5 Steps to 500 Words

TGI the Weekend!

I’m blacking out time on my schedule to write some words, but I thought it might be fun to drop some knowledge about HOW I get 500 words NO MATTER WHAT.

1. Decide the writing will happen and you will enjoy it. So much of the story around writing is about how HARD it is. How challenging it can be to get what’s in your brain out on paper (or a Word doc). I won’t lie to you and say the writing always feels like shooting rainbows out of my fingers, but – especially in the drafting phase – I always remind myself that this is a chance to purely create. It’s alchemy with words. It’s FUN. Even when it tries to convince me it’s HARD.

2. Set the scene. I know writers who need it dark, with candles flickering, music playing. I know writers who exclusively write in cafes with bustle and noise all around them. It doesn’t matter how, but find a way to use your senses, and habits, to trigger your creative brain. It doesn’t have to be the same every time either. Honoring the time with your story is what matters.

3. Set a timer on yourself. This can be a few hours, or 30 minutes or whatever you want. But having a window for the words helps. It’s like how having a deadline can spur you to finish a project. It will help you stay with your writing instead of slipping onto Instagram, or taking one of those Buzzfeed quizzes where you make a pizza and they reveal the color of your soul.

4. Write forward. Once you get momentum going, try to stay with the forward motion until you hit a goal. You can always go back and edit after. But you can’t edit at all if you don’t write the words to begin with!

5. Reward yourself WHEN you succeed. Celebrating the victory of setting a writing goal and then meeting it is SO IMPORTANT. Sometimes, when I need to get a lot of words in one day, I will set little rewards up for hitting 500 word increments – a fresh cup of tea, a walk with my dogs, playing a round of Mario Party with my son – and then I will give myself a big reward at the end of the day. This usually involves wine and Netflix, and it’s glorious because I did the work and I loved the process and, best of all, I WANT to do it all again tomorrow.

On Writing a Novel: Revision is not a Four Letter Word

revision

Revision is a bloodbath. It is an assault on words you vomited — eked, spit, sweat — onto the page during drafting. It is where you get to the heart of your story. It sometimes involves massive cuts, sometimes surgical edits. Sometimes it is about character, and others about prose. It is a process, and while there is no one infallible way to revise, there are some truths universally acknowledged.

Write Tip #1: You must read your entire manuscript, from start to finish. There are no exceptions.

As you begin to read your manuscript, you will consider carving out your eyes with a melon baller as an alternative to reading anymore. Push past that and separate yourself from the hope that your first draft isn’t total shit. Even if you are a seasoned and stupendous writer, your first draft will have cringeworthy moments.

This read through is to identify the Global Problems. World building, themes, arcs — these are all Global. Focus on those first. Are they all working? Did you drop a thread somewhere in the middle and never pick it back up? Are character arcs satisfying? Is the voice consistent?

Once you have read and unearthed the large problems in your manuscript you can make a plan.

Write Tip #2: Do not begin cutting and slicing before deciding on a plan of action that will address the problems in your manuscript. Then write it down.

Break your problems up into categories. Define them by character. Divide them by plot point. I cannot tell you how best to organize the list of issues you will likely uncover.  It will all feel a lot more manageable if you organize it in a way that helps you relate to the story with fresh eyes.

If you focused on plot in the drafting stage, try organizing your revision by character arc and internal goals. If you were all internals and forgot plot points even existed, focus on the story structure.

Write Tip #3: Take it one step at a time. It is easy to get overwhelmed during revision, breaking it down into bite size pieces is how you avoid that.

During a recent revision I had to cut a character. Not kill her. Cut her – remove her from the story entirely. The first step was extracting her from every scene she was featured in. Then, I made notes with Track Changes to remind myself that the scene would need to be reworked later. I did this throughout the entire manuscript until all evidence of her existence had been edited away. I was then able to go back and revise the now chopped up scenes all at once.

Write Tip #4: When the first set of revisions is complete, and before sending it to critique partners, read it again, this time focusing on Local Problems.

Local Problems — grammar, punctuation, word choice and narrative flow. Local problems have a big influence on how the manuscript reads, and while they might not be as glaringly obvious as Global Problems, they are just as important.

You will never be able to make everything perfect, and even with reading and rereading you may not notice all the problems in your own manuscript. Print and read your draft aloud. When you stumble on the prose, examine why.

Write Tip #5: Give it to readers and begin work on another project. At some point you will take a draft as far as you can on your own, and a fresh set of eyes is essential. While those eyes are perusing, take out a Shiny New Idea from the vault and ask yourself what if?

Next up: Handling critique, revising on feedback, and preparing to query. 

To check out previous posts in this series follow these handy links ::

Planning and Research

Drafting until it’s Drafted.

 

On Writing a Novel : Planning and Research, a Prologue

stephenking

This post will begin my three-part examination of writing a novel. I have written two manuscripts in the last two and half years, which makes me neither an authority nor a novice on the subject. However, writing and revising a manuscript is something I have done with a degree of success. If success in measured by the manuscripts being readable, agents responding to my query and pages, or my CPs not cringing when I send pages.

Since this is my blog, I choose to believe it is.

The first part of my examination will hit on Drafting — the horrible, rough, manic, shit-storm that makes beautiful novels possible.

The second part will cover the blood-bath that is Revision, which will steal your joy, and rob your faith, and create something actually worth reading.

The third part will delve into handling critique, revising on feedback, polishing and spit shining. In other words, getting that baby ready to query.

To have a novel you can pitch to agents you must have revised and polished it. To revise you must have a finished draft, and to that end you must also have some idea of what you are writing the book about, who is narrating, and so on.

Before we get to the three stages of writing a novel, we will spend some time in the land of pre-writing.

Prologue:

Planning and Research

Everyone handles this stage a little differently. I can tell you what I do, and you can tell me it is wrong, and we will somehow both be accurate. As a non-plotter, my planning does not include a written outline. I spend a lot of time listening to the narrative voice in my head. Asking questions. Trying to understand who this person is and why her story is worthy of telling.

This sounds mythical and unknowable, but what it really means is I cannot sit down to write until I have heard and defined the characters voice in my head.

Write Tip #1: Voice is the hardest thing to revise. If you do not have a distinct narrative voice, you will struggle with more in revision. Make sure you are listening to your protagonist from the beginning.

Once I am jiving with my MC, the plot begins to take shape in my mind. I am of the school of thought that “plotting” means knowing the large movements in the story in a vague and changeable way. You should know the big plot points, and you should have an idea of the goals, the stakes, and so on, but so much of writing (for me) is about the chase. If I know everything ahead of time, I loose that since of wonder at uncovering the true story.

Write Tip #2: You can always go back and add in, but you must keep moving forward in order to ever know what needs to be fixed.

Research is a funny thing, and can be done in a myriad of ways. My friend Lindsay Cummings took self-defense classes and handgun courses and walked around with a knife in her boot to better understand her protagonist Meadow. For my first manuscript, I researched as I drafted, which I do not recommend. But I was just learning, and my protagonist, she wasn’t too sure what was actually going on in her world.

For my second manuscript, Of Blood and Promises, I wrote 5,000 words and then I decided I should maybe have some things defined about this world — which has its foundations in Polynesian culture — before I went any further.

Write Tip #3: Research is essential. You can never write a book without some level of knowledge or inspiration backing you. Don’t think you have to know everything about your world up front, but know enough that you aren’t the blind leading the blind.

Once you have a grasp on your world, and you know what Trichotillomania (if you are writing a book with a protagonist that suffers from hair pulling disorder, like a friend of mine is), or when the fall of the Roman Empire occurred (if you’re writing an MC with an interest in world history), it’s time to bite the bullet and start drafting.

Write Tip #4: The blinking cursor in the blank Word doc is villain to your confidence. Just start typing. Be willing to put aside your research, to trash your outline, to start in the wrong place and write sentences that will make you cringe in shame. We all start somewhere. And it’s always slogging through shit at first.

Next up : Drafting until it’s Drafted