Posted in General

The Project List

In my ongoing quest to manage my ever-growing mountain of unfinished projects, I made a project list a couple years back. It’s a simple spreadsheet and I initially designed it just to keep track of what status various projects were in.

After going through it this morning, it’s also been a large reminder that I have far too many projects going on at one time. The total of in-progress items comes up to thirty-five.

Thirty-five projects in various stages of edits. It feels a little insane, especially since some of these have been in that mountain for quite literally years.

A look at some of the titles on my list and their current status

Although I’ve had my project spreadsheet for a while, I’ve added monthly and daily word counts to it. This is largely to keep it front and center of my attention whenever I do finish one project and am ready to move onto the next.

How do you manage your project list? What are some of the things you want to work on?

Posted in Exercises, writing

Editing Worksheets

Editing is probably one of the hardest parts of the entire writing process. Once you’re through the effort of writing a rough draft, you then have to pick it apart to find the parts that aren’t working and to make them better. It might be hard to do that, especially when you’re still in the honeymoon phase of just having finished a rough draft. To celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo, I’m including some of the worksheets I use when starting my editing process. Hopefully one of these gives you a good place to start and helps you through the next step of the journey!

Keep in mind that writing—including editing—is a hugely personal and diverse process for each writer. What works for your favorite author may not work for you. Conversely, stories can also throw  Try lots of different things.

Worldbuilding Questions Packet. I’ll often use this as way to help flesh out and kickstart any necessary worldbuilding when my setting feels flat. You don’t necessarily need to answer every question, but having a general idea can help find places where I need to spend a little more time developing the setting, or can highlight interesting conflicts I haven’t explored yet.

The Main Plot. Based off the classic pyramid plot structure, this gives a good overview of the main plot points and tensions in the draft. It can be a good starting point before getting into a more detailed outline, especially when I have a story that needs heavy restructuring in the plot.

Conflict and Event. Similar to the above, Conflict and Event can be used to see how the main and subplot(s) are playing off each other. I have it set up for three conflicts (a main and two subplots) but you can ignore the third if you only need two.

Character Motivations. I’m firmly in the camp of ‘characters make the story’. Character actions and reactions create a plot, and the reason behind their actions and reactions all comes down to motivation. This helps get beyond long-term and short-term goals and into their core values.

Where will you start your editing?

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Psst! Patrons also get an additional three worksheets, one for character arcs, one for subplots and one for more worldbuilding. Check out my Patreon to find these!

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 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 writing

Valuable Feedback

One tool that can make the biggest impact for writing is feedback. You might have written what you think is the world’s greatest novel, but if your readers don’t agree, you’ll be stuck with a manuscript that doesn’t sell. The easiest way to find out what others think is to get feedback—be that through critique partners or beta readers.

Getting that feedback can be difficult however. Writing takes a lot of effort and it can occasionally feel a little daunting to ask for someone to read what you’ve written and tell you what they think. At the same time, knowing what is and isn’t working from an outside perspective is a goldmine.

There are a few things to keep in mind when getting feedback.

It shouldn’t tear you down. Very, very rarely is it aimed as a personal attack. When you hear that something isn’t working, it can sting, and for good reason: you’ve spent a lot of time with this story already. It’s very rarely aimed at you as a person, it’s strictly a comment on what isn’t working for that reader.

It’s not all good stuff. Similarly to the above, your feedback shouldn’t be all compliments and fluff. While it might feel great at first, it’s not likely to give you good, useable information on how you can improve. That isn’t to say a compliment isn’t useful at all. Targeted compliments can often highlight things you’re doing well that you can help to strengthen your weak spots.

Multiple sources are fantastic. I know, getting feedback from one person seems daunting, never mind getting feedback from several.  However, if you have five people and three of them highlight a particular passage as being difficult, you know for sure that you need to address it. If however, only one of the five highlights a passage, you can use your judgement on whether or not you need to follow their suggestions.

It’s only suggestions. At the end of the day, even if you have a full editorial critique, you are the writer. That ultimately means you get to decide if you want to act on a suggestion or not. That’s all feedback is, is giving a suggestion on how things could be improved. Since writing is art and art is subjective, not every suggestion will be one you agree with. You don’t have to follow them all.