Tag Archives | novel writing

Preparation is Three-Quarters of the Battle

Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)I’m leaving for France (Paris and Ceret) soon. I’m not one of those people who pack and repack a week ahead. No, you’ll find me throwing clothes in the suitcase the night before.

But, and this is a big but—when the time comes for me to commence said throwing, I will know exactly what I’m going to take. (Okay, because I’m a terrible packer and a confirmed right-brainer, there will be last minute changes and additions.) Because I’ve been thinking about what I need to take clothes-wise, book-wise, and technology-wise all month.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  And the prepared packer. And the prepared writer.

At least I think so.

I know there’s an endless debate between pantsers and plotters.  (For the record, a pantser is one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing, and a plotter is one who plans everything out.)  And, seeing as how I have a completely somewhat loose approach to organization and house cleaning and the like, you would think I would fall down on the side of pantsing.

But I have learned through many years of experience that when I pants, I get into trouble. Not that I don’t love it, because I do. What could be better than allowing your mind and fingers to ramble down shady lanes and sunny byways in strange worlds? But the key word here is ramble, because that’s exactly what I do. Ramble along with no worry for the strictures of plot or character. Or showing a cohesive setting. Or anything but my rambles.

And one cannot write a novel without worrying about plot or character or setting.  Or one can, but one will need to do a lot of rewriting when one is done.  I do love rewriting—but not when I have to figure out how to make a shapeless lump into a story.

So, I plot. And write up character dossiers. And draw maps of locations and diagrams of houses and offices.  I call all of this prep work and I actually enjoy it. Sometimes I think I enjoy it too much, as I can get so engrossed in it that I never quite get to the writing of the novel.

It occurred to me, as I pondered what clothing I should take to Europe, that it might be helpful to share what I consider to be the bare minimum of novel prep work, because it’s been awhile since we discussed this.  So here you go (and remember this is a minimum. You can do a lot more if you wish):

Character Dossiers.  I fill them out for all of my main characters and do at least the rudiments (appearance, personal traits) for the minor ones.  Because all story starts with character, this is time well spent and often helps me come up with plot ideas as well.  It is also helpful to know who is going to tell the story and if it will be in first person or third.

Setting Sketches. I need to be able to see where my character lives and works.  This goes for big setting, such as the overall city she lives in, and small setting, such as her home and office.

A Loose Outline. And by loose, I mean loose. I’m not one of those people who plans out every single beat and action and character thought. I do like to leave some room for surprises.  A simple list of potential happenings will do.

Really that’s it. I know, you don’t see research on the list. That’s because, like technology, I’m on a need-to-know basis with it.  When I don’t know how to do something on my computer, ask the Google How do I do _______________ ? I always get a quick answer.  Same thing with research.  At least for the first draft you do not want to get mired in a lot of facts you might not really need. (And if you’re writing an historical, my hat’s off to you. And you’ll need to do a lot more research.)

Since I just finished my rewrite, I’ll be prepping a new novel myself soon. Can’t wait.

While I have you, are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages of your approach?

Photo from Wikipedia.

4

Cutting the Fat

So, my novel manuscript, the one I’m almost done rewriting, originally came in at over 107,000 words.

I know.      spaghetti_fusilli_pasta_242129_l

Waaaaaay too long.

“But part of it is recipes,” I told myself.

Right. Like maybe 500 words.

Under orders from my agent, I’m in the process of cutting it to under 100K. (I’m currently at 99,378, with about 100 pages yet to comb through, so not bad.) I’ve realized as I do this, a couple of things: 1. that trimming the fat is making it a much better book, and 2. that this is a very inexact process.

All that being said, here are some ideas about how to approach cutting your precious words back:

Keep the noodles on the stove.  My characters love to noodle. To ponder. To think deep thoughts about life. And I, in my efforts to make sure the reader gets it, often have them noodle about the same issue. Over and over and over again. Noodling is one of the easiest things to cut. (A brief aside. I was cooking Mac and Cheese for my three-year-old granddaughter the other day and mentioned that the noodles were on the stove.  “What’s a noodle, Nonni?” she asked. Because only people of a certain age call it anything but pasta. Duh.)

Cut entire scenes or chapters.  This is far and away the most painful thing to do. And the most effective–in my case, I ditched several thousand words in one quick swoop.  It was a chapter I’d added in to supposedly give the reader more insight into a particular character, but much of it was fluff. So I held my breath and slashed it. (Though nothing is ever deleted forever. See my procedural notes below.)

Ditch telling and then showing.  I see this often in my client’s manuscripts.  First they tell us something, then show it.  I thought I was good at not doing this. But hahaha, turns out that’s not only the case. Since my characters love to noodle, they often sometimes think about doing something, then say it in dialogue, and then…gasp…they actually do it.  Thus I am repeating the same thing three times. A good rule of thumb in such situations: dialogue or action is always stronger than thoughts.

Edit out sentences that say the same thing in different ways.  Similar to the above, in my efforts to hit my reader over the head with my brilliance, I say it on way. And then another. And then…oh wait, just in case, let’s try yet another way! Away with all of these repetitious bits.

Keep the momentum moving forward.  It’s easy to unintentionally stall the action.  Here’s an example. My main character, Madeleine, is at a party.  She goes outside to deal with one of the party-goers and then thinks, “Suddenly the prospect of returning to the party wasn’t so appealing.” But I’ve still got a bunch of things that have to happen at the party. Yet she’s letting all the air out by saying that. This also happens when writers build up to a scene, say an argument between husband and wife, and then don’t end the scene without writing the argument.

If something is niggling at you, pay attention to it.  Sometimes it happens that a little thought comes into your head along the lines of you should go back to chapter 14 and look at what Richard says. But you ignore it. Because, you’re way beyond chapter 14 and who wants go go back? But that thought keeps niggling at you. Pay attention. This happened to me earlier today and after I dragged my metaphorical feet long and hard, I finally went back–and rewrote a chunk of the chapter. It’s much stronger now.

That’s it for the actual wordsmithing.  But below find a couple of procedural tips:

Keep a hold file.  This is an extra file in which I copy and paste the gems I’m cutting.  I’ve done this for years, so that I’m certain to hang onto my brilliance. However, I learned a better way to make sure I don’t panic when I highlight vast swaths of copy and hit delete. And that is:

Save a new file every day.  I do this by date: BCRewriteFour8.25.16. And so on, through all the days I’m working on it.  Then you know you can always go back to what you wrote the day before and your brain won’t tell you that you can’t delete those delicately beautiful words because the world will suffer if you do. (I learned this tip from Rachael Herron.)

What are you working on? Doing any rewriting? Got any tips to share? Please do!

(Photo by brokenarts.)

2

Dog Days of Summer and Rewriting

wasp_macro_wasp_243277_lI’m back. It didn’t seem like much of a hiatus, at least from this end. And I’m still not finished with the rewrite. But I’m making excellent progress and feel very good about it.  (And, so you don’t think I’m all fakey optimistic, let me just remind you that I sat out most of July working on it because I didn’t know how to approach it.)

I have a couple of brilliant thoughts on rewriting to share, but first, let me tell you a few fun things that happened while I was gone:

  • I got a bee sting while valiantly defending my three-year-old granddaughter from said bee. Her mother is allergic, and we’re not yet sure if Liv is. She’s been stung once, but often the allergic reaction doesn’t occur until the second or third sting. I sure didn’t want to be responsible for anything happening, so I was glad the bee stung me. But it turns out I’m having a fairly intense localized reaction, with my arm red and swollen to about the size of an elephant’s leg. And it itches like a mo-fo.
  • I have a dying root in a tooth. If you’ve never experienced this, it is hard to explain the agony.  And I thought being pummeled by my massage therapist was bad. Also, a helpful note: do not get a toothache in August because every dentist in town is on vacation.  I’m in between dentists because I needed to find a holistic one, aka, one who will not fill my mouth full of mercury. I already have plenty, thank  you very much, and I just went on a nasty three-month cleanse to get rid of it.  Anyway, I have an appointment two weeks hence. Meanwhile, I’m swishing with coconut oil and Listerine and salt water, and using clove oil and Orajel. Also taking lots of ibuprofen, which I know is terrible for me but c’mon, this pain is intense.

Aren’t I a fun date?

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that over with, on to the gems of wisdom about rewriting. Here goes:

  • Every book is its own beast.  You have to honor the shape of what you have, you really do, and listen to how the book responds as you work. Some planned changes just may not work when you actually get to it. For instance, I figured out this elaborate backstory for one of the characters that was just perfect. I planned to fit it in in dribs and drabs. But when I actually got to places it might go, it didn’t fit.  So I had to let it go.
  • Rewriting happens in macro swaths, such as rethinking a character, but the meat of it is in the micro. How a character reacts to the character you’ve rethought, for instance, which you show in dialogue or action.  I’m struck this time through what makers of magic we are–erase one observation from a character’s head and you’ve changed the whole scene. Amazing. Which reminds me of something that used to happen all the time when I was in a writer’s group. I’d bring in a rewrite and people would wax poetic about how much better it was–when really all I’d done was change one or two tiny little things. But that’s the power we wield.
  • It really helps to have someone you can hash out ideas with. I was truthfully sort of scared of my agent at first, but this time through we’ve talked a couple times and emailed about what I’m doing. Also, when Debbie and I went on our writing retreat, we discussed our stories on breaks and at night. It really helps.  Find someone with whom you can brainstorm–or just moan and whine to.

Okay, that’s it, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’m going to go take some more Ibuprofen and ice my elephant’s leg arm. But, I’ve missed you. So please tell me what you’ve been doing this summer and how the writing is going.

Photo by hberends.

4

Dire Straits: No Internet for a Week

Yes, you read that headline correctly. I was without internet for a week. One whole freaking week. Of course, as luck would have it, I was out of town for part of that time, but still. Come on.

It started when a car ran into a pole a few blocks away. Sheared the damn thing off, so that the top part of it was dangling from the electrical wire.  Power went out to our entire neighborhood early Friday morning.  Let me tell you, it was downright creepy to awaken before dawn that day and realize there was no fan running, no clock, no glowing lights from the power strip. And most of all–no sound from outside. Nothing. You don’t realize how much noise all our things make until they all go away. I had the oddest feeling that the electrical grid of the whole country had been taken out. But luckily, it was just my zip code. And the power came back on within a couple of hours.

All except the internet.

I can live without the TV, and the landline (which is disconnected anyway). But internet? No way.

Okay, okay, okay.  So I do have a smart phone.  It’s not as if I was totally disconnected from the world. But I am old of a certain age and it turns out I’m lousy at managing my life and my clients and my business from my phone. Really lousy.  Careful as I am to scroll through all my emails, I still miss some. And there’s no way to send attachments from the phone.

I know. Whine, whine, whine.

Anyway, I called Comcast (sorry, I just can’t get used to calling them Xfinity) and scheduled an appointment for the next Wednesday, when I would be back home. So much for all those TV ads I saw while watching The Voice. You know, the ones about how Comcast now schedules evening appointments, when it is convenient for their customers. Ha! Nope, they couldn’t come when hub was home in the evenings. The earliest appointment that I would be home for was quite a few days hence.

I went to the beach for a few days and my husband came home early. Bless his heart, because he was able to download messages (hello, data usage), he thought the internet was back up and so I canceled the appointment.  But, no.  The internet was not back up. It didn’t work at all. Another call to Comcast, and another appointment a few days out.

But! There was hope! Turns out we had an “end-of-life” modem (I swear to you it was only two years old) that had refused to come back on with the rest of its brothers and sisters.  And all we had to do was dash up to the Comcast service center, four minutes away, and get a new one.  At said service center we were assured that all we had to do was plug it in and everything would work again. (Oh, and routers are no longer needed–cool!)

But…you guessed. We plugged it in and everything worked except the internet. Sigh. So I waited until yesterday when the nice cable guy, Ben, came over and hung out and fixed all my things. He even moved my new, improved start-of-life modem/router away from the bedroom where I’m sure it was emitting all kinds of foul vibes while we slept.

So now I have the interwebs again.

Yes, I know this should have been a lovely amount of extra time to work on my rewrite. And it was. Except I still had clients who were expecting responses from me. And emails to answer. And blog posts to write. And dealing with a tech fail takes time, people! But really, I’m whining on the yacht, because: smart phone.

But I thought you might want to know why I’ve not been blogging.  And….I would also like to let you know that after this tale of woe I’m going to need to take to my couch and read for awhile. No, actually, I’ve got to hunker down and get the rewrite finished.

And so I’m taking a brief blogging hiatus.  I’ll be back the week of the 15th.  However, I do send out a newsletter every other week, so if you’re not on my list, sign up over there on the right so you can get it.  I used to do a whole formal ezine thing but lately I’ve just been writing what I call love letters on various writerly topics.  I don’t post them on the blog, so the content is completely different. It comes out Sunday (next one will be August 14th).

Okay? Okay.

Oh, by the way, the France retreat is now full. Woot woot! But we’ll be going again next year, so if you’re interested, do let me know.  Debbie and I are working on a new website for Let’s Go Write and once that is done we’re going to get very official about a mailing list and actually send information out on it, too!

So now I’m going to go work on my rewrite. Actually, I’m going to go have a glass of wine and sit outside and talk to my husband.  Yes, I’m still speaking to him, even though he told me to cancel the first Comcast appointment. I’m not bitter. No, not me.

See you on the 15th.

4

The Tyranny of Word Count

Every morning on my calendar I note how many words I’ve written (my main fiction writing time is early in the morning).  My goal is 1500-2000 words a day, which is a nice pace for me. If I’m on, I can hit 2K easily, but on off days, 500 words is a stretch.  Counting words is a great way to remind yourself of how much you’ve accomplished, and of course you know that what you focus on, grows. (I imagine myself staring at a page of words, willing it to multiply like the dandelions on our front yard.)

And its not just the daily word count that we focus on, but we think about it in other ways as well.  We fret and stew about how many words a book should be.  How long is a novella? How long is a short story? If I go over those standard word counts wills something bad happen? And so on and so forth.

And so even though I love checking in on my daily word count notations, I sometimes think they can become a bit tyrannical. And result in bad habits. Tell me I’m not the only one who:

  1. Writes complicated sentences–because they entail more words.
  2. Use two words when one will do. Because, word count.
  3. Catch myself repeating something and then letting it stand. Because, you know why, word count.
  4. Endures excruciating moments when I’m straining for just 100 more words to meet my quota.

Okay, okay, I am writing raw as coal-before-it-becomes-a-diamond drafts.  And I know that the value of rewriting is inestimable.  But still, sometimes I wonder if there’s a better way to keep track of it all, or if I really do need to keep track? To answer that last question first, when I’m writing regularly, I think it’s important to have metrics.  The novelist J.T. Ellison says that we must “touch our story, think about it” on a regular basis, and I agree. (Regular basis=daily.)  Keeping a word count reminds you of the importance of this.  When I wring my hands and tell myself I’m not much of a writer, all I have to do is flip open my planner and there it is, ink black and white (well, okay, color from gel pens), proof that if nothing else I do get up and throw words at the page regularly. And if there are lots of blank days with no word counts listed, I am reminded that I’m slacking.

But is there a better way to keep track? I suppose I could write to the end of whatever scene I’m working on and list how many scenes or chapters I’ve completed.  But often when I end my writing session at the close of a scene, I close myself off as well. (Hemingway famously ended his writing sessions in the middle of a sentence.)  And of course, there is rating yourself by time as well.  If you’ve sat at your computer for two hours, you’ve done your job.  Except one could easily sit at said computer for two hours and not write a word.  I know, I’ve done it I had a friend who did it.

I dunno. Maybe you can tell me a better way?

The truth is I’m the worst goal setter in the world.  The standard advice to block out time for writing on my calendar doesn’t work for me, because I rebel against myself.  As in, look at my calendar and say, meh, don’t feel like doing that today. This is clearly a variation of the childhood refrain, “I’m doing it because I want to and not because you tell me to.” Yep, childish as all get-out, not to mention counter productive.  I actually love to set elaborate goals, goals that even the most vigorous Type A personality could never meet.

And for some unknown reason, writing to word count, tyrannical as the process is, works for me. It is the only thing I’ve found that keeps me productive on a regular basis.  And so on bad days I groan and strain and complain until I reach at least 1,000 words and on good days I pat myself on the back when I easily sail past 2K.

Nobody said being a writer was easy. (And if it was, we’d be bored.)

What metrics do you use to keep track of your progress?

And by the way, for the truly nutty among you, my friend Milli Thornton runs 10K Days for writers every month, twice a month. There’s one coming up tomorrow (July 20) that I’m participating in, and one this Saturday as well.

Happy writing!

 

10

Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway — For Writers and Creatives

The_ScreamFeel the fear and do it anyway is one of the great all-time phrases ever. And I certainly can’t take credit for the words. It was the title of a book that came out years ago, by Susan Jeffers, and I clutched that book to me like a life raft at the time.  I was reminded of the book again last weekend when the minister of my church referred to how she also found it life-saving back in the day. (Books really can change lives, never forget that as you write.)

I’m heading off to teach today, and I’ll be honest, I’m nervous. I’m not nervous about the material because I’ve taught it a million times (just not in this format). But I’m nervous about logistics, and getting there on time, and about how I’ve put everything together, and what to wear, and the biggie–what will people think of me? Will they like me? If you stop and think about that one for a minute, it is the most ridiculous fear on the planet.  We can’t control what other people are going to think of us. We can be kind and open but if someone takes an instant dislike to us, there’s not much we can do about it.  I can’t tell  you how many times I’ve taken an instant dislike to someone–and later become close friends with them. Yet this is one of the most crippling fears people have. Oh, we humans are a funny lot.

And here’s another funny fear: that of putting words on the page. Or paint on the canvas. Or stitches on the fabric. We creatives face the blank page and panic.  But why? Because all those thoughts about how people will react to the words on the page (which actually aren’t even there yet) crowd in and stop us.  We tell ourselves we don’t know how to do it, as if everyone else has innate knowledge of it that we don’t share. That’s simply not true. They learned it by doing it, just like everyone else. The one exception is my four-year-old grandson. He comes up with the most amazing facts and when I ask him where he learned that he just shrugs and says “I just know it.” Which is, come to think of it, probably the best attitude any of us can take.  Shrug and tell yourself “I just know how to write a novel.” “I just know how to put paint on the canvas.”

The thing is, if you’re afraid of something, it’s probably yours to do. That is one of the truest things I’ve learned through the years.  And so here’s my best advice as to how to deal with fear:

Take action.

That’s the best antidote to fear that I know. It doesn’t have to be big action, it can be something little. Tiny, even. Because teensy actions pile upon each other and cumulatively become big actions.  I remember reading Susan Jeffers book back when it first came out and being so fearful that the thought of taking action was simply overwhelming. Back then, I could never have imagined publishing a book. Leading writing workshops in France. Or teaching others. But little actions built up. I went to a meeting of a writer’s group. Joined a critique group. Put words on the page regularly and started shaping them into something more than journal entries. Took the scary step of showing those words to others.  And one day I found myself on the plane to Paris (alone–something else I couldn’t have imagined).

Before I started traveling regularly, I had a fear of flying. I’d grip the arm rests and hyperventilate during take-off and landing. But then I realized that if I ever wanted to go anywhere I better get over the fear. It is still not my favorite thing to do, but its not the worst, either.  Doing something over and over helps quell the fear (though I still get nervous about logistics, that’s for damn sure).

Write a word, make the phone call, visit the gallery you want to represent you. Send the query, ask someone for something you want, whatever it is that fear prevents you from doing.  Sit down at the computer and write the next scene of your novel or memoir. Because here’s the best part–once you’ve done that thing you’ll be flooded with the most glorious feeling of sweet relief.  Because you’ve overcome fear.  In many ways, I think it is the life journey we all share.

How do you overcome fear? Please share.

I’m off to teach at Sitka today, which is located on the beautiful Oregon coast, so I won’t be back in this space until next week. But follow me on Instagram for lots of photos!

The image is The Scream, by Edward Munch, of course, and it is in the public domain.

4

Mapping the Novel: A Whole-brained Approach

sitka center for art and ecology

So, today is Friday and usually often on Friday I do a round-up post called Five on Friday in which I tell what’s going on in my life. As I started to write that post today, I realized that most of it would be taken up with information about the workshop I’m going to teach in a couple of weeks.  So I decided just to devote the whole blog post to that instead. I think you’ll pick up a couple tips for planning a novel along the way.

The idea behind the workshop is that writing a novel is a back-and-forth process.  You must go back and forth between macro (the big picture, i.e., plot) and micro (the details that will bring your world to life), and left brain (structure, outlining) and right brain (creating characters out of thin air, free writing).  You can’t lean all to the right side or to the left–you’ve got to be conversant in each.

I tend to like to live on the right side of my brain. Creating characters? Creating worlds? You betcha! Forming them into a plot? Um, that’s a bit harder. Give me a prompt and a blank page on which to free write and I’ll have at it with gusto. But telling me to form my ideas into a logical, cohesive structure is way harder for me.  I’ve had to learn how to do those left-brained things in order to write novels. (And don’t tell anybody, but I sometimes enjoy it.)

(As a brief aside, I sometimes teach in Nashville with the wonderful Terry Price. For several years, we were co-directors of the Writer’s Loft, now called, for reasons inexplicable to me, Write, a certificate writing program I still teach at in Tennessee.  Terry used to tell people that, “Charlotte has a right brain and I have a left brain and together we make a whole brain.” And it was true!)

So, here’s what we’re going to cover in the three-day workshop. (I’m the kind of teacher that fiddles with content all the way up to the minute before we start, so there may be some tweaks in this.)

  • The Writing Process
  • Fundamentals of Fiction
  • Character
  • Structure
  • Story
  • Theme and Style
  • Setting

And the really fun part is that we’re going to let our right-brains run wild, making vision boards for our book, creating maps, and free writing to learn more about our worlds.  Then we’re going to get very serious and organize all our brilliance into usable format to actually write a novel–character dossiers, setting descriptions, and a workable plot, sketched out in loose outline form.  Students will leave the workshop ready to embark on writing the first draft of a novel. (But no matter where you are in the process, you’ll find information of use to you.)

All right, so getting this accomplished in three days is a tall order so maybe we won’t finish every single aspect of it, but people will leave with the tools they need to get ‘er done at home.  Sounds like fun? Want to join me? It’s June 8-11th, at the Sitka Center on the Oregon Coast.

I did promise that you would glean a tip or two if you read this blog post, so here goes:

  1. Take the time to do some prep work for your novel. Figure out characters and settings and at least a loose idea of the plot. The prepared writer’s mind is a productive writer’s mind.  Trust me on this–I’m facing a rewrite of the novel I wrote without any prep work done and it is a daunting task.
  2. Remember the writing process–prep, write a rough draft all the way through from start to finish, rewrite with big picture stuff in mind, rewrite again as many times as necessary, then revise (all the piddly stuff like grammar).
  3. Write your first draft fast. This is not the time to obsess over the small details. You want to get the story on the page. Don’t go back and fiddle with stuff because it may all change anyway. There’s no use in perfecting sentences if you’re not sure if the scene is going to survive.
  4. Believe you can do it. This is not just woo-woo crap, studies have shown that writers who visualize themselves in the act of writing are more successful at actually getting to the writing than those who don’t. (I wrote a blog post about this years ago and damn if I can find it.)
  5. Use the power of momentum.  In other words, write every day. Or at least open your file and look at it. Find a way to keep your story in your head so that your brain is composting ideas for you while you’re not at work.

If you have the time and inclination, I do hope you’ll join me.  But even if you can’t, I also hope you launch into writing a novel. It’s the best thing to do, ever.

Do you tend to be more left-brained or more right-brained? Please comment!

2

Otherwhere: Almost Summer

It has come to my attention that next weekend is Memorial Day. Could somebody please tell me how that happened? And, though summer doesn’t officially start until after the solstice, we all know that Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of long, lazy days, right? Well, if someone could show me a universe in which adults actually got to enjoy long, lazy days I’d move there in a nanosecond.  In the meantime, how about some fun links to peruse in those stolen moments of your busy, crazy days? Here goes:

Writing

How to share your work and get discovered.

Creating your character’s world.

How to gain more confidence.

Tips for writing that novel.

Some words on setting.

How to start writing a novel if stuck.

Should you let your creativity rest?

Travel Porn

In honor of upcoming workshops I’m teaching, here’s some Oregon Coast porn (there’s still a few spots left in my Sitka workshop) and France porn (one spot left, but we have someone seriously interested so act now if you are, too).

Author Blogs I Like

Rachael Herron

Emilie Richards

Kathleen Tessaro’s nice piece on how she got published.

Joshilyn Jackson. (Lots of fun, but hasn’t been updated for a couple of months.)

That’s all I’ve got for author blogs (though I feel like I’m forgetting a couple of obvious ones that I read). Do you have any that you read? What I like in an author blog is getting a glimpse into their life, besides stuff about their books.  I don’t mind some self-promotion because, duh, that’s the point, but I do like a bit more than just marketing.  Share your favorites in the comments.

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How To Get Your Writing Done

numbers_text_texture_225115_l (1)So, you have a book…or an article…or a story that you’d like to write. (Right? Because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.)  And you need to get that book finished, that story done.  How to accomplish such a thing?  How to make room in your schedule to get it written?

To my mind, there are two ways to get your writing done, and writers fall naturally into either group, because of need or temperament.  I have strong opinions on which works best. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in fifteen years of teaching writing and nine years of blogging, it’s that there’s not one way that works for every writer. The best I can do is offer options and opinions and let you figure it out for yourself.

The first group, and I count myself among them, are those writers who prefer to write every day, or as close to it as possible. The second group write in great chunks of time as their schedule allows. Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Daily Writing

If you’re at all like me, you prefer this schedule.  Aiming for writing every day means you’ll hit at least five days of the week, right?  This is the standard advice that most of us preach, I think with good reason.  Such as:

Benefits

–This schedule is the best way to get and maintain momentum on a project. If you’re writing every day, you watch your word count grow regularly, which is hugely encouraging.

–Your story stays in your head.  I don’t know about you, but my brain is so full of random bits I’ve picked up lord knows where that I lose the train of story very easily. If I’m writing every day, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I sit down to write. This story is right there, waiting for me.

–You don’t even have to write a lot to pile up the pages.  If you manage to eke out three pages a day, that’s 90 pages—a third of a novel—at the end of a month.

–Your writing will become more facile. The more you write, the easier it is. Writing is like anything else: the more you do it, the more adept you become at it. And if you’re writing every day, you’ll hone your skills quickly.

–You will learn more about writing more quickly. As above, the more you write the more you realize how much you don’t know—and what you need to learn. Writing every day helps you learn it.

–There’s magic in making a daily commitment. There just is.  You begin to take yourself, and your writing, much more seriously.

Detriments

 –You may be tempted to write a lot of crap just to meet your word count. Though there are benefits to writing fast (like getting the damn draft done already) I’ve written drafts that are so terrible I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

 –It can be difficult to fit daily writing sessions into your schedule.  I’m with you on this one.  I find that if I don’t write first thing in the morning, doing the most important thing first, it often simply doesn’t get done.

–If you miss a day or two, you might get discouraged.  And discouragement can so very easily lead to not writing.  And then you feel like a failure.

Chunk Writing

You’re a busy CEO and Mom of five. In your spare time you run marathons. But, you’ve got a story inside you that you’re developing into a novel.  So once a month you find a babysitter and spend the day writing.  With luck, you’ll bang out a chapter or two.

Benefits

–This kind of writing schedule can be easier to fit into your schedule.  Those who simply don’t have minutes to spare in their day often have more luck taking an afternoon off, or trading babysitting with a friend in order to nab some writing time.

–The breaks between writing times can clear your brain.  I do find that sometimes my brain gets overloaded when I’m on a writing-every-day schedule, and then it shuts down.  Giving yourself regular breaks can keep your writing brain refreshed.

–Writing less often takes less mental energy. And after a busy day at work, or chasing two-year-olds, mental energy can be in short supply.

–You don’t have to get up early (or stay up late) to fit your writing in.  No regular time sacrifices are needed!

–You may enjoy it more.  If you write for the sheer love of it, forcing yourself to a rigid daily schedule may make you start to hate it.

Drawbacks

–It is really easy to get off track.  If you haven’t worked on the story for a while, you may lose your enthusiasm for it and then it is really easy to find excuses not to spend Saturday writing after all.

–It is much harder to keep track of the story.  Your brain is full of the soccer games and swimming lessons of your twenty children—how are you going to maintain its attention to story as wait a month (or a week or whatever) between writing sessions?

–You’ll waste time getting up to speed.  You’ll likely have to reread your story to remember exactly where you left off at your last writing session.  And that is going to take a chunk of your precious time.

–It is easier to get discouraged.  Hit a writing snag when you’re writing every day and it is not such a big deal.  But if you reach a roadblock—what scene should come next?—while writing in chunks you may waste your entire session trying to figure it out.

So those are my thoughts on the topic.  But here’s the bottom line: figure out what works for you and then do it. If you fancy yourself a daily writer but you’re not doing it, experiment with chunk writing. And vice versa.

What’s your writing schedule? Come on over to the blog and share in the comments.

Photo by maio5.

 

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Corralling Your Writing Ideas

writing organization, corral ideas, novel writing, mapping the novel, productivity

writing organization, corral ideas, novel writing, mapping the novel, productivity

If you’re anything like me, the beginning of writing a book is a messy affair.  You’ve taken notes like crazy, and they might be anywhere and everywhere. You’ve got nuggets about character buried deep inside a Moleskine, and the best ideas ever for a plot–if only you could find them. I’m all for this chaos at the start, but there comes a time when one must get organized or risk not going any farther.  You need a way to corral all your supporting information.

So how do you corral your notes into a usable outline, or list, or something you can follow while writing a book?  Amazingly enough, I have ideas for you. But first,  let me be clear here, I am not a paragon of organization, far from it. I’ve just learned the hard way I need to get my notes together one way or another, or I’ll never write the novel.  (Also, there’s that productivity thing I wrote about a couple posts back–a person who feels in control is much more motivated to accomplish things.)

Before I share some of the methods for organizing I’ve discovered, first, a note–it does help if you take all your notes in one place.  (No, duh.) I’ve got a giant legal pad I’ve been scribbling ideas in and I number the pages and sometimes often remember to annotate on the margins to make it easier to go back and find things.  You might choose a Moleskine, or a humble spiral. I’ve used them all, depending on my mood.  Okay, ways to organize thyself:

  1. Mini binders. I love these little guys. Okay, I’ve gone off the deep end for them. I use them  for corralling everything from novel notes to ideas for workshops to my day to day life.  Often an index card seems too small, or a regular binder, too big–too much information on one page, ack! But as Goldilocks said, the mini binder size is just right. Also, I can make sections–sections, people!–for plot, setting, character, brilliant ideas, etc.
  2. Index cards. You, however, might like something smaller, and in that case you might want to try index cards, which do come in two sizes. Beloved of screenwriters, these babies make it easy to put one scene per cards, or one character trait per card, or whatever  you would like. There are tons of nifty little containers to put them in, and you can take them out and play with them. You can move scenes around, pin them up in different configurations, whatever  your little heart desires.
  3. Scrivener. I am not a Scrivener zealot devotee, though I respect those of you who are. I do, however, love the idea that you can use index cards on the computer through this program. And there’s lots of other cool stuff as well. I just don’t have the patience to learn it.
  4. Powerpoint.  If you like the idea of corralling ideas on index card, but insist on doing everything on the computer and don’t want to learn Scrivener, try Powerpoint.   You most likely have it on your computer, and it is easy to work with and very visual seeing as how it is a program to create presentations.  Each slide equals a card and there’s enough flexibility to create sets of cards for plot and character or whatever you need. I’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities here.
  5. Regular binder. You know, the 8.5 by 11 standard size we used as school children. I do love me a good binder, which always feels so rich with possibility, but as stated above, the pages get a bit overwhelming for me. They do have the advantage of holding lots of info.
  6. Word document.  Nothing fancy, nothing special, just the file most of us use every day for our writing. No reason you can’t put all your supporting info for your story in a Word doc. That’s what I did for Emma Jean.
  7. OneNote or EverNote.  Choose your poison from these online organizing tools. Both have advantages like accessibility across a broad number of platforms. I prefer OneNote for its simplicity but many writers love EverNote. It’s up to you.

So those are my recommendations. What do you use?  Please do share.

Oh and by the way, I’ll be talking about stuff like this at my three-day Mapping the Novel workshop, to be held in June on the glorious Oregon coast.  Check it out here.

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