A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘writing advice’

Tips for getting unstuck

I’ve stalled again. My notebooks full of my third book sit lifelessly on my desk or, in the vague hope that I will spill some ink on the page, in my purse as I flit to and fro through my life. I wrote the first, minor climax and resolved one of the plot lines that has been constant from the first book. It was necessary for the story, as the final climax has a different beast – though to be honest I’m playing with the idea of completely changing the order of the climaxes. But I’m in the middle, and the middle is always the hardest part.

Why is the middle so tough? For me, it’s because I’m goal-oriented. I see what the beginning is, I know what the ending is, but I don’t know how to get there. (It is an unfortunate flaw that I am the same way in my daily life. Talk about frustrating.) Figuring out the important parts of the journey is my next step, but even when I have them (laid out in outline form, no less) I struggle to connect the dots. Considering the number of posts and articles about why it is hard to write the middle – I know I’m not alone.

Rather than rehash why it is so hard, I want to give some tips that help me get through it.

1.Read.

2.Do something else, anything else, for 10-20 minutes, then come back to writing and power through the sticky spots.

3.Get some sleep. I get cranky and cry a lot if I get frustrated/stuck and need sleep. I’ve learned this, and know that if I feel like I am about to cry from frustration, I need to take a nap (or just go to bed for the night).

4.Ask for help. Often talking to my writer friends helps me feel motivated to get through the tough spots. Even more, they may have insight on why your story is stuck – something may not be working and you might not be noticing it.

5.Take a bath. Seriously, it can be like a mini sensory-deprivation tank and helps get the mind spinning.

6.Spend time NOT thinking. watch a movie. Play a video game. Sometimes your brain needs a rest.

7.Do what is right for you. If these tips don’t help, do something that you find relaxing.

8.Most of all, don’t give up. Sometimes it’s hard. We all have writing cycles – I’ve blogged about that here before. If you know what your writing cycle is – don’t try to force it to be something else and know that yes, you’re still a writer even if you aren’t currently writing. You need that recharge time so give it to yourself.

Good luck with your middle! (And I’ll do my best to follow my own advice, too!)

Take care,

Emily

Advanced Worldbuilding

Here we are, deep into worldbuilding. If you’re like me, you are ready to take it to the next level. I’m excited to work on these steps for my next novel (after I finish book 3 of Lacey’s story). Before I get to far ahead of myself though, here are the previous steps to worldbuilding that I’ve discussed in Beginning Worldbuilding and Intermediate Worldbuilding: make maps, think about religion, decide how your people look, language, and politics. If you haven’t read my previous posts, take a gander.

1.History

Every world, every person, has a history. If you haven’t thought about the history of your cities, nations, or world, now is the perfect time to do so. Even if you’ve already written most of your novel, you can look and decide how your people got to where they are. Think of it as learning about their history (much like children learn history in school) rather than creating it. Some questions to ask when discerning the history of your world: who is in power and how did they come to be in power? Who are the minority groups and why are they minorities (are they immigrants or displaced people, or do they have a unique heritage)? Who are the disadvantaged groups of people and why are they disadvantaged?

2.Marriage Customs

That people have partnerships and get married is something we assume in books, for the most part. We read about mothers and fathers, husband and wives. But how did they get to be husbands and wives? Are there complex courting rituals? Do people have elaborate wedding ceremonies? For inspiration here, I suggest looking around at cultures in our world. Not things like “what do they do in Spain,” rather “what do they do in the depths of the Amazon or in the heart of the Sahara.” The more far-flung you get, the more interesting results you will find.

3. Water and food

Farmers are stock characters in fantasy and markets are stock settings. A step further: wagons are stock transportation (unless you are on horseback). We readers can assume that food is grown by farmers and bought by all manner of people – but if you want to get into the nitty gritty details, you should think about how it’s done. Does the government buy crops and resell them? Do people all have their own gardens/herds/flocks for basic needs and sell the excess to others? Do they have a bartering system or, perhaps, it is a communist-esque system where they all share everything equally out of the goodness of their hearts (hello, plot conflict)? And that’s just for food. What about water? Are there wells throughout the city? What happens if the well goes dry? Are there rivers your people can drink from or are the waters dirty? Who is in charge of fetching the water from its source? Who guards it from enemies? All of these things can be significant to the plot, if you let them be. Or they can add realism.

4.Hygiene

Do your people bathe regularly? Where and how? Bathhouses are going to make for different social norms than private baths in homes. (Think open vs. closed, respectful of privacy vs. potentially lecherous.) It also matters because if people bathe regularly, the water system is much more important. Perhaps they build aquaducts in order to supply bathhouses, or perhaps they leave it up to individuals to fetch their own water and therefore they either don’t bathe regularly or have private baths. Do the rich bathe more than the poor? Does this mean water is a commodity?

5.Superstitions

Don’t let a black cat cross your path. Break a mirror and have 7 years bad luck. Don’t walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside. Silly superstitions. And yet we recite them whenever someone does one of those “unspeakable things.” Give your characters some superstitions – things that apply to either them or their society as a whole. Make them convinced all their bad luck is because of X, and either make it so or show their foolishness. Have fun with this one, but if you include it in the actual story, make sure it’s plot relevant.

He’s a black cat, but I don’t think anyone would complain about him crossing their path!

The following are even more things to think about (we can call it expert worldbuilding). Now, I’ll be the first to say I have not effectively gone this far into worldbuilding yet. It’s part of my learning process and part of my next novel, in which I will be writing about a characters in a nation that is recovering from war. Thus, the following worldbuilding considerations will be important.
1.Waste

2.Fires

3.Natural Disasters

4.Wars

5.How are things built? And how are large objects (trees, stone, etc) moved?

Take flight, enjoy, and share any other pieces of worldbuilding you find particularly helpful!

Take care,

Emily

Intermediate Worldbuilding

Okay, so last week we had a post for beginning worldbuilding that outlined a few of the most important steps for worldbuilding. Those steps were: make maps, think about religion, and decide how people look. This time we are going to go a couple of steps further. For those of you who want to continue past the first three steps (or those of you who are wondering how to proceed or just want some extra ideas), here are two more steps to take your world to the next level.

1. Language.

This doesn’t mean you have to go all Tolkien on us and go study linguistics to make your own fully-fledged language (though if that’s your thing DO IT!). Rather, look at the names of characters and places that you’ve come up with. Say them out loud. What do they sound like? If you’ve got one nation your focusing on, chances are most names are going to have a really similar cadence or feel to them. I’m not saying that everything has to sound the same (because really, we don’t want that), but look at the rhythm and flow of your names. For instance: in Quest for Salvation I have the following city names: Ruslaht, Ohmlaur, and Talahm. Say those out loud. There’s a similarity, and they are all very clearly from one nation. But Frewantin (another city) is obviously from a different part of the world, by the sound of the name alone.

So what about character names? You can keep it simple, like with city names, and have names that just sound like they go together. Or you can take it a step further and create a system for names. For instance, in my novel there is a system for imperial family names; male names start with consonants, female names with vowels, and all imperial names end with the “ay” sound. In addition, names throughout the nation have certain sounds that are more prominent than others (such as “ie” “o” and “n”). You can get as creative as you want with things like this, and it will be sure to give your story that extra layer. Just be sure to write your rules down, and follow them consistently!

One last note: not all countries have to have similar language sounds. In fact, the further apart they are the more different they should be. You  could always have slight differences between neighbors that become huge differences between the nations on either end of the line. Example: if you have a common tongue that people from most or all nations can speak, they will still have names (cities and people and sometimes even special items) in their own language. So someone named Sandrilion can still interact with someone named Crystal, but be from different places.

2. Politics.

It’s important to know what your political system is in your story world, even if you never mention it directly. That’s because whatever is happening at the top has a huge effect on what happens at the bottom. For instance, if there is a political coup and the king is overthrown by his great-niece the duchess of Winderburn, there’s going to be some backlash. People who supported the king are going to have to fall in line fast, or be smart about taking the new queen down. And maybe some pro-king folks will take it on themselves to raid villages in Winderburn, which causes hardship for the farmers there, who suddenly can’t get crops to the trade depot that your character runs, and she has debts from sending her son to a prestigious academy in the capital that has actually been shut down by the new queen, so not only does she have to pay that back to the folks who loaned her the money and her son is back with her so she has to feed him again, but now her trade depot can’t make a profit because the farms are being raided.

Get the idea? Even little political changes can have a big impact on your characters. It’s a trope in mediocre fantasy that “the poor people don’t care what’s going on with the rich,” (and vice versa) but to make your story ring true, the poor should always care, because everything always effects them – you just have to pay a little more attention.

I hope these two worldbuilding tips help take your world and story to the next level. If you have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below!

Take care,

Emily

 

Beginning Worldbuilding in 3 Steps

A friend of mine recently said “I hate worldbuilding, that’s why I only write fanfiction these days.” I’ve heard the sentiment before, and it shocks me every time. Worldbuilding is my favorite part of writing. I love diving into something that isn’t even real yet and figuring it out, deciding how the people live, how things are done. There is a lot that goes into worldbuilding, and all at various stages of how much you want to accomplish, or how much you need for the story (trust me, it’s always more than you think, but if you have the basics, the rest will come while you write).

So what does one need, to start worldbuilding? I have A NUMBER OF TIPS for you in this post. I will say, before we get too far, that not every story needs tons of worldbuilding. If you are writing a fiction or fantasy that takes place in this world, you may have a specific place in mind so you don’t have to build one. But you may have to take more time developing the magic system or history of were-creatures. As with all writing tips, use them or don’t at your own discretion.

Tip #1: Make maps.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know about my obsession with maps. I draw maps for all of my stories (heck – I draw maps for my ideas and the ideas that haven’t even become ideas yet). This is one of the most important parts of worldbuilding, so you can get oriented and know what’s where. Think about it: have you ever read a book and come across a passage that jars you directionally? For instance, if I’m reading a book and it says they are going east, but then says the rising sun is behind them? Or even not having a discrepancy like that, and just assuming the layout of the world is one way, but in the author’s mind it is the complete opposite? Maps help with this. Maps will help you, the writer, avoid mistakes like the one illustrated above, and they will help readers have a clear vision of your world.

So make maps. Not just of countries and continents, but cities and buildings and important places in your story. You don’t have to include everything in the end, but if you know it, you’ll be able to write more clearly about it.

Tip #2: Think about religion.

Okay, I know a lot of people aren’t religious. I’m not very religious. But we can’t deny that religion plays a huge roll in our world. If you are creating a world from scratch, there are going to be creation myths, legends, and maybe even texts that someone decides is the key for how to live life. Some of these are going to evolve into religions. Because people want something to believe in, whether they are characters in a book, or real people. If you don’t want to have any religions in your book, there should be a good reason for their absence. Not one that you necessarily have to share, but it will inform your writing if it is there. And if there are religions, but you don’t want to make it a focus, maybe your main character is not religious. Or maybe it becomes a source of conflict between the hero and their travelling companion. One suggestion: don’t be preachy. It’s okay for one character to preach at another, but don’t preach to your reader. They won’t thank you for it.

Tip #3: Decide how the people look.

I’m not just talking physical features, though that’s important too. I’m talking about how they dress, how they move. The climate will play a part in this – people in colder regions are typically shorter and stouter while people in warmer areas are thinner and taller. (This is about heat conservation in northern regions, or keeping cool in warmer regions. It’s biological. If you have someone move from a warm region to a cool region, their kids are still going be taller, typically.) Not only height and girth, but in cold places people are more bundled, making for less graceful movements. Clothes are very important to worldbuilding – and not for description purposes (let’s face it, it sucks to spend paragraphs upon paragraphs trying to memorize details of someone’s attire). But if you think about why they wear certain things, you’ve hit a gold mine. If most people in a country wear leather armor, you can assume they are warlike. If they wear fine silks and flowing robes, maybe it is because they are excellent traders and have become very wealthy. Of course, in every culture and country there is wide variation depending on class, occupation, and even religious beliefs.

Okay. So these three steps are going to get you started. Of course there is so much more to think about, but if, like my friend, worldbuilding is not your forte, or is simply new to you, these steps will get you started in the write direction. (I know, written puns never do so well.)

What is your favorite worldbuilding tip?

Take care,

Emily

NaNo Prep: Rumination

Ah yes, chewing and re-chewing so that the grass is easily digestible.

Wait, no. The other kind of rumination. Deep thinking for long periods of time. Now that we’ve got that settled…

Rumination is second on the list because, let’s face it, there is a lot to think about. And it can be done while doing some of the other tasks coming up.

Okay, so what exactly is there to think about. You’re going to write a novel, and maybe hope that it will be good? And you think you can just jump into it? (Okay, plenty of people can – they’re called pansters – but I’d wager most of them still do some thinking ahead.) So the thinking. The following is a list of possible things to consider, think about, ruminate on:

plot, characters, setting, theme, plot twists, beginnings, endings, events along the way (yeah I know that’s sort of summed up in plot, but you can know the plot and not know specific events), flaws, strengths, names, plants, cultures.

If you are planning to write a fantasy novel, some of this stuff is more important than say, for writing a high school drama (though I argue you would still need to know the high school culture like the back of your hand). This is not a complete list, obviously, but it’s a jumping point. And, if you are writing fantasy or scifi (or even if you aren’t) you will want to do all of your research ahead of time. Seriously, come November you will want to spend every minute you can on writing, not waste it with research.

So right now, while you’re ruminating, you don’t need to choose anything. You can, or you can write down a few of your favorite thoughts, but just think. The longer you think before writing anything down, the happier you will be with the outcome. (Okay, that’s a theory. I’m still working on testing it.)

Next time: Clean

NaNo Prep: Where do I Start?

October is here, and looming ever nearer is November. We all know what that means: NaNoWriMo. An entire novel in one month. Maybe the thought is overwhelming, pushing you down into doubt and despair. Maybe it lifts you up and fills you with excitement and enthusiasm. Either way, you might be wondering how to get started in preparing for NaNo.

Fear not! I’ll take you through my journey as I prepare for NaNo, and share with you the tips that take me from group one (the anxiety-ridden group) to something closer to group two (the excited one).

So what’s the first thing to do? I made a list of everything I think I should be doing, and number one is spread the word.

Huh? That doesn’t have anything to do with writing! Maybe not the physical act, but it has everything to do with making time for yourself to write, and to make sure you get your butt in whatever chair you choose (or, if you’re like me, sometimes walking and typing on a phone app) and get that novel written. There are two key factors that accomplish this:

1 – Accountability. You’ve just told who knows how many people that you are participating in NaNo – do you really want to tell them that you quit? (I know from first-hand experience how bitter that acknowledgement tastes.) I won’t go into all the implications of quitting – some of them might not be true for you! – but I will say that it doesn’t feel good.

2 – You’ve just told everybody that you will be writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Hopefully that will get them to back off and respect your time. If not, I’d say you are fully justified in ignoring them if you want! (After all, you did warn them.)

Okay, so who do we need to tell, and what’s the best way to do it? Well, I blog, so obviously I’m telling all of you. Also friends and family, maybe even let work acquaintances know so that maybe they don’t bug you to sub shifts or whatever. How you want to tell people is up to you. Maybe a facebook announcement. Maybe casual mentions. Maybe a text. Whatever, up to you. Just make sure you let people know!

Next time: Rumination

Should You Continue With a Story You Just Don’t Feel?

A question many writers face (okay, at least the writers I talk to) is whether or not to continue a story when you aren’t feeling it. Maybe you had a great idea to start with, maybe you have been beating your head against this wall for years and it isn’t going anywhere, maybe you challenged yourself*.

So my answer comes in two parts.

The first part: yes, keep writing. But maybe do a little more building (if it’s still in the “new story” stage). Think about political and economic systems and how they will affect your characters. Think about the resources they have. Building not doing it for you? Work on characters. And, of course, feel free to take breaks. I’m not saying 20-minute breaks. I’m saying let that story sit for a few days without writing. Does this mean you aren’t working on it? Of course not. It means you are thinking, and letting your creative juices refill. (I firmly believe that we can’t be creative every single moment of every single day. We wear ourselves out and prevent anything new and meaningful from taking shape. We need respite.)

The second part: no, let the story go. Let me tell you a quick story. When I was in high school I had a best friend who was also a writer. And guess what we did most of the times we hung out? We wrote together. We finished an entire novel. And then we had a falling out. We made up, eventually, but we never wrote together again. I told her I wanted to go ahead with the story we created and continue with the characters and she was okay with that. Clearly I wanted to change the story some, edit and revise and improve. It hasn’t really gone anywhere. Every now and then I come back to it and beat my head against that story some more. What I need to do is let it go. (I really, really need to just let it go and quit trying to spin it so there is life there again. It’s dead, it’s gone.)

I’m guessing you’ve heard this next little tidbit before: write what you want to read. Or better yet, write what makes you come alive. If the thing you are working on feels like a prison, a death sentence, mud caked on your skin or some really awful illness, let it go. Obviously our writing is going to give us headaches sometimes. A headache is not a reason to quit. Push through that shit. Even if you’ve got some broken bone, get yourself the help you need (okay, maybe a plot hole means reworking something in the early story). But if it doesn’t make you feel alive, drop it and run.

Write on,

Emily

*And yeah, this came up because my nano short story has made me feel dead inside. Romance ain’t my thing. And though I finished the story (rising action, climax, and falling action), I did not make word count. And I don’t have it in me to meet it. I’m about 4,000 shy. I learned my lesson. I will not write romance again.

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

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

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