While I'm away in Europe, I'm posting some old articles from the archives and some link round-ups. Today's selection is on writing tips of various stripes. Here you go:
But as I've been concentrating fiercely on my rewrite the last couple of weeks, I've realized some things that are working well for me–and things that I'm learning. I'm hopeful these miscellaneous tips will be of value to you, too, so here they are.
1. Getting up every 30 minutes (or so) makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE. I've been at my desk a lot lately, for longer stretches than usual, and I've been consciously getting up regularly and walking around and stretching. One day last week I didn't do this–and I felt completely difference at the end of the day. The romantic image we have of writers requires us to be so wrapped up in our work that we sit for hours. But actually you will feel better and do better work if you get your butt up off the chair.
2. Your main character needs an origin story. Just as superheroes have stories about how they got their superpowers, your protagonist (and probably others in the story, too) needs an origin story. How did she get her obsession for fashion? Why did he become a detective? Did he watch his best friend get killed and vow to avenge him? Figure this out and you've unlocked your character. This deserves a whole post and will get one when I'm done with my rewrite.
3. Use more description than you think you need. I mentioned about how I've been learning this as I rewrite to my agent's notes. And I am finding that more description makes for a fuller, richer read. (Bear in mind that I'm writing women's fiction, and lush description is a huge part of it. In another genre, this might not be so.) Also, as my buddy J.D. Frost brilliantly pointed out to me in an email, you can use description to pace your plot. A lot of it signals a restful spot. A lack of it shows action.
4. Having long stretches of time to write is a wonderful thing. I'm the original proponent of using little bits of time here and there to write when you can, but for this rewrite, I've gotten in the habit of clearing away whole days to work. (See #5.) Let me tell you, it is fantastic, especially when you are working on a rewrite and need to hold the whole book in your head. Having more than one or two hours at a time to devote to the book gives me the mental space to dig deep into character arcs and figure out a more cohesive plot.
5. You have more time to write than you think. I have a lot of clients at the moment. They are all wonderful and diligent and doing good work, and I adore every single one. (I really, truly do–I am constantly amazed and honored to be chosen to shepherd a writer's creation.) And, they all need my care and tending: reading their work and then time on the phone to discuss. I'm also planning three in-person workshops (France here, Nashville here, Portland is already full). And I have a clamoring family that I love to let distract me. Yet I've carved out four full days to devote to my rewrite in the last week. I never would have thought I could do that I've you'd told me so in January. But I did it, by working really, really hard on the other days and carefully managing appointments. It is working so well, I'm going to continue to do this even after I'm done with this rewrite.
6. Notes are your pals. I had pretty much totally gone over to Evernote, which I do love, because I tend to accumulate scraps of paper with notes on them all over my desk. But that's gone out the window with this rewrite and I've got lists and notebooks everywhere. The thing is, this is working for me (it wasn't before, which is why I sought out a different system). When I'm working on chapter six, and I get an idea for chapter ten, it is easier to grab a piece of paper and scrawl my idea on it, then to open the Evernote app and create a new note. The thing to remember is to go through your notes regularly! And the point of it all is to do what works for you to get the writing done.
7. Reading is your BFF now more than ever. I'm reading a ton at the moment. What am I reading? Women's fiction, exactly what I'm writing, with a stray girly mystery thrown in. As I read, I learn. In the novel I just finished, I noticed how the author handled description of characters and emulated it. In another novel I just started, I liked how the author wrote about the setting. All these ideas go directly into my work. (And yes, I will write a post like this one about the books I'm reading soon.)
So that's what I've learned while writing lately. How about you? What are you working on? How is it going?
I'm tired of people telling me how to eat. (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)
I'm tired of people telling me to exercise. (Walk. No, walking isn't enough. Run. No, running is bad for your knees, interval training. No, you have to do cross-fit.)
I'm tired of people telling me how to think. (Case in point: the recent election. Or every day on the Internet.)
And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write. And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.
In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter. "They were the three things
in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate,
her sacred cows."
And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.
1. Meditate. This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me. However, meditating is like exercise–we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it. At least, that's how my mind works. You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself. I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator–my mind is all over the place–but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts. I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less. So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.
2. Writing every day. Stop groaning. You know it's good for you to write every day. And you know you want to. This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis. And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it. I get it, I do. It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day. But the rewards–oh, the rewards are so many! Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum. And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well. So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.
3. Use prompts. Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.) Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow. When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes. And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray. Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant. So I can see both sides of this sacred cow. I give it half credit.
4. Let it rip. Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish. Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes. This is how I write my novels. And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also. Because I've seen too many people–myself included–get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens? You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating. And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing. Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.
5. Don't multitask. Do I even have to go into this sacred cow? Multitasking is death to creativity. How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal? You can't. Period. This one stands.
Those are the sacred cows that occur to me. What are yours? Do they hold up under your scrutiny?
It is raining this morning. I know, I know, I live in Oregon, its to be expected. And, truthfully, I don't mind. I love going out for a walk in the rain and coming back inside where its cozy, warm, and dry, to curl up with my writing or my reading.
And this morning my reading served up two good nuggets.
First, while eating my yogurt and nuts I read a review, by Jeff Baker, of Annie Proulx's recent lecture in Portland. Apparently, she loves research and reads voraciously. But what I loved the most about this article the advice she gave out to writers at a small private meeting the next morning (I sulked for a little while about not being invited). Here are some of the gems:
- Use times when you are waiting in line, for a flight, whatever, to work on descriptions of people.
- Read your work aloud to yourself. (Whenever I read my work or do a lecture, I always take a pen with me to the podium, because I can't help but edit when I hear myself read.)
- Listen to the way people speak around you–hear regional dialects and everyday speech.
- Draw a landscape to remember it.
- For a writing project, research the years around your birth. What was the world like back then?
- Be interested in what you write.
Read the full article here. It is worth it, there's some real gems.
And then, when I opened my inbox, I found a fabulous article by Chris Guillebeau, who gives reliably good advice, whether it is on travel hacking or creating your own unique way in the world. The title of the post is "How to Write 300,000 Words in 1 Year," and in it he gives good tips on focus, one of my favorite topics.
"Make your art your obsession. Fall in love with it. Experience withdrawal symptoms when you don't give it your attention."
Rather than worry about quality, "Worry instead about getting your words in. [He strives for 1,000 per day, and he wrote this post while waiting for a delayed flight at the Nairobi airport.] Wake up early, stay up late, use that notebook you are carrying, appropriate those ten or fifteen-minute breaks in the day with nothing scheduled."
There's other good stuff on this post as well.
What are you best tips for writing? Care to share?
***One of my best writing tips is to start with the images. Learn how by downloading a free copy of my Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With a Vision Board. Sign up in the form to the right and you'll also get a free subscription to my newsletter!
Photo credit: imageafter, from Everystockphoto.