A Writing Journey

Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

The Genius Hat

We’ve all heard it: you can’t fix something you haven’t written. And yet it is still so hard to sit down and write that first draft (or rewrite the 8th one, when you realize there are so many things to improve…). There are lots of reasons for this, which belong in another post. Because today I’m going to share some tips I’ve gleaned from other writers, Writer’s Digest, and many other places. A lot of these tips are no longer attributed to a single person, and I can’t remember where I found them.

1.Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. This one can actually be really hard for me, unless I’m writing a blog post! BUT, I think in combination with other tips, this idea of “just write” can be really helpful.

2.Write for scenes, not word count. This one I really like because word count is my enemy. But writing to end a scene is something that compels me to continue writing – I want to get out what happens in the next scene too! I find I get more writing done with this idea than with meeting a word goal.

3.Set time limits. This one is helpful when I am struggling to write, but not as much when the flow is great. Setting yourself 20 minutes or a half hour is great to get yourself writing again, and if you fall into the groove and keep going that’s awesome! I will say, I don’t set myself for anything over a half-hour, because then it gets to be a chore.

4.Change what you are writing. This morning I was having trouble with my WIP novel, so I came to write a blog post instead. And you know what? I am feeling ready to tackle the novel next!

5.Give yourself permission to write. Usually this ends with “write crap,” but that mentality really brings me down. So yes, even if my first drafts are poorly written, I don’t like to call them crap. And it is hard to give yourself that permission to write (especially if there are other things that need attention, like pets, the house, etc.), but you just have to do it. Stemming from this one is….

6.Wear your genius hat. Sounds silly, right? It means, though, don’t give in to your inner critic who is telling you that those words sound bad, your idea is stupid, or what have you. It means put on that hat, and write. Pretend that everything you write is pure genius. You can put your critic hat on later for editing. This is a hard one for me. I found that actually having a specific hat to wear (I’ve started calling it my genius hat too) is actually really helpful in facilitating this. While I wear my genius hat, I can write no wrong. 🙂

What are some tips you’ve come across? What do you do to combat the lack of writing?

Write on,

Emily

It’s for Something

Thank you, those who commented on my post yesterday about my writing wall. Your encouragement means the world to me.

This morning I pushed on ahead. I think a lot of my frustration at this moment is with my tinkering, it basically takes QFS back to the status (and quality) of a first draft. In addition, I’m trying to figure out how to make my characters better, and figure out how to properly structure/plot a novel. Which I’ve never really done. It’s hard and frustrating and tear-inducing.

But I will get there.

Anyway, thanks much and I’m keeping at it.

Write on,

Emily

Every Character is Their Own Hero

Writing fantasy (or any genre, but it seems especially true for fantasy) takes a lot of characters. Because I write fantasy, I’ll be talking about that and largely ignoring other genres. Sorry!

I saw a chart recently that listed the characters introduced in the first chapters of some popular books. They were all upwards of 20 characters. In fairness: that does not necessarily mean 20 named characters make an actual appearance. Some of them are mentioned by other characters, some of them are unnamed. When it comes to fantasy, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and remember. In chapter one of QFS I have 10 named characters, one unnamed character, and 3 groups of characters (“others,” “diggers,” and “healers”). I don’t think info dumping 20 characters is a necessarily good idea, but it depends on how long the chapter is. If I doubled my chapter length, 20 would, I think, be a good fit.

BUT. I’m not about to spend a whole post talking about how many characters appear when. I bring it up only to make a point about how many characters we writers must take into consideration.

In fantasy we usually have a core group surrounding our main character. Sometimes they are a single unit and any division is a big deal, as in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. In others, the MC has a group, but flits in and around them more (as in the Farseer Trilogy). And all around the MC and their core group are the Other Characters.

Those others may get a few speaking lines, a brief appearance to illustrate a point, move the plot forward, or to contribute to realism. Our MC only sees one aspect of these others – a one-dimensional snapshot that is, often, of little importance. What if we flip our point of view? What if that other character looks at our MC and sees an irritable, crabby, person, intent only on their goal with no interest in the lives of those around them?

Every character, named or not, recurrent or not, is their own hero. We hear this all this all the time. There is difficulty in accepting it our writing it out because we ourselves are limited to our own viewpoint. We can’t hop into another person’s shoes and know their lives (even though we can empathize, it is NOT the same as understanding who that person is on the inside of their mind). We are all different “I”s. When we don’t accept this “everyone’s a hero*” mentality, our supporting characters are flat. And flat is boring.

How, then, do we combat this? Back story. When we create our MC’s and secondary characters, we give them elaborate histories that elucidate their motives and actions.

Okay, step back a minute. I know I have a complex history that informs my behavior. In my life, I am the MC (we’re all the MCs of our own lives). Around me are my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my co-workers. The people I have direct contact with everyday. I know that they, too, have complex histories, even if I don’t know every aspect. There are also people I interact with at my work place that I see once or maybe a few times – but I know nothing about them. There are people on the street that I pass everyday but never speak to. All the people at the grocery store – I may recognize the cashier but I don’t know her name, even though it’s on a name tag. They all have stories too. They are all a MC. They, each and everyone, have a complex history that started before they were even born. (Yes, our ancestors’ stories directly inform our own.)

Let’s jump back in to novel-land. Every character that our MC encounters has a rich background, just like every person that we encounter does. Does that mean we have to right an in-depth back story for every single character we write? No. It does mean we should give it thought. It means that if we have a character that has more than a few lines, more than a scene, we should really think more about who they are. Because everyone really is a hero in their own eyes.

Write on,

Emily

*in their own way! Thanks, Captain Hammer

Transcribing

The major downfall of handwriting all my drafts: transcribing them. I hate typing, have almost since I learned to do it. It’s not that I’m a bad typist (though I don’t have the “correct” form – I am able to type without looking at the keyboard though, so I don’t care if my form is correct or not (honestly, did you think I would, I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not always a rule-girl!)). Mostly it is that typing for long periods of time makes either my hands or wrists hurt, and always this one spot in my shoulder muscle. Very unpleasant. Plus I just hate the posture it puts my body in. All around, typing is uncomfortable for me (probably part of what drives me to hand-write everything in the first place).

So it’s probably no surprise to you that I haven’t typed anymore of SOTD since my last update. It is still sitting in my desk drawer, patiently waiting while I pretend not to notice that nagging need to get it in a less-losable form. I have, however, continued to work on book three. I’m on the third chapter now, and feeling good. I’ll be excited to tell you more about books two and three one of these days. Though in all fairness I’m waiting largely because QFS is in submission, and I want to get that out to you before I start going into books two and three (spoilers, you know?).

Anyway, it’s going to be my goal this week to type some more, but we’ll see how that goes! If nothing else, at least I am writing!

(In other news, I’m about halfway through Marie Brennan’s book The Tropic of Serpents, the sequel to A Natural History of Dragons. I’m trying to take book two slower because it might be a little while before I can get my hands on book 3 of that series. And it’s a great one to read slowly – though I’ll be honest, today I devoured about a fourth of the thing.)

-Emily

Take a Breather

I’ve been having some pretty intense happenings in my life the past couple of weeks. And so I took a short writing break. I’m not one of those people who insists you must write a certain number of words or pages every single day. Heck, I don’t even think you need to write every day.

Scandalous, right?

But here is my reasoning:

If you force yourself to write when you a)are not feeling it, b)are stressed about other things, or c) are stuck with your project the writing WILL suffer and for most people, poor writing is a major emotional set back. I know when I have forced myself to write in the situations listed above and then come back to my writing* it distances me in a bad way and I stay away from writing for an even longer time.

I would like to point out:

When first beginning you have to sort of play around with your writing rhythm. I’m talking about when you write, not how you write. When I was a kid I was a “write all the timer” with no breaks and no time to breathe (or let my writing/creativity breathe. I got older and I was a “write when you’re inspired gal.” I know many people curse the “inspired” thing – but from my experience that is where the best writing comes from and (honestly!) nowadays whenever I write I am inspired, whether or not I was when I made the decision to sit down and write. Now I write when I feel ready (again, I know there are all those memes and quotes about not waiting until you are ready – they are great for beginners, and sometimes useful for others, but overall, a writer does have to be ready, they have to have thought about what they’re going to write and be ready to write it) and when that happens, I feel good about it and can write (sometimes) for hours.

So no, I don’t write every day. What I do is think about writing every day. Most of the time I think about my current project (Lacey and her adventures) but I also think about other ideas (most which I doubt will be developed into anything concrete).

Don’t take anyone’s word as absolute truth. I don’t care if it is your favorite author, one of those “great” authors, your English professor, or me. Find what works for you and do that. If it doesn’t fit what you are told is “right,” just remember that when it comes to creativity there is no right way to do things, so long as they get done!

-Emily

*I’ll admit it doesn’t always go this way. Sometimes I still write something worth using.

There are No Rules

Pinterest. A great site if you are looking to waste a little (or a lot of) time. Not as great if you are a writer. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a board of writing inspiration (mostly nature pictures and fantasy pictures) as well as a board just about writing. But there is a dark side to being a writer on Pinterest. The Rules.

I can no longer go on the site without seeing things like “5 things to never do when writing” and “Ways you should never begin your novel” and “5 Mistakes in writing that will make you look like an amateur.”

UGH. I’ve mentioned before my detestation for the so-called “rules” of writing. Yes, there are grammatical guidelines and general structures for a story, but no one should EVER tell you to write in a way that is not true to yourself. If you have a prologue, own it. If you want to start with an alarm going off to wake your character, make it a freaking massive alarm. Write  what YOU want to write, not what someone behind a screen is telling you to do. Especially if it is your first draft (more on that in a moment).

Most of these “rules” come from amateurs themselves or (worse) from established authors who have a system that works for them but doesn’t have to be everyone’s system!

Honestly, there are only two things to remember when writing. And they aren’t rules.

1) Keep your hand moving. This comes from Natalie Goldberg. Look how honest that is. Not “write 380 words a day,” not “you must sell your belongings and live in motels.” No. Just keep your hand moving. Use those ten minutes at the bus stop and write something. She doesn’t tell you how or what to write, just to write.

2) Let first drafts happen. They are going to be rough, imperfect, sometimes even bad. That’s fantastic. It means you have something to work with, something to improve on. Don’t paralyze yourself on the third page thinking “this is crap, I can’t use any of this.” Just go back to number one and use it until the draft is done.

Believe in yourself, folks. Don’t let the writing police scare you away. Write what you want to write.

-Emily

Tools of the Trade

Hammer, needle, business card, rake, easel, keyboard.

Like any profession or activity, a writer has certain tools that she or he cannot do without. The most important tool, of course, it the mind. We are constantly thinking, observing, creating, working through our story and completing it in our minds before we even get it out. And how do we get it out? With our other, more observable tools, of course!

Pens

I happen to love writing in pen. Pencil smudges to easily for me, and fades with time. I like “precision v5” pens to be precise. I don’t have to press hard, which means I can write for longer. The ink flows easily until it is gone, which means no wasting time scribbling in the margins to get the ink to come. It is like everything ceases to exist, and the story happens around me, through me – there are no distractions (unless of course, I am having an awful allergy attack as I was for the first couple hours of writing last night). I will use other types of pens, of course. If I’m taking notes or at work or writing things non-novel related. But when it comes to telling the story, writing a book – only one type of pen will do. Oh, and it can’t be black. I hate writing stories in black ink! Blues and greens are the best, though any color but red will do. Red is for editing, of course.

Paper

What is a pen without paper? No matter if you use pen, pencil, marker, or crayon, paper is a must. (Well, I suppose you could use a wall if you really needed to – or an arm or whatever else is handy.) I like spiral notebooks. When I was younger, I didn’t much mind what the cover looked like. Now I like solid colors or simple designs. No more Pirates of the Caribbean characters for me! I prefer notebooks that aren’t black so that my sharpie labeling shows up. I do use various sizes of notebook for different purposes. Regular size for the novel, smaller sizes for notes. Outlines (I can’t believe I do those now) are on loose-leaf paper and stored in a folder when not in use. Legal pads are another type of paper I use. And, in a pinch, I will use loose-leaf. I do prefer college-ruled, but will use wide-ruled. Really, I don’t discriminate. If it can be written on, I will write on it. I remember I wrote at least a chapter on fast-food napkins once.

Computer

Of course, we can’t submit hand-written manuscripts for publication. There are so many different options for typing our stories, articles, and poems that I know I will not be able to cover them all. I use Microsoft Word (though I hope to move on to Scrivener soon!), a flash drive, and Google Drive. Typing is, for me, the most arduous part of writing. I am not fond of technology, and am loathe to trust it with my mind-thoughts (haha, that’s a silly thing to say). I type a chapter, save it, and upload it to Google Drive. What computer processes do you use?

Readers

Of course we would not be complete without our dear readers, beta or otherwise. They are, after our minds, the best tool we have! Readers give us insights, help us make new connections in our writing, and inspire us when our imagination grows stale. And because no reader is the same, I cannot hope to express everything they do for us here. Let me just say: thank you readers! You are a writer’s greatest tool, and greatest gift. Without you, our stories would never gain the true life they do in the reader’s mind, despite how alive they are in ours.

What other tools of the trade are there?

Write on,

Emily

I know I said…

It just so happens that I am really terrible at following my own rules. For instance: I said I wasn’t going to start working on book 3 for a while. I said I was going to at LEAST finish transcribing SOTD onto the computer. Well I just couldn’t resist. I’ve got about a third/half of the outline for 3 done, as well as the first ten pages. To be honest, I was going to write just the first scene tonight but it turned into most of the first chapter. I would keep going but between writing and crochet my hand needs a break!

I’m fairly excited for book three – I’m excited that it’s finally coming to a close (even as I say that I laugh at myself. It will be at LEAST a year of writing the first draft, and many more months editing and reworking. Besides, I haven’t even gotten past the first draft of book 2!). So even as I laugh, I am excited. I’ve known how this story will end for about three years now. Yes, some things have tweaked and changed in that, but the ultimate ending will still be the same and I CAN’T WAIT!

Do you have endings that you just can’t wait to write?

You know, I think part of my excitement is that I have been working on this story, in it’s many forms, since 2010. I wrote the first short story that inspired it all back when I was finishing my freshman year of college. It seems like so long ago now, and a lot of the story and world has changed since then. But some things have not. The main cities bear the same names as first I gave them, there are still mountains that house ancient ruins, the character in that short story has played a minor role in the first two books and will blossom in book 3. (Seriously, I am excited that his story still plays a part in the over all tale.) There is a deep sense of contentment that comes with knowing that I’m almost there. And it’s contentment with energy. I am energized by being so close to the end.

I think, after I finish 3, I will take a break in another world for a while. It’s a little early to say that for sure, but I think I need to let it all rest, to go and explore another strange land – to be an adventurer again rather than a native.

Of course, thinking about the end of this trilogy has also got me a little bittersweet. Again, I know it is premature, but I really am almost there. I’ve been through so much with these characters, this world. I can’t imagine what life will be like when I pack them all up in boxes and move on. When their stories are finished, will I keep thinking about other parts of their lives? Will I want to write them again? I wonder how I will be able to leave them. They are like my friends, and I will miss them.

But not yet! Because I still have plenty of time with them. 🙂 So for now I will be content with that.

Write on, my friends.

-Emily

Meeting Goals and Feeling Good

Howdy and Happy Fourth to my USA readers!

And a very fond howdy to the rest of my readers as well, I hope EVERYONE is enjoying the day.

Well, that goal I set, of having the first draft of Scourge of the Daiyen done by Sunday (tomorrow)? Accomplished. I finished the draft yesterday. I will say, as I was typing up some of my pages, I realized there was a giant chunk missing from the middle, but I will work on that in the next draft because, for continuity’s sake, rewriting will have to be done.

My next step? To finish typing the blasted thing. After that I’ll print it out and start working on draft 2!

Even though I have a general synopsis of book 3 written out, I am going to hold off on working on that until I get book 2 better off. I probably won’t write an outline even until I’m ready to start.

Still haven’t heard from the publisher – not that I’m surprised. It hasn’t even been a month yet. 🙂

As for other creative projects, I’m grilling some crazy recipes today (well, not too crazy): watermelon with chili powder, cilantro, and lime juice; corn with honey-sriracha butter. I’m also crocheting another blanket (have I mentioned my blanket obsession?) and a hat for the winter (I’m getting started early!).

Wishing all of you well,

Emily

To Scrivener or Not to Scrivener

I have a system that works. I do. It’s called write everything on paper, in little notebooks, and keep it in shoe boxes (you know, the big ones that winter boots come in).

But there is a problem with this system. You know what it is? Organization. I’m a fairly organized person, so how did I get so out of control with my writing stuff? Is it that I insist on saving a hard copy of each iteration of QFS (each having the edits and rewrites attached)? Is it that keeping notebooks with half the pages ripped out and the rest scribbled on is a terrible idea? Is it that all my little notes and sketches don’t have a real home? Is it that I just don’t have enough folders to keep everything organized?

Yesterday I spent over an hour looking through all of my QFS notes and drafts trying to find my most accurate map for the world (I needed it for reference for part of book 2). Do you want to know where I finally found it? The first place I looked. Except, it wasn’t in the folder with the rest of the maps so I assumed it wasn’t in that box.

I’m hitting a wall with keeping my writing stuff organized*. Even my computer has folder after folder to try and keep it all together. I’ve been thinking about getting Scrivener, but have my reservations. After all, I can’t put it in my purse and take it with me (unless I can, I don’t know!). I also do almost all of my original writing by hand – I feel like if I got Scrivener, I’d feel pressured to use it and perhaps my writing would suffer? But I’ve heard excellent things about it!

So here is a question: would you recommend Scrivener to me, knowing everything I’ve told you in this post? Or would you recommend investing in a filing cabinet (or some other REAL way of organizing). Because something has got to change.

*I will say that I keep my current drafts in the top desk drawer, and I believe that is all I have in there. I don’t even keep  pens in there for fear they will explode and ruin my work.

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