We wanted to create a resource list for all of the writers out there who are needing to redefine routines during these stressful and unfamiliar times. Becca Spence Dobias and Jacqui Castle jumped on an impromptu brainstorming podcast, which you can listen to here.
Below are a few of the resources mentioned, and we will also be adding to this list every time someone brings another resource to our attention. If you have something you want to add, either tag us on twitter – @writing_bloc – or shoot an email to [email protected]
We hope these resources prove useful, and remember that we are here to support the writing community in any way that we can.
Camp Nanowrimo – Lucky for us that every April is already Camp National Novel Writing Month.
Inlandia Institute is waiving fees to some of their online bootcamps and writing workshops.
By Kaytalin Platt – Cross-posted on Kaytalin’s website here!
I created the Author’s Guide to Typesetting in InDesign for authors who want a little more control over their book’s interior layout. InDesign can seem like a daunting program. There are a lot of tools and features, and many of which you won’t need for typesetting or layout. In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step, start-to-finish guide on how to publish your book with a custom-designed feel. We’ll discuss creating a document, creating the rules which will govern your document, laying out text, and exporting for print.
InDesign is the leading program professionals use for book layout and production. It’s complex features make for high customization and professional quality. Mastering the program can give you a leg up in production and save you money.
Note: Before starting your typesetting in InDesign, you should have completed all rounds of editing in your Word document. Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as possible before laying it out in book form.
Working with a Template
Amazon doesn’t offer InDesign templates, but they do offer Microsoft Word templates. This has to do with the fact a lot of people don’t have access to InDesign or know how to use it. You can, however, still layout your book in InDesign and upload it to KDP.
For the purpose of this article, I created a template for myself using the methods I’ll outline below. I’m making it available for anyone who would like to use it as a branching off point to create their own.
Tools of the Trade
As I mentioned, InDesign has a variety of options you can use to build out your document. These are separated on either side of the screen. We have Left Screen Tools (located on the left side of InDesign) and Right Screen Tools (on the right side of InDesign). You can add more tools to the Right Screen by going to the Window dropdown in InDesign’s menu bar.
Left Screen Tools:
The basic tools you’ll need for working on novel layouts are below. If you hover over the tools, their names will appear. These are in order from top to bottom on the tools panel, but I’m excluding a few you might not necessarily need for your project.
Select Tool – Selects an object or group.
Direct Select Tool – Selects a single object within a group.
Type Tool – Creates text boxes, highlights text.
Line Tool – Create lines to add interesting elements to your page.
Rectangle Frame Tool – Creates boxes you can place images into.
Free Transform Tool – Changes the size of objects
Color Fill – Changes the color of objects. To change text, select the text box with the Select Tool, and click the T beneath the Color Fill section. This will allow you to change the text color. Another way to do this is to Select All the text, and change the color using the Color Fill box.
Right Screen Tools:
If you look at the menu bar running across the top of InDesign (following along behind File, Edit, Layout, etc), and select Window, it gives you a variety of tools to add to your workspace. You also have the ability to select pre-organized Workspaces.
I, myself, work in Essentials Classic. But, there are other options. You may wish to work in the Book workspace, but, for the sake of this article, everything I’m describing is found by navigating using Essentials Classic.
Right Screen Tools you’ll need:
Pages – You will have a LOT of pages in your book. This is a compact way of viewing and organizing them. The Pages panel also allows you to create Master Pages, which you can style and apply to hundreds of pages at a time, without having to add elements to each individual page. This becomes handy very quickly, and we’ll go into more detail on this feature later.
Layers – You may not use this very much, especially if you’re utilizing the Master Pages feature. It allows you to put elements on different layers and turn them on or off. This feature is especially nice for placing a Template on an InDesign page and hiding it away periodically as you work.
Links – Any images you add to the document will be found here, in list form. It allows you to see, at a glance, any altered or missing links you might have. An altered linked (signaled by a yellow warning triangle) means you’ve edited an image and haven’t re-synced it with InDesign. To fix this, double click on the yellow triangle. A missing link (signaled by a red circle and white question mark) means the image you placed in InDesign no longer exists in the folder you got it from. If you don’t fix missing link issues, you’ll have pixelated images when you go to print. To fix a missing link issue, you must put it back in the original folder, or replace it in your file from the new location. You can also click the “chain” symbol to re-link manually to the new folder.
Stroke – Allows you to adjust the thickness or style of the line you’ve created. You adjust the color of the Stroke in the Fill Tool section on the left. Click the hollow box behind the Fill Tool solid color and it will let you access the stroke color fill options.
Swatches – Quickly access commonly used colors or colors you’ve saved as swatches.
Effects – Adjust transparency, create drop shadows and other stylistic changes to objects.
Character – Select your font, style, character size, spacing between lines, and more in this section.
Paragraph – Adjust your paragraph text to left, right, centered, or justified.
Glyph– allows you to add special characters into your text. I usually manually add this tool through the Windows dropdown at the top of the program.
Text Wrap – allows you to adjust your text around any images you may have added.
Creating a New Document
Depending on which version you have, your document setup screen may look a bit different. I work on InDesign CC at work and InDesign 6 at home (probably soon to change now that I’ve updated to IOS Catalina -_-).
When you select File → New → Document, the New Document screen pops up.
Width & Height
In the Width and Height area, you might see numbers displayed a bit… odd (unless your version of InDesign is already set to inches instead of picas). Change the unit of measurement to Inches. If you’re in America, you’re probably more used to working in inches.
The most common indie published book is 6×9. For the purpose of this tutorial, this is the measurement I’ll be using. You’ll want to set your document to 6” wide by 9” tall. But, don’t get carried away and click Create. We need to setup your margins and bleed.
Margin can be tricky, depending on the thickness of your book. You may want a wider margin for super hefty tomes. But, for the typical 6×9 book, you can use these measurements below.
Top Margin: 0.875” or 1”
Outside margin: 0.625”
Bottom margin: 0.875”
Interior margin: 0.75” or 0.875”
Bleed is the term used to describe the content that flows off the edge of the page. You may not need this feature, but set it up anyway. You’ll want to export your document with bleed settings at the end of this tutorial.
Most people suggest 0.125” all around for bleed, but I like a lot of bleed. I usually set mine to 0.25” all around. Better safe than sorry.
Once you’ve adjusted your margin, and added your bleed, you’re ready to hit “Create”.
Building out your Template
After creating your document, you’ll set all the rules the document will live by. This will help you streamline your layout process and save yourself time-consuming edits later.
Take a moment to think about how you want the interior of your book to look. Grab a few books off your shelf and flip through them, maybe use one as a guide in setting up your design.
Once you know how you want the inside of your book to look, go to InDesign and select the Pages tab on the right side of the screen. It’s the first tab, and looks like two pages side-by-side.
The Pages tab is divided into two sections. In the first section, you’ll see a list of two items: [None] and A-Master. Beneath that, you’ll see a single page, which is the first page of your document. At the bottom of the panel, right to left, you’ll see the trash bin icon (to delete pages), a + icon (to add pages), and an overlapping vertical and horizontal pages icon (change paper size icon).
Let’s go ahead and add some pages to our document. There are two ways to do this. The long way is to repeatedly click the + icon. But, our document will require a lot of pages, so right click on the gray area within your Pages tab, next to your one, lonely page
Select Insert Pages and enter the amount of pages you need besides the one(s) you already have. Don’t worry, you can always add or delete pages later. If you’re unsure how many pages you’ll need, take your manuscript word document and multiply the page count by 2. This will get you close.
After adding pages, go to the area above the page list, where it says [None] and A-Master. Right click on the area beneath A-Master.
Select “New Master”. Hit Ok.
Once your new master page is created (should say B-Master, but you can name it whatever you want), double click on B-Master. This will take you inside the master page, and allow you to edit it.
Why are we editing B-Master instead of A-Master? A-Master is going to control the part of our document which should be void of stylistic elements like page numbers, title, or author name. A-Master is for the places you need blank pages, where you’ll be custom adding information, like the copyright text, dedication, and title page.
B-Master Page Design
I like to add the stylistic elements which will carry through a majority of the book to the B-Master pages. Here, I’ll add my page numbers, title, author name, etc.
Build out your B-Master how you’d like. Choose the font you want for your whole document, or use something a little different for this section. Be mindful of font and element sizing. I recommend going on the smaller side (but not too small) for these elements. Make it readable, but not distracting.
How to add page numbers to your document.
Create a text box using the Type Tool.
Add a letter or number, it doesn’t matter which or what.
Highlight the letter or number you’ve created, then go to the Type dropdown menu at the top of InDesign.
Select Insert Special Character → Markers → Current Page Number.
You should do this for both the left page and right pages. You won’t see a page number. That’s okay. This is just a rule you’re setting for these text boxes which will apply to all the pages you connect to B-Master.
Once you’ve created your B-Master page design, you’ll set it aside for right now. Click out of it by double clicking the first page of your actual document in the Pages tab. This will take you to the live section of your document.
Use the Type Tool to do a rough organization of pages. Just create small text boxes for each page and write what will go on that page. You’ll typically need:
Table of Contents (if applicable)
Acknowledgements (if you want them in the front, typically go in the back)
When you reach the first page of Chapter 1, go back to your Pages tab on the right.
Select the first page of Chapter 1, and all the remaining pages beyond it.
Once they’re all highlighted blue, right click on one, and select Apply Master to Pages
Now, the B-Master design you created earlier has been applied to all appropriate pages.
Take a look at the first page of Chapter 1. You’ll notice Chapter 1’s page number doesn’t start with Page 1 (as it should). Don’t worry. We’ll fix this later. For right now, we need to decide how the text should be styled—type size, line spacing, font, etc.
The font you choose is extremely important. Different fonts work for different jobs. A serif font (fonts with little wedge feet) are best for print because they are the easiest to read. You rarely want to use san-serif fonts for novels.
San-serif fonts work best for digital platforms like websites or mobile devices (but not e-readers). Choose your serif font wisely, but don’t go crazy. Sometimes the best choice is the most common one. I’m particularly fond of Georgia, Garamond, and Lora.
Font size is crucial. Too small, and it’s hard for the reader to see. Too large, and you’re wasting space in your book (and it can seem unprofessional). My design professor used to say anything over 11pts was for geriatric people, and would be considered that on viewing. So, I usually like to stick to sizing fonts between 9pts and 11pts, depending on what font I’m using.
Different fonts appear in different sizes. With Georgia 11pts and Garamond 11pts, one can appear larger than the other. The best way to judge the appropriate font size for your chosen font is to create a test page to gauge varying sizes and line spacing.
Let’s do that.
Creating Test Page
I’m going to ask you to do this in InDesign and not in Word. InDesign and Word treat fonts differently, and, as you’ll be typesetting in InDesign, you’ll want to test your fonts there.
Go to your Chapter 1 page.
Create a text box that stays within your pink margin box.
Pull a short paragraph from your story, one or two sentences or one long sentence.
Paste it into the box.
Add a line of text above it which says [Insert Font Choice] Size 9.
Select your pasted text.
Change it to your font of choice using the Character tab on the right side of InDesign (A icon).
Then, change the font size to 9.
Choose line height (directly right of font size). Adjust until it looks good to you.
For example, I chose Georgia as my font, and set the font size to 9pt and spacing to 13pt.
Once you’ve made your selections, copy all the text from the Font Choice + Size title, down to the end of your paragraph.
Paste the copied text 3 times beneath your styled paragraph.
Now, for each copied paragraph, go up a font size and spacing. (10pt/14pt, 11pt/15pt, 12pt/16pt). Be sure to keep track of your chosen size and spacing in the title above each paragraph. This way, you’ll know what you’re looking at when you print. When you’re finished, you should have 4 different sets of paragraphs at different sizes and line spacing.
Print this page out. (ctrl+p) Select range of pages and enter the page number of your font test page.
Once printed, sit down with it. Have a look. Analyze the sizes. Find a font size and spacing you think works best for your size book and audience. You’ll use that font size and spacing going forward.
Go back to your document and paste a page of text into the text box you were using. Style it with your chosen font, size, and line height. Now, play with the line spacing. Adding, subtracting, until you find the look you want.
Having a good amount of line spacing between sentences is nice. It doesn’t make the reader feel crowded and lets the book breathe. Too close together and things feel muddied or crammed. Too far apart, and you’re wasting space.
For me, I went with Georgia 9pt font size, and 13pt line spacing.
After you get this set up, Select All.
Click the Paragraph tab on the right side of the screen and uncheck Hyphenate at the bottom of the panel.
Next, we need to set our tab indent. Tab a few of the paragraphs, if you haven’t already.
The space of a tab should be around 5 characters wide. It can be a little less, but shouldn’t be much more.
Create your tab spacing by Selecting All text.
Click the Type dropdown at the top of the program.
Align the tab box over your text so you can measure 5 character spaces.
Click on the ruler in the area you feel is around 5 character spaces (usually just past the 0.25” mark). Your tabbed text should adjust to match this rule.
Click out of the Tab box.
I like to add grids to my document so I can adjust everything to baseline, helping all the text align from one page to another.
For Mac users, this is in the InDesign dropdown to the left of File. For PC users, it may be labeled as a Setting or Preferences dropdown, I’m not sure.
When you find it, select Preferences → Grids.
Set the following:
Color: I set mine to Charcoal. Just don’t choose blue (all element boxes are blue).
Relative to: Top Margin
Increment Every: [Chosen Font Spacing pts]
View Threshold: 75%
Save your settings.
Creating Paragraph Styles
Now, let’s create a Paragraph Style which will carry throughout the document.
Click inside your text box.
Look at the Toolbar running across the top of InDesign. You’ll see a dropdown menu which reads [Basic Paragraph]+.
Click the series of lines on the right of the dropdown. There are two stacked on top of eachother. You want the one where all the lines are matched up. This will line your text to the grid we created earlier.
Next, on the left side of the dropdown labeled [Basic Paragraph]+, click the Paragraph symbol.
Select New Paragraph Style.
Name your Paragraph Style (I named mine Chapter Text).
Set Based On to Basic Paragraph.
Now, your document is ready to begin layout. Let’s start with Chapter 1.
Laying Out Your Book.
Start with Chapter one. Determine how you want your chapter lead-ins to look. Grab a few books to flip through to get an idea of what other typesetters have done. Once you’ve made your choice, go to your Chapter 1 page and start laying it out.
I like to create separate text boxes for the Chapter Header and Chapter Text.
Feel free to get creative with your chapter heading, change it to a different font from your Chapter Text or leave it the same. It’s completely up to you!
After you’ve styled your Chapter Header the way you want it, select the text.
Go to the paragraph symbol next to the [Basic Paragraph]+ dropdown and create a new Paragraph Style for your Chapter Headers. You’ll be able to use this to style your Chapter Headers moving forward.
I usually start my chapter lead-in textbox about 5/8 to 1/2 down the page, and go to the edge of my margin.
Paste your Chapter 1 text in. All of it. You’ll notice, it won’t all fit. That’s okay. We will link text boxes across multiple pages.
Select All your text (ctrl+a).
Go to the Paragraph Style dropdown at the top and change [Basic Paragraph]+ to Chapter Text, if it doesn’t already say that. This will convert your text to the style we created earlier.
Next, at the bottom of your blue text box, you’ll see a red + symbol. Click it.
Then, click at the top of the margin on the next page (pink line). This will create another text box, carrying the hidden text over. Repeat until Chapter 1 is laid out.
Repeat the above steps for the remaining chapters of your book, until you reach the end.
The Finishing Touches
If you have extra pages after laying out your chapters, that’s great. You can easily delete them using the Pages tab on the right, and trash can symbol in the bottom corner of the tab. More likely, you’ve had to add pages. (And hopefully applied the B-Master style to them along the way). After laying out all your chapters, add the “closing” pages to your book: the acknowledgements page, glossary, etc. You can keep the B-Master styling or apply the blank A-Master styling, this is up to you.
Look at your page number count. In order for your book to print, it has to be divisible by 4. If you can’t evenly divide your book by 4, you must add a few pages to make this happen. You can fill these pages with individual thank yous, sponsors, or a glossary of terms for your novel.
Earlier, we created our page number styling on the B-Master page and left it at that. To get the numbering to work as it should, we must return to our Pages tab on the right side of the screen.
Select the first page of Chapter 1, and then all the corresponding pages until the very end (or when you would like to stop tracking page numbers).
Right click on the blue pages and deselect Allow Document Pages to Shuffle. This will remove your ability to move pages out of order. It also makes it a pain to add new pages randomly. But, why would you want to do that? At this point, you shouldn’t need to.
Select the first page of Chapter 1 again.
Right click. Select Numbering & Section Options.
Click Start Page Number at: and set it to 1.
Chapter 1 should now start on page 1, and the subsequent pages should follow.
Once you’ve completed your layout, you should print a copy of your book to review and markup. Use the directions below to submit a PDF for print. This helps you spot any issues you didn’t notice through the seemingly hundreds of rounds of edits you did before in Word. It’ll also help you spot any styling issues or errors you missed during typesetting.
You can have proofs of your book printed through your printer, or you can print the document in spreads on 11×17 pages from a local print shop. It will be costly, but worth it.
Time to Print
Once you’ve “proofed” your book and corrected any errors, export your book as a PDF from InDesign:
Click File → Export
Name your document.
Select Adobe PDF (print).
At the top, in Adobe PDF Presets, select High Quality.
On the General Tab make sure All pages are selected. Export as Pages (not spreads).
On the Marks and Bleeds tab, select Use Document Bleed Settings. Don’t worry about anything else. Most printers, unless you’re doing single sheets, don’t need crop marks for books.
You’re book is ready to send to your printer.
As far as your cover, I suggest hiring a designer if you can afford one. It’s relatively easy to find one that works with your budget using the internet. Covers can range between $50-$500 depending on the designer you choose. (I typically do them for $150). A professionally designed cover can add value to your book, make you seem more professional as a writer, and draw attention to your work. But, if you can’t afford a cover designer, most printers have templates you can use. I know KDP has a few. Just remember to stay inside the margins and input the correct total page count into the template generator.
Kaytalin Platt is an author and graphic designer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Raised in Deer Park, Alabama, a rural town north of Mobile, Platt enjoyed spending time in the surrounding woods and working on the family farm. Growing up on a farm gave Platt a peculiar set of skills, which she enjoys using on the random chance their needed–especially if it involves welding.
Platt’s mother contributed heavily to her passion for writing. They would listen to instrumental music, film scores mostly, and she challenged Platt to write down what she imagined happening as the music played. Platt’s love of music and writing only grew, and she began work on her first full-length novel during college. She worked on the novel, writing and rewriting, for nearly a decade before submitting it for publication in 2016. The Living God, Platt’s debut novel, was published in May 2019.
Currently, Platt is working on the followup to The Living God, and experimenting with stories on Wattpad, a reading platform home to over 80 million users.
The third episode of our Writing Bloc podcast is now live over on Podbean (or via the embedded player below). This time, the amazing Rachael Sparks, author of the hard sci-fi thriller “Resistant,” discusses the art of world-building with your hosts, Christopher Lee and AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR Jacqui Castle. There’s plenty in this episode to enjoy, from a discussion of different world-building approaches and resources to another appearance from the Writing Goat.
Well, I’m a sucker for new toys, particularly when it comes to my writing craft. Anything that can help me wrangle the herd of cats within my wild imagination is a plus, especially when it comes to story structure. That is why when I came across the trail of Fictionary, I was instantly curious. I got an email with a package deal for another year license for ProWriting Aid, which I recommend to all writers, and with it was a new developmental editing software called Fictionary.
I signed up for a free trial and was blown away by the level of detail the creator and fellow author, Kristina Stanley and her team had created. Fictionary allows you to upload your manuscript from Word or Google Docs directly into their user interface so that you can take a bird’s eye or 30,000ft view of your story and its structure. What I was most amazed by was the simplicity of the surface of the program as well as how deep you could go.
Fictionary breaks your manuscript down for you!
There be a number of bells and whistles under the hood of Fictionary and I don’t profess to know how they work in full, but after inputting my old manuscript for Nemeton: The Trial of Calas, I was instantly presented with a visual element that tracked my story’s narrative arc against that of prototypical or common story lines. This was a super cool feature right off the bat that let me see just how far off my original vision really was. This was helpful in many ways as, I am currently in a revision or rewriting phase with my previously published work.
But, where Fictionary really shines is in the scene by scene evaluation. The Visual components allow you to track the primary story arc as well as different character arcs and subplots across your manuscript, and that can be super helpful if you’ve got multiple arcs.
The three core functions of Fictionary.
Fictionary breaks it down to three key pieces, visualizing your arcs, evaluating your scene by scene story structure, and then exporting the monster once you are done with it. You can make edits on the fly, or edit your work 100% within the Fictionary software, kind of like Scrivener, but with a simpler interface.
Visualizing your story’s arc.
When Visualizing your manuscript you can check the full story arc, the amount of words per scene to aid you in nailing down your pacing, and also track how many times characters are showing up on a scene by scene basis. Though these three features seem potentially slight, they are remarkably powerful, not to mention I’ve got it on good authority that soon they will be rolling out even more powerful features.
Evaluating your manuscript scene by scene.
When Evaluating your scene by scene, Fictionary aids you by dialing in your character, plot, and setting down to the real nuts and bolts. Each scene or chapter has an interface to the right that highlights a number of tabs under which there are a list of critical questions that you should have asked in your first draft, but most likely didn’t if you are anything like me. Beyond the questions, each field is complimented by an infographic tip that educates you on the precise reason for each question or field. This is where the real power of the Fictionary software resides.
The Character tab features a range of questions like what character appear in the scene, who has the POV, what are the internal and external goals, what are the stakes and consequences, and the impact on the protagonist as well as other characters. The list goes on including an entire array of illuminating questions that, at least I often forget to include in my first draft. Plot, setting, and additional notes further aid you in dialing in your edit.
Fictionary, is it the next big thing?
I can’t speak to that yet, as Fictionary is a relatively new tool and I know that many writers are super comfortable with Scrivener. But overall, I think the interface is much more user-friendly. The primary draw is for writers who have already finished a rough or first draft of their work and want to import that manuscript in order to take it to the next level. I found the detailed list of questions and fields aided me in further cementing my story’s structure, theme and message.
Fictionary offers a free trial so that you can take it for a test drive, but I personally recommend that after you do so you take the dive. A year-long license won’t break the bank and I know that they are working hard at rolling out some key features like multiple manuscripts and an autosave feature to prevent losing precious progress. Overall I think Fictionary is a killer tool for novel based writers to explore.
Writing Bloc has your back!
We have partnered with Fictionary to provide all of our members with a killer discount on your first three months or on your first yearly license!
Fictionary is offering Writing Bloc writers and readers a 50% discount on the first three months ($10 per month, regularly $20 per month) or 50% off Annual subscription ( $100 per year, regularly $200 per year)
July is Camp NaNoWriMo, and here at Writing Bloc we’re using the month of June to pack for camp, and we invite you to join us!
Even if you are familiar with National Novel Writing Month, you might not know that the organization also hosts two ‘camps’ throughout the year – one during the month of April and one during the month of July.
While National Novel Writing Month in November challenges writers to whip out a 50,000 word novel in just thirty days, the camps are lighter and breezier. Participants, or ‘campers,’ set their own goals and can track their progress through an online dashboard(much like they do in November).
I will be working on adding 20,000 words to the novel I started in November, but many authors choose to work on short stories, or other projects during this time – even skipping around from project to project with the goal of writing every day.
The second Camp NaNoWriMo of 2019 takes place less than a month away, and Writing Bloc wants to make sure you are ready! So, let’s dive into a few action steps you can take to prepare for camp.
Set Your Goals
Whether you are aiming for 1,000 words or 50,000 words, set your overall goal before the month begins. Look at your calendar for April and set aside time to write each day. If you have something that can be checked off your to-do list before the month begins to make more time for writing, do it now.
Next, you will want to set smaller daily and weekly goals. These can vary depending on your schedule. Maybe you want to hit a goal of 5,000 words a week, but you know you have the most time to write on Thursdays. You could set a goal to write 2,000 words on Thursdays, and 500 words the other six days of the week. Setting attainable goals will help with forward momentum!
Let your family and close friends know what you are working to accomplish, and accept their support!
Join a Cabin
Cabins exist within the Camp NaNoWriMo website and encourage groups of writers to support each other and also hold each other accountable. Writing Bloc will be hosting a cabin for Camp NaNoWriMo, and you can request to join us here(will add link here as soon as Cabin Registration opens up).
Prepare to Sprint
NaNoWriMo holds word sprints on their twitter account around the clock during November, April, and July. Sprints are timed writing challenges in which participating writers across the globe take off writing for a specified amount of time, and then report back with their progress. They are great fun, and a wonderful way to keep each other motivated.
If you are sprinting to the finish line trying to hit 50K before that clock strikes 12, the fine people at @NaNoWordSprints have got you covered with non-stop sprints for the next 7 hours as we close out all the time zones!
If you are a plotter, outlining ahead of time will get those words out faster.
If you are a pantser, then even jotting down a few plot points or scene ideas will come in handy.
While it is always a good idea to save the research and fact checking for the editing stage, sometimes we just need to “check one thing real quick.” If this sounds like you, you might consider having a bookmarked list of related websites prepared for speedier referencing during your writing time.
Have your Tool Box Ready
Do you have a list of tools that help you when the words aren’t flowing? For some writers, it’s a music playlist organized according to mood. For others, it’s having writing craft books handy to inspire creativity.
Whatever it is that helps you keep writer’s block at bay, make sure you have your tools within arms reach when you sit down to write. If you need a few ideas, you can check out this article we wrote last year on 6 Techniques for Busting Through Writer’s Block.
Check out our Handy Prep Week Calendars
As a gift to all of you Camp NaNoWriMo participants, we have these handy calendars from April’s camp for you to download, set as your desktop background, or print and gleefully cross out each item as you complete it. Basically, use it in whatever way will help you the most. Check back throughout the month as we add content each week!
The child looked at the calendar on the wall, swinging, as if
by some invisible breeze. There could not have been a breeze, though. All of
the room’s windows and doors were closed, and the air smelled musty and stale, like
laundry left too long in the washer.
Still, the calendar flapped like the wing of some great
white bird. Three MasterClasses, she
thought. I’ve managed to learn from three
masters this year.
It was Neil Gaiman, though, the most recent of her teachers,
who imparted the sage wisdom that struck the child so deeply—Give people what
they want, he advised. But do it in a way they do not expect.
This is just some of the fantastic advice in Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass, and the reason, I’m sure, that I wrote and then erased five different openings for this review before deciding I needed to do something different—something more worthy of what I got out of the class. You have to know your genre and its conventions, Gaiman says, before you can play with them. And then play.
But don’t worry! I’m done playing and am here to tell you everything you need to know about the class and to help you decide the answer to the question you undoubtedly came here for: Is it worth it?
There was some Twitter controversy when the class was first
released, as Gaiman retweeted some requests for money to take the course. Some
felt this was self-serving. A world-famous author asking other people to help give
him more money? How dare he! Why didn’t he just pay for them all himself?
I’ll ask folks who felt this way—do artists not deserve to be paid for their art? Should they stop making money for their creative efforts once they’ve reached a certain status? As Gaiman replied to those who criticized him, he has plenty of free advice for authors available online. He’s not withholding his wisdom for the wealthy. This class is a piece of his creative work, he deserves the royalties from it, and if part of promoting that work is helping people connect to access it, I see no problem.
Another of the critiques which arose was of the value of the
class itself, and here is where you may find my experience of the class
Like other MasterClasses, the course consists of several videos
(nineteen, to be exact), covering topics including “Sources of Inspiration,” “Descriptions,”
and “Dealing with Writer’s Block.” I found all of the videos interesting, even
the one on comics, which, though I read, I have not tried to write.
Gaiman is fascinating just to listen to—his voice is low and
conspiratorial and watching him really did feel a bit like sitting at the feet
of a very encouraging master. He also speaks verrrrrry slooooowly. Luckily, MasterClass
gives you the option of increasing video speed, and I found 1.25x to be
Some of the lessons are particularly inspiring. “Truth in
fiction” inspires you to dig deeper into the hard emotions that create good
writing. The lesson on worldbuilding teaches you to anchor your fictional world
in real details and to let characters discover the world’s rules by bumping up
against them or using them to their advantage, a take on the classic “show don’t
tell” rule that made a lot of sense to me.
There are also plenty of practical tidbits—in the lesson on
humor, for example, Gaiman explains that funny words have the most impact at
the end of a sentence. In the video on description he says you should “tell” when you need to, and teaches
how to give your characters need “funny hats”—unique ways for your readers to
tell them apart.
To be fair, there are bits of the videos that feel a bit
self-indulgent. Gaiman, as other MasterClass teachers do, uses several examples
from his own work. These are sometimes relevant to the topic at hand, but other
times feel less so. For example, in the video on overcoming writing block,
Gaiman suggests giving oneself a deadline and then shares an anecdote about a
short story anthology he contributed to. It was the submission deadline, he
says, which inspired him to finally get serious about a story that wasn’t
working and to figure out how to fix it. This specific example is a cool
insight for fans about a bit of his work but does little to actually teach one
how to impose a deadline on oneself. He makes up for this with further advice
about writing the next thing you do know.
Other case studies, including one on The Graveyard Book, are more relevant.
Gaiman also does what feels like a good bit of name dropping
during the course. Sometimes this seems like homage to those who have inspired
him, but other times sounds a bit braggy. Overall, this didn’t bother me
terribly. He’s earned it.
The workbook is what sets this MasterClass apart. In my review of Judy Blume’s course, I said that the exercises seemed either advanced or basic, and that students would likely find themselves drawn to about half of the lessons. This workbook solves this dilemma. For many of the lessons it contains both a “Writing Exercise” and a “For Your Novel” exercise. You can choose whether to do a simple exploration of the topic Gaiman discusses or to apply it directly to a work in progress. I found this incredibly useful, and sometimes ended up doing both.
Some of the exercises are pretty standard, but others have a
unique twist that make all the difference. For example, the exercise for the
Finding Your Voice chapter suggests you write a passage imitating the voice of
an author you know. I’ve done similar practices before. However, the exercise
doesn’t end there. After imitating, it suggests writing the same scene, this time
in your own voice. I had for the first time, after completing this, a clear
picture of what my own voice as a writer sounds like.
So, is the class worth it? If you are a fan of Gaiman’s work,
I say absolutely. You’ll feel like you’re spending time with the author and
digging deeper into his writing. For casual fans, or even just writers looking
to improve their craft, I still say yes. The workbook, especially the voice
exercise, and the lessons on Truth in Fiction, Finding Your Voice, and Worldbuilding
alone would be worth the cost for me, and the rest are an engaging bonus.
Good news! I am about to give you permission to sit down, watch movies, and spend time wandering around on the Internet. The best part? You can call the entire time “research.” And I am going to answer the question I am asked more than any other: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s something anyone can do who is willing to spend that time watching movies and web pages.
Yesterday after lunch, I turned on the television and came across the 60’s movie, “Psych-Out”, featuring a very young Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasburg, and Gary Marshall. Gary Marshall? Yeah, that caught my eye, too, so I opened the IMBD page on my iPad and started reading. One paragraph explained how Strasberg and Nicholas had been nervous about some of their scenes and calmed themselves down by discussing Reichian therapy which they had both experienced. Apparently, it was some kind of cosmic, bio-energy thing, but new to me. I opened a new window to the Wikipedia page for Reichian Therapy.
I read that William Reich was a student of Freud, but had then developed theories about a mind-body energy related to sexuality. My highly oversimplified understanding was that Reich believed that our mental and physical health was connected to a ‘cosmic’ energy that Freud called the libido, or sex drive. Repression of our sexual urges led to illness, mental and physical. It sounded like one of those things that would be in a 60’s movie. Reich built on his theory, identified that cosmic energy as something he called ‘orgone’, and created devices called “orgone accumulators” that would help us decrease our sexual tensions and improve our overall health. He also created a form of therapy called “Vegetotherapy”, which I’ll simply say violated the established ‘distance’ between patient and therapist. His work was banned in Germany, and in the U.S. he was eventually determined to be a fake, was thrown out of various groups, had his books and research confiscated, was arrested, and died in prison in 1957.
No, nothing much so far. Interesting stuff, but not the kind of material that great ideas come from. Then, I opened this morning’s New York Times obituaries.
I read that Mary Boyd Higgins died at age 93, after serving for sixty years as the Director of the William Reich Trust, the William Reich Museum, and the Orgone Energy Observatory that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Maine. As I read the obituary, I recognized things from what I had read yesterday, but there was more detail. For example, it explained that the reason Reich’s material had been banned in Germany was that he explained that Fascism and dictatorships were the result of sexual repression and not at all a healthy thing. Nazi Germany did not agree. And I read that, in 1954 in the U.S., after reviewing Reich’s 789 page FBI file, a Federal Judge wrote: “any journal or pamphlet that mentioned orgone “shall be destroyed,” that all orgone accumulators be destroyed, and that all copies of Dr. Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld” from circulation until such references were redacted.”
My neurons began to fire. I found it interesting that Reich was one of the few men I’ve heard of to be banned and have his books burned in both Nazi Germany and the United States. What bothered me the most was that line in the judge’s ruling that said any of Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld from circulation until such references were redacted.” One word? What was so dangerous about one word that might cause two groups who had completely different worldviews to link arms like that? What was it about “orgone” that made it so important that Dr. William Reich be silenced?
And then my mind said, “What if…?”
And that is how ideas are born. What if Reich was right, and the repression of sexual expression and ‘orgone’ does cause people to be less independent and self-actualized and more open to authoritarianism, Fascism, and dictators? What if encouraging sexual repression does help keep people under control, keep them weaker, more compliant, less likely to resist? What if there are groups ‘out there’ who know this secret and have been the drivers behind the cultural battles relating to sexuality and sexual expression? What if our entire medical health care system could be…What if…?
I may never know the answers to those questions, and honestly, I’ll leave that task to others. My goal was to find an idea to explore. My goal was to find a “What if…?”
Some may say that this experience was all a great coincidence, and I was just lucky to have the movie, Wikipedia, and obituary show-up like they did. Yes, it may well have been coincidence. But I am convinced that the more pieces and bits of information I pick-up and store in my mind, the more frequently those little idea-creating coincidences are going to occur.
Now, I need to go see what’s on television.
John Jamison is a life-long believer in the power of stories. First as a pastor, then educator, creator of Centers for Innovation at multiple universities, Director of a national Game and Simulation academic degree program, a consultant for e-learning and brand development, John has used the power of story to bring about serious change and have some fun in the process. John grew-up in a small river-town in Illinois, and describes his childhood as “kind of Tom Sawyer-ish with a blend of Wizard of Oz.” John says, “I grew up in a family of storytellers and liars, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out which was which.”
Today on Writing Bloc we have author Annie Ward, whose recent release Beautiful Bad has been garnering attention all over the author-sphere!
Welcome, Annie! Your recent release Beautiful Bad was featured on the Indie Next List for March. Congratulations! Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your psychological thriller Beautiful Bad?
I was born and raised just outside Kansas City, Kansas. I relocated to Los Angeles for college with no intention of ever moving back home. I studied at UCLA and The American Film Institute where I received my MFA in Screenwriting. At that point I moved to Europe and stayed there for six years. Eventually when I came back to the States I ended living just down the road from the farm where I grew up and started my own family. That was an unexpected twist!
BEAUTIFUL BAD is a dark, twisty domestic thriller but it’s also a sweeping romance spanning decades and continents. At the heart of the book is a love triangle involving three badly damaged people who share a fatal attraction to disaster as well as a ferocious bond.
“Harrowing…. Evocative descriptions and strong senses of time and place complement the intricate, intelligent plot, which shocks and chills.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
In the tradition of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train comes
the psychological thriller everyone is talking about, a twisted novel
about a devoted wife, a loving husband, and a chilling crime that will
stun even the cleverest readers.
How long have you been a writer, and have you always known that this is where you would end up?
I would say that I’ve always been a writer but never had a clue where I would end up. I started writing short stories in elementary school and by high school I had moved on to what was probably very bad poetry. Then, while living in Los Angeles, I succumbed to movie fever and switched to screenwriting. I was never able to support myself as a writer until I moved to an inexpensive city in Eastern Europe, so I have a colorful career history including things such as cocktail waitress and PE teacher. If anyone had ever told me that I would one day be the author of a book that had sold to eighteen countries I would have burst out laughing. I never saw any of this coming.
Is there a primary message in Beautiful Bad?
Don’t rush to judgement based on stereotypes or appearances. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Also, trauma untreated is a dangerous disease.
Can you tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?
In the very earliest draft of this book, Maddie was me. I wrote a memoir about living and working in Eastern Europe, having adventures with my best friend and meeting the man I would eventually marry. When I decided to fictionalize the book and throw in some murder, betrayal and a whole lot of lies I had to change all the characters to the point that they only have a small resemblance to the original characters. I did however, end up with a tragic love triangle that basically involved me, my best friend and my husband, so that was awkward.
When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?
In this particular case, because BEAUTIFUL BAD started out as a true story, I knew all the characters at first. When I changed it to fiction, they started to do and say things that surprised me. Horrible things. They took on a life of their own, argued in my head and surprised me with their cruelty and cleverness. Sometimes I felt ashamed of what they had done at night when I pressed save and went to bed.
Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?
I love them all, which is funny given that one reason some people have said that they didn’t like the book because, “There are no likable characters.” To me, the characters are all real. They have tempers, they make mistakes, they use poor judgement, they sleep around and drink too much. But I love them, especially Ian, who came from nothing and spends his life protecting others. He is mercurial and broken by what he has experienced but he’s also brave, loyal, funny and caring.
What is something you think readers generally don’t know about writing psychological thrillers?
I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised by how difficult it was to write about police procedure. I did a lot of research and had lunch with a number of local cops but in the end, if you’ve never been a police officer, it’s probably going to be a bit forced. I belong to the school of “write what you know” and writing about the running of an investigation was unfamiliar territory.
Are there any writing craft books (either genre-specific or not) that have helped you with the process?
I’ve got the HOWDUNIT FORENSIC GUIDE FOR WRITERS sitting next to me at the moment and the HIOWDUNIT Crime Scene guide has got to be around here somewhere.
Do you find that you have to be in a certain headspace to write your deeply psychological scenes, or are you able to transition between writing and regular life easily?
It’s not that easy for me. I tend to write the most important scenes at night when I’m on my own and I can lose myself. If my kids are around bugging me for snacks I will just stick to moving the plot forward in basic ways. Then I go back and add the “magic” later when I can focus.
Do any of your characters have interesting mannerisms or pet peeves?
Maddie’s neighbor Wayne Randall is a quirky fellow. He traveled to England once many years ago and is a fan of Monty Python movies. Whenever he sees Maddie, whether her British husband is with her or not, he insists on speaking to her in a bad British accent. I would say this habit of his also counts as a pet peeve. Maddie finds it pretty annoying.
Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?
My dreams are honestly so bizarre that anything inspired by them would be science fiction and I don’t think I would be very good at it. Maybe even worse than poetry. I do have an idea for a book that involves a woman and her son who share the ability to lucid dream, so there’s always a chance for the future.
What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
First drafts. I’ve never written a great first draft. Usually things start falling together in the second draft but that moment when you are still at the beginning and you’re convinced that your material is terrible can be pretty depressing.
Here is my favorite question that I ask everyone: If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?
JK Rowling, Otessa Moshfegh, Patricia Highsmith, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Lamott, Ali Land, Gail Honeyman, John Boyne, Donna Tartt and Brett Easton Ellis. Just off the top of my head. That would be a wild book club party.
What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?
I just do everything I’m asked to do. I try to never turn down an appearance, a question and answer, a blog request, conference, dinner etc. I know what it’s like to have no marketing behind me on a book. This time around, if they want me to put on a funny hat and ride a pony I will be doing just that. As far as my own marketing, I try to stay caught up on social media and respond to people who are interested in me and the book.
For the American publication day of BEAUTIFUL BAD I reached out to a small group of influential people I’ve met over the years and asked them if they could support me by writing reviews and sharing posts. Luckily, I have a good relationship with the karma police and my friends were ready to spread the word.
Most of our readers are indie authors navigating the world of publishing. Do you have any other advice for them?
The best thing that ever happened to me was finding an agent who was also an experienced editor. She guided me through seven months of rewrites BEFORE we ever tried to sell the book to a publisher. It’s easy to jump the gun and go out with a book that’s not ready. My advice is to sit tight and make sure your work is your best work. Sometimes you only get one chance to impress.
When can readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?
I’m fifty thousand words into a new thriller, but I’m pretty sure about thirty thousand of those words are malarkey. I have a deadline looming so I’m forging ahead, but BEAUTIFUL BAD took me nearly a decade from conception to publication. As I mentioned in the last question, I don’t want to put out anything that I feel isn’t ready. Hopefully, with the help of my agent and editor, my new book will be ready in a year and a half.
It’s the story of a Natalie, a young woman who happily puts her mundane life on temporary hold to look after her older brother who has been in a serious mountain biking accident. She moves to a remote, affluent Colorado town. It’s the type of place she’d like to fit in. She joins a gym, hikes, explores, visits houses for sale and tries to make friends. When the daughter of a wealthy local goes missing and Natalie was the last to see her, the town turns against her. She realizes that she is a disposable outsider and she can trust no one, not even her own brother.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?
I have a website that links to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It also has an option to email me. The website is Annie-Ward.com
So you’re thinking of writing a book, but you keep telling yourself that you shouldn’t. There’s always a thousand reasons not to, so I see where you’re coming from. Writing a book is hard, it takes a lot of time, it’s not a lot of financial reward for the amount of time spent, you most likely won’t get a professional publishing deal that will sweep you away from your day job, people will criticize your work, you might get writer’s block…the list goes on and on and on…
And hey, there is a chance that the book you’re either writing or thinking of writing is objectively terrible. But, even in this case, I am here to tell you to stop thinking that way and just get on with it. Write your book. Get your words down. Create those characters. Forget all the haters and just get it done. Why? I’ll tell you why.
1. Writing is fun.
Really, it is. And it doesn’t matter what you do with it. Want to find out how awful and agonizing the whole process is? There’s thousands of articles on that, but it’s simply not true. If you don’t like your writing, then maybe you’re writing the wrong thing. Try poetry, haikus, or FanFiction. Try writing a memoir of a favorite time in your life. There are endless possibilities, and all of them are equal, as long as you are having fun. It may seem like the novelists complain the most, but that’s only if you go searching for complaints. The trick is to just keep doing it. Don’t let the negativity stop you.
2. Giving up feels awful.
Let’s say you’ve written a few pages of something you like and you are so bold as to show someone else. And let’s say that someone else shows you all of your grammatical errors and plot holes, and even goes so far as to explain to you why your entire story won’t work and tells you to quit. Obviously, that person isn’t a friend. The truth of the matter is that your critic is trying too hard to make themselves feel better. All first drafts will have problems. All stories need editing. Every tale requires a lot of work until you “get it right.” But if you decide to give up just because it’s too hard or you’re afraid of failure, you’re forgetting that you’re writing for fun. Make your grammar errors and spelling mistakes, power through it all however you decide to do it, and get it done. Why?
3. Finishing a story feels amazing.
I wrote my first novel over the course of two months, and when I finished, I felt incredible – abuzz with the accomplishment. I told everyone I could that I wrote a book. And oh man, when I read it again, I realized how terrible it really was. You might think that discouraged me, but it did just the opposite. I tucked that book into a box and it’s still sitting in my basement, preserved. The story was so odd and convoluted that I decided not to rewrite it. But here’s the important part: I made that decision on my own, and the reason I made it was because I had another story idea I wanted to get started writing. And I started writing that story. And that story was much better and far easier to write because I knew, even though my last attempt wasn’t great, I could finish writing a novel. I got over that hump and knew I wouldn’t give up ever again. I realized that I had more to learn, but I was no longer afraid of finishing a project I started.
4. Perfection will never come.
Finding errors is easy, especially when you’re first constructing something. But here’s the thing: you aren’t writing something that has to be perfect the first time around. And what is perfect anyhow? Writing should be a freeing process. Look to the greats. Do they use sentence fragments? Run-on sentences? Odd spellings of words? Poor grammar? Sure they do. But because the stories were so great, these “errors” could be applied to that writer’s style. What would happen to countless stories if everyone obeyed the same rules and wrote the same way? As I’ve said, language is evolving. Write your story using as many acronyms and emojis as possible. If it’s what you’re feeling and what you want to write, just get it out. Story first, rules somewhere way down the line and definitely not second.
5. Because you can.
Seriously. You can do it. Don’t expect to have a bestseller float out of your fingertips on the first try, don’t try to impress anyone, don’t make the process something more than it needs to be. Just do it. You can. If you had the idea to write a book, it was because some part of your brain, a part you should listen to, said you can and want to. There isn’t something magical to it, you just have to keep at it, make it as fun as possible, and push those critics away – especially those in the other part of your brain telling you that you can’t do it. Show that inner pessimist who’s boss and get that story written, even if it ends up being terrible.
Why? Because there are no good reasons not to. Finish what you start. You’ll never regret it.
Need a little extra motivation? Check out the video below.
The Kickstarts! Writing Workshop is for: Reluctant writers, stumped writers, writers who think they are blocked, bored writers, writers just looking for some extra practice, even writers who don’t know they are writers…yet. Kickstarts! is for any kind of writer who wants to get some words on paper! And it’s FREE! Bounce on over to Brittney Cassity’s website and visit The Hubbub Blog every Thursday from Jan. 24th through May 23rd for a new, fun writing adventure!