Hi, friends! Still chugging away on my NaNo story. It is terrible! But it is progressing about as expected. Next week, I’ll give you some ugly art to round out this month and then we’ll get back to normal. In the meantime, enjoy this lovely video from Jerry B. Jenkins- How to Write a Book: 13 Steps From a Bestselling Author. Happy writing!
Guest post! Our guest this week is Annah Searle, who is releasing a book on finishing goals this November! *toots trumpets* She is also very kind and wrote up a guest post for me because she’s better at this stuff than me so you should probably grab a copy of her book. Thanks, Annah!
With most people prepping their houses with pumpkin scented candles and red and orange leaves, any writer knows what November is really about. It’s a month of discovery, struggle, imagination, and lots of tears. November is Nanowrimo month.
If you haven’t heard of it, Nanowrimo (Nano) is an annual writing project where each member’s goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My first year of Nano, I was a young high schooler who had big hopes and little idea of what was ahead. I poured through the online Nano forums, reading to learn everything there was about writing. My character sheets were long, and I had the perfect plot arch.
November 1st, I hit the ground running. I wrote in class, at home, and anywhere I could. My characters were quirky and fun. The plot was moving along. As the days continued, my word counts progressively shrank. Soon, they halted altogether. What was this mess of a novel I had started? Nothing could be less coherent than these pages. All I saw were plot holes and drab characters.
Anyone who has participated in Nano knows a thing or two about motivation. Without fail, every year we hit the ground running only to sputter to a stop a few days or weeks in, exhausted. No longer are we motivated by exciting new prospects. Now, we trudge toward the finish line, begging for the pain to stop.
Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic here. But, honestly, motivation is a struggle in November. After years of projects, writing and otherwise, I’ve learned the motivation is a fickle thing. It only seems to be with me for a moment before it flits to another exciting venture, leaving me in the dust.
Because I know some of you are gearing up for the longest month of the year, in the next 600 words or so, I’ll give you three tips I use every day in writing and creation that work when I lack the motivation to write.
1. Don’t wait for your muse.
Growing up reading about writing, I find that writers over-fantasize about their muse. Yes, writing when you are in your zone is amazing, but it’s not as if a petite fairy sits on your shoulder whispering words of the soul. Writing is hard work. Inspiration can come, but it’s usually after you have already been working at it for some time.
Too many writers wait for this mythical muse before moving. Don’t wait for it! If you do, you’ll be waiting a long time. Inspiration most often strikes when you are already moving. So, take a step first. Write a sentence, then a paragraph. Keep writing until your trudging becomes a run. Only when you start running will you find inspiration waiting.
2. Break down your book.
When I struggle with motivation to write, typically it’s because I don’t know where I’m going with the plot or characters. My next step is a mystery, so I avoid writing altogether and find something else to do like the dishes or *whispers dramatically* YouTube. Nothing gets done.
Even as I write this article, I’m looking back at the outline I’ve created. Even writing a post this short, I use an outline, so I can write more efficiently. I’m not worrying about where I’m going with this article because I already know the plan. If I’m really struggling, I’ll break it down even further like this:
1. Catchy opening (maybe about Thanksgiving? Or a statistic?)
2. Transitional sentence
3. Personal story (Writing my book? My experience with Nano?)
When I break it down this small, I know exactly where I’m going. This same method works for fictional writing as well. If you hit a block, try breaking your scenes into smaller chunks. What should happen next? What characters are involved?
I personally love free-writing from character and plot development, but if I’m stuck, I outline the next scene or two in detail. Sometimes, writing just an outline of the next page is enough to get you back into the zone. Depending on how stuck I am, more or less detail will go into the outline. I might even go so far as to write their movements like this:
1. Stan walks (struts maybe?) to the table and sits down.
2. He observes the room around him.
3. Jessica enters the room.
Your characters may move like robots, but hey, you wrote something. Nano was never about making your writing sound beautiful. It’s about finishing. While you may cringe away from this outlining technique, using it will allow you to finish. Who cares if it’s a little ugly? Editing is for next month.
3. Defeat perfectionism.
Perfectionism is one of the top things that stops any goal in its tracks. Many a novel has been killed by perfectionism. With Nano’s deadline, though, expectations of perfection get quashed. The inner editor knows there’s no way to write 50,000 words and make it sound good.
In dispelling the inner editor, college worked in a similar way for me. If I had a project due the next day and I hadn’t even started on it, I would have to work as fast as possible. I had to settle for imperfect results to reach the deadline. Mistakes would be made, and while it wasn’t perfect, I got it done because of the pressure of a deadline. And, while these projects could definitely have been better, I’m still proud to have completed them.
Nano’s deadline is December 1. But, that’s a whole 30 days away. It’s easy to procrastinate when the end seems far away. To defeat procrastination and perfectionism, I suggest setting mini deadlines for yourself. Plan a task and deadline for each week. It’s easier to ignore perfectionism when you have such a big task ahead. Rather than making each word perfect, you just write to get words on the page.
Realize your book doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. It can be messy. A lot of beauty is found in messes if you know how to look.
I know perfectionism is not easy to defeat. If you work each day toward dispelling its influence, though, you’ll be well on your way to completing your novel.
You’ve got some exciting work ahead of you. By writing without waiting for your muse, breaking down your book into next steps, and defeating perfectionism, you’ll be well on your way to finishing. There will be tears, triumph, and the occasional sleepless night, but stay in it. If you put in the work, you’ll emerge December 1 with a messy and beautiful novel to call your own.
Annah Searle is a writer, dreamer, wife, and lover of life. She is the author of The Art of Finishing and The Art of Finishing Planner as well as the creator of the blog, The Art of Pure Living. She is also a notebook hoarder, bookworm, Netflix binger, and aspiring artist.
I’m sure none of you have this problem, but I can get a little wordy sometimes. Little short stories balloon out into novelettes. I get started on standalone novels and, next thing I know, I’ve got a five book series planned out. If brevity is the soul of wit, I’m incurably dull.
But really, I have lots of things that I’m bad at. If it really bothers me, I can often train myself out of it. So I figured, why not practice writing shorter stories with flash fiction? Hahaha, yeah. I thought that.
My first several attempt simply ended up being… not so flashy. But after a few more tries, I started to get better at it. First I kept myself under one thousand words. Then 750. I bottomed out at under 500, despite trying really hard to produce a story at under 250. (The closest I got was 460, soooo… not close at all, haha.)
Skip the Exposition When writing flash fiction, you don’t have the space to build slowly up to your exciting climax. Instead, jump to just before the pudding hits the fan. (Obviously, this won’t work for the kinds of stories that need that buildup, but those aren’t the kind of stories that make good flash.)
Leave Stuff Out Not every element of the story needs to be explained. Backstory, hair color, what route the character used to get to this room- leave all of that out. Readers should be able to get enough from context to build their own world in their minds.
Every Word Counts Okay, maybe not every word. But in such extreme limitations, flash fiction writers have to be pretty choosey about their words. Drafting and editing flash means packing the maximum meaning into the least words. If you can read a sentence and drop a few words without losing any of the sentence’s impact and meaning, drop the few words.
Narrow the Scope If you try to tell too ‘big’ a story, you simply won’t have the room to do it justice. Not all stories can be compressed into flash fiction. When spit balling ideas, choose a very small story and resist the urge to deepen, widen, complicate, etc that one small story.
And do all this while still telling a full story, with a character making choices, and an arc that surprises, and all that jazz. And do it in under X number of words. Whew! Flash fiction is hard. But look, I’m getting better- this post is less than five hundred words, hahaha. All I needed was a little practice.
Happy writing, guys! See you next week!
So I mentioned last week in Breaking Up with Candy Crush that part of my computerly goofing off occurred on YouTube. I am not, however, breaking up with YouTube. Candy Crush is great for distracting me from doldrums (and my children from squabbles), but really not much more than that. YouTube is actually great for a lot of things.
Beyond sheer entertainment, YouTube is a good resources for many of your writing needs. Here are the ways that I fold YouTube into my writing life. If you have more ideas, I’d love to hear them below!
Research You can look up tons of stuff on YouTube! Want to know about the most poisonous tree in earth? YouTube can tell you about that. Want to know how to replace the engine in your car? YouTube can tell you about that. Want to know about what brains do on adrenaline? YouTube can tell you about that. There are so many videos out there that could fall under this umbrella, depending on what your project is about, but a couple of my favorites generalists are SciShow and TED, or any of their affiliate channels.
Writing Tips Whole channels are devoted to breaking down what makes an excellent story, first chapter, character, etc. You can find writing tips on everything from initial inspiration on down to the specific nitty gritty of word choice, crafting believable side characters, and examples of well done settings. One of my favorite shows for writing tips right now is the On Writing series by Hello Future Me.
Editing Tips Not sure how to clean up that messy draft you’ve plopped out on your keyboard? Never fear! YouTube has videos for that! Whether it’s troubleshooting what’s wrong with your character arc, making sure your opening scene doesn’t fall prey to overused tropes, or plucking out all those troublesome adverbs, YouTube has you covered.
Submission Tips Submitting stuff, and all the snarl of yarn that entails, is hands down the scariest part of writing for me. I’ll gobble up any submission tips I can find. I needs ‘em! One of my favorites right now is the Book Doctors’ channel. Their book was great. So is their channel. (They also cover editing and marketing too. Like many of these channels, they cover a lot of stuff.)
Marketing and Promotion I don’t really do this one, but maybe you’re better at promoting yourself and your work than I am. Lots of literary professionals build up a following on YouTube sharing tips, trends, or even just slice of life segments. Authors post thoughts on the writing journey, book trailers, you name it. All of this builds up hype for their work, which hopefully equates more sales!
Inspiration Yes, you can be ‘working’ while browsing interesting videos! I don’t know how many times I’ve been goofing around YouTube and then an idea suddenly pops in my head for a new element in a story I’m working on, or even a new story altogether. That’s the fun thing about inspiration- you never know what will lead you to it!
If you don’t even know what you’re looking for, but find yourself trawling YouTube for stray thoughts, you can’t go wrong working your way through The Write Life’s click-bait-titled list, 15 of the Best YouTube Channels for Writers. Go give it a glance! (I’m gonna go check out Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lecture series first minute I find.)
All that said, do be cautious. Like all of the internet, YouTube is vast and interesting, and getting sucked down that rabbit hole is a lot easier than we like to admit to ourselves. It helps to have a system in place to keep YouTube from cutting in too much on your writing time. Some people use a timer. Some people only let themselves watch a certain number of videos per day. Personally, I only watch YouTube when my kids are up and about, which is time in which I wouldn’t be able to effectively do any writing anyway. Find what works for you and stick to your guns!
What else do you use YouTube for? Do you have any great resources you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below! Please and thank you!
(On an unrelated note, happy birthday, Mama! Thanks for keeping me alive and sane-ish all those years!)
So. You may have noticed that the promised maps never showed up last week. I’m sorry. It’s been a bit harder to find my feet again than I thought it would. Things should be reaching their final conclusion very soon and I should be a little steadier somewhat after that. In the meantime, I’ll try very hard to get those maps to you before the month is out. Thank you for your patience! Until then, here’s a reblog by Leanne Sowul at the ever fantastic DIY MFA to tide you over!
How To Keep Writing When Times Are Tough
by Leanne Sowul
Life has ups and downs, and often our writing path follows them. When I was pregnant with my son, I had a horrible first trimester. I was sick, tired, and depressed for what felt like every minute of the day. My writing suffered. I stopped working on my novel; I didn’t blog for two months. Similar things happened after my grandmother passed away, and when I found out that my best friend had cancer. When my real life suffered, my writing life did too. I told myself that it was only natural to have trouble writing when times were tough, but it still caused me grief on top of what I was already feeling.
The good news? After a few of these tough periods, I learned some tricks that helped me keep writing through them. I hope none of you are going through a difficult time in your life right now, but if you are, or might in the future, here are a few things you can turn to:
Ready to read the full article? Click this link to check it out at DIY MFA! Enjoy!
Hello, internet friends! It’s another NaNo month, and yet again I’m woefully unprepared for it. Not only do I have very little idea of what I’m writing this month, but I’m pretty out of practice in creative writing at all. I didn’t write a single creative word the entire time I was in Portugal, and I’ve written very few in the weeks since.
So getting into better writing habits is heavy on my mind going into this month. This week’s reblog addresses just that. Katherine Firth’s Getting Back Into Writing After a Break may be written more toward the thesis writing crowd, but I found it to still be applicable. If you’ve been on a bit of a writing holiday lately but are ready to come back, maybe you will to!
Getting back into writing after a break
by Katherine Firth
Often candidates and researchers come to talk to me when they are trying to get back into academic writing after a long break. That break can be a couple of months of holiday or extended sick leave, or it can be a year of maternity leave, or years in professional or industry roles.
They used to have decent writing habits, but when they tried to start up again, they found it wasn’t working. Writing was hard. They might not get a lot of words down. The words they did produce weren’t very useful. It was slow and painful. They started to wonder if they would ever write well again, if they were still ‘up to it’.
In a previous post I said I wanted to find some tips for people who wrote infrequently. There’s lots of recommendations for regular writers in Your Writing Starter, but if you haven’t been writing for a while, I didn’t have great advice for you. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and now I think I do have some useful things to say!
This post came to me when I got my sourdough starter out of the fridge after a month of ignoring it. It was disgusting. It was grey and wet and smelled of paint thinner. The top was covered in a white yeast and had set like concrete. There was no way I could give it some flour and bake a loaf that would succeed. If I did try putting it in a loaf of bread it would be flat. So… my writing starter was in pretty poor shape.
Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I knew some things I could do…
To read the full article, follow this link!
So, for the last couple stories I’ve written, I’ve really struggled with endings. One of them, the best I could squeeze out of myself so far, was just thrown together into a cobbled flop across the finish line; the others didn’t even get that far, ending when I simply couldn’t force myself to keep working on such profoundly flawed projects. It’s been really frustrating because I don’t like quitting on things, especially not things that I’ve devoted so much time and heart to.
Cue DIY MFA. This is a really cool blog that I’ve come to quite a few times with specific questions, or even just to browse. And sure enough, they had a nice article go up about this very problem of mine just a few weeks ago. How timely is that??
Without further ado (since I have so much catching up to do with my NaNo project, ugggggh), enjoy Elizabeth Kauffman’s How Do You End a Story? Hopefully you’ll find it as helpful (or at least encouraging) as I did! Happy writing!
I’m nearing the end of a novel–or, I’ve been nearing the end of a novel for some time–and each time I hit the 90k mark, I have an uncontrollable urge to throw the whole thing out and start over. (Uncontrollable as in, I already have. Several times.)
Basically, I look back through the draft under the guise of trying to make the ending gel. Over the course of rereading the first few chapters, I convince myself the problem isn’t the climax, but that the whole book is so deeply flawed a full rewrite is probably the best thing I can do. On some level, I’ve recognized this as a form of creative resistance, and understand routinely scrapping my projects isn’t part of a productive writing process. But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that there are some serious structural issues with my draft.
So, in every sense of the question, how do you end a book?
Need Some Resolution
Ready to read the reply? Click through for sweet, sweet knowledge! Link!