Friday Finesse: Writing by Hand

Last weekend at the lunch after my Essence of the Essay class, one of the students asked me if I wrote mostly on the computer, or by hand.  I answered (a bit unpleasantly smugly, I realized later) that I wrote so much content that needed to be on the computer (blog, newsletter, classes, novel) that I’d trained myself to write mostly via keyboard.

But then I started thinking about how much I actually do write by hand.  So a better answer would be that I do both.  When I’m stuck on a scene in my WIP novel, I go directly to the page. I cannot figure stuff out while typing. It has to be by hand.  There’s something about the direct physical connection from brain to hand that opens up a flow in me.  I take a lot of “priming the pump” notes by hand.  And of course, I write in my journal by hand. (Years ago, I had a brief period of keeping a password-protected journal on the computer. It was terrible.)

And I recommend you write by hand, at least once in a while, too. Why? Because writing by hand directly onto the page is a different cognitive process than typing on a keyboard.  As such, it can open up different vistas into your creative work.

In an article in the Guardian a few years ago an expert explained that the process of handwriting is more complicated than typing: “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva.

And as the article further points out, with the physical page, you can write in all kinds of ways. You can scribble notes in margins, write upside down, turn the paper sideways and write, doodle as you write.  This is a boon to your creativity and allows your brain to expand in many directions.  One more benefit–you have proof right in front of you of what you’ve done.  Yes, you can edit on the computer, but off go the corrections as soon as you’ve made them.

For a great infographic on some of these ideas, check out this page.

So I encourage you to foster some hand-writing habits, at least part of the time. (I’m certainly not advocating writing your novel draft entirely by hand—though some writers do just that.)  And let me know what new vistas it unlocks.

Meanwhile, if you are in need of unlocking new vistas, I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Tuesday Tip: Remember, it’s called a rough draft for a reason

I’m going back through the second draft of my WIP novel, checking for places where I have to drop things in. Most of these are little things, like another mention of a physical object that figures in the plot (in this case, a necklace), or pumping up a description that didn’t get fully mounted on the page.

But in one instance, I have a whole chapter to drop in. (Because, um, it features an important character that I failed to show anywhere in the novel. Duh.)

So this means I am writing rough draft material again for the first time in a couple of months. I’ve been rewriting and editing and getting the draft ready for beta readers. (Soon!)

And this morning I found myself laboring over every word.

WTF! I know better than this.  A rough draft is just that–the draft of a chapter or story or essay that is in its rough stages.  And just because the rest of my novel is almost ready for other eyes, doesn’t mean that this chapter needs to be.

I had to remind myself to just put the words on the page.  Let them rip. Write fast. Don’t worry about how “good” the words are once they land. Just get the damned thing written!

And that is my Tuesday tip for you–let the writing of your rough draft stink. Make it awful. Require it to be. Because once you’ve gotten those words on the page, you’ve got treasure with which to work.  You can rewrite and revise and edit to your heart’s content.  But not yet.

Remember there’s a reason it is called a rough draft and let it be, well…rough.

What to Do When You Finish a Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Discovery Drafts and Writing Fast

In case you hadn’t noticed, writing fast has become quite the thing lately.  This is for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that, if you want to indie publish, your fans expect you to pump books out one after another.  And you can’t maintain that pace if you write slowly.

Writing Fast

But I think it is also because writing fast works.  Again for a variety of reasons:

–When you write fast, you access the subconscious mind, bypassing the conscious mind which tends to be, um, critical.

–When you write fast, you get something, anything, down on paper. And once you have something down on paper, then you have something to work with.

–When you write fast, you bypass perfectionism.  And let me tell you, perfectionism breeds procrastination big time. Because if you’re putting yourself under pressure to be perfect, you’ll think of 5,000 other things you’d rather be doing.

–And besides, writing fast is fun!

It’s when you get to revision that the hard work begins.  Which I am learning as I take the first draft of my novel, which I wrote really fast, just working to get the story on paper.  Which leads us to…

The Discovery Draft

You’ll often hear the first draft of a novel (or a story, or a memoir, or anything) called different things. Like a rough draft, or a discovery draft. I’m guilty of most often calling it a rough draft, though I think the term discovery draft does it more justice. Because the most important thing to remember is that you are discovering the story.

You are not:

–Worrying about every comma and period.

–Fussing over not knowing everything.  Instead, when you get to a place you don’t know something, you insert a TK and keep going. (Using TK allows you to do an easy search at the end.)

–Stopping writing for a month when you don’t know what happens next. Instead you start writing where you do know what happens.

–Reading back over your work and editing as you go. Forward motion is the name of the game.

In other words, you are writing fast, getting the story down.  The discovery draft is for you to discover the story. Subsequent drafts are for you to figure out how best to present the story.

I am currently rewriting a discovery draft of a romance novel I finished in February, though in this case, the word rough really does apply.  There are vast stretches where I’m not exactly sure how it all goes together, and these pages are full of TKs and all caps notes to myself.  There’s lots of cursing and name-calling in those all cap sentences.  Not that it does much good to call myself names and tell myself what a terrible writer I am. But it does the trick to get those thoughts out of my head so I can keep going.

What I’m finding, though, is that the bones of the story are strong. I’m rearranging like crazy, dramatizing long stretches of narrative that were flat on the page, and making the characters more complex.  But my discovery draft, written fast, captured the story I wanted to tell.

So the moral of the story is: don’t agonize over every word.  Produce those pages and get to the end of your discovery draft. You’ll be happy you did!

Should you need help with your discovery drafts, learning how to write fast, or any aspect of your writing, I’ve got a couple of spots open in my coaching.  Pop me an email and we’ll set up a time to talk!

Photo by hisks.

Ten Year Blog Anniversary

Yep, as of two days ago, March 26th, it’s been ten years since I began this blog.  I can’t believe it, either. There’s now nearly 1500 posts on this blog, which is stunning to me also.  While I now do my best to blog twice a week, there was a time back in the day when I managed a post every day. God only knows how I did that.

But this blog has been the centerpiece of my writing career for those ten years and I’m proud of it. I’ve gotten countless clients and tons of new friends from it.  And I continue to learn as much from writing it as I hope you do from reading it.  Some of you have actually been reading me since the beginning, and I thank you for that. It truly means the world to me.

I often tell clients this story to encourage them: when I first started this blog, I remember telling my son about it. But then I quickly said, “But don’t go read it.” I was too uncertain about it, too nervous to have my words out in the world, not sure it would amount to anything.   And here I am, ten years later, still putting words out there.  So I mean it when I say that if I can do it, you can, too.  And that applies to any aspect of writing.

Over those ten years, I’ve worked with dozens of writers one-on-one, taught numerous classes, started and maintained a business hosting workshops in France, published a novel, gotten an agent, written more fiction which will soon see the light of day, written articles, had stories published in anthologies, and scribbled lord knows how many pages in my journals.  I’ve traveled regularly to Nashville, L.A.,the Oregon Coast, and France, been to New York City and Barcelona once, and Seattle numerous times.  I’ve said goodbye to three good pugs, managed to live with two very fat and opinionated cats, and I’ve stayed married to the same very patient man.  I lost my mother, but gained a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law, and fast on their heels, four grandchildren.

It’s been a busy ten years, and I am a lucky woman.

I thought it would be fun to include my very first post in this anniversary, so here it is:

Beginnings

My friend Sue (one of my Nashville peeps) and I have both recently started re-writing our novels.  Today she emailed me and asked what I knew about first chapters.   I told her one thing I know about first chapters is that they are hard–hard because a first chapter is the foundation for everything that is to follow.

First paragraphs in articles are hard, too.  Usually (okay, always) I must have my first paragraph set before the rest of an article will flow, and its for the same reason–all the words that follow depend on  the firm foundation of the first paragraph.

So, too, with first entries in a blog, like this one. It logically (though logic is not my strong suit, despite my love of Sudoku) follows that the premiere post should be a strong basis for all the missives to come.  It should delineate the themes of the blog, be witty and erudite, and make people want to keep coming back for more. Which makes it really hard, just like writing the first chapter of a novel.  The difference being that by the time a novel gets published, that first chapter will have been rewritten a gazillion times, and the essence of a blog is daily communication. So, to heck with it.  I’ll forget about strong foundations and all that and just dive right in.

After all, one of my fondly held beliefs is that process is more important than product, at least while one is the middle of the process of creating a product.  Its so easy to get caught up in thoughts of the product–does it sound right? will people like it? is it good?–that it can paralyze you while you are trying to be engrossed in the process.  And conversely, there’s nothing better in the whole world than those times when you are so caught up in the writing process that two hours pass like two minutes. 

This blog will focus on process, and words, and how to produce a lot of them, and a whole lot more.  After all, the word strumpet means prostitute and the word prostitute means, according to Webster’s, a woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, especially for money.  As a word strumpet, I engage in promiscuous writing activity, especially, but certainly not solely, for money. Strumpet that I am, I can’t get enough of words, can’t get enough of writing. 

Hence, the blog, which will not only serve as a forum to produce more words but hopefully provoke comment.  Because another one of my firmly held beliefs is that writing is communication, and communication is a loop.  If any part of the loop is broken, something is missing, which is why writers whine a lot about how hard it is to get published.    So I am casting my words into the circle and you can keep the circle unbroken by writing back with comments.

Until then, as always, I’ll just be here writing.

And I gotta say, for all the other changes in my life, one thing has remained the same: I’m still just here, writing.

Five on Friday: Raining Again

What I’m Complaining About: The weather. Again. I’m sorry. It has been a really long winter here. My husband looked at the weather app on his phone this morning and said the forecast was for a clear day on April 9th. Sigh.

What I’m Watching: In the category of We’re Old and Clueless About Technology, we finally got our Amazon Fire stick working with the TV (thank you daughter-in-law, who fixed it in, oh, two seconds).  And wow, are there are a lot of great things being produced by Amazon.  We’ve watched three of four of Z: The Beginning of Everything, about Zelda Fitzgerald.  It stars Christina Ricci as Zelda, and if you thought of her mostly from The Addams Family, you’re in for a surprise, as I was.

What I’m Reading: Finishing up the Rachael Herron book from last week. I’ve been out several nights this week and haven’t had a lot of time to read. Also, I have this bad habit of reading magazines at lunchtime.   But I’m now reading as fast as I can because a crop of great books just came in for me at the library: the first Maisie Dobbs novel, The Underground Railroad, and Scratch, which is an anthology about writers and money. Speaking of which, I see library fines in my future because none of these are renewable. I consider my library fines my contribute to their existence. We have one of the best and busiest library systems in the country here, and I use it lavishly.

What I’m Doing This Weekend: Working on taxes.  It is going to rain all weekend anyway. This is a cheery post, isn’t it?

What I Re-learned This Week:  That when you stall on writing a story, and something is bugging you, there’s a reason for it.  If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.  Most often my experience is that the scene is set in the wrong location.  That was the case for me this week.  I was also wrestling with whether to set the scene in real time or backstory. Both have big disadvantages.  But finally this morning, as I was driving in my jammies home from dropping my husband at the light rail station, I thought of an entirely new place to set the scene–and that opened it all up. I’m happy now. The weekend may proceed.

What’s up with you? What are you reading, watching, working on?  Tell me interesting things.

Photo by Scott Robinson.

On The Importance of Confidence in Yourself–and Your Writing

On my writing retreat last weekend, I reread my novel. Yeah, that’s right. The one I told everyone how terrible it was. How it needed major surgery. How it had plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them. How the characters were undeveloped.

In re-reading it I found that all of the above was true–to a certain degree.  But overall, the draft had a lot going for it–engaging characters, a great setting, a fun conflict (if conflicts can be considered fun).  And the writing was solid, mostly, even though I wrote much of it quite quickly.

The book wasn’t bad, but my attitude was.  I had been busy telling myself it was a piece of crap, that it was terrible and hopeless and going to be impossible to rewrite.  And that, in turn, made me feel terrible and hopeless and like I was worth nothing more than, well, a piece of crap. Because as goes my writing, so goes my life.  I’m happiest–and most confident–when I’m deep in the middle of writing a story.  And having confidence in my writing is a huge part of sustaining a regular writing practice.

So how did I manage to so spectacularly lose it? I’m not really sure, but I think it has to do with not being actively engaged in writing a novel.  I am always writing something, even if it’s just journal pages, but when I’m not working on a story of some kind, I lose faith in myself.  Of course, one needs to take a break sometimes.  And that’s what I thought I was doing. Instead, I was berating myself for the terrible work I’d done.

But, as is so often the case, the opposite of lack of confidence is not good either. This is when you are so puffed up about your work that you can’t take constructive criticism from anybody, or make good decisions about it yourself. Because you are so sure that it is all perfect! Sometimes writers mistake the experience of writing for the end result. In other words, just because the words flowed easily and you had a blast writing it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect at the end.  I’ve not yet seen a first draft that couldn’t stand some tinkering.

But I see far fewer cases of that than I do instances of writers lacking confidence in themselves. Years ago, when my kids were little they’d get worried if I was going to go complain to a teacher of a school principal about something, not wanting me to rock the boat.  I’d say, “If your mother isn’t going to stand up for you, who is?” I hope it taught them something about standing up for what was theirs.  And that’s how I feel about writing. We’ve got to learn to stand up for our work–without getting too egotistical about it.

Me included.

How’s your writing going? Do you have confidence in it?

Five on Friday: Back From Retreat

What I did this week: I just got back from a three-day writing retreat in Astoria, Oregon.  Oh boy oh boy was it ever wonderful to have three days to focus on writing fiction.  I also remembered how great it is to enjoy the camaraderie of other writers. At night we drank wine and talked story, solving each other’s plot problems.  And then there were the tarot readings…Oh, and the apartment we stayed in was above a mortuary.  My sister was convinced there would be ghosts and she was right! The first night, the overhead lights clicked on without warning in the middle of the night, scaring the bejebus out of me.  (Cue Twilight Zone song.) Plus, Angie dreamed of ghosts all night. We were a bit nervous to go to sleep the next night but nothing happened, which was almost disappointing.

What I’m reading:  Blown Away by Clover Tate, aka Angela Sanders, who organized the writing retreat.  Also Rachael Herron’s latest Songbird romance.  I’m on her review team so I get to read it before it’s published.  This is a fabulous ideas for you authors out there: ask people on your list to join the reviewing team.  When you have a book coming out, send them the Ebook version for free and ask them to review it.  (Do some research on the correct language to use, as legally you can’t give a book away for a review.) When I’m ready to publish (soon!) I’ll be putting out a request for reviewers to my list. (Not on my list? It’s easy to join–just fill out the box to the right or at the top of the page.)

What I ate: I was desperately looking forward to eating some pan-fried oysters at Baked Alaska. I drove to Astoria for the day with a friend last October, and in my memory the oysters were the best I’d ever had. I couldn’t wait to eat them again. But when we go to the restaurant, those oysters were no longer on the menu.  Instead I got an uninspired Kobe beef burger. But the cheesy baked cauliflower, at least, was delicious.

What I’m excited about: My novel.   The truth is, it was such an undisciplined first draft I’d convinced myself that it was terrible all the way through. But re-reading it (which is what I spent most of the days doing) made me realize how much I like it.  Needs lots of work, sure, but it is tons of fun and I can’t wait to dig into it and get going on the second draft.

What I’m also excited about: I have an article in Magical Goddess magazine! The magazine is free, all you have to do is sign up on the site.  Check it out here. I love the way the article looks and I hope it has some helpful information in it.

What’s going on with you?

The Space You Work In

A clean desk is the sign of a …. oh never mind.

Where do you do your writing?

Do you have a dedicated space for it, or are you a nomad, roaming from table to couch to bed to desk?

I tend to be very settled in my writing habits, i.e., I sit at the same space every day and work at my computer. Problem is, I’m also a very messy human. Well, maybe not messy, but disorganized.  I like paper and I like making notes and I have this thing that requires I write something down to remember it. All this adds up to lots of stuff to keep organized.

Or, put another way, a very messy office.

I had stacks of paper all over, along with towers of books, binders and spirals spilling over the edges of tables, and general assortments of things nobody knew what else to do with except put in my office.  My business coach told me I needed a clean space in order for money to flow in. I told myself I needed a clean space in order for the words to flow.  But no matter what I did, that didn’t seem to happen.

I lived with this mess for, um, almost a year and a half.  Ever since I moved my office to its current space.  Before this, I worked upstairs, where I felt removed from everything, and not in a good way. (When FedEx knocked at the door, it was a mad dash down slippery carpeted stairs to get there before they returned the package to the truck.) Before that, I worked in the same space I am now. Before that, I worked in a corner of our unfinished upstairs (and when the house caught on fire, the fire stopped just short of my computer and my lifelong collection of journals). Before that, I worked on the kitchen counter. And before that, I worked at a desk set up in a corner of our bedroom. So I’ve been in a variety of spaces over the course of my writing life and pretty much none of them have been organized.

However.

I finally accomplished it. My office is clean and I love it.  I can think better when I’m not staring at piles of paper.  And thinking better translates to writing better.  But it took me a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out what works well for me.  And I’ve been an inveterate studier of writing spaces for forever. So I offer up a few ideas in case they might help or inspire you:

  • I really love surrounding myself with things I love. Like photos of family, goofy gifts people have given me (I have two, count ’em, two physical representations of Poo–as in the Poo emoji), pictures of France taken and drawn by my husband, the first weaving I ever did.
  • Must have books around me
  • I work best when my computer desk, where I spend most of my time, is clean and neat and not surrounded by teetering piles of crap. So I traded in my massive long Ikea desk/table for an old and very small desk. Most of the time, it stays clean. The tables and shelves around me might not be, but at least my desk is. Helps that it’s too small to stack much on.
  • Because of the above, I created a space where I can do my journal writing and other creative projects, which makes a huge difference.
  • Lots of space for office supplies. This was part of the problem before–I didn’t have enough room for them and they got piled and buried all over the place.  I finally figured out I had room to move a long shelf in and this has made an enormous difference.
  • Boxes of file folders beneath the work desk. Here they can stay out of sight until I need them.
  • Good lighting.

Because of all these requirements, my office is cramped.  It is a small room, after all. But I don’t care–I love it. Instead of staring at piles of crap and thinking about what a disaster I am, I now stare at pictures of family and think how lucky I am.  I feel more productive in a space I love. And since I spend most of my waking hours in this room, that is a very good thing.

Where do you work? What kinds of things do you like to fill it with?

PS.  An article I wrote for Magical Goddess magazine just came out! It’s about writing, natch. Find it here.

Five on Friday: Daylight Savings Time This Weekend

What I’m happy about: Daylight savings time coming this weekend. If daylight savings time is here, spring can’t be far, right? Can’t come soon enough around here. We’ve had rainy day after rainy day after rainy day. And that’s after so man snow and ice storms I can’t even count them.  Even I, the original rain lover, am ready for some sunshine.

What I’m happy about #2: My upcoming writing retreat to Astoria, an historic coastal Oregon town. I mentioned it briefly last week, too, because I’m excited! There’s just something so energizing to getting away with the express purpose to write.  I love it.  And I’m hoping to eat some luscious oysters from Netarts Bay here.

What I’m reading: Commonwealth, which finally came in at the library.  This novel by Ann Patchett has gotten mixed reviews but so far I like it. Though she writes in a very, for lack of a better word, deep style. She utilizes an incredibly close-in viewpoint, in which you are in the characters’ heads moment by moment, seeing the scene unfold step by step. It is intense, and fascinating, but I also feel like I have to read every word to follow it all.  Lots of characters in this one, too, which requires much flipping back to figure out who’s who.

I’m also planning to take the first Clover Tate mystery, written by my friend Angie, to the beach next week. Because, A. it is set at the beach, and B. I may need some lighter reading.

What I’m writing: Backstory scenes for the romance novel I’m about to rewrite. I didn’t quite understand some of the aspects of my two main characters and this is helping me enormously.

What I’m happy about #3: My office! It is clean and organized, full of all my little things that I look at from my desk. They make me happy. After years months of the space being in upheaval, I’m delighted it is organized at last.

Happy Friday! What’s going on with you?