Posts Tagged With: Publishers

How to Write Foreign Languages in Your Novel

Let’s face it, foreign words are cool. They can make your characters sound smarter, make exotic settings feel more authentic and even increase the dramatic tension in a scene. But before you start sprinkling a certain je ne sais quoi into your prose, take these steps to make sure your reader doesn’t get lost in translation. Here’s how to handle a foreign language in your novel:

Option 1: Write it in English.
By far the easiest way to handle a foreign language is just to keep everything in English, like this:

“I will never leave you,” he whispered in French.

Of course, this only works if your point-of-view character actually speaks French and can understand what’s being said. If not, things get a little more complicated.
(More on that in a moment.)

Option 2: Use English, with a sprinkling of foreign words.

“Give me the gun, mi sobrino,” his uncle said. “Very slow, now.”

This is tricky, because many of your readers won’t know what the word or phrase means. (“Mi sobrino” means “my nephew.” Now you know.) If you can cut the foreign word out of the sentence without hurting anything, you’re probably okay. But if the meaning of the foreign word is key to understanding the sentence, rework it. Your reader wants to live the story, not go searching in Google Translate.

Bonus tip: If English isn’t the speaker’s first language, you can mess up the dialogue’s grammar just a tad. But be careful, because the more you mangle the English, and the more foreign words you include, the more you risk losing your reader. Use a deft touch, and tone it down in the rewrite.

Option 3: Use narrative summary.
Narrative summary is a pretty heavy-handed form of author intrusion that sounds something like this:

The men argued in Russian, pointing fingers at each other and shaking their fists.

It gets the point across quickly, but the danger here is that you’re breaking from the on-screen action to take the reader aside and tell them what’s happening. (Ever hear the rule about “show, don’t tell”? This is telling.) But sometimes this is the most economical way to keep the story going, especially if your character doesn’t speak the language. What you lose in style you’ll gain in pace.

Option 4: Write it all in one long block of foreign language.

Don’t do this. Ever. Under any circumstances. I can’t emphasize this enough, mi amigo. If your reader runs into a solid block of indecipherable words, you’re toast. At the very least, your reader will be jolted out of the story long enough to skim past the wall of foreign text. But it might be so annoying that the reader just closes your book and never comes back. Let’s avoid that, shall we?

Quick recap: Foreign Language in Fiction
  

  • If your point-of-view character can understand the language, just write it in English. At the end, add ‘she said in Russian.’ Or whatever.
  • If you want to drop in the occasional foreign word, make sure the meaning of the dialogue is still crystal clear.
  • If the viewpoint character doesn’t understand the language, the easiest way to keep the story moving is to work around it with a narrative summary: She fired off an angry retort in German.

Try writing your scene a few different ways and see which method works best for your story. Remember, learning how to write a novel is a lifelong process, so look at this as a chance to learn a new skill. And who knows, you might pick up a few words too, verstehen?

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

5 Mistakes First-Time Writers Make

This past month I’ve gotten inspiring emails from all sorts of new writers, from high school students to retirees. One thing is clear: you’re never too old (or too young) to write a novel. If you’ve been thinking about writing a book — and who hasn’t? — remind yourself that the best day to start is today.

I’ve fielded a few writing questions lately about some crucial writing basics, like manuscript format and chapter length. If you have a lingering question, don’t make the mistake of guessing at the answer. Find out for sure. Who knows? You might be surprised!

Q: Hello there, I was just about to start my own novel and wanted to know if I double space everything or no?

A: Yes, in your final manuscript, you want to double-space everything except your contact information. It’s easy; just go up to your paragraph spacing and choose 2.0. (Or if you’re using a typewriter, just click the little spacing lever.) Also, remember to give yourself one-inch margins all around.

Q: What size of font do publishers use?

A: Your finished manuscript should be in 12 point Courier New or Times New Roman. Courier used to be the only acceptable font; now, more and more agents are requesting Times. When you’re finally ready to submit your novel, check the submission guidelines of the places you’re sending your manuscript. For your drafts, just use whatever font is comfortable.

Q: How long is a novel?

A: The exact range depends on your genre. In most cases, a novel should be more than 50,000 words and usually less that 120,000. It needs to tell the story of your main character setting out to achieve a specific goal, and then show how that character achieves it (or fails).

Q: Do I decide where a chapter ends? Or does that come later with an editor?

A: You decide on the length of your chapters. In fact, your chapters are one of the best ways to control the pacing of your novel. Take a careful look at published books like the one you want to write: How long are those chapters? How do they end? How do they begin? A little studying goes a long way.

Bonus tip: you can make your chapters as long or as short as you want; Dostoyevsky wrote chapters that went on forever; Kurt Vonnegut’s chapters were sometimes only one word. The key is to make each chapter change something in your story and move it one step closer to the end.

Q: I’m just starting my first novel. Can you recommend a good book of writing tips?

A: I highly recommend the book The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M. Bickham. You can find it your library or on Amazon for a buck. It’s priceless.

Got a writing question? Don’t see the answer here? Just ask me. And in the meantime, have fun writing!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lorem Ipsum: The Extremes of Good and Evil

Have you ever seen the phrase “Lorem Ipsum” and wondered where it comes from?  I have, ever since ye dayes of olde when I did typesetting with rub-transfer Letraset sheets.  For obvious reasons, we always ran out of the letter “E” in ye goode olde tymes.

But seriously, ever since the 16th century, printers have used the phrase beginning with “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” as dummy text to showcase the layout of a piece.  That way, your eyes can take in the design of the typesetting without getting distracted by reading the actual words.  (Unless you happen to read Latin, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)  There’s a rumor that the whole Lorem Ipsum thing is a bunch of random text that lacks any real meaning.  Turns out it does, in fact, have meaning.

The Extremes of Good and Evil

I’m going to digress for a moment to talk about extreme characters.  As we all know, interesting characters are neither chock full of lily-pure goodness nor mustachio-twirling villains with a “Nyahahah!” laugh.  But that doesn’t mean they need to be plain-Jane vanilla, either.

I’ve read any number of unpublished manuscripts where the characters are “ordinary” folk — regular, everyday people that don’t leave much of an impression on the reader.  The late, great Blake Snyder (author of the inimitable Save the Cat books) says you should give your characters a hook and an eyepatch.  Conjures up quite an image, doesn’t it?  And that’s why you should do it.  You don’t have to actually accessorize your hero with pirate paraphanelia, but you should make him an extreme example of the human condition. 

How to Create a Character No One Will Ever Forget

Don’t make your main character assertive — make her bold, brave, even foolhardy.  Make her so focused on getting her way or doing the “right thing” that she steamrollers over her friends, creating conflict and dramatic tension everywhere she goes.

Don’t just make your antagonist deceptive, make him an outright liar.  Give him the gall and cold-blooded calculation to leverage lies to his advantage at every turn, destroying careers and entire families, gaining power for himself and spinning a web of intrigue that will threaten your heroine’s very existence.

See where I’m going with this?  Don’t take the middle ground with your characters.  Go to extremes.  Make these people bigger than life, more intense than the “average” person in every way.  Do that, and you’ll have a story on your hands before you know it.

The Secret of Lorem Ipsum

Believe it or not, the Lorem Ipsum mystery was solved way back in 1914.  Although the exact wording had been scrambled over time by careless typesetters, a Latin professor by the name of Richard McClintock cracked the code.  He traced a fragment of the passage back through history to a treatise on the theory of ethics written by Cicero in 45 BC.  It’s called “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum,” which roughly means “The Extremes of Good and Evil.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“…occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.”

Sounds like he might’ve been trying to write a novel.  A crafty fellow, that rascally Cicero.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Get Published in Any Economy

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
The recession might officially be over, but it’s still harder than ever to get published.  If you’re struggling to write a novel, you might find yourself wondering if the odds are stacked against you. What are the chances of ever getting published? Are literary agents and editors just itching for a chance to reject your novel? Or are you on your way to scoring that elusive book contract after all?
Even in this tough economy, success stories do happen.  Here to tell you about it is the unstoppable Miranda Kenneally, who is winning hearts everywhere with CATCHING JORDAN, a contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot high school romance.  Miranda took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about writer’s block, the truth about storytelling and how inspiration can strike in the most unlikely places.
Laurence MacNaughton: For those who haven’t heard about Catching Jordan yet, how would you describe it? 

Miranda Kenneally: CATCHING JORDAN is about a girl who’s the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. Jordan’s always been one of the guys and that’s just fine, but now there’s a new quarterback in town who wants her position. And Jordan, who has always worried that the guys won’t take her seriously if they realize she’s a girl, starts to fall for the new guy. 

LM: Where did you get the idea for Catching Jordan? 

MK: It’s weird. One day I had jury duty and I was bored, so I started free-writing in Jordan’s voice. I had no idea where it came from, but the plot just popped out. 

LM: So do you make it all up as you go, or do you work out an outline before you write? 

MK: 99% of the time I make it up as I go! But then I always have to go back and change the beginning of the book to match what the book has become. Generally I rewrite a book many, many times. 

LM: Do your characters ever surprise you — do they become real to you as the story goes on? 

MK: Oh yes! No matter what book I seem to write, the love interest just pops up, kind of like in real life. Even if when starting a book, I think, “This guy is the love interest” undoubtedly some other random dude will show up and steal my main character’s heart (and my heart, for that matter). 

LM: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? 

MK: Oh sure. To get rid of it, I wait it out. I’ll free-write in my main character’s voice or in another character’s voice, or I’ll read a bunch of books. I try not to force it, if I can. 

LM: What’s the best piece of advice you ever got about writing? 

MK: “Your truth isn’t everyone else’s truth.” This means that just because I believe something to be true, or I have a certain viewpoint, this doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way I do. In that regard, I always have to make sure that readers understand where my characters are coming from and why they feel the way they feel. Especially if the characters and/or plot are sorta “out there.” 

LM: So how did Catching Jordan ultimately get published? 

MK: I finished writing the book and spent about, I dunno, 3 months revising it? Then I sent out 17 query letters. I had an offer within a couple weeks, and so I went back out to all the other agents who had requested fulls. The offer from my #1 choice agent Sara Megibow came pretty soon after that. :)  I was a happy, happy girl. Sara asked me to do some small revisions on the book and then we went out on submission. 

LM: And now, Catching Jordan is in bookstores everywhere.  So what are you working on next? 

MK: Right now I’m working on a companion book to CATCHING JORDAN. The book, which I’m calling MANAGING PARKER, is about baseball and takes place at the same school. I also recently finished up a futuristic government book that I’m quite pleased with, and I hope something happens with it! 

LM: Fingers crossed.  Miranda, thank you so much for your time! 

MK: Thank you!

YA author Miranda Kenneally

CATCHING JORDAN is on sale now, smack dab in the middle of football season.  You can find the book here:


IndieBound
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
Borders

Miranda Kenneallyis the author of CATCHING JORDAN, a contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot boys, available from Sourcebooks Fire. She enjoys reading and writing young adult literature, and loves Star Trek, music, sports, Mexican food, Twitter, coffee, and her husband. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Miranda is represented by Sara Megibow at Nelson Literary Agency.


Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Set Up and Run a Critique Group

Teaching yourself how to write a novel is tough.  Doing it without any kind of feedback is nearly impossible.  Because writing is a solitary occupation by nature, you can sometimes feel like you’re operating in a vacuum.  But you’re not.  There are people all around you who are going through the same experiences you are, the same hopes and frustrations, the same struggles with story ideas and writer’s block.  These fellow writers are ready to help you, and they’re hoping you can help them, too.  All you need to do is gather them together in a critique group.

If you can’t find a critique group through your local writers organization, you can start your own.  My critique group has been meeting for years, thanks to a simple set of guidelines and a helpful hand from the moderator.  If you’re starting your own critique group, it’s worth it to take a look at how we run ours.

The Nuts and Bolts of Running a Critique Group

Our setup is simple.  Each week, the moderator sends out an invitation to everyone on the email list.  It states the date, time and location of the next meeting, and asks anyone planning to attend to RSVP. 

Bringing a chapter is optional; if you don’t have any material ready, you’re welcome to just show up and help others.  When you RSVP to the moderator, tell her whether or not you’re bringing something to read.  That way, when you divide up into groups, she can spread out the readers evenly.

Critique groups come in all sizes.  If you have more than six people, it helps to divide up into smaller groups.  We intentionally mix up the groups from week to week, so everyone hears a variety of perspectives on their work.

When it’s time to start, one member passes out copies of her chapter and then starts reading aloud.  Everyone else follows along silently, occasionally marking typos or notes on their own copy.  After the reader is done, everyone has about ten minutes to finish writing up their notes about what works in those pages and what doesn’t.  (Tip:  Now is a great time for the reader to go get a cup of coffee!)

After ten minutes, the moderator announces that it’s time to discuss.  Starting with the person to the reader’s left, each member takes turns talking about what was good about the pages and what could use some work, along with some suggestions on how to improve it.  During this time, the reader should keep quiet and listen.

After everyone has had a chance to offer a critique, it’s time for the next reader.  Members get to read in the same order in which they arrived that night.  (There’s a distinct advantage to being prompt!) 

And that’s about all there is to it.  It’s simple, it’s straightforward and it works.  But you have to have the right people with the right attitude.  Above all else, you need politeness and consideration for your fellow writers.  When it’s done right, a critique group can be enormously helpful in teaching you to become a better writer.

Critique Group Tips from the Trenches

* If you’re bringing your own work to share, bring up to 10 pages, no more.  Use standard manuscript format: 12 point Courier New, double-spaced, one-inch margins.  (Don’t use Times New Roman; the font allows too many words per page, and you’ll run out of time to read.)

* When you offer a critique, look for any problems and then suggest solutions.  Begin and end your critique with something positive, sandwiching the tougher comments in the middle.  Whenever possible, put a positive spin on it: instead of saying, “This part doesn’t work,”  you could say, “This part would work better if . . .” and then make a suggestion.  Corny, maybe, but the writer’s ego is on the line, so a little verbal cushioning goes a long way.

* Because you’re hearing only a ten-page section of an entire work, it’s like picking up a book in the middle.  Certain aspects of the story are bound to confuse you.  That’s okay.  Just focus on critiquing the material you understand and move on.  As you read more of the book each week, it’ll all come together.

* Keep in mind that there are people here at all different levels, writing in different genres, so respect is a must.

* At all costs, resist the urge to argue with a critiquer.  My best advice is to turn yourself into a bobble-head doll and nod along in silence.  Yes, it’s a natural instinct to defend your work.  But if you give in to that urge, you stop listening, which means you stop learning.  If you want to become a better writer, listen.  Remember, when people point out flaws in your story, they’re actually trying to help you.

* Personally, I find it enormously helpful to bring along a notebook and take notes as I’m hearing critiques of my work.  A comment that sounds ludicrous at the time may later reveal itself to be pure genius.

* Above all, remember that you’re among friends, and you’re all in this together.  Relax and have fun! 

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Romance Writers: Break Through Writer’s Block

Q: I read an article that you wrote for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers about beating writer’s block and I have a follow-up question.  You start out by determining who the story is about, but in your article it’s only about one protagonist. My novel has strong romantic elements so it’s really about two people and their relationship in addition to the non-romantic part of the story.  I’m curious if you have any advice for a situation like this.  Thanks!

A: Thanks for asking!  That’s a great question.  Writing a romance novel can seem impossible to plan out, because there’s so much going on at once: her story, his story and the story of their relationship together.  But with a little work, you can separate the stories and figure out each one, then weave them back together.

The trick is to focus on just one character at a time.  Pick one of your main characters and ask this crucial question:  What does this character want the most?  And the follow-up question:  Why?

At its core, every story is about somebody wanting something and not getting it.  The beginning of the story is where we find out what the character wants, the middle is where she keeps going after it no matter what, and the end is where she finally gets it (or doesn’t). 

You can make things more complex by having a character switch goals midway through the story, once she discovers a new and even more important objective.  For example, she might start out just trying to pull off an elegant dinner party without incident… until she runs out of coffee and ends up flirting with the hunky neighbor upstairs.  (Hey, it worked for the Taster’s Choice commercials.)  But even if her goals change, at any given point in the story she still needs to pursue something specific, and we need to wonder if she’ll reach it.  That suspense is what keeps readers turning pages.

So my advice is this: start with one character, and go through each of the steps:

1) WHO is this about?

2) What does that character WANT?

3) WHY does the character want it?

4) What will the character DO to achieve it?

5) What stands in the WAY of the character achieving that goal?

6) How are things RESOLVED in the end?

Then do the same thing for the other lead character.  You might find that your characters want more than one thing — that’s good.  Those other goals are subplots, and your novel will need several of them so that it’s layered and complex.  Just answer those questions for each goal.  Later, you can take everything you’ve written and weave it all together.  You’ll write a lot of notes, but the material you create will form the basis for your entire story, one that is engaging, complex and un-put-downable.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Win NaNoWriMo Like a Pro

To win National Novel Writing Month, you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Sound impossible?  Not if you break it down to a daily word count of 1,667 words.  Heck, bump it up just a couple hundred words more and you can take Sundays off.

Is it easy?  No, but then again, I usually write more than 50,000 words every month, so NaNo doesn’t seem like such a stretch for me.  And if I can do it, so can you.  If you want to win NaNoWriMo, you can, and these four easy writing tips can help you do it in style.  Follow them and before long you’ll know how to write a novel like a professional.  Does it get any better than that?

Step 1: Two Dogs, One Bone

Your main character (protagonist) wants something.  What is it, exactly?  Write it down.  Now think about the one person who stands in the way, preventing your protagonist from getting what she wants.  This enemy (also known as an antagonist) must want something that directly contradicts your main character’s desires.  If one character wants to save the world, the other wants to destroy it.  If one character wants to prove a suspect innocent, the other wants him hanged.  If one wants to unearth a secret, the other wants to keep it hidden.  You get the idea. 

Picture it like two dogs fighting over the same bone.  One one can have it.  At the end of the fight, someone is going to be very unhappy.

Step 2: Collect ‘Em All To Win

Over the course of your novel, your main character will take a journey, either literally or metaphorically.  There will be several distinct checkpoints on this journey, obstacles that must be overcome, places that must be visited, truths that must be found.  At each one, your character gains something invaluable: a clue, an insight, a new direction, something.  Each scene leads to the next in a sort of literary scavenger hunt, until your protagonist finally reaches her destination.

You can make the journey easier to write by mapping out the “tokens” your character must collect to “win” the story.  If it’s a murder mystery, for example, she needs to find enough clues to identify the killer.  If it’s a romance, she needs to overcome the issues that would otherwise doom the relationship.  What does your character need to find?

Step 3: Captain and Crew

One character does not a novel make.  For some reason, I see a lot of first novels focused on the loner, the outsider, the enigmatic stranger who holds allegiance to no one.  I think that’s a mistake, because the relationships between characters form a big part of what keeps readers hooked on a story.

Think of your main character like a captain on an old sailing ship.  To survive the lengthy voyage ahead, the captain needs a rock-solid understanding of his crew.  He needs to know who’s got which skills, who’s loyal and who might mutiny, who can be trusted to stand watch and who spends their off hours drinking and dicing below decks.  When the captain misjudges someone, things go terribly wrong.  So who’s in your main character’s crew?

Step 4: Houston, We Are Go For Launch

Once you’ve nailed down what your character wants, what she must do to get it, who stands in the way and who’s along for the ride, the last step is deceptively simple: just write it.  Sit down, turn off your internet and force yourself to start writing something.  Anything.  Don’t stop until you’ve hit your word count for the day.

If you’ve set up the first three steps properly, you’ll never be at a loss for what to write.  You’ll laugh in the face of writer’s block.  Because it all comes back to the same basic questions: What does my character want?  Why?  Who stands in the way?  What does my character need to do next?

Then… just write it.

NaNoWriMo Rules

Just in case you’re looking for the official NaNoWriMo rules, here they are, fresh-squeezed from the National Novel Writing Month website:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Win NaNoWriMo in 10 Minutes

Believe it or not, how you spend the next ten minutes of your writing time might determine whether you win or lose National Novel Writing Month.  I’m not kidding.

There’s one single thing that you absolutely must do if want your novel to have any chance of seeing it through to “The End.”  And you must do it now.

NaNoWriMo, if you’re wondering, is a national event that takes place every November.  The goal is to write a 50,000-word work of fiction by the end of the month.  You “win” if you cross the 50,000-word finish line.  You may not end up with a full-fledged novel before December, but you’ll have a heck of a start. 

How To Write A Novel in 50,000 Words or More

So how do you make sure your fledgling novel can go the 50,000-word distance?  By giving your main character a goal.  Here’s how.

Take a quick break from your hectic daily schedule, set a timer for ten minutes, and start writing.  The trick is to really focus on the one thing your main character wants more than anything else.  What is it?  To get somewhere before a deadline?  To find a missing person or a treasured object?  To run away and start somewhere new?  To stop a villain from carrying out a nefarious plan?

There’s only one way to find out!  Start with this: “More than anything, my main character wants . . .” and then just keep writing.  Don’t stop yourself.  Don’t analyze.  Just write.  Make it big.  Make it vital, primal, as if something inside the character will die without it.  Write down why the character wants this.  How she thinks it’ll make her life better.  How she thinks it’ll fix the things that are broken in her world.  Keep writing, and don’t stop until the timer goes off.

You Can Write A Book In a Month — If You Have a Goal

Finished?  Here’s what you’ve done.  You’ve figured out exactly what your character’s goal is — and the answer might surprise you!  Sometimes what we think a story is going to be about is not what it’s really about.

From now until the end of November, all you have to do is send your character rushing headlong after her goal — and then prevent her from achieving it (until 50,000 words later, anyway).  This tension of desperately wanting something vital, and doing everything possible to get it, yet never quite reaching success, will keep your novel going strong all month long.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writer’s Piggy Bank of Story Ideas

Insert story ideas here.

Not too long ago, I sat down to start writing a brand new novel. Always a pulse-pounding moment. Except this time, I was ready. Coming up with story ideas on the fly can be simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Luckily, I’ve learned a trick to keep the excitement level high while still going into a new book totally prepared. How?

By utilizing a writer’s piggy bank.

My piggy bank is a manila file folder. Yours might be on your computer or your smart phone. Or it could be a spiral notebook. Where you keep it doesn’t matter. How you keep it does. Properly maintained, a writer’s piggy bank lets you figure out most of the book before you even start writing, while giving you the flexibility to mix things up on the fly. Here’s how.

Write a novel the same way you keep your spare change.

Every time you start getting ideas for a new story, make a folder for it. For random, unrelated story ideas, feel free to make a “MISC. IDEAS” folder. But if one particular story really gets you going, and the ideas start to collide and multiply in your head, make a folder just for that new novel. Every time you have a sparkling new idea for it, jot it down on a piece of paper (or a text document) and stuff it in the folder for later. It doesn’t matter how big or small that idea is. Even if it’s just a few words, it’s worth saving. Over time, that folder will get thick.

When I had the idea for this particular novel, I had just finished one manuscript and was in the process of revising another. Between juggling two novels, copywriting for a living and occasionally seeing the light of day (gasp), I didn’t have the time to monkey around with a new project. So I jotted down my notes, as chaotic and disorganized as they were, and filed them away. Over the next few months, every time I got a new idea for this book, I crammed it into that file and forgot about it.

Meanwhile, I got my current manuscript revised and sent off to my agent. Then I dusted off my hands and sat down, with a heavy sigh, to start the whole novel-writing process all over again. But wait. What about my idea piggy bank?

How to write a novel the easy way (some assembly required):

I opened it my folder and spread out its contents. They went all the way across my desk. And across my side table. And onto my office floor. By the time I got done sorting, stacking and three-hole-punching everything, I wound up with an inch-thick binder crammed with characters, settings, plot lines, dialogue and all the fixin’s for a whole new novel. The spooky part is that I don’t even remember writing half of this stuff. It seems vaguely familiar, like something from a half-forgotten conversation. But it’s such a cool experience.

This whole idea bank works on the same concept as a piggy bank. If you empty the spare change out of your pocket and toss it into a jar every day, over time it adds up. One day, you can dump it all out, cash it in and treat yourself to something nice. A trip to Starbucks, a nice dinner, or ta da, a novel!

Writing Tips Instant Recap: The Writer’s Piggy Bank

1) When you have an idea, write it down and stash it away in an idea file.

2) If you have a lot of ideas about the same story, make a special file for that story. And don’t let the lack of a title stop you. “Untitled Mystery Novel” is better than nothing.

3) Keep collecting those story ideas over time. At first, it seems like nothing, but they’ll really add up, trust me.

4) When it’s time to start your next project (say, oh, National Novel Writing Month), dump out your piggy bank and start counting the loot. Voila! You can thank me later.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Be Your Own Book Editor

Last time, I talked about how to get (and handle) constructive feedback on your novel without losing your mind.  If you haven’t read that post, go back and check it out.  (Hey, why not?  It’s free!)  Now, here’s how to be your own novel editor and rewrite your book manuscript like a pro.  Ready?

1)  Clone it.  
Make a new copy of your manuscript on your computer.  It’s crucial to keep a backup copy, just in case.  (Do you hear the pained voice of experience, here?  Indeed you do.)  In your new copy, cut out everything that’s “dead wood” at this point — any characters you’re going to remove, any subplots, major structural elements like that.  If you have ideas for specific new scenes you’re planning to add, put in some placeholders.  (“Car chase goes here!”  Or “He declares his love here!”  It depends on your genre.)

2)  Print that sucker out.
Punch it and put it in a gigantic 3-ring binder.  I’m partial to the old-fashioned kind with steel hinges.  They tend to last longer.  Which is good, because you’re about to put it through some serious abuse.

3)  Use your noggin.
Spend a lot of time skimming back and forth through this epic tome, looking for new ideas.  New characters, new scenes, new description, snippets of dialogue, anything.  As you come up with new material, hand-write it or type it (on a typewriter, if you’re feeling retro) on 3-hole paper and stick it right into the manuscript where it goes.  Why not use a computer for this part?  Because you want to get messy.  You want to give yourself permission to really scramble things up and possibly come up with something brand new and brilliant.  A computer is too sterile.  It makes your writing look like it’s done.  Which it’s not.  So get messy.

4)  Work it, baby.
Believe it or not, you’re rewriting your novel.  Right now.  The more time you spend on this mess, the more it will gradually transform into a shiny new draft.  It’ll be a beautiful thing, trust me.  The trick is that by doing this on paper, and flipping back and forth through the novel, you’re training your brain to handle the whole thing at once.  Sort of like a long-distance runner preparing for a marathon.  Except that you can do this in your slippers.

5)  Re-type it.
When your novel feels done (and you’ll know it when it happens), re-type the whole thing into your computer from beginning to end, fixing grammar and all of that other stuff as you go.  If you’re wondering, yes, I do wear the letters off my keyboards.

6)  Celebrate!  
You just became your own developmental story editor and revised your novel into a solid new draft.  It’s better now than ever before, I guarantee.  People will notice the difference in quality.  And by “people” I mean literary agents, editors, those sorts of people.  Way to go!

A disclaimer:  Obviously, this is the method that works best for me; your mileage may vary.  When I talk about this method of revising a novel, I get the most push-back about retyping the whole thing.  Why re-type your manuscript when it’s already in the computer? 

Because first off, if you haven’t marked up every single page of your manuscript with changes, then you haven’t edited it enough.  Trust me.  Besides, if you read a page to yourself and then re-type it, it will simply come out better.  Your brain will pick up on all of the little bumps and tend to smooth them out.  Your writing will flow more naturally, it will sound more authentic, and you’ll increase your chances of getting published.  ‘Nuff said!

Do you have a writing question?  Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel?  Just ask!  And if you try this method and like it, let me know!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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