to use different tenses in your story, but it must be done tactfully. If you flop around then yes, your readers will get confused and probably throw your book across the room never to pick it up again. You don’t want that, so learning how to manipulate two different tenses is something you’ll have to master. In your case, it would be best to write mainly in first person as it sounds like you want events to be seen from the protagonist’s perspective. However, if you want to jump into the heads of other characters, THAT IS OKAY. Don’t let the way you’re told to write in school stop you from writing the story you want to write. So, when you jump to other characters, make sure there’s a defined break. This could either be a well-marked split between paragraphs or even a full chapter written from that character’s POV, but then don’t switch back in the middle of that chapter. Also, don’t jump into other heads too often. Focus on your main character and only use other perspectives at prime opportunities. Learning to balance these perfect moments is key. When used correctly, it can be just the right impact your story needs to keep your audience hooked. However, when it comes down to it, it’s your story. Tell it the way you want. Just make sure it’s something you would also want to read.


I haven’t finished my story, and I can’t seem to get past the imperfections and mistakes I keep finding no matter how many times I edit in order to move forward.

At the risk of being too blunt, why are you already editing when you haven’t finished the story? Chances are things will happen later on that will change your beginning and you’ll have to edit again anyway. Don’t worry about what you’ve already written and concentrate on the words that have yet to be penned. I understand the desire for perfection. No one wants their book to be riddled with mistakes. Unfortunately, the fact is, it will never be flawless. If you’re expecting perfection, you’ll never finish. Even the best authors and best editors can miss things that readers find. But you know what? If people love your story and find one or two minor spelling errors or a misplaced comma, they won’t care! My biggest problem is finding things that I want to add even after the book is published. I always feel like I could have done more. However, if I let that consume me, I would never publish another book again because I would be too busy adding things to a story that would never be finished. I’ve had to learn to let go. There comes a point when you just have to let your story stand on its own. If you’re just writing for fun, then you can rewrite as much and as often as you’d like. You’ll have an ever-evolving story. That’s also great and I support that! However, if you want to share your story by having it published someday, you must realize for yourself that it won’t be perfect because you’re also imperfect, and that’s okay. Force yourself to ignore the mistakes and keep writing your imperfect rough draft. Then, take the time you feel you need to polish it. Don’t forget, you can hire an editor. You can also allow friends and family to read it and ask them to circle or highlight the errors they notice so you can correct them before sending your manuscript for publishing. Also, reading out loud helps. Legit. Don’t worry. My first drafts are usually fairly cringe to start, so don’t think that you’re alone in finding errors. That’s why we call them rough drafts.


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