Writing Method Experiment

20180507_093600The day before my husband and oldest son went on a caribou hunt, I bought a vacuum sealer from a second hand store. It did not work. Annoyed, I returned it, and my annoyance was compounded by the fact that I could only return it for in store credit, and that credit had to be used immediately. (This was after being told at the time of purchase that yes, of course I could return the item, and nothing more was said. I feel like something more should have been said.)

In the midst of my discontented wanderings through the store, I came across a most beautiful thing- a vintage turquoise Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Of course, it was irrevocably broken, as all things in this shop seem to be. But still, it was fun to plink away on and I’m sorry I didn’t buy it. It would have been just lovely on my book case and I could have spent many happy hours tinkering with it in the vague hope that I could resurrect it and name it Lazarus, but my husband would have caught me trying to sneak it in the house and given me that look and really, I don’t have any room on the book cases anyway. Alas. (In other news, I need more book cases. And a bigger house.)

But just touching that typewriter made me feel suddenly more creative, and I hustled home (with a bunch of new books I’m not sure where to put and some curtains I’ll never use, curse you, vacuum sealer) and knocked out another chapter in the Copper book I posted a chapter from last month (read here!).

The typewriter got me thinking. Some writing methods work better for me than others. And some that work for me might not work for as well for other writers. So I thought it might be fun to spend some time writing using several different recording methods and see if any patterns emerged. I came up with several styles of writing that I wanted to try, and went forth, hoping that a victor would emerge in each of these categories: best for brainstorming; best for drafting; best for editing. Each of the following writing methods was ranked according to these categories. Read on for my own personal results!

Method: Longhand, cursive

I know so many people who draft in longhand. (Sadly, I don’t know anybody who still uses shorthand to write anything more than short notes, and I was too lazy to learn stenography for this.) I don’t normally draft in longhand so it was fun to give it a try.

Pros: very good for inspiring creativity; excellent for working out outlines of books and individual scenes; very accessible;

Cons: difficult for later editing; in nearly all cases, must be transcribed to a digital format for sharing;

Method: Longhand, print

Everyone I know who uses longhand for writing does it exclusively in cursive. So I though, ‘Huh! What’s wrong with print?’ And once I start asking questions, I gotta find answers. All in the name of science. Sort of.

Pros: actually somewhat better WPM than cursive (Ms. Hardman lied to me); accessible;

Cons: doesn’t feel quite as inspiring as cursive; same cons as cursive;

Method: Typing, computer

This is my workhorse. A solid ninety percent, maybe more, of my writing uses this method.

Pros: very quick WPM; easy to keep files together and organized; easy to share materials with others;

Cons: computer isn’t always accessible; I am so very, very bad at technology; screens make my eyeballs sad; inspirationally meh;

Method: Typing, mechanical typewriter

Wow it took me half of forever to scrounge one up to type on. I’d never used one this old before and I was a little afraid to touch it, haha. It didn’t type very well, but honestly, the thing is like a hundred years old and I’m really impressed it worked at all.

Pros: mega super fun; creatively inspiring; that little ding at the end of the line; general coolness; that typing sound- something about the clickety-clack of a typewriter just feels all inspired and literary;

Cons: SO HARD TO FIND; keys jammed when typing too fast; had to push the keys really deep to get the typebars up to the page; machine was old and I didn’t know how to change the ribbon (let alone where to get one); difficult to edit;

Method: Typing, electronic typewriter

I actually managed to scrounge up not one, but two of these- each of them in dusty storage rooms of increasingly underfunded libraries. Go figure.

Pros: halfway between an old typewriter and a computer for coolness and inspiration; able to keep up with my typing speed;

Cons: relatively obscure- difficult to procure, and doubtless difficult to keep in repair; difficult to edit;

Method: Audio Recording

This method started out at a steep disadvantage, largely because I hate the sound of my voice. Not enough that I’d consider ever shutting up, but still. (It really didn’t help that I’ve been sick and sniffly for the entire duration of this experiment.)

Pros: can be done relatively hands free once you hit record; thoughts can be recorded quickly; very accessible if you have a phone that takes recordings; assuming recording was on a phone, sharing is very easy;

Cons: Very self-conscious of doing character voices; self-conscious of my just normal human voice; how does editing even happen like this; must be transcribed into another format for editing and sharing; while it worked well for taking notes, it was TERRIBLE for doing actual prose or, even worse, dialog;

Results

There are many, many ways to record stories out there. And while I was tempted to bust out some clay tablets or carve on some tree bark, I by no means exhausted the possibilities. These are just the methods that I thought a decent percent of people might actually regularly use. (Maybe not the typewriters these days. That was more for fun.)

But anyway, here is some data because data is delicious.

  Words/2 min WPM Accessible Editing Sharing Inspiring
Longhand, cursive 48; 54 25.5 Easy Medium Difficult ****
Longhand, print 51; 57 27 Easy Medium Difficult ***
Typing, digital 142; 150 73 Easy Easy Easy ***
Typing, electronic typewriter 82; 83; 79; 77; 77; 78.8 Difficult Medium Difficult ****
Typing, mechanical typewriter Didn’t record Slooow WHYYY Medium Difficult *****
Audio recording 373 in 4 min 93.25 Easy Difficult Easy *

So the results are in and I think we have our winners! For brainstorming, I definitely did best with longhand cursive.  For drafting, digital typing (on my laptop) was hands down the winner, as it was for editing. Typing on a computer isn’t the most inspiring way for me to write, but it is the quickest and the easiest, and it’s way easier to edit and share than its counterparts.

But that’s just me! Seriously guys, this was great fun running this experiment. You should consider doing it yourselves. Just spend a few hours working away using each method and see if any patterns emerge. You never know when you might stumble across your next big breakthrough on putting out your best work.

Until next week, happy writing!

(PS- Warning: in a couple more weeks, I’ll be skipping the country again and I’ve slated about a month of not putting up blog posts, depending on how quickly I recover, etc. But I promise I’ll bring you back some cool pictures and new sample settings. More details to come.)

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Writing Craft Listening List

podcastHello, fair denizens of the internet! Last week, I shared a reading list on some possible game-changing craft books (link to full post here!). This week, I thought I’d try something just a little different and cover a few media beyond the written word. If you like to hit a different learning style every now and then, try some of these other types of literary learning.

 

YouTube channels!

Lessons from the Screenplay So I stumbled across this one during my regular YouTube perusing, because Google is stalking us all and knows what we think and there is no hope once the AI uprising begins. But for now, we get these great targeted suggestions! Hurray!

Ellen Brock’s Novel Writing Advice So these videos aren’t visually stunning, but I like to just turn them on and let them run in the background while I wash dishes or what-have-you, kind of like a podcast. They all come in under ten minutes and have helpful tips and ideas that are specific and applicable. Definitely worth a watch.

Ted-Ed Ted-Ed is kind of awesome in all ways ever (and I’ve used it for researching everything under the sun) and they have some very good writing lectures about the psychology behind stories, the hero’s journey, worldbuilding, language craft, you name it. And they’re all so charmingly animated, too! I like to watch these with my kids- we get entertained and educated at the same time!

(Want more YouTube channels? Check out Kelly Gurnett’s 15 of the Best YouTube Channels for Writers!)

 

Podcasts!

Writing Excuses, by authors Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal and web cartoonist Howard Tayler Alpha reader and fellow Sanderson fan M. Elizabeth Tait started me on this podcast, back when I did not do podcasts. The fact that she got me to willingly try out some newfangled doohickey them kids is into really speaks for itself.

Jennifer Laughran’s Literaticast This one was pointed out to me by a librarian friend, and she’s right, it’s fun and informative without ever getting too dense. This one throws a wider net than Writing Excuses, including publishing info as well as craft.

 

Lectures!

The Great Courses After receiving a writing grant, I nabbed a few of these audio classes, but there are tons more out there. My fave so far is Writing Great Fiction, and I can’t wait to get started on Building Great Sentences, which I sincerely hope is just as nerdy and pedantic as it sounds. (But seriously, is it just me or do they use the word GREAT a bit much?)

Master Class Okay, so I haven’t done this one, but I reeeeeally want to do the new one with Judy Blume, it looks fantastic. Here’s a link to it. There are other writers on there as well, and I’m sure any of them would be just super. *stares longingly at screen*

 

And there are always classes through your local higher education institution. You pay a bit more, but you also get some swanky feedback and networking as part of the deal. Give it a think or two!

Anyway, I hope the last few weeks have been useful. I’ve really been on a craft kick lately (maybe my brain’s way of punching me in the butt after the especially bad first draft I limped out this last NaNo) and I feel like I’ve been getting a lot out of it. Maybe you will too! And as always, please share any other resources you love that I’ve missed in my list, and I will send you a dozen imaginary bonbons straight to your cerebral cortex. Promise!

Happy writing!

Writing Craft Reading List

Okay, I have to post my word count graph from NaNoWriMo because it makes me laugh. Can you guess which days I was out of town?

Stats

Anyway, I hope you’re all hitting your own writing goals and pushing forward with your literary dreams. I know sometimes my own hopes and aspirations can seem a little laughable, but we’ve gotta keep pushing forward, even through the rough patches.

One of the things that can show a person is serious about their business is a commitment to improvement, to continuing their education in their field. I love writing, and I love reading, and I love learning, so reading books about the craft of writing is kind of the no-brainer intersection of those loves.

I read a lot of craft books, and I’ve definitely found some to be more useful than others. Here are a list of some of the craft books that have either had the greatest impact on me, or that I think at least have potential to be of use to you.

Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks I do believe this was the first craft book I ever read, and it’s stuck with me ever since. (Seriously. It’s in my reference case at the desk I’m sitting at right now. It is hugging my shin as I type.) I don’t even remember a whole lot of specifics from the book, but it impacted me deeply and marked the start of my feeling like I might actually be published some day.

No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty Being a huge NaNo fan, I didn’t love this one as much as I wanted to, but I think a big part of that was that not having a plot really is a problem for me, haha. I have a hard time just pounding out words without some idea of what I’m getting at. But this book was useful to me for encouraging better writing habits- most importantly, consistency and working on a deadline.

The Pen Commandments by Steven Frank Okay, so this is really a grammar book, not a craft book, but it’s one of the more engaging and fun grammar books out there, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read more grammar books than the average human. If you feel like your language could use a little cleaning up (or you’re just an incorrigible nerd), this book could be worth a read.

On Writing by Stephen King Part memoir, part craft book, this is a bit of a straddler as far as genres go, but I really enjoyed it anyway. (Read the full review here!) It had been on my to-read list forever (but really, what isn’t?), but I was so glad when a friend finally just bought it for me just to make me shut up about this one corner of my litany of literary eventualities. I won’t say that this book gave me much new information regarding craft, but I did enjoy a sense of affinity while reading it, and I like the no-nonsense tone.

Writer Mama by Christina Katz Full disclosure: I didn’t finish this one, and I think there are two main reasons for this. First, I found a lot of the suggestions to be impractical for my situation. (I basically stopped paying attention after reading the “hire a nanny or a daycare so that you can write” part.) And second, most of the advice targets a career path in nonfiction article writing, while I hope for a career as a traditionally published fiction author. I probably could have pressed on with one or the other problem, but not both. Seriously, I’m making this book sound worse than it is. If you can afford/don’t mind using childcare and are looking at freelance article work, this is probably the book for you. With lots of practical exercises, bulletized tips, and query/submission tips, this book as a lot to give. Just… not to me.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott I think I read half of this book aloud to whatever poor schmuck happened to be standing within earshot of me. Like Stephen King’s On Writing, this is a bit memoirish, and a bit craftish, but it’s all muddled together without any distinctions between the two. And it is beautifully written. I think my favorite thing about this book was how frank and funny and hopeful it is. I may not have encountered much craft stuff that I didn’t already know, but I felt a lot of encouragement and comradery throughout.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss Haha, that title. That cover. And with the rallying cry of “Sticklers unite!” how could I resist? Again, this is more a grammar (specifically punctuation) book than a craft book, but I’m putting it here anyway. I was laughing out loud by the preface. Truly, if you have any interest in punctuation, you should read this, and then priggishly correct all your friends. It’s lighthearted and accessible, a rant and a romp that I couldn’t stop snickering over.

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder This is one of those books that I heard recommended for years before actually procuring a copy. And really, it’s more for screenwriting than for novel writing, but a lot of the principles are the same. This book is very practical and provides a strict formula to follow, laying out how to craft a tightly structured screenplay blow by blow. This book may not be as inspiring and artful as the other craft books on this list, but it is easy to read and easy to follow without any of the wait-for-the-muse mumbo jumbo that I so love and hate.

The next craft book I’m going to read is Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, followed by Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Like so many of the other books on this list, these both came to me highly and repeatedly recommended.

How about you fine readers? Any books I’m missing out on? Please let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Reblog: A Guide to Spotting and Growing Past Stereotypes

Hi! Welcome to another month of NaNoWriMo, and that means lovely reblogs by people who are smarter than me- yay! This week’s reblog was written by Ellen Oh of We Need Diverse Books and posted to the NaNoWriMo blog. Enjoy!

Nano

One of the most common mistakes I see when people try to write diversely is that they fall into the practice of writing a positive stereotype. After all, if it’s positive, it can’t be a stereotype, right?

Wrong.

A stereotype is a positive or negative set of beliefs about the characteristics of a group of people. Just because it is positive, doesn’t make it any less problematic.

Why?

Because a stereotype is a generalization, and a generalization can never come fully to life in your story, no matter how beautiful your words might be. Readers want to care for your characters. Talk to any fan of a well-loved book, and they can often rattle off the detailed physical characteristics, and tragic backstory of their favorite character.

As an author, this is what you want.

Ready to read more? Check out the full post here!

And if you’re looking for more info on writing diversity, check out the writers’ resources page of We Need Diverse Books, or the DiversifYA website. Happy writing!

Getting Publication Ready with Jane Friedman

Jane-Friedman-1First off, this woman looks eerily like my sister-in-law. I had to get that off my chest. It’s like future Annie has come back to the past to tell me about books.

Second, Jane Friedman is a publishing beast. Co-founder of the Hot Sheet, former editor of Writer’s Digest, Ms. Friedman has a bio that makes me want to curl up under a blankie and weep at all the majesty. She managed to pack one metric tonne of information into the three hour class. There’s no way I’m going to be able to fit it all into a single blog post, so I’m only going to talk this week about just getting your book ready for publication. I will come back to address the other topics- the five categories of publishing and how to go about them- in more detail in later posts, so fear not. Start looking for those toward the beginning of next year, maaaybe a little sooner if I get an unexpected hole in my schedule.

But if that’s too long a wait, I came across this class, How to Publish Your Book, with Jane Friedman, while perusing a catalog for The Great Courses. It looks like it might cover some of the same information, and is massively on sale until 26 October. You know, if you’re the impatient type.

However! being the impatient type is not the best way to be when hoping to publish a book. Slow down, cowboy! Let’s talk about the steps you must go through to successfully get your book ready for publication, whether that’s traditional, indie, or somewhere in between.

The first step is to make sure that your book is its best possible self. This includes drafting, self-editing, beta editing, rewriting, maybe even professional editing, the works. This is a very long process, and it can be hard to tell when you’re really done here. The yardstick I’ve been using is that I am a) stupidly proud of the work, and b) feel like my eyeballs are going to fall out of my head every time I open the file again. It’s a strange balance. But after your manuscript is the absolute prettiest it can be, then you can turn your mind to preparing for publication, and that means market research.

The earliest parts of research can be done from within the comfortable confines of your very own story- you have to know what you’re selling. Know whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction, know what your intended age group is, and know your category.  For fiction, have you written mainstream, literary, or genre? For nonfiction, is the MS narrative, prescriptive, or inspirational? Each of these groupings will point toward a different target audience and, if you’re traditionally publishing, a different submission target.

Be aware of the different age categories and try not to straddle them. (I am so bad about straddling age categories, ugggggh.) Also, never claim that your project is “hard to categorize”. Nobody likes that and it doesn’t give potential readers any information. Instead, say that it’s “multi-genre” or has “crossover appeal” and mention just two specific categories.

Once you have your book all neatly categorized, do some market research. Your goal here is to understand the commercial viability of a project, which is important whether you plan to enlist the help of traditional publishers or to go it alone. But just for general reference, I’m going to list some of the positive and negative signs a publisher will look for when deciding whether a book is marketable or not.

Positive Signs (do this stuff) Negative Signs (avoid this stuff)
  • Uses standard lengths (wordcount)
  • Written in a commercial genre
  • Author has a solid platform (for nonfiction)
  • Wordcounts that are way outside of norms (<50k, >120k, etc)
  • Tough sell categories (cookbooks, picture books, travel books, short story complication, etc)
  • Memoirs without a high concept or publicity angle

If you find that your book has some of those negative signs, maybe give it a closer squint before moving past this point. (Huge books by unknown authors are a hard sell, no matter which publication route you choose. Most cookbooks are sold by celebrity chefs. Keep these things in mind when figuring out your own market viability.)

For traditional publishing, this is where you start getting your submission packet ready, which probably includes something like a query, sample pages, and a synopsis; know ahead of time whether you want to query agents or publishing houses directly, because you’re not supposed to do both at the same time, and follow submission guidelines exactly. Novels and memoirs must be finished, edited, and polished before beginning the submission process. For nonfiction, write the book proposal first, including a business plan; since publishers don’t have the finished materials, you have to convince them that this book will sell.

If you’re going the indie route, you don’t need a proposal or query, but you still need a lot of the bits and pieces that would go into them, including a business plan, sales copy, and a finely polished project. In addition, you’ll also need to work out your book design, including formatting, cover design, blurbs, etc. If you’re not a professional [editor/book designer/artist/etc], pay for one like any other book publisher would.

When putting together back cover blurbs/pitches, business plans, and author bios, feel free to pick the brains of your friends, family, and neighbors on the bus to work. This stuff is hard to write, but having extra eyes on it can help you pick out the pieces that aren’t clear, or that sound strange, or whatever the problem may be. Just as you wouldn’t try to publish a work that hadn’t been beta read and closely edited, don’t try to do that with this stuff either. These things make up the sales pitch of your book, whether you’re addressing it to agents, editors, or readers. Give it the same care that you have given the rest of your book.

After you have all these scores of little duckies in a row, it’s time to get your rhinoceros-thick skin on. You’re ready to step into the publishing ring! Good luck!