Depending on Your Point of View (A Love Letter)

You live for adventure and global travel. Or you love to stay home by the cozy fire. You can’t stay still—you have to be doing something. Or everything you love to do involves sitting. You love gardening. Or you hate getting your hands dirty. You agree with everything our president says, or you take to the streets to protest him. You love kale. Or hate all vegetables. You love summer. Or you hate being hot.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

My point is this: there are many points of view in this big, wide, wonderful world of ours (and now more than ever, it seems).

And, as I like to remind you incessantly often, as in life, so in writing. (Or vice-versa.)

We writers talk a lot about point of view (or viewpoint, if you prefer) and it has been much on my mind recently because of a book I’m reading. The book is Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes, and man oh man does she do strange things with viewpoint.

The story has a lot of characters, but the main ones are Kit, a woman who lives in a small town in Italy, and Julia, Camille, and Susan, all of whom have had recent upsets in their lives. They decide to move for a year to the same town where Kit lives.

Kit’s viewpoint is in first person and all the rest in third. But Mayes head-hops between them. Constantly. All the time. Sometimes it is impossible to tell which character is narrating.  At one point, Kit related something that happened to one of the other characters when she wasn’t there. It is massively confusing.

Despite all this, I’m absorbed in the book and I am almost finished with it. (I will confess to skimming a lot of her excessive descriptions. But if you love Italy cuisine and travelogue, you’ll likely read every word.) I decided to check the Amazon reviews to see if others had similar reactions to mine. And, yup, readers range from lukewarm to ecstatic about it. But one thing that struck me was how many mentioned their confusion over who was speaking when. (Doesn’t help that all the characters sound alike, and talk in long speeches.) Some had a hard time keeping the characters straight.

And, here’s the deal, people: when it comes to viewpoint, your average reader doesn’t know if you’re doing a point of view violation. But they do know when they get confused. And a confused reader is a bored reader. And a bored reader is a reader who puts the book down.

So, a couple of simple viewpoint reminders:

–Omniscient is really hard to pull off. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

–To maintain viewpoint sanctity, just remember to be in your character’s head. What she can see and hear and touch and smell you can report. Nothing else!

–It doesn’t matter what viewpoint you choose. Some people love first, some hate it. Some like single viewpoints, others prefer multiple. Doesn’t matter! Just stay consistent. And stay in whatever character’s head you’ve chosen at the moment you are writing.

Have you ever read a book whose viewpoint turned you off? Hit reply and tell me. Also—might you need help with viewpoint? Need a supportive coach to help you with your writing? Hit me up. I’ve got room for one client this summer.

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There’s So Much More to Writing Than Just Writing

There’s more to writing than just the writing.

Like, staring off into space.  Taking a nap to refresh your brain after all its hard toil. Going to the kitchen to look for a snack. Deciding what you really need is to take a walk. Or drink a glass of wine.

Okay, maybe those aren’t the best examples, though they are things we all do when the writing gets the better of us. But the topic of this post is all the productive things besides putting words into the actual manuscript that we writers have to do. (Maybe productive isn’t the right word. Because sometimes a glass of wine is just what the writer needs. Right?)

Such as (in no particular order):

–Figure out plot

–Organize word or Scrivener documents

–Rearrange scenes

–Delve into character backstory

–Make notes

–Freewrite about aspects of the story

–The internet research rabbit hole

–Interview people for research

–Freewrite to warm up

–Reread your work

–Ponder how to incorporate comments from readers

(What am I forgetting? I know there is more!)

And that doesn’t even take us into the social media and marketing realm, which is a whole other thing. But my point is this: all these other things are necessary to support your writing. You’ve got to take time for all of them, because otherwise your novel or memoir or story won’t exist. And sometimes it is hard to remember that.  Some of that work can feel like busy work. But it is really not.

I think sometimes I writers skimp on some of the other things for that very reason. Because we don’t feel like we are writing unless we are really writing. Or we are so eager to get to the actual writing that we gloss over the importance of prep work (spoken by a writer who has come to accept her pantsing ways)

It often seems as if the entire online writing community is obsessed with word counts. And if everyone and their uncle is posting theirs, you can get a bit over-eager to get to your writing so that you can post yours as well. But word counts can set up a self-destructive cycle.  A writer I know sometimes pads her sentences just to reach her word count. (Talking about a friend. Really.)

In the class I recently finished, Becca explained that writing to a word count isn’t the best option for most people, especially NFPs, who often work in a, shall we say, circular fashion. (Instead, she recommends tracking hours. Or minutes.)

But however you are tracking it, just remember: all those other things are important, too. Don’t be so eager to get to the writing, peeps.

Do you ever fall into this trap?

Do you want to finish a book? Are you stuck? Maybe you just need to get started. I’ve got space for one more client this summer. Is it you? Email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com and let’s chat.

Hip Surgery + Writing + Character Insight

“Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me.” Anton Chekhov

So, in November, I’m going to have surgery on my left hip. I’ve never had surgery on anything before, never  been checked into a hospital (not even for birthing my babies). So this is a bit daunting for me–but I’m ready, because I’m tired of this pain.

Funnily enough, for years I’ve been battling knee pain. Like, severe knee pain. I’ve been to two chiropractors, an acupuncturist, two physical therapists (one rather loony), a naturopath, a nurse-practitioner, a specialized knee clinic (charlatans, it turns out) where I paid lots of money for injections that didn’t work, and gotten two cortisone shots in my knee. Finally, I made the decision to go the surgery route and made an appointment with the knee surgeon my primary care doctor recommended. Who promptly sent me back to the x-ray lab to confirm his suspicion it wasn’t a knee but hip problem.

He was right. I’m down to bone-on-bone in my left hip, which explains the pain. Ya think? I’d get surgery tomorrow, despite my dislike of hospitals and general fear of doctors, but I’ve got teaching trips to France and Nashville lined up. And I couldn’t talk the surgeon into doing it before I left for Europe–international travel is not recommended immediately after surgery. Funny thing, that. Not.

Talk about mind blown. All these years I’ve thought it was my knee? All these years doctors and healers have tried to heal my knee? And really it was my hip all time? It was hard to wrap my brain around for a couple of days.

Coincidentally, yesterday I took Debbie to get her second cataract surgery done and sat in the spacious waiting area for several hours reading The Art of Character.  I LOVE this book and highly recommend it. (It’s where I got the above quote.) Author David Corbett writes about how in theater, the term “personalization” is used to describe the act of bringing the actor’s own emotional and sense memory to a portrayal. Which is what he advises doing, at least as a starting point. He has a whole chapter about mining characters from your past for inspiration, and also makes the point that you must know yourself before you can fully understand your characters. He provides  lots of great exercises and prompts to help.

As I read, I pondered  my hip surgery story–how the pain I thought was in my knee for years is actually coming from my hip. How it totally changed the way I think about my body. And that got me thinking about giving my changed view about something of importance  to a fictional characters.

I was also influenced in this line of thinking by the novel I’m currently reading, No One You Know.  Author Michelle Redmond does something similar with the main character–she has spent the past 20 years believing something about a seminal event in her life and suddenly finds out it is not true.

And it is not just a changing world view that might be utilized in fiction. I started thinking about all the ways  my hip experience might play out in a character:

–A character afraid of doctors (that’s me, even though my grandfather was an M.D.)

–A character in denial

–A character not dealing with reality

–A character whose world view is shaken to the core

–A character who has a rigid belief system

–Or, conversely, a character who is so loosey-goosey about things that she just trusts all will work out.

I probably should be embarrassed to admit that all of these scenarios fit me, at least to some degree. And this, my friends, is why being a writer is so great–you can funnel all your neuroses and weirdnesses into your work. I should also add that the ways of the subconscious are mysterious and any of these might combine with something completely unrelated to create a scene in your novel–or become a cornerstone of your theme.

So the point of all this is to look at your own life story for your characters and plot. You don’t have to write a memoir–you can transmute your everyday dilemmas into story gold.  Your missteps become fodder for the conflict in your next story. An added bonus is that writing about things that happen to you through the lens of a fictional character will help you to understand your own self better.

Have you used personal experiences in your fiction? Do tell, please.

And also, I have room for one client this summer.  I can coach you to finish your novel or start it, help you figure out a plan for your career, crack the whip so you send things out, or whatever help you might need. Email me and let’s set up a time to talk!

This post contains affiliate links.

How Long Should It Take to Write a Novel?

In the class I’m currently taking (and loving), there’s been a thread lamenting how hard it is to write fast enough for the current voracious market.  Since the class is called Write Better Faster, that’s no surprise.  (I highly recommend the class–it is about figuring out how your brain works so you can write and produce at an optimal level for you.)

The gist of the conversation is this: some students are trying to get their writing to a point where they are making money at it, specifically from writing fiction. Two options present themselves: get thee a bestseller, or jump on the releasing several books a year bandwagon. Both are difficult to accomplish.

I won’t discuss the bestseller bit in this post, though it does deserve a post of its own some time. I do want to explore how long it “should” take to write a novel. I put should in quotes because, of course, there are no shoulds and it will take as long as it takes.

However. Current common wisdom among some self-publishing people is that to be successful, authors must pump out three to four books a year.  So, yeah, that means you’ll be writing fast and writing a lot. Because besides all the writing, you still have to worry about getting your book for publishing and, oh yeah, marketing as well. So that means you will be finishing a novel in two to three months.

It’s doable, for sure. Because, duh, people are doing it right and left. I can’t speak to the quality of their efforts.  I also know writers who’ve gotten an inspired idea and felt so in the flow of it that they completed a book in a very short time. So that whole writing fast thing is nothing to sneeze at.

And I think we all know the writer who’s been slaving over the same story for years and years and years. Who is either writing a word a day or just working and reworking the story to death. That doesn’t seem sustainable at all.

Those are two extremes to how long it will take. You probably fall somewhere in the middle, as I do. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I aspire to write better drafts in order to reduce the time it takes me to complete a novel. I’m good at writing fast and I love it, but I often sacrifice a coherent plot and end up rewriting multiple times. My solution to this problem is to prep more, specifically with story structure and character, so that I have a framework within which to write fast.  Once I master this, I’d be happy if I could write two novels a year.

But that might be way too fast for you. You might love to linger over every word, or slowly build the world of the novel. You may love the process of going back over your book again and again.

And that’s the key here–you need to figure out what works for you. And only you. If you want to try producing multiple novels a year, go for it. And if you are content to meander down the novel-writing path, that’s okay, too.

Here’s a link I found that details how to write a novel in a year. You might find some good tips on it. And, please, do comment on your thoughts. Are you in the write fast school of thought?

Finishing A Big Writing Project (+Monthly Round-up)

Okay, I did it. I finished my rewrite and sent it off to my agent. And now let us all have a silent moment of prayer that this is the final version. Or at least close. If not, I’ll be hanging my head and reporting back to you.

Finishing is a funny thing for me. When I near the end of a big writing project, I focus so much energy on it that I do barely anything else. Sometime during these periods I think longingly of things I want to do when I’m done. Like take the afternoon off to read or knit. Binge-watch TV. Clean my office. Something, anything, other than writing. But then when I’m done none of those things appeal. I’m witless and rootless as I wander around, trying to find something to capture my interest.

But then, of course, life rushes in to fill the vacuum. Yesterday, I went to pick up groceries I’d ordered because it was my night to cook. Part way home I got a panicked text from my daughter-in-law—could I pick up my granddaughter from school? So I turned the car around and grabbed her adorable five-year-old self. And then there was dinner to cook. And exercise to do. And pretty soon it was just like every other day, with all the life things pressing in on me.

And then as I was riding the stationary bike I had a moment of horror in which I knew, absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the manuscript I’d just submitted was bad. Really bad. Ridiculously bad. That my agent will now release me and I’ll cry and be sad and have to be shamed in front of my whole writing community. But a moment later that feeling passed. It is what it is. I was too close to it for too long to be able to make any judgments about it.

I swore I wasn’t going to start anything new for a while, like, oh, a few days. But already I’m itching to get the ideas I had for new projects into some kind of form. I have a full-length novel and a loooong novella finished on my computer, both of which need substantial rewriting. While I was ensconced in the rewrite, I had good ideas for them both. And I’d love it if they each saw the light of day soon. (One of my goals for the rest of the year is to finish things.)

Oh, and it is June! When did that happen? Geez, the year is going too fast. Yeah, I know you know that. So, anyway, happy June, and check out what I’ve been doing below (a bit light because of the rewrite).

Monthly Round-up

Reading

 Winter Stroll by Elin Hildebrand.  I picked this up at the grocery store last year and never read it, finally decided it was time. She’s a very popular author. I’m lukewarm. Apparently, it is book two of a trilogy and at the end, she doesn’t wrap things up, so you have to read the next one. I mean, I know people do this, but it was so blatant. I was lukewarm-ish about this book, but damned if I didn’t go order a used copy of the next one.

The Abundance Project, by Derek  I have this terrible habit of being enticed by books like this—cheesy self-help tomes ones that promise a more abundant life or increased productivity or instant karma. Seriously, I’m a fool for them. And they rarely pan out.  So I get bored and don’t read them. So far, I’m not that thrilled with this one, but I’m not that far into it, either.

–We took a day trip over the weekend and visited a favorite bookstore where I found a novel about, gasp women of a certain age.  Being one myself, I can’t remember the name of it and it’s downstairs. I’ve only just read the first page so I’ll report next month.

I’ve also ordered or downloaded or have in my queue:

The Café by The Sea, by Jenny Colgan. This author has written five million books and I want to see how she does it.

Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work, by Dan Blank. My friend Angie recommended this and I can’t wait to dive in.

The First Rule of Ten, by Hendricks and Lindsay. A friend/student recommended this to me last year when we were in France. I downloaded it then and promptly forgot about it. She mentioned it again this week and I pulled it up again.

I’ve got my reading work cut out for me.

 Watching

 We’ve not been watching much TV lately and while going to movies is one of my favorite things to do, ever, I don’t do it much. (Go figure.) But we are almost done with Wild, Wild Country, the documentary about the Rajneeshies taking over a town in eastern Oregon. It’s fascinating, especially because I lived through it.

And, late to the party as usual we just started watching Frankie and Grace. Really fun. Lily Tomlin is hysterical.

Loving

 Momentum. As in the momentum you get when you are regularly working on a writing project. When you’re half in one world and half in another all the time because even when you’re living your normal (so-called) life you’re thinking about your book. When all you want to do is get back to it. When you finish a writing session and you’re in love with the world because you feel so good. It’s the best feeling. I had it during the rewrite and I look forward to getting it again. It sometimes takes some work to get into the momentum flow (like committing to writing every day), but it is so, so worth it.

 Excited About

 I had the great pleasure of spending a whole month devoted to writing in Ceret, France in March of this year. Ceret is a town in my favorite French region, the Lanquedoc which is in the south, near Spain.  Leaving was hard, except for the fact that I was eager to see my family, but made easier by knowing that I’d be back to the area soon. Like in September. To teach.

When first I started going to France to teach six years ago, I had half a mind that I wanted to travel all over Europe. But my teaching partner, Debbie, preached the wonders of staying in one place and sinking into it. And now I have to say I agree with her. You get to skip the hassles of travel, for one thing. But for another, you get to really know a place, to have a favorite restaurant, to understand the best spot to get a glace or an espresso, to sink into the rhythms of the place. And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

All this and writing, too? It’s the best thing ever. Want to come this year?

 And Also

Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, fill out the form to the right.

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Writing a Better Draft (A Love Letter)

You probably know, because I’ve been whining about it incessantly, that I’m in the throes of completing the umpteenth rewrite of my current novel. I am determined to finish it this long Memorial Day weekend if it kills me. And it might. Kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, I had dinner with a couple of writing friends this week and we talked about how to write a better draft. As in, getting more of your vision for the book on the page in the first place so that you don’t have to go through the torture of rewriting it so many times.

I want to learn how to write a better first draft. I am good at writing fast and I’m a big believer in it. But the last two novels I’ve written were both lightning bolt ideas I was so excited about that I just started writing. I wrote a loose outline and did some minor character work, but that was about it.

Yes, I am the self-same writer who has taught and preached the wisdom of prepping to write the novel. As in taking time to think plot and structure and arc and character and motivation through. Two examples of how this didn’t work so well for me: A. the above-mentioned torturous rewrite, and B. the novel I started writing on my month-long idyll in Ceret. I stalled out on that one after 30,000 words, without a clue where to go next.  I got bored with my main character. And if I’m bored with her, my reader will be also.

I do know there is a thing that only happens in the actual writing—and that is that the writer begins to understand the story better as she puts it on the page. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement beforehand. So here are the things I’m doing to get better at first drafts:

–I’m going to do tons and tons of prep work.

–I’m studying story structure. Again. It’s one of my favorite topics, and it is time to return for a refresher course.

–I’m actually taking a class! It’s full, or I’d link to it here, but it is designed to help you figure out your best route to writerly productivity based on brain science (for which I am a total wonk).

–I’m reading obsessively in my genre. I always do, but right now I’m stepping it up.

–And finally, I’m not being too hard on myself—and vowing to remember that sometimes you just have to let the magic come in the writing.

Do you have any tips for writing better first drafts? Leave a comment and tell me!

**You might want to come to France with me, right? You do, don’t you?  Find out more here.

Intensifying Motivation

A couple weeks ago, I taught a class in motivation and also wrote a post about it. The genesis for class and post was multiple discussions of motivation and how difficult it is to deal when there’s a lack of it during my time in France.  Since then, I’ve had my eye out for motivation techniques.

I’m reading a book in galley and in it, the  the heroine worries about dating a younger man. This is her main motivation for resisting him. (And, you know, the heroine must resist the hero or there is no story.) I thought it was a pretty lame motivation, to be honest. But then she takes it a step farther and tells why. Because in ten years the age gap will be worse.  Because she’ll be old and infirm long before him. In truth, I can’t remember the reasons, because I was so excited to see the technique.

In my current WIP, the main character’s motivation for resisting the dashing love interest is her business ethics. She’s a matchmaker, and she’s sworn never to marry a client. Never mind that said client is rich, charming, and perfect in every way. She cannot marry him because–business ethics. Yeah, I know. Every beta reader, as well as my agent and all her readers, thought it was weak, too.

So part of how I can solve the problem, which just occurred to me after much pondering and wringing of hands over motivation, is by intensifying it for the reader.  Not just saying business ethics but saying more. In Bridget’s head, she goes into all the reasons that falling in love with Cade will  destroy her integrity and impact her business.

This is illustrative of a thing that happens in writing: you either pare things down or add to them. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you think you have to dramatically change everything, when really what you need to do is intensify it.

And here’s another way to intensify motivation: have other people comment on it. For instance in the galley I just finished reading, the main character worries about dating a younger man, as mentioned above.  And what happens is that other people comment on it. Like a more “appropriate” aged policeman says, “Isn’t he a bit young for you?” and then hits on the heroine himself. This happens, in various guises, a couple of times in the book. It’s enough to drive home the point.

In my book, I could have people question Bridget’s decision to date Cade. As in, “But isn’t that sort of against the matchmaker’s code of ethics?” Or, it could be as subtle as someone asking, “Do you ever date clients? Or is that considered a bad thing?”

You get the drift, right?

Like so much in writing, these are somewhat subtle techniques, but very, very useful to put into effect. And, I came to them through reading. Which you should be doing as much as possible of, right? You are, aren’t you?

How do you deal with motivation in your characters?

And might you be motivated to come to France to study writing in September? We are getting close to full, but still have a couple of spots.

Arc in Your Writing

Does your writing show clearly defined arcs? In story, scene, and character?

I spent last Saturday afternoon teaching about arc and it has gotten me thinking about it a lot. Whenever I teach, I do a lot of research to add onto what I already know. That research got me paying more attention to the arcs of my own scenes (more on that below), and re-examining arc in my own work.

It is a useful concept that can help you with the macro–the overall story–and the micro–individual scenes–as well as characters. So let’s take a look.

What is Arc?

The purpose of arc is to show change, whether that is in plot, the overall story, or character.  Because, in most cases, a story or character that doesn’t change is flat and, well, boring.

Arc in Story

Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia: 

Story arcs in contemporary drama often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends on, then forcing the character to find new strength without those structures. In a story arc, a character undergoes substantial growth or change, and it ends with the denouement in the last third or quarter of a story.

Note how story and character are intertwined in this explanation–as they will be  in your story itself. Think about it this way: your story will end in a different place than it started. And I don’t mean location, though this might well be true. You start out with a bored frustrated attorney who hates his job? By the end he will have found his truly calling as an organic farmer. Or something.  And yes, I’m veering from story to character here–because story is character, character story. Unless you are writing an obscure, plot-less novel of some sort. Good luck to you–but I’m not going to read it.

(Although, it must be said that tons of people have lapped up the Elena Ferrante books, which to me were essentially plot-less. Okay, I only made it through the first one and that because I was trapped on an airplane with nothing else to read. But they were pretty formless.)

Arc in Character

The basic idea is that your main character is faced with conflicts that take her away from her normal life and things she can depend on. This is change. But then your character has to deal with this change–and it is through doing this that she is transformed. Because of the need to confront the conflicts in her life, she is different at the end than she was at the beginning.  I especially like Michael Hauge’s statement that this transformation is from identity to essence.  All of the heroines of any novel I’ve ever written have followed this path, from trying to be somebody they are not to their true selves. In one way or another, it is a journey we all take.

Arc in Scene

As Robert McKee says, every scene should turn. This means it starts one place and ends up in another (sound familiar?).  A scene can have rising action or falling action. Here’s McKee on the topic:

Look closely at each scene you’ve written and ask: What value is at stake in my character’s life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Make a note. Next turn to the close of the scene and ask, Where is this value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Make a note and compare. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same note you made at the opening, you now have another important question to ask: Why is this scene in my script?

This is a brief intro to the topic, but I hope it helps you see how important arc is, in every aspect of your story.

Some books and links that might be useful:

What is Narrative Arc? A Guide to Storytelling Through Story Structure

How to Create a Satisfying Story Arc 

Plotting Your Story Arc (book)

Story (by the above-mentioned Robert McKee)

Creating Character Arcs (book)

What do you think of the concept of arc? Leave a comment!

**We have a couple of spots left in the writing workshop in France this September. Check it out here.

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Spring Cleaning Your Writing

It’s sunny and warm in Portland, and there’s no better place on earth when such is the case. (People visit here in spring or summer, fall in love and move. Then the fall and winter rains set in. Rah roh.)

This year, more than any I can remember recently, I’m feeling very spring-y. Maybe it is because I spent a month in France earlier this year (seems like a distant memory now), or because there are so many ongoing changes in my life. But whatever it is, I’m feeling like shaking the cobwebs out of my house, my brain, and my writing. Time for a refresh!

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about cleaning up:

Mindset. This word is becoming cliched, which is too bad, because I like it. Wave the word under my nose and I’ll follow you anywhere. Maybe because I’ve always believed how important it is to maintain a positive mindset, even if I can’t always do it. Things I’m looking at: Am I constantly complaining about how little time I have to write, or actually sitting down and getting to it when I do have a few minutes? Am I fretting about how “good” I am or am not? am I complaining about how hard it is to complete this rewrite? I need to pay attention to the crap my brain spews at me and change it to a more positive message. I’m reading a book called Train Your Brain that talks about this. There’s not a lot new in it, but she explains it in a simple, logical manner. I like.

Process. Remember how glorious it was, when first you started writing, to get so absorbed in your work that time passed and you had no sense of it going by? Yeah, me, too. That feeling is why so many of us write. And it is really easy to get led away from it. Happens like this: you start obsessing over every word and sentence, polishing your prose relentlessly before you move onto a new scene. Uh-uh. There’s a process to follow for your writing and it goes like this.

–Write a discovery/rough/first draft. Make it crappy. You won’t have to try too hard to do this, because it will be crappy. Discovery drafts are. That’s why there are called that. You’re learning the story and getting it down on the page.

–Rewrite the draft. Go back over it, ponder, rearrange, deepen characters, makes sure your plot is working, look at theme, and then write a second draft.

–Rewrite again. And again. And again–for as long as it takes.

–Revise. When your characters and plot and everything else is working, then you can start polishing.

So take a look at where you are in the writing process and clean it up. Are you writing a discovery draft, but toiling over every line? Cut it out. Write fast. Get that story on the page. Are you ready to revise (see below) but still tinkering with character motivation and arc? You need to go back to rewriting.

Polishing. Remember that you need to wait to do this until the final run-through! Though one caveat is if you know you use too many adverbs, you can start being aware of that as you write. But no obsessing! Here are some things you might want to pay attention to:

–Strong verbs. Are you using them? Or reverting to the same old, same old variants of “to be?” The blog post I wrote on this years ago is still one of my most popular ever, so I think it is something we all struggle with. But also something worth spending time on.

–Adverbs. Gotta love ’em. I do. And I use them way too much. There is a place for the use of adverbs, there really is, but the key concept is to use them judiciously. That way they will have some oomph and impact.

–Sentence structure. Make sure yours is varied, for one thing. Nothing is more monotonous than reading the same sentence structure over and over again. And, also consider shortening up those babies. Here’s a great blog post that explains more.

Reading. I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books and less time on the internet, reading forgettable articles. Besides Train Your Brain, mentioned above, I’m finally getting around to reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which I highly recommend. There’s a satisfaction in sinking into a novel or memoir that you just don’t get from quick hits on the interwebs.

Foundation Rituals. All the “boring” stuff, like meditation, exercise, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep. Yada, yada, yada. You’ve heard it all before a million times and so have I. (And I’ve written about it.) But these things really do make a difference. And at this time of year, it is easy to get re-inspired to walk more and eat all the seasonal produce that is coming into markets. Right?

So, that’s the spring cleaning I’m thinking about. How about you? Leave a comment and tell me how you’re cleaning up your writing! And if, in all this cleaning, you realize you might need a little help with your writing, maybe I can help. Hit me up and let’s chat about your work.

Photos from everystockphoto. 

Is it procrastination or percolation?

Right now I’m supposed to be writing. I have some time cleared away for a session attending to my rewrite. But I’m not writing. I’m doing social media. (VERY important.) I’m making a list of all the things I want to accomplish in the next four months. (Before I leave for my next France workshop.)Emailing people who have expressed interest in attending.

In other words, doing everything and anything but writing.

But, here’s the deal.  I’m at a tricky spot that needs working out. I’ve looked at the chapter a couple times today and sat back in my chair and sighed. Furrowed my eyebrows. Twisted my mouth. Sighed again. Then clicked on over to check out Twitter.

Because in the back of my mind, things are percolating. Every time I look at the manuscript, I get a bit closer to figuring out how to work on it. And since I don’t know yet, I’m letting things percolate while I do other less brain-fatiguing work.

Creativity is a cycle. You can’t go full out on it 24 hours a day. You’ve got to give your brain a break. It is useful if you can actually refuel it by doing something you love to do. This morning on a phone call, I knitted, for instance. That was lovely–and knitting has the advantage of helping jar loose ideas.

My friend Patty Bechtold tweeted this Elizabeth Gilbert quote:  “Time, when treated like a bandit, will behave like one.” Sometimes, you just have to take the time to knit, to do your social media, to go for a walk, to weed the garden and let those ideas percolate.

It is not procrastination, it is percolation.

By the way, if you’ve got things percolating that aren’t making it onto the page, maybe you need a coach. Let’s chat!

I used to drink coffee from an electric perc coffemaker like the one in the photo. Those were the days. Man, that coffee was strong! Just the way I like it.