Motivation Monday: Get Thyself to the Page

Happy Monday!

And dig that cool little graphic I just made. That’s because I am hoping determined that this will be a regular feature in the coming weeks. I won’t go so far as to say every week because then I’ll just rebel against myself.  But it will be regular in some form or other, okay?

Because I figure we can all use a little bit of motivation on our Mondays. (And it is also a thing, a hashtag thing, on the social medias.)

So let’s get to it.

I have long held that you can be the best writer in the world, but if you don’t have yourself a healthy dose of motivation, it won’t matter. Because if you aren’t motivated to get your butt into the chair and write, all the talent in the world isn’t going to write the book for you.  So motivation is key.

In the class I’m currently teaching, Do That Thing, we’ve talked a lot about motivation. (One whole session was devoted to motivation and inspiration, as a matter of fact.) And I learned something fascinating, which is the role that dopamine plays motivation.

Yes, dopamine. Our old friend who we associate with pleasure (and one site goes so far as to say sins and secret cravings). Turns out it also has quite a bit to do with motivation.  I’m not going to get all scientific on you and describe how the brain works, because, um, I’m not qualified to do that.  But as a quick refresher, dopamine is a neurotransmitter,  a chemical signal that passes info from one neuron to the other.

When your brain recognizes something important is about to happen (it can be good important or bad important), dopamine kicks in and get you motivated to do something.  That something can be running from the rattlesnake that’s about to strike you (bad important), or start a writing session (good important).

Okay, so that is a vast simplification, but you get the gist. People with low levels of dopamine have been shown to have low levels of motivation.  Dopamine gets you moving, literally–Parkinson’s patients have low levels of dopamine in the substantia nigra area of their brain.

I know, I know, I love anything to do with the brain but you might not. Rather you might be at this point asking how this information can help your motivation to write.  Well, if you increase your dopamine levels, you can increase your motivation.  And here are some ways to do that:

–Baby steps. We’ve been talking about this over and over in the class, because baby steps are the best way to get things done. My mother had a saying for it that I always return to: step by step we travel far.  Baby steps give you a sense of satisfaction and positive accomplishments increase dopamine.

–Micro-accomplishments. Cross items off your to-do list.  The  more you do, the better you’ll feel, and the more dopamine you’ll create.  I’m following this one today. I woke up totally unmotivated, cross and tired.  But I have my to-do list sitting next to me, and just looking at the things I’ve already crossed out is helping to energize me.

–Focus on results. As in, how great you’ll feel when you are done. Remember, dopamine fires when something important is about to happen.

–Eat dopamine foods.  Things like dairy, fish, nuts, foods rich in Omega-3, and, wait for it–dark chocolate. More here and here.

–Praise others.  Recognizing the work of others has been shown to increase dopamine in our brains.  Find some other writers to work with!

So there you have it, the first edition of Motivation Monday. Fun times.  While you’re here, please do tell–what motivates you?

And if getting published motivates you to write, the first step in getting a traditional publisher is finding an agent.  If you’re perplexed or overwhelmed by the process, I’ve got just the class for you–the aptly named How to Get An Agent. Read all about it here.

 

photo from Wikipedia.

What to Do When You Finish a Draft

I finished draft two of my romance novel this past weekend. Woot woot! It still needs work so there was no dancing in the streets or swinging from chandeliers. Just a quiet sigh of pleasure.  And there’s always a bit of confusion as I ponder, what do I do next? So I figured a blog post about just that topic was in order.

Let it rest.  Simmer, marinate, compost, whatever you want to call it, your brain needs time to do it.  You’ve been close to this baby–so close–for months or even longer now. You’ve got to get away and get some distance from it.  Give yourself a few days, preferably at least a week. Go off and don’t think about it.  Let your subconscious do that while you’re busy playing golf or making soap or doing something, anything but working on your novel.

Decide what happens next.  (You can do this while it is composting.)  Was this your first time through, also known as the discovery draft, the rough draft,  or Shitty First Draft?  If so you likely have at least one more draft that you’re going to need to write.  But if it is your third or fourth draft, you may be pondering getting it out in the world. So, at his po9int you have a choice to either:

Write another draft or carry on.  Let’s discuss writing another draft first.  

First, of course, you’re going to re-read it. Duh. As you read, make notes. I use the post-it note method for flexibility. You can read about that and my entire theory of rewriting here.  I like to keep notes of things that I’ll need to put in next time through, ideas that will make the plot stronger, additions to character arcs.  Go through these and see what you’ve got.

Sometimes, this is a matter of going through and dropping things in. For instance, you may have decided on a physical object that is of importance to your protagonist, but you only figure this out fifteen chapters in. So now you need to go back and salt it in a couple times earlier.  These are fairly easily accomplished (once you figure out where they go.)

Do these easy run-throughs first and then see where you are. If you are several drafts in, or an excellent first-drafter, you may well feel very pleased with your work, and ready to take the next step.  And so, ta-da, it is time to get some fresh eyes on it.  You may have a trusted family member who reads all your work, or an agent or editor you work with.  Or perhaps you need to find you some:

Beta Readers.  These are the most wonderful of creatures, those lovelies who will read your book in its current form and give you feedback on it.  You can find them among friends and family (as long as they promise to be honest), amid your writer friends, or on social media.  Some of you may already have a trusted group who read your every release.  Take their ideas and incorporate them or not as you see fit and get ready to carry on. Woo-hoo! Almost there!

Here you have another choice point.  (You probably already know the answer to this.) Are you looking for a traditional publisher or will you publish yourself?

If you are going to self-publish, you will need to find an editor, formatter (or learn to do it yourself), and cover designer.  Don’t skimp on any of these, because they can make or break a book’s release.  You want your book to stand out from the crowd and actually get purchased, and going the cheap route is not going to do you any favors. Trust me.

And, if you are going to seek traditional publication, you will need to search for an agent. Fun times.  It is a process that basically involves writing a query letter, researching agents, and then submitting to them. And a whole lot more. All of which I am going to cover in my upcoming How to Get an Agent class.  Which you can read more about here.  Summer writing conferences are coming up, with opportunities to pitch, so why not learn all you can about the process and present your work in its best light?

Good luck with whatever stage you are in! And please leave a comment and let me know what draft you’re on and how you’re feeling about it.

Why yes, I’m still here

So, I didn’t blog last week.

It was, um, because of the malware attack.

No, wait, I meant the constant stream of news out of Washington.

No, here’s the truth:

It was the one-armed man.

Heavy sigh. Okay, it was none of those. I just got overwhelmed.

I’m in Week Two of my Do That Thing class, anticipating teaching a class at Sitka, filling a couple last spots in the France workshop, and working with private clients. Oh, and trying to keep up with writing the second draft of my novel.  (Almost done!)

And so the blog post fell by the wayside.

To be honest, I’m not as focused on my blog these days. Blogging has changed in ways I haven’t entirely grasped yet and it is hard to know how to react.  My stats and comments are down (like a lot of other bloggers I know) and one of the things I liked best about blogging was the community that grew up around it.  That isn’t happening any more and it makes me sad.  And it is harder to get excited about writing something when I’m not sure how many people are even reading it.

But, I have a couple ideas.

The first one is an obvious solution.  And that is–start a Facebook page!  I’m really more of a fan of Twitter and Instagram, but the one way I do like to relate on Facebook is in groups.  I find it much easier to engage with people who have the same interests as I do, rather than shouting out over the vast Facebook web.

It will be a closed group called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and there you will be able to post anything having to do with writing. Questions, interesting links, pleas for help, ideas.  I’m not going to put any limitations on joining, though you will have to request an invitation.  I think it will be fun!  With everything else that I have going, it will take me a bit before I can get it up and running, so stay tuned.

And second, I’m going to be offering a class at the end of June on…wait for it….How to Get an Agent.  Ta-da!  The class will come just in time for summer pitches at writer’s conferences, but it will go beyond pitching to instruct you on how to submit to agents when conferences are over.  And, there will be an upgrade option wherein I will read and critique your query letter.  Find out more here.

Sound good? I think so, too. So keep an eye out for the Facebook group. And check out the class!

And don’t worry, I will continue to blog here. Because, its been ten years. So I might as well keep at it a while longer.

Tracking Throughlines in Your Novel

My life has been wonderfully routine (which is a good thing–no drama, except on the page) lately, and so in lieu of a Five on Friday, I’m giving you a longer post about an aspect of novel writing.

Today, I’m talking about throughlines.

Google the word and your head might explode.  Throughline is a word much beloved of story wonks (I love those guys, too, I’m just not one of them) and some of the definitions and explanations are so complex. To put it mildly. But here’s a simply one:

A throughline is a connecting them or plot in a dramatic work.

Say, for instance, your *main character has a beloved necklace she wears all the time.  The charm on the necklace has special meaning for her.  And, her father gave her the necklace.  Double special meaning. At the start of the story, another character compliments her on the necklace.  Then she loses the necklace while doing something naughty (having sex in a gazebo, but don’t you focus on that part).  When she finds the necklace again, it is because another character (yep, the one she was having sex with) returns it to her. And he does it such a way that it changes everything for her in that moment. Ah, true love.

Anyway, sex and love aside, the necklace is a throughline. It is a piece of plot. Ish.  You see what I mean? A throughline could be a character’s efforts to get into medical school, or it could be her reaction to a book she’s reading, as long as that book is important to the plot and it is mentioned several times.  And has some relation to the plot.

Are you with me?

Dropping In

Stories of all kinds are enriched by the addition of minor throughlines.  (Of course, many stories wouldn’t exist without the bigger throughlines.) But when writing a draft, it can be hard to keep the big picture in mind. You get so focused on the scene in front of you (as you should) that it might be hard to remember you need to mention that lug nut again. But, never fear–because you can easily drop these bits in after you’ve finished a draft.

I got very good at this after rewriting, my novel **The Bonne Chance Bakery several times.  There were certain throughlines that needed to be added, to bump up a character, etc., and at first I was daunted by the thought. But then I realized it literally is like dropping something in. I have this image of me above my manuscript, aiming little parts of throughlines at it.

Tracking

Sometimes, as I’m writing, the piece I need to add is small enough that I can go back and do it at the moment I think about it. But more often, it requires some thought. And that thought will take me away from the scene I’m currently writing.  In which case I note it on my ongoing list of Things That Need to Be Added.   This is helpful not only for tracking but for keeping these items front and center in my mind. I refer to the list often enough that I’m always reading it over. And there is the thing that writing it down cements it in my mind.

You can also do fun things with throughlines like track them on large pieces of paper.  Use post-its in different colors, or markers, or any of the gazillion fun things you can find at the office supply store.  This kind of visual representation can be very helpful in figuring out what you need to add (and subtract) from your plot.

However you decide to do it, consciously tracking your throughlines can be an enormous help as you write your draft and save frustration when it comes time to rewrite. So have it.

Don’t forget–my Do That Thing program starts next week. Your thing could be writing a novel! Or organizing your lug nut collection! Whatever it is, I’ll help you get it done. You can sign up here.

*Yes, this example is taken from my WIP.  SO DON’T GO STEALING IT. Never mind. I know you won’t. There’s nothing new under the sun, anyway.

**Yes, it is still being pitched. The novel is with several editors at this very moment.

Photo by Scott Robinson.

Five on Friday: May

We had two days of hot weather here this week and it reminded me of how much I love this month. May! Sunshine and soft air on my skin. Never mind that it is now raining again…

What I’m reading: Last weekend, I dropped my husband off at the barber and headed to the library, with the understanding that he’d walk over when he was finished. Turned out I nabbed my stack of books quickly.  And, the library was not busy. This never happens at our library–it is always bustling. So I took my books and found a table at the kid’s section (which was completely empty). And there I sat, quietly and happily perusing the titles I’d checked out. Is there anything more laden with possibility than a pile of books? I think not.

Here’s a terrific read called Let Go of Learning Baggage, about the need to allow ourselves time to delve deeply into things.  My short, sweet interlude in the library reminded me of all this.

A fun free thing: I got an email this week from the kind folks at Penguin Random House, telling me about this free writing guide. It’s about writing short stories, and has a variety of stellar contributors. Definitely worth a download.

What I’m watching: This video from Rachael Herron, on whom I have a writerly-girl crush, about her time at a writer’s retreat in Venice, one she was leading. I love the part where she says sometimes she is jealous of herself, which is how I feel when I am in France, leading a writer’s workshop/retreat. (Speaking of which, our two sessions are almost full, but we did have one cancellation, so let me know if you’re interested.)

What is amusing me: The notes I wrote myself as I completed the rough draft of my current novel.  Here’s a direct quote (I always write them in all caps): OH GOD THIS IS ALL SO BAD I CAN’T STAND IT. CARRY ON ANYWAY. And here’s the thing–the writing wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Which is a lesson to us all.  The best thing to do is write that rough draft as fast as you can and trust that you are getting the good stuff on the page. Because you are.

What I’m excited about: My upcoming beta program called Do That Thing.  It is designed to get you doing your thing, whatever that thing may be.  I’ve been reading stuff about productivity, goals, how the brain works, etc., for years, but lately I’ve been cramming even more on these topics into my brain.  I love doing this, almost as much as I love writing.  And I’ve got two spaces left, but I get more sign-ups every time I send a newsletter out and my next issue goes out Sunday. So if you’re at all interested, sign up! I’m offering it at a ridiculously low price because it is a beta run and I want to reserved the right to make mistakes. I’d love to have you join me!

That’s it for me. What’s up with you?

Five on Friday: Sunshine Through my Window

Fingers crossed for a nice weekend!  Here’s what’s going on:

What I’m Reading: Same books as last week, which I can’t divulge, because I’m reading for a contest.  But I also have occasion to load up my Kindle with Ebooks because I read while baby George naps on my chest.  So I have been perusing You Are a Badass at Making Money.  Because I’m a sucker for self-help books and this series by Jen Sincero is far more entertaining than most.

What I’m Watching: Not much of anything. I’ve been out a lot at night.  Oh crap, I just looked at my calendar and I am out every night through next Wednesday. This is why I end up watching stupid sitcoms.  Because there’s not a lot of evening time for anything more taxing.

What I’m Excited About: The beta launch of my Do That Thing program. Couple of spots left–check it out here.

Where I’m Spending Time: Answering questions on Quora. I’m finding it mildly addictive.  Very fun.

What I Recommend:  One of my favorite blogs is Thekitchensgarden.    I read it first thing in the morning to find out what’s going on down on Cecilia’s farm.  A writer needs to let loose her inner farm girl once in a while.  Though I’d probably collapse in a quivering heap after one hour trailing Cecilia about.

That’s it for the end of this week. What’s going on with you?

When Narrative Summary Takes Over

Hi there.

Your writing will be as flat as these lines if all you write is narrative summary

Yes, I know it is Friday and for the last couple of months I’ve consistently been cranking out Five on Friday posts, wherein I cheerily catch you up on what I’ve been doing all week and drop in a few brilliant helpful writing tidbits.

And today I started out with the same intention but one part of my usual Five on Friday post, wherein I tell you what I’m reading, consumed my brain.  And I wanted to share it with you. So here goes.

I’m reading a novel I can’t tell you about. This sounds way more glamorous and mysterious than it really is.  I’m judging a contest for a group I belong to and so I can’t reveal details.  The novel has a pretty good story line, some well-drawn characters and a compelling theme.

And yet I am struggling with everything I have to finish it.

Why?

Because it is mostly written in narrative summary.  And while narrative summary is a handy tool, when used too much it becomes boring.

Remind Me About Narrative Summary?

Let’s do a quick review.  Here’s a definition of narrative summary:

Narrative is made up of summary, and description.  It is broadly known as telling.  Narrative compresses or expands time—for instance, gliding over years in a paragraph.  There’s no action in it, only descriptions of action.

That bit above about there only being descriptions of action is key.  I’m sure you can imagine how page after page of that gets draining.  This is why we put action in scenes, people. Because it is more immediate, more engaging, more, well, dramatic.  And it is a lot more fun to read.

Speaking of fun, I thought it might be useful to read some reviews of this book.  While many of the are positive, focusing on the things I like about it, many others are not. They say things like “boring” or “flat characters” and so on. These aren’t professional writers who are doing the reviewing so they don’t quite have the words to explain why the book isn’t doing it for them.

But I do:  too damn much narrative summary.

And Then There Are Scenes

Of course, you can go too far in the other direction and write too many scenes as well. (Though in all the gazillion manuscripts I’ve read over the years, I’ve only seen this happen once. Most of the time I’m imploring writers to write more scenes.)  The trick is knowing when to use each one.  In the broadest of fashions, you can think of scenes as showing and narrative summary as telling and use accordingly.

We probably don’t need to see your character on her daily run to the grocery store–unless she meets the love of her life there one day.  You can dispense with her trip in one sentence: Delilah went to the grocery store.  But if she does meet the love of her life there, that’s when you put it into a scene. A scene occurs in real time, and contains dialogue and action.   It could theoretically be acted out, though many scenes contain interior monologue as well.

The Middle Ground

The best novels, in my opinion, use a combination of scene and narrative summary, with the ratio canting in favor of scenes.  If someone has critiqued your story and mentioned that things drag in places, examine those spots and see if you’ve got too much narrative summary going on. Is there something you can put into a scene?

The smart use of narrative summary and scenes can help you in pacing.  You might utilize more scenes and fewer summaries as you near the exciting conclusion of your novel, for instance. Or you might use a lot of narrative summary as you’re familiarizing the reader with a character at the beginning. Just aim for a balance.

Okay, that’s my rant on narrative summary.  Please do share with me your thoughts.

Oh, and somewhere in my vast files I have a couple of great handouts with definitions and examples of scene and narrative summary.  If you would like to receive them, just email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com and I’ll send them your way.

And don’t forget my new program, about which I am SO excited.  You’ve got a goal you don’t seem to get done? Join me for Do That Thing.

Are You Doing Your Thing?

My writing has been going well lately. Bliss!

You’ll be singing like Maria when you Do That Thing

When it is going well, I find it much easier to do. I get up early, grab a cup of coffee and go right to my computer. I scan my emails (just to make sure there’s nothing that need my immediate attention, which is  load of crap I tell myself because there never is) and then I get right to it.  And usually I write until breakfast. And, oh yeah, that pesky thing called taking a shower and making myself presentable. (Never mind that there are some days this doesn’t happen.)

Writing–working on my novel–in the morning is my thing. The thing I want to do more than anything. The thing that makes me happy. The thing that moves me further towards my goals.

What is your thing?

I know you know the answer to that question. But here’s an even more important one:

Are you regularly doing that thing?

It could be writing. (Since you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing that it is.) But maybe it is something else. Maybe you have a burning desire to become an accountant.  (Stranger things have happened.) Maybe you want to make $10,000. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds. Or run a marathon. Or get a dog.  Or plant a garden.

We all have things we want to do, and when we are doing them we light up.

But often, too often, we don’t let ourselves do our thing.  And then we are gloomy and gray.  Or maybe we pretend we are okay, but that little voice inside our head knows better and says otherwise. Try as we might to squelch it, up it pops at the damnedest of times, like at 3 AM in the morning, or when the boss is glaring at you.

“Why aren’t you doing that thing?”

So let me ask you: are you doing your thing?

If not, consider joining my Do That Thing group coaching and accountability program.  I’m starting this baby out in beta while I get all the kinks out. It is six sessions, designed to get your thing, whatever it may be, launched. And since it is beta, it is DIRT FREAKING CHEAP.  I plan to offer this again next fall, at double or triple the cost.

We begin May 18th.  And while there will be lots of ass kicking, there will also be lots of fun.

So head on over to the Do That Thing page and check it out!

Five on Friday: Good Friday Edition

What I’m writing: Draft Two of my first romance novel.  I am living proof that you can write a Really Shitty First Draft and make it into something.  With previous novels, I’ve known more about the plot and characters and thus had a more polished first draft (still crappy, though).  There are many places in this one where I write in all caps things like I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE, and I really didn’t.  There’s tons of boring narrative summary and endless paragraphs of characters thinking, thinking, thinking.  But I got the story down–and now I’m having a blast figuring out better ways to present it to the reader. I’m pretty happy with it.  So if you’re in the middle of a draft that you’re despairing over, take heart.  Oh and here’s a pertinent quote I found today:

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.

I love it. By the way, that photo to the left is of Horn Seven. He’s my new writing buddy, given to me (and named by) my grandson to sit by my computer. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos of the writing life. Well, my writing life anyway. IG is my current favorite social media.)

What I’m Reading: Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang, and Dior or Die by Angela Sanders.  The first is a collection of short stories, one of which the movie Arrival was based on.  Chiang is the current darling of the sci-fi world and I waited months to get this book. And…I’m fascinated with it but it makes me feel dumb because I don’t always get the stories.  Sigh.  Dior or Die is another great mystery by my friend Angie. Go buy it and read it.

What I’m Watching: The current American Experience: The Great War, about World War I. I’m now fascinated with this era, thanks to the Maisie Dobbs books. (Book two in the series is next on my reading list. It will actually be the third one I’ve read, because the one I found that introduced me was way out of order.)  Anyway, it may or may not be true that I fell asleep on the couch watching American Experience, but still, it is worth mentioning.

What I’m Excited About: Nia, an exercise class. I wrote a whole thing about it in my newsletter that comes out this Sunday. If you’re not on my list to get it, you can subscribe from that banner up top. And you might want to, because I mentioned something exciting in it.

What I’m Excited About 2: Ordering groceries online. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER.   A huge time saver for me. I’m not a human that likes going to the grocery store. At all. Ever. So this is a godsend.

Happy Good Friday and Easter, everyone. Hope you get some writing in even though its a holiday weekend!

PS. As I’ve mentioned, we are offering two sessions for the France workshop this year. But the first session is full (though we could accommodate you if your begged, or bribed us), and the second session is filling up fast.  So check it out!