Posted in General, writing

The Next Writing Step

At this point in the year, a lot of writers are close to (or already are) the finishing line on their rough drafts. NaNoWriMo gives us a good chance to get through the hardest part of any task: the first step.

Writing a good story is difficult. Specifically, writing a good novel is tremendously difficult. Somewhere in that fifty-thousand words of story is a golden nugget—possibly several. That nugget might be a theme, or a plot point, or a character. Maybe it’s scattered like gold flakes in passages of near perfection.

Regardless of where that gold is in your story, you’re finished with it. It’s time to move onto the next step.

No, the next step is not publishing.

It’s editing.

Editing is arguably the part that takes the most effort of any task. You have gold in your story—every story out there has at least a little gold in it. Editing helps you find that gold.

And like any gold minder out there, you need the right tools. Finding the tools that work the best for you to find and tap that gold vein in your rough draft isn’t as easy as just running through a checklist of things to do before you really do move onto the publishing phase of writing. For starters, not every checklist will suit every writer. Secondly, not every story follows the same process to turn from lump of dirt into precious metal.

Outlines are one such tool. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that outlines are only for before you start writing. They can give you a big picture look at what your plot is doing and where things have gone awry. My fellow pantsers, I know how much outlining sucks, but rejoice: in this case you’re not creating one for the story, but one from the story. Write down the bare-bones structure of the story. What happens first? Next? Then? Last?

Grammar Checker.  More specifically, look for a detailed grammar checker like Hemmingway, Grammarly or SlickWrite to get a detailed look at things like passive voice, vague writing, sentence complexity and word variety. This helps strengthen your writing. As a bonus, if you notice the same suggestions coming up such as a problem with filler words or passive voice, you can work on improving those across all of your writing.

Beta Readers. As the writer it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working your story. Having outsider readers to provide feedback on your manuscript. You might also find it helpful to enlist the aid of an alpha reader—that is someone who reads and provides feedback on the rough draft.

Notes. Regardless of whether you make these based on feedback, or if you make these from your own observations as you read through the story, having notes makes editing easier. Depending on your particular story this might be a note on a scene you want to add in somewhere, or even notes on your setting or characters. As much as you might think you can keep it all your head, the brain is a faulty thing. You might forget smaller details like a character’s middle name or particular and important dates.

Above all else, the one tool I recommend you have for editing is a plan. This doesn’t need to be detailed, but having a plan helps you get and stay organized throughout the editing process. This might be a checklist of what order you want to do things in, or it might just be goal of finishing your next draft by such and such a date.

One last thing. If you’re sitting on your finished draft looking towards the next step: congratulations. Now go find that gold.

Posted in Exercises, writing

The WiP Showoff Challenge

One of the hardest parts of being a writer sometimes is willingly sharing our work, especially when it’s not finished. We want it to be good and we want others to enjoy it as much as we enjoy writing it.

Which is why I’d like to invite all of you to follow me in a game. Open your current Work-in-Progress to join in. Then show off your work with the following challenges:

  1. Share the title and any previous working titles.
  2. First paragraph where your MC’s name appears.
  3. Favorite line from the first page.
  4. First line of dialogue from page eleven.
  5. Least favorite line from the most recently written page.
  6. Favorite line from or about your antagonist.

Ready? Go! You can find mine down below. Drop me a link if you take up the game, I’d love to see the highlights of your work in progress!

  1. Share the title and any previous working titles.
    • Rosekeeper. So far that’s the only title.
  2. First paragraph where your MC’s name appears.
    • The rattle of the old carriage as they moved forward grated on her already sensitive nerves. For the third or fourth time, Bella smoothed the front of her dress. She was starting to get tired of hauling her finest clothes out to arguments like this.
  3. Favorite line from the first page.
    1. “One revolutionary thought at a time,” Jims counseled.
  4. First line of dialogue from page eleven.
    • “I’m sorry,” Sola said.
  5. Least favorite line from the most recently written page.
    • “What’s stopping you from hiring them?” Sola asked.
  6. Favorite line from or about your antagonist.
    • There was a monster of the Rose Garden alright, but it turned out the only monster was the one who locked women in prisons and reneged on his agreements.
Posted in writing

Unfinished Projects

Earlier this year I looked at my older projects and eventually ended up rewriting an old story. I’m a lot happier with where that story is now that it’s been a cleaned up a bit, but digging through my projects did present a fact: I have a lot of unfinished projects.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. Most of it comes down to Shiny New Project Syndrome. It’s not that the ideas behind my stories aren’t any good, it’s just that a new idea is more appealing. Some of the stories are ones I just got stuck on and never came back to try and untangle the knot.

It’s frustrating because reading back over those old pieces while trying to decide on what I wanted to tackle for September, I’m reminded that these are good ideas. The writing may not be fantastic, but the idea behind it has merit. Part of that does come from the fact I’ve taken quite a bit of time away from some of these stories.

Regardless of what made me stop writing in them, they’re still there. Some of them did end up being mashed together and creating new stories and ideas, which are happily awaiting my next pass of editing. The majority of them however, are in need of revisiting entirely.

Which is what I’ve decided to work on for the remainder of the year. I set a goal earlier this year to have two projects published and with Seventh releasing in a serial format here on the blog, I can say I’ve accomplished that. But with only a few months left in the year, it’d be nice to set myself up to see what I can really do next year.

One of the first things I need to do is make a list of which unfinished projects need a complete revamp, and which ones merely need a finished draft.

I’m curious. What’s made you leave a project incomplete? Will you ever go back to that project?  

Posted in Exercises, General

Using the Zero Draft

In full honest confession, I actually didn’t know what a zero draft was until a couple of years ago when a writer friend mentioned she was about twenty-thousand words into one. I asked her what a zero draft was, and the answer I got surprised me: It’s the earliest draft of your story, in which there is no order.

It’s fairly well established at this point that I’m a pantser. I write based on whatever inspiration I have on hand. Up until I’d heard about a zero draft, I figured drafts that meandered, made no sense and generally had gaping holes were rough drafts.

Dependent on your particular process this might still hold true. Your rough draft is for you and no one else. A zero draft however, is often where you throw things in for the story before you write a proper draft. In other words, rather than looking anything like a first draft, it might just be a conglomeration of notes–such as ‘Come up with Witty Banter. Will needs to sound smart.’ or perhaps just a few rough ideas of dialogue. There might be a random character that pops up and then vanishes until two chapters before the end.

More or less, zero drafts are unstructured pieces of writing. This might mean a free writing exercise that takes up dozens of pages. Alternately, it’s just a collection of scenes to help you explore what you want to write. There’s really only one rule:

Write.

More specifically, write uninterrupted. If you get hung up on trying to come up with clever dialogue, then leave a note. If you don’t know what the next scene would be, skip to the one you do know. You can leave a note for what you know should happen next, or you can just hop from one scene to the next and back.

Do not edit. Don’t rewrite anything. Don’t even use the backspace or delete key. Just keep writing.

Give yourself permission to make the worst piece of writing ever. Title that document as your Worst Version Ever. Leave ridiculous notes in the middle of sentences. Ignore basic formatting or even start a new line every sentence. Whatever it takes to just get the ideas down.

 

Posted in General

In Between Projects

Writing and editing are constant states for me. It’s very rare that I find myself not in one or the other. In the last couple of days however, I’ve found myself in between projects. Although I have plenty of things to be working on, because of how busy my schedule has gotten with the approaching holiday season, I haven’t actually picked up my next project.

While it feels weird to sit down when I have a few minutes and realize I don’t have an active project, it’s also given me a chance to organize and categorize what I want to do with my current projects.

Because it’s a long list I won’t delve into the details here, but two of the big things I want to work on are easy to see.

One: Editing speed and comfort are still trailing behind my writing a fresh project speed. As a result, my rough drafts and new projects outnumber my second drafts and works-in-progress by ten to one, quite literally. It’s a problem and one I am to fix.

Secondly: I love the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but I want to expand what I’m comfortable writing. The two genres I’ve steered clearest of so far are romance and mystery. To me, they’re the hardest to write. Capturing the complexities of a mystery plot takes a lot of concentration and organization. Romance scares me strictly because the focus is entirely on the emotional journey of two people falling in love.

Although it’s early for me to set up my goals for the next year, I’m keeping those two things in mind. For what’s left of this month, I want to try and stay focused on editing. I just have to decide which one to start editing.

Where are you at with your projects?