Tag Archives: writing tips

What I’ve Learned During NaNo’s First Week

Happy Monday!

What? Too perky?

So Not Sorry. After a long weekend of feeling like someone skewered my insides while also having a house full of kids (and one of those gets sick, too), I deserve a little perky.

Plus, I have a grand total of 12,459 words in my NaNoWriMo word tally. That’s for one week of writing. By today I should have 15,000 words written and I will get it done. I’m not going to push myself into misery though, which is why I took yesterday off. It was a beautiful day and I had been up until 3 a.m. writing 4,000 words, I felt good after being sick for two days, and I decided I’d earned the break.

I’m learning a lot from this round of NaNo. I’ve figured out that if I give myself 20 minutes, and only 20, to socialize and distract myself from writing then I can actually focus on writing without being distracted because I spent my allotted time and have to earn more. It’s my reward system and it’s working for me. Next,  I’ve discovered that for the first hour I am pushing myself for words. This sucks because I might manage only 500 the first hour. However, once I get past that first hour and those 500 something amazing happens: the story takes over.

I’m serious. I’ve had a week of testing this theory. It’s like sitting down to do homework at first or reading a book someone tells you to read in a genre that you don’t normally read in. There’s pain. There’s whining. There’s wining. 😉 But after a while you realize that the book isn’t so bad or that you’re almost finished with all those thousands of math problems. Once I get past the mad toddler stage of that first hour I find that the words are flowing, the characters talking and telling me their part of the story, and I get lost in what I’m doing. So much so, that Saturday night I lost track of time and that’s when I looked at my word count and realized I’d gone over my daily goal. That’s happened quite a few times this week.

Another thing I’ve learned is to not focus on my word count. Because it’s insanity. I may be a lunatic poet but I’m not actually all that crazy. (Hush AJ.) At first I caught myself looking at my word count every ten minutes to see how close I was to my daily goal. It was a distraction in itself. So I tried to focus more on the writing, not the words. It’s helped but it is really tempting to look and keep track of those words. I’m now trying to just let it go. (Ok, Joe, stop it. If I have to hear that song one.more.time…)

Let’s talk about editing-as-you-go-now. One of our biggest problems, right? Not this time for me. I have somehow ignored all those little niggling impulses that say “go back and fix it now.” Nope. I am making all kinds of errors and just leaving them. I am info dumping. I am deliberately ignoring all the rules and liking it. I have chapters all over the place. I have scenes happening before other scenes. I have characters introduced that I will need to go back and create an introduction for. I have timeline issues. But it’s all good. I will go back after November, or when I’m finished writing, and sandpaper the hell out of it. That’s why its called a rough draft.

I’ve also developed an interesting little quirk. I like to knit, and with fall here and winter on its way I began knitting a scarf for one of my eldest son’s friends. (Its a Ravenclaw scarf, CJ. Thought you’d appreciate that note.) I’m almost done with it and have now begun knitting hats because they’re quick to make. Well, I’ve begun  keeping a hat in progress next to my laptop. Whenever I get stuck on what to write, I pick up the hat and knit until an idea comes to mind. There’s this idea that knitting creates a Zen-like mindset in the brain. I cannot corroborate that with any scientific facts but it does clear out all the minutiae and let’s me begin to focus on the problem at hand. Clearing my mind allows new to form and I can brainstorm while still being productive, which then allows my writing to be more productive as well. Plus, I love the yarn I’m working with right now. Its SOOOOFFFTTTT. So…writing and knitting, though not at the same time, an interesting but effective combination.

This week has definitely been worth the time I’ve invested in NaNo. Just learning more about my writing process, and how its evolved during the last two years, has been a gift in itself. I know I need to allow myself distractions and reward myself for a job done, even if it’s a small one. Knowing that I will be pushing myself for words the first hour or so allows me to know what to expect, and I will be developing a strategy to combat this problem as November goes on.

Week Two is here and I hope you’ve discovered things about your writing, and your writing process, that will help you as you go forward. And I would love to hear about it. Pipe up in the comments. Let’s see what ya got!

Jesi

It Has Begun

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo for short, has begun. Yesterday to be precise. And I missed it. I had a family emergency sprout up that took the entire weekend to resolve and so I ended up without logging (even for my own benefit) any writing time.

But you know what? That’s ok. I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m not out to try and “win” NaNo. By that I mean that I’m not going to try and kill myself to make the 50k words in 30 days goal that defines NaNo. I will do my best to get close but pushing myself to frustration to be able to cut and paste a “I Won NaNo!” button on my home blog isn’t worth it. That’s not MY goal.

My goal is simple: to sit down and write something every day. I have one idea that is my NaNo project, but I have a few other projects that I would really like to work on and finish as well. So, I plan on writing a little on my NaNo Project, then working a little on another smaller project and getting it completed. No, that doesn’t follow the NaNo contest guidelines but so what? Isn’t the whole premise of NaNo to get you writing? What does it matter if it’s one new project or an older one? As long as you are writing every day and reaching whatever reasonable word count goal you have set for yourself, I don’t see that WHAT you write matters all that much.

So, what is my NaNo project? I am taking on and retelling King Lear. I was inspired this past September after I watched Sir Ian McKellen’s 2008 performance of Lear. His portrayal of the mad King sparked an idea that I ruminated on for at least a week before realizing I was prepping my story already. I had most of my characters and scenes began playing out in my head. All I had to do was write them down. That’s where NaNo comes in.

Thanks to NaNo I had to hold off on actually sitting down and writing the story. Because I had to wait to begin writing until November, I was forced to actually prep. I had some research to do (I still have research to do). There were character sketches I wanted to write out. And, horror of all horrors, I actually began outlining! A natural pantser (thanks to writing poetry…A LOT of poetry), I was outlining…in my head. I know. I can’t believe it either. But I did.

I don’t have all the mechanics worked out. But I have enough that it didn’t matter that I missed writing yesterday. As far as I’m concerned, all of my prepping (which includes writing about 500 words of a summary that could be a possible opening chapter) should count towards my first day work. I sat my butt down and wrote every day in October. Granted, it was for a poetry challenge but I still sat down and wrote. I also did lots of reading, on my subject and off it. I planned, I plotted, I wrote. (Google Translate says that is: “Aluero, confirmaro insidiatus scripsi” in Latin.) As far as I’m concerned, I have made a great start. And let’s face it, we’re going to need all the little bits of encouragement and support as November marches on and NaNo becomes a pain in the butt to get through.

So, a few tips.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your daily word count. Some days you are going to have a word count euphoria while others you might manage two words.
  2. Take breaks. Get up and walk around. Go for a walk outside if it’s nice. Make a cup of coffee or tea. But take a break. Get your mind off of writing for a bit. It will help if you come back to your writing with a fresh mind.
  3. Reward yourself, even for small goals. Basically, be your own cheerleader. Do something kind for yourself like having a piece of chocolate (or your preferred delectable treat) or watching a movie (see tip #2).
  4. Ignore all your natural inclinations to surf the web and social media sites. Set your phone to vibrate or turn it off completely if it’s a big distraction. It’s a proven non-scientific fact that once you sit down in front of your computer to write you find a hundred other things to do instead of actually writing. So, put on the blinders and turn off the distractions.
  5. Remember that “winning” NaNo is NOT the goal. Writing every day is.

NaNo is a good exercise in dedication. It’s helpful in that it forces you to try and make a habit out of writing every day. And if you are sincere and determined to be a writer, then writing every day is not just a necessity, it’s your writing oxygen. Even the great writers knew it. Practice makes perfect isn’t just an adage, it’s a well-known fact of every craft.

Here’s to hoping you’ve made a great start to NaNo! Happy writing this week!

Jesi

Habits of “Successful” Writers, or the Secrets That Sell a MasterClass

Firstly, I have NOT taken James Patterson’s MasterClass on writing. Please take note of that.

Secondly, I know people who have paid Mr. Patterson for his time and videos.

Thirdly, I am about to tell you what Mr. Patterson (and other successful authors) knows about being a “successful” writer.

Are you ready?

It’s all about developing good writing habits.

There. That’s it. That’s what you are paying Mr. Patterson to learn. Yeah, $75-$100 just to learn that. I’m not saying he isn’t worth listening to, or that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In fact, the consensus of what I’ve heard and read about his MasterClass is that most people think they got their money’s worth. He talks about storytelling, not specifically writing. He discusses characters and dialogue and outlining and action/suspense. He believes in hard work and discipline. But not necessarly style. You aren’t setting out to write a classic novel, just one that sells. Obviously, Mr. Patterson, whose name is everywhere on the bookshelves, knows how to sell a book.

But you have to remember, James Patterson started out like any other writer. He had to develop certain traits. So, what are these traits? Google “habits of successful writers” and you get a long list of sites telling you what makes a successful writer. Guess what the first one (almost always) is?

  1. Write! Write daily.

As if you didn’t already know this one. But it’s the most highly effective trait to cultivate. Write write write. Even if it’s just for a few minutes every day. This is the one you MUST be strict with yourself about. Writing every day makes you a better writer. It is the difference between being a good writer or a great one. Even if you aren’t James Patterson Successful, writing every day is essential to your own personal success.

2. Read.

Read often. Read in the genre you are going to be writing in. This, too, is essential. You learn the tropes of your chosen genre. Examine the sentences, the dialogue, the character development. Pay attention to the opening sentences and how well the story holds your interest. You can learn more from reading than you can by paying someone to tell you the same information you are already absorbing from a story. Read good writers. Read great writers. Read bad writers. You will learn what to use and what to avoid.

3. Keep some kind of writing material handy.

You never know when an idea is going to strike. The most handy tool today is your mobile phone. If you own a smart phone, you have in your hand the most readily available notetaker/organizer/idea keeper. There are apps for everything. Download a voice recorder app and speak your ideas into an easily downloadable file and transfer them to your computer via Dragon software which automatically translates your voice into the written word. If you are old school, carry a pen and paper around. But keep it with you. Those ideas can happen out of the blue.

4. Join a community writing group.

I can’t tell you how great a circle of other writers is at keeping you inspired, encouraged, supported. Writing may be a solitary experience but you aren’t alone. There are so many other aspiring successful writers out there and being a part of this group is a huge boost for your esteem and well-being. They are a wealth of information as well. Got a problem with one of your scenes? Someone can help. Having trouble writing dialogue? Someone in your group probably writes great dialogue. Find them and make friends. Plus, other writers “get” it. They understand, and will often enable your crazy.

5. Nurture your inner schizophrenic.

I LOVED this one when I read it on one site. The person who wrote it was talking about how as a writer you have to be two people with your writing: a dancer and an ax murderer. The dancer agonizes over how interesting the story is while worrying about grammatical errors, etc. The ax murderer brings a cold eye to the finished work.But I translated it into being more than that. You have to embrace your crazy, neurotic side. So what if you have conversations with imaginary people in your head? You’re a writer, you’re allowed to be eccentric. Just make sure you write everything down. And that person who just cut in front of you or is too perky in the mornings? Let your inner Dexter take care of them in your story. You could use a psychotic character in your story, right? Just, you know, don’t actually REALLY act like a homocidal maniac.

6. Develop a thick skin.

You are going to receive criticism. You are going to fail at something. Not everyone is going to like your writing. Let it go and move on, gracefully. Don’t let the trolls get to you because a troll’s job is to discourage you and keep you from succeeding. And just remember what happens to trolls…

“The big billy goat  flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the cascade, and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely able to walk home again. And if the fat hasn’t fallen off them, why, they’re still fat; and so,

Snip, snap, snout.
This tale’s told out.”

Will these habits make you successful? Obviously, not as successful as James Patterson who also had help along the way from knowing how to sell himself and having a good agent and taking advantage of his advertising knowledge.

They WILL make you a better writer and that’s half the battle.

And guess what? I just told you all that for free.

Jesi

P.S. Add any other tips and habits in the comments. 🙂

 

It’s time to read

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King

One of the most common writing tips out there is to read. A lot.

I learned to read early on, around the ages of 3-4. My great-grandmother spent her days dressing me up and teaching me the written word. Though I remember none of this, I will forever be grateful for my family’s hand in my love of books.

So, to write, you have to read.

Currently I am reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr..

What are you reading? Let me know in the comments section, even if you aren’t a writer, I’d still love to hear what you are reading. (I am always looking for a good book to read…) 🙂

 

Till next time,

~AJP

Time Perception

I have 15 minutes.

This does not seem like a long period of time. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it is really not. But to me, right now at this very moment, 15 minutes has become an excruciating amount of time. The seconds are ticking by ever so slowly.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Depending on what you were doing or where you’re going, this will greatly determine your perception of time consumption.

10 minutes to go…

For my birthday last month, my family went to see a movie at the theater. It was one that had been much anticipated and we were excited to finally be able to get to see it. We were not concerned with how long the movie was, or what time it was playing because it was this movie.

With our popcorn, sodas, and seats, we were ready!Soon enough it became apparent that our excitement and anticipation was no match for this movie. At  forty minutes in, I glance at my watch sure that two hours had passed. Ninety minutes in, my little one started fidgeting, 120 minutes in, the popcorn was gone, the sodas watered down, and three of us were bursting at the seams and had to take a break.

As we  returned, my husband grumbled that we had not missed anything. And we still had half an hour to go before the ending.

The problem wasn’t that the movie was bad per se. Or that the script was necessarily bad either. No, it was just that the movie was all over the place. It almost felt as if the writer had A.D.D. in some parts. We would be traveling along the storyline and then BAM!, shiny fight scene. Or a mid-action, kick-ass, hear-me-roar type of scenr, then queue violins for the random (and awkward) love scene. There were storylines that felt under developed, that sometimes had you thinking, “huh?”. Then there were subplots that drug on and on and on some more.

Dear Lord, it felt as though it was never going to end!

We found out later that the reason for some of the issues were because the movie/script had gone on too long (ya think) and they had to cut parts just to get it down to the two and a half hours. In my opinion, there were enough plots and subplots, storylines and innuendos to make this in to two movies. They crammed too much information into just one and it made a lot of the experience feel long and borderline unenjoyable.

There is something to be said about keeping it simple, as CJ posted last week. When your storyline has too much going on, your ideas become chaotic and muddled, even difficult for the reader/viewer to really enjoy or understand sometimes.

In the end, make sure that you are making a point, and actually getting there in the end. Being long-winded in your storytelling might have your readers eyeballing the clock.

My 15 minutes are up, that was quick! Or long, depending on who you are.

Till next time,

~AJP

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Back to Writing Basics

Basics

Before computers and typewriters, the basic writing tools were a simple sheet of paper and a quill/pen/pencil. Imagine Shakespeare or Jane Austen as they wrote their first drafts and having to scratch out any mistakes. They didn’t have that quick delete button or that strange smelling White Out to cover up any misspellings or wrong words. Think about how Mark Twain dealt with carpal tunnel -my hand cramps when writing a simple grocery list. Everything they wrote, they had just the basics; a piece of paper and something to write with.

Do you ever go back to basics in writing? You know, pencil and paper. Turning off the hum of the computer and listening to the scratch of the lead as it scrolls across the notepad.

It is not something that I do very often. I find it more time-consuming to put the words on actual paper, then transferring what I have written into a word document. Not to mention the hand cramping from only using one hand (I could use some ambidextrous skills right about now), and sometimes my handwriting can be difficult to read. Oh, and don’t forget the wasted paper, just these two paragraphs alone have used up one side of a sheet.

I think it’s just easier when on your electronics. You get to use both hands, hit the backspace button when you make a mistake, and the much beloved spellcheck! And the most important thing of all, the save button. I can save everything I type onto a flash drive, and those puppies can store a lot of pages.

However, here lately, I haven’t been wanting to stare at the computer after work but I still have things that I need to get written (this post for example). So I seem to have disconnected myself from the laptop for a bit.

Oddly enough, I’ve been enjoying writing things out by hand. At first I was frustrated, I do not generally have time to waste by doubling up the work on a single post. But I found a way to combine old school ways with new school techniques. After I write my pages I then use the dictation button on my device and just read my words out loud. Bam! Time saved right there. Once I got the kinks worked out I found the upside to writing things down by hand… I feel a little more connected with my work. It is coming across a bit more personal even, and that is always welcomed. So It turns out that I kind of dig this whole hand writing with pencil and paper.

How do you prefer to write? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear what you have to say!

Till next time,

AJP

Show, Don’t Tell

My house has been overrun. I am under attack and have tried to batten down the hatches, build foxholes, and all that military terminology describing hiding in my closet. I have way too many people in my house demanding my undivided attention. My nerves are frazzled, no, wait…they are not frazzled. They are cut electric lines spitting out sparks and looking for something to ignite. I am currently devising a plan to get me the heck out of here for a few days next month (I hope-I really need a break.) because someone is going to get hurt, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my brain.

I am not doing so well on my writing goal, although I have been writing every day, which is great. It’s mostly poetry, but I am writing several a day and I can feel the inspiration flowing. I have been coming up with ideas and taking extensive notes because I really am trying to stick with one project at the moment. But, it’s been hard to find any time or peace and quiet this last week. I haven’t been the only one up in the early hours, which means there is no quiet because (sorry for the stereotyping here-just understand I’m speaking in generalities) you men cannot be quiet at all. I don’t care if it’s closing a door or taking a shower, the men in my house have no idea what “shhh, people are sleeping” means. And when I say “early hours” I mean “early”, as in “did you even go to sleep?”

One of the things I’ve done to try and get some story writing done is I’ve turned back to this book I love called The Practice of Poetry (which I mention a lot because…LOVE) by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. It is filled with some very good exercises. And today I wanted to share one which stood out recently. I haven’t done it myself yet, though I am practicing it with my current work in progress.

The exercise is called Intriguing Objects/”Show and Tell”. You are supposed to grab an object, any object, and talk about it. Tell it’s story because it has one. Where did you find it? What drew you to it? How did it come to you? Then, after telling it’s story (this is a group exercise) you are to write about it in some way (poetry, prose, play, etc). Unfortunately, I’m not in a group setting so I thought about it differently. It brought to mind a common writing mantra-show, don’t tell.

One very common mistake most beginning writers make is in their descriptions, whether for a character or setting. “The tree was tall and had green leaves, which blew in the wind. Diane saw the tree. She put her hand on the trunk and looked up. She could see the sky through the leaves.” Do you see what I mean? The description is boring. It reads more like stage directions to me. And, yes, people do actually have manuscripts that read like this.

What if it read more like this:

“The tree towered over Diane, and she could see the leaves dancing in the breeze. She put her hand on the rough bark of the trunk to steady herself. Just looking up at the soaring height of the tree made her dizzy, so she focused on trying to spot the azure sky through the canopy of leaves.”

See the difference? In the first one, you are being told every little thing. There’s no imagination, no creativity. In the second, there’s more description, it’s active. You get a sense of who Diane is. Does she get vertigo? Where is she? How big is the tree? You want to know more about the story, don’t you?

Show, don’t tell. It’s such a common mistake but easily fixed. Go find yourself a dictionary and a thesaurus, and practice writing descriptions. That’s your exercise for today. 😉

Jesi