Key-Word Cavalry: My Greatest Fear

Today’s key-phrase of choice is: “What is my greatest fear in writing.”

Well… I obviously can’t tell the person who’d done the search their biggest fear, but since I’m assuming their search is about the reasonable fears of being a writer, I thought I’d talk about that.

I think that all writers have two fears, although to varying degrees.

The first fear: That we’re not as good as we thought we were.
The second fear: That we’ll get our books out there and readers won’t get what we’ve written or the book doesn’t sell.

So… pretty much your run-of the mill fear of failure. Of course, when you’re stuck in the grips of fear, it doesn’t really feel all that normal.

But it’s necessary to remember the following: Firstly: We’re never as good as we think we are. We’re always too critical or not critical enough. So accept it. Then there’s nothing to be afraid of. But there will be things that we can do. We can write more to hone our craft to the best it can be. We can give our work to crit partners who will (if they’re worth their salt) point out the errors and give you suggestions for improvement. That way you can see where you need to improve and work to improve it. Also, having someone else read your work will give you a slightly more accurate measure of your ability to get across what you want readers to see. But crit partners are a topic for another day.

The Red Vinyard at Arles

As for the book not selling, there’s always a chance that it won’t. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer. Reading, like art, is subjective. So the amount of books sold does not reflect on your success and failure as a writer. Remember: Vincent Van Gogh sold ONE painting in his lifetime. The rest all went to his brother Theo. Including:

This one (it inspired a song):

Starry Night over St Remy

And my favorite:

The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night

Units sold isn’t always a measure of talent. It’s a measure (to a large extent) of conformity. It’s a measure (to a huge extent) of luck.

If you think about things from this perspective, these fears aren’t all that scary, are they? Just never let go of your perspective. It’s vital to your sanity as a writer.

What’s your greatest writing fear?

Key-Word Cavalry: The Goal of Rewriting a Novel

For those of you who are new to my blog, every Wednesday except for the first one every month, I take a key-word or phrase that have drawn or will draw readers and then I write about it.

This week’s phrase is: “What the goal of rewriting a novel.”

See here for credit and awesome post on Revisions vs. Rewrites

My guess is that everyone has a different reason for rewriting a novel, but in general, rewriting is mainly done to correct problems that are so big and so pervasive that it’s easier to write the novel again than to simply revise it.

Because trust me, most writers will revise and revise until they can’t any more before they rewrite.

Most writers whose blogs I’ve read keep rewriting as a last resort when they absolutely can’t fix the story in any other way. And even then, rewriting will usually happen after a long period of putting the ms on the back-burner.

On the other hand, I think of rewriting as just another tool in my arsenal, along with revisions and edits.

Where edits are to fix small errors, revisions are for fixing big issues. Rewriting fixes errors, plot holes and other problems that are even bigger.

And I find it incredibly useful. So useful, in fact, that I don’t write a single book that I don’t rewrite before I revise. It’s something that I would recommend to any pantser, because rewriting shaves out all those orphan scenes where we got distracted. It cuts out or ties up loose strings.

Basically it pretty much uniformly improves the quality of your manuscript before you start sanding it down and polishing it. Where revision fixes things part by part or aspect by aspect (I.E. by focusing on characterization or conflict), rewrites is a good way to improve everything throughout the entire draft.  

BUT. If you want to use rewriting as part of the editing process, it’s important to take some time to think about your story. Give your draft a rest so that you can get some distance from it and then reread it. Think about everything that needs to be smoothed, added or removed. Then you’ll need to have some sort of a plan before you rewrite. Yes pantsers, I know this sounds insane, but if you don’t plan before rewriting, you’ll just be writing a slightly altered rough draft of your original story. That won’t help you, since the point is to come out with a more polished version of the same story you wrote.

You definitely want to recognise your WiP when you reread your rewritten draft.

In summery, rewriting can potentially have two main goals: To completely change the story you’ve written from start to finish, or to improve the quality of your ms as consistently as possible.

How do you use rewrites? Do you hate rewriting?

Key-Word Cavalry: Four Temperaments

Two weeks ago, L Diane Wolfe mentioned the four basic character traits: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic and melancholic. So… since it might draw some search results, I thought I’d write a post exploring them a bit, even though I don’t really build my characters like that based on their psychological profiles.

It’s still interesting, though. And useful to know, if you’re someone who builds their characters to fit the situation.

So…. four basic characteristics, also known as the four temperaments. People have been trying to group themselves into these four different temperaments for millennia and the groupings of the various personalities and tastes have changed based on what was considered socially acceptable in each era.

Right now, though, people with each of the four temperaments have the following traits:


  • extroverted
  • hot tempered
  • quick thinking
  • strong willed
  • self confident
  • independent in will and thinking
  • makes decisions easily for him/herself and others
  • tends not to make space for other people’s opinions
  • always have ideas and solutions
  • practical
  • very active: tend not to sleep a lot
  • results orientated
  • love to fight for a cause
  • response to others: direct and firm
  • tend to be slow to build relationships due to their ruthlessness in going after results
  • not easily empathetic or compassionate
  • think big and go for positions of authority


  • extroverted
  • fun loving and easily amused
  • activity seeking
  • persuasive
  • optimistic
  • receptive and open
  • easily builds relationships
  • people orientated to the point where they’re often late or miss appointments (because they forgot)
  • easily bored
  • always have friends
  • attention span = interest in person or activity
  • can change focus instantly
  • competitive
  • disorganized
  • often struggle to control their emotions
  • like sports
  • dress fashionably
  • very worried about not making a good impression
  • excel at working with people


  • introverted
  • easy-going
  • unemotional
  • response to others: slow and indirect
  • like the quiet life
  • don’t get too involved with life and other people
  • approach to life: what will happen will happen
  • prefer to have a few close friends
  • once a relationship is established, they’re loyal to a fault
  • resistant to change
  • hold grudges
  • avoid conflict and decisions
  • practical, traditional thinkers
  • mask their true feelings
  • can be patient to the point of not doing anything, but once they decide to take action, they are tenacious and consistent in going after what they want.


  • introverted
  • analytical
  • logical
  • response to others: slow, cautious, indirect
  • reserved and suspicious until sure of someone’s intentions
  • timid
  • may appear unsure or have a serious expression
  • self-sacrificing
  • gifted, but perfectionistic
  • sensitive to what others think of what they do
  • organized, even if their workspace looks cluttered
  • out to make the best decision
  • when making a decision: collect information and need time to think and plan
  • fears risks and being seen as incompetent
  • tend to be negative towards change until thinking about it
  • skeptical
  • creative and capable
  • get bored with something once they’ve figured it out


Of course, most people have some traits from other temperaments mixed in. Some are combination of two or three temperaments. Then there are rare occasions that people are a mix of all four. So it could be fun to the build characters based on traits from more than one temperament. And then throw them into a situation with people with the opposite traits.

It’s nice to know, if we need building blocks for a character.

So have you ever used personality types to build your characters?

Key-Word Cavalry: Challenges in writing first novel

Every Wednesday except the first, I take a look at the search key-words that draw visitors to my blog. If I feel that the key-word/phrase is interesting or that I haven’t written about the topic enough, I write about it on Wednesdays.

Today’s phrase has me imagining that the person who wrote it is thinking about writing a novel, but have never tried it before.

So firstly, I want to commend this faceless person for not being stupid and going: “Phht. Writing schmiting. This is going to be easy.”

Because it isn’t. There are definitely some challenges, but they differ in size and variety from person to person, I think. However, here are some of my challenges:

1) The sheer scope of the story. I’m just going to give it to you straight: NOTHING prepares you for the work involved in writing a full-length novel. Not poetry. Not writing short stories. I know. I did both (and did really well with both) before I started novelling. Think about it. Poems can be long, but most of them don’t go too far beyond one or two hundred words. Short stories: maybe 5- 10 k words. Novels’ word count: 80-110k or more. Even if you write the equivalent of that in poems and short stories, it’s not the same. Why? Because…


2) Sustaining focus on a novel is a bitch. Really. You have to stick with a 80-110k word story through thick and thin, and if you’ve never done it before, you’re probably have a lot of problems after the first quarter of the book. But don’t give up. Eventually you will understand what it takes to get a story off the ground. It took me five years to get past the first quarter. Then I started on Doorways and got past the 25% barrier. After that, things went smoothly. I was lucky in that I didn’t have any problems in the middle of my story. You might not be that lucky, but then, you might not take 5 years to get past the first quarter.

3) Time. If you’re thinking: “Oh I want to write a novel, but I don’t have time…” I’m going to have to say that you either have to change your thinking or change your mind about writing. The reason why I say this is that no writer technically has time to write, unless they do it for a living. And even then, life is full of distractions. The only reason we’re still able to write is because we put it high on our priority lists. If you’re not willing to do this, I fear that this challenge will prove to be insurmountable.

4) Finally: The Doldrums. This was probably the biggest challenge I had while writing Doorways. Basically, if I got writer’s block or burned out after writing too much at a time, I’d have weeks of almost no productivity. These periods probably doubled the time it took me to write the story. Sad thing is, I don’t have a remedy for them except to wait them out.

But these are definitely not the only challenges to writing your first novel. So I’m going to ask my writing bloggie friends: What were your greatest challenges to writing your first novel?

Key-Word Cavalry: Revisions vs. Edits

Welcome to another Key-Word Cavalry day!

For all my new bloggy friends (and those who missed it before), every Wednesday except the first of the month, I answer some writing/editing etc. related questions.

I do this in two ways. I either go through the lists of key-phrases that brought hits to my blog, but that I don’t feel have been addressed enough by my posts, or I answer questions asked in the comments.

So… today is the latter.

Mina asked me on 27 April: ‘These are really terrific tips, some of which I’ve already been following. I’m not sure I quite grasp what you mean by #vi, though – would you please elaborate on the difference between “revising” and “editing”?’

My answer:


Although people use the terms revisions and edits interchangeably, they’re not in fact the same thing.

Revisions involve making big changes to a manuscript. Structurally: Adding or deleting chapters and all changes that need to happen as a result. Or in the story: Getting rid of or adding characters. Redoing important plot points that will require extensive changes to the rest of the work. Or other changes for example: changes in narrative like past tense to present tense, or first person to third person point of view.

Editing involves smaller, more localized changes. Editing can be subdivided further, but I’m not going to go into that too deeply. Examples of editing: replacing words with better ones, re-organizing paragraphs (although this can fall on the revision side of the line, depending on the amount of re-organizing you plan to do), fixing spelling and grammatical errors.

So when I say start with the biggest changes, I am suggesting that you start with structure (revising), then changing things within the story (revisions), then changes in narrative (revisions). Once that’s done: I suggest that you go through changes to paragraphs (as edits), then improving writing flow (edits), then replacing words (edits) and finally spelling and grammatical errors (edits).

The reason why I suggested this was simply as a way to save time. If you get stuck on small edits first and then discover that you need significant rewrites or deletions, you would have wasted lots of time fixing things that won’t even make it to the next draft.

Of course, no one follows the above to the letter, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who finished edits by mixing them with revision.

Hope this helped. 🙂

So! Do you agree on my somewhat short explanation of revisions vs. edits? Do you have any questions that you’d like for me to answer for Key-Word Cavalry?

Key-Word Cavalry: How Keywords Work

This isn’t, strictly speaking, something that came up among the key-words that brought searches to my blog. Instead, one of my better blogging friends, Wendy, asked on the very first Key-Word Cavalry post if I could do a post about the key-words themselves.
So here goes:

Google employs a few thousand Internet gremlins, you see. And every time you write something into the search engine, they send you to the web pages that they best think suit your search.

That’s what I used to think. In fact, I still like to think about it that way. Because a lot of what I do just comes naturally.

But, there are supposedly method to the madness, but since I’ll cling to the gremlin theory with my dying breath, I thought I’d refer you to someone else’s blog post that gives some great tips, much better than I could do it.

25 Reasons Why Google Hates Your Blog

So… what is your theory on how keywords work?

Key-Word Cavalry: Novel "doesn’t fit a genre"

This has been quite a bone of contention the previous times that it got mentioned on this blog, but since I haven’t ever really written about it myself, I thought I’d put my opinion out there.

So… you wrote a book. And it was beautiful. And unique.

So unique that it transcends genre.


After all, who are those evil corporate monsters to push your baby into a box that it never will comfortably fit?

Well, beloved searcher, while I have no idea what you were thinking as you typed today’s phrase, if it sounded like the above, you might want to look into going through a mind-shift.


For more than one reason:

First one would be if you want to trad publish, you want to make your book as easy to sell as possible. The easier it would be to sell, the bigger chance you’ll have of getting published. Publishing houses need to know which shelf your book needs to sit on. And it can’t sit on five different shelves. Because that would be stealing space from the poor person who wrote a simple but beautiful story that fit in only one genre.

Ha, you might say, I want to self publish. Excellent point, searcher. Except, we humans are silly creatures. You say: Epic romantic fantasy dreamscape with sci fi elements. We read: MESS.  This is not a poTAYto poTAHto scenario. Besides. I think it’s a lot better to be pleasantly surprised about what’s in the book. Rather than reading every single aspect of it while perusing the synopsis. 

But MISHAAAAAA, you might say, my book does not fit into a genre. Why am I going to put a square peg into a round hole? My answer to this is simple: Guess what. Most people’s books don’t fit exactly into a given genre. If they did, there would be no variety. Monotony is boring. Boring is bad. BUT, there is hope yet. If you stop being so worried about insulting a few strings in your storyline, you’ll find that some of those holes you mentioned are more square than others. Your peg will fit. Maybe not exactly, but close enough.

So… go for broad strokes. No story will be exactly equally fantasy/thriller/romance or whatever. If you sit still and think about it, one aspect will be bigger than the others. Do you worry more about the epic world than the thrill or romance? Then it’s a (thrilling but never say this) fantasy. If the thrill is more important, it’s a thriller (set in a fantasy world). If the story would cease to exist without the romance, it’s a romance (set in a fantasy world). Not that hard, is it?

Or perhaps you’re not dead sure about what genre you’re supposed to go for. In that case, there’s a useful genre map.
How did you decide on your genre?

Key-Word Cavalry: Help writing my first book.

So… when I saw that phrase among my key phrases, I was stumped.

Where would I begin to explain how to finish someone’s first book? After all, everyone’s writing method is a little different.

But I will not be scared off by this. No. I’m made out of sterner stuff.

The first bit of advice I can give you is this:

Get THIS muse.

Failing that, the best thing I can tell you to do is something that you might really get tired of hearing:

Keep writing.

If your story sucks and you find it isn’t worth your time, leave it alone and start something else. But don’t do that forever. At some point, something will be worth your time and when the going gets tough, you have to keep going.

All the way.

For as long as it takes.

Then… I strongly suggest that you play around until you find a method that works for you. Feel like plotting kills your story’s soul, try pantsing. Think that waiting for your muse sucks, try enticing her/him with cookies. Whatever works. As long as you write. Except in limited circumstances, procrastination is never a good idea.

But if you block, and writing through it doesn’t work, leave your project alone until the doldrums go away. If they don’t, go back to your writing desk and write nonsense until they do.

For the love of all that is holy, DON’T write to trends. Trends change before you can publish. And if you’re writing without passion, you won’t produce anything good enough to change the trends back again.

Finally: Never be afraid to explore an idea, even if you think it’s small or stupid. Because that idea might just be the right one that stirs enough passion for you to want to stick through the story.

What does it take for you to finish your story?

Key-word Cavalry: Writing Quiet Characters

For those of you that missed last week, the last three Wednesdays of every month will be taken up by Key-Word Cavalry, my attempt to answer the writing related key-words that lead people to my blog but that I don’t think have received due attention from me.

So today’s key-phrase: Writing Quiet Characters.

For all my life, I’ve had two specific types of characters that I loved most. First would be the bad-ass. The second would be the Quiet One.

Both are awesome for different reasons, but in every movie with a Quiet Character, I’ve always been intrigued by one. After all. Their silence implies something. Something mysterious. Something awesome. And we want to know.

There’s a depth to them, since they’re the guys who have to put up with living in their noisier (and often stupider) companion’s shadow. Usually the noisy one would fail to function if the Quiet One were to be removed from the equasion.

Makes for some excellent entertainment. So of course, when I started writing Doorways I was excited to know that one of my main characters is a Quiet One.

Little did I know what a pain he could be to write.

See, in the movies, we’re  constantly aware of his presence because we see him. Those moments that the camera focuses on him can be some of the most significant ones in the entire film.

In books, the reader can’t see him. Not unless they’re constantly reminded he’s there. Of course, I had the luck that his Noisy One needs and resents his presence at the same time. So if your quiet guy isn’t going to be the only main character, or if his noisy friend isn’t motivated to stay aware of him, I urge you to find a noisier replacement.

Still, the heart wants what the heart wants, so here are a few things to remember when writing a Quiet Character. (From own experience, so by all means, experiment. I’d love to know how it went.)

1) The character can never be completely quiet. Complete silence does not translate well to writing, unless we get to hear the character’s thoughts all the time.
2) There has to be a reason for his being there. Otherwise, the other characters in your cast will have to drag him along through the whole story. And as we all know, we cut the dragging bits out of our writing.
3) Strength. Presence. Conflict. Tension. He can maybe have two of these four characteristics missing. Any more, and we have ourselves a persona non grata. Someone who the readers will skip over when they encounter him. And it’s easy. Because he doesn’t have all that much to read about.
4) Something’s gotta give at some point. We the readers have to see him come into his own at some point. He has to get his voice, his moment.
5) For heaven’s sake. Let us see his reactions at some point. Don’t have him mutely follow everything he’s been told every time. Or let him, but let him be angry if it’s something he doesn’t want to do. He’s quiet, not emotionless or stupid.

Do you have a Quiet One in your story? How do you keep him from vanishing between the furniture?

I close this with the image of my favorite Quiet One. Yes he talks, but only because his subordinates don’t understand sign language. 

Key-Word Cavalry: Plot twists that everyone loves.

Due to a variety of reasons (and probably because the google gremlins like me), my blog usually shows up very high in most writing-related searches. Some others too, but that’s not the point.

Most of the blogging related key-words do have some answers somewhere in the bowls of this blog, but a few of them slip through the cracks. Or they don’t get their due attention from me.

Because of that, I’m getting into the habit of checking the key-words every week and see if I can answer the implied questions every Wednesday except for the first one of every month. I might even invite others to join my war on writing ignorance soon, but for today, I’ll fight alone.


It’s harder when writing.

Plot twists that everyone loves. Now the idea that I get from the phrase is that whoever did this search wants a list that he/she can throw into his/her story at random to get an exciting and lovable manuscript.

Uhm… sadly, my deluded lost one, I have to say that there is no such list. Even if it did, do you really want to chuck in all sorts of popular (and most likely hackneyed) twist into your story?

Don’t say yes.

In order to have plot twists that everyone loves, you need to create them in a way that everyone will love.

How are you supposed to do that?

Firstly, by constructing your story well enough to carry the twist without stressing the reader’s suspension of disbelief too far. The secret to this is in lying the foundation early on. NOTHING annoys a reader as much as Deus ex Machina (the appearence of a plot solution out of thin air) in any story, so make sure that every twist you write in has its origins in some point earlier on.

Long lost uncles and aunts no longer cut it. Nor does a twist born out of existent roots but insufficient detail. I’m looking at you, Master Crime Writer Who Annoys the Crap Out of Me.

Yes, your main characters are allowed to be super smart or almost invincible (although, where’s the fun in that?), but panning away from the character’s view point in order to maximize suspense and then have him/her save the day without us being there to see it happen, is a cop-out. 

And no one likes a cop-out. Look out for variations of these words in your manuscript: “It happened like this…” “It was as simple as…”, “The villain thought this, but in reality…”

If you really want a plot twist that everyone loves, make sure that there are ample subtle hints that the twist is possible throughout the story (no, I can’t stress this enough). Then distract the reader from it so that they don’t think about it until it happens. When it comes to a plot twist, the reader reaction you should always strive for is as follows:

1) What?!
2) How?!
3) Oh! I should have seen this coming.

Less than this is acceptable, but mediocre. Less than this will have readers liking/tolerating your twist, but not loving it.

What say you, writing friends? How does one create plot twists that everyone loves?