Posts Tagged With: writers

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

How to Get a Novel Critique and Love It

Anyone who has ever gone through the pain and joy of publishing a novel can tell you that writing a novel is just the first step.  It might be the hardest part, but even after you type “The End” there’s still a lot more work to be done.  You need to revise and edit your novel before you send it off to literary agents or editors.  But in order to do that, you need to get good feedback on your novel.  You need a critique.  Here’s how to make the most of it:

1)  First, give your novel to someone else to read.
The best way to do this is to join a critique group.  You might find one advertised at your local bookstore, or you can find one by looking online.  Finding the right critique group is an art in itself.  Try looking for a writing organization in your state, or search by genre (SFWA.org, RWA.org, Mystery Writers, etc.).  Or even Backspace.  If any of your friends are savvy fiction readers, you could try to pawn off your manuscript on them, but that path is fraught with its own dangers.

2)  Be patient!  

Even though you desperately want your feedback right away, you actually need some time away from your novel manuscript to gain a little perspective.  And your friends need time to read your novel, think about it and point out all of its problems in a way that won’t make you want to throw yourself off a cliff.

3)  Listen and write it down.
That’s so important, I’m going to repeat it.  When you finally do get feedback, you need to do just two things: listen and write it down.  Don’t defend your work, don’t explain anything, and above all, don’t argue.  Just transform yourself into a bobble-head doll and nod along as you write down everything they say, even if it sounds like idiocy.

4)  Put your notes away for as long as you can stand.  
A week is good.  A month is better.  Seriously.  Because only with time will you be able to tell just how valuable those notes are, and what a tremendous gift of insight your friends have handed you.

5)  Brainstorm.
Once you’ve had time to clear your thoughts, read through the notes and brainstorm as much as possible.  Write notes to yourself about specific things you could do to make the book better.  You’re not looking for carved-in-stone solutions right now, just options.  Come up with as many ideas as you can.

Spend some time doing all of that, and then coming up next, I’ll walk you through the steps of being your own developmental story editor.

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 book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Write A Synopsis the Quick and Easy Way

If you’ve ever tried to write a synopsis before, you know that it’s anything but quick and easy.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just sink into your beach chair, dig your toes in the sand and toss off your synopsis between sips from a coconut with an umbrella in it?  Obviously, that’s not going to happen.  But I’m about to show you the next best thing: a painless way to get your synopsis done in record time.

Ready?

First, grab a stack of index cards and a handful of different colored pens.  (Or grab one pen and a handful of different colored cards.  Whatever works for you.)

Pick a color for your main character.  Take a card and write down the main problem your character faces at the beginning of your novel.  What’s wrong in this character’s life that desperately needs to be fixed?  Write it out as succinctly as possible.  If you can, get into a single sentence, like this: Jane is a struggling entrepreneur with a great invention but no money to build it.

Now grab another card.  Still using that same color, fast-forward to the end of the story and write down how that problem is resolved.  How are things different now?  If you can, focus on a single specific moment where the protagonist irrevocably ends the problem.  Again, keep it brief.  Example: Jane finally signs a million-dollar deal and starts her own company.

Now, choose a handful of key events that link the beginning of the story to the end.  Write each one on a card, again in a single sentence.  Focus only on the most crucial moments — no more than, say, six cards.  The trick is to stick with this ONE character and ONE story.  Don’t worry about anyone else or any of your subplots.  Just follow this one story line from beginning to end in half a dozen beats.

Once that’s done, set those cards aside and take a deep breath.  Now choose a different color and repeat the exercise with your second most important character, then your third.  If you have an important subplot, like a romance, you can do a set of cards for those, too — but only a few cards!  Focus strictly on the most important events, and leave out the rest.

And yes, you’ll have to leave out a lot.  But the simple truth is that your novel is far too long and complex for anyone to condense down to a few pages.  If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be much of a novel, would it?

Now comes the fun part.  Spread your cards out on a table (or the floor, if you have to) and put them all in sequential order, from the beginning of the story to the end.  Pretend you’re assembling them into one massive timeline.  If something doesn’t make sense, rearrange the cards as needed.  When you’re finished, you should have one thick stack of cards that starts at the beginning of your story and proceeds straight through to the end, like a super-condensed version of your novel.

Which is also known as a synopsis.  How cool is that?

Finally, head to your keyboard and type it all up, straight from the cards.  Put in paragraph breaks where they look good, but don’t worry about changing it too much.  Resist the urge to embellish or explain anything.  If you need to do any of that, you can do it later, when you rewrite it.  For now, just bask in the glow of knowing that you’ve done an amazing job of writing your synopsis.  Now it’s time for coconuts and baby umbrellas!

Do you have a burning writing question?  Want me to look over your synopsis? Just ask!

Categories: how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What Is a Synopsis?

This is a popular question, mostly because everyone seems to define a synopsis differently.  Is it one page or fifty?  Does it give away the ending or not?  Here’s what you need to know.

A synopsis is a condensed description of your entire novel told in present tense.  It’s similar to the back cover copy (or jacket copy) of a published novel, and for good reason.  Both of them are used to sell a novel to someone.  The jacket copy sells it to the reader; but long before that happens, the synopsis sells your novel to the editor.  One of the things an editor wants to know is that you’ve written a good story from beginning to end, which is why a synopsis also includes the ending of the story (whereas the jacket copy almost never does).  The trick is to remember that a synopsis is actually a sales tool, rather than a literary work.  Keep that in mind, and it’ll make the process of writing one go a lot easier.

HOW TO FORMAT A SYNOPSIS

  • Double-spaced 12-point Courier or Times New Roman
  • One-inch margins all around
  • Tell the story in third person, present tense
  • The first time you mention a character, put her name in ALL CAPS
  • Omit any dialogue
  • Keep it short; 1-2 pages if possible
  • At the end, put “THE END” or just ###

Not sure how to go about writing a synopsis?  Fret not.  Tune in next week and I’ll show you how to write a synopsis the quick and easy way.  No kidding! 

And in the meantime, if you have a writing question, just ask.

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

5 Fast Ways to Stop Editing Yourself

Write a novel on an AlphaSmart.  Why not?

Q:  When I’m writing a novel, how do I stop myself from going back and fixing things?  As I write, I’m afraid to even look at the screen because I’ll hate what I wrote.  I keep my eyes focused on my desk instead, or on objects that I’ve collected in my writing space that are inspirational to my story.  When I watch what I’m typing, I write much cleaner sentences with less typos, but I feel like I’m never going to finish my novel.  This is hard, because I want to figure out how to become a writer and someday publish a book.  I feel like I’m not getting any closer to finishing my novel!

A:  Okay, it’s time for my #1 free writing tip: Don’t panic.  What you’re experiencing is normal for aspiring writers (and heck, published authors fall prey to it, too).  Your writer brain is trying to create and edit at the same time, and it’s choking you up.  You’re getting distracted by the words you’ve already written, rather than pushing forward toward the end of the scene.  But with some practice, you can break the habit.  Here’s my advice: whenever you find yourself bogged down while you’re writing, take a moment to notice where your eyes are going.  Are they on the sentence you just wrote?  Or are they going back to the beginning of the page?  If you’re getting tripped up by the temptation to go back and revise while you’re writing, here are a few simple tricks to beat that problem.

1)  Change your writing software.
Minimize your screen so that you can only see a few lines of text at a time.  A basic program like Notepad works great for this.  It narrows your focus to just the words in front of you, so you don’t get distracted.

2)  Get a word processor.
Switch to an old-fashioned word processor with a small screen, for the same reason.  You can find old battery-powered word processors all over eBay.  I’ve written on an AlphaSmart for over a decade, and I love it.  I highly recommend the AlphaSmart Neo.

3)  Write your novel longhand.  
The act of putting down one word after another, in ink, forces you to keep moving forward toward the end of a scene.  Plus, you get to shop for cool pens and call it “working.”  My favorite: a Fisher Space Pen.  Write anywhere, anytime, even in zero-gee.  Why not?

4)  Write your book on a typewriter.  

Yes, a typewriter.  True writerly geekiness is as close as your neighborhood thrift shop.  Like writing longhand, a typewriter prevents you from going back and re-working the words you’ve already written.  It’s also faster, albeit noisier, than a pen.  Finding ribbons can be a bit of a hassle, but typing just has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like a Writer with a capital W.

5)  Make time to write.
Set a kitchen timer for five minutes (or 10, or even 20) and force yourself to keep writing, nonstop, for the entire time.  You’ll break through those nitpicking tendencies, find your groove and start pumping out the manuscript pages.

No matter what you do, the goal is to get something, anything, written.  You can always go back and edit it later.  Keep trying different writing methods until you find what works best for you.  Remember, the only “right” way to do it is the way that gets it written! 

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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