Hello everyone! How have the first two days of July been for you? Hot? Yeah…hot, but so far so good I think.
If you don’t know National Novel Writing Month is officially in November however the organization (yes NaNoWriMo is an organization that does a lot of work besides host this fantastic event) also hosts camps in April and July every year. Which means this is day 2 of July camp! It’s free to sign up. You can set your goal however it pleases you; you can base it on number of hours writing or researching, number of words total and more. Typically official NaNoWriMo’s goal is to complete a novel in a month (yes this is a thing), or 50,000 words.
According to Wikipedia the average children’s chapter book is 16,000 words while the average mystery novel is about 60-80,000 words. Meanwhile the average thriller can often be over 100,000 words. If you estimate 250 words per page that would mean the average mystery novel is 240-320 pages, a thriller being 400+. Now I’ve never read a Brandon Sanderson novel but my understanding is that all of his books are long being at least 500 pages. That said all three of the All Souls trilogy books were nearly 600 pages. Let’s just say that big books are common to the fantasy genre, if you ask me.
While 50,000 words might not be a whole novel that is the general idea behind the competition. Mostly you’re competing with yourself although you are able to see other people’s stats. If you reach 50k by the end of November then you won! In that event you have the chance to receive some NaNoWriMo paraphernalia. I did not win last year but I did in 2017 when I first took my WIP (work in progress) on as a novel. In 2017 I got a sticker, a cool t-shirt, a little rubber bracelet and a few other little things. Best of all I got the bragging rights, yeah I wrote 50k words in a month (or 63k+ in my case).
Was that a novel? No, not even close. In fact I said I’d finish the first draft before the start of 2018. My goal for July camp is to finish the first draft.
In an older episode (maybe last November) of Death of A Thousand Cuts podcast, Tim Clare argued against participation in NaNoWriMo. Among other things he stated that you should be doing this regardless. You shouldn’t just write every day for 30 days because of some competition; if you’re a writer you will write every day because that’s what you do.
On the one hand I do agree with him. Absolutely you should be writing as much as you can because you’re a writer. Every time you write you’re practicing, exercising, putting your craft to work. You might not be a real writer if you only do it for NaNo, I’m sorry but I do believe that. However, I think NaNoWriMo is an excellent opportunity to catapult yourself and your project into a new stage of development. For myself NaNoWriMo was the kick off of my novel. My failure to focus and discipline myself to write no matter what is why it’s taken so long but NaNo gets credit for forcing me to take it to a new level.
The recommended daily word count for November was 1,667 words. This is so doable, at least for me, if it’s not for you don’t feel bad, do your thing. But seeing those numbers and that graph does something for me. On a good day I can easily write 3k in an hour. So why not? Having to write every day, or make up for a day missed, meant that I had to tell my inner editor to shush and let the words come out. Follow leads I doubt, listen to my creative brain as it tosses ideas at me, follow the rabbit into the hole of my imagination. Accept, and understand, that the first draft will likely not be excellent and that’s okay. But get those bones together. Get that foundation built. Then revise, revise, revise. Think about it, how often were you expected to only write one draft in school? Yup…
NaNoWriMo feeds the competitive me and it provides me with a tangible goal that I feel I must accomplish. I have to enter those darn numbers. I have to watch the graph rise!!!! Writing a novel, unless you’ve already been commissioned, is a self-propelled project, task, job, opportunity, experiment, you name it. It’s up to you. And that isn’t always an easy thing. That means you make your writing schedule. You have to find that time and take it seriously. Discipline is key. Commitment and focus are required. You are your boss. And NaNoWriMo is this sweet nugget of a month in which I kind of have a different boss when it comes to my writing. That helps me.
Thus it is nice to have the camps as well. I joined June 30th for July camp and on the 1st I wrote about 1,146 words. Not the daily target, but I’ll make up for it. My goal for July camp is to complete my first draft. Then in November I will work on revisions. Is this intimidating? Yes. Is it doable? Hell yes! I hope to publish my novel in 2020 so I have got to step up my game and kick ass!
Are you or have you done NaNoWriMo? Will you be joining this year? If you have any questions about my experience please ask. Let me know if you’re going to join camp or the official event in November. Another thing that’s great about this is the community. There’s a lot of dedicated writers out there who join NaNoWriMo every year. You can join a group in your area, physically or virtually. You can look for writing buddies to help hold you accountable. There are discussion forums and weekly e-mails of encouragement. There’s really A LOT going on with this organization. If you need a boost for a writing project I strongly recommend you at least look into NaNoWriMo and see if it works for you. Click the link in the last sentence or at the top of the post (there are links to NaNoWriMo & Camp). But do remember, it doesn’t stop there.
Stay tuned for this week’s response to a writing prompt and last week’s since I missed it. I’ll find and pick one at random. As well as a post about my latest TBR additions, what I’m currently reading and read, and maybe more. 😉
I don’t ever do writing prompts. Why? It’s silly. Because I think that if I’m going to be writing something then I should be writing something I’m working on, an actual project of mine. My main work in progress (WIP) is my paranormal fantasy novel but I will also write a short story here and there should I be inspired to do so. The idea of writing prompts makes me think At the least I should be writing my own short story, not putting my time into some snippet just for fun…or am I looking at this all wrong? Perhaps I am.
A writing prompt isn’t necessarily all for fun and joy, it’s also for practice. But then I think, eh but who cares? Who’s going go want to read it? Well silly after all this time and all the stuff you’ve posted on your blog (this and the previous version which is no longer available) you’re really going to get stuck worrying about whether or not someone would read your response to a prompt? Come now, at least then they will get a taste of your creativity because what says anyone is going to read your thoughts on Outlander or you ranting review of some book you wanted or did love? And why do you care so much? Why don’t you try?
So I’m going to. I’m going to share responses to prompts I find anywhere on the web. Of course I’ll post the source. If you want to jump in and try it too go for it, share with me! Link back to me! But this is for my practice first but for your enjoyment second as well as a chance to get to know more about me as a writer. So let’s see…
Today’s prompt is actually from the June 18th on Writer’s Digest by Cassandra Lipp. The phrase to be used is “If you look back far enough, you can see…” in 500 words or less.
By one I was done digging around in the dirt out back. I don’t know what my mother thought this was going to accomplish but I was done. I kept watch for her though she never came out I was sure she was watching me. Mom had eyes in the back of her head, even though I’d proven that to be a myth at least three years ago. If I had siblings I’d bet them now that if I stopped digging she’d be out here in 13 minutes spitting words all over me.
She told me to dig down 12 inches then move over six more if I didn’t find anything. That was 10 this morning when she’d brought me out here telling me to start by the apple tree. Sure I took breaks, she let me come in around 11:30 for lunch. And I figured I could get away with a good 10 minute sit every 20-30 minutes without being noticed. I don’t know how many holes I’d dug at that point but I was clear to the garage and ready to start crying. She’d have to do something then right? But I found it. A little metal box down at the bottom of my latest hole, that was my goal. I looked up but she wasn’t there. Yet. Was that for her or for me? I dug the hole a little wider so I could lift it out. Making sure there were no holes behind me I sat down in the grass and brushed the dirt from the box.
Now I know she didn’t tell me to open whatever I found. She didn’t tell me anything about after I found whatever. For all I knew she was mad I’d been secretly wearing makeup to school and wanted to punish me. But it would make me crazy if I gave this to her and never got to see inside. Parents can do that, whatever they want, they can do it.
The decision was easy, open it, peek around, close it. Put it back in the hole. Go get mom. Simple. But I had to be fast.
Inside I found at least 20 or more charms, the kind I put on my bracelets. There was a small notepad with writing in it. There were four small horses, metal, glass, wood and plastic. There was a smaller metal box. I lifted it out and there was mom.
It was a photo of her and my father holding a baby. It had to be me. They were sitting in the grass with a metal box between them, their legs crossed in front, mom had a small shovel in her hand. Then mom was with me.
“If you look back far enough, you can see he was always thinking of your future. He added new charms every year. His plan was to give you the box when you graduated high school. The notes say when, where, and why he picked each charm.”
Here’s what’s up, another Saturday is here, can you believe it? I hope so otherwise there might be trouble in paradise. What else is up is that I’m catching up, or at least I’m trying, it’s only May right? Ha, I wish. Okay today I’d like to confess one of my latest binges, the TV adaptation of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I can’t tell you what channel to watch it on because I streamed it on Netflix although they only have seasons 1 & 2 I’ve learned she’s writing another book and they’re filming season five. What! For real.
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another…
In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach an ‘outlander’ in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord…1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire’s destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life …and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
This isn’t the first I’ve heard of this series, it was at least two years ago probably longer. I listened and watched many an author interview in which there was a panel of authors that included Diana Gabaldon, at least one also had George R.R. Martin. I listened along interested enough, though I didn’t know anything about her story or characters. Then one day several weeks ago I needed some background noise and so I went to Netflix and there it was. I thought, meh, what the heck, I’ve heard of this story so I’ll give it a shot. This became my go to show while riding my spin bike and winding down the evening.
While romance is not my go to genre this story is also fantasy, which is my genre. It has not disappointed. I indulged in the first two seasons with interest, intrigue, and plenty of shock. However upon learning there’s going to be a fifth season I can’t wrap my mind around this story seemingly going on forever. Sorry to all you die hard fans but it could have ended with the second season if you ask me. I like Jamie and Claire (the main protagonists) although I like Claire less because she annoys me sometimes.
It’s a heck of a story full of emotion and shocking twists. There’s also A LOT of graphic violence, sexual violence and of course sex. So if you’re sensitive or triggered don’t watch this show, it’s love and warfare across the board. Diana Gabaldon knows her craft to say the least, and it’s fair to say she did some impressive research. Nevertheless, I still think this is a good example of a story that shouldn’t go on and on just because it can.
DISCLAIMER: I know almost nothing about season three so if you feel like you want to slap me for my presumption I’m sorry. It’s just that I don’t believe that’s it’s going to be as interesting to follow the next generation around time and space. I’m sorry but until I gain access to the third season I’m going to hold my position.
The main reason I want to talk about this today is because even as I haven’t (and won’t) read the books (because I’ve seen the show) there’s a lot a writer can learn from this series. For one this story shows us why it’s super important to have tension and to build on that tension in your story. Claire Randall is married in 1946 but falls in love in 1743 at the same time she’s dying to return to the present. Tension? Yup, loads. At the beginning of the show we see how Claire & Frank (her present day husband) truly love each other. So when she travels back in time we can feel her desperation to return to her husband. Of course she’s desperate to get back for a lot of reasons but we all worry for Frank and what he must be thinking after his wife mysteriously disappears. And then she has to marry Jamie in order to survive? Claire’s struggle with this marriage and the fact that she didn’t ever want to leave her husband is palpable. We the audience ride the emotional roller coaster alongside these characters.
When I think about this story and The All Souls trilogy I’m taking notes for my own writing. It’s clear to me that a good story is like a tree. There’s a main theme – a witch finds a highly prized missing manuscript, a mysterious vampire is stalking her, and her powers are growing; a married woman accidentally travels 200 years into the past, while trying to get home she falls in love and must choose between her two lives – like the main trunk, it is the base of the story, the foundation. The trunk then branches out to large branches that divide further into small branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruits. When constructed the reader/audience is not left wanting. We don’t simply hope for the ending. We want to explore and discover all these nuanced divisions from the trunk. When written like this I think you’re always giving the reader something. Of course you have to hold out for the big reveals but let’s face it we don’t want to wait until the end of the book to learn new things and to get answers. Reveal other things to the reader. Teach us. Show us your world so we can explore because we can’t do it on our own. These other stories all build on the main trunk/theme ramping up my interest in the larger story. The added complexity raises the stakes and the tension.
As I may have mentioned before in The All Souls trilogy I was impressed that every chapter seemed to reveal something new to me. For instance in book two, Shadow of Night, I recall a chapter that ends with Matthew and Diana on a date. I really could care less about their date but whatever. As the chapter, and their date, came to a close I expected nothing more but a steamy end to their night. I got that but I also got a last minute reveal, like really last minute and it was a good one. Not only was that awesome for me as a reader but as a writer I was really impressed. That piece of information also brought me an answer to a couple of questions then brought up a host more. A lot of writers would have ended with that date, not every chapter can be thrilling right? And a lot of people would have been fine with that. But Deborah Harkness wasn’t. She let you relax into their date then BAM guess what!?
Needless to say that stuck with me. As I develop my own story I remind myself to give my reader new information often, even if it’s little bits and pieces. Add buds, leaves, and flowers to your story tree, don’t just build a bare tree like a stick figure. As a reader I don’t think I want to read a story that just starts and finishes unless it’s a short story. Reflecting on these stories and more, stories that I really enjoyed reading, I recognize that I’m apt to get lost in them if they’re more than just a main theme/trunk. It seems that it’s easier to forget you’re reading a story if it weaves around and doesn’t just travel from A to Z to answer the main question.
Think about it in terms of the clip below, in terms of boxing matches. Do you want to watch a fight where one guy just knocks out the other guy and we have a clear winner? Or do you want to watch a fight in which it’s a battle, they exchange blows, and you’re not quite sure just who will win but ultimately it’s a clear win (maybe someone does get knocked out)?
Of course there’s a caveat. Don’t just add separate story lines and characters in an attempt to make your story more dynamic and nuanced. They have to grow naturally from the trunk, not be grafted on in a lab. Your reader will only be more upset to be sent on a fruitless tangent or one that feels forced. Brainstorm. Ask yourself a lot of questions about your character’s motivations and your own. Question if what you just wrote makes sense in regard to your characters. Make sure you can come back seamlessly from one of these other branches. Don’t just write it just to write it, we the reader will know and we’ll frown at you. Plus IMHO such moves add the wrong kind of weight to a story.
Thanks so much for reading and visiting. I hope you found this post insightful both in terms of how you use reading and how you write. Please let me know if you did and how perhaps this helped you progress.
Have you seen or read Outlander? What are your thoughts?
Don’t forget to follow me if you enjoyed this and would like to hear more about what I’m reading, writing and watching. If you want to read more of Here’s What’s Up with Writing CLICK HERE.
Look I did it, I made it back to writing a Saturday Here’s What’s Up post! Woo hoo! Sometimes it really is the small victories. 😉
Okay, so what is up? Well, here’s what’s up:
The point of this post is to share some resources/apps I use for my writing as well as to describe how I use a variety of methods to work on my novel. Sometimes it’s not a enough to just sit down with a pad of paper and a pen. Other times you just don’t have the time or capacity to hammer out a whole paragraph but you’re internally driven to work on your world and/or the story. If you don’t have the resources and/or flexibility to capitalize on that drive you might wind up doing something else entirely, liking surfing the net perhaps? Or social media? Yep, that kind of stuff. Allow me then to provide you some suggestions based on my own methodology.
I have a couple different voice recording apps on my phone. Honestly I haven’t gotten into their details and just what all they can do or even compared them to each other. I just use them to record what I’m saying to capture my ideas. If I was going to present this recording I might care more but that’s another story.
When I’m in the car or walking my dog I can’t very well write, not by hand or by keyboard. But that doesn’t stop my wheels from turning (pun intended). It would be a tremendous waste to just let those thoughts go to the wayside. Maybe you have a great memory and those thoughts aren’t wasted but why take the chance? Sometimes I won’t need to listen to the recording afterward when I can write because I do remember, the very act of recording meant those thoughts were fleshed out and implanted in my brain.
I have a bluetooth headset that I wear so I’m not walking or driving around holding my phone talking into it. Turn on the voice recorder, record the date and time and maybe even what I’m doing and what’s happening in my life, then start talking. There are times I know just what I want to talk about – my character’s backstory or a new plot twist – and other times I have no idea what I want to talk about but I want to work on my story. In those cases I start off with what I last worked on in my story then I think about something that was a problem there or I think about what should happen next. Just talk to yourself, brainstorm. You might find this is easier than writing because you don’t have to edit your sentences or edit yourself as you would while writing actual chapters. Say whatever, discuss who, what, when, where, why, how, first, next, then, finally. Use voice recording for free form brainstorming.
This is a specific app I use on my devices and have for some time. I use the free version and it works just fine for my informal yet important purpose. This app allows you to create maps for ideas, notes, tasks, etc. Think bubbles connected by lines to other bubbles, webs of ideas. It’s fabulous! You can zoom in and out, use dropbox (although I haven’t tried that yet), access anywhere, open and close branches of the web/map so you don’t have to see everything all at once or see it all open before you.
I use this resource when I don’t have a lot of time to write or I’m not in a position to haul out my portable keyboard, laptop or even a notebook. Sometimes that’s just too much. Mindjet Maps is great for me when I’m not drawn to working in complete sentences or paragraphs but I still want to work on story details. For example, I have a map of one my main character’s family and background. There’s a branch for her paternal and maternal families. These details are relevant to my story so it’s important I flesh out the details and know them at least for myself. There are bubbles for his mom, dad, siblings, birth, death, career, hobbies, and more. You can even draw arrows from one bubble to another to tie them together or make notes pertaining to a particular bubble. You can use icons, a variety of colors, and all sorts of customization, although you can’t use just any shape of bubble, you’ve got 3-4 options mostly just size difference.
These maps can serve as great references for when you are back to formally writing. Here you can record names and statistics such as age, schooling, career, hobby, physical details, family, etc. It’s also satisfying to work with this visual, especially if you’re a nerd you’ll have fun creating all kinds of new branches! This can be a great way to source new ideas if you’re having trouble. It’s a new way of looking at things as opposed to just strings of words on the page.
This is a Microsoft service provided with Microsoft Office. You can download it across your devices as well as use on your computer. This means you can access it across devices, of course. I’ve been using OneNote for a long time so it tends to be my preferred program though Google drive/docs can serve a similar purpose.
Within OneNote you create “notebooks” that you can share with others should you want to. Once you’ve created your notebook (and you can make as many as you want) you then create and use as many folders as you’d like, they look like tabs across the top. And this goes on and on like having a notebook with an infinite number of “subjects” inside. You create pages within your folders and can go further to have subpages for those pages. You can move sections or pages from one folder to another. You can, let’s say you’re on a touchscreen with a stylus pen, use the handwriting function and write into the document. Your writing opens a block that you can move around the page, should you want to move horizontally you can, thereby dividing the page up how you want. You can do all that you would in word but more. It’s excellent.
OneNote saves and syncs automatically as you write, assuming you’re on a network that is it syncs automatically. So go ahead and type three pages on your computer, then when you’re in the waiting room sitting pull up OneNote on your phone and go over what you wrote, make changes, add to it, whatever. Go home later and pick up where you left off.
Last but not least, and newest to me, is Scrivener. I heard of this software long before I actually downloaded it for NaNoWriMo 2017. It is a paid service but I think it’s quite reasonable and worth it.
I’m still learning my way around Scrivener and haven’t been using it a lot lately for no other reason than I just haven’t. It’s not as accessible as some of these other programs I’ve described. I only use it on my laptop and desktop which I think is all you can do. But that doesn’t make it any less worth using.
In terms of organization it gets down to work even more so than OneNote although it is similar in that it’s arranged like a binder with folders and tabs and documents. You can create multiple binders and break them down from there. While Scrivener looks a little more primitive it’s complex and starts you off with a tutorial on how to use it. You can create notecards, use templates such as character sketch, and more. Also Scrivener provides the option to compile all your work together as a novel when you are done. You can sync and back up your documents and it saves automatically as you work. Also when you open a new project you have the option to choose blank, fiction, non-fiction, scriptwriting, or miscellaneous.
I’m not going to go into anymore detail here as I’m still very much learning this software but I do recommend it. You’ll find that this is a popular and well known program among writers.
I need not mention but will, that I use pieces of paper (to add to binders later), notebooks of paper, notepads and journals to write as well. I might also use note cards although my organizational skills are lacking and will get a good heave-ho here soon. Also, I have a whiteboard set up on the wall in my house. This is a new thing but I’m looking forward to finding how best to use this for my story. So, here’s what’s up!
What about you? Do you use any of these tools for writing? Do you use others?
If you would like to share this post please link back to me and share proper credit. If you find this helpful hit the like button and let me know, I’d love to hear about how this helped you or how you’ve used these tools to your advantage. I really hope to share what I can that gets me through the process and gets my ideas flowing.
Hey guys, how was your holiday weekend? Hopefully it’s going good. I’d like to thank all the veterans and their families. Thank you for your bravery and your sacrifice. Thank you for facing the dangerous and protecting us all. You evoke admiration and inspiration. Thank you as well to all first responders for your bravery and sacrifice. We are all better because of the work that all of these people do. I hope your weekend was blessed and safe. Should you also need help I hope it is forthcoming.
This post and others titled like it are going to document me sharing writerly thoughts with you. They’ll be inspired by or responses to reading and how it pertains to my writing life and vice versa. I plan to share things with you like how the writing in a particular story really works for me as a reader and how I use it as pointers for my own writing. Or why I think a certain character really stands out or doesn’t reach me at all. I’ll probably also tell you weird random things that cross my mind as a writer, whether it’s got to do with reading or not. I’ll also share writing exercises I make up and think are helpful (like today’s) or I discover and give credit to the person who shared.
NOTE: This is a long post aimed at other writers. After some ranting about writer’s block I get to my point, which is a writing exercise I’ve created. I’m certain it will show you there’s no such thing as writer’s block, we just gotta get to work.
For starters, I do not believe that writer’s block is really a thing. Yup, that’s right. But this wasn’t always so. Long ago I believed in writer’s block because well, that’s what I knew and heard. Writer’s block has just always been a thing because people tell you it’s a thing. But then a writer (sorry can’t remember who) and my partner independently said, I don’t believe in writer’s block, there’s no such thing. That’s a crap lie! My little brain said, ugh
But let’s be honest, my little brain then said, what ever made this true? Why were these people denouncing this wretched curse? And have I ever actually experienced writer’s block? What makes writer’s block a thing versus just being a point at which you’re stuck?
When I wrote mostly poetry I always said I didn’t force my hand, I let ideas come to me. So does that mean that when ideas weren’t coming I was blocked? Nope. I didn’t force my writing but I also didn’t sit idly. I’m always thinking about things through my writer’s brain. While running if I was hit with a strong emotion I would turn the experience of that emotion into a story. What was I thinking, how did it feel, what was happening around me and how did I respond to it or not, through the lens of this emotion? Hear something that moved me on the news? What’s the news, how did it effect me, how did that change my internal chemistry, where might it be leading me? What are the words that will add depth to this story or song and rhythm?
If I wasn’t outright inspired by something but I was craving a creative experience I would go outside, or think about the important, current and/or most dynamic things in my life. I might read. Almost always something would come to mind, whether or not I liked what came out isn’t relevant, I wrote. If I tried and nothing much was coming out I wasn’t blocked, I was hindered by my internal environment, namely focus-defeating-anxiety.
While I tell you about the past I’m also telling you about the present and the future. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. No really, that’s all a myth. Writer’s block is defined as a condition. According to dictionary.com, writer’s block is:
a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.
But do you really have a condition? Or do you just not know how to move forward? Is believing in writer’s block hindering you because you believe it’s impossible to move forward? Yes. Is it really impossible that you can’t work? And is it writer’s block if you can’t move forward in that moment with a particular project but you CAN write something else? NO! NO! Write. Write! WRRIITTTEEE! Look you’re cured! You wrote.
This weekend my partner once again got all worked up about this subject. He said “You’re always writing. I’ve never seen you not be able to write. I’ve never heard you say you just can’t write.” I thought with pride about what he was saying.
While I took that as a compliment it’s really just fact. I might not be able to write a poem on call but I can write something whenever, and so can you. This isn’t bragging, this is the nature of writing. If you’re struggling with a certain page or project, switch to something else. Why isn’t their photographer’s block? Because they can just go out and take a photo. That’s the point, not whether or not it’s the same project or the results are any good. You’re not blocked, your brain just needs a jump-start and that might start with a break.
Think about it like exercise. When you’re working some kind of a fitness or weight loss plan don’t they talk about reaching a plateau some weeks after you begin? Yes they do Elpy. Correct. Your body, your muscles get used to the work you’re doing and your progress often slows. So what should you do? Mix it up. Increase the weight you’re using (not too much, be careful) or do different exercises. In other words, don’t keep doing the same thing over and over and not expect some level of fatigue. Okay but how do you apply this to writing? How do you abolish that myth of writer’s block?
Try a change of pace and ask questions. Let’s say you’re working on your plot. Stop and work specifically on one of your characters. What’s their background? What were they like at specific ages? Who do they idolize? What drives them crazy?
What’s that, you’ve done that already? And you still believe writer’s block is real because you’re experiencing it? Okay, don’t worry, I got you. Check this exercise out:
This weekend I finished The Book of Life, the third and final book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (my review is forthcoming). I really liked this series, despite its many flaws, it was creative, original, and so full of great characters and lots of information. I went for a walk after I finished the book and dictated my thoughts, mostly for a post such as this. It got me thinking about all the things that worked and why I thought it was so successful. But what I’m most excited to share is the writing exercise I came up with. It’s not a walk in the park (no pun intended) but I believe it’s guaranteed to break your “block”. AND it’s an ongoing exercise. At present, I’m working on mine.
Start writing the name(s) of your main character(s) at the top of a page or document. Think about this as a chart so work horizontally or better yet use different pages for different characters but keep them handy so you can cross reference. Focus on your MAIN character or characters if you have more than one, main main not sort of main, they’ll be included don’t worry. You’re going to need a lot of space for this but for now just get it started.
Next, list every person (or thing) your main character interacts with. Now this doesn’t HAVE to be the girl in the restaurant who seats your MC and his father, but you can because you never know where your brain will take you. If you know each being’s name go ahead and write it, but you can just say mom, dad, sister, brother, neighbor, bus driver, Lyft driver, etc. If you already know their relationship to your MC then add that in parentheses. You can also put a star next to each person/thing you know to be an important piece of the story. This could be a simple act that ushers the story forward, it’s not the complexity that counts here, just the importance.
Let your creative brain lead you, not your inner critic. They’re not allowed here, at least not yet. If you’re making this list and something pops into your head, write it down. You might be trying to focus on important people, like family, friends, colleagues, and then your brain says the hostess at that new restaurant a town over. What? Yes go for it. I’ve learned it’s super important to allow yourself to follow ideas like clues and fresh leads.
While you put this together if a scene pops into your head, go after it. Of course put that on a separate piece of paper or document. Don’t fill up this list with scenes but don’t ignore them and say oh I’ll come back to that after I do this. No the point of this exercise is to lay the pieces of your puzzle out and run with what presents itself. Keep an extra notebook, pad of paper, notes app open and ready while you do this. Scene comes to mind? Write it down. New character? Add them to the list but more detailed information should go elsewhere. Trust these little clues that come your way. They might amount to nothing but I know without a shadow of a doubt that at least some of them will lead to something. You don’t know which will be which so record them all.
Don’t get discouraged if you’re thinking oh my gosh I don’t know anybody else in this story but my MC and her group of girlfriends. Awesome! That’s the point of this exercise, to explore, to follow, to build, to compile… Start with who you know your MC interacts with. Then think outward. Ask yourself questions. Do they have family? By default when you ask this question 10 more will sprout. Every question you answer should bring up more questions, if they don’t then you’re not asking the right questions. Either that or you’re resisting the process. And I dare say writer’s block might not be real, but a writer blocking themselves is real all day.
Do they have family?
Yes —> Mom? Dad? Siblings? Extended family? In-laws? What’s their relationship with these people? Do they have one? No? Why not? How’s that affect them?
No —> Are they an orphan? What’s that backstory? What about the people at the orphanage? Are they a foster child? What’s that backstory? Now you have foster families to account for. Who is like family to them?
As I said, some of the answers to these questions will go in your other notebooks or documents but you can see how they’ll branch out and out and out until they bear some kind of fruit. For the sake of the lists, you’ll use the basic answers, like if they were a foster child and you plan to include scenes from their childhood in the story you’d list their foster parents, foster “siblings”, case worker, maybe the judge.
If you have people who don’t interact with your character(s) in the story but they’re important to the story then put them off to the side or at the bottom with an asterisk/star. You might have a whole list of people or things like this, and they might only be there for your use or knowledge. That’s fine, do your thing, but this list is for interactive characters even if it was once a upon a time, short, a montage, whatever.
If you feel overwhelmed at this point, don’t trip out. This is part of the job of a writer. Don’t let this scare you, at least not long enough to stop you. Move forward with the task at hand and know that all writer’s get overwhelmed from time to time, it’s the nature of the work. And like I said this is an ongoing exercise so you don’t have to complete it in one sitting. You don’t have to know squat but your main characters to start this. Heck you could use this exercise to START a brand new project! If you don’t like outlines but need some structure, here you go. This is also a great opportunity to iron out some more details about your MC(s) because you’ll want to know some basics like their gender, age, race, location, profession, etc. You might not need to know all of those now but they will help you build your list. For instance, age is a super important one because if they’re young they’re probably still in school, in which case you’ve got a healthy list to build of teachers, counselors, friends, bullies, principle, bus driver, janitor, etc. For an adult you know they need a job or maybe not, maybe they’re homeless. If the latter than you’ve got the local shelter, other homeless people, people they pass on the street, police and first responders, etc.
Then, move down the list. Go to the next person under your main character, start a list for them that includes any of the other characters from the MC list that they interact with. Did I word that so it makes sense?
Main Character: Thomas
neighbor to the south
neighbor to the north
neighbor to the east
manager at work
This list will go on as long as you need, and add to it or subtract as you work through your story. Oh I left out neighbor to the west because no one lives there. See, go with whatever. The second step is you’ll take “father” then list who below or above him he interacts with. If you have another main character you will also cross-reference Thomas’ father with that list. You could letter or number these characters if that would help you. Then list the letters after each person.
A. Father – B, C, E, H, I, K
F. Nbr to S
G. Nbr to N
H. Nbr to E
I. Mngr at work
Father doesn’t interact with his wife’s sister, Thomas’ aunt, because of a falling out 12 years ago. While the neighbors are Thomas’, because he’s a grown man, his father has developed a friendly relationship with the neighbor to the east while visiting his son to help with tasks around the house, starting with the time he mowed his yard while he was out of town. He also meets his manager at work from visiting his son, calling his work, and picking him up from time to time. And last but not least, Father doesn’t know the new girlfriend but oh he remembers that crabby ex-girlfriend. He could really do without running into her around town.
Again, by default you’re building your story and your characters by building this list and asking yourself how and why, when and where with each instance. You don’t have to know all the answers now, but record them if you get them. I can’t stress this enough; do NOT WORRY if you don’t know, make stuff up, try characters out. Write some of these experiences on a side sheet. Having trouble? Ask more questions.
Let’s say you don’t know where your adult character works yet you know they work. Okay, write boss, manager, colleague, ex-colleague, customer/client on the list as place savers and something to look at and think about as you work.
Then you’ll move to mom:
Mother: A, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K
Of course mom talks to everybody in Thomas’ neighborhood, drives him crazy. And I wasn’t going to add I. because mom doesn’t like him but I have to because there are at least a few instances she has to talk to him. Or maybe no, maybe mom really never interacts with the manager or you don’t add them to her list because she’s not a main character and their interaction took place in the past but won’t in the story. With these secondary characters you don’t have to be as detailed but by all means if you’re driven to then do it. And mom hasn’t met the new girlfriend either. Remember this list is for interactions that happen in the story, create a list for other types of characters. Later you might not include some of these interactions after all but each detail you work through or delete will help you shape this thing.
But wait Elpy! You said add everyone who these people interact with, so just because mom and dad haven’t met the new girlfriend doesn’t mean they won’t before the story’s over. Gotcha Elpy! Well sure that’s what I was just saying to myself and then I thought, nope, Thomas dies and his parents never meet the new girlfriend because she leaves town. The story backtracks his life. BAM!
So you will keep working down this list and across to the list of your other main character(s). This exercise is a big one that could go on and on. You might find it’s easier than you thought or it’s more difficult. For my novel I wouldn’t say this is difficult per se but it’s not as easy because I need to go back over what I’ve written so far to list characters my two main characters interact with. But this is great for me, and will be for you, because it means I have to look at my story as a big picture, then hone in and work out the details. It’s also showing me where there are some holes in my story and cast of characters. One of my main characters is an angel, another is a woman who is an artist of sorts (I’m still working out just what her art is). As I build my lists I recognize that I don’t have much going on with her work and who she interacts with. Also how much if any time do we spend with the angel before he dies? So do we ever see him with friends? If so I better add them.
If you have more than one main character circle the people in their lists that also interact with the other main characters.
Create other lists for elements, things, creatures, the environment and environmental factors like the weather. If such interactions aren’t relevant to your story, fine, but at least give it a thought because such a list will help you fill in character and plot details. For example, maybe your 46 year old male MC played football in his youth and injured his knee. Now when it’s cold and/or rainy his knee hurts, which means any such scenes might find him less physically able or at least distracted by the pain. Or maybe your story involves a lot of animals. Maybe your story is like I Am Legend and all these other movies that follow one MC and basically no one else. In that case your list of interactions will be composed entirely of environmental factors and creatures among whatever else you can think of. Suit your list to suit your story and characters. Add things like ship’s bathroom, ship’s kitchen, volley ball, robot, trees, the sun, the engine, dog, office orchid… NEVER be afraid to edit the list. NEVER be afraid to add some random thing or person or being that popped into your head.
That’s it for now but I have plenty more ideas I’m trying myself. If you give this a shot or share it with others please give me proper credit and link back here. I really want to know how this works out for you. Tell me your tale of breaking the writer’s block myth.
Happy Saturday everyone! Hope this post finds you well. I know I missed some posts this Wednesday and almost missed this Here’s What’s Up, but you know I couldn’t leave you hanging! Last week I mentioned I’ve been behind in reading. Well this week wasn’t much different, although I was able to finish Tim Clare’s The Honours, which I really enjoyed. You can find my review posted tomorrow, Sunday, 7 April, 2019. I recommend this book if you like fantasy, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t “horror” per se but maybe some of the elements lean that way. I’m happy to have finished this, the second half of the book was a quick read, I had to know what happened next, yes it was like that.
Words for what? My novel silly. Because here’s what’s up: I’ve been in a writing slump for a little while now, lot of outside stressors getting in the way, as they do. But underneath it all ideas have been bubbling to the surface, until finally like a volcano – okay a little volcano, like the size you made in school – they burst forth! It’s still safe to say I’m looking forward to a 2020 publication date.
Writing is hard work. I take my hat off and fill my heart with the efforts of all the writers out there. While I’m reading I’m still a writer. It amazes me the things people make happen when they put pen to paper, even more so as I’m doing it myself. It’s also difficult not to beat your own work up as you’re putting it together. But you absolutely have to remember that a first draft is not a finished product. I remind myself of this again and again, every time I’m writing or brainstorming I tell my inner editor to shut the heck up, for real, shut up, you’re not helping. A person does not come out of the womb all grown up and in its prime. No we’re born with a lot of growing left to do.
And so I continue my writing as well as my reading. I’m also working on some short stories to submit, I’ll let you know how that goes. Now that I’ve finished The Honours (I’ve misplaced Everfair or else I’m sure I’d be finished with it, lol), I will begin The Voyage of the Basilisk (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, #3) by Marie Brennan. I’m also going to find Everfair and finish that puppy, then I’ll start The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman.
As I said above I’ll have my review of The Honours posted tomorrow. This week you will find a post about my plans for April as well as a post about why I added some of the books I did to my March TBR.
Anything on my Spring TBR you’re interested in? Or have you read The Honours by Tim Clare? I think this book is underrated and deserves more attention. So look for more buzz from me about Tim, his book, and his podcast in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned!
Oh and share your thoughts, I love chatting! Thanks for reading everyone. 😀
Here’s what’s up this week! An introduction to a new series of posts I’m starting. I do like the idea of having a regular feature so to speak. So, here’s what’s up!
My goal with my blog this time around is to be a bit more focused. I will still bring you a variety of different things like occasional interesting bits of my fun with photography, I mean who doesn’t like to look at stuff?
Officially, I’m going to focus more on reading and writing. While I’d love to share all that I’m writing with you, I can’t because I’ve got plans to submit and well most publications want to be first. And my novel is still very much a work in progress. Best to let it simmer in secret. That doesn’t mean we won’t be talking about writing but there will be heavy focus on reading. SO call me A Book Blogger (plus, okay don’t forget the plus)! What can I say, I like to read. And so can blame me, I’m a writer after all. Here’s What’s Up Book Lovers might feature updates to my 2019 TBR in detail, a new book blogger I found and want to feature, fun insights on writing, news from authors and books I like. LIKE Sue Burke’s book Semiosis has been nominated for the Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award. The Kitschies are British awards for “the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining fiction that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic”. The Golden Tentacle she goes on to say is for debut authors. Stuff like that!
In addition to hearing about books and from other book bloggers – you know I got to network and support my fellow book lovers and writers – you’re also going to hear about my personal struggles. Now this is a fragile point of glass. What kind of blogger does this make me? Not a lifestyle…?
Here’s What’s Up With Me
Sometimes we divulge our personal lives with ease and I am a bit of a confessionalist, a bit or more. At other times we stand at the door with our eyes on the peep hole wondering whether or not to open and share. I’m both these things. I love to share and I hate to let people in beyond my control. However, what I have known for a long time is that we can help each other through our experiences. It’ll take some strength and heart for me to really open the doors for you but I’m going to get creative and I’m going to open doors and windows. Bring in the light baby!
I struggle with anxiety and have for many many years; I struggle with whether or not to say for most of my life. In addition to my anxiety I have obsessive thoughts. While I don’t believe I’m OCD I have in the last year been struggling with some compulsions, all founded on obsessive thoughts. It is a strength I know to share my struggles and yet I feel vulnerable putting it out in the open. It’s not difficult for me to tell you I have anxiety issues, but to put it in words and publish it means that I can’t stop it. Whereas in real time there are days I want to talk to everyone about having anxiety and then there are days I just don’t want to talk to anyone period.
When you’re writing a blog it might seem obvious to share things that are personal. Sure it could be uncomfortable but you want to connect with people. However once I tell you, I’ve told you and I don’t know what you’ll think or feel. I don’t want to be painted with pity nor do I want you to think this is a cry for attention. I think the latter is the worst. I don’t want your attention on me for my anxiety, although I do want your attention on the issue of anxiety. That said I do want your attention on me so you get to know me as a person and a writer. I have self-published a collection of poetry (please contact me if you’d like to know more, links are forthcoming), and I am working on my first novel in addition to short stories. (Writerly facts about me thrown out at random.)
Here’s What Else Is Up
There’s a lot going on in my life, reading and writing are definitely some of those things but they aren’t the only. When I think it’s relevant or helpful I’ll share about these other things. And if I find a clever way (I will) to share about my life regularly, you can expect I will. For the time being (right now it’s 8 Mar 2019), expect a book blog. Simple. But, don’t be suprised if you find author interviews, interviews of all kinds, and more in the future because I am ambitious. Anxiety may kick my ass from time to time but at the end of the day, I’m in charge. I’m the one who wakes up and runs this ship so I’m the one you get to know. My anxiety, eh, it’s like the weather. We’ll talk about it in passing.
In summary, here’s what’s up posts will consist of weekly updates and/or bits of news of what’s happening in my world, the world, and/or the book world. And you’ll see such headings as those above to give you an idea of the topic/category. The above was a summary of what you might expect but also like I said, an introduction to what’s up with me and this blog.
Please do bear with me as I get this all figured out. Some might be a bit convoluted or drug out but