Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One–Tools

So, I've written three novels now.  The first was a crappy mystery that never went anywhere (though

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recently when I found a copy of it, I realized it was better than I remembered.) The second was my MFA novel and its not half bad, it's just got a plot that doesn't quite work.  I promised my daughter and daughter-in-law that I'd publish copies for them, so stay tuned, it may just appear here soon.  And the third novel is the first one I've finished that not only hangs together, I think its pretty damn good.  It is currently making the rounds in New York.

In all that novel writing, I've learned a thing or two.  And that is this: a bit of prepping goes a long way.  So that's what this post is about.  But first, a thing or two about the novel I'm currently writing.  I've been in a bit of a dry spell when it comes to fiction.  I kept coming up with ideas and working on them for a few chapters and then realizing they weren't going to pan out, for whatever reason.  Finally, this new novel, which I'm temporarily calling Jemima B, popped into my head (actually, when I was doing some free writing, proof that it works).

Good Enough?

But, here's the deal–with all my wandering through novels that didn't work, I had lost my ability to discern.  And I wasn't sure if this new novel was "good" enough to keep going with.  So I just wrote, didn't do any prepping or anything.  Finally, last week I mustered up my courage and took the three chapters into my writing group.  And, while I got specific comments about things that need to change, I also got that people liked it a lot.  So now, finally, I feel well and truly started on a project.  And I can go back and do the prep work for it. 

The Commitment

This is a statement of sorts.  It is saying, yes I commit to this novel.  Yes, I'm going to do what it takes to carry through to the end.  Yes, I'm ready to do it.

Are you?  This post is the first in a series.  I'm also thinking about putting this together as either a program or a one-on-one coaching product.  (If you're interested, email me and I'll put you on a list for the announcement.)  But you can easily follow along with the action ideas listed at the end of each post and get yourself ready to write a novel.  So, today, let's start with tools.

Tools

Here's what I consider essential, beyond a computer and pens:

1. A small spiral notebook, in which to collect all your notes.  Even if you originally note them on a scrap of paper, try to transfer them to this journal so they will all stay together. 

2.  A bigger spiral notebook, like 8 1/2 by 11 size, in which to do free writes, which are a great way to learn more about your characters and story.

3.  A binder in which to keep research and images related to the story.  This may also hold a completed draft if you so desire.

4.  A vision board.  You can make this so that it hangs on the wall near your desk, or you can put it into your binder.  But either way, do work with images for your book, it is amazing how helpful it is.  (You can download my free Ebook on how to create a vision board for your book by signing up to the right.)

5.  A stack of 3 by 5 cards.  These come in handy for all kinds of things, like to note scenes or character traits on, to name two.

Okay, that's it for now.  We're starting slow and easy.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Gather your tools.  Make it fun.  Go to the office supply store and prowl the alley.  Buy spirals and binders that you love, or take them home and decorate them. 

And, please comment: what do you consider the essential tools for writing a novel (or a book)?

Photograph by Hey Paul.

Tips on Writing: Building Momentum

I often tell people that writing every day is an excellent way to build momentum.

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And then they look at me blankly and wonder why in the hell they need momentum, since they are writers, not rocket engineers.

I tell them (and I'm telling you now) that momentum is what gets the novel (or memoir, or article, or any writing project) done.

So, what exactly is momentum?

From dictionary.com:

1. the product of a body's mass and its velocity

2. the impetus of a body resulting from its motion

3. giving power or strength

Since we don't happen to be rocket scientists, its #2 and #3 we're after.  Power and strength derived from the impetus of a body's motion.  Or, sustained energy to complete a writing project.

Momentum is what carries us forward with excitement to the end.  Without it, nothing happens.

But what, exactly, am I talking about when I talk about momentum?  Here are some examples:

  • Yesterday, I was working on other writing projects, but my novel called to me and I took time away from what I was supposed to be working on to complete a scene in my story.  Momentum is a sense of excitement that beckons you to work on your piece no matter what, even if it means you'll have to stay up late to finish everything else.
  • A friend reports she is so excited about her memoir that she wakes in the middle of the night with ideas for it.  Momentum is your subconscious so engaged with your story that it feeds you material at all hours of the day and night.
  • A student says that working on her novel is no longer a struggle, and that she writes some every day.  Momemtum makes writing a pleasure because you're so engaged with the work.

Building Momentum

So, how, you may ask, does one achieve this wondrous state called momentum?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Write every day.  Nothing builds momentum like writing every day.
  • If you can't write every day, at least look at your work.  Glance over it, read the last scene that you wrote.  This gets it in your brain and gets your subconscious chewing on it.
  • Make notes and lists.  The subconscious mind loves this kind of tinkering with ideas and will feed you more.
  • Read.  Often when I read a book on the writing craft, I get so inspired I can't get through the book because I keep putting it down to write.  But don't just read books (or blogs) on writing, read everything.
  • Think about your novel.  My new favorite thing to do is think about the plot and characters of my novel while I'm rocking my newborn grandson, Henry.  Something about the motion of it jars loose new ideas.  Which leads me to:
  • Move.  Walk.  Many people have reported on these very pages that walking makes their brains into a veritable idea factory.  And, just in case you didn't get it the first time:
  • Write every day.  Truly try your hardest to connect with your work in writing every day, even if its one word (and make no mistake about it, writing one word counts).

How do you maintain momentum on a project?  Any tips or tricks you'd like to share? 

PS.  I'm trying to make my posts easier to navigate, so do you think the bolded words are helpful or a distraction?

PPS.  (Or is it PSS?) Don't forget to sign up for my bi-weekly free newsletter, and get yourself a copy of my Ebook, How to Jumpstart Your Book With a Vision Board.  It'll help you with momentum to get the book going. 

 

Photos by Woodleywonderworks.

 

Novel Writing: The Remake Your Life Plot

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I'm about three chapters into a new novel and the other day when I was making some notes on themes and events to come, the thought occurred to me that I'm writing a Remake Your Life plot.

I made that name up, but these kinds of plots are staples of women's fiction.  For various reasons, the protagonist's life falls apart, usually in unexpected ways, and then she has to go about finding a new one. 

As I made notes and pondered, a rough basic outline of this kind of story came to me and I jotted it down.  Here it is:

1.  Everything falls apart, and/or the protagonist loses everything she's held dear.

2. She has no choice but to start over again, often in a new place.

3.  There, she's a stranger in a strange land.  She has to navigate in these strange new surroundings and it is often puzzling.

4.  But slowly, she settles in.  And bit by bit things begin to go well.

5. However, there is still more to be learned.  Any lingering issues left over from the problems at the start will now rear their heads to be solved.

6. The heroine's actions come back around to haunt her, good and bad. 

7.  The choices the heroine has made in the second half of the book are now what truly count because these are the choices she has made as her new, wiser self.

8. The heroine uses these new found traits and skills to manage the final crisis.

9.  Often, but not always, she returns home triumphant.

This is also a variant, of course, on the heroine's journey.

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What did I get right?  Have you ever written a lot like this?  Guys, why aren't there more novels with plots like this for men? 

I'd love to hear your opinion.

*Don't forget to sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter.  In return, you'll get a free Ebook called Jumpstart Your Book with a Vision Board.  It will help you envision plots like the one discussed here!

**Photo of board game by Will Folsom.

Writing Inspiration: Sometimes You Just Have to Wait

Hourglass_hour_glass_263769_lYou've all heard the party line about getting ideas for writing (and I say it myself, often): you can't sit around and wait for inspiration to strike you, you've got to make it happen by sitting down and writing.

It's good advice because it's true advice.

Except for when it's not.

Last week when I was sick I spent a lot of time prone on the couch.  The first couple of days I lay there in what I'm certain was an unattractive manner, considering I hadn't had a shower in a couple of days and…. never mind, I'll spare you the details.  The second couple of days I read (by then I was clean of body, too).   Voraciously.  And somewhere along the line I suddenly started getting ideas for my novel.  The very same novel that had been stalled at the start of chapter three, because I couldn't decide: funeral scene or scene in high-rise office?

I knew I was feeling better when I leapt from the couch, searching for paper and pen.  And thus I have notes for chapter three scrawled on a pad of paper decorated with holly berries, a bonus item the boys of the St. Joseph Lakota school sent me in hopes I'd donate to their cause (along with a dream catcher and a thick stack of address labels).

Had I not gotten sick, I would have diligently forced the issue of chapter three.  I would have thought.  And thought some more.  And walked.  And done free writing assignments.  And taken notes. I would have goosed the muse until the poor muse was so overwhelmed and exhausted he would have yelled, "Stop! Here's an idea already!"

But that didn't happen this time.  Instead, I lolled about and the ideas came.  So I'm thinking my new modus operandi is to just lie on the couch all the time.  Kidding!  Sort of.  Because I believe what happened last week was that my brain finally got quiet enough for me to listen.  The week previous had been full of holiday stuff, and there was much important business and scurrying around and not a lot of quiet.  So I'm putting quiet, just plain quiet, at the top of my list for idea gathering and getting unstuck.

For the record, here are my other top ways to get unstuck:

  • Walk
  • Repetitive motion activity (knitting, weeding, sewing, lawn mowing)
  • Free writing
  • Reading (especially a book on writing craft)
  • Creative projects (doodling, painting, collage, etc.)

The great thing about writing is that things always change.  What worked once may not work again.  What's never worked before suddenly works like a charm.  The way you wrote your first novel, in a white heat with words flowing so fast you can barely keep up, seems like a distant memory as you plod through your second novel, word by painful word.

And this, my friends, is what makes writing the most fascinating profession in the world.

How do you get unstuck?

*Don't forget to sign up for my free bi-weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer.  The form is to the right.  You'll also receive a free copy of my Ebook, Jumpstart Your Book with a Vision Board.

**Photo by paav-o.

Round Two: In Love With the World

I’m in Orlando, at the Suzanne Evans 10K business intensive, and while I’m gone I thought it would be fun to post some oldies.  I chose this one because it talks about one of my favorite topics: how writing makes you fall in love with the world.  (Note: Suzanne no longer does theta healing, but she does something else called RPT that is better.)

Dec. 13, 2007

I got up and worked on my new novel this morning (the one I didn’t write for Nanowrimo).  And all is right with the world because of it.  I’ve been very careful and fussy with this novel so far.  This morning I let it rip.  For whatever reason, and I have some theories, I was able, finally, to let go and let the words flow.

And then the world is the most beautiful place and I am in love with everything–my ugly old shoes, the dirty dishes, the sunrise, the trees outside, the hours of other work I have to do.  In my studies about Zen (though I really hate to say studies because it is more about experience) I read all the time about enlightenment.  And I think this is the feeling that the enlightened ones get.  But who knows, and who cares.  All I know is that it is the way I want to live in the world, always.  And if it takes getting up early to accomplish it, so be it.

The key concept of letting writing rip, for me, is to write fast.  When I write fast, I bypass the critic and the harsh editor and the voice of my character’s true self is able to emerge from within.  Yes, I make a lot of errors and yes I write a lot of crap.  But those are minor problems that can be fixed later. What you can’t achieve (or I should say, what I can’t achieve) through fussing over every word is the flow and the tone and the style.  And what does that all add up to?  Voice, of course.

Along these same lines I recently read a piece a friend wrote and, while the writing was at a very high level, I could tell how much he had labored over it and worked and re-worked it, which did not do the piece any favors.  It made it feel just the wee-est bit stilted and overdone.

So, what are my theories on how I finally managed to it rip?  Here we go:

  • Chance favors the prepared mind.  ie, I’ve been pondering this story and its been churning around in the back of my mind, and finally its ready to be told.  I do believe that every story has its moment.
  • I’ve been sitting down every morning to write, regardless.  I am also a firm believer that the Muse likes discipline.  Others will tell you this is not so, but believe me, it is.
  • Suzanne did some theta healing on me to cure a wee, ah, hangover I had after hanging out with my friend Sue from Nashville.   And while she was at it she threw in focus and clarity for me.

Your guess is as good as mine as to which of these was most instrumental in getting me going again.  And, at this point, I don’t really much care.  Because if I had a good work session I can have another tomorrow.  Momentum builds when one is writing every day.  And when one is writing every day, the novel pages pile up.

So it doesn’t really matter what the reason might be.  Because I am in love with the world.

Novel Prep Nuts and Bolts

And so today we come to the nuts and bolts of prepping for a novel, the third in a series.  (And probably the last, but I feel my brain reaching for more, so maybe not, stay tuned.)  You can read the first two posts here and here, and I've also got them listed at the end of this post.

On Wednesday, I wrote about some things you need to write a novel: tools and habits and space.  Today I'm going to talk about figuring out the things you need to know before jumping in.  Much as I love to promote choosing a topic and just writing, I'm also a huge proponent of advance planning when it comes to writing novels.  I speak from hard experience here.  With the first novel I wrote, I had an idea and just jumped in.  It would have been much, much easier if I had done some advance planning.  At the same time, I also like to leave room for the magic that happens in the writing process–when a character walks onto the stage, or one you thought was a minor character suddenly becomes a major one.  So the information presented here is somewhat of a middle-of-the-road approach.  I do enough so that I don't meander and run the risk of getting lost, and I leave enough open to keep myself interested (because that's one thing I've learned about myself as a writer, if I know too much about every aspect of the story, I'll get bored).

Here we go:

CHARACTER.  All story starts with character.  Period.  Characters are why we read novels and watch movies–because we want that thrill of connection.  And for me, all my fiction ideas begin with the idea for a character.  More often than not, he or she walks into my brain and won't stay quiet.  Some people will tell you that you need to know your characters as well as you know your spouse or BFF, but I take issue with this.  I think you need to know them really, really well–and I think that you'll get to know them even better as you write.  Here's what you do need to know at the very least:

Physical Description:  Height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc.

Backstory: What is your character's past and how does it affect him? (know this at least broadly, specific incidents probably will come as you write)

Occupation:  What does your character do for a living?

Current Situation: Is she married with children or single and dating? Is he just out of school or a man at the end of his life? 

Dreams:  As in, the practical kind and the night kind.  Writing a character's dreams can be a powerful way into their psyche.  The dream world is mysterious and laden with symbols and by writing a dream of your character's, you can tap into these symbols which may lead you to ideas about theme.

Conflict: Internal and external.  An external conflict might be the character looking through a closet for something to wear, while the internal conflict would be her not feeling good enough because she thinks she's too heavy.

Conflict is the engine that drives the story!  You need to figure out one of the following, or better yet both:

What she desires or fears.   Kurt Vonnegut famously said to have the character want something, even if its a glass of water.  Desire rules the world.  Have your character want something and then deny her.  Or, you can have the character fear something and then have him have to deal with it.  Entire movies are built on this premise.  Remember Arachnaphobia?

SETTING.  I'm a place person.  It is really important to me, both in real life and in fiction.  I can't live someplace that doesn't inspire me in some way (even negatively) and I can't write about it, either.  I find it really helpful to have locations figured out ahead of time, both:

Broad:  What city or cities or rural area does the story take place in?

Specific:  What are the settings that your character inhabits on a day to day basis.  What does his house or her apartment look like?  What's the outside?  The neighborhood? How is it decorated on the inside?  Where's his office and what is it like?  School?  Car?  And so on.  Maybe its a lack of imagination on my part, but I tend to visualize locations based on places I've been, houses I've loved, and so on. 

And finally,

PLOT.  The big bugaboo.  Lots of things have to happen in novels.  More importantly, those things have to fit together in a logical sequence of cause and effect.  Yikes.  Again, plot is something that gets illuminated as you go along, AND it behooves you to at least have a rough idea of what's going to happen before you set off on the journey.  You know, like a road map. 

Goal:  This can be the desire or the anti-desire, or fear.  An example of a desire would be a woman desperately wanting to have a baby.  An anti-desire, or fear, would be a woman who wants to avoid pregnancy at all costs.

Tension and release:  Thinking in terms of tension and release can help you design a reader-pleasing plot.  Your character wants something, and you keep throwing obstacles at her so she can't get it.  Things get harder and harder for her, and then perhaps there's a temporary or partical release.  Part of the problem is solved…or is it?  Maybe it just looks like it is solved, but in truth, this solution leads to only more problems.  We humans are hard-wired to respond to the tension and release pattern.  Its how we came into this world.

The list: I find it useful to make a list of things that happen.  This can serve as a broad outline for your story.  Really?  This is about as much as I do.  It seems to be enough to keep me on track.

The synopsis: Not a believer in writing one until after the novel is written and you are marketing it.  To me, writing a synopsis first sucks the life out of the project.  You may feel differently, and if so, go for it.

THEME.  Some novelists are very much concerned with illustrating certain ideas or themes in their work.  Me, not so much.  My fictional themes tend to grow from my characters and their concerns.  And, I'll be the first to admit that it sometimes takes me a draft or two or three to figure out what the hell my themes are.  So I don't really worry about it much at the outset.

So, there you have it, the basic prep work I do before setting off on the journey of writing a novel.  If you have other things you do, please leave a comment and let us all know.

 

Post #1: Prepping to Write a Novel

Post #2:  How to Prep to Write a Novel

How to Prep To Write A Novel

So, you've decided to take the plunge and write a novel.  Perhaps you might be wondering where to begin. Or if you are taking the plunge for a second or third or fourth time, maybe this time you've vowed to get organized ahead of time so you don't spend weeks going down fruitless plot paths. 

On Monday, I wrote about my own path, at times slightly tortuous, to starting another novel.  Today, I'm going to share some prep tips that have worked for me when beginning a novel.

But first, we have to do it.  We have to face the age-old debate–is it better to actually plan a novel ahead or just plunge in and allow it to reveal itself to you, the writer?  I have firm ideas about that.  Yes, it is wonderful to allow your creativity full range and just write what you feel like.  Wonderful until you realize you've written 100 pages that have nothing to do with your main storyline.  Honestly, we all need a container to put our creative into, novel writers included. You're going to do much better if you have some idea where you're going.  I'm the first to say it can be a loose idea, but you need to have an idea. 

Okay, so are you with me?  Great. Today we'll discuss the things you need in your life to write a novel, and on Friday we will talk about the things you need in your brain (and on the page) to write a novel.

Tools. First off, gather you up some tools.  Besides the obvious computer, I like to use a spiral of some sort, smallish so you can carry it with you, as a dedicated notebook for the novel.  Brilliant flashes of insight go in here, as do random notes about the topics we'll discuss below. You might also want to get a 3-ring binder, for printed manuscript pages and completed forms. And if you put things in file folders, grab a bunch of them.  Accordion files can work well also.  Oh yeah, and dictionaries.  Or a word notebook, if you have one.

The Habit of Cultivation.  Novels are long.  200-300 pages long.  That's a lot of pages to fill.  A lot of words to write.  You've got to come up with things that happen, details to make the world come alive, dialogue and thoughts for your characters.  What are you going to do when you need to describe a coffee shop and your mind goes blank?  This is when a habit of cultivating comes in handy.  Writers need to be out in the world observing, writing down their observations or committing them to memory (bad idea, if you ask me) so that there's water to draw out of the well when you need it.

Space.  My first office was a desk shoved into the corner of the bedroom.  That room has long since been converted to the family room, and sometimes I look at that corner and marvel at how I ever wrote there.  But I did.  I wrote articles for art magazines and a couple of coffee table books in that space.  Doesn't matter if you write in a closet, or a corner of the kitchen.  Makes a place for yourself.  You'll need room to store your spiral, your binder, and your file folders and more importantly, you need the psychic space that your own place provides.

Time.  When are you going to write this baby?  Are you going to get up early or stay up late? Are you going to write it at lunchtime or during coffee breaks?  When the baby is napping?  Doesn't matter when you do it, as long as you make a plan for it.  Because, otherwise, it won't happen.  Period.

Vision Board.  You can make this now or after you've done more planning of the type I'm going to discuss in the next post.  But do consider making one.  A vision board for your book can get ideas and juices running like nothing else.  Download my free Ebook on this topic in the right-hand column if you feel so inclined.

That's it for now.  Come back Friday for the last post in this series, in which we'll discuss planning for character, setting and plot.  In the meantime, what are  your essential prep tools for writing a novel?

 

 

Prepping to Write a Novel

When it comes to fiction writing, lately I've been struggling.

First I was totally committed to writing one novel.  Oh, but no.  Then I decided that I absolutely, positively was in love with a different idea.  Until I desperately needed to work on yet a third idea, the best one yet!  This has been my fiction-writing life for the last few months, a little attention here, a bit of attention there, which adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Have I ever mentioned how unhappy I get when I'm not writing fiction?  I exist in a semi-miserable state of dullness when I'm not fully engaged in a fictional world.  So it was vital that I get going on a novel.  And yet, every time I started in again, I'd do the same thing.  Commit to one idea for a bit, then another, then another. 

Part of it, I'm sure, stemmed from uncertainty about my completed novel.  I'm in the process of marketing it to agents, which is not for the faint of heart.  (Honestly?  I understand why the traditional publishing industry is imploding: many agents are so overworked they won't even bother to reply to your queries.  What's wrong with this picture?  Don't the agents rely on writers for their jobs?  Can't they at least manage a polite no?) Repeatedly, I am being told a variation on this theme:  love your writing, but your main character is not relateable enough.  Oh, and get this–being a writer is one thing that makes her unrelateable.

Anyway, it is hard to be creative when you're busy thinking dark thoughts about the publishing industry.  And certainly I had plenty of other writing to keep me busy.  So I kept going on my round-robin of dipping into different novel ideas.

But the truth is, I was driving myself crazy.   I wanted to be deeply engrossed in writing a novel again.  Yet I couldn't manage to make it happen.

Until a couple weeks ago, when my coach challenged me to move forward on this issue.  She suggested I ask for guidance.  I was to ask the universe for a project that felt good and authentic to me, would be fun to write and yet also easy to sell (might as well, right?)

And so I did.  When I walked, I asked for a novel idea.  When I did dishes, I asked for a novel idea.  When I showered, I asked for a novel idea.  I really, really wanted an idea for a novel.

Cue my other ongoing project, office organization.  Sorting through files, I realized I had lots of them full of notes for various truncated novel ideas.  So I made a stack of them and started reading through, with an open mind.  The very first one, a forgotten idea with some rough notes from several years ago, made my heart pound. 

And when I read over the notes I had in that file, I identified my problem.  I'd not done any prep work for the novel!  Worse, I'd not done it for any of my poor stunted novel ideas.  No wonder I was spinning like the Mac pinwheel when I set out to work on them. Oh, I'd started preparing character dossiers and plot outlines.  But something always pulled me away from it, and off I'd go attempting to write.  Which is like building a house without a foundation.

The thing is, I know better.  I've given lectures on how to write a novel in 30 days, which is dependent on having some pretty damn solid prep work in place before you get started.  I exhort my students to get to know their characters and write up at least a loose plot outline before getting started.  I blog about these topics!

But I think I've lost my center as I've been in the process of marketing my previous novel.  If anything can make you feel unsure of yourself, its submitting work to agents.  And beyond that, has been the lack of closure.  I'm not certain where I'm going with the original novel and that lack of certainty has made it hard to move forward.

Until now.

Because I'm on it, baby!  I've committed to working the idea that made my heart flutter, no matter what happens with Emma Jean and no matter where this new novel takes me.  Which means that the next step is some serious novel prep work.  And, since I generally blog about what's on my writing mind, that means I'm going to spend the next two posts (Wednesday and Friday) on this topic. 

I'm excited.  Nothing better than getting to work on a new project.

Chime in!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on starting a new fiction project.

7 Ways to Use Writing Prompts With Your Current Project

Writing prompts…love 'em or hate 'em.

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Some people swear by them, while others shudder at the thought of using a writing prompt in their work. Because, too often, using random writing prompts can lead you astray.  And let's face it, most prompts are a bit on the random side, aren't they?  Those books of prompts are great, but they have about as much as common with your novel in progress as flying to the moon does to a wedding dress.

Say you're stuck on your writing project, so you open one of your books of writing prompts, choose one and begin writing.  All well and good.  Except that you're just writing, not really writing about anything of much interest or use to you.

Now, I'm a great one for writing something, anything, on a regular basis.  And I often exhort people to do just that–particularly when they are stuck.  But writing mindlessly for any great length of time can be as frustrating as not writing.   Writing aimlessly is bad for your creative morale, because your heart and soul won't be in it.

The trick is to find a way to make your writing prompts relevant to your current project, so that they are enhancing your writing, not taking away from it.  When used in this manner, writing prompts can be wonderfully helpful in a couple of ways:

  • To generate actual writing
  • To get a flow of ideas going
  • To get yourself unstuck

And, remember, the best way to use prompts is as freely and loosely as possible.  Take your prompt, write it at the top of a sheet of paper, and set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then write.  And write and write and write, without stopping, until the timer goes off.

If you want to use writing prompts with your current project, here are some suggestions:

1. Take the last line of the previous scene or chapter and use it as a prompt.  Or take the first line.  Using a sentence from your work is a great way to drive deeper into the writing.  Because you are writing freely and loosely, your inner critic is silenced and you may be surprised what you come up with.

2. Put a location from your book into a sentence and use it as a prompt.  You can do this for the city or area your book is set in, or do it on a smaller scale, using a building such as your character's workplace or his home to write about.  This technique can help to uncover details you'll later use in description, or even ideas your character might have about her surroundings.

3. Put your character in a sentence.  Of course, this is sort of the whole point of writing a novel, but do this in a random way, having your character do either something unexpected or completely mundane and then write about it for 20 minutes.  You'll be amazed what you'll learn.

4. Use a line of dialogue from your project. 

5. Use keywords as prompts.   Quick, tell me three words that describe your writing project.  Now use those words as prompts–either one at a time or putting them into a sentence.

6. Use theme as a prompt.  Maybe you don't know what the theme of your book is–don't laugh, it takes many a draft to figure it out sometimes–or maybe you have a vague idea of it.  Make a sentence out of what your don't know or that vague idea and use it for a prompt.

7. Riff on the title.  Most works-in-progress have a title, even if its only a working title.  Use that for a prompt and see what comes up.

Those are some ways I've used prompts with my work-in-progress.  Any more suggestions?

5 Ways to End Worrying and Write (Or Create)

Worrying is not good for your writing or your creativity.  Or anything else, really.  How can you write the next great American novel when you are obsessing about how to pay the bills?  Or if your marriage is going to survive?  Or if your teenager is going to make it through high school without getting kicked out?

You can't.

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Because when your brain is full of worries and obsessions, there's not a lot of room for creative thoughts or ideas.  Or fictional characters who come to life on the page.  Or lyrical descriptions of locations. 

Even little, garden-variety worries can derail a work session.  For instance, worrying about what to cook for dinner can distract you from working on a book chapter.  Pondering paying bills might derail your work on your memoir  for several days.  And so on.

What to do? How to prevent worrying from stopping your writing?  Try some of the following ideas:

1. Journal.  For writers, writing is often the cure.  If you are feeling so angsty and anxious that you can't work, grab your journal and write about it.  Even if you only do five or ten minutes it can help.  In truth, often five or ten minutes of journaling is all it takes to turn yourself around.  Write specifically about the worry.

2. Meditate or Pray.  I'm better at prayer than meditation, I'll be honest.  And when I speak of prayer, I mean it in the broadest of terms–pray to God, to the universe, to Buddha, to the goddess, to your higher self, to your boyfriend, or your ancestors.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is asking for help.  That is what makes a difference.  You can easily do this in meditation, too.  Just ask for whatever you need help with, such as ending worrying, and begin a meditation session.

3.  Active Imagination.  One of my favorite techniques, this can be like prayer on paper.  Choose who you are going to ask for help from, (any of the above will do nicely), and then write your question, with dialogue tags.  So,

Charlotte: I need help

God: What can I do for you?

And so on.  The other thing you can do that is really cool is to embody your problem and talk to it.  Give worry a personality and talk to it, ask it what it needs to be quiet and let  you work.

4.  Affirmation or Affirmative Prayer.  If you tend to worry and obsess over the same old things, identify them and write an affirmation about the positive incarnation of it.  Example:  I, Charlotte, am so happy and grateful that I now have a published novel, rather than damn it, why haven't I heard from that agent yet?  This really helps to turn obsessive and negative thoughts around.  The trick is to have identified the negative thought ahead of time and have the affirmation ready to go to counter it.

5.  Find Comfort.  You're worrying for a reason, no doubt, because all of us have problems that distract us.  Sometimes what you need to do is give yourself a little love.  Figuring out what the root cause of the worry is and do something about it helps.  But so does uncovering the emotion that is driving your obsession and tending to it.  Maybe you'll find comfort in taking a walk, or sitting by a fire for a bit.  Or petting your cat, or reading.  Taking a few minutes to ease your worries can do wonders for your attitude.

So now, if  you figured out ways to end worrying and focus on your writing, how much more could you get done?

 Photo by Shazbot, from Flickr.