WRITING WEDNESDAY: The Sandwich Technique

Back in my third year of med school, one of my (all-time favorite) attendings had to give one of our patients bad news. Not “you have two weeks to live and your dog just died” bad news, just moderately inconvenient news (I think the patient had to stay in the hospital for another week for IV antibiotics, or something). Anyway, he introduced me to something called the Sandwich Technique. Keep your minds out of the gutter, y’all – the Sandwich Technique is just a method for delivering bad news. This is how it works:

You start with the first piece of bread — something good. i.e. “So, the infection in your lungs is really improving!”

Then you get to the meat of it — the bad news. “Unfortunately, the bacteria in your lungs really only responds to such-and-such antibiotic, which can only be given intravenously. This means you’re going to have to stay here in the hospital for another three days.”

And then, the last piece of bread — ending on a positive note. “But the good news is, we do expect you to make a full recovery. Yay!”

Okay, so I would never actually say “yay” to a patient, but you get the point. Obviously this doesn’t work all the time (sometimes there is no good news :-(), but the reason I bring it up is because this technique – the Sandwich Technique – is great for writing book reviews — OR for critiquing your CP’s manuscript!

I’ve written a little about this before, but being a good reviewer or CP is all about balance. If you have nothing but bad things to say, you are not being helpful. And if you have nothing but GOOD things to say (OMG your book is the bessssst it’s gonna sell a billion copies!!), that’s honestly just as bad. So if you’re new to reviewing, or new to CP-ing, consider using this technique. Start with the good, then the bad, then wind it all up on a positive note.

Happy writing, everyone!

xo Elizabeth

WRITING WEDNESDAY: When should you feed a patient with pancreatitis?

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.37.39 PMSo I’ve been thinking a lot this week about shelving manuscripts. A depressing topic, maybe, but one that all writers have to think about. Like, when should you take a break from a manuscript? When should you call it quits and shelve it? When does that manuscript that the world needs to read become that manuscript you just needed to write?

Something that kept coming to mind (perhaps because of my 102F fever, I’m not sure) is a lecture I had a while ago about pancreatitis. See, in the olden days (AKA five or six years ago), the standard of care for a patient who came in with pancreatitis was to make them NPO (nil per os – nothing to eat/drink) until the pancreatitis completely resolved. This could take… well, a while.

But nowadays, the guidelines have changed. When should you feed a patient with pancreatitis now?

When they tell you they’re hungry.

I think the same principle applies to manuscripts. When should you take a break from a MS? When you feel like you need a break. When should you shelve it? When you want to shelve it. If you find yourself thinking “I should probably shelve this, but…” Don’t shelve it. If you really wanted to shelve it, you wouldn’t add the ‘but’!

There’s no right time frame, no magic number of revisions or rejections before you should shelve a manuscript. As long as you want to work on it, you should work on it. When you’re completely bored of it, put it aside. And when should you look at it again?

When you’re hungry for it.

Okay, so it’s not a PERFECT metaphor. Did I mention my 102F fever??

Happy writing, everyone πŸ™‚

xo Elizabeth

WRITING WEDNESDAY: POV

So, in the last week or so, I have read two books in second person. Two!! Yeesh. Before that, the last time I read a book in second person was probably grade 2, and that book probably looked something like this:Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 7.34.00 PM

Second person is just not a common POV — particularly in YA/NA (although if anyone has a whole bookshelf full of second person YA/NA at home, please correct me!). Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about POVs, so I thought I’d do a quick post about them – the pros/cons, etc.

1. First Person – There is a LOT of first person YA out there. A lot. (Too much?) First person POV is great because it allows you to really connect with the MC, to feel and experience things right there with them. But it can also limit you a bit as a writer — you can only describe what your character is present for. Katniss can learn that Cato killed Thresh, but she wasn’t there, so we the readers can’t see or experience the fight. And while some books will try to get around this by adding random chapters in third person (I won’t name names…;-)), it generally does not work.

2. Second Person – Like I said, I can only think of one YA book with a little bit of second person in it (Half Bad by Sally Green). And while I loved that book, I STILL don’t understand why some of it was in second person. That being said, I think second person might become a thing. I never thought I’d like it, but reading NPH’s autobiography (Choose Your Own Autobiography) and Half Bad, it really grew on me. Basically I think a second person YA/NA could be SUPER AWESOME, so if anyone would like to write one please send it to me ASAP.

3. Third Person – This includes third person omniscient and third person close. Third person omniscient is kind of old-fashioned, but I still think it can work well for certain stories. The thing you have to be careful of is flip-flopping between omniscient and third person close. Example: in the first Harry Potter book, we are third-person close with Harry, except for ONE SCENE where we follow Hermione going to light Snape’s robes during the Quidditch match. This POV switch STILL irks me, 18 years later. Hasn’t stopped me from re-reading the series say, two hundred times, but whatever. πŸ™‚

Anyway. Whatever POV you write in, there will be pros and cons, but I think it’s important to pick a POV that suits your novel. Don’t just write a first person YA because the Hunger Games was in first person. There should be a reason behind your POV choice — and if your novel isn’t quite working, you might consider a POV switch! I’ve seen CP manuscripts go from pretty good to fantastic just from a simple POV change.

Happy writing!

xo Elizabeth

WRITING WEDNESDAY: On Waiting

So… waiting is the worst. I think we can all agree on that.

Whether you’re waiting to hear back from an agent you queried or you’re on submission waiting to hear back from an editor, the steps are the same:

Step 1. Check your e-mail.

Step 2. Watch a few YouTube videos, then check your e-mail again.

Step 3. Decide you’re going to STOP checking your e-mail, because it’s honestly just making it worse, seeing that empty inbox again and again.

Step 4. Check your e-mail again.

Step 5. No, seriously, you’re going to STOP checking. You’re going to do something else, like go to yoga or water your plants.

Step 6. Check your e-mail again, with some flimsy excuse like, “Oh, I just want to see if my mom e-mailed me back…”

Step 7. Bang head against desk.

Luckily, the steps for BREAKING this vicious cycle are also the same.

If you’re waiting to hear back on a query: Work on a new project.

If you’re waiting to hear back on a full: Work on a new project.

If you’re waiting to hear back from an editor: Work on a new project.

I know it’s hard to do, but it’s really for the best. It gets your mind off submission-anxiety, and hopefully gets you excited about something new. We all want our current project to be THE project, but that’s often not the way it works. And you never know what you’ll come up with while you’re waiting πŸ˜‰

Happy waiting!

xo Elizabeth

(Number of times I checked my e-mail during the making of this post: 3 4)

WRITING WEDNESDAY: The Writer’s Holiday Wish List

After reading Ava Jae’s lovely holiday book recommendation list over on Writability (and putting a significant dent in my credit card buying most of them), I thought it would be fun to do the same! But, since most of the books I read this year have titles likeΒ Dubin’s Rapid Interpretation of ECGs or Principles and Practices of Infectious Diseases, I’ve had to branch out a little from only books. Instead, I’ve created a sort of holiday wish list for writers — awesome gifts that you can get your favourite writer friend πŸ™‚

1. “WRITER” Bookends! So adorable, from Knob Creek Metal Arts.

2. Writing posters These are hundreds of these out there, but I especially love the one on the left, for some reason… πŸ˜‰

3. Writing Dishware! Okay, I know that people probably won’t buy/use this. But it’s so adorable, I had to include it.

4. Moleskine Notebooks Does anyone else just sort of collect Moleskine notebooks, even though they do all their writing on a computer? No? Just me? Mmk.

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5. THIS T-SHIRT! Hahahah okay I know it’s kind of ugly, but come on. It’s hilarious.

6. Books! (duh) Here are just a few of my favorites.

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A light, fun read with a quirky male protagonist.

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An all-time fave!

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Everything Shane Koyczan does is AMAZING ❀

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A great read for the holidays, if you have several work-free days to fill πŸ™‚

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I know everyone in the universe has already read this… but I hadn’t until last week, and it’s fantastic.

Hushed by Kelley York – a NA LGTB thriller. So creepy and awesome!!!

WRITING WEDNESDAY: What makes a good critique partner?

Finding a good critique partner is like… well, it’s like coming up with a clever metaphor for your blog in the middle of a 90-hour work week. Tricky.

I’ve had a handful of CPs over the years, and while all of them were great (writers are awesome, I’ve said it before), a couple were/are can’t-wait-to-read-their-notes, OMG-I’ve-got-a-new-CP-email-I-can’t-wait-to-open-it fantastic.

And I got to thinking — what makes a really great critique partner? It depends on what you’re looking for, obviously, but two big things stand out in my mind.

1. Be honest – about the good stuff AND the bad! CPs exist to give feedback — but also encouragement! If you don’t comment on the things you love about your CPs manuscript, just the things you didn’t like…it can quickly become a toxic relationship. Gently point out the things that might need work while enthusiastically pointing out the things that are already fantastic!

2. Be prompt! I’m not saying you have to get that new chapter back in an hour, or a day, or even a week – but if you tell your CP you will read something in the next week/month/decade… try your best to stick to it!! Sending a critique three and a half months later is probably not that helpful (sadly, this has happened to me).

If you do these two things, you’re already aces in my books. Happy critiquing, everyone!

xo Elizabeth

WRITING WEDNESDAY: NaNoWriMo and the Mysterious Writing Community

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 7.48.03 PMConfession: On October 16th of this year, I had no idea what NaNoWriMo was.

I mean, I knew it stood for National Novel Writing Month, but that’s pretty much it. Then one of my lovely CPs explained it to me and I decided – impulsively – to give it a shot. Honestly, though? It was kind of anxiety-inducing. Not because of the hefty 50,000 word goal, but because it meant trying to get involved in the Writing Community.

The “Writing Community”… it was like some mythical creature I would hear my CPs talk about. “The writing community is so supportive!” or “The writing community is so amazing!” I could only assume it was made up of super cool people with really popular blogs (ack) and Twitter accounts (double ack!). Whatever it was, I was definitely not a part of it (if you look up social media-phobe in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of me struggling to figure out how to re-tweet something).

Anyway. With only one Writing Buddy and only half a clue what I was doing, I dove in. I introduced myself in the NaNo forums, I added Writing Buddies (strangers!) who seemed friendly. I updated my word counts, read pep talks, attended a tweet-chat (or tried to, at least – I seriously don’t know how to use Twitter, guys).

And let me tell you something — it was pretty darn awesome.

Sure, I didn’t write 50,000 words (I never expected to — med school is rudely time-consuming), but I wrote way more than I’d expected, and more importantly, I met some really lovely people. And I never would have met any of them if I hadn’t put myself out there.

And maybe that’s all the Writing Community really is — a group of writers who are willing to put themselves out there. Willing to post questions in forums and comment on strangers’ blogs, willing to put “writer” in their Twitter profiles so other writers can follow them.

Or maybe that’s just the scotch talking, I don’t know.

But if you’re thinking about doing NaNo next year and are worried because you’re not part of the “writing community”… just go for it. It’s a ton of fun. And it turns out most writers (even the ones with cool Twitter accounts!) are pretty awesome people. And if you’re starting off Writing Buddy-less, you can always add me. I may not know how to re-tweet things, but I promise I don’t bite.

Happy writing, everyone. πŸ™‚

xo Elizabeth

P.S. Does anyone else think the title of this post sounds like a Harry Potter book, or is that just me?