Tag Archives: outlining

Don’t Tell Anyone, But Outlining is Secretly Awesome

Road Map

Outlines. Love them or hate them, they’re pretty much a staple of the writing life. You can’t wander through the verdant fields of writing advice for five minutes without tripping over someone espousing the marvellousness and wonderifity of outlining. For those of us who self-identify as ‘Pantsers’, it can feel a bit like being bludgeoned over the head with a blunt trout.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve waxed loquacious about outlines more than once.

It all started back in May 2011, when I blogged about how writing is like an episode of children’s show Banana’s in Pjyamas. In this post, I said:

Once you have your outline, and you begin to write, it’s easy to get so fixated on following your outline that you don’t even notice what’s going on in your story. And when your characters start wanting to do things that you haven’t planned, you react by trying to force them back into the outline you’ve prepared.

But then in August 2011, when writing a post about overcoming Writer’s Block, I recommended writing an outline if you’re stuck on what should happen next in the story:

If you haven’t written an outline, write one. Interview your characters. Make notes. Design the history of the world. Whatever you need to get you back on track.

Admittedly it wasn’t a glowing recommendation, and it was definitely in the realms of “only outline if you absolutely must”, but it was a vast change from the earlier Outlines Are Rubbish! post.

Only a month later, in September of 2011, I wrote about how writing is like doing a jigsaw (and vice versa) and thawed out a little more on the idea of outlines:

Regardless of whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, have a plan. Maybe it’s a 100-page outline. Maybe it’s a “brief history of the world” in 50,000 words. Maybe it’s a series of index cards, or notes in Scrivener (or another writing program), or just a vague plotline in your head and an image of a character or scene. It doesn’t matter. Choose the plan that works for you, but make sure you have one.

OutlineUntil the unthinkable finally happened in June 2012. I blogged about writing an outline for my WIP. I had caveats. It was an accidental outline. It wasn’t a real outline, because it was actually only a list of plot points.

Then two interesting things happened.

Thing the First

I went back to writing my novel, and it was… easier. Much easier. Crazy easier. I’d sit down and know what happened next. Not exactly, of course. My not-really-an-outline might say something like: “They escape from bad guys.” And so I’d sit down and let my characters work out how they were going to escape. Often, it surprised me. But at the end of the chapter, my outline had been fulfilled. They had, indeed, escaped from the bad guys. And then I could move on to the next point on the kinda-sorta-an-outline, without having to spend hours (days… weeks… months…) wondering what happened next.

Thing the Second

I finished my manuscript and handed it over to my critique partner. Her feedback was very helpful. Especially when she said: “The second half, after [transition scene] is great. It’s fast-paced, and everything makes sense, and I couldn’t stop turning pages. But the first half feels like you keep repeating the same information over and over, and it’s a bit slow in places.”
Ah-ha! Do you know what happened at that transition scene to change everything? Go on, take a guess.

Yes, that’s the exact point I wrote my accidental outline.

Who knew? Outlines not only make writing easier, they also make it better. Outlines are secretly awesome.

The Intentional OutlineI started a new WIP a few months ago. I managed a grand total of 7,000 words before I realised I needed an outline. So I wrote one.

Yes, I was shocked too.

It wasn’t easy. My Pantser heart rebelled at the idea. It took two weeks of head scratching and swearing and foiled procrastination attempts. But it worked. And every night when I sit down to write, I pull out my outline and check what I’m supposed to be writing, and off I go. Faster than the speed of two hundred startled gazelles! (As my father used to say.)

It’s true. Outlines are secretly awesome.

But don’t tell anyone.

Outlines! Do you like them? Do you use one? 

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Five Reasons to Stop Procrastinating (and Start Writing)

You know how it is. There’s always something that needs to be done before you can work on your novel.

Cook dinner, wash the clothes, stack the dishwasher, sweep the floor, dry the clothes, bath the kids, do the ironing, rearrange your sock drawer, paint the house, knit a scarf, do some more research, buy Scrivener, create a storyboard for your novel, write an outline for your novel, colour it in with fancy colours, buy new pens, clean your desk, backup your hard drive, write a blog post, buy groceries, level your WoW character, read a book, plant a vegie garden, hand-make Christmas cards (all 300 of them), scrapbook your photos (from the last 40 years), clean out the attic/basement/garage, build an extension on the back of the house for your very own writing room…. The list goes on.

Some of these things are actually important. (Feeding your children, for example.)

Some of these things actually help you write your novel. (Writing an outline, researching, or cleaning your desk.)

But many of the things we prioritize above novel-writing are merely clever ways to procrastinate.

There are a lot of reasons we procrastinate. I’m not going to try to cover them all here. Instead, I’m just going to give you five reasons to STOP.

1. It won’t get better if you pick it.

Writers are imaginative people. It kind of comes with the territory. The upside to this is… well, you know the upside. The downside is that it’s all too easy to imagine things going badly.

What if I suck as a writer? What if everything I write is terrible? What if I’m not good enough to write a whole novel? What if I write a book and it sucks? What if my friends read it and they think it’s terrible? What if I never get any better? What if I do, but I can’t get an agent? What if I get an agent and can’t get a publishing contract? What if I get published, but no one buys my book? Or what if I self-publish but no one buys my book? What if people buy my book and they hate it? What if people hate my book and they write scathing one-star reviews everywhere about how awful I am?

What if I’m a failure at the only thing I’ve ever really, really wanted to do?

Woah, Nelly. Hang on a minute. Before you start relegating yourself to the “I Failed as a Writer so My Life Is Worthless” club, how about you actually sit down and write something?

Fear is natural. Fear of the unknown. Fear that you won’t succeed. Fear that you will, but it won’t live up to your imagination. But that fear will never go away if you feed it. Instead, practice overcoming it. And there’s no better way to do that than to keep writing. 

2. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

 You know the most fun part of writing a novel? The first chapter.

Hands up if you’ve got half a dozen files labelled “Chapter One” somewhere on your computer. Keep your hand raised if you’ve got more than a dozen. It’s a little known fact* that one of the easiest ways to procrastinate when you’re writing a novel is to… get this… start a new novel.

The thing about writing is that the fun bits are fun, but the hard bits are hard. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that applies to everything in life.) So we start our new novel feeling fresh-faced and bushy-tailed, bounding into the fun part of introducing characters and having everything go horribly, terrible, disturbingly wrong. And then…

Well, then writing seems a bit more like work. We can’t figure out the next plot point. Or we realise our characters can’t possibly escape from the situation they’re in. Or it suddenly occurs to us that the entire story is one clichéd mess of overdone tropes and Mary Sue characters. And it’s not fun anymore. So you go back and edit what you’ve written. Repeatedly.

But let’s be honest here. How many people want to read an awesome first chapter, followed by a one paragraph summary that goes something like this:

…and then the hero finds a heap of clues, and eventually realises it was his BEST FRIEND ALL ALONG! There’s some fighting and stuff, and in the end the hero kills his best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend falls in love with him, and they live happily ever after. Oh, and he’s also gets all his best friend’s stuff. The end.

If your story feels like it’s not working, take some time out to plan, plot, outline, create colour-coded maps of your novel, and anything else that appeals to you. But don’t do it forever. Don’t do it as a means of procrastination. And don’t start a new novel. Work out what happens next in your story, and then get back to writing it.

* This is not actually a little known fact. We’ve all done it.

3. Tomorrow never comes.

As I said above, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why you don’t get any novel-writing done. There’s your day job, for a start. And you need to spend time with your Significant Other and your children. There’s that pesky need for food, drink and sleep. And society frowns on you if you don’t adhere to at least some measure of cleanliness.

But let me fill you in on a little secret: It never gets any better.

You will always have legitimate drains on your time. Always. The trick is to find a way to fit writing into your schedule even when you’re busy. Maybe you legitimately don’t have time to write every day. Or even every week. But there’s a very fine line between not writing because you don’t have time, and not writing because you’re procrastinating.

Did you know that over 85% of diets start on a Monday? And the main reason they fail? Because when the dieter has a piece of cake on Wednesday, she says to herself, “Well, I’ve blown it for this week. I may as well call this week a wash and start again on Monday.” Then they binge on whatever-they-like for the rest of the week.

Don’t be the writer who says, “Well, I was supposed to write on Wednesday afternoon but I was too tired and too busy. I’ve already blown my weekly target, so I may as well call this week a wash and start again next week.”

Don’t write tomorrow. Write today. 

4. It’s written in the stars (but you don’t have a telescope).

 Next month you could walk out of your house and get hit by a bus. And when you’re lying there on the street, the world getting dimmer and dimmer around you, which thought would you prefer to go through your head:

  1. Thank goodness I spent all that time cleaning the cornices and cataloguing my fourth grade stamp collection!
  2. Thank goodness I finished writing my novel!

Yes, I know this is entirely unrealistic. (Because who keeps their fourth grade stamp collection?) But it illustrates a point.

Anyone who has had a near-death experience will tell you they spent a lot of time re-evaluating their life, really looking at what’s important and how they can follow their dreams. Because they’re suddenly aware of their own mortality. Suddenly aware that maybe they can’t put off their dreams until after Christmas, after the kids are at school, after their finances are secure, after they retire, after anything at all.

Because “after” may not come. All you really have is “now”.

5. No one else can do it.

Do you know how many people can write the novel you’ve got in your head? Only one. You.

No one else in the world can tell your story as well as you can.

And you have a responsibility to tell it. You have a responsibility to yourself, to the people who will be your readers, and to the world at large. Because, in this one thing, you are completely and utterly irreplaceable.

So don’t deny the world your story. You are the only one who can make your dream a reality. Sit down, start writing and stop procrastinating.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my novel. (As long as I don’t get distracted on the way.)

Are you a procrastinator? Any words of wisdom for us all?

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Outlining is for Sissys (and People Who Know How)

It’s quite a while since I’ve written about writing and even longer since I’ve written about my WIP (Work In Progress). In part, that’s because I’ve decided not to talk too  much about the writing process — there are a million blogs about writing and I don’t think I have too much different to offer — but it’s also partly because I’ve been stuck.

For the last four months I’ve been stuck. I’m 33,000 words into my novel. That’s 130 pages. Just over 40% done. In other words, I’m stuck in the muddy middle.

It’s not that I’d lost inspiration. Or passion. Or drive. It’s not that I’d fallen out of love with the story. Or the characters. Or the setting.

I just didn’t know what should happen next.

See, I’m what’s known by those in the business as a “pantser”. That means that, rather than preparing a full outline before I start, I write by the seat of my pants, with no idea what’s going to happen next until the words hit the paper.

I like writing that way. I like being surprised by my characters, and letting the plot develop as I give my characters free rein to act within their personalities, ambitions and abilities.  But sometimes…. sometimes it really sucks.

Like when I get stuck.

For four months I’ve been stuck. I love what I’d written so far. I’ve got a hero, a problem, and a desired outcome. I’ve had the hero attacked and almost killed, and assembled a team of allies around him. The story and characters are all set up and in perfect position for…. something.

I’d even worked out how the story was going to end — I knew what would happen in the final confrontation, who would live and who would die, who would get the girl and who would lose her, and even how the resolution would play out.

I just didn’t know how to get from point A to point B.

“I should outline it,” I said to myself. “That will help.”

Yeah.

No.

I tried various methods. I tried index cards, computer programs, posters, post-it notes, a whiteboard…. Nothing. I couldn’t even put down a decent outline of what I’d already written.

So for four months I’ve done nothing.

Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve done a couple of “novel building exercises” where I’ve written about my characters from unusual perspectives. And I’ve done a lot of thinking. (Did I say that already?)

And then last Friday I had an awesome meeting with my critique partner and fellow writer, Claire. We were talking about a series of books that I’ve been reading and I said, “I loved them but at the same time, they’re the kind of books that left me feeling totally depressed.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because they’re so amazing,” I said. “They’re easy to read, with realistic characters you can fall in love with, and stories that just… Wow. They’re not complicated, there’s no flowery language and not a lot of symbolism or anything, but they’re awesome. They’re good, honest, fun stories. And that’s what I want to write. And reading these books leaves me feeling a bit depressed because I feel like I’ll never be able to create something as awesome as this.”

And do you know what Claire said to me? She said, “Yes, you will.”

There was a whole bunch of reasons and a pep talk attached to that statement, but the overall message was one of absolute, total conviction. Yes, you will. You will create something that people love. You will create stories that people want to read and immerse themselves in and tell their friends about. You will create stories that make other writers feel overjoyed and, at the same time, slightly depressed.

Yes, you will.

I left that meeting with renewed enthusiasm and vigour. I had 45 minutes until I had to pick Big Brother up from school, so I sat down in a park nearby, pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, and started to write.

I didn’t write an outline. I just made a list.

I ignored romance sub-plots and emotional overtones and details about the magic system. I ignored character development and angst. I just focused on the plot. And I made a list.

I made a list of everything that had happened so far. Short sentences. One sentence per line.

Then I left a big gap and made a list of everything that I already knew had to happen for the build-up to the final confrontation and the resolution.

When I was finished, I looked at my sheet of paper. I had 22 sentences written down, with a gap between numbers 9 and 10.

Each of the early sentences described, in very basic terms, a chapter I’d already written.

Each of the later sentences described, in very basic terms, a chapter I’d already planned to write.

And I suddenly realised something.

I’d written an outline.

And the solution to my problem was so obvious, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before.

Apparently all I need to do to get my characters from point A to point B is to have one of the characters say, “Hey! Let’s go to point B! That would fix everything!”

Yep, after four months of being stuck, it turns out I can fix all my problems with the movie cliché, “Let’s get outta here.”

Thank you, accidental outline.

You’re a lifesaver.

 

 

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Five Ways Writing is like doing a Jigsaw Puzzle

 

Last Saturday night I had a phone call from my sister. “Hey Jo,” she said. “I just bought a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I don’t know why. I haven’t done one this big before. But I was thinking… We should have a competition. Do you have any 2000 piece puzzles you can do?”

Did I? No. Besides, it’s not much of a competition if we’re not doing the same puzzle, is it?

2000 Pieces of Healthy Competition

(As a note, it didn’t occur to me to say ‘No’ to the idea of a jigsaw competition. More about that another day.)

So I got all the details from her and planned to pick up the jigsaw from the local Toy & Game shop the following day. “Sure, have a head start,” I told my sister. “You’re going to need it!”

Over the last 11 days I’ve spent a goodly portion of time working on this puzzle and reflecting on the ways assembling a jigsaw is like writing. So, here goes:

1. It’s never as simple as just ‘sitting down to write’. There are always obstacles that need to be overcome.

Obstacle 1:

Sunday morning, off I went to the local Toy & Game shop (who will remain nameless) to buy a copy of the jigsaw. I was eager not to let Sister have too much of a head start. I browsed the jigsaw aisle. Slowly, my excitement began to fade. They didn’t have the one I wanted. Not to be defeated, I went over to the counter.

“Excuse me,” I said politely to the scruffy young man standing blank-faced behind the counter. “I was just looking for a particular Ravensburger jigsaw, but you don’t seem to have it. If you order it in, how long is it likely to take?”

The young man (teenager, really) turned to look at me blankly. His face remained expressionless for a moment, his jaw slack. Then he spoke. “We don’t order things people want anymore.”

I stared at him. Either he’d just said the most ridiculous thing a salesperson could ever say, or he’d uttered some kind of deep truth about the steady decline of bricks & mortar businesses in favour of the internet.

After a minute of silence, he added, “I suppose I could call some of our other stores. Maybe you could drive to one of them.” I thanked him, told him I’d order it online (he looked relieved), and went on my way. It took me until Tuesday to get a copy of the jigsaw. I did buy it online. On Ebay. And I got it $10 cheaper than if I’d purchased it in the store.

Obstacle 2:

The box said the completed jigsaw would be 98cm x 75cm. I measured my coffee table. Not big enough. I measured my dining table. Not big enough. Damn it. I didn’t have a flat surface big enough for the stupid puzzle. Except…

The only space big and flat enough was the floor. So into the spare room I went. I moved some furniture and lay a blanket on the floor. One work table coming up!

Obstacle 3:

Have you ever tried to do a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle on the floor while a rambunctious 4-year-old excitedly tries to help. It’s time for “I just wanted to look at the pieces,” and “I think that one goes over there,” and “Oops. I fell over in the middle of the jigsaw.”

There’s never a perfect time, place, or environment to write. (Unless you’ve got a special writing room with a lock. In which case you have my undying envy.) Find ways around your obstacles, learn to ignore or overcome distractions, and remember that small children can easily be bribed with chocolate.

2. When you sit down to write, it may seem overwhelming. That’s okay. Don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve.

Have you ever opened a box with 2000 jigsaw pieces in it? Until 8 days ago, I hadn’t. My first thought was “Holy bejoly, what have I gotten myself into?” I ran my fingers through the pieces, trying to figure out where to start. I randomly picked up two pieces to see if they would fit together. One was blue and one had squiggles all over it that was probably writing.

Then I sat back, picked up the lid, and looked at the image of the finished jigsaw. I decided to start with the edges, and then do all the squiggly writing. Time to start sorting.

Regardless of whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, have a plan. Maybe it’s a 100-page outline. Maybe it’s a “brief history of the world” in 50,000 words. Maybe it’s a series of index cards, or notes in Scrivener (or another writing program), something just a vague plotline in your head and an image of a character or scene. It doesn’t matter. Choose the plan that works for you, but make sure you have one. Otherwise you’ll either find yourself trying to mash together two random elements in the story or you’ll be so overwhelmed and confused you’ll give up.

3. Track how much you’ve done, not how much you’ve got to do.

It took me a few days to get the edges and the writing done. Then I decided to do the water, and started sorting through the pieces for blue bits. My husband happened past the room and commented, “Wow. You’ve done really well. But isn’t it funny how when you look at the pieces you’ve got left, there doesn’t seem to be any less?”

I hadn’t really noticed. But then I did. The box still seemed as full as it had been when I started. I had this sense that I’d never finish, that there were just too many pieces, too much to do. And so I stopped for the day.

Writing is a mental game. Don’t focus on the 95,000 words you’ve got left to write, or the months of revising ahead, or the difficulty in finding an agent, or the future of publishing. Congratulate yourself on having written the first 5,000 words. That’s more than you’d done last week.

4. Your peer network should help you feel good, not bad.

My sister and I talked on Saturday night, one week after the challenge began. (It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get the jigsaw until Tuesday. The challenge started on Saturday.) We were both a little reticent about sharing our progress initially.

 “What if she’s done more than me? What if I’m losing?”

So we didn’t talk about how much we’d done, we talked about the process we’d been following. We’d both started with the edges (obviously), but then we went in wildly different directions. I did the squiggly writing, then the water, then the white circles, and was working on the map. She’d started with the outside circles, then moved on to the white circles and the water, and was starting to work on the squiggly writing.

We didn’t talk at all about how much we had left to go. We talked about what we’d done, the challenges we’d faced, how we overcame them, the process we were following, and shared tips on the sections the other hadn’t done. We talked about the obstacles we’d needed to overcome. (She also didn’t have a table big enough so had built herself a coffee table to suit, she had commitments every evening after work, and she’d run out of beer.) Mostly, what we did was encourage each other.

When I hung up the phone, I still had no idea who was “winning”, but I went back to my puzzle with renewed vigour.

Your peer group (whether they’re a critique partner, writing group, online buddies, whatever) should give you encouragement and challenge you to improve. Having a peer group is an integral part of writing. Without one, it’s easy to feel like you’re all alone, slaving away over a hot keyboard. But if your peer group makes you feel bullied, useless, incompetent or stupid, ditch them. If your peer group tells you everything you do is wonderful (and you don’t believe them), ditch them. Find a new group of writers to hang with, either online or in person. It can make all the difference.

(Note: Don’t ditch them as friends, family, or colleagues. Just stop using them as your peer group/critique partner/beta reader.)

5. Set a deadline. Then share it with your peer group, friends, family, and random strangers on the street.

My brother called a few days ago to say that he would be passing through the area (none of my family lives within 600km (380 miles) of each other) on Saturday, and to check it would be alright for him and his girlfriend to crash the night.

“Of course!” I said. I was delighted to have heard from him. He’s great company, and his girlfriend is awesome.

Then I realised… I’ve got my puzzle set up on the floor of the spare room. I can’t move it without breaking it into itty bitty pieces. (2000 of them, to be exact.) And I don’t have anywhere else for Brother and Girlfriend to sleep. So that means…

That means I have to finish the jigsaw before this Saturday.

No pressure or anything. But let me tell you, every spare minute I have, I’m fitting pieces into the puzzle. Will I meet the deadline? Absolutely. Even if I’m up all night Friday.

If you don’t have a deadline, it’s easy to procrastinate. Or spend time designing new ways to outline, or new systems for recording information, or researching, or cleaning your desk, or whatever else you do when you know you’re supposed to be writing but instead find a productive way to avoid it. So set yourself a deadline and tell everyone about it. Give people permission to check up on you. And then work to achieve that deadline.

(Caveat: Make your deadline achievable based on your situation, and don’t be bullied into doing otherwise. Watching an unachievable deadline fly past is akin to motivation-suicide.)

So, how’s the jigsaw going? See for yourself: 

Look how much I've done! Three days to go.

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Because it’s NOT writer’s block, that’s why.

This week has been one where I spent a lot of time thinking about my WIP and where the story and characters are going. A walk-on/walk-off character has more potential and is important than I suspected, I’m about to write a major magical battle and really need to pin down the old “how magic works” stuff, and I’ve been struggling a bit with some of my protag’s reactions to events (really, how do you react when someone shoots your best friend in front of you?).

…as a side-note: guns and magic. Does it get any better?

Anyway, I’ve spent more time “thinking” than “writing” this week. (I don’t know why those words are in quotes. Don’t judge me.) And everywhere I looked in the blogosphere, someone was posting about “How to overcome Writer’s Block”. Is this the universe’s way of telling me something? Or just a coincidence? Should I be reading these blogs and making notes?

No.

Because it’s NOT writer’s block, that’s why.

#

Back before my boys were born, I had a paying job as a travel agent. Now, being a travel agent is not easy. Sure, you get to sit on a chair typing stuff into a computer and talking on the phone for most of the day. But it’s a very competitive, commission-based industry where the largest barrier to success is often yourself.

I was good at my job. I loved talking to people, recommending holiday destinations, finding the best deals/packages, and making suggestions. I had an incredibly loyal client base, heaps of contacts in the industry, and all the Keys to Success.

But sometimes… sometimes I’d have a bad day. Or a bad week. Or, on occasion, a bad month. I’d work for hours finding a good deal, but the client would book it on the internet. (Aaargh! Curse you, interwebz!) Or I just couldn’t find the right flight/hotel/deal. Or I struggled to build rapport with people. Or my mind was elsewhere.

And not once — not once! — did I jump up and down and scream, “It’s not my fault! I’ve just got trave agent’s block!”

Instead, I did something useful.

I figured out where I was going wrong, and I fixed it.

#

Writer’s Block is just a fancy, self-absorbed way for writers to say: “I’m not writing. Something’s wrong and I don’t know what it is.”

So here’s my tips for overcoming the mythical beast Writer’s Block in 3 easy steps:

1. Identify the problem.

  • Is it a lack of skill or knowledge of the craft? Are you not sure how to write what you want to write?
  • Have you lost sight of where your story is going? Or what your character’s goals are?
  • Is your mind/focus elsewhere?

2. Identify the solution.

  • There’s heaps of information online about just about every facet of writing. Figure out what’s giving you trouble (eg. structure, plot, realistic characters, dialogue, conflict, POV (point of view), etc.) and do some web searches. Buy some books.
  • It’s time to step back and do some planning or outlining.
  • Work out what it is you’re focusing on, and whether it’s more or less important than your writing. A cluttered desk, new hobby, or the new season of Glee probably qualifies as “less important”. A new baby, impending marriage or sick relative probably qualifies as “more important”.

3. Use solution (b) to overcome problem (a).

  • Read. Research. Make notes. Practice. Then go back to your WIP feeling more equipped.
  • If you haven’t written an outline, write one. Interview your characters. Make notes. Design the history of the world. Whatever you need to get you back on track.
  • If your focus is consistently on something in the “more important” category, give yourself permission to either take a break from your writing or significantly reduce your writing output without penalty. If your focus is on something in the “less important” category, you need to sit down and consider your priorities. If you want to write, write. If not, don’t. Realise this is a conscious choice you’re making, not the byproduct of a mythical malady.

Thoughts? Comments?

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Writing, Blogging, and Wearing Pants

Some weeks seem to go on forever, stretching like a piece of hot mozzarella. Others… Well, I’m not quite sure where the last seven days went. It doesn’t seem like I should be writing another writing wrap-up yet. But my calendar says its Wednesday, and who am I to argue? (If for no other reason than because the calendar is much better at stony silence than I am.)

I’m pleased to say that I’m now on day 16 of my 100 Words for 100 Days challenge. This week I wrote 1000 wordson my WIP, whic brought me to the end of chapter 2, and a good way through chapter 3. I’m also back to writing “new stuff”, which is super-double-exciting (as my 4-year-old would say). I’m really enjoying my writing, and am looking forward to continuing to nail those words to the page.

If you were reading last week, you may remember that I was a bit disappointed in myself when I only wrote 900 words for the week. A couple of people pointed out that I shouldn’t be disappointed when I’d succeeded in reaching my goal, and that set me to thinking.

What is my goal?

100 Words for 100 Days is great. It’s fantastic. It encourages me to write every day, rather than “saving up” for a couple of big writing days a week. And that’s why I started the challenge in the first place. (Which is why I can’t just “skip a day” and then continue with the challenge.) But writing 100 words every day doesn’t feel like much of an achievement. I want that 100 words to be the minimum acceptable level of writing, not the target.

That got me thinking about what I’m actually aiming for, and I was able to put it into words when I was talking with a great writing-buddy last Sunday. I’m going to put it out there now for everyone to see, and damn the torpedoes.

I want to finish the first draft of this novel by the end of October.

There are a multitude of reasons for this. (1) I also want to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, and it would be easier if I have finished this project and can move on to without guilt. (2) After NaNo, I will hopefully have achieved some emotional separation from this novel, and will be able to look at editing it in December. (3) At the beginning of the year, I said that I was going to take this year off work to concentrate on writing, so that I could prove to myself that I could make a career of it. (Alright, I was also having a baby, but let’s ignore that for the moment.) Finishing by the end of October gives me a better chance of doing so. (4) Because I damn well want to, and I’m just stubborn like that.

I still believe I can achieve this goal, but it means that I need to be writing almost 5000 words a week, not 1000. Something needs to change. A lot of somethings need to change. But the primary one is the amount of writing time I have on a daily basis.

My first thought was that I could save myself an hour or two every day if I sent my kids out to scavenge their own food on the streets, rather than spending all that time preparing, cooking, serving, and cleaning up dinner each night. But that seemed a little unfair. Especially since Baby can’t even crawl yet.

Instead, I’ve decided to cut back on blogging.

Up until now, I’ve been blogging every day. And loving it. But I can grant myself a bit extra time each week by cutting out a couple of posts, and I’ll still be posting 5 times a week. My new blogging schedule looks like this:

  • Monday: Monday’s Top 5 – A list of my 5 favourite posts from the blogosphere last week.
  • Tuesday: Flash Fiction – This may not happen every week, but will be a chance for me to stretch my storytelling muscles in a different direction, and share the results with you, my readers.
  • Wednesday: All things Writing – Incorporating my usual Wednesday Writing Wrap-Up and Friday’s Writing Thoughts.
  • Friday: Life As We Know It – Kids, Parenting, Opinions, and other Random Things.
  • Saturday: Books, Authors, and Other Geekery.

This is going to start as of ….. now. So wish me luck with writing rather than posting tomorrow!

In a mostly unrelated topic…

I don’t just spend my time writing long, rambling blog posts. I also spend it reading blogs. At last count, I was subscribed to just over 70 blogs through Google Reader. Of those 70, I’d hazard a guess that 50 are related to writing, writers, or publishing in some shape or form. So I read a lot of posts about how to write, how to edit, how to get an agent, how to get published, how to self-publish, etc. etc. etc. I also try to read as many of the comments other people post as possible.

Over the last week, I’ve become increasingly aware of how many people preface their comments with phrases like: “I’m a pantser, so I don’t…” or “I can’t do that, because I’m a planner…” or “Because I’m a pantser, I only….” or even “I’m part of the ‘planner’ club, and…”

Really? Because I don’t remember getting my secret decoder ring when I joined the panster club.

Now, I’m not saying that Pansters and Plotters don’t exist. But I didn’t think the two styles were so mutually exclusive that the skills of one don’t apply to the other. Nor did I think we were supposed to add our preferred style to the end of our name, like some kind of class designation. “Hello. I’m Jo Eberhardt – Panster Extraordinaire.”

(If there’s any non-writers still brave enough to be reading this, let me explain. Pansters sit and write by the “seat of their pants”, watching the story unfold as they do so. Plotters work out the plot first, often via a detailed outline, before they start to write.)

It’s easy to fall back on something like being a pantser or a plotter as a way of avoiding stepping outside our comfort zones. It’s not impossible to move from one camp to the other. It’s not impossible to use different styles for different projects. And while it may be helpful to understand your own preferred writing style, I don’t think it’s helpful to pigeon-hole yourself so tightly that you don’t expand your skill base.

What do you think?

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Weekly Wednesday Writing Wrap-Up

This week has been both incredibly unproductive and incredibly productive for me as a writer.

Last week, I said that my focus for the upcoming week was going to be working on a short story for the Brighton COW competition. I was enjoying writing a humourous take on a vampire’s reaction to reading the Twilight series and the impact on his minion, Twelve. My intention, obviously, was to have the story finished and ready for entry by 31 May. Well, that didn’t happen.

I really like the story, and am enjoying writing it. I just didn’t have time to make it perfect, and I didn’t want to submit something sub-par. Besides, I was incredibly distracted…

All in all, I’ve written about 500 words (not including blog posts & comments) over the last week. Some people would say that’s a fairly poor effort. And I’d usually agree with them. But not this time. This time, I feel like I’ve spent the week incredibly productively. I’ve spent the week sharpening the saw.

In my blog reading, I came across a couple of really interesting and useful articles. The first is Nathan Bransford on How to Write a Novel. The second is Kristen Lamb on Story Structure & Action. I just happened to read both of these on the same day, and had a few amazing lightbulb moments in regards to plotting my novel.

At this point, please let me just remind you that I hate outlining. Nonetheless, I have often found myself in trouble at about the 40,000 word mark while writing a novel. At that point, I usually have an idea of how I want the story to end, but no idea of how to get the characters there. By that point, the characters I’ve come to know and love have often decided that they’re ready for a break, and are sitting around spending page after page reminiscing, planning, or just generally shooting the breeze. And while I’m happy to throw in a Chandler-esque man with a gun, doing so doesn’t always get me any closer to the final resolution that’s swimming around in my head.

So… lightbulb moment. I don’t have to outline. It’s okay to be a “pantser”. But it would help if I had some idea about the necessary conflict in the story before I start writing. It would also help if I knew when to finish the book. (I’ll write about this in more detail another day.) So I’ve spent the majority of this week planning/plotting my novel. Much of it has been in my head, and much has been done in the shower, or while taking my son bike riding, or when sitting up feeding my baby at some ridiculous time in the morning. But now I feel much more in control of my story and where it’s going.

Although I haven’t written a single extra word on my novel itself, I now feel Motivated (yes, it requires a capital letter) and ready to write. Now to find some time…

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