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Writing Help Writing Life

Five Reasons To Power Through The Criticism And Just Write

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…

The criticism alone might stifle your first thoughts of writing and working through that story. The internet provides an endless supply of people “proving” how your favorite thing sucks. Heck, even J.K. Rowling gets dragged occasionally. Maybe you have a bunch of grammar Nazi friends who don’t realize language is ever evolving and that even emojis are an important aspect of language and communication. The world is awash with critics, and they are hungry to tear art apart. So, you might think it best not to feed them by either giving up on that story idea or not trying at all.

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.

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Software Review Writing Life

The Writerly App Is A Must-Have For Your Writer’s Toolkit

Like anything else, becoming a good writer requires practice. There are no rules for how to practice, but sometimes a little direction feels nice. Books and websites filled with writing prompts help, and there are contests and other challenges that are easily found as well, but far too many of these “services” cost money. I’ve thought for a while that it would be a great resource for writers to have something to inspire practice; an outside source of inspiration and challenge in order to build up those writing muscles.

Then I came across the Writerly App.

Writerly iPad.jpg

An App Custom Made For Creativity

The Writerly App is free and available for iPhone and iPad only at the moment, which is my only argument against the app. Otherwise, Writerly is a fresh take on writing assistance software. They are a self-advertised “one-stop source of inspiration and information to get your ideas flowing.” It was developed by award-winning fiction writers, creative writing instructors, and literary consultants. The app is filled to overflowing with prompts, information, and guidance for writers of any level of experience.

Writerly takes a fun approach toward developing your writing while using an educated background. The entire app is built on the concept of writers working with two fundamental elements during the writing process: Creativityand Craft. Creativity is the basic flow of ideas, the burst of inspiration, the transformation of thoughts into words. Craft is taking the work accomplished during the creativity phase and analyzing it, transforming it into a developed piece of writing that is more enjoyable to the readers. Writerly acknowledges this mental struggle between creator and editor in the writer’s mind.

By separating these concepts, Writerly aims to improve your writing by offering exercises, games, and quests in order to help stimulate your inner creator, and then offering other exercises to help you get the most out of your inner editor. The app blends these exercises together in order to get these two parts of your mind to cooperate, the result being an improvement in your ability to express those amazing story ideas you get on a daily basis.

Writerly Inspiration.jpg

Writerly is for everyone

There is no restriction on who would benefit from writerly. It is an open-ended app. The app does not offer a word processor, meaning it does not force you to be restricted. If you prefer to type in Word, you still can. If you prefer to use a beautiful fountain pen on expensive parchment, the app still works for you. It is intended to accompany your current preferred method of creation, not replace it.

Part of Writerly encourages you to abandon the keyboard in favor of pen and paper, and I find the reasoning interesting. The creators argue that our electronic devices connect us with other people on a constant basis. We are often interrupted by other things and other needs when we are using a phone or computer as a creation tool. Paper, they argue, allows us to have a direct and uninterrupted connection with our own thoughts. Additionally, electronic devices have delete buttons that are far too tempting to use during the creative process. Deletion is technically editing. By writing with pen and paper, the writer still has access to his or her “mistakes,” just in case they become useful later on. They call using the delete button “censoring your work in its early stages,” which is a painful yet glorious truth to learn. It makes me wonder what ideas I’ve errantly tossed aside while creating.

The creator’s request to use paper is quite specific, actually. They suggest getting three notebooks: one legal sized, one half that size, and one that can fit into your pocket. The large notebook is for ongoing projects, such as stories, projects, or all of your writerly exercises. The medium notebook is for notes and quick ideas, or even dreams and random thoughts. They recommend keeping this notebook at the bedside. The small notebook is so you don’t miss any random inspiration or fragments of ideas while away from your writing spot.

Give your storytelling an exercise routine

Writerly App is a free app with a noble cause: to inspire and hone the craft of writing in anyone interested. It is well organized, easy to use, and the information and exercises are supported by years of experience. I plan on using the app as often as possible, as it will only serve to make me better at my craft.

While on the subject of writing, I found this video on “The Mystery of Storytelling” to be quite enriching. It is told from the perspective of a literary agent. Enjoy:


Related Links:

Writerly on the App Store

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Software Review Writing Life

Review of Flowstate: “The Most Dangerous Writing App”

Writing and editing are two different things.

Writing itself should be a simple task. All you have to do is put one word after the other, form sentences, form ideas, and make everything you’ve done come together into one great work that is sure to express your heart and soul exactly as you intended. But that’s not really writing. That’s writing and editing put together. 

With all of the details, heart, emotion, ideals, characters, love, and everything in between that is invested in even the simplest of fiction pieces, sometimes the task of writing can feel so insurmountable that simply getting started can seem impossible. Other times, continuing an idea that has already been started is even more difficult. 

Some enjoy calling these difficulties “writer’s block,” and most proposed solutions involve doing things other than simply writing. What keeps those first few words, no matter how flawed they may be, from flowing onto the page is simple doubt. Doubt is the writer’s worst enemy; however, doubt is simply a large amount of misplaced energy. If the writer could take the energy being put into doubt and convert it into an outrageous stream of productivity, then that would be something. 

Getting the words out is the only true form of writing. You are either writing or you are not. If you are unable to write because you want the words to be perfect right out of the gate, then you are trying to write and edit simultaneously, and this can cause writer’s block, a lack of productivity, and doubt. Staring that blank page down and allowing doubt to wash over you prevents the all too essential first draft from being born. If only there were a way to force a writer to quit stalling and dish out that first draft without looking back…


Enter Flowstate.

Most writers might think it insane to use an app that erases everything you have written if you stop writing for five seconds. And at its core, that’s all Flowstate does.
That’s right: Everything you’ve written, no matter how long you’ve been writing for, gets permanently erased if you stop writing in Flowstate.

It might be disguised in what sounds to be an evil premise, but I maintain that Flowstate is the first draft’s best friend.

Flowstate is simple in both its layout and its function. Basically, it’s a basic, yet beautifully sleek, word processor. The program gives you five fonts to pick from and a blank page. No other frills or distractions. What makes Flowstate unique and, in my opinion, wonderful, is that there is only one other main function you must choose prior to writing a document: how long you will be writing for. The timing starts at five minutes and goes for as long as 180 minutes (for the truly crazy ones out there). So once you title your document, pick a font and a time, you are ready to go.

Simple setup, horrifying premise, but great results.

Flowstate gives you a blank page with the time you’ve chosen in the upper right corner. As soon as you begin writing, the timer begins counting down. Type away as quickly or slowly as you’d like, but if you stop making keystrokes, your entire document begins to fade away and will disappear completely if you do not press a key within five seconds. Let five seconds run out, and all of your work is gone. There’s no safety net, no autosave. It’s just gone. Forever.

Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? Because it’s brilliant. Do you need to write and you keep putting it off? Do you need to complete your first draft but you keep questioning your story? Are you easily distracted when you should be writing? Well, then Flowstate has a tremendously effective answer. As opposed to other software that simply attempts to block out distractions, Flowstate directly threatens your progress should you not keep going and get to your work. It forces you to focus by holding your work hostage. 

You earn the right to save and edit.

Once the timer runs out you can continue typing, knowing that all of your hard work will (thankfully!) be saved. You can then return to it and edit it, or export your work to another format altogether. Go on, you’ve earned it. 

Although being threatened while being creative might not be for everyone, I find it to be exhilarating. If I only have ten minutes to write, then I can set my timer in Flowstate and know that I will use that ten minutes to its fullest. 

The app is available in the Apple Mac Store for $9.99 or in the App Store for $4.99, and both apps synchronize together over the iCloud so you can edit any of your drafts anywhere. While $5-$10 can seem like a bit of money for a simple app, you are making an investment in your creativity that can certainly payoff quickly and change what you thought you knew about your writing process. 

Here is a helpful video that shows how the app basically works:



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Writing Life

Why You Should Not Write a Novel for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is Coming!

NaNoWriMo is an event that keeps getting larger and more popular each and every year. And it’s no wonder. There’s something romantic and wonderful about writing a novel. Most of the times I’ve told people that I’ve written novels, the conversation inevitably turns toward how they have an idea for a novel as well, if only they had the time to write it. And it’s true that the writer’s greatest enemy is making the time to write. Writing a novel takes creativity, persistence, timing, and commitment.
Enter NaNoWriMo. Every November, this worldwide event opens its doors to allow a seemingly endless community to gather online and support one another as they trudge their way through an average of 1,667 words per day, hopefully crossing that finish line of 50,000 words. After that, it’s official: you’ve written a novel. What a great feeling. Mission accomplished.
Except, every year, the same problem keeps arising. Only about 10% of those who sign up for NaNoWriMo actually cross that 50,000 word mark and “win.” So what happens? Why are nearly 90% of potential novelists “losing” NaNoWriMo? I’d say it’s because of one great problem: writing a novel is quite difficult.

Why do writers fail NaNoWriMo?

Of the people I’ve spoken to who have tried and failed, the reasons they have failed have been either one of two things: 1) they did not actually have the time, or 2) they got caught up in a snag in their story and quit, because there was no way to finish after running into such a block in progress. Perhaps these are common problems, the excuses of the 90%. If so, then I’d like to do something to correct this, because getting a “win” during NaNoWriMo is a personal accomplishment. There’s no reason why every single person with the urge to write shouldn’t be able to cross that finish line and get the “win.” So, let’s address these two major problems that keep people from winning.
First, if you do not actually make the time to write, then you will not be able to write. That sounds silly to say because it’s obvious. Of course, things happen that we cannot foresee that steal our time. If any of these things happen while you are on your way toward 50,000 words, then forgive yourself. But keep your head up and keep moving. However, if nothing out of the ordinary happens during your month and you simply do not make the time to write, then perhaps your heart wasn’t in your material to begin with. But this also does not mean you should quit.
If your difficulty in finishing falls under the second category, that you reach a snag in your story, then you are hardly alone. Actually, you are in great company, because just about every writer I know hits several points during the process of writing in which the words simply do not come. Carrying a story across a few hundred pages is no easy task, and even without writing, most of us experience plenty of self-doubt within a month’s time. So, what is a writer to do with such great odds against them but a drive to finish something as great as a novel?

Don’t Write a Novel

My solution: don’t worry about the “No” in NaNoWriMo. The novel part is sitting there, just telling you “No” right in the title. If you’re struggling to produce the word count this November, then just forget all about the novel. Make it National Writing Month. Write about anything.
Write down your own stories. Write poetry. Write lyrics. Write down everything you know about any subject you consider yourself an expert in. Write a series of love letters. Write down a list of everything you want to accomplish between now and next November. Write down everything you ever wanted to say to someone but never had the courage to. Write about your favorite day ever from top to bottom, with as much sensory detail as possible. Write a long-winded explanation of why people who eat pickled herring are wrong for doing so. Write down a collection of all of the great recipes in your family. Write about all of the above.
You get the point.

Just write!

Whether a lack of time or a problem in your story is your excuse for not finishing, I believe that the real problem is the novel. It’s difficult to write a novel, to commit that amount of time to creating, developing, and finishing a story that was born of your own imagination. There’s plenty of self-doubt to get over and commitment to make in order to cross that finish line.
I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo for the past few years, and it has yet to produce a grand career as a novelist for me. I write a novel because I love writing stories. I’m driven toward writing stories. When I’m deep into NaNoWriMo, I’m getting up at 5am and writing until everyone else wakes up. And then I’m sneaking off to write little bits here and there until I’m either too tired to write or otherwise committed. It takes a lot of energy. And it also takes a willingness on my part to keep pushing forward, even when I know a story is “bad.”
But if you’re drawn toward NaNoWriMo, then I believe what you have is an urge to write. It doesn’t have to be a novel. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a novel. Perhaps it should be fifty different versions of the prologue to the novel you will eventually write. The point of NaNoWriMo is to accomplish something, to get something down that bears a part of who you are. Isn’t that what we’re all striving for when we want to write a novel? So maybe, if you’re struggling this NaNoWriMo, you should push the novel aside for a while and write something else. Get it down, whatever it is. Just write. Put yourself out there. And win.
Happy writing, my friends.

Relevant/interesting links

NaNoWriMo website: https://nanowrimo.org/
15 Online Tools to Help Get You Through NaNoWriMo: https://www.wisestamp.com/blog/15-online-tools-for-nanowrimo/
5 Types of NaNoWriMo Participants and the Tools You Need: http://thewritepractice.com/nanowrimo-tools/
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Writing Life

Motivation, Accountability, and Bribery: How I Get My Writing Done

I’ve always been a responsible person. I was a conscientious student from preschool, completing extra worksheets at home with my mom just because I wanted to. This personality train persists today, and is essential for my success as a writer. After all, no one is telling me I have to write a blog post each week other than me. No one has set any deadlines for the rewrite of my novel. It would be next to impossible to write without some amount of self-directed motivation and accountability, and though these seem to come naturally to me, I know they’re really hard for some people. I decided to intentionally consider the roots of these habits and how I cultivate them.

Motivation

At the heart of all of it, is motivation. If you don’t know why you’re writing, you won’t keep writing. For me, it’s a few things: Stories come up from somewhere inside me and I can’t think about anything else until I get them out. The stories need to be told. I want to be recognized as a writer– to have people read my work and be moved, to feel like it speaks to them. I want to hold my own books in my hands. And of course, now that people are waiting for my book, the desire not to disappoint them is a motivator too. If you don’t know why you write or paint or study, or do whatever it is you’re trying to do more of, spend some time thinking about it. Verbalize it. Imagine it. Really let yourself picture what it would feel like to achieve it. Studies show our brains respond the same way to things that are vividly imagined as they do to things we really experience. Get used to the feeling, so that it really feels possible, and come back to it any time your motivation is low.

Accountability

I give myself deadlines and I treat them like external deadlines. I only let myself compromise on them in rare circumstances. Writing down goals is essential for me. I write “write” in my planner every day and cross it off when I meet my goal. If something comes up and I don’t get to my 1000 word goal in the morning like I planned, I stay up that night until I do, even though I’m the only one checking. Investing in yourself requires holding yourself accountable. Don’t give yourself excuses. That being said, make sure your goals are reasonable. They should be challenging yet realistic. If it’s a struggle to meet them every day, they’re too difficult. If you’re meeting them easily every day, they aren’t hard enough.

If you really struggle with keeping internal deadlines, make them external. Sign up for NaNoWriMo or 750Words. Get a writing buddy and check in with each other.

Bribery

Don’t be afraid to bribe yourself. Before I started the rewrite for Rock of Ages, I made a list of milestones in the book and how I would treat myself when I reached them. Everything from coffee at your favorite place to bigger gifts can do the trick.

Is self-directed work hard for you? How  do you keep yourself motivated and accountable? What would you do if you could just make yourself do it? 

 

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Categories
Writing Life

6 Techniques for Busting through Writer’s Block

“The subconscious mind is amazingly efficient – it wants to work your story out – and while I’ve never experienced it myself, my guess is that writer’s block is the result of the conscious mind having gotten too involved in the process.” ― Alistair Cross
Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it. ―Jack London
How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing. It doesn’t come off. A page now and then is successful, but I can’t keep it up, the next day I am powerless. ―Franz Kafka

Ask ten writers how they handle writer’s block, and you might very well receive ten different answers. Some simply wait for inspiration to whisper in their ear again, while others push on through. Many write every day whether they feel like it or not, employing different methods to keep the creative muscles well lubricated. I’ll be honest; I fall somewhere in between. I try to write every day, but often my fiction projects are the ones that are pushed to the back burner when I’m not feeling inspired.

When I find myself stuck in a persistent rut, I’ll challenge myself with monthly or weekly word counts. Usually, like getting in a cold pool on a lukewarm day, the first jump is the hardest. Over time, I’ve found a few methods almost as helpful as someone pushing me in the deep end.

Read First

This may sound simple. But, one of the best things a writer can do before confronting that blinking cursor taunting them from inside a word document, is spend some time reading. It may seem counterproductive – you’re wasting precious time when you could be writing! Hold on; don’t dismiss it just yet!

Starting your writing sessions by taking ten to fifteen minutes to read can help you draw inspiration from other authors and ignite your creativity. You’ll likely find that you are more productive in the minutes and hours that follow.

 

Ready, Set, Writing Sprints

Having trouble focusing? Set a timer for ten to twenty minutes and write as much as you can without looking back. Don’t stop to edit, don’t check social media, don’t get up for a cup of coffee or a snack from the fridge. Just write! Keep writing, and don’t look back until that timer goes off. Take a short break, then repeat until you get through that scene that’s been tripping you up, or you hit your word count for the day.

Listen to a Writing Podcast

There are a lot of writing podcasts out there that are only ten to twenty minutes long, or if they are longer they can be listened to in short bursts. This is just enough time for a commute, or if you write from home, to listen to as you make your coffee, organize your things, and settle in. Often writing podcasts will center around a theme such as character development, perfecting voice, developing your craft, world building, or story arc. They are often conversational. Listening to a few writers chat about techniques they have used in their own stories, will get the cogs turning when it comes to your own. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself jotting down notes as you listen. A few favorites:

  • Writing Excuses – “Writing Excuses is a fast-paced, educational podcast for writers, by writers. It airs weekly, with new episodes appearing each Sunday evening at around 6pm Eastern Time. Episodes vary in length from fifteen to twenty-five minutes, but are usually less than twenty minutes long. The tagline, “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart” isn’t super accurate, time-wise, but it’s a haiku so we’re keeping it.”
  • Creative Writing Career Podcast – “Turn writing into more than a hobby, make it your career. Stephan Bugaj (Pixar’s Brave, Wall-E, The Incredibles), Justin Sloan (Telltale’s Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and Minecraft: Story Mode), and Kevin Tumlinson (Citadel, Lucid, The 30-Day Author) give you their advice on writing for books, movies, video games and more, and occasionally try to sound smarter by having on amazing guests.”
  • I Should be Writing – “Focusing on the emotional road blocks one finds in a writing career, this show speaks to over 8000 listeners every week.”
  • The Creative Penn Podcast – “Podcast episodes are posted every Monday and include interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship.”
  • The Self-Publishing Podcast – “Full time authors Johnny B. Truant, David Wright, and Sean Platt… explore everything related to getting your writing published… and making money doing it… in today’s new DIY digital publishing frontier. This isn’t artsy talk — it’s “authorpreneurial” business strategy that turns self-publishing from sideline into a rewarding career.”
  • Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert – “Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert returns for the second season of her hit podcast MAGIC LESSONS, ready to help another batch of aspiring artists overcome their fears and create more joyfully.”

 

Break out the Music Playlists

Make various writing playlists. These can be divided according to mood that you are trying to capture with each scene. Writing something dark and sinister? Make a playlist of a few songs that get your skin crawling. Working on a romantic scene and having trouble nailing the emotions? Try a playlist of love songs.

 

Use a Word Generator

Want a fun challenge to mix things up? Try an online word generator like this one. Type in the number of words you would like to have generated (I typically select 5 or 6), then challenge yourself to use them.

Don’t stop writing until you have typed every single word. It might take you one paragraph(unlikely); it might take you five pages. You might skip around and work on various scenes until you have used them all. You might change them later. But hey, it will get you writing.

 

Step Away from the Desk

Sometimes, we all need a change of scenery. Grab a notebook and pencil and go for a long walk, head to the park with a picnic blanket, take a bath, lay in a hammock, hike into the forest. Just go somewhere other than your desk, away from distractions and to-do lists. See what comes up.

Have other techniques that work for you? Share them with us on twitter! @Writing_Bloc

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Categories
Writing Life

Five Great Reasons to Outline Before You Write

Avoid “Permanent Writer’s Block”

One of the most difficult tasks concerning writing any piece of considerable length is staying organized. The typical long-form story has multiple characters and story arcs to keep track of at all times. When I ask people why they give up on their story before they finish the first draft, many answer that the story simply “fell out of their hands.”

I have had my own moments while writing a novel in which I felt the story gets out of control, and I’ve written bad books because of this. This is a terrible place to be. After putting in months worth of work, to have come to a point in writing where you feel that all of your efforts have boiled down to a story that is full of plot holes, terrible scenes, and unbelievable characters is a dark place from which to recover. Some people call this place “permanent writer’s block,” because the author has lost so much confidence in their work that the entire story gets abandoned entirely.

How do you avoid this pitfall? The only answer, in reality, is to stay focused and never give up. Of course, this is much easier said than done.

To Outline is Divine

Many authors, myself included, have failed to take the time to prepare their story before actually writing it. And while it is true that many great novels have been and will be written by just getting on with it and not looking back, more often times than not, this strategy will most likely end in disaster for your wonderful tale.

A better strategy is to get organized. More great novels than not start out with expert organization, character mapping, worldbuilding, and outlining. Preparing to write a novel can be far less fun than actual composition (it is, because we are writers, not preparers), but getting into the habit of preparation should make the process of writing much easier and more satisfying.

In the lingo of National Novel Writing Month, there are “pantsers” and “planners” (and now they’ve designated a hybrid “plantser,” which is self explanatory). Pantsers are quite brave. They sit in front of a blank page, considering it to be the first page of their first draft, and get moving. Their imagination will take the story wherever it may go. I have composed a novel this way, and it is admittedly quite fun. You get to watch your characters, scenes, and story emerge as you type along. It is a thrilling way to write, as long as you are willing to press on no matter what happens in your story.

The drawback to this approach is that it can backfire. The vast majority of people I know of who quit on their story started out as pantsers. Even if their story idea was great, the loss of confidence that came with running their story into a dead end shook their confidence in even starting the story over again. This is a terrible place to be.

Be a planner

I want to make the case for being a planner, as I myself have converted to this method (with a little bit of “plantsing” in the mix).

There is no steadfast rule for how to plan a book. Notebooks, dry erase boards, post-it notes, bar napkins, index cards…these are all viable options for book planning, as long as you can keep track of everything as you go. Fantastic apps such as Storyist and Scrivener are available for download (look for my reviews of both applications in the near future), and online tools such as NovlrLitLift, and Hiveword are also great options to explore.

open book with illustrations floating above the pages
An outline is still creating a beautiful story.

I have had great success in converting from a pantser to a planner, and I have said as much to people struggling to get their ideas into words. No matter which method you use to outline your masterpiece, here are five great reasons for becoming a planner:

1) It is easier to make adjustments and large changes to your story.

Just about every novel idea starts out with a “eureka moment,” and it seems that the entire story will be amazing the moment after it is conceptualized. After diving into actual composition, the reality of composing your concept starts kicking in, and you can realize that there are elements that don’t work. If you’re already halfway through writing the novel, this can seem like a good time to scrap the entire project in a fit of frustration. A better option is to map the story out in the form of chapter summaries first. This way, if a large problem with the plot arises, making an adjustment to the story is far less work, and your story lives on.

2) It is easier to experiment with your story.

With an outline, you can take your story in different directions without having to scrap anything at all. You can create a virtual roadmap of different routes you could take to get to the finish without the risk of having to abandon thousands of words in the process. The ability to experiment can greatly improve your novel.

3) It is easier to accept constructive criticism.

If all you have done is create an outline of your story (not to say that it is easy to outline, but it is far easier than writing an entire novel), then you can present your idea to other people, and if they see problems with your story, accepting the input is less of a blow if you haven’t even started the first draft.

4) You can divide and conquer.

If you make a detailed outline with all of the scenes separated, then when it comes time to compose, you can approach the task scene by scene, creating confidence in your progress. This method even makes it a little easier to schedule writing sessions. You can decide which specific parts of your novel you will draft during various days of the week. Also, if the entire novel is mapped out ahead of time, there is no rule against writing out of order. If writing a particular scene doesn’t match your mood, then you can choose any other scene in the book to write instead. Outlining ahead of time even makes it possible to write a novel backward.

5) You can defeat writer’s block.

If you start each writing session with a clear piece of story to compose, then creating a draft is far easier. Plus, if and when any interruptions to the writing process arise, your creative energy is not severed at the source. You have the whole thing planned! Now all you have to do is see the entire book through to the finish!

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, and to help motivate you, here is a video on how to plan your novel:

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Writing Life

Five Failures to Embrace When Writing Your First Draft

Stop worrying and finish your first draft

This article is for all of you who are worried you might quit on your first draft. This is your pep talk. I want to relate some of the hard lessons I’ve learned about novel writing in my limited experience. If my simple advice helps even one other person cross the finish line and feel the satisfaction of completing a first draft, then I can feel as though I’ve positively contributed to the world.

Your first draft of your novel is important. It’s enormous. Once that is complete, you can say factually that you have written a novel. But the pressure of writing a novel during the first draft is what ultimately puts people off of the task entirely. Writing is awfully introspective, no matter what is being written. Being alone with your own thoughts and words can quite easily create doubt. It is this doubt that causes far too many people to critique and edit their first draft into submission before they finish it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of reading what you’ve already written, reread it, edit it, polish it, make it sound as pretty as possible, and then have no energy left over to write new material.

If you are doubting your first draft, especially if you’ve been kicking it around for years, please allow me to take some pressure off so you can go forth and complete your draft with your head held high.

This is a fact: if your first draft isn’t a terrible version of your book, then you are doing it wrong.

crushed paper flooding office

Embrace these five failures when writing your first draft:

1) There will be plot holes.

Even if you’ve outlined, planned, and scratched down as many preliminary details as possible, you will make mistakes in your plot. It is bound to happen. Accept this and move on, because if you scurry back and forth while writing your first draft trying to cover every hole in your story, you will only become frustrated and never finish. Plot holes are best found by other readers. So instead of wasting valuable writing time looking for problems with your plot, spend your off time finding people to commit to reading your first draft specifically to hunt down the holes in your story so you can correct them later on.

2) You will have grammatical errors.

I don’t care if your grammar is pristine on a daily basis. It takes concentration to never make a grammatical mistake while creating people, conflict, and dialogue from your own imagination. If you are spending too much time worrying about your mixed modifiers or where your prepositions lie in your sentences, then you are losing track of what you are actually saying. Writing a first draft should be with the intention of editing later, so don’t edit now.

3) Your characters will not be entirely believable.

You might mix up character tones, or fail to even give a character or two their own distinct voice. Your characters might be bland, or even impossible to relate to. But as long as you’re writing your first draft, then your characters are at least doing something and advancing your plot, and that’s not quitting. The first draft is the time to pencil in your characters. Save coloring them for the second and third passes of your story.

4) Your dialogue will be choppy.

I haven’t met an author who doesn’t want their characters to all sound a certain way with particular thoughts and feelings being conveyed both concisely and precisely. Dialogue is an art on its own, and you will not be flawless with it upon the completion of your first draft. Once the draft is finished, then you can go back and spend time with your dialogue, speaking it aloud, polishing, and making it all sound as profound and wonderful as possible. During your first draft, just make sure your characters are speaking to each other and getting the general points across. Move on, and complete.

5) Your first draft will be the worst your novel will ever be.

You’ll do yourself a great favor if you embrace this. There are endless little ways you can nitpick your work as you go up until you hit the point of giving up. Do not give up. You have a great idea for a book, and the only thing stopping you from releasing it upon the world is yourself. Embrace the fact that you are writing a bad book on your first pass. Your first draft will not and should not be publishable. A novel is truly written during the process of rewriting and editing.

Your first draft is a detailed blueprint, the demo tapes for your multi-platinum album, if you will. But the greatness of your book will not be achieved until it’s thoroughly edited, so dedicate yourself to finishing your first draft, embrace its awfulness, and then turn around and edit it until it finally becomes the wonderful creation you originally had in mind.

This wonderful video adds some much-needed perspective on what a first draft should be:

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Writing Life

Whichcraft: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass

Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.

When embarking on the editing process with my first novel, it became apparent that some of my holdover habits from working as a freelance writer for most of my adult life were hard to shake. I’ll be the first to admit, transitioning from non-fiction writing to fiction writing resulted in an ingrained habit of telling instead of showing.

I set about searching for a writing craft book that focused on tuning into character emotions. What I landed on was The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Mass.

Showing and telling are only part of the picture. But, they are not even the most important part. As we will discover, readers may believe that they’re living a story along with it’s characters. Actually, they’re not. Readers are having their own experience that is merely occasioned by what’s on the page.

The book touches on topics such as Me-Centered Narration, Stirring Higher Emotions, Connecting the Inner and Outer Journey, and Why Readers Really Fall in Love with Protagonists. It was a valuable buy, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly when I’ve felt stuck and needed a nudge to approach a scene from a new angle.

When readers feel strongly, their hearts are open. Your stories can not only reach them for a moment, but they can change them forever. I don’t care about what you write, how you write it, your choices in publishing, or what you want out of your career. What I want is to feel deeply as I read your work. I want to want to feel connected to you and your characters in the way I do to the most memorable classics and the most stunning new titles I’ll read this year.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction Book Cover
The book is a quick and engaging read, and the author pulls from other literary works to provide examples so that readers can see certain techniques in action.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a writing craft book that is not only inspiring as you read it for the first time from cover to cover, but one that is also handy to reference in the future. My favorite feature is the “Emotional Mastery” exercise, such as the one below, that Mass has included at the end of each section.

  • Pick a point in your manuscript in which the predominant feeling is large and primary. If you’re unsure, choose the moment in which your protagonist feels the greatest fear.
  • What are small signs that indicate something large is happening? What details, hints, indirect clues, or visible effects have you used?
  • What repercussions of what’s happening can the reader immediately see?
  • What does your protagonist or POV character feel that is not immediate? How will she change, do something differently from now on, or see another person, or anything at all, in a way that’s forever altered?

These exercises could be completed in order while combing through an entire manuscript, or could be pulled out when you feel stuck on a scene.

I was thrilled with this purchase, have flipped through the book more than a few times now, and recommended it to multiple friends. If you think you need to dive deeper into how you are conveying your character’s emotions to your readers, then I highly recommend.

Have you read this writing craft book?

Share your experience and tag @writing_bloc on twitter!

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Writing Life

What I Learned From Writing A Bad Novel

Writing a novel is like running a marathon

When I tell people that I have written a novel, the response is usually positive. I like to compare the general reaction to that of telling someone you’ve ran a marathon. This is a fair comparison, because no one really cares about how well you ran a marathon, just the fact that you completed the task seems impressive. It is the length of a novel that seems to draw the positive attention, and like running a marathon, most people don’t seem to care how well my novel is written, they are simply impressed that I completed the task. I certainly get a far more reserved reaction when I say I wrote a poem, after all.

Then some people tell me they would like to write a novel. When I ask why they haven’t, the first thing they say (after saying they don’t have the time) is that they don’t have an idea that’s good enough to be a bestseller. This is a common fear and misconception about writing. Waiting to write your first novel until you have an idea that is sure to be a bestseller is akin to only playing the lottery when the jackpot is ten digits long. Like any form of writing, being a novelist requires practice, mistakes, learning, and endurance.

Group of silhouetted people running

I’ve written a bad book, and I’m proud of it.

It is the endurance portion that usually trips people up. I only became a novelist and considered myself a writer after I finished my first novel. And let me tell you, no one will read that story all the way through. It’s about 56,000 words of disorganized thought and underdeveloped everything. I wrote it, and then I moved on after I realized I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading it.

But I still have it. It’s a stack of pages sitting on the very top of my desk. It is a reminder that I can finish. If that novel is my first marathon, then it is the one I ran in seven hours. But I love that book. That book taught me that I can dedicate myself to write and finish a complete story.

Despite its poor quality, my first novel put me into a brand new category: a novelist. I’ve even told people that I wrote a terrible novel. They usually laugh and ask why I finished writing it, unable to grasp the concept of “wasting” that much time.

Let’s go back to the marathon metaphor. If I were running my first marathon (maybe I will some day) and it wasn’t going well (maybe I’m very tired, sore, overheated, undertrained), what would make me feel the best? Should I just exit the course and return home? Or should I finish the race, even if I have to drag myself to the finish line in last place? It is always best to finish what you’ve started, even if it ends up being a terrible version of what you envisioned.

You learn from your mistakes, but you also learn what you are capable of by seeing things through to the end, good or bad.

Don’t punish yourself for bad writing.

Inevitably, I wrote another novel after I finished my first terrible one. Because I already had one novel under my belt, my second novel was more organized, more exciting, and of much better quality overall. My confidence was soaring as I wrote. The pressure of “will I actually finish this book” disappeared, because I knew that I could definitely finish this book, no matter what. Now, I write every day, fearless of mistakes.

Good or bad, accomplishment and following through on a project makes the next project better. You learn from your mistakes and improve. And if you are interested in writing a novel, just know that all great writers write the occasional bad book. Stephen King wrote “The Tommyknockers,” after all (not being too harsh, he panned the book himself).

And if you haven’t read “Across the River and Into the Trees,” there’s a reason for that. It’s a book by Ernest Hemingway that was panned by everyone, including his own wife. But guess what he did after it was released? He wrote “The Old Man and the Sea.”

So get out there and write. And don’t forget to finish what you start. It could make or break your next novel.

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