Write Around the Block

If you’ve been a writer for any long period of time, you know about the infamous writer’s block.  You know this foul beast manifests if many different forms, and strikes when you least expect.

It’s a shape-shifter, changing its dark shape into different beasts.

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For example, there’s “I don’t have any time to write,” writer’s block.  Or the “I want to write but I end up just staring at a blank screen” type of block.  Or the “every time I sit down to write, Facebook magically opens and I get sucked into a black hole of puppy videos and political posts.”  I’m also well acquainted with the “I don’t like this book anymore” block, or the “My characters won’t talk to me” writer’s block, or even “There’s not enough tension,” writer’s block.

But for me, I’ve found that the monster most often rears its ugly head in this form: “I don’t know how to write this scene that I’m working on.”  I’ll get trapped in this one chapter or this one plot point and feel like I HAVE TO WRITE THIS SCENE BEFORE I CAN MOVE ON.

This form of writer’s block usually makes me feel like I can’t write.  It’s debilitating.  For some forms of writer’s block, the solution is to take some time off, take a shower, go for a walk, read a book, etc.  But for this type of writer’s block, I’ve found the most helpful thing for me is to write around the block.  Sometimes I can power through, and write the scene anyways – like once I laboriously start typing a few sentences, I find I can type a few more.  More often, however, I’ve found it’s easier to just start a new scene.  Skip the troublesome one and come back to it later.

If I have no idea what’s happening in this chapter, but I can perfectly visualize a scene from next chapter, it’s a lot more time efficient to write that NEXT SCENE.

Don’t spend days or weeks not-writing just because you can’t fix one scene.  Move on, write something else, and come back.

Other tricks to try if you’re stuck on a particular scene:

  • Talk it out with a friend.  Usually just talking it out will help clear your head, even if your friend is super confused about what you’re telling them.
  • If you don’t have a friend readily available, try discussing the problem with your dog.  Or you can even try turning on your phone’s voice recorder and just talking about it aloud to your phone.
  • Try writing it longhand instead of typed.  (Or vice versa if you normally handwrite your story.)
  • Make a list of things that could happen in that scene.  Start with what you think is going to happen, and add in some unexpected.  Then pick your favorite parts and try writing from there.

Hope this helps!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on writer’s block and its different forms.  Also, if you have any tried-and-true methods of getting around it, leave them in comments below!

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The Actual Process of Novel-Writing (told with 10th Doctor gifs)

A lot goes into writing a novel.  Different authors do it different ways, and there’s no “right” method of bringing a book to life.  Today, I thought I’d just lay out the process that I go through to write and edit a novel, from first dream until finished product.  Also, I just finished re-watching seasons 1 through 4 of Doctor Who, so… here’s some David Tennant gifs for your eyeballs to enjoy.

1. The Dream

My novels usually begin with an idea.  I’ll be minding my own business doing something, and BANG!  Out of nowhere, a story idea shows up and is just like, “hello.  I’m your new novel.”

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My novels seem to start with characters.  Usually a character or two and a scene or two.  It’s a mad bunch of brainstorming and dreaming and going, “this is gonna be AMAZING.

 

2. The First Draft

Usually, there’s a bit of time between the FIRST IDEA and the First Draft.  I gather my strength.  I stockpile caffeine and twizzlers.  (Sometimes, I wait for November and a good old NaNoWriMo.)  Then I buckle down and write, pretty fast and messy and furious and rambly and incredibly fun.  It’s like, ALLONS-Y, THIS IS IT!  ROUGH DRAFT TIME!

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3. The Second Draft (Aka The Re-Writes)

After another break in time, I’ll buckle down and start on the Second Draft.  I being by reading through the entirety of my messy manuscript, making notes and trying to work out a plot.  Usually, I realize that I need to re-do about a third of the book.  I generally end up writing about five brand new chapters.  So I write new scenes and edit old ones, stitching together the narratives, brainstorming and trying to figure out how the plot points all fit together.

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4. The First Round of Edits

After another little break, I read over the entire novel, focusing on the Big Stuff.  Plot points, character arcs, and overall flow.  I change stuff around if I need to, and fix obvious issues.  Do I focus on sentence structure or passive voice or adverbs yet?  Nope.

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That all comes later.  The First Round of Edits is for BIG fixes only.

 

5. The Second Round of Edits

This edit is for the Smaller Stuff.  Usually I like to print out my manuscript at this point, as it’s a lot easier to see my flaws on paper than on the screen.  This is where I focus on using strong verbs, making sure my dialogue is tight, touching up the setting, and examining things on the paragraph and sentence level.

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6.  Getting Critiques/ Reviews/ Beta Readers

At some point, it’s time to get my work critiqued.  For my first novel, I actually got my first critiques a lot earlier (which I highly recommend for your first novel).  But now that I’m an “experienced writer,” this is when I start to let people read my work and get feedback on it.  So I SEND IT OUT!  BETA READERS!  CRITIQUE CIRCLE!  WRITER’S CLUB!  MY MOTHER!  MY BOOKISH FRIENDS!  RANDOMS STRANGERS ON THE STREET!  Everyone who will read it.  I get feedback.  Ask questions.  Take the helpful suggestions and leave the rest.

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7. Repeat Steps 5 & 6 Indefinitely, Until I Either Hate My Novel or I Get it Published.  Also, Move on and Write New Novels!

I keep editing and getting feedback until I’m ready for submitting to an agent.

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(And then realize I wasn’t actually ready, and work on it some more, and finally decide to move onto new writing projects instead.)  Also, the process of publishing is something entirely separate from the process of writing and editing a novel, so I’ll save that one for another blog post.

// I’d love to hear if your writing process resembles mine at all!  Also, who’s your favorite Doctor?  What do you think of the 13th being a female?  How’s your writing going?  Leave a comment and let me know!  Also feel free to check out the Guest Book and introduce yourself and leave a link back to your own blog. //

 

Artsy Stuff and Learning Curves

Hello lovely writers!  Today’s post includes fanart, a poorly-drawn graph, and some rambling about learning to be a writer.  Hope you enjoy!

Long before I was a writer, I was an artist.  (Not necessarily a good one lol.)  I’ve been making things since I was a really little kid.  I’ve been drawing horses and dogs for as long as I can remember, and I’ve taken art classes since I was in middle school.  I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment when I finish something I’m proud of.  I’ve always enjoyed art for the escape it provides: when I’m working on a piece of art, the rest of the world is entirely gone.

I’ll sometimes still get out the ol’ pencil box and do some fanart or whatever.  (Some examples below because why not?)

And just recently, I picked up the guitar!  My brother has had a guitar just sitting in his closet for the past few years, and I earlier this summer, I had the sudden idea to ask to borrow it.  So for the past several weeks, I’ve been teaching myself guitar!  (This is why I love the internet, guys: YouTube tutorials, online tuners, free guitar chords, and pretty much anything else you need.)  And it’s been so much fun.  I love the learning curve that exists for when I first learn something new.  It seems like every day I practice, I learn something new.  I’m constantly making big strides; I’m growing exponentially.

For example, the first day of playing guitar I could barely play a few chords.  On the third day, I could play a simple song really slowly.  By day 5, my fingerstips no longer felt like I was slicing them open.  Within just a few weeks, I’ve learned how to use a capo, I can play chords in quick succession, and I’m able to pick up new chords really quickly.  I’m starting to learn strumming patterns and put everything together to play songs at regular tempo.

I fondly remember my early days of writing, when I’d just started out.  Every chapter I completed was uncharted territory; every blog post I read taught me something new.  I was like a sponge as I discovered found craft books and online blogs.  And then about halfway through my first novel, I found the website Critique Circle.  I used to get so excited when my chapters would come up for critique, because I was always learning.  New terms, new ideas, new things to think about.  Characters, tension, showing vs telling, passive vs active voice, dialogue, setting.  So much to learn about.  Writing was so exciting.  It was new and special and a bit scary.  It was also so exciting, because it was so easy to find resources that broadened my knowledge.

Sometimes, now, I find it difficult to be in love with writing.  I’ve grown so much as a writer.  I know so much more; I have a lot more experience; I know what I’m doing.  Not that I’m an expert or anything LOL – obviously I’m always learning and honing my craft.  I’m just… not a beginner anymore.  And because I’m no longer a beginner, I’m not learning new things about writing at the same rate as I was when I first started writing.  For reference, I’ve made this nifty graph:

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If you’re thinking that it looks like I made this graph if MS Paint, then you’re correct.  🙂

I’m at the point in my writing journey where the speed at which I’m learning has started to level off a bit.  So it’s easier to get discouraged, because I don’t see my skill improving at the same rate it used to be.

That’s why it was so refreshing for me to start learning guitar.  I’m still in the “beginner” phases, where I’m learning so quickly that it’s exciting and enticing.

So here’s a question for all you experienced writers: how do you keep perusing your dreams and your art when the learning gets slow?

I actually do want your answers (leave a comment below!) but I’d also like to add my own answer.  I do it by reminding myself how far I’ve come.  I don’t take for granted the things I’ve learned.  And I remind myself why I learned them.  I didn’t just learn about writing so I could keep all that knowledge in my head.  I learned about writing so I could be a better writer.  

And I’m in love with writing.  Not with being a writer, or knowing about writing, or being a published author, or anything else.  With the actual writing.  With taking an idea and making it come alive.  With editing a mess of a story into a coherent book.  With making magic happen with words and fingertips on keys.  That’s what I love.  The knowledge is just a tool to help me do that better.  So who cares about learning curves?  Let’s go write stories.

So apparently now I’m a PLOTTER?!? (And 5 reasons I’m okay with that)

Fellow friends, writers, bloggers, readers.  I regret to announce that this is the death of Ever-The-Pantser-Beth.  I am no longer a person who writes with no abandon and no outline.

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Just… take a look at this screenshot below.  You know what this is?  It’s an… an… *whispers* an outline for my WIP.  *GASP*

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So, yeah.  I’m now a plotter.  Well, sorta.  Here’s the thing about re-writes: it’s kinda important to have some idea where your story is going by the time you’re in the 2nd draft of a novel.  So, with this 2nd draft, I’m finally keeping an outline-type thing.  And I really like this format.  It’s just a Google doc.  (For the record, the document’s official title is “Dragon Story Brain Dump.”  Because I refuse to officially have an “outline” for my novel lol.)  Here’s some reasons why I’ve really been enjoying this method of “outlining.”

1. It’s so flexible.

And as I go through the story, I can add notes and questions and details.  Nothing is set in stone, because the outline is literally just bullet points and sub-points.  In the past, I’ve tried out Scrivener and other similar plotting software, and I found they were too much for me.  It took too long to organize my notes, so I felt like I lost time when I was trying to use them to plot my story.  (To be clear, lots of writers adore Scrivener and other programs.  But they’re not for everyone.)  A simple Google doc is easy to edit and re-arrange, and I can see my whole plot at once.  I can add in as much detail as I want to, and it doesn’t bog down the flow of the outline.

2. It’s not intimidating.

My lil Google doc with its silly name is inviting, simple, and streamlined.  It doesn’t feel like an official outline, so it doesn’t feel like it has to be perfect.  I can use abbreviations and question marks, and no one cares.  It’s fun to use, and it’s fun to see my plot coming together as I work through this draft of my WIP.

3. It’s not distracting.

Some of the nifty plotting softwares I’ve used, such as Scriviner and Scrapple, simply have too many features.  I get distracted by changing font colors and dotted lines and labeling everything correctly and it’s just too much.  My Google doc doesn’t have any bells and whistles.  It’s just a word-doc.  It serves its purpose perfectly, and I don’t get distracted by any extra features.  I have more time for writing and actually getting stuff done.

4. I can access it whenever.

Since it’s a Google doc, I can access it from anywhere I have internet.  I can also access it from my phone any time, so no matter where I am, I can grab my phone and jot down some ideas.  I love having my plot in my pocket everywhere I go.

5. Everything is in one place.

Along with a plot outline, this document is also the place where I’ve been keeping notes on my novel’s world, magic system, and magical creatures.  I also have sections for characters, potion recipes, and places that characters visit.  It’s just so nice to have EVERYTHING IN ONE PLACE.  It helps me avoid continuity errors, and it helps me easily find information.  (That way I’m not spending ten minutes searching through a chapter to find that one obscure spell that I forgot.)

ALRIGHTY, FOLKS.  I’m off to go write, with my nifty outline Google document to assist me.

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I’m Back (in this country)!

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Hello friends!  Sorry for my lack of posting.  I’ve been off exploring and world-traveling, seeing mountains and Lochs and old castles, catching up on sleep and adjusting to time-zones.  In the space of a month, I’ve taken two international trips, plus one domestic trip involving a 12-hour trainride each way.  So while I’ve loved seeing spectacular scenery and cool ruins, I didn’t bring my laptop with me.  (I didn’t really have time for writing anyways.)

But after all my traveling, seeing, and learning, I was a little bit nervous to try my hand at writing again.  It had been a month since I’d worked on this story.  How was I going to jump back in?

Turns out, all it takes to jump back in to writing is to sit down, open my word document, and start working.

Look, it’s hard to go a while without writing.  But it’s also really nice to take some time off and go see the world.  I got to dream and plan and imagine in my time off.  I got to give my head a rest and read some good books and enjoy the beauty of nature.  And now?  Now it’s really nice to be sleeping in my own bed, not living out of my suitcase, and be writing again.  It’s really nice to have free time and cell reception and a story that I’m really excited to be working on.

So no matter where your summer plans are taking you, don’t forget that your writing is waiting.  Your story needs you.  And if it’s been a while since you’ve opened your word-doc, don’t be afraid to grab a coffee, sit down, and write.

 

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Re-Writes & Happiness

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This is my notebook for my math class.  Only there’s about twice as much novel-writing as math notes in it, because I write in class a lot.

I’m once again finding myself in the vast green land of Re-Writes.  To be honest, I think this might be my favorite part of novel-creation.  The rough draft is hard because I’m not sure where the story is supposed to be going, and then later, edits are monotonous and they just take forever.

But in between those two, there are Re-Writes.  For me, this is the sweet spot of writing.  It’s the mysterious Wood Between the Worlds, where the real story starts to take place.

Right now I’m working on a fun, snarky, YA urban-fantasy novel that I originally wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2015.  After a year and a half of very little love, it’s finally getting the attention it deserves.  Because here’s the thing: in NaNo, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted the plot to be.  I knew very little going into that November, and just hard-core ‘Pantsed’ my way through the month (in other words, behaved like a Pantser, or one who flies by the seat of their pants when writing as opposed to outlining first).  So then on December 1st, I was left with 50,002 words of cool characters, a great voice, a fantastic world, and very rambling plot.  So now I’m taking all those things and adding characters, tension, and a real plot.  In other words, I’m doing re-writes.

And it’s amazing.  I’ve already written the rough draft, so I’m that much closer to having a complete, ready-to-share-with-the-world story.  (Or at least share with my mom.)  The fact that the rough draft is already done gives me strength and hope.

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But also, I’m still in the writing phase (I’m creating like 10 new chapters out of nowhere), which is the best because WRITING IS FUN.  And since I’ve written the end of the story (or a version of the end), I know where this needs to go.  I know (sortof) what needs to happen.  I have the bare-bones story, and I can then add in a plot: complete with conflict, stakes, and motivation.

So, yeah.  Remember this quote?

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I love this quote.  I live by this quote.

For this novel, I’ve written the rough draft.  I’ve hauled in the sand.

And now, my friends, it’s time to start building castles.

Romeo and Writing

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while. Life’s been a little crazy. Anyways.

Last semester, in my Creative Writing class, we read through A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.  This one section we read really stuck out to me:

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If Romeo and Juliet had made their appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet — one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere — there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them. Writing… is not so different—it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.

-Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

This is So. Darn. True.  If we don’t respond when our story asks to be written, it will eventually stop asking.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll get this “text message buzz” in the middle of my chest (figuratively, not literally) when I need to write.  There’ll be this nagging voice saying “sit down and type!

And here’s the thing: the more I listen to it, the louder it gets, and the easier it is to write. And the more I ignore it, the less I am compelled to write.

There’s a big discussion in the Writing Community about the soundness of the advice “write every day.”  And while this advice is clearly not practical for everyone, the idea behind it is solid: writing should be a habit.  It should be done frequently.  It should be a priority (as much as it’s in your control to make it so).

I don’t want to be casual about my writing.  I want to treat it like it’s important.

But sometimes, I’ll run into this issue: I’ll think about writing and then go, “nah, I’m not feeling the inspiration today.  Maybe tomorrow.”  But the fault with that argument is that inspiration is fickle, unreliable.  It’s fleeting, here one day and gone the next.

I don’t need more inspiration for my writing.  I need more commitment.

I’ll leave you with another quote, this one by Lin-Manuel Miranda (via his twitter feed).

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And now, a daydream about inspiration. Inspiration is EXACTLY like getting a star in Super Mario Bros. Exciting, and super rare. You’re invincible for a short time. The rest of your time you’re breaking bricks, you’re navigating pitfalls, you’re living and dying. You’re doing the work. Star mode is not a substitute for skill, but if you do the work, you can maximize it when it appears. So I wish you star mode. And I wish you lots of hard work so that you know what to do with it when it strikes. That is all.”

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