Link Round-up: Writing the Novel

While I'm teaching writing in Europe, I'm mining my eight years of articles on writing for you.  Once a week I'm posting a link round-up on a certain subject.  I'll also re-post an oldie but goodie in full on a different day. And I've got a couple of new posts scheduled for you as well. 

Today's topic is writing the novel.  Scroll down for tons of links!

Work-in-house-1232248
Not sure what exactly is going on in this photo besides the writing. Are you?

 

Starting & Prep

 

Finding the First Line of Your Novel

A Novel-Writing Vision Board

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One: Tools

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two--The Ideas and the Process

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Three: Character

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Four: Story

 

The Long-haul (or, Sticking With It)

 

Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Fast-Drafting Fiction (Or Any Other Kind of Writing)

Never Underestimate the Power of a Writing Prompt

Willingness: The Mindset for Writing a Novel

Writing Every Morning

 

Character

 

Characters at Cross Purposes

7 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

The Ordinary Day

 

Setting

 

Building Your Fictional World

The Power of Place

Location, location, location

 

Structure

 

Overcoming Flat Scenes: Rising and Falling Action

Story Structure 

The Value of (Groan) Structure

Saturday Writing Tip: Scenes

 

Okay, that ought to keep you busy for awhile.  And remember, I'm teaching my novel writing class this fall, starting in October, if this has whetted your whistle for the process. 

Next link round-up is a week from today, Tuesday, September 8, on journaling!

 


Macaron Day (Or, Jour du Macaron)

So, last Friday, March 20 was Macaron Day worldwide. Macarons

What is Macaron Day?  It was started by the venerable Parisian baker Pierre Herme (his name has an accent mark, but I can never figure out how to do those) in 2006, and the way it works is simple: you drop into a bakery, donate money to charity, et voila, you receive a macaron in return.  This year was the first year that my fair city of Portland, Oregon, has participated in Macaron Day, and let me tell you it was a raging success!

But first, perhaps you are wondering why I am writing about macarons on my writing blog? Simple. My next novel, the one that is currently being readied for submission with my agent, is about macarons.  Or more to the point, a macaron baker.

Here's a brief synopsis:

 All Madeleine Miller wants is for her new Portland business, the Bonne Chance Bakery, to be a success. But things get off to a slow start when her husband Will runs off with an employee and starts his own rival bakery, leaving Mad in the lurch. Luckily she has the help of the bakery's accountant, Jack, and his precocious daughter Daisie. Portland foodies love the bakery's French macarons, but alas, their passion doesn't quite add up to financial success.

And then one day, world-famous entrepreneur slash actor Richard Bishop appears at the bakery and becomes smitten with Mad's macarons—and her. His offer to franchise the bakery concept feels like selling out, and Madeleine isn't interested. But then she learns of the shady financial dealings her ex-husband used to fund the bakery—and she's forced to accept his help. Soon she's catapulted into a world of luxury and excitement in Los Angeles as she supervises the opening of a second Bonne Chance in Hollywood.

But in her efforts to save the bakery, will she lose herself? Set in Portland, Los Angeles, and Paris, the novel illuminates the crazy path romance sometimes leads us on—and the circuitous route that will lead the way home. With its themes of identity, self-determination and following your dreams, The Bonne Chance Bakery is a feel-good novel with a serious message at its core.

(That description is taken straight from my query letter, by the way.  The very same query letter that got me a read of the full manuscript and a signed contract within one week.)

So, as you can see, attending Macaron Day was a must.  Luckily, my biz partner Debbie and I had scheduled a morning to do some planning on the workshop we held last weekend, and so we folded Macaron Day into it.  Our first stop was Nuvrei bakery, where rumor had it that they were giving out "starter kits."  And oh my God, what fabulous starter kits they were!  The most adorable tote bags imprinted with pink macarons.  I was so excited.  I needed one of those tote bags.  After all, I'd just finished a book about macarons!

We stood in line for probably ten minutes as person after person walked past us carrying the totes.  Yes--there were long lines for macarons!  The day for these luscious, pillowy pastel cookies has definitely come!  I got more and more excited as we neared the front of the line.  And then watched as the person in front of me got the last tote bag.

Wah wah wah.

Oh well.  I recovered.  A bite of a salted caramel macaron revived me.  After we sat downstairs and did some planning, we drove across the river to Farina Bakery, which is very special to me.  Laura Farina let me shadow her last year, back when she was still baking macarons in a commercial kitchen, so I could see how macarons are baked.  Now she has her very own place, complete with apron murals.  And she is pretty much acknowledged to be the premier macaron baker in town.  (One headline announcing the opening of her bakery read, "Portland's macaron queen gets her own palace.")

There, at Laura's place, were more people standing in lines with their cute little macaron-imprinted tote bags.   Only one sob escaped my lips as I gazed at the tote bags.  Debbie and I nabbed a whole passel of macarons in a rainbow of colors for our workshop the next day.  And I got to chat with Laura, who is probably the most cheerful, positive person I've ever met.  (Must be the macarons.)

I was going to write about how I discovered macarons and how I got the idea for the novel in the first place, but I'm already pushing 800 words here so I think I'll save that for another post.  

In the meantime, go get yourself a macaron (as they get more and more popular, they are more readily available.  Or, you can always mail order some here.)

Clearly, I've been writing about macarons.  What are you writing about?  Leave a comment!

I found the image of macarons on the Google.


Finding the First Line of Your Novel

Books_Olympus_ompc_79830_hI'm looking for the first line of my novel, the one I'm currently rewriting.  It's funny, I have this unwarranted idea that the first line should spring, fully formed and perfect, into my mind and from there I will write the rest of the novel.

This is not what has happened with this current novel.  The current first line is kinda okay, and I actually like it, but all of my readers so far have told me that not only the first line but the first few paragraphs have to go.  

And I know they are right.  Sigh.

But I'm still superstitious about it. Because, here's what happened with Emma Jean.  She started talking to me and the first line of the novel, Emma Jean Sullivan hated babies, sprang into my head and the novel went from there, much like I described.  It is a great first line, you have to agree. My writing group at the time loved it.  Until we got to the rewriting part and the doubts crept in.

"Maybe you'll turn off agents with that line," someone said.

"Or readers," another chimed in.

And so I changed it.  I can't even remember to what, but it was something lame and lacking in power. I submitted the rewrite to the group, and--you can see this coming, right?  They were all, "Why did you change the first line?  This one doesn't work at all."

And so the original, brilliant-if-I-do-say-so-myself line stood.  

I'm not an expert on first lines and I've not actually read much about what they should include, but here's my idea: they need to draw the reader in.  I know, duh.  But what, exactly, will draw the reader in?

In my inexpert opinion, it is conflict.  If you have a weak, flabby first line try adding some tension or conflict to it and see what happens.   And now that I'm thinking about it, that's one of the problems with the current first line of my novel--there's no conflict in it.

On the other hand, I just found this site which lists the 100 best lines of novels, and guess what the first line is?  Call me Ishmael.  Not a lot of conflict in that, is there?  (Go take a look at the page, it is quite interesting.)  And by the way, here is my own favorite first line, which is really not the first line of the book, but of Codi's viewpoint section, but anyway, I still love it: I am the sister who didn't go to war.  Do you know what novel it is from? (I'll tell you at the end of this post.)

One of my pet peeves is the opening a novel with dialogue.  I don't mind it when others do it, but it never seems to work for me.  I know, weird.  But there it is and that's not very helpful to you, is it?  So since this post is turning out to be exploratory in nature, in order to offer you some real assistance, I turned to the Google.  And found some good links!  Here you go:

7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel

7 Ways to Create a Killer Opening Line for Your Novel (This one is really helpful.)

Okay, and honestly, those are the only how-to examples I could come up with.  But I think they are good ones.  So now I'm going to slink away and ponder my own first line.  Oh, wait, I had one more suggestion about how to find your first line.  

Ask your subconscious to provide it for you.  

I do this when I'm full up and fed up with trying to figure it out myself.  It always works, it just sometimes (like now) takes awhile.  But I feel certain it will be here soon.

What do you think about first lines?  What's your favorite?  And how have you found yours in the past?

*Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver, which also happens to be one of my fav novels of all time.  Along with Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.


Fast Drafting Fiction (Or Any Other Kind of Writing)

When last I communicated with you, I told how I was taking a hiatus to finish my novel.  As my grandbabies would say, done! (This must be accompanied with both arms raised in the air.)  I finished the first draft on August 31st, and seeing as how my goal was to complete it by the end of August, I was happy.

It took me nearly a year to write it.  I wasn't writing steadily the entire time--I took whole months off here and there while I floundered.  By the standards of the class I'm currently taking, that is an eternity.

I am enrolled in a class called Book in a Month.  The first two weeks you write a draft and the next two weeks you revise.  Candace Havens, who teaches the class, urges her pupils to commit to writing 20 pages a day, gasp.  But, to my great relief, most of us in the class are not doing quite that many pages.  The main rule seems to be that you must write something (and post it on the Yahoo group page) or she may kick you out.  So, since I'm in the midst of getting ready to teach in France, I've committed to 10 pages a day.

This comes at an inconvenient time, I will admit.  I have 50,000 things to do before I leave and all. But I hope plan to be getting in my word count on the plane and the train from Paris to Beziers.  And I really wanted to take the class because I've long suspected I can write faster, and I was curious as to Candace's techniques.  To nobody's surprise, the techniques are simple: write.  

Make a commitment and write.

Ha!  Would that it were that simple.  Oh wait.  It is.

So, I'm a few days in and I'm already learning a lot, mostly that I need to unlearn a lot of stupid rules about writing that I carry around in my head.  Though my rules are likely different than yours,  I thought I would share them with you as instructive examples.  

Stupid Writing Rules

1.  I can't write fast.  Instead, I must sit and stare out the window at my giant Kiwi bush that is slowly taking over my whole backyard and wish that the kiwis would tell me what to write next.  Also, accessing the internet for research periodically is vital.  And, of course, going on Twitter to report my progress (or lack thereof) is also essential.

2. I need lots of uninterrupted time to write. To nail 10 or 20 pages a day, one must have hours of time in which to get words on the page, right? Wrong.  You can do it in small increments and many people do.  Earlier this week I wrote some in the morning, broke to talk to a friend and eat lunch, went back to writing for a bit, went to a Labor Day barbecue, wrote some more, had dinner and watched a little TV and came back to finish my final two pages.  Worked fine.

3. I can't write at night. I am a dedicated morning person, up most days between 5:30 and 6, and it is in these early hours that I like to get my writing in.  I'm at my best in the morning, as long as I have some coffee to write with.  Because of this, I'd started to believe that I couldn't write at night. Wrong!  See #2.

4. I can't write after I've had a glass of wine.  Not true.  The other night I enjoyed Happy Hour with my husband, ate a bite, watched my current favorite TV show, (which is, embarrassingly, Running Wild with Bear Grylls)and then went to my office to get two more pages in.

5. I can't finish one novel and go right to the next. Um, no.  Finished the one I've been laboring over for a year and opened a new file and started the next.

6. I have to have an outline!  I am a confirmed plotter.  Anybody who has worked with me knows that I advocate the benefits of a loose outline, just because it really helps to know where you're going.  But with this novel, I'm running blind.  I had a vague idea as I started and I'm must following where it leads me.  I'm not entirely convinced it will all hand together in the end, but I'm willing to try!  So, for the moment, I've joined the ranks of pantsers.  (Which means, for those who don't know, writers who fly by the seat of their pants with little planning.)

7.  Writing fast produces crap.  This is maybe the biggest surprise.  I'm quite pleased with what's on the page so far. In many ways, I'm coming to believe that writing fast is better for getting your true voice and style on the page.

So that's it, that's what I've learned thus far.  And I really urge you to consider some fast drafting for yourself.  I believe it bypasses the internal critic that slows us down and allows us to get a truer voice on the page.  

What do you think about writing fast? Yes or no?  Have you tried it?

PS.--Guess what?  I can get Typepad on the new Surface tablet I bought to take to France so I'll be blogging from there (she said, hopefully).  Last year I didn't know that I couldn't blog from my Ipad until I got there, sigh.  And by the way, I'm in love with the Surface 2.  It is a tool for work, as opposed to an expensive toy.  Just saying.  For someone who travels as much as I do, it will be a godsend.


Finishing My Novel

Today is Tuesday and I usually post.  (I follow a loose, and I do mean loose, schedule of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday posts.)  I have a half-finished post about getting support, whether its for your writing or physical or emotional issues that I'm working on, but it is not resonating with me.

And I just realized why.

It's because I'm two chapters from finishing the first draft of my next novel.  And I've set myself a goal of being done with it by the end of this month.  Which happens to be in five days.  And the closer I get to ending, the more resistance I feel.

I've got a lot of work at the moment, including the best, most amazing coaching clients in the world! Truly!  So something has to give.

And guess what that something is going to be....this blog.

I'll be back as soon as I finish the novel with a full report on everything.  And it won't be long because I WILL make my goal.

In the meantime, I post a new writing prompt every day on my Tumblr blog.  (It doesn't take long to write a prompt.) And I'll have my usual round-up of writing prompts on Saturday.  Maybe I'll even be done with the novel by then.

Happy writing, everyone!  And if you want to, leave a comment telling us what you are working on.


Book Review: The Novel Writer's Blueprint

Paperbackbookstanding-226x300I've got a new book for all you fledgling novel writers out there.  

It is called The Novel Writer's Blueprint: Start Writing Your Novel Today, by Kevin T. Johns.  I discovered the book when Kevin emailed me a wonderful query asking if I'd be interested in reviewing it. Since I'd just published a rant post about how often I got approached by people with terrible queries, I leapt at the chance.  

Kevin sent me the book, I read it, and now I'm reviewing it.

I like this book quite a bit.  It lays out in five steps the system that Kevin believes will allow you to write your novel.  (The genesis of the five-step system was Kevin's own struggle to write his first novel.  It took him eight years--and he swore he would not let that happen again.  Can you relate?)

The five steps are as follows:

1. Genre Selection--Learn to harness the power of genre.

2. Story Structure--Select a story structure already proven to work with readers.

3. Puzzle Work--Piece together your scenes into an indispensable beat-sheet.

4. Preparatory Regimen--Sharpen your writing skills.

5. Running the Marathon--Implement protocols to stay on track and beat the biggest challenges.

Not mentioned in this rundown is his introductory chapter, which has a lot of good information in it as well.

My favorite chapters were #2 and #4.  I love #2 on story structure, because I'm a story geek, and Kevin has a film background so he's well versed in various structures and he presents them clearly.  Chapter #4 covers a good collection of tips for writing, such as timed writing, mind mapping and brainstorming.  Kevin also mentions a technique called "Writing Down the Page" which it turns out I do all the time, but didn't have a name for.  It's when you write a sketchy outline of your chapter so you have the general flow down.

This book is perfect for the first-time novelist who wants a picture of the road ahead before launching onto the journey.  And seasoned novelists will find a few tips of use as well.  Check it out, guys.

Do you have a favorite book on novel writing?  Please share! 


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Viewpoint But Were too Confused to Ask

Antique-spyglass-small-1145005-lThis is the blog post on viewpoint I promised in my last post, wherein I talked about how I judged a writing contest and nearly all the entries had problems with sketchy world building and viewpoint.

Getting viewpoint wrong sinks your manuscript from the get-go.  Send an agent a story rife with viewpoint violations and kiss any chance of representation goodbye.   Viewpoint slips look amateurish and annoy the reader, who may not know exactly why they are annoyed, just that they are. 

And you do not want to annoy the reader.

I am the Chief of the Viewpoint Violation Police, much to the chagrin of my bi-weekly writing group that meets here in town.  You got a viewpoint lapse, even a subtle one, and I'll find it.  And I also have a simple way to master it.  Here goes:

I Am A Camera.

That's actually the name of a Broadway play based on a Christopher Isherwood book, but I've always liked it as a way to remember viewpoint.  Whether you are writing first person or third person, when you are in a character's viewpoint you are in their head and all the reader can see is what that character sees.

I am a camera, or he, she or it is a camera.

So, if you have a scene in which your protagonist (we'll call her Beth) talks to her mother and her mother is riled up about something, Beth can only intuit the upset from her mother's dialogue, facial expressions, body language, and actions.  But Beth cannot leap inside her mother's head and relate how mad she is.

Correct (if clunky): Beth watched as her mother furrowed her brows and tightened her lips.  "You must be joking," her mother said.

Incorrect:  Beth watched as her mother furrowed her brows and tightened her lips.  She felt so angry at her daughter.  "You must be joking."

The incorrect part?  The sentence that dives into Beth's mother's head:  She felt so angry at her daughter.

That's head-hopping, people, and it will make your reader feel they are at a tennis match, watching the ball bounce back and forth across the net.  Remember: your character has a camera in her head, and everything it records, you, as the author can record.  But nuttin else.

Employing multiple viewpoints

If you are using multiple viewpoints, make it clear to the reader when you switch heads, and do it either at the start of a chapter, or the beginning of a scene, i.e., after a white-space break (four single returns).

Remember that any character you choose to write in viewpoint will automatically become better known to the reader (we'll be in his head, after all) so choose accordingly.

Now comes the point where you ask me about using omniscient viewpoint and I say: Don't.  Just don't.  I don't allow any of my students or clients to use because I'm fussy that way and mostly because it is really damn freaking hard to do right and most people screw it up.  Omniscient viewpoint is the God viewpoint where you're jumping into characters' heads at will and done poorly, which it most often is, it simply looks like a viewpoint violation.  

Single viewpoint

If you're writing in first person, odds are good you'll stick to one character's viewpoint.  (It used to be a big no-no to have a multiple first person viewpoint novel but standards have relaxed lately.  It is still not as common, however.)  I'm a single viewpoint kind of gal because I love getting inside a character's head and getting to know her and her world view intimately.  I wrote Emma Jean in a third person singular viewpoint--we're in Emma Jean's head the entire length of the novel (which I admit can get a bit suffocating).  The novel I'm currently plowing through (almost done with the first draft) is written in first person, entirely in the protagonist's point of view.

By the way, most writers I know use the terms viewpoint and point of view interchangeably so don't let that confuse you.

Questions?

Okay, what have I forgotten?  (I always forget to mention things and then my brilliant readers bring those things up in the comments and that makes me happy.)  If you have a question or problem with viewpoint, leave a comment and I'll answer.  If you don't have a question, I have one for you: do you struggle with viewpoint?  How do you keep it straight?

 


Building Your Fictional World

Planet_earth_australia_264109_l

Recently, I was the judge in fiction-writing contest.  My job was to review the finalists in the novel first chapter portion of the contest, and select the top four winners.  It was fascinating because every entry had a good concept for a story.

But.

Every entry but one had viewpoint issues (a topic I'll address in a separate post soon), and the other big problem I saw in nearly every chapter was a failure to adequately develop the fictional world.  

While the set-up was interesting and the characters good (though also undeveloped) what I saw over and over again was not enough care taken to fully create the world of the story.  And I don't care if you are writing a contemporary novel, an historical story, or a science-fiction novel set on another planet, every novel has a world of its own that the reader will inhabit for the length of the book.  And it's your job to write that world so that we, the reader, truly feel as if we've stepped into it.

Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  Don't rush.  In many of the contest chapters, I felt like I was being escorted through the scene in a whirlwind.  Don't be afraid to slow down, to share description and details (see #4), to evoke the senses (see #7).  I guarantee that your problem is not writing too much, but too little.  Lay it on thick and write more than you think you should and you'll come out about right.

2.  Root the reader in the scene.  A simple technique is to continually hark back to the physical world in a scene to keep the reader reminded of where she is.  Otherwise, your reader will feel like she's floating in the air.   Use simple references to accomplish this--She leaned against the counter, or He set his coffee mug down on the table.  Doesn't have to be anything fancy.

3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast.  I learned this from a friend who learned it from the late Gary Provost. When you're writing a scene that would pass slowly in real life (such as an afternoon lolling on the couch) do it quickly.  We don't need the details.  And when you're writing something that would happen really fast in real life (like a car accident), slow it way down and note every detail.

4.  Telling details are your friend. Details are what bring a scene alive, such as the red rose petal on the wood kitchen table, or the solitary raindrop sliding down a window pane as a storm begins. But, don't include every single detail, the trick is to choose the ones that will illuminate the scene.  And that's something for you to decide.

5.  Setting is more than just location.  Setting is, of course, your friend when you're creating your fictional world, because it is what your characters walk through.  But it is much more than just the lovely ocean they live beside, it is all the furniture and accessories that fill the house they live in.  And guess what else it is?  Time.  Big difference between San Francisco 1906 and San Francisco 2014.

6.  Characters interact with their worlds in unique ways.  A man who grew up in Manhattan is very different than a farmer from Iowa.  The unique worlds of characters influence them in specific ways, and in return, causes them to exist in their worlds in certain ways.  Take advantage of this.

7.  Use your senses.  Obvious, yes, but also easy to forget.  One of the least under-used senses is smell.  Noting the aromas or odors of your world can be very evocative.  And how about touch?  When was the last time your character described the feel of a fabric beneath his fingers?  Or taste?  (Which reminds me, food can be very specific to different worlds also.) We get accustomed to our primary senses of sight and sound.  Adding in the others will bolster your world.

Okay, that's it, that's all I've got for you at the moment.  But do tell in the comments how you like to build your fictional worlds.

Photo by monique72.

 


Novel Prep: The Master Timeline

It's two days until Nanowrimo starts!  Are you ready?

You have two more days to write character dossiers, descriptions of locations, and figure out the plot. The rules of Nanowrimo state that you can do as much prep work as you like, so long as you don't begin the actual writing of the novel until November 1.

I highly recommend doing prep work for your novel.  As you might guess from this statement, I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  When I fly without a plan, I go off on tangents and my characters' motivations and actions tend to make no logical sense.  So I like to plan a bit ahead of time.  However, a bit is the operative phrase--I write character dossiers, figure out where they live and work and hang out and get a loose outline of the plot down on paper.  I like to leave room for the magic to happen--for a new character to walk on, or for an existing one to do something unexpected--and this method does that for me.

I've been puzzling over the plot of my WIP.  I'm not officially doing Nanowrimo because I've already gotten some words written, but I'm thinking I'll write along with those of you who are doing it as a way to kick-start this novel.

So I've been working on prepping.

And I've hit on what for me is a brilliant aid to figuring out the plot.

It's the master timeline, which is a timeline that mushes together all the events in all the characters' backstories.  I've made individual timelines for characters lives before, but never done it this way, with them all together.  For some reason, it works brilliantly for me to not only keep track of what happened in the past (when characters married, divorced, bore babies, etc.) but also to generate ideas for plot and character.

I've always had the theory that if you keep an idea book, the ideas in it mate and bear children while you aren't looking and I think the same is true with the master timeline.  The characters on it talk to each other and create activities and ideas when I'm not looking, I swear.

I started the master timeline to get a solid idea of the cast's backstories as I was finding myself confused with what happened when.  Now that I've gotten that all down on paper, I'm realizing I'm going to go even farther with the timeline, plugging into dates and events from the actual plot.

It's brilliant, I tell you, brilliant. 

So try it.  You've got time before Nanowrimo starts.  You can thank me on December 1st.

How do you prep for writing a novel, or any kind of book?  Or are you a pantser who just starts writing?  Leave a comment!


Everything Is Perfect

I awoke at 2:45 A last night (this morning, actually).

I lay there for a few minutes, wide awake.

I tried not to panic about not sleeping.  Because, the worst thing about not sleeping is the panic about it.  My mind scrolled through what I had to do today and how bad it would be if I didn't sleep.  What I'd have to endure in a groggy state.

It wasn't a crazy busy day, being a Saturday, but I had a lot of things I wanted to get done.

So I started to panic about being awake.

And then a soft voice said inside my brain, everything is perfect.

I listened.  And agreed.  Everything was perfect.  My achy knee that hurts at night.  The extra bit of wine I drank at dinner.  The work I was worrying about getting done.  The stress and anxiety and all the joyful moments of the week. 

Everything is perfect.

And it was.

Proof?  I got up and wrote 2,000 words on one of my novels.

There's no better indication to me that all is right with the world.

You?

 


Torn Between Two Loves

(Scroll down for bonus video.  It's Mary McGregor singing "Torn Between Two Lovers."  You know you want to watch it.)

Please tell me this has happened to you.

You're happily writing, making good some forward progress on your novel when all of a sudden, out of nowhere one morning, comes an idea.   Inspiration for another novel.  An idea so beautiful and fully formed that you have no choice--none!--but to stop what you're doing and start writing it.

In this process, you decide that the other novel--the one you were making forward progress on, albeit a bit slowly--is crap, and that that is the obvious reason why you sometimes spin your wheels a bit.  It is all so clear to you now......

Old novel=piece of @%^&*

New novel=wonderful, priceless, shimmering jewel beyond compare

You dive into the new work.  Write some notes on chapter one, begin compiling characters, setting and plot lines.  The jewel glimmers brightly.

Until one day an idea for the old, piece of $(%^& novel sneaks through the consciousness and you open a file to make a note and accidentally start reading.  Hmmm, you say to yourself, it's really not so bad after all.  Perhaps it is not quite the piece of %^$&* that I thought it was.

And then you find yourself with two novels you want to write.

What to do, what to do?

Many writers, myself included, have written about how important it is to actually finish the things you start.  Half-completed novels and stories do not get published.   Some writers, like Dean Wesley Smith, have even gone so far as to state that the reason for their success is that they have learned to finish things.

Then there are those writers like Jess Walter, who says that the secret to his success is to have many projects going at once.  Then when he gets stuck on one WIP, he can switch over to another.

The latter idea appeals to me.  Because I balance multiple projects (ghostwriting, manuscript critiquing, teaching, blogging) in my non-fiction writing life, it doesn't bother me to switch back and forth between novels. 

However.

I am feeling the urge to finish something, and I had previously set a goal of completing the draft of the piece of %^#$% novel by the end of the year.  And if I switch back and forth that won't happen.  I barely have enough time to work on one novel as it is.

So at this point in the year, I really want to focus on one novel.  (And besides, there's nothing better than the feeling you get when you are totally engaged in writing a novel, and I doubt that happens when you are switching back and forth.)

I think I have come up with a plan.  But then again, I'm not sure.  Because things seem to change rapidly around here these days.  So I put it to you--what would you do?  Have you ever run into this dilemma?  How did you solve it? 

Please comment!  I'm all ears.

And let us not forget the video:

 


This Series on Writing Fast Will Blow Your Creative Mind--and Inspire You

This morning, thanks to Karen Woodward, I was introduced to a series on ghostwriting a novel in 10 days by Dean Wesley Smith.

Yes, I said 10 days.  As in, writing a full, complete novel in 10 days.

Dean Wesley Smith is ghosting a novel contracted by a major publisher for an author who is a bestseller and whose name would be recognizable to all of us.  (Yes, the world of ghostwriting is sometimes a shady place.)

He's set himself the goal of finishing the novel in 10 days, and along the way, he is documenting his progress with regular updates to his blog.  It's really worth reading.  Here are the posts so far:

Day one.

Day two.

And you might want to read this one as well:

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing Fast.

When Smith says he writes fast, he means it--he gets up, gets to the computer (he uses two--one with no internet access and thus no temptations) and gets to work.  It appears that he writes in bursts, knocking off a 1000 words or so before taking a break to eat or answer email (at the second computer) or what have you. And then he rinses and repeats, on and on throughout the day.

But here's the deal: he's writing.  Not endlessly revising, not thinking about writing, not wondering if his work is any good (confidence is not this man's problem), but writing. 

I think we can all learn a lesson from this.  I know reading his posts  inspired me and afterwards, I polished off the first draft of a short story I'd been agonizing over.  I'm sure I spend way too much time pondering deep thoughts and not actually writing. Even if we don't want to emulate every aspect of his practice, we can learn from parts of it.

Oh yeah, and guess what?  He starts out with no idea where he's going.  And he doesn't rewrite.  This draft will be it.

Freakin' incredible.

Here are things I noted/wondered about as I read:

--When does he take a shower?

--When does he exercise?

--He has a wife to cook for him.  Or someone.  Dinner magically appears.

--He probaby has a house cleaner as well.  There's no attention paid to such mundane matters.

--He's able to set his own schedule (stay up until wee hours of the morning, sleep until 1 PM).

But even with all that being said, his accomplishment is amazing.

What do you think?  Does this appeal to you or do you think he's a hack (he's got a gazillion novels to his credit)?  Do you write slow or fast?  I'd love it if you left a comment.


Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Writing is magic. Objects-stars-feathers-40007-l

We think up an idea, and put it on the page.  Whole worlds spring to life beneath our fingers.  And all we need to do this, at base, is a pen and paper.  Oh, sure, a typewriter or computer helps, but if worse came to worse you could do without one and still write.

What you do have to come up with is time to make the magic happen.  You have to sit at your desk, or your arm chair, or in the coffee shop, and put words on the page.  And that takes time.

And that is where many of us falter.  Me, too.  I struggle with finding time just like everyone else.  But lately I've realized that all my important non-writing activities stretch to fill the time I allot them.  So, if I give myself all day to read three manuscripts, that's how long it will probably take me.  And if I give myself all day to read said manuscripts, I won't get any writing done.

And therein lies the problem.

With the necessity of doing marketing around my book release, many days this winter I became a writer who didn't write.  Well, there were blog posts.  And there were guest posts and interviews and ariticles, all of which I love.

But in my heart of hearts, its not the same as working on fiction.  And if a fiction writer is how I identify myself, if that is what I truly want to be, then I need to find time to work on it consistently.

I used to get up and work on it first thing in the morning.  But that schedule no longer works for me--I simply have too many emails and other internet chores pulling on me to allow me to focus.  I'd sort of pretend I was writing and actually get about 20 minutes in.  Not conducive to making progress on a WIP.  I was working on it, but in fits and starts--a stolen moment here, a bit of time there.

Last week, in my travels around the web, I read an interview with an author said that she wrote every morning from 9 to noon.  (I wish I knew who this was or where I read it, but I can't remember.)  This struck me like a thunderbolt.  Bad cliche, sorry, but it did.  I realized that if I put myself on a schedule like that, I'd actually get my writing done. 

And so I did.  I'm now writing from 9 to noon every day.  I'm showered and at my desk by 9 AM.  No more stretching internet time until 8 AM, then working on the crossword puzzle for awhile and getting in the shower when I felt like it.  (Hey, its the benefit of working at home.)  Nope, I'm ready to write at 9 AM sharp.  And I'm getting a ton done.

What I wasn't so sure about was getting everything else done, but so far that hasn't been a problem at all.  I've always harped on said that when you make your passion your priority, everything else magically falls into place.  And it is true.  I'm simply much more focused.  Plus, the high that comes from fiction writing follows me all day, allowing me to power through dumb chores and errands with joy. 

I really can't describe how profound this change feels. 

I've got an exciting new ghostwriting job coming up, and a couple other things in the works, so we'll see how I stick to the schedule when those come in.  But in the meantime, don't call me in the morning, because I'll be writing.

Do you schedule writing time?  Are you able to stick to it?  What works for you?


True Confessions: I'm a Plotter, Not a Pantser

It has come to my attention recently that I am a plotter, not a pantser. Graph-chart-plot-2382-l

In case you're not familiar with these terms, here's a rundown:

A plotter is someone who, well, plots.  He figures out the story ahead of time, outlining plot, designing characters, making copious notes.

A pantser flies by the seat of her pants, getting an idea for a story and flying with it.

It pains me to admit that I fall squarely into the plotter category.  Why does it pain me?  Because of my romantic image of writing, which I must admit is pure romance and very little reality.  It goes something like this: you get an idea one day.  Eureka!  It's brilliant!  Has the makings of a bestseller! And then you sit down at your computer, which is in your office overlooking a white sand beach, of course.  And you start typing.  Out pops the novel, which is then sent to a publisher post haste and voila, it becomes a bestseller, while you loll on the afore-mentioned beach.

I know.  I've been a professional writer forever, and I still fall prey in my mind to this fairy tale image of the writing life.  (If I'm still victimized by it, imagine how many others, newbies and pros alike are too.) The reality is that writing is hard work.  Wonderful work but hard work. 

And for me, if I allow myself to waft about and follow an idea anywhere I take it, i.e., the pantsing model of writing, there's no bestseller at the end.  Rather, disaster ensues and I get a lot of loose ends that go nowhere and a stalled novel.  Case in point: my WIP. It is strong for 70 pages, which happen to coincide with the 70 pages I had vaguely outlined.  After that, it all goes to hell.  And it's the after that part that I've lately been shoring up with a real outline.

Okay, let's be clear.  When I say "real outline" I'm not talking about the formal outline you learned to create in school.  (Are they still teaching that?) I never could figure out how those worked.  What I'm talking about is a document that reflects the fact that you have a firm idea where you are going.  This document could be a loose list, as it is so often to me.  It could be an elaborate road map complete with pictures.  I don't care.  I just think you'll do better at writing your novel with some kind of guide.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for magic happening in a novel, such as when a character walks on.  An example of that happened as I was writing Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  One of my favorite characters, a young girl named Ava, appeared one day and started talking.  But, for me, this is more likely to happen when I know where I am, when I have a framework to bump up against.

I'm also much more likely to make forward progress when I know where I'm going next. The best way to make forward progress on a novel is to always have a place to go next.  Ernest Hemingway was famous for stopping his work sessions in the middle of a sentence so he'd have a good starting point the next session.  The reason this story is told so often is because it's useful advice.

Besides my loose outline, I also write up character dossiers of varying degrees of complexity.   I'm currently going back to the well with this one in my WIP as well.  There were bits and pieces of backstory that I knew were important but hadn't figured out yet.  Once I figured them out, they changed not only the story but the character's motivations as well. 

And all this work got me VERY excited about my novel again.  I've got a bit more outlining and planning to do, and then I'll be back at very soon, which makes me very happy. 

So, there.  That's my confession.  I'm a plotter.  And proud of it.

What about you?  Which camp do you fall into?  (And don't worry, if you're a pantser, please let us know why and how it works for you.  I love hearing what works for people.)

**A lot of this is the kind of thing I talk about in my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which is currently underway.  (No link, as we're far enough in I didn't think anyone would want to join, and so I took it down.) The class runs five weeks and covers all the basics of writing a novel.  I'm actually thinking about running it again in June, in an expanded version, in which we'd have two calls a month: one informational, one Q & A, plus we'd actually write and get critiqued throughout the program.  There would also be a forum in which to share ideas, and the ups and downs of the process.  How does that sound?  Email me or leave a comment if you are interested or have ideas about such a program.

Photo by KrzystofB.


When A Character Morphs

Collage-morph-weird-6491132-hThe protagonist in my WIP just morphed.  When I started writing her, she was one way and now suddenly she's another.  (With the demands of launching my novel, I haven't had the time to actually put these changes into effect, but I've taken lots of notes.  And I think about it all the time.) It's a subtle but important change and it makes a big difference in how she views the world and reacts to the people around her. 

This also happened while I was writing Emma Jean.  In that novel, there's a character named Ava who's a young whippersnapper of a middle-schooler--sassy, smart, and slightly scarred.  She's one of my favorite characters in the book.  Yet she started out as a shy 5-year-old with little personality.  I well remember the night I went to my critique group and someone gently asked me if it was really necessary for the 5-year-old Ava to be in the story.  The next day, I boarded a plane to L.A., and as I did, the current Ava sprang to full, glorious life.  This version of her was the character who was meant to be--I just hadn't discovered her yet.

And so, too, with Jemima--while I know a lot about the externals of her life and what happened to her I don't yet know her inner landscape or her full backstory.  I also don't feel I've yet discovered her full voice.  So this recent change is welcome.  It tells me I'm getting closer to her, that I'm starting to know her better and it reassures me that the rest will come in due time.

But how do you actually deal with it when a character morphs like this?  Here are some suggestions:

--Don't panic.  Usually when it happens, it's a good thing.  Yes, there will be unexpected rewriting and changing things around.  But it's going to make your novel a richer, deeper book, because it's a sign that you understand your character at a new level.

--Take good notes.  Lots of them.  This is a good time for free writing to get a handle on the new shape of the character. 

--Write in "as if" form.   If you're in first draft mode, keep moving on.  Don't stop to rewrite everything that has changed because of the character morphing.  Instead, write as if the character changes have already been made.  This works most of the time, though once in awhile the changes are so profound that you have to go back.  Just don't get mired in rewriting!

--Unpack your story.  Once you've finished the first draft and it's time to make the character changes, you've got to make room for them.  The common metaphor for this is unpacking, emptying a space to put in new stuff.  Go paragraph by paragraph and pull them apart to insert new material.

--Take heart.  You may be dismayed by the character changes that appear to you, especially if they are big ones.  You may be tempted to ignore these ideas.  But don't--that pisses the muse off.  And besides, these are the very ideas that will make your novel the story you want it to be.

How have you dealt with a character morphing?  Please leave a comment.

**Speaking of characters, Emma Jean launches on February 12th, and I'm celebrating with a virtual release party, complete with prizes!  Find out more and sign up here.

Photo by shannonkringen, used under Creative Commons agreement.


The Next Big Thing

My buddy, Reavis Wortham, invited me to be part of a Blog Hop, and I can't say no to Reavis, especially when he's wearing his cowboy hat, so here I am, participating.  (You really should go on over to the Rev's site and check out his award-winning mysteries--they're pretty awesome.)  The questions for the Hop pertain to my next novel, though I think a bit about Emma Jean might sneak in here and there, it's the nature of things.

Speaking of which, the nature of a Blog Hop is that once you're done, you tag other people.  I think I was supposed to come up with five, but ended up with four.  No matter, they are all great writers with fun projects.  Check out the list at the end of the questions. Then go visit them and say hi.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?

I don't have a working title for the book, I just refer to it as Jemima B.  That's the name of the main character.  When I wrote Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, I knew the title from the very start, it came to me along with the idea for the book.  But this time I'm just not sure.  I like it when authors have books with similar titles so it might become something like Jemima B Something Something Something.  Ideas are welcome, though I realize that it might be helpful if you knew something about the book before you named it.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

Oh God.  I don't know.  People always ask me this, and I have a hard time answering because my novel ideas come to me as a process of accrual.   One idea combines with another and then another and then I'm writing.  But to look back and point to any one moment or specific idea is difficult.  I will say that my stories always begin with a character.  And then I see her in a situation.  And it goes from there.  In Jemima's case, I saw her sitting in a crappy motel room and I realized that she was very out of place there--that she was an elegant, wealthy woman, so I wondered why she was there.  And that's how it started.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Women's Fiction.  Though I think it's really stupid that that is a genre.  We don't refer to Men's Fiction do we?  No, of course not.  Also, I'm in the process of inventing my own genre, which is Baby Boomer Women's Fiction.  Or, it could be called Fiction for Women of a Certain Age.  You could also call it Romantic Comedy, though that makes me nervous because I don't think Jemima is as funny as Emma Jean. And, I'll stop now.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Meryl Streep should play Jemima, even though Jemima has dark hair and doesn't look anything like her.  Just because she's Meryl Streep and she's amazing.  If Nathan Fillion was a bit older, he could play Frank, Jemima's ex-husband.  They don't look anything alike, but both have that same devil-may-care attitude.  And then we could choose Jennifer Lawrence for Jemima's daughter, even though that is a relatively small part.  Regardless, I'm sure she'll be chomping at the bit to take it.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Well-to-do Malibu matron and entrepreneur Jemima Brooks is forced to face harsh new realities when the life she knows and loves is suddenly taken away from her.  (That sounds like a bad romance novel, but I've never been good at writing elevator pitches for my books.  You should hear me try to explain Emma Jean.)

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

Don't know yet.  I sold Emma Jean to the indie publisher myself, and I've been very happy with them.  I have this idea, though, that I'd like to experience all three main modes of publishing--indie, self, and Big Six.  I'm toying with the idea of self-publishing my MFA novel, so I think I'd like to try my luck with Jemima at a big house.  I say that like it's easy.  It's not, I tried with Emma Jean.  Still and all, one of my goals for 2013 is to get a literary agent.  So let's just say, for the sake of argument, that she'll be represented by an agency.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I'm still working on it, and I think I'm about 2/3 of the way through.  I made good progress on it last fall, but the Emma Jean book release has slowed me quite a bit.  Come March, I'll be ready to seriously return to it.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Here's my latest point of comparison--Nick Hornby, who wrote About a Boy and High Fidelity.  One of my advance reviewers said that Emma Jean kind of reminded her of him.  I'll take it!  I think my stories tend to have that same combination of romantic comedy with a somewhat sentimental heart (even though sentimental is a dirty word these days).

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See answer to #2. Though I will also say that seeing people suffer during the recession inspired (if that's the right word) me. There were so many cases of people flying high one minute and hitting rock bottom the next. That experience interests me. How do you cope? How do you move forward through your suddenly changed reality?

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Writers will appreciate this--this novel is coming out completely differently than any other I've written. In the past, I've always hewed to writing in strict chronological order. That felt natural to me and not constraining. But this time through, I've had far more of a tendency to write scenes out of order. And, too, much of it has been written by hand in a spiral pad and then transferred to the computer. Jemima just refuses to deal with the computer first.

Okay, that's it for me! Now I turn it over to these wonderful writers, who will publish their answers to the questions on February 6th.

Candace White  Ain't Got Enough Gravy  

Beverly Army Williams Pomo Golightly 

Leisa Hammett Leisa Hammett 

Sharon Henry-Jones Making the Best of It 

Mandy Webster Write on the World

P.S. By the way, since we're speaking of novels here, tomorrow is the last day to get $50 off my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  Check out all the details here. 



Fundamentals of Fiction

Novel writing is much on my mind these days.  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that my debut novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, is due out February 12.  Not only that, but next week I'll be in Nashville to talk to a local writer's group and give a workshop about Scene and Structure in fiction.  And, to top it all off, I will be once again offering my teleclass, Get Your Novel Written Now, in March (though early-bird registration is open).

So, yeah, novel writing is on my mind, big time.  And as I proof the final copy for Emma Jean, as well as continue to work on my next novel, I'm reminded of what it takes to actually write a novel.  Which, let it be known, is a lot.  Even though its about the most fun you can have, ever, it is a lot.  But the actual writing of every novel has a starting point. 

Fundamentals of Fiction

And that starting point is the fundamentals of fiction.  A writer desirous of penning a novel could do no better than to begin with the basics.

So what are the fundamentals of fiction?

You can get all kinds of answers to this question. I was in a workshop in Nashville last September  and when a fellow instructor asked this question, we got about a dozen definitions. But, and this is a big but, it is possible to winnow the fundamentals down to five main areas, and these are the areas I'm going to consider today:

A. Story

B. Character

C. Setting

D. Style

E. Theme

Let's look at them each briefly.  (Briefly because this is a blog post, not a class or an Ebook.  And one could write volumes about each fundamental.) Here goes:

Story. An editor recently told me that story is the basis of fiction. I know, a no-brainer. Except I argued that character is the basis of fiction, because I believe that all stories grow out of character.  But all this is really a chicken and egg thing.  Suffice it to say that without story, you don't have a novel.

Character. What I said above. To me, all stories start with character.  Who is your protagonist?  Your antagonist? What are your character's problems?  Their deepest desires?  What gets in the way of those deep desires?  How does one character's deep desires confict with another?  And so on.

Setting. Where do your characters live and work? What's their world? Do they live in the big city or the country?  Maybe an alternative world?  A different planet? Setting also comprises the things that surround your character, like their furnishing, their books, and so on. And don't forget that setting also includes time.

Style. This is your voice. It's the way you put words together in a sentence, the way you arrange sentences and so on.  My favorite quote about style is this, from editor Chris Roerden: "A writer's voice gets buried in ineffective writing habits." Much of this is last draft stuff, working with word choice, looking for active verbs, etc.

Theme. What's it all about? What is the thematic statement you're making? Too many would-be novelists over-think this. Start where you are and let the theme emerge as you write. Trust me, it will.  I have to admit, I'm a bit laissez-faire about this, because I've seen it emerge in the writing over and over again.

What do you think?  Do you agree with this definition of the fundamentals of fiction?  Or would you include something else?


On Reading My Own Work: The Issue of Sentimentality

Book-books-collection-415-lTwo stories:

Story number one

I'm sitting at my computer, laughing.  My husband asks me what I'm chuckling about.

"Oh, I'm proofing my novel.  I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but Emma Jean makes me laugh, even though I wrote her."

I've gone through edits, and copy edits, and now one round of proofing, and every time it makes me laugh.  Every time, reading the novel makes me remember how much I loved writing it.  How much I love my heroine, Emma Jean.  How happy I am that the book is being published.

Story number two

This year for Christmas presents, I printed out copies of my MFA novel, Language of Trees, for my daughter and daughter-in-law, because they hounded me for it at their request.  As the chapters came off the printer, I read bits and pieces of it.  Some of it I liked, but some of it made me cringe.  And now when I picture the girls reading it, I cringe anew.

So what's the difference in these two stories?

Well for one thing, Emma Jean has been rewritten, revised and edited within an inch of her life.  Though I worked and worked at writing Language of Trees, I could never quite get it to hang together.  (I'm hoping to change that this year, and I'm giving serious thought to going the indie publishing route with it.)

But here's what I believe the major cringe-worthy factor is: sentimentality.

The best definition of sentimentality I've ever read is that it is unearned emotion.

Language of Trees still has a lot of moments of unearned emotion that have not been edited out.  The kind of thing that makes you wince when you read it.  Oh God, I just remembered a party scene from the novel wherein all the men in attendance fall head-over-heels in admiration of Collie, our heroine.  Ouch. This is embarrassing to me in retrospect because it is a sentimental moment.  Collie has done nothing to earn their ardor but appear at the party.  Unearned emotion.

And, if I'm honest, when I ponder the novel I'm currently at work on, there's lots of instances of sentimentality.  In my defense, it's still a first draft.  The one with holes big enough to drive a truck through.  (I can't remember who told me that metaphor, but whoever you are, thank you.  I love it.)  And some of those holes are unearned emotion.

So I have to admit that printing out Language of Trees was a good exercise for me, pointing out, for future reference, something I want to keep a closer eye out for.  And it gives me a road map for rewriting it.  I can start with the places that make me cringe and go from there.

How does sentimentality tend to present itself in your work?  Is it an issue for you or not?

**If you're struggling with issues of sentimentality or other writing craft problems, make 2013 your year to go full out with your writing.  Consider gifting yourself a writing coach.  There's no better way to make fast progress with your writing!

Photo by lusi.


Why Writing a Novel is a Good Thing--Even if You Never Get it Published

Yeah, so, you want to write a novel.  And you're even thinking of doing Nanowrimo this year. (Nanowrimo = National Novel Writing Month, just in case you don't know, and it's in November.) 

But then the voices begin:                             

Themabina_temabina_white_271865_h
The dreaded blank page.

You'll never get published.

Why bother?

It's a waste of time.

You could be doing other things.  Worthy things.

You think you can write?

Who do you think you are to write a novel?

And so on.  I'm sure you know the variations.

But I'm here to tell you otherwise.  To inform you that writing a novel, in and of itself, for no other reason than to do it, is a worthy activity.  It is.  Even if you never get published.  (Which, with all the publishing options we've got these days, you probably will, one way or another.) And here's why:

1.  It's a creative act.  And the world needs as many of these as we can get. Creativity breeds creativity, just as energy breeds energy.  Who knows what spending time writing this novel might lead to?  It might lead to a best-selling novel, or an amazing idea in another area.  And, it doesn't matter if that doesn't happen because the simple act of sitting down to create is important.

2.  Novels change the world, in big ways and in little ways.  Novels deliver stories, which we're hard-wired to accept, and stories change us.  Think of novels with grand, culture-baring themes.  Or remember how you felt the last time you read a small, intimate novel.  It changed you a little, didn't it?  And that's how changing the world happens--one person at a time.

3. Novel writing makes you happy.  At least it makes me happy.  I love it.  And I presume that it will make you happy, too.  Lest you think that happiness is an unworthy goal, remember that none other than the Dalai Lama says that happiness is the point of life.

4.  Writing a novel is an accomplishment.  The first time I finished a novel (it's the one sitting in my office cupboard)I was so amazed at how much oomph it took that I vowed to respect every single book ever written, even the crappiest romance novel.  And I do.  You should too--especially the one you're writing now.

5.  Writing a novel hones your skills.  And remember, getting better at one thing affects the way you do everything.  Improving your novel writing will impact your blog posts.  And your articles.  And your diet.  As the ancients used to say, as above, so below.

6.  Writing a novel helps you understand the world.  To write a novel, you must populate it with characters, and to create characters, you must understand people.  And, guess what?  People are what make our world go around.  Writing a novel helps you understand them.

7. It's your deepest, most heartfelt desire.  Don't let that desire go unanswered.  Go do it already. 

Here's what I recommend: create your own list of reasons to write a novel.  Name it the Novel-Writing Manifesto, or something a bit less grandiose.  Post it next to your computer.  Read it often--especially after something has shaken your confidence.  It'll snap you right back into a novel-writing space.

What are your reasons for writing a novel (or any project)? Do you use them to steer yourself back on course?

And if you feel you need a little help on writing that novel, why not consider a class?  My Get Your Novel Written Now class is starting up again in October (just in time to get you ready for Nanowrimo) and you can read more about it here.  If you'd like to read a review from a recent participant, go here to read Beverly Army Williams' review.  (Thanks, Beverly!) I'd love it if you joined us.

Image from Everystockphoto.


Writing Tics, or What I'm Learning From the Emma Jean Edits

Lens_magnifying_glass_266925_lI'm deep into the edits for my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and some things are becoming apparent.  As in, writing tic type things.  As in, the little silly stuff I do over and over again.  I thought sharing these tics might be helpful to you.  I know I'll be much more conscious of them as I write my next novel.

So here goes:

--I use the word and too much, often a lot of times in the same sentence. 

--I misuse commas.  Don't ask me how, because I don't quite get it, but I think I use too many of them.

--I over do it with the dialogue tags.  My editor, Nannette, is forever knocking them out.  And I would have told you I used them sparingly.

--I am guilty of repeating words.  I am a demon when it comes to this on my student's work, always exhorting them to change repeated words.  And I would have told you that my manuscript was clean, so clean when it came to such things.  But, no.  Nannette finds plenty of instances of this habit.

--I need to write around lyrics.  Emma Jean always has a song for every occasion, and will happily share it with you.  But this does not work because one must get permission to use song lyrics.  And such permission costs one money.  So I'm writing around them.

So far, the issue with the song lyrics has been the biggest thing I've had to deal with in the edits.  I know there's a problem in one of the final scenes that I've got to deal with and I'm dreading that.  But that's still pages away.  At the moment, I'm on page 200 of 374 and enjoying the process.  The great thing about going through the edits is that it's teaching me about my own writing, and hopefully strengthening it.

Tell me: what are you writing tics?  Have you ever had an editor point them out to you?