I overcome writer’s block by tricking my brain. I tell myself: “All I have to do just write one sentence for today, and that’s it. That’s today’s quota.” I’ll write that one sentence and then I’ll just keep going. I think telling myself one sentence is enough removes the psychological barriers of “I have to write pages and pages and pages.”
Don’t wait for just the big chunks of time to write. Use little chunks of time throughout the day: 15 minute breaks; 20 minutes here; even thinking about your story while you drive home from work counts. Those little chunks of time add up. When the big chunks of time arrive –say a whole Saturday morning with nothing on the schedule– use it. But if something happens and the Saturday morning gets interrupted, it’s okay, because you’ve been using little chunks of time. However, a regular time on your daily schedule –say, either getting up a half hour earlier to write, or writing an hour before you go to bed– can get you in the habit of writing on a regular basis. Then you take those extra chunks of time, both big and little, when they are gifted to you.
In one of my favorite books on graphic design, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams presents the concept of being able to name something so that you can own it. A person may recognize good design in a poster or a brochure, but not be able to know why it’s good design. In her book, she claims to present four basic design elements to master–contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity–so that a potential graphic designer will understand why an item has good design.
The same thing sort of just happened to me when it comes to writing dialogue.
Author K.M. Weiland recently posted an article on her blog, Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once and For All. In this article she presents three ways to make boring and obvious dialogue more interesting by including subtext, irony and silence. I already knew about these methods, but Weiland presented them in a simple way and even used one of my favorite–if subtle- scenes from the movie Gladiator as an example. Now I feel like I can own these methods when writing dialogue for my own fiction and point out when they are and aren’t being used in novels I am reading.
Weiland has great resources for honing your fiction writing skills. Check out her website for writers.
In my previous blog entry, I began listing some things I’m learning as I write my current novel. Here are some more:
- Let the story unfold like a snowflake. When writing the discovery draft of a novel, I like to use the snowflake method. This is a method created by writer Randy Ingermanson. I mentioned in my last post how writing this novel was like peeling an onion; this is part of that metaphor. Here’s how I’ve adapted it: first, write one sentence for each scene; next, turn each sentence into a five sentence paragraph; then turn each paragraph into five paragraphs. I use the snowflake method software to develop my characters, but then I jump to a text document and let the story develop. I read about a similar method in a book that is out of print called One Way to Write Your Novel by Perry Dick. You may want to use your own version of this method.
- Write a scribble for each scene. Many different methods float around the internet on how to write a scene for a novel. I’ve come across this list of tips for writing scenes, and the item on this list that I find helpful is write a scribble version (of the scene). Here is an example of what a scribble version looks like (Scroll down a little.). Usually, I write a scribble version for a scene when I turn scene from one sentence into a paragraph. So, a scene is first written out as a scribble, then I expand it with dialogue, action, narrative, inner emotion and inner monologue.
- None of the main characters in my story are married or in committed relationships. They are all in their early twenties, with one exception. I’m beginning to think this could be marketed to young adults.
- In further rewrites, I will be able to see where I can change things. As I write the discovery draft, I make notes about things that have already happen that I can change and strengthen. This includes: characters idiosyncracies; dialogue changes; inner emotion additions; jacked-up conflict; additional sub-plots. I also will be taking out some dialogue in my opening scene in which the antagonist reveals too much about himself too soon–I hope this will create more suspense as in “what’s he up to, anyway?”
- I write a series of scenes that go together and break them into chapters. I write scenes and then break them into chapters. Supposedly, fiction is written as scenes in the same way nonfiction is written as a paragraphs. A chapter in fiction may contain several scenes, or only one–it’s up to the writer. I may cut a scene in half by ending a chapter in the middle of it to create a cliffhanger.
- Most of writing is definitely rewriting. Recently, I’ve come across these articles about editing and rewriting a manuscript. I plan on using some of the tips they offer; in fact, I’m already using some of the advice from them. Here they are:
How to Write a Book: the Five-Draft Method (Jeff Goins)
How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps from First Draft to Publication (K.M. Weiland)
- I’ve gotten good at avoiding sentences beginning with participles and as. I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. One chapter discusses sentences in which the writer begins a sentences with an –ing word. This can lead to dangling modifiers: Rowing down the river, the branches of the trees hung over us like protective arms. Anyway, here’s an article that talks about the same thing. The first comment also has some good tips.
- Writing action scenes is not the same thing as action scenes on the screen. An action scene need not include every punch, kick or jab. Every car chase scene need not include every screeching turn around a corner. Actions scenes are an opportunity to reveal character, among other things. Here are some articles I’ve read recently on writing action scenes I’ve found helpful:
5 Essential Tips for Writing Killer Action Scenes (Chuck Sambuchino)
The Kung Fu Panda Guide to Writing Action Scenes (K.M. Weiland)
Writing: Action Scenes (John Rogers)
Just Google “writing action scenes” and you’ll find these articles listed as well as many more.
- I’m avoiding infodumps. I’m writing a science fiction series with certain “rules of the universe” in which the stories take place. With this draft, I’m avoiding infodumps about this crazy place I’ve created–for now. When I rewrite, I’ll need to explain a few things as briefly as possible. How I will do that, I’m still deciding. Should I even do it at all?
- Dialogue is never the best the first time around. When I rewrite, I will be hammering the dialogue to make it stronger in an attempt to give each character his or her own “voice.”
- Writing about the progress of my novel, like this, is helpful. More lessons appear to me as I write and I hope to continue chronicling those lessons in this blog in an attempt to improve my writing and storytelling. Wish me luck.
When I say I’ve written six novels, this is what I really mean: I’ve written the rough draft of six novels. Sure I like to say “I’ve written six novels” to try to impress people, but if anyone would read these “novels”, he would read for five minutes, stick out his tongue, squinch up his face, hold the manuscript with his index finger and thumb as if holding a dirty diaper and dispose of it in the trash as if it smelled like said dirty diaper.
Here’s the truth: I’ve written six rough drafts National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Five of the rough drafts are part of a science fiction series I’ve been writing. The first NaNoWriMo novel I wrote is a stand-alone story.
Even after NaNoWriMo is over I’ll continue rewriting and polishing the manuscript, but then I get busy. And suddenly it’s November again—NaNoWriMo month—and I have a new idea and write a whole new story for the series.
This year I finished NaNoWriMo by writing the minimum 50,000 words, but I still have several chapters to write to finish the story. That’s what I’m doing now. The good news is that I more motivated than I’ve ever been to finish and rewrite the story. This year I planned out the novel differently than before and I feel it’s been a boon.
As I continue writing the rough draft of my sixth novel, here is what I’m learning:
- A rough draft is really a “discovery draft.” Discovering the story is like peeling and onion. Sure, before I started writing, I made a list of scenes and sketched out some of the main characters, but I discover so much more about my characters and story as I write. I just keep finishing the discover draft, however, knowing that I will change and add later.
- This year, I planned my novel a little differently: first of all, I made a list of scenes (one sentence each) and plugged the list into the three-act-structure. The three-act-structure is lauded by many and disliked by many, but it helped me think about suspense, conflict and rhythm for my story. Next, I took this list and labelled the scenes according to the hero’s journey. I was pleased that my outline seemed to fall right into the sequence of the hero’s journey. For example, toward the beginning of the story, part of the hero’s journey is “meeting a mentor.” And right there, in proper order, I had my protagonist run into a character who matched the description of being the “mentor.” (By the way, it’s perfectly legitimate to do all this planning before NaNoWriMo starts; the writing of the “discovery draft” begins on November 1st.) Here is a diagram that helped me see how to combine the three-act-structure with the hero’s journey.characters: they have goals; they will change by end of novel; need more inner emotions and thoughts for the protagonist.
- I am writing this discovery draft using only the point-of-view of my protagonist. This means I am writing only scenes in which he is present and interacting with other characters or progressing the story himself. I include description, inner feelings and inner monologue related only to him. As a result, some of the other main characters don’t feel as well-developed as I’d like. The reader only sees them from the viewpoint of my protagonist. This may not be a bad thing, but as I rewrite, I may add scenes from the viewpoint of two of the other main characters. This would add some subplots that are not getting fully developed in this discovery draft. This may or may not be a good idea, but I will try it and see.
- Making a fake cover for my novel has helped keep me motivated. I did this for all my rough drafts in this series I’m creating using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and I had a lot of fun.
- I have more lessons I’m learning as I write my current novel and I will talk about those in a later post. For now, I wanted to write about the realizations that come up. Just doing that is helpful and keeps me motivated.
For some reason, I did not read as many books as I usually do during a year. Looking at my list, I was heavily influenced by books that came out as movies. Also, lots of books marketed to young adults. Overall, still a great year of reading for me. In case you are interested, here is what I read in 2014:
World War II literature from the viewpoint of the German citizens. A mystery narrator tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl who has a difficult life in Germany as Hitler rises to power. Don’t worry, the mystery narrator is revealed. A sad story to read, but brilliantly told.
A mix of The Hunger Games and The Matrix. Fun to read if you don’t take it too seriously. Beatrice Prior’s lives in a dystopian Chicago world, where everyone in is divided into five factions. But what happened to everyone outside of this apocalyptic city?
The story from Divergent continues as Tris attempts to discover the truth about her whole life and her society. The answers to what exactly is going on are unpeeled like an onion. At this point, fans of this series have already figured out which camp they belong to: “I would be Euridite” or “I would be Dauntless.” The author, a mere 26 years old, incorporates Christian themes into this series.
The conclusion of the story began in Divergent. Some fans of this series became upset because this third installment of the series is told in a different manner than the previous two: the point-of-view switches between two of the characters, rather than just the main heroine of the series. At the end, it’s understood why the author did this, but it sent some readers out of their comfort zone. Besides that, a good conclusion to the series.
Calling all nerds, dorks and geeks for this science fiction thriller that romps through 1980’s pop culture. Even if you weren’t a teen in the 80’s or were born yet, you’ll enjoy this SF romp through virtual reality. Probably my favorite book I read this year.
Describes the spiritual journey of a young man as he enters and leaves Calvinism in his Christian beliefs. I have worked for a church from a reformed tradition and a church from a non-denominational background. This book presented the differences in a concise and clear way. The author is fair and doesn’t slam anyone in the process. I just found out this book is a best seller in the Christian book market for 2014.
If you think you’d like Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy setting, then you’d probably like this book. Lynch is a master of dialogue and description. Great character interaction. Probably could have been a little shorter, but overall a great treat for anyone who likes speculative fiction that slants toward fantasy. Definitely going to read the others in this series.
Two teens with cancer fall in love and contemplate the time they may or may not have left. The author attempts to get into the mind of a teen girl who will probably die young. This is one of those books made into a movie and marketed to young adults, but anyone will enjoy it. Lots of good quotes.
Lots of twists along this journey. It is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Enjoyable read, but the ending left me a little unsatisfied.
If you like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, you’ll probably like this. Surprised at how much I liked this book. Great protagonist. I kept thinking, “This reads like a Stephen King book” and later I found out the author is his son. By the way, the title is a license plate that is pronounced nosferatu, which is a word meaning vampire.
Examine the relationships of six people over several decades. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in this novel. While the author has a pleasant writing style, the story felt slow to me and I had a hard time caring about the characters. While some people may enjoy this story, I was not one of them.
You can live your life or it will live you. Whitaker is a church worship leader and musician. He’s led worship at my church a few times so I thought I’d read his book. While not deep theologically, Moment Maker makes some good points and is entertaining.
Dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting in which Earth’s survivors like in a giant silo and history is a big mystery. The author took five novellas and put them all into one volume. I didn’t realize this at first, so the book overall seems disjointed because the protagonist keeps changing every hundred pages. Once I realized it was five short novels in one volume, it didn’t matter. Good read for SF readers and it’s gaining popularity.
Children’s book that turns the reader into a comedian for kids. I read this book to a first grade class and they loved it. It is hilarious. The author, B.J. Novak, is an actor known for his role as the intern in the sit-com The Office. Fun book and helps children to start seeing the value in word choice.
Marina is a cold-hearted courier of contraband who likes to play rough. Her life as a loner is just fine until the delivery of a flash drive with stolen weapons technology ends her alias and makes her the target of a power-hungry militia leader who wants her alive, and his sultry assassin lover who wants her dead. I admit that I read this book because I designed the cover, but it ended up being a story with all my favorite guilty pleasures: science-fiction, action, violence and space opera.
“I’ll tell you why this is the wrong question. It’s not because self-publishing is the future or because you don’t need an agent in 2014 or blah blah. There’s plenty of room for those discussions elsewhere. It’s just the wrong question because asking it means you think the process matters.”
Read more “How to get a book agent” from the Thoughtful Catalog.