Husband-Wife Book Club Reads “A Tale of Two Cities”

As part of our New Year’s Resolutions, Jason and I decided to start a husband-wife book club. Here are our reviews about the second book on our list: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This time again the book was the wife’s pick.

What the wife says:

I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences with reading Charles Dickens over the years. I read Great Expectations as a teen and enjoyed it, although I found the language rather dense at times, and sometimes hard to follow. Funnily enough, I can’t remember anything about reading Hard Times as a university student (although not for a class), except that I enjoyed it. Oliver Twist, however, was another story. Hated the book, but loved the musical. Go figure.

However, I figured A Tale of Two Cities would be a sure success. Unlike Oliver Twist, it was written towards the end of Dickens’ career. And it’s about the French Revolution, so it’s bound to be exciting. And everyone goes around quoting “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the beginning of the first sentence of the novel.

Well, I have to say “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” accurately expresses my experience of reading A Tale of Two Cities. Except, I’d reverse the sentence to read “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

First, the worst of times:

The beginning is so slow. There are chapters with no characters whatsoever where Dickens writes in pure historical metaphor, quoting past events in flowery language, with subtle allusions to changes in legislation, or minor murders, or what-have-you. Without the trusty notes at the back of the book, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what the hell was going on.

When characters are introduced, the scenes jump around so frequently it is hard to keep track of them all. Sometimes we are following a touching father-daughter reunion. Other times we are listening in on the banter between a drunk and a banker. Other times we are in a wine shop in Paris, trying to grasp at some subversive activity. And through it all, I often thought, “So what?”

The transition between the scenes was jarring and the hints at intrigue that were probably supposed to propel the reader through the several hundred pages, such as “Why was the father imprisoned before the book started?” or “What is Mr. Darnay’s true identity?” or “How will this family be connected to the French Revolution?” really didn’t get resolved until the third act. Which means as a reader you have to wade through dense, archaic, indirect prose and choppy scenes for approximately 500 pages.

I am a very fast reader. This book took me over two weeks to finish. This is saying something. I considered abandoning it many times.

Sometimes, I’d be thinking along the lines, “Wow. They got married. That was quick. I never realised there was any love there because instead of following their love story we were stuck following that banker for a million years.”

Or later, I’d think, “Seriously? Sidney Carton? Wow. He came out of nowhere.”

Or “When will this revolution just start already and turn from knitting needles to knives?”

In fact, I mostly read this novel to prove I could. However, it wasn’t all bad. There was some humour in a particular graveyard scene. And sometimes how Dickens conveys the mood and atmosphere is brilliantly cinematic.

Still. Around 500 pages of introductory material. That. Is. A. Lot.

It almost drove me to make shoes.

The best of times:

Finally, in the third act, the pacing improves drastically. I read the third act in one night. It was just over 250 pages. And Dickens does actually tie all the characters together in the final plot points. He definitely pulled a fast one on me. There were twists I didn’t see coming.

The mob mentality, the moral discussions, the character development in several key characters, as well as the parallelism with the beginning and the end showed why Dickens is considered a master.

Even though his characters achieve such lofty ideals their actions become implausible, as a reader you are left wishing that humans did act that way and wondering if they ever will.

So… if you can endure 500 pages of introduction for this small but stirring conclusion, A Tale of Two Cities might be worth the endurance. If not, well, there are classics that are much easier to read.

What the husband says:

I’ve always had mixed experiences with classic novels. Either I enjoy them and manage to finish them like them like Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights, or I lose interest and leave them unfinished, like War and Peace.

A Tale of Two Cities falls into the latter category. Emily actually read it but alas, I do not have her patience. She told me it got interesting by Part 3!

I can say that my first encounter with this book was probably about twenty years ago, when I was just a kid. Back then, I thought the opening paragraph about the best of times and the worst of times was pretty cool and I memorized that paragraph. When I tried to read it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages and went back to reading about public-key cryptography.


“Warcross” by Marie Lu

“Warcross” has been showing up a lot in my Twitter feed, so when I saw it on the shelf at my local library, I was super excited. And when I entered the futurist world of Emika Chen, well, I was hooked. I didn’t put this thing down for two days, reading long into the night.

Emika Chen is a pretty badass bounty hunter, and the opening sequence in the first chapter is to die for. I learned a lot about good writing by reading the beginning. Not only do we sympathise with Emika as a struggling teen whose just trying to pay her bills, we also are faced with very high stakes. If Emika doesn’t turn in this criminal to the police for the reward, she will be evicted from her apartment by the end of the week. And of course, the action scene where she chases around the criminal around New York City on an electric skateboard is super exciting. By the end of the first chapter, I was committed to the story.

Then, the story gets more involved when Emika tunes into the opening game of the Warcross Championships. Still desperate for cash, she decides to hack into the opening game, but a glitch pushes her into the action and she is viewed by everyone–the competitors, the audience–everyone.

After her failed stunt and sudden fame, it isn’t surprising that the game’s creator, the super rich and famous Hideo Tanaka wants to meet Emika. Hideo flies Emika to Tokyo and makes her a deal. Emika isn’t the game’s only security problem. And Hideo thinks with her help, he can finally get this other security problem under control.

This novel is really stunning with its depiction of the future. The virtual reality is flawlessly described. And the description of the Warcross games were believable and pulled upon various video game tropes. I have to admit though, however good these descriptions were, I’d rather play a video game in real time than read a second-hand description in a novel. It’s sort of the difference between watching and playing sports.

Still, the future that Marie Lu creates is pretty credible. Sometimes I read sci fi where the coding, virtual worlds, etc, are all too fantastical and not grounded in probable technology. Not in “Warcross.” This is the real deal.

Also, the characterisation was really good. I loved Emika. I loved Hideo. Their personalities shone in the plot.

In fact, the only true beef I have about “Warcross” is the ending. It made me mad. Without spoiling too much, there are tons of loose ends you have to discover the answers to in the sequel. After such a great ride, the ending felt like a huge letdown. I felt like, “I read 353 pages for this!!!” Which just goes to show how invested I was in the characters and their story, but still.

Cliff hangers. I think they’re for the end of chapters. Not for the end of stories. Grump, grump, grump.

I guess I’ll have to be patient and wait for the sequel to discover what happens next.

Is it worth it to have your computer read your entire novel aloud in a computer voice?

Having your computer read your entire novel aloud in its friendly, robotic computer voice is another one of those editing tips I read online and balked at trying.


First of all, the computer voice. It’s annoying. And listening to it read more than 65,000 words sounded like some not-yet-described level of writer’s hell. I mean, GPS is one thing. My novel is another.

Second, I thought perhaps the computer voice would kill the flow of my writing if I used it too early in my process. Because it doesn’t sound exactly human. So I read each scene as I wrote it aloud (especially the dialogue) alone in my room like a crazy person. It helped a lot.

Also I tried to have my husband read aloud to me parts of my book as well. He did a fantastic job, and having someone else read parts of the book was especially helpful. He didn’t know where to put inflection as he hadn’t written it, and his reading showed me when things weren’t quite there.

Of course, my husband couldn’t read out loud the entire thing cover to cover for me. That’s a pretty tall request to ask anyone, even your spouse. It takes forever and is pretty tedious for someone who already read the manuscript in all its iterations (even the really rough ones at the beginning; they were really rough, trust me).

Eventually, I didn’t know what else to do with the manuscript. So I put it down and recruited some beta-readers for some feedback.

After some time, I printed the manuscript–the whole thing–and read each sentence as carefully as I could. I wrote notes and implemented the changes.

Then, one of my beta-readers got back to me (Hi mum!). She had a few structural comments, and then she mentioned she had a list of duplicate/misspelled/missing words for me. Would I like this list?

Of course I’d like this list! This list will show me whether my painfully, fine-toothed-comb read through caught the mistakes and was sufficient.

Yep. My read through did not catch the mistakes on her list. My brain, especially, was just too damn good at supplying missing words or omitting duplicates.

I began to get a little scared.

Exactly how many mistakes of this type existed in the document? My beta-reader couldn’t have caught them all. She also is human and her brain must also be great at supplying missing words or omitting duplicates when she reads (Hi mum again!).

So I recruited Alex.

Alex is the name of the voice on my computer who will read any text aloud for me in an American accent. If you use a Mac, you can activate Alex by going to System Preferences, then Accessibility, then speech. You can change it to other accents if you prefer, but Apple doesn’t offer an English Canadian one. Come on Apple! Canadians have accents too.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised. Apple speech has come a long way since I used to make the computer read silly messages in Bubbles or Pipe Organ in elementary school.

Alex reads with some inflection, lifting his voice at the end of questions and taking a breath every three sentences or so. Alex doesn’t pause at em-dashes unfortunately. Only about two words in the entire document he pronounced completely wrong. And a few weird slangs and sound effects he spelled out.

It was much less painful than I expected, and in five years I expect Apple speech will be flawless. (Maybe by then they will have a Canadian speaker too?)

Also, he caught a lot of mistakes. Because the computer doesn’t lie. It reads exactly what you wrote. I discovered that instead of “goggles” I wrote “googles,” and instead of “tilted” I wrote “titled.” Thanks Alex. He also revealed all of the missing words and duplicates.

So, yes. I recommend getting your computer to read aloud your entire novel. You’ll be surprised at what it catches, and you’ll be very happy that it did.

Husband-Wife Book Club Reads “My Man Jeeves”

As part of our New Year’s Resolutions, Jason and I decided to start a husband-wife book club. Here are our reviews about the first book on our list: My Man Jeeves by PJ Wodehouse. This time the book was the wife’s pick.

What the wife says:

I chose PJ Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves because I realised in our entire Husband-Wife Book Club List, we didn’t propose any humour books. This seemed to be a strange omission on our part, so I decided to include one.

Now Jason and I tend to have similar senses of humour. Trying to describe our shared sense of humour is like trying to describe the punchline of a joke. I will say, however, that we can be quite silly, sarcastic, and enjoy good wordplay. We don’t tend to laugh at that random humour that appears in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Now sometimes Jason’s and my humour diverges. I find that Bloggess post about the giant metal chicken hilarious. And I think any sort of musical humour is great from Weird Al’s Ebay song, to that glorious scene in Back to the Future involving Marty, a tape-player, a space suit, and Marty’s dad.

Jason does not find these things particularly funny.

The big question I had when we were reading My Man Jeeves was: Will Jason find this humour funny or not?

So did he? I’ll let him tell you himself. Stay tuned to hear Jason’s opinion in his own words in his section of the post.

My Man Jeeves is a compilation of eight short stories. Of these, only four involve the boring aristocrat, Wooster, and his clever manservant, the unstoppable Jeeves. These stories were very funny and British.

I don’t want to spoil the stories, but let’s just say when I talked about them with Jason, I was laughing so hard. I particularly enjoyed the story about the girl trying to impress her boyfriend’s ornithologist dad. Jeeves’ solutions to his employer’s problems are unexpected and quirky and usually quite funny too. Usually.

At least, I thought so. What did Jason think? Stay tuned.

Also, I tried to give these Wooster-Jeeves stories a modern interpretation and see if they worked with any homoerotic undertones. When I took arts classes at McGill University, this was all the rage. Superficially, it seems to work since Jeeves does get rather stressed about Wooster’s appearance and fashion sense. On a deeper level, however, it seems to be clear that there isn’t anything going on there. The romance between Wooster and Jeeves is dead, folks.

However, this doesn’t matter in the slightest. These stories don’t require any deeper social commentary. Their purpose really is to amuse.

Now the other four stories in the compilation did not involve Jeeves. Cry. Instead, they described another bloke, Reggie. These stories had predictable plots and weren’t as funny. They relied overused comedy tropes, such as the fat kid who eats too many sweets. Also, the women in these stories really grated on my nerves.

My conclusion: Read the stories featuring Jeeves, skip the rest.

What the husband says:

My Man Jeeves reminds me of Sherlock Holmes with crime replaced by annoying relatives and Sherlock Holmes replaced by Mr. Wooster’s butler, Jeeves.

Emily kept asking whether I found this book funny. Mostly, I didn’t. I did find it amusing in return for his solutions, Jeeves pressures his master not to make supposedly poor wardrobe choices. Amusing isn’t hilarious, however. Jeeves solutions also don’t involve much ingenuity, so when I didn’t find them funny, there was little else in the story to keep me entertained.

The worst stories were those not about Jeeves and Wooster. Although these other stories are told in the style of the rest of the book replete with British slang, I found myself struggling to get through them because the dynamic between Wooster and Jeeves is absent and not replaced by anything comparable.

While I did enjoy parts of the Jeeves stories, and while I’m glad that I finally learned where that now defunct ‘Ask Jeeves’ search engine came from, I won’t be reading any more of them. My suggestion is just to read the first story in the book, and if you find it funny, keep reading. Or keep reading if it’s part of the book club, and hope it’s the last humour book on the list.

Introducing Husband-Wife Book Club!

My husband, Jason, and I were trying to think of a project we could do in the New Year.

Last year, he tried to teach me how to code in Python and I tried to teach him French (we’d each learn a new language, you see), but it turned out to be a bit more involved than we expected. We needed something that didn’t require us both to do copious amounts of homework and teaching preparation. Mainly because I have no motivation to do my homework since Jason will always love me regardless.

Jason had a brainwave. We’re always reading. We should start the Husband-Wife Book Club!

The structure of our Husband-Wife Book Club is as follows:

1) We will read 10 books in 2018. One book a month for 10 months along with a 2 month break, since this year at some point, we will move.

2) All of these 10 books, neither of us has ever read before.

3) Jason will pick 5 books. I will pick 5 books. These books can be anything that is intended to be read cover to cover (i.e. no reference books for identifying Australian reptiles, but a nonfiction book such as a biography or a true story about a parrot is okay). They can be fiction or nonfiction, in any genre. Also, both Jason and I have to agree that we should read the book. Both Jason and I have the power to veto a proposed novel.

In this choosing process, Jason exercised his power of veto quite liberally. I learned that Jason prefers not to read works written in epic verse. Or ancient works translated from Latin about Roman society. Or an entire three hundred page book of fairy tales. The latter, admittedly, was an epic fail. As much as I like fairy tales, even I cannot read three hundred pages of them.

4) Each month, we will review the chosen books on my blog.

So, which books did we pick? (The pink is my choice, the blue Jason’s, hooray for traditional genre roles!)

1) My Man Jeeves by PJ Wodehouse

2) Tau Zero by Poul Anderson (sci fi)

3) Paradise Lost by John Milton (The only epic poem permitted!)

4) The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

5) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

6) A Graveyard for Lunatics (Another Tale of Two Cities) by Ray Bradbury

7) A novel that the wife still has to choose. (Why haven’t I done this yet? What’s wrong with me? I don’t know!)

8) Arslan by MJ Engh (More sci fi)

9) All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (This is me, of course I want to read Stiefvater!)

10) A Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

You can read along with us if you like! You don’t have to be a husband or wife or married to us to join! 😀

Is it worth it to print out your entire novel for editing?

My friends, I used to be a doubter about printing out the novel. But now, I am a firm believer. Although it took me a while to get there.

The first time I printed out my entire manuscript, it was useless. One pack of paper and toner cartridge later, I realised the novel needed some major structural changes. These changes included (but weren’t limited to) writing new scenes, extending entire chapters into more chapters, developing characters, inventing new characters, and deleting huge sections of plot.

And I didn’t need to print out anything to determine these changes were necessary. Reading the manuscript on my screen was sufficient to conclude that I needed to blow that Popsicle stand. The changes were so big, they were obvious. It wasn’t an entire rewrite, but it was close.

So, to save paper, ink, and time, I have the following suggestion: If you know what changes to make in your manuscript, don’t print the thing. If you know what prevents your novel from reading like a novel, don’t print the thing. If you have structural edits to make and not line by line edits, don’t print the thing.

Instead, wait.

Wait until you’ve reached the point writing your novel where you don’t know what to do to make it better. When you’ve done the best you possibly can.

Okay, so now your novel is at the point where it’s chilling in some kind of document on your computer completely edited and you have no clue what to do with it next.

And now we print?

No. Put that sucker away. Don’t look at it. Don’t work on it. Do something else. Send to some beta-readers for a fresh perspective. Wait some more. Wait a long, long time, until you can no longer recite the entire manuscript from beginning to end and recall the exact contents of every chapter.

Once you’ve acquired some distance, you can return to your manuscript. But don’t read it on the screen like you have been for these past million drafts. Now print.

I did this last week and it’s been so worth it this time round.

I don’t know if it’s the time away from the manuscript, or looking at it in a different format (on paper instead of on the screen), or what, but mistakes just are popping off the page for me. I believed this wouldn’t happen because I grew up with computers and I have no problem reading stuff on the screen. I didn’t think that the printing copy would take me to a place of editing enlightenment.

But it has.

Since printing my manuscript, I’ve found stuff that sounds awkward, small nit-picky errors, and other hard-to-classify improvements (like wouldn’t it be more logical for the protagonist to think x instead of y in this situation). And even though I’ve read and played with many sentences a million times, the new format is allowing me to pick up how to strengthen sentences I believed were as strong as they could be.

Now my only question is after this draft, will I have to print out the novel again?

My answer: Probably.

As all writers know, it’s never over.


“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” by Yaba Badoe

I haven’t read a magical realism book since Isabelle Allende’s “House of Spirits” in high school, which was a fan favourite with our grade eleven class due to the copious amounts of sex in it. Well, sorry to disappoint, but “A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is a magical realism novel without copious amounts of sex. But you should totally read it anyway, because it deals with some heavy themes and the writing is gorgeous. (How’s this for an intro? Sorry, I did really like this book.)

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” starts with a shipwreck of migrants and refugees from Ghana. The sole survivor is Sante, a baby, who is found floating ashore in a treasure chest of her people. Fourteen years later, the story then follows Sante’s life as a member of a circus containing people of all races and nationalities. Despite being orphaned, she’s managed to find her family. However, the dead from the shipwreck are calling on Sante to avenge her people.

This novel deals with a lot of tough issues, such as sex trafficking and murder of refugees in a pretty matter of fact way. And despite the matter of factness, there is a lyrical quality to the writing with symbolism, dreams, and strange magic from the spirit world. There are universal themes of identity and family and belonging running through the entire plot line. In addition, the relationships between Sante and her adopted siblings Cobra and Cat are fleshed out and feel real. Essentially, “Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is chock full of good stuff and has a unique voice.

Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that people sank a ton of ships containing many, many people and their families just to collect some insurance. It is both horrific and tragic. Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wondering how Badoe managed to write so beautifully about something so terrible. Amazing and thought-provoking.


“The Last Namsara” by Kristen Ciccarelli

Asha is convinced she is morally corrupted. Not from killing dragons, but from telling forbidden stories. Ever since her childhood, she’s killed the creatures to protect her father’s kingdom, trying to redeem herself for a mistake she made when she was young that harmed the city. But now dragons are hard to find, and Asha is forced to tell the old stories to lure them out. Old stories that result in sickness and death and destruction of those who tell them.

Despite her service to the kingdom, her people still hate her. And with her upcoming wedding to her father’s cruel commandant, Asha hopes for an escape. Her father offers a trade: the head of the king of dragons for her freedom from the marriage.

However, when Asha starts the hunt, a slave boy challenges everything that she believed to be true about herself, about her relationship with dragons, and about her kingdom.

This novel describes a rigid society with unusual customs and tensions between traditional values and the new regime. It also contains many beautiful short folktales interspersed throughout the chapters. These stories contribute to building Asha’s world and help to understand the present of the novel in context with its past.

It has a beautiful message about how in order to find your true self, you have to look beyond society, beyond your family, and beyond whatever toxic truths you’ve been told and internalised about your character. In Asha’s world, there is prejudice and racism, and the younger generation must work to break these barriers down and fight against injustice. Asha is a strong heroine and the conflicts she deals with in her fantastical society apply to today’s world as well.

Scrivener: A Writing Software Review

I should preface this review by saying that I bought Scrivener with my own coin using the discount given to all winners of Campnanowrimo way back in 2015. Scrivener did not solicit this review and all opinions are my own.

I’ve been using Scrivener, a writing software, for nearly three years now. Originally, it was recommended to me by someone in my university writing club. Once I started using it, I never went back to Word.

Before using Scrivener, I wrote a first draft of a story using Word. However, once I switched to Scrivener, I never went back. Here are some reasons why:

1) Scrivener encourages you to divide each chapter into a folder and each scene into its own file. It is very easy to navigate from chapter to chapter and scene to scene, which is great for editing. Say goodbye to the massive scrolling option that Word would force you to do to get to a pesky little scene in the middle of your manuscript.

2) With Scrivener, you can easily swap the scenes into different orders (say you realise something is better suited at the beginning than in the middle) with a simple drag of the mouse.

3) There is a cute cork board option that lets you outline each scene and move it around.

4) Perhaps most importantly, there is a snapshot feature. This feature allows you to copy and save old versions of your scene indefinitely. And if you don’t like what you’ve currently written to revise the scene, you can roll back to the previous version. I must admit that I very rarely review my previous versions of a scene, because once I know something needs to be changed, it needs to be changed for good. However, my copious snapshots act like a security blanket. It’s nice to know that I’m not just deleting all my previous work and can come back to it. It makes it somewhat easier to edit relentlessly.

5) Formatting with Scrivener is pretty easy. You just hit compile and it compiles your document to a word or pdf (your choice), and then you can see your work in its glory. It will have a header, the page number, and the chapters labelled halfway down the page. Basically while you work on your book, you can read it like a book ought to be read. You don’t have to waste much time ensuring the formatting works and fiddling around with spacing or what have you. Scrivener will do it for you.

Of course, there are some cons to using Scrivener.

1) For the most part, Scrivener is fairly intuitive. However, sometimes it has glitches. Fortunately, the site itself and the general online community have plenty of tutorial guides and how-to fixes. Usually a quick google search will clear up “Why is my header always upside down” and “Why does italicised text compile as underlined text” and the like.

2) Scrivener compiles for word and pdf formats admirably. I just tried the ebook format and it seems like it should work, you just might need to play with the settings to make it look fantastic. Some even more obscure formats don’t seem to work that well. So if you really want your book to compile to LaTex, you might want to look into this. Or just write it in LaTex directly, which if you’re writing a more symbol based book (like math or physics or comp sci or something), you probably already are doing. If you are writing a standard novel, it should work fine.

3) Once I tried to write a university assignment in Scrivener. This worked well until I needed a bibliography. Scrivener doesn’t have a bibliography function. If you need a bibliography that is cited in the text, don’t use Scrivener. Instead, use Word.



10 Things I Learned about Writing in 2017

1) Beginnings are the hardest part. You have to figure out where to start your story (right as the action is about to happen) and how to seduce the reader to commit to more. And the blank page is intimidating as hell. You might spend more time on the first chapter than anything else, and that’s okay. Once you get over it, it gets much better.

2) Endings are the hardest part (unless, of course, you are talking about beginnings). Trying to wrap up an entire plot is like wrestling a rabid bear. Just as you think you’ve got subdued the beast, tied up all the limbs and muzzled the jaw, a giant paw will lash out and a mouthful of sharp teeth will bite you in the butt. And you’ll have to wrestle the bear some more and now your butt is aching and now you have rabies. Thanks bear.

However, one tip that saw me through my ending was realising that my protagonist had to step up and become the hero. I’m not a huge fan of disappointing endings full of setbacks. Or worse, endings where the protagonist is in the same position as she was in the very beginning (I’m looking at you, second books of trilogies!). That meant my protagonist had to rise to the occasion and triumph (at least sufficiently).

3) You have to get over how people who know you will react to your writing.

For instance, my husband teased me relentlessly about the kissing scenes. It was embarrassing even though he’d directly inspired those scenes (perhaps that’s what made it especially embarrassing). It was mortifying. I turned bright red.

On the other side of the coin, you also have to get over the scenes that people who know you will be shocked by. Since I’m a very anti-violence and anti-gun person, the intensity of my action scenes might surprise those who know me. Oh well.

Also some of your writing will touch on issues that people may interpret oddly. Obviously, your story exists independently of people and events that happened in your life. However, your experiences do impact your art. Still, your story isn’t a carbon copy of your life in the real world. Unless of course, you’re writing a memoir–in which case, good luck!

4) Three things need to be happening in every scene. This advice changed my life. If your scene just is there for one reason, like only setting or only characterisation or only plot, it isn’t good enough. Or worse, if nothing happens in your scene at all! Like your character is sleeping or sitting around being bored. When you first start writing, you may think that your novel should mimic real life as closely as possible. You might end up with tons of these habitual scenes, since you’re trying to understand your protagonist as a human being. Fine. But those scenes are boring. Novels need to be dramatic!

For example, in one scene, you can push the main plot along, hint at an upcoming romantic subplot, and describe an interesting setting. All that together becomes compelling. Suddenly your story begins to read like a real book.

5) Every sentence has a purpose. This only comes along in later drafts when you have the whole work banged out in one document, but it’s important. One sentence needs to lead to the next, which then needs to lead to the next, and so on. If you have two to three sentences saying the same thing, condense them into one. Your writing becomes more focussed, and then the plot moves forward. When a novel has too many filler sentences, it is hard for the reader to ground themselves in the story and know where the story is taking them. Your sentences have to flow like the current in a river, pulling a reader along to the rising action or, at least, the focus of a scene. If you have too many sentences saying the same thing or nothing at all, the writing is stagnant and the reader doesn’t know what kind of journey the book is taking or why they should care. Harsh, but true.

6) Your novel probably will deal with some sensitive stuff or some emotionally charged topics. In the politically correct world we live in, it can be tempting to leave these topics alone for fear of not doing them justice or offending someone. Don’t. This sounds like your story’s about to get real. And that’s what art’s for.

Your characters won’t always make the morally correct choice (if such a choice exists) and sometimes they will be downright offensive. Your characters, like people, are flawed. They make mistakes.I’m not saying to write the most offensive thing possible because you should try to totally get away with it. I’m saying, if your characters aren’t always PC and seem somewhat limited in their views, you as a writer can do a lot with that. Talk about things that are real in a real way. Our world is full of ugliness. Your readers know this. Show them the ugliness, but do it for a reason.

Sometimes you won’t be able to show every aspect of a social issue as in depth as you’d like. It’s only one story. Just do the best you can with the story you have.

7) On a lighter note, this year I learned how to use commas. At least, I learned how to use commas better than I did in days of yore.

Does anyone else struggle with with commas? If we ever covered commas in school, I wasn’t there–either physically or mentally. I vaguely remember some teacher saying “you put a comma where you take a breath.” This works on some intuitive level until it doesn’t.

So, I pulled out the Chicago Guide to Style and read the entire section on commas. Although I’m not claiming to have become some mythical comma guru and mastered every case in the universe, I have become way more confident about their placement. In fact, I’m going to do a series of posts about how to use commas correctly to help others who also get confused about whether to comma or not.

8) Writing without an outline can brings great joy. It’s fun to watch the characters make decisions of their own and come to life in the document and surprise you. However, writing without an outline can lead to drafts without direction and purpose.

Outlines have their time and place. Eventually, as unromantic as it seems, sometimes you have to go through every scene and figure out what has to happen so that you can reach the end. But there is a balance. Spontaneity is valuable. If you have an intuitive feeling that you are heading the wrong direction, you probably are. Hit the drawing board, re-evaluate, and try again.

9) Writing routines are great, but it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. All over the internet, there’s loads of advice about the virtues of a writing routine where you write everyday and don’t wait for an elusive inspirational moment to come. I agree with this. The problem is, I FORGET TO CHILL.

A creative process takes a lot out of you and if you keep working everyday if you are tired, you will burn out. So, you need to unwind. Some people have personalities where their default state is one of chill. I envy these people. They know to watch lots of TV and play video games and don’t take things too seriously all the time. They don’t stay up all night with insomnia worrying about random stuff. They turn off the lights and fall asleep immediately. If you’re one of these people, please. Tell me your secret.

See, I don’t tend towards procrastination. I have the opposite problem. I try to do everything at once. I need to schedule time where I watch bad TV, play Kirby’s avalanche, and google endlessly whether it’s better to own a rabbit or a guinea pig even though I can’t own either because my apartment doesn’t allow pets. If I don’t schedule these things, they don’t happen. And then my life isn’t balanced.

Anyway, if you have my personality type and you read these articles about writing constantly, it’s okay. If you take a breather to chill, you aren’t procrastinating. You actually are helping your writing by making sure you don’t burn out.

10) Twitter has a large writing community. I was hesitant about joining Twitter this year, because of its spammy nature and my shyness and paranoia about posting stuff to strangers on the internet. However, I’m so glad I did. Twitter has a huge writing community where people are at all stages of their journey, and they share their progress and their struggles. It’s great to connect with other writers that are going through the same things as I am.