Celebrating our uniqueness

 As newbie writers, it's easy to get sucked into comparing ourselves to the authors we want to be someday. With so much info available on the interweb, we can research (read: procrastinate) how people write, where they find their inspiration, their editing methods and just about anything else you can imagine.

The temptation is strong to copy the successful behaviors of other writers in the hopes that this will also bring us fame and fortune. 

Are you trying to be a copy? source

I'm not a genius or a master of what works, but I can tell you that trying to copy someone else will not make you the next Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins. Instead of trying to be like someone else, we should learn to celebrate the things that make us unique in the world of writing.

Ok, I'll start. Here's my list of things that I think make me unique. Share your own special brand of awesomeness in the comments and let's take some time today to be proud of who we are right now.

1. I'm an extrovert in a sea of people whose preferred past time is curled up in a chair, by themselves, reading a book. I love to read, but I need people. Lots of people. On the Meyer-Briggs test I score 100% extrovert. Not a stitch of introvert in me. While this means I can't lock myself away to write, I like to think of the upside. I'm not afraid of engaging others in conversation and this can lead to all kinds of learning.

2. I love feedback. I have CPs who cringe at the idea of letting other people read their work and getting their opinions. Personally, I love it. Part of this is the extrovert in me knowing that I'm always a better person with others. This translates into being a better writer with input. I'm not ashamed to say the other part is the extrovert in me that likes being the center of attention. A whole table of people talking about my writing? Yes, please!

3. I am a sparse drafter. Most folks I know write monster sized first drafts that have to be trimmed down to consumption size. I am the opposite. I write thin drafts that cover all the basics, but need to  be fleshed out. I tend to leave out descriptions and action within my dialogue the first time around. I actually like going back and adding this stuff in later.

4. Rejection doesn't really bother me. As writers we are told to give ourselves time to digest the rejection that is a standard part of our path and then move on. This is great advice. I consider myself blessed that I don't need that digestion period. For some reason, I've yet to feel a real sting from rejection. I think this is because of all my past experience. While writing rejection is new to me, I've put myself out there enough in other ways that I'm use to it by now. Wow, that line makes me sound like a big looser. But I don't feel that way. Knowing that I can put myself out there without the all consuming worry of rejection following me around all day is freeing.

5. I'm not a life-long writer. I hear so many stories from pubbed authors talking about how they've been writing for as long as they can remember. That's not me. I distinctly remember thinking writing would be really fun in high school and taking a creative writing class. I wrote a little after that, but didn't really pick it up again until after college. I cast my creative net wide and explored the world of the arts with everything from community theater to singing in a barbershop quartet. Now that I've rediscovered writing, I can't imagine not doing it in some capacity, but I wasn't always like that.

So what makes you unique in this crazy world full of writers? Celebrate the differences that make you the amazing person you are!

A map to writing the first draft: Does it exist?

We've all heard it before. Writing each book is a different process.

I always thought this was a bit of hyperbole. Of course, every book is different, but how many different ways are there to write a book? Oh, sweet naive little writer.

What does your path to a first draft look like? Source

Now that I'm working on my third novel length manuscript, I wonder if I'll ever find a method that works for me.

I can tell you right now, that my current process is not the one.

I started writing this manuscript with a basic beat sheet. I had the general outline for the major plot points that needed to happen, but left the details open for inspiration to guide me as I wrote. Unfortunately, I got 20K words in and realized I'd written 20K words of unusable material.

The problem?

I wrote the draft in third person past tense and it really needs to be first person present. Also, I concentrated too much effort on the plot and didn't spend enough time on character development. So, not only did the story feel wrong, but the characters were falling flat and lifeless.

To fix it, I've gone back and done detailed character sketches for my MCs. Now, I have a better understanding of the histories that make them who they are and the motivations that will push them through the book. Yeah!

I've also done a story board to make sure that those motivations drive the action of the story so my characters don't spend 300 pages only reacting to their world. Because an interesting character should drive the action, not the other way around.

So now what?

I went back to the beginning and rewrote the first chapter. It's not perfect, but it's a much better opening. I'm also going back through what I wrote before to figure out what can be saved. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't fit anymore, but at least some of it can go back in (once I change the tense and POV).

Next time, I have to remember that plotting and character development is not an either/or option. I'll also take a pause around 5K words to make sure I'm not wasting time writing in the wrong POV or tense.

Maybe one day I'll have a fool proof process that makes drafting easier. Until then, I'll keep chugging away and learning something new each time.

So what's your process? Do you change things up each time or have your found your secret sauce for drafting?

Five tips for the middle of your story

Ideas are the lifeblood of a writer. Unless you're the next Harper Lee, chances are you'll need to pen more than one book in order to work your way into the literature Hall of Fame. If you're like me, ideas for new projects come from tons of different places. I have a whole folder full.

The problem comes when I need to turn a fun new idea into 200+ pages of a fun novel.

I can usually sculpt the opening and endings are my favorite part. But how do I find ideas to keep the middle of the story going and give the reader a book that will keep them up at night?
Pondering the second act is hard work. Credit

This is something I struggle with. On the chance you do too, here are the questions I ask myself to come up with ideas.

1. What is your main character's worst fear? - It's not cruel, it's being a writer. The thing that would give your character the worst experience is exactly what will give your readers a great experience. Don't hold back the heat.

2. What is your character's worst personality trait? - Is your character selfish? Put her in a situation where she has to pick between her usual selfish choice and something that will genuinely make her happy. What if he can't trust others? Wiggle him into a tight spot where he has to trust someone else in order to save his life.

3. What does your antagonist want the most? - You might not being able to give it to him (killing off your protag might be a downer), but how close can you get it. Up the tension by getting your antagonist as close as possible to winning. Your readers will hate you and love you at the same time.

4. What's up with your secondary characters? - In the heat of your novel it's easy to forget about your second string players. All the focus is on your MC and that's a good thing. But don't forget to keep track of where your other characters are and what they are doing. One of them may have a great way to help (or inadvertently hurt) your MCs mission.

5. Work backward. - Are you stuck with how to get from where you are to the fantastic ending waiting 50 pages away? Go ahead and skip to the end and work back. What needs to happen in order to get your character there. Do they need to move physical locations? Is there an emotional breakthrough that needs to happen in order for them to make the right (or wrong) decision at the end of the novel? This is also a great way to check yourself when you have reached the end to make sure all your character's decisions make sense.

Here are my top five ways to generate ideas for the middle of a story. What are some of yours? Leave your tips in the comments.

More Books on Writing Books

Last week I talked about Save the Cat. This week I have another great book to share.

I recently closed out my first round of queries. It was nerve wracking and awesome. I know there are plenty of folks who hate the process (and I'm not saying I loved it), but it was such an educational experience.

While I didn't get my perfect agent...yet, I did get some advice that I think will only make my writing stronger. One of the agents I spoke with said she really liked my book, but needed more from the first 30 pages. In other words, the writing was good, but it wasn't capturing her yet.

On a side note, for any agents who might be reading this, please know that we writers love this stuff. I realize you get tons of emails letting you know that you've made the biggest mistake of your life passing up on someone's project. Please know that the rest of us are amazingly appreciative when you take the time to read our work and give feedback, even if the answer is no.

I read back through my submission, but I'm just too close to it. I didn't doubt for a minute that the agent feedback was accurate, but I was having trouble seeing it. Enter The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke. 

I really liked this book, because it doesn't sugar coat the writing process. The first part of the book is a great review of writing sins that will almost surely result in rejection if they're in your first 50 pages. The second half is a really detailed breakdown of all the elements that need to find their way to your first 50.

Some of this is really basic, like introduce your main characters, but there was plenty of other great advice in there. I especially enjoyed the sections on establishing normal and revealing your characters knot. Gerke does a great job of writing in a way that is both informative and entertaining without talking down to  the reader like they are in their high school freshman English class.

One of my favorite parts was when Gerke broke down the components of a great first line and first page. As writers, we hear all the time that the start of our novel has to be great, but this is the first time I've seen someone breakdown exactly how to do that.

I found this book so informative (and easy to read) that I have now purchased another of Gerke's books Plot versus Character. I've just started, but I'm really enjoying it so far.

The moral of the story: if you don't know how to fix your writing, learn how. I wasn't an English major and I've never taken a writing class. What I know about writing is from writing. While I honestly believe you don't need a formal education to be a writer, there's no shame in getting help when you need it.

Friday Framework

Another week has flown by, which means it's time for some public accountability. This week was a trial with some different things going on in my life. I certainly could have let those things bog me down. Instead, I found getting into my work was a way to escape for a few hours from the stresses of life. I'm not advocating hiding from what ails you, but there's something to be said for forcing your brain to stop worrying about things you can't control.

Here's what I had on the to-do list this week:

1. Review WIP1 story structure
2. 5K words on WIP3
3. Catch up on my critiques

Here's how I did:

1. Story structure is reviewed. I wrote out all my scenes on note cards and plugged them in to see where I was heavy and were I'm lacking. As I suspected, my story is front heavy. My first act takes up almost half the book. That's a long time for a reader to wait for a payoff. So a snipping I will go to fix it...later. Now that I know what's wrong I finally feel like I can set it aside for a while.

2. As of this post I have a little over 1K written on WIP3. This was the story I started in June but realized was a mess. I tried to keep going, but this week I realized it wasn't salvageable. I'll probably pull in a few things in order to keep unique details, but those words have been kicked to the curb. I'm a little disappointed I didn't get more words in, but I'm cutting myself some slack. For the first time ever, I made a storyboard for this MS. It still makes me a little giggly looking at it. Hopefully this thing will keep me from making the same mistakes I made with WIP1.

I can't get it to flip. Just tilt your head to the right and ignore the small hole in the third act.

 3. I am completely caught up on my critiques! Yeah! I love giving other writers feedback because I know how helpful it is to me.

Here's what I've got lined up for next week.

1. My SIL and her best friend are coming to visit so this week I need to do round two of cleaning for the in-laws. She's worth it so I don't mind.
2. Figure out what goes in those two blank spots on my storyboard. It will be a while before I get there in the draft, but it will make me feel better if they aren't there.
3. I have some more craft books coming so I want to dig in to at least one of them this week.
4. Showing my guests a good time in rural TX will take up a lot of time this week so I'm not counting on a lot of writing. Still, if I can get 5K words out before they get here, I'd be tickled pink.

Now's your turn. How did you do this week? Do you have big plans for next week?  Also, I'm still looking for a name for this post. I stink at titles. :)

Books on writing books

I'm not usually a big fan of books on writing. Not that they don't have great stuff. Unfortunately, too many writers fall into this pit of 'This works for me and it must also work for you so do it this way' doom. The book that is supposed to help writers becomes a mini-documentary in book form of how this particular author writes a book. Interesting, yes; educational, not always.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

I have found a few exceptions to this. One of them, which I found early on in my writing journey (thank goodness), is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne. This book rocks in all kinds of ways, but mostly for teaching me that the dialogue tag is not the place to get fancy. I cut out a bunch of "he shouted angrily" when I learned that one.

This past weekend I had the amazing experience of reading not one, but two craft books that really hit home for me in different ways. I was hoping to learn a few new things and instead I have a whole new perspective on how to approach my writing.

The first of these is one that's been in my TBR pile for a while. I used Blake Snyder's beat sheet for plotting WIP3 based off the information on his really helpful website www.blakesnyder.com.

I was really hoping to get a little more insight into using the beat sheet by reading his book Save the Cat. What I got, was a ton more insight and a lot of Aha! moments where I realized not only that my current manuscripts have issues, but where they are, why they happen, and how to fix them. Priceless.

Save The Cat

The crazy thing about this book is that it is actually written for screenwriters. However, a story is a story whether it's told between the pages of a book or on the silver screen. All of Snyder's advice applies to writing a novel. Really, the only difference is that the average script is just over a hundred pages and the average novel hits about three times that many. Just multiply all those 'must hit' pages by three and everything still applies.

I plan to 'beat out' WIP1 today (you know, the one that was done but won't leave me alone). I can't wait to see what it looks like. Finding the black holes should help me to finally get this WIP to the place it needs to be not just a good book, but a great one. I'm also hoping once I know how to fix it, I'll be able to set it aside for a while and work on some other stuff.

I know I said there are two great books, but they each deserve their own post. I'll tell you all about the next one later. For now, go get Save the Cat!

Friday Framework*

Eeek. I can't wait for summer to be over. I have got to get back on my schedule. I'm a big slacker and completely missed posting an update on my weekly goals last week. So here's an update along with what I've got planned coming up.

Last (2) week's goals:
1. Write at least 15K words in WIP3
2. Read draft for WIP2 and make editing notes
3. Clean bathrooms and floors and change sheets on guest bed for in-law visit

So, I didn't get very many new words in for WIP3 and I made only a few editing notes for WIP2. But before you think I didn't do anything, I have a confession. I worked on WIP1. This is the project I thought was done months ago. The project I sent out a round of queries for. The one I set aside.

I can't let go of this story. Maybe I'm too invested in these characters or maybe I've come to love the editing process too much. Either way, I can't stop working on this thing. 

On the "yeah, I did this" side of the accomplishment list, I did clean my bathrooms and such for my in-law's visit. In fact, they are still here. :)

So what's my plan for next week?

1. I need to write at least 5K words on WIP3. This is a great story and I really need to tell it. This is one of those 'get your butt in the chair' situations.
2. Re-evaluate structure of WIP1. I can't stop thinking about it so I need to let my brain work out what's going on so I can focus on other things.
3. Critiquing. I have lots of critiquing to do. I need to get myself caught up because my next editing project is due for arrival around the end of this month. I want to be clear on other things so I can give this next project my full attention.

Now it's your turn. How are you doing on your goals? What do you have planned for next week?

*On a semi-related note, I've started naming this weekly goal check-in 'Friday Framework', but I'm not in love with it. I'd love to hear your ideas on what to name this weekly public check-in.

What I learned from an excessive amount of blogging

Today I have a guest post over on My Name is not Bob with Robert Lee Brewer. I hope you'll go check it out.

If you follow this blog or my twitter account then you already know that I spent the month of July writing a ridiculous number of blogs. One every day actually. I'm kinda tired.

Coffee, stat! Credit

I was hoping that all that writing would help me to learn a thing or two about blogging and I wasn't disappointed. So here's what I learned!

1. There are a lot more blogging topics than I realized.
 My past schedule (pre month long madness) was M-W-F. Plenty of times I struggled to come up with a subject for each post. Forcing myself to blog so much made me write posts on topics I had previously dismissed. Some of them were not great, but I wrote them. This is also a lesson I'm applying to my drafting skills.

2. I need to establish some kind of schedule.
I'm not great at coming up with random topics. My life is just not that interesting. I think I can help myself and provide a better blog for writers like me, by putting a little more structure to my posts. I've already started this with the idea to post my goals and updates on Fridays. I also want to pick a day to share the interesting articles and posts that I read each week. 

3. I do better when I can write several posts at a time.
Like many of you, life has a funny way of sneaking up on me. Too many times, I was up later than I wanted to be so I could fit in a blog post in time. I did my best writing this month when I set aside a chunk of time to write several posts. Knowing that I had a few posts "in the bank" helped ease up the pressure to write and fit my schedule much better.

4. You guys like getting personal.
I get good page views for the informative posts that I write, but my biggest page hits come when I share my personal writing life. At first, I was shocked by this because, as previously stated, my life is not that interested. But I think I get it now. There are so many of us floating out here in the internet working hard and looking forward to the day when our work is read by the masses. Until then, we're desperate to know if what we're doing is going to get us there. Hearing each others stories is like a warm hand to hold.

5.  More posts do drive more traffic.
I'm not sure why this works. There were plenty of days when I didn't 'advertise' my post at all. No Twitter, Google+ or website promotion. And yet, my page views this month hit an all time high. While that's nice information to have, I don't plan to do anything with it. July was a fun challenge and I'm glad I did it, but this blog is still fun for me. I want it to stay that way, so I plan to go back to my old 3x per week schedule. My traffic may take a dip, but I think I'll live through it.