Archive for the ‘on Writing’ Category

Having Your Novel Published

Saturday, January 7th, 2017
Image Credit: http://nerdist.com/inkshares-nerdist-novel-contest-published-sci-fi-fantasy-enter/

Image Credit: http://nerdist.com/inkshares-nerdist-novel-contest-published-sci-fi-fantasy-enter/

This blog post is for people who want to get published in some way. If you’re looking to get in print, be warned: it will be hard, it will be more commercial-based than your average undergrad creative writing course, and you will probably have to spend some money.

I got lucky and Lorrie Moore taught my creative writing class last semester, so I shall pass along some of her advice.

Don’t just send your manuscript to random publishing houses. It’s the same principle as sending your own mixtape to a record label—there are people specifically hired to go out and find new writers (or new music), and they are not sifting through pounds of unsolicited novels. If you’re determined to get this specific novel published, start small. Pick a little publisher who is not daily inundated with other peoples’ manuscripts. Send your writing to literary agents, who will in turn talk to publishers.

Send an excerpt to a magazine. Publishing houses don’t solicit books; magazines do solicit short stories. Some have short story contests alongside their regular content, some are devoted to short stories, and some love brilliant excerpts from larger pieces. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The Paris Review are mainstays. Esquire and GQ occasionally run contests. Explore magazines that are more specific to your subject and style: McSweeney’s is known for its humor, Seventeen caters to the “young adult women” genre (and they run a yearly short story contest), Asimov’s Science Fiction is devoted, naturally, to science fiction. If these all feel a little too mainstream, hit up any number of college reviews. Kenyon Review and Five Points are the most acclaimed.

Better yet, write a new short story and submit it. It’s hard to justify an excerpt of a larger work over a completed, within word count restraints, short story. Stretch those writing muscles. Word limits vary from magazine to magazine. Try to keep your story under 3,000. As a warning, submitting for contests and sometimes for general content often involves a submission fee. Don’t back out of an opportunity just because it will cost you, but know that it will cost you.

Publish online. If you’re not into the whole printing press, you do have an entire internet at your disposal: wordpress, tumblr, livejournal, AO3, etc: not just for social media. You can also set up your own page quick and simple using Google Page Creator. But if you’re serious about your writing—serious enough to put it on the internet, which is just a giant audience of Anon—it’s worth putting money on a domain name and a professional design.

Part of the getting published game is just waiting for the right moment, or trusting yourself over the publishers. A nice anecdote about this: a poetry professor once submitted his poem to an anthology; the editors sent it back with an encouraging note and a pageful of edits. He waited a few months, then resubmitted the same poem with a thank you note about the edits. The editors then published it. Trust your instincts. And suck up a little.

Sidebar: But part of the getting published game is about your writing as well.   You’re going to become disillusioned with your own accomplishment. You’re young and inexperienced and these things take time. Have some encouragement from Ira Glass:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me…is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during the Welcome Week of 2015.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

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Time for Revision

Saturday, December 31st, 2016
Image Credit: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/category/editing-your-novel/page/2/

Image Credit: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/category/editing-your-novel/page/2/

Yay! You’re finished! Congratulations. Pour yourself a nice flute of champagne and relax. You’ve earned it. You just wrote a novel.

If you just wanted to write a novel to write a novel and maybe brag about it to some people, then by all means, get on with it. If you want to share it with some of your closest literary friends or maybe send an excerpt to the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly—still take your time enjoying the champagne. Put the whole thing out of your mind for at least a few days. When you’re still in the mindset of cranking out the words, it’s easy to get attached to passages or characters that actually drag down your writing. After a nice rest, prepare yourself for the revision cave.

 The Writing

Now’s the time to look carefully at your writing, its mechanics and logical constructions. Style has nothing to do with it; it’s strictly a close, word-by-word reading. Check your diction. Do you really need to use “twirl” twice in one short paragraph when you envision two different motions (other words: “swirl,” “spin,” “turn,” “stir”)? Do you really need to use different speech tags (said, shouted, murmured, whispered, accused, countered, replied, yelled, etc) when the characters are having a superficially low-key conversation and everything is actually just “said”? Jeffrey Eugenides raises a similar complaint about Oscar Wilde’s diction in The Picture of Dorian Gray; Wilde doesn’t abuse his thesaurus, he merely dramatizes everything. No one ever just sits, everyone “flings himself down” on something. If Dorian is uncomfortable, he always does things nervously, and when he’s nervous, he always twitches. Pick the right word for the right image.

 The Arc

Go through and, at the end of each chapter or section or what have you, record the characters’ progressions in that section, how it fits into their overall transformations, and major plot developments. If a character regresses at some point, does it make sense? People regress all the time. There’s usually an impetus. You can’t crowd everything under the umbrella of “it’s the character” just because that’s how they were at the start. Even if you’d prefer to keep a character static, make sure the justification comes through. Laying out developments in this outline can also help you pinpoint trouble spots in pacing.

 Excise, Excise, Excise

Just because it’s a novel and you can make it as long as you want doesn’t mean you need to devote lines to everyone’s hair color and outfit or the entire layout of a room. Of course, there will be parts that need more clarification, but for the most part, you can afford to cut out entire paragraphs without confusing anyone. Whatever you leave in has to have a purpose. You don’t necessarily have to follow Chekov’s Rule, but if you’re going to spend the time to note what your characters order from Starbucks, then their orders have to mean something. Hot chocolate? Iced coffee during a Russian winter? Drip coffee instead of a latte? Americano instead of drip coffee? In real life, that doesn’t indicate anything significant, but in a novel, it matters (unless your point is that it doesn’t actually matter, in which case you have more thematic issues to sort anyway). Oh, and that huge existential monologue/soliloquy with some beautifully flowery phrases you wrote in a feverish haze of inspiration can stand to lose half its length. Hemingway says of his writing process, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” We’re not all minimalists like Hemingway, though. Hold onto some of your pretty, introspective bits. The good bits.

 Sidebar:

If you need a break or want to procrastinate even more, spend some time on www.reasoningwithvampires.tumblr.com, a snarky passage-by-passage critique of Twilight. It’s an equal opportunity hater with regards to all the things people find wrong with Twilight, so be forewarned…but definitely pay attention to perhaps the most indisputable problem with the series: it’s just not well written. There are periods of rampant thesaurus abuse; there are periods of predictable diction; there are moments when the limited first person is suddenly omniscient; there are illogical sequences of action, in which someone walks away and suddenly reappears to respond to something; there are sloppy (rather than stylistic) comma misuse. (What’s the difference between a sloppy and a stylistic one? In Twilight: “He lay, smiling hugely, across my bed, his hands behind his head, his feet dangling off the end, the picture of ease.” In Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That”: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” Didion said in an interview, “every word and every comma and every absence of a word or comma can change the meaning, make the rhythm, make the difference.” Sometimes you have to earn the right to flaunt grammar. Life’s not all fair.) Forget Bella and Edward’s questionable status as “heroine” and “the best dark brooding boyfriend ever.” When your words and their order distract a reader from the throwaway details they describe, something is wrong.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

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Writing a Good Ending

Saturday, December 24th, 2016
Image Credit: http://jasonfischer.com.au/i-finished-my-damn-novel/

Image Credit: http://jasonfischer.com.au/i-finished-my-damn-novel/

So you’re finally at the end. All ready to wrap up these 50,000 words. Feels great, right? You just need to write the ending…which can be tricky. My ghostwriting friend once said, “I actually hate the ending to most books. A lot of them have great last lines, but I’m always underwhelmed.”

When it comes to endings, novels and short stories again can have completely different natures. It’s all right to write your ending first—some of the better stories I’ve written started with the last line. It’s just another matter of getting the characters from the climactic fallout to the last line. It’s also important to know exactly where to start or stop the resolutions. A short story can be an interlude; it can lead right up to a huge battle or a nervous confession, and then end. The momentary crisis has been resolved. Leave the character to confront bigger issues by himself. There will always be people who wish that a story would extend longer than it did—that’s fine. But in a novel, which is all about life changes, there needs to be some indication that life has changed. Resolution is key.

At the same time, “resolution” and “open-ended” aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Open endings are great, and often more realistic. It’s rare to find people who’ve completely closed off parts of their lives. (For example, people always complain that the “real” world is just like high school, and it’s true: people tend to get stuck on high school resentments, and, no matter what, they’ll always keep tabs on a few classmates and laugh when someone ends up getting fat.) Bret Easton Ellis never indicates whether any of the events in American Psycho or Rules of Attraction actually happened; the truth is left ambiguous, the mad characters’ fates hanging uncertainly after the fallout. Of course, that’s the entire point that Ellis is trying to make in his novels, so it works.

Whether you choose to end ambiguously or more resolutely, consider your novel’s themes again. How does your ending cap off the larger questions in your conflicts? Is total, unabated personal freedom worth the societal breakdowns that might happen? Is it right in theory, only just for certain people (and more on the nose, maybe it’s not right for the character you killed off fifty pages earlier)? Does the vapid, soul-sucking glamour of the famous and rich inevitably destroy morality and meaning in life?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s also the danger of overwriting your ending. To draw on a movie, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King essentially has three endings: Frodo waking up in Rivendell and reuniting with the Fellowship, Aragorn’s coronation and wedding in Gondor, and the elves’ (and Frodo’s and Gimli’s) final departure from Middle Earth. This isn’t to say that these resolutions aren’t necessary. It’s just that the end of Frodo’s mission, Aragorn’s reinstatement as an honorable king of Men, and the conclusion to the elves’ saga in Middle Earth are all treated separately (and all three end on those long fade-to-white shots that clearly should fade into credits). Consolidate your resolutions, but do it thoroughly.

Sidebar: The greatest advice I’ve ever gotten is from Susanna Moore, who once said of my short story ending, “It’s a little too squishy. Too much.” She uses “squishy” in her criticism, which can stand for triteness, overly sentimental passages, sentences that sound nice but don’t indicate anything…and endings are especially vulnerable to squishiness. Novel endings are not huge dramatic banners. Don’t overshadow your climax.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

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Spice Up Your Plot

Sunday, December 18th, 2016
Image Credit: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/outdoor/guides/2010/05/guide-to-insurance-for-adventure-travel

Image Credit: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/outdoor/guides/2010/05/guide-to-insurance-for-adventure-travel

Sometimes life goes according to plan and everything is awesome and your vague (or incredibly detailed) plot outline pulls together perfectly after months or years of staring at a screen muttering, “I know where they need to go, I just need to get them there.”

Sometimes you finally hit the climax of your novel and it feels very anticlimactic. You’ve written the final reveal — a shootout, a betrayal, a Dave Caruso-esque realization — but it doesn’t feel big. The stakes just aren’t high enough.

Well, before you jump that shark, let the novel sit. You’ve been thinking about it for a while, off-and-on since you started writing. Of course, you know what’s going to happen — you’ve probably also considered several other ways it could go, which can lessen the importance of whatever line you picked. Walk away for a little while. Don’t think about it at all for a bit — a day, a week, until finals are over… Then reread it from the start. This is a novel, not a TV show or movie. The place for small, understated stories is much larger in print than it is on a screen. Don’t amp it up just because a main character always gets shot in the third season of any crime show ever and what could top potentially fatal gunshot wounds? (The answer is a lot. Funerals and weddings, for example.)

At the same time, if you do feel that your stakes need a boost, here are a few things you can add:

  • Kill Off a Character – it doesn’t have to be a drawn-out emotionally fraught death. It can even happen off-page. The aftermath is what’s important. Just keep in mind that deaths have a ripple effect, and every remaining character is going to be affected beyond the climax. Pick a character whose personality logically fits dying in whatever manner you choose. Go back and scatter foreshadowing through the rising action.
  • Throw in a Pregnancy – nothing upends a tense wedding scene/tentative reunion like a nice illicit pregnancy. Pregnant news affects people differently, and, of course, there’s an entire undercurrent of whatever character histories are at play, which can add a layer to the events, such as resentment, concern, anger, angst, etc.
  • Make It A Family Betrayal – if your protagonist is on the verge of solving a mystery (spy, murder, theft, drug cartels, etc), and someone tips off the opposition, add a little family drama. It can be completely blindsiding (and devastating) or somewhat expected (bad family relationships are mines for exposing character flaws). This also makes everything more personal, which is great for adding personal desire vs common desire conflicts.
  • Put a Bomb Under the Table – Alfred Hitchcock used this example to champion suspense over surprise. Say two people are having breakfast, and suddenly, a bomb explodes under the table. The reader is surprised for about fifteen seconds. Now say that a saboteur has planted the bomb under the table, and these two people unwittingly sit down to breakfast. The bomb will go off — oh, it will — but now the reader knows it’s there, and the breakfasters do not. There’s an extra investment of when will it go off and will important things get resolved before it goes off. Clue your readers in before you do the same for your characters. Introduce the danger and risks covertly. The issue with this suspense trick is that it only raises stakes for the reader. The unsuspecting people involved don’t know any better (this is why many pre-World War II stories are both amusing and dully formulaic).

Sidebar:

Of course, these apply to broad, more commercial plots. Your particular novel might not be able to incorporate any of these. In that case, there’s always the option to end the world and then take some characters through the ensuing zombie apocalypse. If you’re feeling particularly uninspired, read some more books and take a crisis from one of them. Or several. Good writers borrow, great writers steal, and so on.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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Hitting the Plateau

Saturday, December 10th, 2016
Image Credit: http://araugustyn.com/overcoming-writers-block/

Image Credit: http://araugustyn.com/overcoming-writers-block/

For the first few days or weeks, your novel will seem easy. You’ve settled into a style, you’re inspired by everything around you, you’re writing your favorite chunks of the plot. But then disaster will strike. You know that you have to link two sections of your novel, but the effort of thinking about it, much less sitting down to write it, is too much. Plus, every time you sit down to write, you can’t get into the rhythm of your style, and everything you produce feels trite and insufficient. It will not be fun.

At this point, many people give up on their novels (see myunfinishednovel.com). It just happens. And maybe most tellingly, you won’t think about your characters or your plot for days; you won’t notice small details in your everyday life and remember them for later. You will hit a writer’s block.

This is fine. It happens. If you’ve completely stopped caring about your seedling novel, then maybe it’s time to let it go. People do “outgrow” the stories that they once wanted to tell. But if you still like what you’ve written so far and you’re still (even abstractly) interested in seeing your characters through, then here are a few tips to get through the hard times:

Keep a notebook and pen/pencil with you always. You’ll have experienced by now the difference between composing paragraphs in your head and transposing them onto paper. A brilliant subway train of thought always deteriorates by the time you get to your stop. I know that you spent over half your life on a computer. You’ve been allowed to take notes on a laptop since the start of freshman year. But look: don’t underestimate the power of writing things down.

Make playlists. Follow the tradition of vampire/supernatural novelists (Stephanie Meyer and Kim Harrison do it) and several pop-y TV writers (The OC did this too): make character-specific playlists. It’s like making a playlist for finals. It’s a fun way to procrastinate, and thinking about specific songs also forces you to think about the specific character and how much certain songs fit into their lives. You can also make plot-specific playlists, or if you want to get super specific, cross reference the two and make a really comprehensive series of playlists for every character in every scene. Having a standard set of associations with your novel will also help you get into the same mood every time you prepare to really write.

Write. Write more. Joyce Carol Oates writes for about eight hours a day. Ray Bradbury tries to finish one short story a day. Ask any writer, fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or historical: the only way out is to keep writing. Whether you use any of the material you write during your dry spell is irrelevant. Take fifteen minutes at the beginning of everyday and just free write—don’t worry about the topic or spelling or punctuation. Write your bridge chapter badly, changing it every day until you can move on to the next bit. Write in the present. Write in the future. You know. Stick with it and all that.

Sidebar:

Casting your novel

A friend of mine is ghost-writing a creative non-fiction book about her boss’s grandmother. She finds it easier to work when she can look at the grandmother’s photo; she imagines the woman in the photo living her life and narrates that. I’ve celebrity cast my novel (Josh Jackson and Matthew Goode are in it), and I find that putting the thoughts and actions on a physical body helps me map a logical progression of what happens next. Also, looking up photos and making pretty montages is a great way to procrastinate.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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It’s Time To Start Writing

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016
Image Credit: http://www.professorbeej.com/2010/07/writing-my-novel-keep-on-writing.html

Image Credit: http://www.professorbeej.com/2010/07/writing-my-novel-keep-on-writing.html

So you’ve amassed enough raw ideas and information to start actually writing your novel (or maybe not. You might work better just free-writing and then fact-check-editing all at once. I don’t know your life). The task of sitting down to commit your ideas to paper can be a tough one, I know. It’s like writing a final term paper; you chose your final topic based on your greatest interest (maybe strategically planning to hold off on this topic until the final paper) and it’s actually a fun time doing the prep work—but you still have to write the paper.

At this stage, you should experiment with your writing environment and figure out what works best for what mood. A café might be great for regrouping your thoughts. A silent library might be best for sitting down and grinding out a chapter or two in a few hours. Or perhaps you’ll find that like Virginia Woolf, you work best in your own room. Make a working playlist. Try writing out your initial draft by hand. Maybe borrow a typewriter. Your novel doesn’t have a concrete deadline. Spend a few days just optimizing your productivity.

Places for Writers in New York

Café’s: ‘Snice (45 8th Street), Hungarian Pastry Shop (1030 Amsterdam Avenue), B Cup Café (212 Avenue B), The Tea Lounge (837 Union Street, Brooklyn), Outpost Lounge (where I write, 1014 Fulton Street, Brooklyn)

Workspaces: The Writer’s Studio at the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction (17 E 47th Street, by application and with membership fee), Paragraph (35 W 14th Street, by application and with membership fee), Brooklyn Creative Lounge (540 President Street, Brooklyn, by application ad with membership fee), New York Public Libraries…your…campus libraries?

If you are not terribly distractible when working with other people, it could help to join a writers’ salon so that you can discuss your writing or perhaps motivate yourself to write with other people.

Sidebar: Writing habits or haunts of various authors

Joyce Carol Oates writes in longhand for six to eight hours every day.

Truman Capote wrote while lying down, drinking and smoking cigarettes.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels all on index cards.

Tom Wolfe writes ten pages every day, regardless of how long it takes for him to finish.

Edgar Allan Poe as well as Jonathan Franzen spent some time at The Writer’s Studio at the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction

Joan Didion consistently rewrites her novels from the beginning (or almost beginning) every day.

Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac both wrote in the Village bar, Kettle of Fish

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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Do Your Research

Saturday, November 26th, 2016
Image Credit: https://uwioss.com/2016/01/22/efc-tip-8-do-your-research/

Image Credit: https://uwioss.com/2016/01/22/efc-tip-8-do-your-research/

Whether you’re writing a historical or modern or fantastical or futuristic scifi novel, do your research. If your character listens to the radio in World War II, what exact kind of reports are they listening to? Is there music? Which songs, what genre, what is the character’s opinion of it and does it contrast with the historically recorded attitude? (You don’t necessarily have to pump all this information at once. Or at all. But if you choose to include that detail about the radio, then it’s significant in some way and it does contribute to the character’s definition.) If you’re writing a CIA spy novel, what screening process do people actually have to go through now to enter the CIA? Would your character have to worry about it or not?

Even in completely invented settings, the details matter. You won’t have to do much concrete research, but do consider that while you don’t care about the economical structure of the futuristic dystopia that you’ve invented, or maybe the specifics of swordsmanship are irrelevant to your medieval-esque fantasy, someone will question it. The issue of how your characters make money or whether money is even extant matters. A saber is not an epee is not a foil is not a broadsword, and certain actions simply can’t be done with a broadsword. If you just wing it, your novel will lose credibility.

A common Terry Pratchett Discworld theme to keep in mind: people can accept a large, improbable event in your characters’ lives, but they more readily notice and reject wrong (or missing) details.

On researching while you write: inevitably, you will come up with extra scenes or maybe change a character’s profession to better suit your novel. It’s easy to Wikipedia whatever details you want to add, but of course that usually devolves into lost hours clicking around on Wikipedia. Sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow uses this tip: when you come to a point that needs research, just type “TK” where your facts should be. The combination of the letters “TK” is rare in the English language, so you can do a quick document search at the end of a writing session to find where you need to fact-check.

Sidebar: Excellent places in the city to research:

The National Archives (201 Varick Street)

Houses or has access to all government-related archives in American history. Excellent collection of primary sources, from genealogy to previously passed economic policies. Good for historical American novels or more general research on political intrigues. Call ahead if you want to use an archived material in person.

The New York Public Library (Main Branch on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue)

Holds archives on several different topics in its various branches; art and architecture at the Main Branch; Performing Arts in the Lincoln Center Branch; science and business at 188 Madison Avenue branch. Great for reading in general, but especially good for nailing down the details in your settings. Protip: The Main Branch also has a huge collection of original manuscripts from interviews with common New Yorkers to the papers of writers such as Truman Capote and James Joyce. It’s worth checking out, but if you want to take notes, use the paper and pencil provided. The librarians will not hesitate to throw you out if you write in pen. Or use your own notebook.

Central Park (Central Park)

Work on your tan and eavesdrop on passing conversations. There’s no limit to the topics that people willingly discuss in public, and it’s a great way to pick up and squirrel away some idiosyncrasies of humanity.

American Museum of Natural History (200 Central Park West)

Scads of scientific information, as well as physical reproductions of animals existing and extinct, an exhibit about space, and everything in between. Iron out the scientific justifications for your aliens’ appearances (as H.G. Wells does in War of the Worlds), or visualize your nomadic protagonist trekking across the sweeping savannahs of Africa.

International Travels (Various)

Not writing your novel on Americans? Have a love affair with Western Europe (like T. S. Eliot) or perhaps East Asia (like Pearl S. Buck)? Well, sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to get a feel for your (Earth-bound) setting unless you actually physically visit. The importance of small details in daily life, like tipping in restaurants or physical proximity to country borders or a country’s layout around bodies of water, aren’t prominent until you have to deal with a different system. (Did you know that microwavable burritos are not common in England? If your British character gets the munchies, kebabs or fried chicken are more likely.)

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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4 Things to Consider Before Writing a Novel

Saturday, November 19th, 2016
Image Credit: https://thetermaganttarleisio.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/hand_writing.jpg

Image Credit: https://thetermaganttarleisio.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/hand_writing.jpg

1) Characters

Establish your characters. It can be a quick profile to a two-page-long character history. Understand their backgrounds, how their histories shaped them and put them into your narrative, what their purposes serve. Don’t hesitate to cut one if you find that two characters are serving the same purpose (all the friends in a social circle, for example, can usually be condensed into one or two people, unless they’re specifically set as foils to each other).

2) Setting

Know exactly when and where your story takes place. You might just want to write a generic 19th century Gothic novel, but time and place matter. The dark forests of Italy give a different connotation than the swarthy heaths of England, and neither are quite as exotic (or potentially cliché-ridden) as a crumbling castle in Romania. Grounding your novel in a time and place gives it specificity, which gives the readers a concrete understanding of the world that your characters are in. It may be that the characters are used to dreary heavy clothing or terrifyingly sublime views from cliffs, but the readers are not. Familiarize them.

 3) Plot

You don’t have to know exactly how a conflict will resolve, or how it will arise, when you start writing. Often, the plot changes as you write. But you should have an idea of where the character will be at the end of the novel, so that there is some loose structure and an endgame in sight. Some people story board their entire novels; some people just start with a character in a setting and a first line.

4) Writing What You Know

It’s a general truism that writers only really succeed when they write what they know. Drawing on your life experiences in the plot and characters is inevitable. Actively pay attention to the miniscule details in your life, too. Those will help ground your settings and characters; small disappointments in everyday lives, the way some people pick up pennies on the street but not others, the fresh smell of a farmer’s market or the look and feel of a snow-heavy sky—details like these make the background feel real.

Also be careful of drawing too much from “what you know.” Pulling circumstances from your latest breakup or family tragedy is great for details. Being too emotionally invested in your personal reaction rather than the characters’ can easily devolve into rants and references that only really make sense to you. Leave some time when it comes to something that hurts.

Sidebar: For example, a character profile I wrote while I was feeling uninspired: Evelyn Mercer, the unintentional protagonist. A minor character in the fashionable set of Bright Young People in London, Evelyn works for the Special Operations Executive in Baker Street, passing and copying messages in the main office of the branch. The least political of her friends, she would prefer to pretend that there is actually no war; this is just how life is always. She lives in a flat with two roommates near Baker Street.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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In the Beginning Was An Idea

Saturday, November 12th, 2016
Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2x-0

Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2×-0

So you want to write a novel. Awesome. I’m writing a novel, too. Novels are hard to write in college; being in college tends to get in the way. But if you’re determined to finish your masterpiece, this is a general guide to help you along.

So you have a starting point for your novel, whether it’s a character you wish was real, or a conflict you want to explore on paper, or even just a fun bit of dialogue that’s stuck in your head. Excellent. Your novel will grow and sprawl from that seedling idea into a minimum 50,000 word work (about 175 pages, according to the official definition of a novel by the people at National Novel Writing Month).

Well. Wait. Maybe not 50,000 words. That’s an entire year’s worth of papers. That’s two senior theses. The question I’m asking is, are you sure your idea isn’t better off in a short story?

The difference between a short story and a novel isn’t in word count. A novel isn’t just a super-long short story, nor is it just a series of short stories with connected beginnings and endings. There’s an entire shift in mood and mindset. Short story conflicts are immediate; they’re not necessarily enormous, life-altering moments. They close and resolve their themes within a momentary peek into a character’s life. Novel conflicts are built up. There is just enough necessary room for a long exposition and rising action to create central conflict that logically arises from the characters you’ve established. Novel conflicts send ripples through almost all the aspects of a character’s life. Every line leads logically from not just previous lines, but previous chapters, and each line draws comparison between the individual character and our general expectations of average people. You can’t define a person in the moment of a short story. You can define a person in the chronicle of a novel.

Maybe your idea is large enough to sustain a novel. It could be political, or romantic, or fantastic. But in case you’re having trouble fleshing out your idea, it might help to think of your skeleton novel in terms of its larger themes (yes, I am suggesting that you close-read your own novel before you’ve written it). From there, you can imagine specific scenes or monologues that will further shape your novel. A theme is not a moral. You don’t have to have a moral. You do need to have a purpose.

A note about style: It’s your novel. Write it however you want. Read. Read a lot, and steal any stylistic devices you like.

Sidebar: For example, the seedling to my novel actually started as a short story; in short, it was about a woman who falls in love during World War II and the bittersweet knowledge that when the war ends, her relationship must end. It was a single (somewhat substantial but still rather isolated) period of her life. Now that I’m fleshing it out, I want to raise it from a static personal investment to something broader: a young person’s confrontation with life’s disappointment and mortality on the largest human scale, and, politically, whether her love for her country is worth her own selfish emotions.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Share