Posted in General

Self-Motivation

Ghost writers notwithstanding, there’s very little chance that someone is going to come along to write and edit your story for you. If you want to tell a story, you’ll have to motivate yourself to both get it written and edited.  The question is then how do you motivate yourself?

Want. The most basic part of motivation to do something is a desire—and if you’re reading this trying to figure out how to turn that desire into actual motivation, you’ve got a good start already. If it helps, take a moment to write a sentence about that desire. What do you want? Tack it up somewhere you can see it when you need a reminder.

Schedule time. It’s so, so easy to overload your schedule with other responsibilities and things you want to do. Instead of letting those things encroach on your time, put it down in your calendar to give yourself time for working on your story. At a minimum, try for an hour three times a week.

Limit distractions. I know, I’m guilty of it too. I think I’ll just check my email real quick and then then next thing I know it’s been three hours and I’m eight videos deep on YouTube. Distractions are the worst time leeches. Whatever you find necessary to do, limit your distractions. That might be leaving your phone in another room, or even turning your internet off temporarily.

Set goals. You already know what you want, so turn it into a goal. Remember that goals should be clear. Specificity makes it easier to see yourself progressing towards that end goal. Try ‘writing fifty-thousand words by the end of the next year’ versus ‘write a book.’ One of those is clear and well-defined, giving you a way to measure it and a deadline to get it done by.

Start small. This is a partial caveat to the above. You’re not going to sit down in an day and write the New York Times Bestseller. The insane typing speed you’d need to make that plausible would break your computer. Instead of breaking that, break your big goal down into smaller ones. Pick the smallest possible goal and start with that one. It gets easier to build larger habits out of smaller ones. Once you’ve gotten into a habit, the motivation to get it done comes naturally.

Track progress. Tracking your progress does two things. One, it lets you see when and where you do the best. Because you can see how your progress fluctuates over time, you’ll be able to adjust your schedule once you know that you work better in the mornings over the evenings. Second, being able to see your progress grow over time also feeds your motivation by giving you something to represent the effort you’re putting in.

Reward yourself.  The large disclaimer to this one is that it won’t work for everyone. You might however, find it useful to give yourself a small reward (such as a small treat or something else) for completing your smaller goals. This way you begin associating completing each task or goal with enjoyment, which in turn makes it easier to get started on the next one.

What are your favorite motivational tactics? Let me know in the comments!

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 Exercises, writing

NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

Whether you’ve done NaNoWriMo for years or you’re giving the madness a try for the first time, the challenge of writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days can seem a little daunting. If you’ve heard about it at all beforehand, you’ve might have heard about things like Plotober, meal plans and everything else to make a successful NaNo.

For writers, NaNoWriMo represents a real opportunity and a challenge, but the biggest benefit is getting words down. That being said, there’s a few survival tips that even veterans wrimos can use.

Plan. You don’t need a detailed plan, and you may not even need a story-related plan at all, but you do need a plan. This might just be a plan of when and where you’ll write. If you’re more comfortable with having a plan for the story, this counts too. Don’t get discouraged if you see or hear others talking about having their meals prepped or pages of outlines. What works for them may not work for you.

Be Flexible. In order to win at NaNo, you need to write 1,667 words a day. For some writers, it’s incredibly easy to reach that sixteen-hundred odd words. For others, you might be worried about making even half of that. One of the best ways to hit your goal aside from sitting down and writing is to be flexible. If you get the chance, go passed sixteen hundred odd word goal, or even set up a couple of days early in the month to frontload your word count so when you have a bad writing day, you’re not stressed out and struggling to catch up. If necessary, break that goal down into smaller chunks you can work on throughout the day. Three hundred words is a lot easier to handle at one time than sixteen hundred.

Try New Techniques. The goal is fifty-thousand words. That being said, there’s nothing to say that they have to be handwritten or typed. Try using dictation. Or, give writing sprints and word crawls a try! These can be fun ways to add to your word count. Swapping pages with a buddy can also help for accountability and is a nice way to help support other writers and inspire new ideas.

Remember to Breathe. It’s nice to think about how much you can do if you just write without pause, but realistically it’s the worst thing you can do for both your story and your health. Unless you’re a writing robot, you need to take a little bit of time to recharge. Remember to get up every so often and take five or ten minutes to stretch and get some water. Just as if you were working an eight-hour shift, take a break every couple of hours.

Don’t Stress! Scene not working? Goals not being met? Impossible-to-bridge plot holes? Ignore them. Don’t stress about what’s going wrong, instead focus on what’s going right: You’re making progress on a story. You can fix the problems later, what’s important right now is one word after the other.

Write. Above all else, the only way you’re going to survive NaNoWriMo is if you actually sit down and write. If necessary, block out and schedule time specifically to write.

What’s your favorite NaNo survival tip? Let me know in the comments below! If you want, you can also add me as a NaNoWriMo buddy under WrittenVixen.

Header image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Posted in Exercises, General

Thematic Elements

If you’ve ever heard that there’s no new stories, you might feel a little disheartened, especially if you’re wondering why you should be writing. The bad news is that for the most part, it’s true: there’s no new elements in storytelling. The good news however, is that the elements themselves are only minorly important, what makes your story unique is how you combine them.

For today I want to talk about thematic elements specifically. By definition, theme is an idea that recurs in art or literature. That covers a lot of ground from particular settings to character archetypes to messages.

One of the best examples of thematic elements are fairy-tale retellings. The characters tend to crop up again and again, often facing some of the same conflicts. Cinderella has to face her Evil Stepmother. Red Riding Hood faces the Wolf. Beauty saves the Beast.

Some elements, such as symbols, are also powerful thematic elements. The glass slipper, for instance is often used to represent Cinderella. Mixing these symbols up among stories gives a new angle on the story. What happens when it’s a bite of Snow White’s apple that can break the Beast’s curse, instead of true love? What happens when Rapunzel is the one cursed to sleep for a hundred years?

Even playing with setting as a thematic element can create unique stories. Taking Robin Hood out of Sherwood Forest and putting him in New York City certainly changes things! What happens when King Arthur is removed from the settings of Camelot and Avalon?

As an exercise: Pick three of your favorite books or movies and compare their thematic elements. Consider what character archetypes appear. Think about the symbols and messages used throughout. And finally, think of how the story might be impacted by changing the setting.