Recharging Writing

I took a break from Shade my WIP. I had this other idea come to me, what I’m affectionately calling Code Name Clemmings. I wrote the first chapter, and then feeling too much anxiety over not knowing where the story was going, I paused and wrote an outline.

Before CNC I’d been focused mostly on editing and revising Shade and partly on a couple of short stories and if we’re being honest, doing some tourism training in San Francisco. I wasn’t getting as much writing done as I wanted, but sometimes that’s just the way life goes.

But here’s my point.

I’d been in editing mode so long, when I embarked on writing CNC for kicks and giggles and because my Pitch Wars mentor Marieke recommended I try something completely different after finishing revisions on Shade—when I finally sat down to write something new—it was like my brain had forgotten how to be creative.

I’d been focusing on editing for so long, which is very important, I’d let the flow of being creative run a little dry. Granted, I had written a couple of short stories in the meantime, so it wasn’t a complete creative drought, but I noticed something.

Editing, without spurts of creativity, can give more power to your internal editor than your internal creator.

Although I’m sure the same can be said, and should be said, of being creative and never doing enough editing. You might be in this mode if you get severe anxiety when it comes to editing. It’s a delicate balance as a writer.

So how does one maintain a good balance between the internal editor and creator? How does one embrace both the yin and yang of writing? Because when both are in balance, skill grows in both areas at an impressive rate.

THE EDITING GAME

I’ve been in editing and revision mode for a few years now. I feel like it’s something I know how to do well, and feedback from critique partners doesn’t sting like it once did. I’ve learned to uncover the root of the suggestions (if the CP is less experienced) and glean good advice. Often they’re right—at least about finding the weak spot. Their suggestion may not be on the mark, but they still helped me find weak spots, and that’s a very good thing.

Since I’ve been doing this for a few years, I’m very adept at editing and revising my work.

In order to get into this stage yourself, I recommend first of all, embracing the editing. I have an entire series on editing available for help, which is based on my experiences over the past few years. Read books on editing and making better story. And most importantly, take it to people who will be honest with you.

Start with softer critiquers if you need. These can be friends and family who help you catch easy to face things, like typos and grammatical errors. Then find those honest critiquers who tell it like it is. Sometimes you can find these people at writing conferences or workshops. With Google Docs and the like, doing this editing online has never been easier.

And edit other people’s stuff, even if you think you suck at editing. You’ll learn a ton about writing, either in seeing what good writers do really well, or seeing mistakes to be avoided.

THE CREATIVE GAME

Often this is the least hard part to do for most writers. It’s the most enjoyable part. I probably don’t need to tell you how to have fun creating, but you may feel like writer’s block is knocking at the door or maybe you’re not sure what to write or maybe you’re losing the passion—whatever it is, you need to recharge.

The solution: read.

Okay, that’s not really the solution I’m going to talk about, but it is a big part of the equation. Have you ever said anything like this phrase: I’d love to read, but I’m too busy using what little time I have writing.

Maybe liar is a bit harsh, but the truth is you do have time to read, you’re just using that time to do something else. Even if you can only get a chapter in a day, READ.

Back to the other part of the solution: write.

I know, I’m probably driving you crazy. But I’m serious. Write. Whatever your genre, pick something completely different, and write a short story about it.

I highly recommend flash fiction. You must be brief, you have little time to info dump, and you have to create empathy for characters quick. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful in streamlining my novel writing. It’s also very refreshing. You don’t have to spend the same amount of time as a novel (although you may later if you really like the idea, but save those for after the flash fiction). You’ve finished something, which has its own sense of accomplishment. And you’ve done something a little different, so when you go back to the regular genre, you’re rejuvenated.

I think of it as always having to eat Italian food for every meal. Italian is really good, but after a while, no matter how good it is there comes a point when you’re done with Italian and you’re desperate for anything else. So you have a little Greek or a little Thai and suddenly Italian has all its delicious flavor back.

It’s not a long commitment, like a whole other novel. Plus, with flash fiction, you can enter it into contests and get yourself more writing creds if you intend to eventually query your work.

Write flash fiction or short stories and you’ll find a renewed sense of energy in returning to your longer WIP. Plus it’s fun. And just so you know, flash fiction is—up to this point—just about this long.

Get recharged. Grow as a writer. And keep the balance.

What do you do to recharge your writing? Is your writing yin and yang out of balance? Have you written flash fiction or short stories before? Did you find the process invigorating? Anything you would add?

The Writing Game

I’ve been working steadily on polishing my WIP Shade for probably two years now, with breaks in between for other projects. First it was having a friend who edits professionally go through it with me and changing it as I learned. Then it was doing a major rewrite after a conference. And then again with Pitch Wars.

I got to the point where I felt pretty confident about editing—as far as process goes. But that’s when I started to notice a shift in writing. When it came to starting brand new—and I’m talking a project you’re not sprucing up, I mean 100% scratch—it was hard to switch over from editing mode. Part of me felt like I had to edit as I went along. And I’m not discounting that, but I do think it can hinder creativity.

WRITING PHASES

If you’ve been in this game long enough, you’ve been through different writing phases. For me I see these stages as plotting, creating, and editing. There are complexities within those stages, but I think it’s sufficient enough to cover the areas of writing with these phases. You can be in all three at one time, but my philosophy is you’ll likely be in one of them more than another at different times while you create story.

And these stages don’t necessarily occur in that order. You might be creating, then decide it’s time for some plotting, and then go on to editing. There’s no wrong or right way when it comes to process, except to say do it right for you.

PLOTTING

This is the stage where ideas are knocking down your door. Maybe you can’t even sleep at night because ideas are bothering you so much. Scenes are vivid in your mind. You might take to outlining, if you’re a plotter like me. You may also do some research to help the plotting along in your mind. Perhaps you gather photographs or other things that remind you of the story bouncing around in your head.

Often I have to outline just so I can get some peace. It seems like during this stage it’s hard to stay focused on conversations. Sometimes books, too, are difficult to read because the ideas are flowing.

The upside is you’re on top of the world. You can’t stop creating and you hope you can somehow capture all of that wondrous creativity before you. For me, it’s like that scene in Tangled where they’re surrounded by sky lanterns. How can you possible focus on anything else when you’re surrounded by all of that?

tangled sky lanternsLife is good and you’ve got creativity flowing.

Continue reading

How to Write a Novel – Pt 7: The End is the Beginning

My drink of choice is Raspberry Coke.

Did you get it all out?  Have you finished that first draft?  Toast yourself with your drink of choice and let’s say it together: Cheers!  Put that first draft away, at least for a few days, but I’d say a week and give it a chance to rest.  In the meantime, do whatever.  Go on vacation, play video games, read books, revisit your social life, etc.

Okay, now that you’ve enjoyed yourself and patted yourself on the back repeatedly for getting it done, here comes the hard truth: your first draft is only the beginning.

One of the first lessons of being a writer is learning that your work is never finished.  Even when it’s published there will be things you wished you changed.  At some point you have to let it go and be finished.  But now is the time to make sure what you let go is the best you can make it.

The reason you put the novel away for a few days is for the chance to let it get cold.  When you’ve had a few days away from your baby and the crystal clear vision of your story has dimmed a little, you’re more likely to see what you’ve done with actual clarity.

I plan to get into the details in an upcoming polishing the novel series in early October.  This month will be mostly occupied by my vacation in:

Hawaii beach

That’s right, I’m heading out next week.  I know, I know, it’s a rough life, but somebody has to live it.  On the docket is snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boogie boarding/surfing, and whatever else me, the BFF and our friends can cram in.  I intend to blog from there whenever possible.  We usually pack it in tight and I’ll only have my portable keyboard and phone, but I promise to share delightful pictures of fantastic Hawaiian wonders and maybe sum up with scribbles and videos after we’ve returned home.

I’m going to try working on my novel while I’m there, though I suspect most of the work will be done on plane rides and not on the beach.

We’re going to the Big Island and Kauai, so if you’ve been to either two, recommendations are welcomed below.

And of course I’d love to hear what you thought of the How to Write a Novel series overall.  Anything you would like to see more of in future series?  Any topics you’d like covered in the future?  Let me know below.

How to Write a Novel – Pt 6: Get it Out!

This is the philosophy of Jae: rough drafts are easy, or rather they should be.

Ernest Hemingway once said:

The first draft of everything is bantha poodoo.

Which inspired George Lucas to write Jabba the Hutt calling Han Solo bantha poodoo for his poor smuggling, when we all know the real bantha poodoo was the first draft of worst Star Wars movie ever, also better known as Episode I: The Phantom Poodoo.  But I digress…

George Lucas vs Ernest Hemingway

Even people who died before any Star Wars are affected by poor writing. Also, don’t get involved in a fight between two bearded men…

The point is when you are writing your first draft, enjoy it!  Write for the pure love and creation of it.  As George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”  If you’re afraid of making bantha poodoo on your first draft, you’re likely to get little accomplished, and probably even less likely to enjoy it.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Take it from Stephen King, someone I’m sure we all wish we could have even 1/4 of his success of in our careers.

Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. … When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.  (Read the full quote in its entirety here.)

It’s good to do plotting, planning, world and character building, and outlining—but at some point you need to leap into the chasm of story unknown and bring the messy, tangled web of story back out with you.  It won’t be perfect on the first draft, period.  So quit worrying about getting everything perfectly set before you start, and get that first draft out.

My current novel Shade has gone through many, many drafts.  I’m fairly certain it’s hit the ten mark.  At about eight or so I realized it needed a major revamp, which was like completely starting over.  It took me several weeks to be okay with doing that to my novel, but it’s a stronger story now than the first draft, but I still needed that first draft as my foundation to get anywhere.  In fact, I cringe a little when I read over my first draft, but at the same time I’m very pleased with progress I’ve made.

As Stephen says, when you sit down to write, write.  Enjoy it.  Love it!  Be addicted to it.  Believe this will be the best story in the world.  Push your imagination to the very limits and create a fantastic world for your readers to come and enjoy.  Save stress and perfection for later drafts and for now just let creativity freely flow.

Sometimes when I’m writing my first draft, I don’t even properly chapter the thing.  I just write and leave spaces between events, occasionally marking spots where I think a new chapter might work nicely.

You can even think of a first draft as a brainstorming session, where no ideas are wrong until you switch to editing mode.

Let me illustrate this another way (literally and figuratively I suppose).  When I was in college, learning Spanish, there was this girl in our class who seemed to speak Spanish way better than all the rest of us.  She would make conversation with everyone and anyone who spoke Spanish.  I asked her how she learned so quickly, and she laughed in an embarrassed sort of way and said, “I don’t really speak it that well, at least, I think my grammar sucks and I’m probably using the wrong verb tenses.  But I realized the more I speak, despite all the mistakes I’m making, the easier it becomes to speak and eventually the mistakes go away.”

Jae bad spanish

Most of us were afraid to speak to anyone because we were afraid of making mistakes and looking foolish.  In the end, our skill grew very slowly because we were more afraid of making mistakes rather than learning from our mistakes.  The girl whose confidence we envied came because she made hundreds of mistakes without fear, learned from those mistakes, and gained not only confidence in her ability but the knowledge that came with practice.

Write that first draft confidently, knowing that you’ll probably make mistakes, but that with time and practice you’ll shape the bantha poodoo that it is into something well more valuable than even Han Solo could imagine.  (And certainly a far better story than the Phantom Poodoo.)

Ready, set, first draft!

Okay my writer lovelies.  What experiences in writing first drafts would you share with the rest of us?  How do you view first drafts?  How many drafts are you on with your current WIP (work in progress)? 

Tomorrow, sadly, we’ve come to the end of the series.  I’ll share final thoughts and final direction on how to write a novel.  Hasta mañana!

p.s.  After you have that first draft out, please polish it up.  Otherwise you’ll have scores of fans still pissed off about a crappy job you did 13 years after the fact.  Seriously, George, would it have killed you to go over the script just a few more times?

How to Write a Novel – Pt 5: Start Writing!

Open up that Word document and let’s start writing!

I should make a note here to any of those who are still doing it old school.  I used to write my novels in Mead notebooks.  It was easy enough to carry one of those around in high school and when I didn’t bother to pay attention it simply looked like I was taking notes.

BUT! At some point you are going to have to translate that from paper to digital format.  Might as well get used to the idea of writing on a computer unless you like torturing yourself, or if you need to learn how to type. (Worked for me, haha!  But seriously, make the conversion, you’ll be glad you did.)

If you still swear you can’t think on screen, get over it, you will.  It does take some getting used to, but it takes little time at all and then you’ll be in the digital age with the rest of us.

Now, hopefully most of you are attached to keyboards already.  Grab your outline, or put your scene you’re going to test out in your mind, write CHAPTER ONE at the top of the page and begin!

FORMAT

When you finally finish your manuscript and have edited it a bajillion times with every person you could think of giving you feedback and want to send it in to an agent, there is an expected format.

I would stick to the classic 12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced with 1″ margins all around.  Some people will tell you Courier, and if an agent specifies a certain font, go with that, but since we’re all used to reading almost everything in a Times New Roman type font, use that.  Don’t go smaller than 12-point to save space, that’s why they ask for a word count upfront.  I’m telling you this at the beginning so you can get used to formatting it the right way.

You don’t need to put anything about copyrights on your stuff, the moment you write it you’ve copyrighted it.  If you want to this early in the game, stick in the header your name, the title, and the page number, like this: Smith/The Matrix/9.

Use tabs when you start a new paragraph.  For a more in-depth look at proper novel grammar and use of punctuation, go here.

GOALS

Set yourself a writing goal.  Whether 2 hours a day, one full day, or 30 minutes in the morning and evening, find one that works for you and stick to it.

I personally try to cram in 1.5 to 2 hours every morning before work.  On Saturdays I try for at least 2 hours, but on any writing day if I’ve got more time I’ll take it.  Just make sure you stick to your goal.  Even if you woke up late and only have half an hour of your 1.5 hours, put in that time.  It doesn’t matter if you write 30 words or 3,000 in your session, the point is to just write.

For me there are days when I have to ponder a lot and get very little written and other days when the creative juice is just flowing and I’m plowing through pages.  Creativity ebbs and flows just like the tide.  Don’t worry if your day wasn’t as productive as you wanted, it was still productive.

MOTIVATION

There are several options to help you stick to writing and finish your novel.  You can do one, multiple, or all of these, just find what works best for you.

How I usually start early morning writing. At least I’ve got my monkey jammies, right?

Deadlines.  You can set yourself some deadlines.  After all, when you become a published author you’ll have to work with them.  You may as well start training yourself now.  You could say you’re going to complete X number of chapters by the end of the month.  Or perhaps in 4 months you can plan to be halfway through your novel.  Whatever works for you.

Writers Groups.  Find a local writers group or start one of your own.  Tell your fellow writers you plan to have a chapter ready for the next month’s meeting, then stick to it.  I find sometimes if other people are expecting me to meet a certain goal I reach it better than if it’s only me I’m accountable to.  Plus writers groups are a fantastic way to meet other people like you.  I’ve found them to be very supportive and you can use them to gain that precious feedback on your work to make you a stronger writer.

Blogs.  Many of you probably have blogs.  You can hold yourself accountable to the blogosphere that you will have a certain amount of pages or chapters done by a date of your choosing.  Post updates to your blog on how you’re progressing.  It gives you a chance to be accountable to someone, which gives you a reason to finish your goal.

Twitter. If you want a lot of support from writers, Twitter has a fabulous community of writers under different groups categorized by hashtags or #.  If you’re not familiar with Twitter, there’s no time like the present.  Sign up, get your handle and get on.  Visit TweetDeck and use the add column feature to add the following hashtags:

  • #wordmongering Visit this site for more information, but essentially you start on the hour :00 and write until the :30 when you report in with a word count.  You’re likely to find other writers to join you.  This morning I did some #wordmongering with a fellow Tweep.  I found it invigorating, as though we were taking our writing journeys together.  You can also use #editmongering in the same fashion.
  • #WIP You can let other people who are also working on their Works In Progress how you’re coming along and meet other authors to network with.
  • #Row80 I admit I haven’t used this one yet, but I really like the idea.  (Unfortunately I missed this current round, but I’m hoping to jump in on the next one).  It can be any kind of goal you like, it just has to measurable.  You have 80 days to meet this goal.  You’ll get encouragement from others, and again it’s accountability which means you’re more likely to meet your goal.  Click here for more info.
  • #MyWANA If you haven’t heard about this, consider your writing life forever changed starting at this moment.  MyWANA is the brainchild of Kristen Lamb, WANA standing for We Are Not Alone.  This is a great community to meet fellow bloggers, writers, dreamers—the energy is crazy awesome.  Plus Kristen’s blog has tons of awesome tips on everything to do with the business, whether using social media to help promote yourself or network and of course helpful writing tips.
  • #amwriting Another one a lot of writers use.  You can use this tag when you’re working on something or if you have something to share with your Tweeps.

Honestly, if you’re not part of the community, you’re missing out!  And most importantly, it helps you stay motivated.

Living in this age, we writers are truly blessed with a wealth of resources, especially for staying motivated.  There’s no reason you can’t be successful, it just takes time, a lot of crazy hard work, and most importantly a willingness to learn and grow.  So please, keep on writing!

Now it’s your turn.  What do you do to stay motivated?  What tips would you offer to writers struggling to get the ball rolling?  What is one thing you wish everyone knew about writing?  Let us all know in the comments below.

And just as an FYI, the How to Write a Novel series Pt 6 will be posted on Tuesday.  I’m taking me a break from all this labor.  See you Tuesday.

Because I knew you’d ask about this scribble if it I didn’t appear. Here you go all you pre-teen space vampire ballet romance fans!