5 Ways Writers Get Lazy

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I just finished writing my 20th full length novel! Yay! (Can you see me doing the happy dance?! ) Each and every novel is such a HUGE accomplishment, that it's hard to believe I've gone through the process 20 times.

However, the more books I complete, the more I’m realizing how difficult it is to keep producing fresh, vibrant stories. Not only does it take more work to keep the plots from being repetitious, but authors have to find new ways to describe the characters, romance, and even the settings.

Yes, writers are sometimes bound by genre constrictions. And yes, readers also expect a certain type of story when they pick up a trusted author's book. For example, my readers know they will get emotionally charged characters, a dangerous antagonist, lots of sizzling romance, and plenty of historical details that are woven into the story. If I neglected any one of my "trade marks," readers would wonder what happened.

However, expectations placed upon us by publishers, readers, or even our genre shouldn't hinder multi-published authors from striving to keep things new. When we reach a point of having written numerous books, we have to continually push deeper into the recesses of our minds to find original, creative, and fresh material for our stories. We have to dig around in the untouched areas of our imagination to bring out something new. And that digging requires a lot of effort.

Sometimes amidst the busyness of the writing life, we don’t always have the time and energy to go that extra mile. We’re working hard to keep up with deadlines or trying to get our books out in quick succession. Instead of shoveling deep and finding new treasures, we sift through the front lobe of our brains and rehash the old stuff—because it’s easier to stay there.

Here are five ways we can get lazy:

1. Using Cliches. Most of us know we need to avoid those well-known clichés. But the more books we write, the harder it gets to find original ways of saying things, and the clichés start to creep in. We have to remember if the phrase slips easily off our tongue, then it’s likely one we should avoid. I’ve found that I can reduce clichés by using more similes and metaphors—especially those that relate to my character’s interests or to the setting.

2. Telling of Emotions. Another major way writers get lazy is when we decide to tell how our character feels rather than showing it. We obviously can’t always show every little emotion and detail. Sometimes we have to name the emotion to clarify what’s going on. But when we’re tired and writing fast, we may find ourselves telling too many emotions rather than going to the hard work of showing them. We need to make sure that we’re mostly bringing our character’s feelings to life through dialog, actions, or internal narration.

3. Overusing Adjectives and Adverbs. I’m not an all-or-nothing gal. I still believe in adjectives and adverbs—if used in moderation, particularly when we can’t find a strong enough noun or verb to fit the situation. But . . . as with clichés and telling of emotions, it’s so much easier and quicker to tack on an adjective or adverb. Instead, we need to persevere to find a stronger, more telling word.

4. Camping on Pet Phrases. I always seem to land upon a pet word or phrase while writing my first draft. Thankfully, if I don’t catch the phrases myself, my editors alert me to the repetition. A simple search for the word can help me locate the trouble areas, and I’m able to delete some or find more creative ways to express that pet phrase. I also need to be careful of overusing phrases between books as well. That’s a little bit harder to catch.

5. Rehashing the Same Plot or Story. After we’ve written multiple books, we may begin to find that our stories start to sound the same, have similar threads, or even have characters that resemble one another. Perhaps we’ve even gotten tired of a favorite author because “all the stories are too much alike.” Yes, our voices will remain the same in all our books. But we can’t let our voice be an excuse for getting too comfortable with the same old, same old. We need to constantly be exploring new plot territory and searching for unique and fresh stories.

My Summary: Indeed the task before the modern writer is daunting. The bar continually rises. If we hope to keep our readers happy with each book we write, then we can’t afford to get lazy. We have to resist what comes easily to our minds, and instead be ever-exploring deeper into the creative labyrinths of our imaginations.

How about you? Have you ever gotten tired of an author because his or her books started to sound the same? What are some ways you attempt to keep things fresh in your books?

How to Keep Readers From Hating Your Characters

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

One surefire way writers can garner negative reviews is by making one or more of their main characters unlikeable. In fact creating unlikeable heroes and heroines often exasperates, irritates, and frustrates readers more than anything else.

Readers are usually willing to forgive a plot that drags in certain points. They may forgive a too-quick ending or a flat antagonist or a few clichés. But they rarely will rave about a book if they don't like the characters.

This year I'm branching into writing historicals based on the lives of real people. If you've read any of my books, then you'll know I already do this to an extent. But with my Luther & Katharina book which releases in the fall, I'm delving into a fuller, richer look at historical couples with the hope of bringing to life women who've been overshadowed by their more popular husbands.

As we all know, real life people aren't always likeable. Martin Luther was one such man. While he did incredible things during dangerous times that changed the course of history, he was caustic, abrasive, and had bouts of melancholy.

There's nothing wrong with making our characters flawed and realistic. We want to portray humanity as it really is.

But . . . how can we do that without making our readers throw our books against the wall because they can't stand our characters? Readers simply don't want to spend hours with idiots, jerks, or even whining wallflowers. They have to spend time enough with idiots, jerks, and whining wallflowers in real life and want an escape from that when they pick up our books.

In essence readers want to find flawed BUT still loveable characters. People who make mistakes BUT still have qualities that rise above normalcy.

That's why they're called heroes and heroines, because they transcend the ordinary to be extraordinary.

That's why it's called fiction because although our stories embody real people in the real world, fiction takes reality one step further by ultimately portraying life as we would ideally like face it– fighting, striving, surviving, and then finally rising above the odds.

Such characters and stories inspire us to live better, be better, do better.

As I wrote the Luther & Katharina book I had to dig deep to bring out Luther's likeability. As I'm writing my second historical about an unlikeable guy, I've had to work even harder to find ways to make him likeable. I've had to balance the reality with the good man he is yet to become. It's been difficult but essential if I hope to create a story that readers will enjoy.

What are some ways we can make sure we're keeping our main characters likeable enough?

1. Give them noble traits that outshine the negative traits. Perhaps we’ve given a likeable quality to our main character. But the mounds of negative traits overshadow that one tiny likeable quality, drowning it out so that the reader can’t see it. We have to flip that around. Yes, show her flaws, but outshine the negative by giving her a trait(s) readers can admire (like a love for the downtrodden, self-sacrificing for others to the point of being willing to die for them, etc.).

2. Make sure the reader understands the cause of the flaws. One way to generate reader empathy for our character's flaw is make the negative trait a result of something that the character didn't choose to happen to her. For example, maybe she was abused or teased or rejected at some point in her life. When we share the history that drives the negative traits, readers will be more forgiving of the negativity.

3. Never give the character an unforgivable trait or action. We might have made our character likeable, but then she does something (or several things) that the reader finds unforgivable, completely unlikeable, and irredeemable. The event or action leaves a bad taste in the reader's mouth and often they’re unable to resume their fullest love of our character after that.

4. Make sure to bring out the likeable traits early enough. Sometimes we wait until too late in the story to bring out the likeability factor. We can’t have our character acting like a spoiled brat until the end when she finally changes. We need to have her acting, thinking, and behaving in heroic ways right from the start.

5. Let the reader inside the character's head. If the character is behaving in an unlikeable way, show the disconnect between her actions and their emotions. Get inside her head and play out her internal narration, letting the reader see that she doesn't want to be that way. A reader will be able to feel more sympathy when they realize the internal thoughts reflect that the character is really hurting or hiding something.

6. Make sure the reader can really relate to the character's flaws. Give her struggles that readers are also going through–fear, lack of self-worth, damaged pride, intimidation, need for control. If the reader can relate to the internal struggle, they're often more willing to forgive negative behaviors because they've been there and done that themselves.

7. Beware of making the character a helpless victim. No matter her past and no matter her current dangerous situation, modern readers want to see an inkling (or more!) of strength coming through in our heroine. She must have a spine which doesn't have to equate snark, sass, or spunk. Sometimes quiet strength is just as riveting.

My Summary: It’s often very difficult for us to see how we’re portraying our characters. We have an image in our minds. But what comes out on paper, what readers see, isn’t the whole picture we envisioned.

Ultimately, we should ask ourselves, “What can I do to ensure that my hero is truly a hero.” 

What about YOU? Have you ever made your characters unlikeable? Do you have any other advice on how to avoid falling into the unlikeable character trap?

10 Ways Writer-Moms Can Gain More Writing Time

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

As a homeschooling mom of five children, the most common question I'm asked is: How do you do it all? How do you manage your large family and have the time to write?

No I'm not super woman (although there are times when my kids expect me to be!). Yes, I do get plenty of sleep (most nights!). And no, I haven't hired the TV to babysit my kids (at least not often!).

Over the years, I tried many different tricks and techniques in order to gain (or maintain) writing time in my schedule. Here are 10:

1. Take advantage of kids' downtime. When my younger children were taking naps, I used every minute they were asleep for writing. As tempting as it was to clean, pickup, or even take a nap myself, I knew I had to make the most of that quiet hour to write uninterrupted. When my kids got a little older and didn't need naps, I still required afternoon rest/reading time for an hour. It helped give them a needed break, but also gave me a block of uninterrupted writing time.

2. Pay older kids to "babysit" younger children. As my writing career began to swing into full gear and I needed more writing time, I discovered that I could pay my older children (who were in elementary school) to "babysit" my little ones. I would assign them each a child to play with, give them a time limit (like an hour), and then pay them a couple of dollars when they were done. It not only gave me more writing time, but it helped teach my older children the value of working hard to earn money.

3. Involve the whole family in household chores. As Moms we often think the entirety of the housework falls on our shoulders. But I'm of the belief that whoever lives in a house needs to help in the upkeep of that house. Therefore, over the years I've gotten my kids involved in doing laundry, cooking meals, handling yard work, etc. When everyone pitches in, we all have more free time for the things we love (including writing).

4. Bring the laptop along to activities and write while waiting in the van. Since my kids have so many activities that I drive them to, I often sit in the van and write while I wait for them. Without the distraction of the internet, the van is actually a great place to get concentrated writing done.

5. Schedule larger blocks of writing time when husband is home. This has probably been one of the biggest ways I've been able to add more writing time into my schedule. Even in the days before publication, my husband realized the benefit of supporting my mental health by giving me extended time away from the kids which I used for writing. Those larger blocks are sacred writing time. No browsing blogs or Facebook. Writing only!

6. Hire a college-age student to take the kids out a couple of times a week. I did this one summer when my kids were younger. I paid an hourly wage to an older girl who could drive and had a car for the purpose of getting my kids out of the house. She took them to parks, the pool, the library, to get ice cream, and basically anywhere to allow them to do things while I worked.

7. Rise and shine before the rest of the family. (Or be the night owl.) When I'm particularly crunched on time during the day, I schedule writing time in the wee hours of the morning before the household awakes. Again, that writing time is sacred. I don't dilly-dally responding to emails or anything else. During the uninterrupted time I simply write.

8. Set work hours and teach children to respect that time (works more for older children). As my children have grown older and can occupy themselves without constant supervision, I've had to teach them to respect my work boundaries. I usually explain my "writing hours" and expect them to respect that time. For example, I won't drive them to a friend's house or take them to the store until I'm done with my work time.

9. Involve grandparents (or other relatives) when possible. I'm blessed to have my mom live in town nearby. She often offers to assist when she knows of specific needs. But I've also had to learn to ask for help, and that's not something that comes easily to me. Over the past couple of years, we've worked out a system where she comes to my house once a week (and helps homsechool) which frees me to write.

10. Outsource work that can be done by others. I had a hard time letting go of work I thought I should be doing. But in the end, I've found that it's more profitable for me to pay someone else to do their "specialty" so that I can focus on mine–my writing. Obviously, I didn't come to this point in my career until I had a steady income. But moving in this direction has helped free up even more of my time.

What other advice do YOU have for finding more writing time?

Are You Willing to Pay as Much for a Book as You Are for a Burger?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I've been thinking a lot lately about the price of Ebooks. Since I'm traditionally published, I don't have the luxury of setting the prices of my Ebooks. That means, sometimes I like the prices of my Ebooks and there are times when I don't.

Obviously, most readers are aware by now that traditionally published Ebooks sell at a higher price than self-published books. There are a couple of reasons for the disparity.

1. Self-published authors are "in charge" of setting their own prices. In a free enterprise market, everyone knows that you're better able to drive business your way if you can under-price your competitor. That's why we all go to Walmart to buy milk for $1.98 rather than paying $2.50 at Meijer. Indie books are able to draw shoppers through the lower prices they offer, prices that traditional publishers can't offer on a regular basis. That leads to my next point . . .

2. Traditionally published books have more people involved in the publication process, thus need to generate more revenue in order to pay everyone who had a hand in the book: two or more editors, office staff, the cover design team, the cover model, photographer, the marketing staff, publicist, sales representatives, and more. And let's not forget, the author also has to be paid! No, Ebooks may not require the same "print" costs that a hard copy or paperback may incur, but as you can see, the costs of traditional publication go beyond the price tag of paper and ink.

Let's face it, low indie prices have changed the Ebook market, and so traditionally published authors who are selling their Ebooks at $9.99 are often losing out to indie authors who are selling theirs for $2.99-$4.99.

And then there is a continuous parade of Ebooks that are offered for free. If a voracious reader never wanted to pay a dime for another book, they could feast on a steady diet of books simply by downloading all of the free books.

Yes, sometimes I can't help feeling that my traditionally published Ebooks are priced too high to be competitive in the current market. I whine and moan about it from time to time. And while some traditionally published authors have gone indie so that they can set their own lower prices and retain more of the profit for themselves, for now I'm still reaping many benefits of traditional publication including higher visibility, national recognition, distribution in bookstores all across the country and world, and exposure to a pool of readers who wouldn't know about me if not for traditional publishers ability to explore wider channels.

Part of me also wonders if having such low priced books is really a good thing anyway. Over time, I've noticed a subtle shift in the mind-set of many readers. Since so many of us have grown accustomed to cheaply priced or free Ebooks, we balk if we have to pay full price on any Ebook. In fact, I've had readers comment irritably about the higher price on some of my Ebooks. After reading my free novella, Out of the Storm, which kicks off my historical romance lighthouse series, some readers have been upset that they have to pay $9.99 for the full length Ebooks.

When I get those kinds of negative comments, I want to say, "If you went to Applebees for dinner, I bet you'd pay at least $9.99 for a burger which you'd consume in an hour and have nothing to show for it later."

Or, "When you go to see the new release Jurassic World, you won't hesitate to pay $8.00 per ticket and then at least another $5.00 for popcorn and pop. The movie will last two hours, and what will you have to show for it? And what if you don't like it?"

If you pay $9.99 for an Ebook, what will you have to show for that? Hours of reading pleasure. And a book that you can loan or read over and over. Yes, there may be some books that won't ring your bell. But if you take that chance with movies, why not with books?

In reality, $9.99 for a book whether print or Ebook is a great deal. We can't purchase many other forms of entertainment that cheaply, whether it's going to a restaurant, movie, concert, theater production, sporting event, or even a museum. No other entertainment nowadays is as inexpensive or as fulfilling as the journey a reader can take in a book.

Do I wish the price of my Ebooks were lower? Sometimes. Which is why occasionally I give my publishers permission to offer my books on sale (like The Vow and An Uncertain Choice are for a limited time). But at the same time, I want readers to appreciate the bargain value that they're already getting in a book at full price and be just as willing to pay for a book as they are a burger.

How about YOU? Are YOU willing to pay as much for a book as you are for a burger? 

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