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Dear friends,

My question queues are running dry. If you’ve ever wanted to ask the Story Nurse something, now is a great time. If you’ve written in before, write in again! (Patreon patrons, don’t forget to use the patrons-only link to jump to the head of the line.)

I’ve also added new subscription options for your friends who aren’t already following Story Hospital. You can:

  • subscribe on WordPress: Follow Story Hospital
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Give someone you love a Story Hospital subscription by sending them to this page and encouraging them to sign up. All these options are free!

Of course, if you become a Patreon patron you will also get every post emailed to you two days early, and get a bunch of other perks, for just $1 a month (or more if you feel like it).

Mid-month progress on the patron drive: we’re at 107 patrons (goal is 120) and $270/month (goal is $300). Please encourage the writers you know to become Patreon patrons so I can make this year’s NaNoWriMo posts happen! If you’re already a patron, you can also increase your pledge. Just 30 people upping their pledges by $1/month would get us there.

Some of my past NaNo posts:

If you’re doing NaNo (in any form) and you think posts like these would be helpful, help me reach my pledge drive goals so I can write four brand new NaNoWriMo posts for you (and all the other NaNoers) in November.

Thank you so much for reading and supporting Story Hospital. I was astonished to see that over 1,000 people have already subscribed through WordPress or email—I never imagined having an audience like that. I’m here for all of you and hope you will all send me 1,000 questions to answer!

Cheers,

Story Nurse

#114: Exploring Third-Person Point of View

Dear Story Nurse,

I need some help loosening my grip on tight third person point of view. I write mostly fanfic, and tight third works well for shorter works, but I find that it breaks down in longer works. Most of the time, I work around it by occasionally changing POV at scene transitions or chapter breaks.

This leads to confusion for some readers because tight third, at least the way I use it, almost axiomatically creates narrators as unreliable (just in different ways) as first person POV does. First person is culturally coded as unreliable, so readers tend to question what the narrator is omitting or being misleading about. Third person, on the other hand, carries the implication that there isn’t a person withholding information or not understanding what they’re experiencing/observing.

When I write tight third, different POV characters have very different ideas about what the things they see and do mean and make assumptions about what other people think, feel, and intend. Any particular character’s section may contain major conflicts with other characters’ sections.

I like writing this way and enjoy reading things written this way, but the comments I’ve gotten have made me think about the fact that I can write tight third and first but not omniscient third or even a more distant third. I would like to figure out how to approach those.

Thanks!

—Anne (she/her)

Dear Anne,

Learning new writing skills is usually valuable (unless you’re doing it to procrastinate), but I want to caution you against thinking that you have to change the way you write because it doesn’t work for a few readers. If you’re happy writing tight third and you’re reaching at least some readers who seem to really get what you’re doing with it, it may make more sense to work on setting reader expectations around reliability of narrators in that context. For example, you can switch POV more frequently so that the differences between two people’s experiences of a situation show up earlier and establish that this is a thing that can and will happen in your stories, or have side characters argue with your POV characters about how they’re interpreting events, so as to remind readers that the POV character is not infallible. And remember that nothing you write will reach or please every single person who reads it, so you’re best off continuing to write what makes you happy.

But that’s not what you asked! So for general tips on writing looser third-person fiction, read on.

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#113: Getting Beyond the Beginning

Dear Story Nurse,

Lately, I keep coming up with setups for stories – complete with hooks and challenges I think will be really fun! – and then I look at all this space afterwards and have no idea what to put there. I guess I give the characters problems, but I get stuck trying to find the actual solutions. I keep trying to plot and getting really tied up in knots, and then writing scenes just to get into the story and losing interest quickly because I realize I’m just building a path as I go and it’s going nowhere in particular.

Any tips for getting unstuck and figuring out middles and ends?

—But to What End (she/her)

Dear But to What End,

That sounds very frustrating. You’re certainly not alone in having trouble getting past the beginning of your stories. On the life and mindset side, I’ve answered similar questions from people who are recovering from stressful events, getting back to writing after a long time away, stuck on “should”, and having trouble staying focused. On the craft side, I’ve helped writers who get carried away with big ideas, can’t choose among several possible endingsdon’t know how to make endings feel smooth, and have protagonists who aren’t active enough to push the story to a conclusion. If any of those sound similar to your situation, those posts may be helpful.

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#112: How to Get Characters out of Bed

Dear Story Nurse,

How do I write plot that isn’t porn??? Sometimes the characters have got to get out of bed, or they’ll chafe!!!

—angelsaves (she/her)

Dear angelsaves,

This is a delightful dilemma. My immediate question is, what do the characters want that isn’t sex? I don’t mean instead of, but in addition to. Because even when someone really, really, really wants sex, they want other things too, related or unrelated to the sexual desire.

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It’s October Patron Drive Time!

Dear friends,

It’s October, and that means it’s time for the third annual Story Hospital patron drive!* As always, if we meet the patron goal, I will make four extra posts in November for NaNoWriMo. I love writing these posts and am already pondering topics, so I hope you will help me out by spreading the word.

* Last year I seriously considered leaving Patreon, but I have not yet found another good way to make Story Hospital self-supporting. I do love the Patreon idea and ideal, and I love being part of the ecosystem of small creators supporting one another. So, for the nonce, I’m sticking with it.

As some of you may have noticed, I’m no longer on Twitter, and I have never used Facebook. These choices are what’s best for me personally, but they do make it challenging to spread the word about Story Hospital. Therefore, I’m counting on all of you.

My October pledge drive goals are 120 patrons or $300/month. (We’re currently at 102 and $256.) I think these goals entirely attainable. But for a handful of new people to pledge support, many more than that need to visit Story Hospital’s Patreon page.

Between now and the end of October, please share that link with at least one writer you know who you think would benefit from Story Hospital’s advice. Don’t spam anyone; make the connection personal. Share some specific posts, on storyhospital.com or on Patreon, that you think this writer would find useful. And if you’re a patron, tell your friend why you think Story Hospital is worth supporting.

If you do use social media or hang out on writing forums, feel free to post Story Hospital links there too. But sharing directly with a writer you know is the best way for you to support the site.

Here are some popular craft posts to share:

And some about the emotional and psychological side of writing:

Thanks as always to the letter writers and others who inspired these posts. (While I’m here asking for favors, ask me questions! Your letters are vital to keeping Story Hospital going.)

Writing my weekly Story Hospital posts is one of the great joys of my life, and your contributions make it possible for me to keep doing it. If you’re a patron, thank you so much! If you aren’t already a patron, please consider making a pledge of just $1/month. If patronage is not for you for whatever reason, thank you for reading, linking, and commenting. Even if all you do is make my hit counter go up, I see that and appreciate it.

120 patrons. $300 a month. I think we can do this. Let’s go!

Gratefully,

Story Nurse

#111: Habit and Quantity vs. Inspiration and Quality

Dear Story Nurse,

I was wondering what advice you have for someone who knows she produces better writing when she’s “feeling it” but can’t force herself to “feel it”.

Background: I have finished a few novels and am involved in an online workshop. My process is usually a creative phase, where I create an outline, brainstorm ideas, tinker with the structure, determine pacing and so on. I write snippets of dialog to get a feel for the characters and create a basic synopsis. I usually give myself a lot of time for ideas to gestate and only work on them when I feel good about the process. It is not part of the “write every day” regimen.

After that, the second “write every day” phase begins. So I write, every day, even when depression gets the better of me or life gets in the way. I’ve got that part down.

Then, third phase editing, which I really enjoy. I finish my projects to my personal satisfaction. I’m not looking to get published at the moment (my personal life is too fraught lately to be able to emotionally handle the inevitable rejection treadmill) so I am content with finishing solid first or second drafts to keep in the drawer for later, when I’m better equipped to tackle the industry.

My problem exists in the second phase, and it’s becoming a real hurdle.

I have noticed a quality drop when I force myself to write when I’m not really feeling it. I’m glad the words are on the page, but I know the words could have been much, much better if I had been enthusiastically and emotionally involved rather than dutifully hitting my targets for the day. The reason I persist with the schedule even if it produces sub-par work is that “inspiration” and “feeling it” are unreliable things you can’t force. I’d rather get it done than wait around for a flighty muse. But I’ve hit a point now where I feel that producing rote prose is just me creating problems for myself in editing. It’s much harder for me to improve my writing during the editing phase than it is to just get it right the first time around. (I quite literally live for the moment when all the stars align and I just get engrossed in writing to the point of intense personal satisfaction, when the hours fly by and the result turns out every bit as good as I felt it was while working on it. It’s truly like a drug for me and I crave it like you wouldn’t believe.)

I’ve tried to follow advice to get around this: write the less important parts when you’re not feeling it, save the intense moments for when creativity peaks. But that clashes with another piece of writing advice I hold dear: if it’s not important or interesting, scrap it. Besides, I like to write chronologically and not skip around too much. I really need that self-imposed structure or I’d be off writing an encyclopedia of unnecessary fluff and create even more problems in editing.

Is this a situation where I just need to “git gud” and learn to produce quality prose on demand, even if I’m not feeling very connected to the material that day? Should everything I write be super engaging to me by default and is it a bad sign when I’m not connecting? Is “write every day” just not good advice for me? Is this a case where mental illness prevents me from gaining benefit from otherwise good advice? Or is this my well-documented perfectionism sabotaging me again?

After many years of buck wild pantsing and unfinished projects, I really, truly like having actual output for a change, so I hesitate to change my process. But I’m getting sick of reading back over my work and thinking “wow, this could have been so much better if I actually gave a crap that day.”

I’d love your take on this!

—Charlotte (she/her)

Dear Charlotte,

It sounds to me like the clash you’re having is a clash of priorities, where prioritizing any of writing speed, quality, and effort leaves the others wanting. In other words, it’s a classic case of the Design Triangle: “fast, good, and cheap: pick any two.”

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#110: Writing During Times of Life Upheaval

Dear Story Nurse,

For the past year or so, I’ve been making an effort to develop some good writing habits, progress has been mixed (this is just for framing). But I am now rapidly coming towards the very end stages of my Ph.D. I don’t really want any additional sources of stress right now, and I don’t want to just stop writing for months if I can help it, so I declared writing habit amnesty for myself and gave myself permission to write whatever I want, and take breaks when I need to.

I know this was the right choice for the circumstance, I can pick up my more serious writing goals later, and yet I still feel guilty when I don’t write for a few days or I sit down to write and don’t Focus on my Serious Projects. And that’s after I bludgeon the brainweasels that consider a Thesis a 24/7 project.

Any tips for silencing the jerk-brain?

—Aspiring Slacker (she/her)

Dear Aspiring Slacker,

If you’re feeling guilty and anxious when you don’t write, do write but don’t work on serious projects, or do work on serious projects but not on your thesis, it sounds to me like the anxiety is not about writing but is about you generally being anxious right now. This is totally normal and understandable for someone at this stage of a PhD, as I understand it, so please start by forgiving yourself for being stressed out by a very, very stressful situation.

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GYWO: Staying Strong While Writing Long

GYWO is Get Your Words Out, a wonderful writing accountability community. I joined this year and I’m really enjoying it. I wrote this post for the GYWO community, and the moderators have kindly allowed me to mirror it on Story Hospital. My last GYWO post was on why every writer needs a style guide.

The suggested topic for this post was “Plotting Out and Writing Long Things Without Losing Interest” but I want to write more broadly about staying interested in long works, because sometimes plotting them out is antithetical to keeping the momentum going.

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#109: How to Write Smooth, Satisfying Transitions

Dear Story Nurse,

How do I write transitions? I prefer airy prose and I’m often told my work is floaty. I worry that my transitions change the tone of my work or are jarring, so I was wondering if you had any tips for me.

Thank you, Story Nurse!

—L (she/they)

Dear L,

This is such an enticing question. Without seeing samples of your work, my guess is that your issue with transitions—from scene to scene, or from space to space within a scene—is that they can be grounding, reminding readers that they’re reading or anchoring a work to a particular physical space. But grounding isn’t contradictory to floaty, airy work; it’s necessary, and satisfying.

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#108: Writing Through Anxiety

This question came from the priority request queue for my Patreon patrons. Thanks for your support, letter writer!

Hi,

I used to want to be a writer very badly. It was my childhood dream and my direction in life, etc etc. I never wrote as much as I felt I should have for the ‘title’ of writer, but I wrote poetry, short stories and started terrible novels.

During my time at university, I gave a few stories to a guy I was hoping would become a mentor, or at least some kind of writing peer. He basically ignored them, and after seeing me on campus one time after that said he assumed we would never run into each other again.

My confidence was severely knocked by this, and I decided to basically just concentrate on poetry. I struggled a lot with worrying my poetry was hackneyed, ‘too American’ as one of the people in my uni’s poetry society would have said (she assumed that certain ways of writing poetry, like in more of a slam style, was always affected, as we are British and it’s not our tradition or something?), and just generally not as good as I would have liked. I quickly shelved that too. I’ve lost the majority of my writing from that period, so I have little to check to see if I still feel it’s all terrible.

I realise reading this back I have issues with negative criticism. I had received more positive (or neutral to be honest) feedback than bad about my work up until the points I stopped writing, I just discounted it. Usually my reader wasn’t a writer/editor, or I assumed they were being kind.

I’ve recently begun writing again, trying to do five hundred words a day in a low pressure, write-whatever-feels-good kind of way. I’m writing non-fiction pieces about my life, some article style, some more memoir, and it feels good to write again. The idea of writing a story or poem though makes me feel panicked and like I’m “not ready”, and that everything I write is going to be awful.

I know that writing the terrible words is the only way to get to the good ones intellectually. Translating that into action and pushing through the emotional discomfort is proving really difficult.

How can I get comfortable – or at least not doubled over in emotional pain – with writing creatively again? Is this something I should expect to be able to do again or is this just me discovering I should write non-fiction? And also, how do I stop being so hampered by negative criticism?

Thanks so much for reading this, I really appreciate this blog!

—Writing Again (they/them)

Dear Writing Again,

Your letter reminds me a lot of #106, Writing Through Depression, except that it sounds like what you’re dealing with is a pile of anxiety (perhaps in addition to depression). It’s both undermined your ability to gauge the quality of your own work and made it very difficult for you to accept quality judgments from others: any compliment is minimized and any critique is magnified. Even the absence of meaningful communication, as with the guy who gave your stories to who then blew you off, is interpreted in the worst possible way. And you already assume that any words you write are going to be “terrible” and “awful”.

Continue reading