Finding Beta Readers: Some Advice

So as many of you know, I recently finished a book. It’s a book that can be accurately described as, “X-Men, but in a basement.” And because I wanted to know if it was good enough to publish, I started looking for beta readers. Since then, I’ve swapped manuscripts with two people and received three in-depth critiques so far, of which I am grateful for.

(Side note: I also sent out a manuscript to three other people, who have yet to even make a comment on the document. Which makes me wonder: did they not like the book? Or have they just not gotten around to finishing it? Either way, if you’re one of these people, and you still plan on critiquing said manuscript, please know that the document you’ve got is now out-of-date. I’ve already received three critiques, after all, and I’m already returning to the revision stage. If you’d like to read the updated version, let me know, but I should warn you, it may take a few weeks before you get it.)

So, yeah, I’m basically a professional beta reader now. Not a big deal.

And as someone who’s critiqued many people’s work in the past and has been critiqued several times myself, I’ve got some advice to share. This advice goes for people sharing entire manuscripts, or for those posting smaller bits of writing at places like Destructive Readers. Really, if you want anyone at all to read any piece of your writing, this advice is for you.)

1) For the love of God, proofread your work first.

Let me tell you about the first person I swapped critiques with. She sent me the document, and after reading the few paragraphs I thought to myself. “Oh dear. What have I got myself into?”

It wasn’t just that the story itself sucked. That would be understandable. The problem was the typos. So many typos. At least one in every paragraph, and she wrote short paragraphs. Now, I am no saint with typos, as my readers can attest, but had this person clicked the “spelling & grammar” option, at least half of these errors could’ve been fixed.

This guy knows how I felt

And the thing is, this writer did a great job critiquing my manuscript, so it wasn’t like she didn’t have have a proper grasp of the English language. Instead it seems like she busted out a first draft and sent it to me without a second glance.

Don’t do this. Don’t make your reader spend so much time fixing something you could easily fix yourself. Because now instead of focusing on the story, the characters, the world-building, etc., the reader’s going to get bogged down on the little details. Plus, it’s kind of rude. It’s like if you ordered something at a restaurant, and the chef came out and just threw all the individual ingredients at you.

(No, it’s not like that? Alright, I’ll work on my metaphors.)

2) Don’t get defensive.

This hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve seen other people on places like “Destructive Readers,” (or even worse: on actual Amazon reviews of a self-published book), where the author got defensive and lashed out at the negative reviewer. Don’t do this. No matter how misguided or mean-spirited you think the critique is, say thank-you and move on. Because critiquing is not a debate. You’re not going to change the readers’ mind by telling them they “just didn’t get it.” 

I get that writing is a personal experience for most, and it’s easy to take things personally. But I’ve critiqued a lot of really terrible, embarrassingly bad stories over the last year or so, and not once did I find myself judging the person who wrote it. Most people are able to separate the story from its author, and are not going to think less of you for writing a shitty book. (Unless the book is like, aggressively racist or whatever.) They will, however, think less of you for not being able to handle criticism.

3) Remember, you don’t actually have to follow anyone’s advice.

You should still follow point #2, of course, but that doesn’t mean you should listen to every little thing they have to say. Sure, if more than one person points something out, it’s almost definitely worth addressing, but there’s been times where I looked at a beta reader’s advice and thought, “nope!”

Because sometimes, beta readers are wrong. Sometimes they simply have different tastes or opinions that don’t match the audience you’re aiming for or the vision you have. And that’s okay. It doesn’t take any validity away from their other points, and it doesn’t make you an egotistical jerk for not listening to that one part of their critique.

And because I only wrote this post to rant about points one and two, here are a couple of minor bits of advice that I will elaborate very little on:

  • If you’re asking someone to critique your story, make sure to actually tell them what it’s about, and how long it is.
  • One person sent me a copy of her manuscript where it ended mid-sentence. And I emailed her and said, basically, “Is this a mistake, or are you trying to pull off a Sopranos, here?” Because if it were the latter, that would be a pretty ballsy move. Not even The Sopranos was able to pull off a Sopranos ending. She responded with, essentially, “oops, my bad. Here’s the real document,” and sent me a version of the manuscript that was slightly more polished, and came with an actual ending. And I was pissed because I just spent two weeks pushing myself through a typo-ridden manuscript only to find out I’d been given the rough draft by accident.
  • So, don’t do that last bullet-point.
  • (And yes. That person was the same writer from advice #1.)
  • Okay, enough giving you guys advice, I’m just gonna rant some more. How the hell do you accidentally send someone the older copy of your manuscript, and not realize it at all during the weeks he spent critiquing it? There’s carelessness, and then there’s that.
  • I wasted two weeks of my life, dammit.
  • Okay, more like around fifteen hours or so of total work put in, but still.
  • Excuse me while I go chop down a tree.

Wow, so this post quickly veered off track. I’d like to end this post by saying good luck to all you writers out there, and I’d like to say thank you to those who critiqued my manuscript. You’re the best.

Some Blogging Advice for All You Noobs Out There

This picture has literally nothing to do with the actual content of this post.

I apologize for using the word “noob.”

I also apologize for claiming to have read To Say Nothing of the Dog, in a post back in 2013. I have no idea why I ever claimed such a thing, but apparently I did. I even said, and I quote: “It’s almost impossible to summarize, so I will tell you this: the book’s great, the characters are unforgettable, and you will drop your jaw at least once.”

I was reading the post earlier today and I just shook my head and thought, “Why would I write this about a book I’ve never even heard of before? Was I a compulsive liar back then? Am I still a compulsive liar? Are there random chunks of my memory that have, for some reason, been taken out of my mind forever?” 

In other news, the daily prompt for today, as it turns out, is another winner of a prompt:

Key Takeaway

Give your newer sisters and brothers-in-WordPress one piece of advice based on your experiences blogging.

Now, there are many pieces of advice I’ve given over the years. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t listen to those obvious self-promoters. But the key thing I’ve taken away from the past year or so is to post consistently. 

There’s no need to post every day of course, but I think at least twice a week should be good. You could write less than that, but it probably won’t work out too well for you. 

“But Matt,” you say. “I only post twice a month, and I get lots of views and comments!”

Well congratulations, random hypothetical person who pops up in so many of my posts, you are an amazingly talented blogger. But keep in mind that you are the exception, not the rule. 

You can get away with going through a period or two of no posting. I didn’t post a whole lot throughout the summer of 2013, but then I came back with a bang soon afterwards and BAM! Gained a thousand followers in one month. (Half of these followers presumably scroll right past my post whenever they see it, judging from my stats page. Another quarter of them are spam bots.) 

But as I’ve learned, inconsistent posting is always accompanied by apologies and promises that you probably won’t be able to keep. And when you continue to go on long periods of absences, you start to lose the trust and patience of your readers, which as it turns out, are two things that are very hard to get back. 

So, uh, yeah. A lot of you newbies are probably posting pretty consistently right now, because you’ve just started the blog and you’re all excited over it. My advice is to keep it up. Just keep on posting, and if you do have to go on a hiatus, make sure to let your readers know ahead of time, so you don’t feel guilty about it. 

Also, remember to be the leaf. 


You know what really grinds my gears?

When people tell you to calm down when you’re not even remotely upset. Even worse is when the person saying this is easily the least certified person to be telling anyone to relax. Does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me?

(Note: There is slightly more profanity than usual in this post, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.)

One time this happened and I simply found it funny, because I mean come on, all I did was ask the fry person at my job how long it was going to be on the next batch of fries. A customer wanted her fries with no salt, and in order to do that you had to make a whole new batch, and she wanted to know how long that would take. So I walked over to the girl currently in charge the fry station and said, “hey, how long on that next batch?”

“20 seconds!” she said, as if I’d been pestering her about it all day. “Relax.”




The word repeated in my head over and over again in that same exasperated tone. I held back my first instinct, which was to make a passive aggressive comment at her expense.

(This may be a surprise to y’all, but I’m actually a very bitchy person. I manage to hide it well, though, so only close friends and family members know about it. I prefer the term “snarky” instead of bitchy, though I think the latter’s more accurate. You can read more about my past snarkiness and the various unnecessary conflicts its caused in my upcoming series: Tragic Stories from Matt’s Childhood.)

Instead of potentially causing more conflict, I just pretended she had said it nicely instead. “It’ll be done in about twenty seconds, good sir,” or something like that.

“Okay,” I said, “Can you make a medium fry, no salt, please?” And that was the end of that.

In that instance, it didn’t bother me, because the girl was relatively new and she’d had to deal with the general manager yelling at her for the past five hours, and I’ve been in that situation many times before. I know that general managers are supposed to be all tough and strict and whatnot, but sometimes I feel like she crosses the line and she just gets nasty, acting more like a playground bully than someone who’s supposed to act professional. This was one of those days. She was yelling at the fry girl like she was some sort of animal that had managed to sneak its way inside the store, and she was slowly pushing said girl closer and closer to a nervous breakdown.

So yeah, I didn’t hold that moment against her.

But that’s not the only time someone has told me to relax, to calm down, or some other variation of the term. Just the other day at work, someone told me to calm down, and that one moment’s been bugging me ever since.

The story:

I was dealing with an obnoxious customer. He was an old person, but he wasn’t one of those cool old people with mad beat-boxing skills. Nope, he was an obnoxious, thick-headed man who I quickly wanted to punch in the face.

“Give me a happy meal,” he said, “and a chicken sandwich.”

There are four things wrong with this:

  1. No please or thank-you. Just “Give me.”
  2. There are five different types of happy meals.
  3. Happy meals come with a choice of drinks, a choice of apple slices or gogurt, and a choice of toy. He neglected all of this.
  4. There are multiple chicken sandwiches on the menu.

All of this is somewhat understandable, though, because for all I know this man had never been to a McDonalds before and therefore had no way of knowing this. Besides by, you know, actually looking at the menu. And not to brag or anything, but I handled this order like a pro. I was informative, I was polite, I was like Employee of the Month material, right then and there. But some people are just all around awful, and nothing you do can change that.

As I went over the order, the customer was growing meaner by the minute. He acted like I was somehow supposed to know he wanted apple slices with his meal. But things were still mostly civil until I got to fixing problem #4: the chicken sandwich.

“So for the chicken sandwich, did you mean you want the McChicken off the dollar menu, the crispy chicken deluxe, or grilled artisan?”

“Just give me the chicken sandwich.”

“We have three different chicken sandwiches, sir.”

He rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath, as if I was the one making this all so much more difficult than it had to be. “Just get me one of those!”

“Okay,” I said. I was starting to wonder if getting a job at a McDonald’s was the right decision. “The McChicken just has lettuce, mayo, and chicken on it. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” he said. “Whatever.”

So just to be sure I read the order over back to him, (he rolled his eyes and clearly wasn’t paying attention) and then instead of handing me the money he just put a twenty dollar bill on the counter, on the side of the register where I couldn’t see it. I never even saw him put the money down.

So I just sort of looked at him for a while, expectantly, not really what sure what to say because I felt like he was about to explode at any minute. Finally he gave a frustrated gesture to the money, sitting quietly out of my view. It was a gesture that said, “the money’s right here, you fucking idiot.”  So I took it, once again repressing the urge to make a comment.

I got the food for him as fast as humanly possible, because honestly I just wanted him out of my sight. When I got it to him he looked through the bag, picked up the McChicken and immediately looked at me with this hateful expression. “I didn’t order this.”

I felt one of my eyes start twitching at this point. “You said you wanted the chicken sandwich?”

“Yeah,” he said. I don’t how he managed to say ‘yeah’ in such an obnoxious way, but he did it, alright. “I wanted the big sandwich, in the box.”

“This one?” I said, pointing to the crispy deluxe on the menu, which I had suggested to him earlier.

“Yeah,” he said. Same tone as before.

“So you did want the crispy deluxe? With the lettuce, tomato and mayo on it?”

“Yes,” he said, and then followed it up something that made my blood boil. He told me to “calm down.”

Just, ugh. I’m grinding my teeth just thinking about it, the irony of it all. He was telling me to calm down? The man who looked like he was about to murder me when I dared to ask him if he wanted apple slices or gogurt with his happy meal? And all things considered, I had kept my cool remarkably well with him until this point. But goddamnit, he just crossed the line.

“Listen here, you little shit,” I said, grabbing him by the collar. “I asked you if you wanted the crispy deluxe, and all you said was just give me the chicken sandwich in that stupid, boneheaded voice of yours. Then I asked you if the McChicken was okay, and you said sure, whatever. So don’t talk to me like I made the mistake, you fucking prick. This was your own fault. And hey, maybe you could’ve said please, or thank-you, or I don’t know, you could have just talked to me like a human being, and this never would have happened. And don’t you dare tell to calm down when you’re the one who’s been an angry, miserable little fucker from the moment you walked in. Now get out of my restaurant, bitch, and don’t come back unless you want your ass handed to you.”

Okay, so I never actually said any of that, but oh, how I wanted to. 

The moral of this story is: don’t tell people to calm down, because all that usually does is make them angrier. And chances are, if you’re telling someone to calm down, it’s probably you who needs to calm down the most. (I feel like that’s always the case.)

Oh, and especially don’t tell me to calm down, because unless I’m at work or in a classroom, you will unleash a storm of fury of which no mortal being can escape. 

So I Met this Guy at McDonald’s Today. . .

Disclaimer: m&m McFlurries never actually look like this.

It was during one of those lulls where barely any customers show up. These lulls are becoming increasingly rare nowadays, now that the weather’s decent and every other person wants ice cream, so these lulls are something I’ve learned to cherish. During one of these periods I was working at the front counter, trying to steal m&ms without the manager/cameras see me doing so. Suddenly the door opened and a man walked in. 

He was an old man; not old enough that you’d be afraid he’d collapse at any moment, but old enough so you could look at him and say, “Yep, that guy definitely still reads the newspaper.” 

(Only old people still read newspapers, in case you missed my meaning. Any evidence to the contrary will be promptly ignored.)

So I stopped trying to steal m&ms and went up to the register. “Hi, how can I help you?” I asked, all pleasant and whatnot.

Now in my experience old men tend to buy the same things: either a) coffee, b) ice cream, or c) something off the dollar menu. They will occasionally get tea, and sometimes they will get one of the bigger, more expensive sandwiches, but they’ll always come equipped with a coupon or three if that’s the case. This man did not ask for any of those things. 

Instead he said to me, “So Matt, what’s the plan?” 

(I’m always a bit taken back when people say my name as if they know me personally. I always have to take a second to think, “Wait, do I know this person? Oh, he’s just reading my name-tag.”)

Because I am not an all-knowing God of any sort, (though I could understand why someone would think otherwise) I had no idea what he was talking about. So I asked what he meant, and he clarified: “What do you want to do your life?”

He asked if I had plans for the future and if I’ve been getting good grades in school. And I made the mistake of responding with an “I don’t know,” as casually as if he’d asked me what I wanted for dinner

Just for some background information: I do think about my future, constantly. Stuff like college and potential careers are almost always on mind, and it doesn’t help that I’m reminded of it every single day of my life by adults who for some reason think I’ll forget. (“College is important, Matt.” “Oh, it is? Thanks for the pep talk, Dad.”) 

The thing is, I don’t actually know for sure what I want to be. I’d like to pursue a career in writing, and I’d also like to pursue a career in medicine, and I feel like the two areas don’t mix too well. So I applied for a volunteer program at a nearby hospital this summer, just to get glimpse of sorts on how things are, and I’m joining my school’s newspaper club next year, if that helps. Hopefully I’ll discover that I hate one of those things and love the other. That would make my choices in life so much easier.

(Also, my school apparently has a newspaper. Must not be a very good one, considering I’ve been there for three years and am only just finding out about it now.)

But I’m not all that cool with sharing this information to anyone who just happens to walk into McDonalds, so I answered with a simple “I don’t know” in the hopes that it would make the conversation go by faster. It did not.

“You don’t know?!” He proceeded to rant about how the public education system is America’s greatest failure, and how he’d asked a whole bunch of the other employees at this Mcdonalds the same question, and “None of them had a clue!” 

Three thoughts crossed my mind as he said this, the first being that really? Who the hell goes around asking McDonald’s workers what they want to do with their lives? The second was how is that any of his business? And the third one was: I’m so going to blog about this guy when I get home.

I didn’t voice any of these thoughts. Instead I just sort of nodded politely as he gave me advice on how to figure out my future, which consisted entirely of doing things I’ve already done. I mostly just smiled and nodded and tried very hard not to roll my eyes. I used to have a serious eye-rolling problem, you know. Like, even when I wasn’t annoyed I’d accidentally roll them anyway, which would lead to conflicts like this:

“Hi Matt, how’s it going?”

*rolls eyes*

“Well excuse me!” *throws fist* 

I managed to avoid rolling my eyes, thank God, and eventually he managed to finally get around to actually ordering his food, which I got for him as quickly as possible. Then I spent the rest of shift wondering about what he said. Not the parts about my future and everything, but about how he apparently asked multiple people at this specific restaurant what they wanted to do with their lives. Why this restaurant? Why does he even care? And does he go through the drive-thru and pull the same sort of shit on those kids too? 

I started to come up with possible reasons for why he’d do this. Maybe he didn’t pay enough attention to his future when he was my age and now regrets it. Maybe he had a child at one point whose life went off the deep end, and he blames himself for not pushing said offspring onto a better path.

Or perhaps he’s just one of those people who thrive off making others uncomfortable. I know plenty of those.


[UPDATE: I almost forgot. Any high school seniors who happen to be reading this, please check out this post. Why? Because I said so, that’s why.]

5 Reasons to Try out NaBloPoMo

I’ve done NaBloPoMo twice before. And while sure, I failed the second time I tried, I succeeded the first time with results that were roughly 507 times better than what I expected. This year, however, I’m disappointed by how few other people are trying it out. Sure, I know two or three bloggers at the moment who will be attempting this, but most of the others I know of are either doing NaNoWriMo or nothing at all.

The good news is: depending on the time zone you live in, there’s still time to participate, and here are five reasons why:

1) Because blogging about your NaNoWriMo progress is boring.

I’m going to be honest, I’d don’t give a hoot about how many words you wrote today, (unless you’re George R. R. Martin), and I don’t really care about any excerpts from your novel you post because the scientific study of probability tells me that they’ll be horrible. It’s not your fault; it’s just that you’re supposed to be writing 1,667 words a day in a project where editing your work is actively discouraged. Not to mention, the first draft of any novel is almost universally awful, no matter how talented you are or how quickly you write it.

When bloggers spend a month on NaNoWriMo, they usually neglect their blogs, and the quality and quantity of their posts always suffers. And no one wants that. Well, no one except that one blogger rival you have, who’s currently looking at your lack of posts and thinking, “Aha! S/he’s not writing any blog posts. Now my blog will reign supreme!”

Do you really want your enemy to laugh evilly as your stats decline? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

2) You might actually succeed.

It’s tough to explain how I felt at the end of last years NaBloPoMo, but I’m going to try it anyway: it felt great.

(Okay, that was easier than expected.)

Seriously, nothing beats that feeling you get when you succeed at something like this; you feel accomplished, proud, and confident in your blogging skills. You feel like a superhero: a sleep-deprived superhero who doesn’t get outside much. It’s great.

3) You will gain followers, no matter how bad your posts are.

Even if you don’t get Freshly Pressed, (like I totally did, no biggie) you will gain views, followers, and best of all, commenters. There’s nothing better than having a reader who consistently comments on your blog. Well, maybe there is, but I haven’t found it yet.

Not to mention, you could write about just about any topic, and chances are you’ll find like-minded people out there who are interesting in what you say, assuming you post consistently on the topic. You could be writing about paint dry, and chances are they’ll be at least one person out there who finds that to be a very interesting subject, and BAM! You’ve gained a commenter.

4) You will undoubtedly experience a huge increase in creativity.

Forcing yourself to write may be hard at first, but if you keep at it you’ll find all those creative juices flowing. It’s like unclogging a drain. Once you wash out all the crap, the water starts flowing.

(In this metaphor, the crap is “writer’s blog” and the water is “inspiration.” I’m not sure if it works or not.)

5) Even if you fail, you’ll still get something out of it.

The same is true for NaNoWriMo. Even if you’re like me, and come down with the flu halfway through the month, you’ll still have at least written a couple posts, posts you wouldn’t have written had you never tried to begin with. And that’s something to be proud of.

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Writing (TCWT)

I always had a thing for reading and writing. At four years old I was wolfing down Dr. Seuss books like it was nobody’s business, and by first grade I could finish any one of those Captain Underpants novels in less than a day. No big deal. Inspired by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, I started writing my own mostly plagiarized comic books, which kick-started my ongoing writing career.

I’ve since retired from the comic book business, but I have yet to stop writing stories. Most of them have been science fiction, and centered around a main character (always around my age) with similar characteristics. Basically me, except perfect in every way, and everyone who opposed me was just evil, an idiot, or both. Which brings me to this month’s TCWT blog chain:

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?

There are so many things to choose from, so I’m going to cheat and mention several of them. First off, I would’ve loved it if someone had let me in on this particular nugget: characters with flaws are infinitely more interesting than those without them.. Also, books where the main character is almost exactly like the author will never sell well, unless you’re John Green. For years I was writing characters who were idealized versions of myself, and surrounded them with characters who were just shallow versions of my real friends. And the villains were always real people I didn’t like, like my annoying older brother, who was always one-dimensionally evil and/or stupid.

(In my defense, my brother did (and still does) often act in a cartoonishly evil/stupid way. But that doesn’t mean he’d make a great character.)

Another helpful tidbit would’ve been: Your parents’ opinions are almost always useless. This may not apply for those of you who have parents with writing experience, or genuinely criticize your work instead of just “This is amazing! I’m going to put this on the fridge so I can read it every day,” but in my case (and most others) your parents probably laughed at your writing as a little kid; they just complemented it because they didn’t want to discourage you.

Of course, I don’t blame my parents for doing that. If I had shown my dad one of my stories as a little kid, and he replied with, “Don’t quit your day job, kiddo. This story sucks,” there’s a good chance I would’ve been discouraged from writing altogether, and this blog wouldn’t even exist.

Of course, the downside to this is that it gave me unrealistic expectations. I actually thought my work from five years ago actually had a chance of being published. (Heh heh.) And worst of all, I didn’t improve as much as I could have because I wasn’t aware of all the huge flaws in my writing, mostly because no one pointed them out. Which brings me to my next point.

Get people who aren’t your friends or family to read your writing. I wish I had known about beta readers. If you have a blog, you should post a few short stories or something, where people can criticize it for free. People on the internet are not exactly known for being too polite, after all, and they can be extremely helpful when it comes to critiquing your work, especially on WordPress. For my More Than I Can Chew interactive blog story, I have the delightful Plotwhisperer who isn’t afraid to say what she does and doesn’t like about each chapter, and it helps. A lot.

But the main thing I wish I knew from the very beginning is: Don’t censor yourself. Don’t stray from certain topics or themes just because you’re afraid you’ll offend someone. Write about what’s important to you and don’t hold back.* You don’t see this advice being used often on this blog, (it’s a humor/book blog. Topics like gun control and abortion would just be off-topic), but when I do write about potentially controversial subjects, they work out much better than I could possibly anticipate. I was Freshly Pressed from a post titled, “How to be a Young Writer Without Making Me Want to Punch You in the Face,” and I almost didn’t publish it because I was afraid it would upset some people. And it did upset some people. A few people politely disagreed with it, others impolitely disagreed with it, and one guy wrote an angry rant calling me an “arrogant fuck who doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” and continued to insult my blog and teen writers in general.

I can still remember large portions of that comment (he was a mean one, that guy), but I also remember the hundreds of other amazing comments from adults and teens alike. A bunch of teenagers were inspired by it, many adults were impressed and a high school English teacher even said she was going to show this article to all her students. For every angry commenter, they were fifty other nice and supportive ones. So I laughed to myself as I deleted that asshole’s comment and moved on with my life.

When you reach a wider audience, you’re bound to get a few mean critics, but if you’re afraid to speak your mind, you’ll never reach that audience to begin with.

Someone should quote me on that last sentence. That was deep.

*Of course, there’s a difference between speaking your mind and being a jerk. If you’re being racist/sexist/homophobic/prejudiced towards any group, don’t be surprised when you are either ignored or receive angry feedback. And I won’t feel bad for you.

(Sorry there’s no photo. I had to resort to using my phone to write the post, and I’m not sure how to add pictures.)

Check out the other participants here:

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24th – – The topic for August’s blog chain will be announced.

In Which I Give You Bad Advice About Writing

(Warning: Shameless self-promotion and overall cockiness below.)

So readers, you know how I’m The Best Writer Who Ever Lived™ and everyone keeps asking me for writing advice?

Well, today I’m going to take the most frequently asked questions about writing and answer them to the best of my abilities. Remember to take my advice with one or two thousand grains of salt, because it’s sure to help you along the way.

“What should I write about?”

Write the story you’d love to read. And you should make sure to include zombies. Or unicorns. Preferably both.

“How do I create memorable characters?”

The main thing is for them to have contradictory characteristics. Real people are filled with contradictions, but only the good fictional characters are. Take Omar Little from The Wire—a gay stick-up man who robs drug dealers for a living, and unlike every drug dealer on the show, he never swears. He’s basically Robin Hood: a drug stealing Robin Hood who kills people. There’s so many contradictions within his character, and that’s what makes him one of the most memorable characters in the history of TV.

It also helps if these characteristics actually stay consistent and don’t change when the plot depends on it. The characters should control the plot, not the other way around.

“How do I choose good names for characters?”

1: Make sure the name isn’t hard to pronounce. (I didn’t realize I was badly mispronouncing Hermione’s name until I did a class presentation of the book and everyone laughed at me.) 2: Make sure the name fits the time period, along with the person’s background. You’ll rarely see a guy born in in 15th century China named Jake, and 3: Don’t give the same name to characters in the same book. Stephen King did this in It and it (teehee) annoyed the hell out of me.

Also, read this. 

“Should I outline my story or just make it up as I go along?”

I prefer to go with a little of both. Know all the major plot points, but have a little fun getting to them.

“How do I write good female characters?”

(95% of the people asking this will probably be male. 4% will be aliens, and the last percent will be divided between dogs, cats, frogs and sharks. Animals can write too, you know.)

Well, they’re a lot like male characters, with some anatomical differences. Oh, and they tend to get all uncomfortable every time I ask one of them to the prom. Not sure why.

No, but seriously: give them strengths and flaws and quirks and hobbies and contradictions and all those things regular people have, regardless of gender. The same is true for all minorities some writers shy away from writing.

And remember that making her a Mary Sue is just as bad as making her a boring damsel-in-distress, so don’t do it.

“Hey Matt, why is your hair so magnificent?”

I use conditioner before shampoo, which does wonders for your hair, as it turns out.

“How do I get past writer’s block?”

Lower your expectations, and try again. You could also switch to another project for a bit, or you could read a book.. Reading’s fun. You could also try to get yourself into a situation where you’re trapped in a house with Annie Wilkes and you’re forced to write the book or else she’ll kill you (or worse). You could also try experimenting in recreational drugs, but I doubt it’ll be successful.

“How do I become a better writer?”

First you must write a lot and read a lot. But you can’t just read any old book to be a better writer; no, you have to read quality content. By which I mean: my blog. The only way to truly improve is to read all of my posts at least three time over. Then comment on each post (remember to make it at least two paragraphs long) about how smart and clever I am. That’s how Rainbow Rowell became famous, you know.

“How Do I Write Great Antagonists?”

S/he needs to 1) Be a real threat, not some pathetically incompetent screw-up,* 2) have an actual motive besides being one dimensionally evil, and 3) Consider themselves the hero of their own story. People, no matter how evil, rarely ever think of themselves as an actual villain.

Other tips you should follow:

  • Don’t bother reading writing-advice articles (except this one). They all say the same things, just worded differently.
  • Don’t spend paragraphs describing every detail of a person’s appearance. Only write about the physical characteristics that make them unique. Don’t bother with the character’s “average-length eyelashes” unless they end up being important to the plot.
  • Add dragons. Every story could be improved with a couple dragons thrown into it.
  • Endlessly bleak stories are boring. Bring in a little bit of humor to brighten the mood.
  • Include a dog in your story.
  • Include me in your story.
  • Do footstands to build your stamina. They’re like handstands, but on your feet.

That is all. I hope I’ve helped brighten everyone’s future, by writing this post.

*However, this could work if you’re writing a comedy.

What I’ve Learned From Blogging (So Far)

This post was originally supposed to just be a list of all the things I’ve learned by blogging, but after looking it over I realized it could just as easily be considered as a guide for newbie bloggers. So if you’re new to blogging, this could be quite the helpful post for you.

And if you’re a blogging veteran (a bleteran!), you should still read this post, because I’m lonely.

1) Comments are the most important thing.

It’s nice getting lots of traffic, but that means nothing if none of them comment. Luckily I learned that right away, and after a few days I stopped spending every moment refreshing the stats page to see if I got a new viewer and focused on the more important things instead.

Comments are a lovely thing. When I get a like or a new subscriber, I think, “Well, that was nice of them,” but I don’t usually check their blogs out. Not to brag or anything (and by that I mean I definitely do want to brag), but I get a lot of those. It’s the comments, however, that make me figuratively jump with joy.

Well, at first it’s joy, but before I click on the notification thingy a whole bunch of conflicting thoughts run through my head. “What if it’s just a spam comment?” “What if it’s a comment saying, ‘This blog sucks, and so do you!’ or something else as cruel?” It’s only when I read the comment twice that I calm down, and when it turns out to be a friendly one, it honestly makes my day.

My advice to new bloggers is this: value comments above all else. And always respond to them, because then they’re more likely to come back.

2) The amount of responses each posts get will surprise you. 

Occasionally I write a post and actually think it has a chance of getting Freshly Pressed, or at the very least get a lot of comments. Then it gets a total of two spam comments and a pity like, and I can’t help but feel disappointed.

Then there’s posts that I put barely any effort into and don’t have any hopes for when I publish them. Those are the ones that usually end up at the top of my “Most commented posts” list. It’s really confusing. Luckily, the two types of posts tend to even themselves out.

3) Incredibly obvious self-promoters are incredibly obvious.

Some of them are sneaky and well disguised, but when they like your eight hundred word post twenty seconds after you published it, you know they’re only doing it in the hopes that you’ll check out their blog.

I’ve only done this twice; once when I saw a post titled, “I Hate Shameless Self Promoters,” just for irony’s sake, and the other one was an accident. Or so I tell people.

Then there’s other people who say things like, “Great post! Check out my blog at _________!” Ignore these people, and never click on the link. At least not until they learn to be more subtle.

4) Make sure to comment on other people’s blogs.

Not for self-promotion, but because you’re actually interested in what the blogger’s saying. Yes, commenting on other people’s sites does help your blog gain more traffic, but that should not be your goal. If you comment for that reason, either two things will happen. 1) He/she will know what you’re trying to do and ignore you, or 2) the conversation will lack depth or any thing memorable.

Plus, commenting is cool. The idea of having a deep conversation with a stranger living in a completely different part of the world as you is something I still can’t entirely get my head around.

5) Try not to write completely off-topic posts.

99% of my posts are always somewhat related to reading and writing, so when I make the mistake of posting about unrelated topics such as snowboarding, it never does well. (Actually, that post didn’t do so bad, but in general, they almost always do.)

6) Don’t let blogging take over your life. 

You should always dedicate time to your blog and post consistently (something I’ve shown trouble with in the past), but don’t spend too much of it. If it starts to interfere with school, your social life, your job, or other important parts of your life, you should tone it down a bit. We’ll understand.

Unless you’re doing NaBloWriMo. In that case, ignore this entire point.

7) No matter how much you proofread for typos, there will always be at least one left when you click ‘Publish.

It’s a sad fact of life.


Blogging has changed my life in so many positive ways, and I wish I could give something back to it somehow.

Perhaps I’ll get a dog and name him/her “Blogging,” then give him/her all the treats I can afford. Just because….

Killing off Characters

I was originally thinking of titling this: “Writing Advice From Someone You Should Definitely Not be Taking Advice From,” but that’s too long of a title. So I’ll just make it a new category, and hopefully it might become a thing.

But this really isn’t advice, it’s more of my opinion on deaths in literature. And I’m pro-death!

If I had said that last sentence fragment in any other circumstance, I would have been given a bunch of dirty looks, and possibly a rag-tag bunch of teenage hoodlums would gang up on me and beat me to death.

Because I’m the greatest person that ever lived, my death would be a tragedy to all my friends and family. But if all my friends and family did was grieve over my brutal death and nothing else, that would not make a good story. The death would seem pointless since all it did was make the story much sadder than it was in the beginning. It did not help the plot, nor the characters, nor the reader, who would probably have thrown the book away by this point, saying “It’s not worth reading now that Matt’s gone!” Pointless character deaths lead to a boring story.

Now, if my death had caused my heroin addicted but still highly intelligent brother to plot revenge on those teenage hoodlums, then the death wouldn’t seem pointless, because without it, the plot of the book would not have happened, and those stupid hoodlums would not have been taught a lesson (albeit in a very violent way). The book has improved because of my death.

(Yes, in this scenario, I am a dead side character in a hypothetical novel where my brother is a heroin addict for some reason. Just go with it.)

And that, my dear readers, is my opinion of stories, whether it be a book, movie, or TV show; killing off characters just for the sake of killing off characters is bad storytelling, and will lead to a lot of angry readers/viewers, (and possibly a bunch of dangerous teenage hoodlums with plans to kill you).

Killing off characters is also addictive. The moment you kill off a character “because I felt like it,” you won’t be able to stop. Your near-perfect manuscript will now turn into a sloppy, depressing mess, with dead characters with so much potential lying all over the place. And soon you’ll look over your manuscript and realize that you have actually just written the book Mockingjay without even realizing it. That happens sometimes.

One of my favorite novels is The Shining, by Stephen King. Why? Because despite being a horror novel, a surprisingly small amount of people actually die at the end. Despite the stunning lack of violent, gory deaths, the book is a million times scarier than any other horror movie I’ve ever watched, where characters are killed left and right. Why? Because 1.) You get to know the characters more, which leads to 2.) You actually care about the characters, and would prefer it if they didn’t die, and 3.) This 1, 2, 3… writing technique is cool. Thanks, John Green!

Good point, Boromir

This post may surprise you, since I’ve often commented on people’s blogs saying how much fun it is to kill off my characters. I fibbed. Coming up with a good character death is fun, but actually killing off the character isn’t. Unless you’re a soulless monster who preys off the fear of orphaned children, you should feel at least a little bit of sadness when a character you created and watched develop dies. If you are a soulless monster, you probably shouldn’t be a writer to begin with.

That being said, here’s a list of cool ways to kill your characters:

  • Have the gun he/she’s using malfunction and explode in his/her hand. It’s a horrible way to die. 🙂
  • Have a boomerang do it. I’m not sure how you’ll pull this off in a believable way, but still. (Bonus points if it belongs to the character.)
  • Have the character get shot by a random bullet and never spoken of again (they should have done this to Jar Jar Binks).
  • Have the character get hit by a penny someone dropped off the Empire State Building, and then have another character, having witnessed the event, say to his friend, “See, I told you a penny dropped from the Empire State Building would kill you. You owe me a twenty bucks.” and then his friend would say, “Okay, fine,” and begrudgingly hand him the money. They both walk away like nothing happened.
  • Have him/her die from a severe chronic nosebleed.
  • Or from suffocating on a basketball (it’s possible).