Week 12 Report: Keep Going! Don’t Stop Now!

by Haley Muench

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So we’ve gotten this far. I’ve written over 18,000 words for my novel. I have almost forty pages waiting for my Beta Readers. And now all I have to do for the next two weeks is write. I feel a little bit like the Little Engine That Could, I’m at the bottom of a great big hill and I need to use that momentum from the last hill to get up the next one but it’s so much nicer to just sit in the valley and enjoy the sunshine.

The temptation here is to just throw up my hands and say good enough! I’ve written a lot more than I ever thought I would, this is a school assignment and I’m done! But I’m not done. There are forty pages of my novel just sitting on my computer. It’s not done. It’s just forty pages. And then I start getting afraid. I’ll never finish; no one will like it, blah, blah, blah.

I believe that all artists go through this period of self-doubt and fear. If you don’t then awesome, I’m jealous of you. But if you do please know that you’re not alone.

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<—–This is how the rest of my novel feels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overview

Writing a novel is really hard. There’s a lot more to it than simply sitting down and writing. Or maybe there isn’t. It’s hard to tell. I get wrapped up in how to write, what software should I use? What’s the optimal time to write? Where should I write? What kind of adverbs should I avoid using?! I’m not a real writer! How could I have ever thought that I had any talent whatsoever?!

Stop.

Take a deep breath.

Writing is like any other form of art. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. Just like drawing, you have to sit down and do it. You can read about every technique in the world but unless you really try to make art you won’t get anywhere. And believe it or not you are an artist. I know it might not seem like it on the days where you just can’t seem to get the words to flow the right way or when the words don’t flow at all but trust me you are an artist.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 3.41.36 PM

I have slogans up on my wall above my desk. One is Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art”. Great advice of course and it makes me feel like I’m contributing to society somehow.

But above Neil’s quote is another one that makes smile and sometimes laugh out loud. “ART HARDER” from Chuck Wendig (terribleminds.com). Chuck is a strange sort of author; his blog is laced with profanity but the good kind that makes you laugh. I discovered him by accident looking for writing advice (aka procrastinating on my novel). While he does indeed have plenty of good writing advice his number one rule is that you must WRITE. If you don’t then you will have nothing which seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how many people talk about writing more than they actually write. Don’t be one of those people.

There weren’t any readings for this week for those of us inside the fishbowl that aren’t in a Beta Group. So to those of us waiting to get our packets done or those outside the fishbowl, I tell you DO NOT QUIT. Keep writing. Find whatever you can to inspire you, don’t procrastinate, etc. Those of you on the outside I encourage you to seriously consider who you can be inspired by or who can become your own Beta Reader. I’m terrified and impossibly excited to have people I barely know read this story for the first time. I’m even more excited that I have forty pages to show them.

Take Aways

  • Writing (like all artistic endeavors) is hard. And it should be! If it was easy everyone would do it and then where would we be?
  • There are people out there who care and who will read your work. Whether than means they are Beta Readers or something else it is still important to remember this. It keeps me going.
  • Not every method of writing works for everyone. Find the one that makes words appear on the page and stick with it. Recognize when you are procrastinating (even when it seems productive!) and stop the behavior.

And finally:

ART HARDER!

MAKE GOOD ART!

DONT STOP!

KEEP ON CHUGGING!

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It’s worth it. I promise.


When and how students write

Adam Gulla maximized his word count by
“counting” journaling each week.

Here’s a post over at my blog The Big Thing about the students who drafted the most words in my class during Spring 2013: Adam Gulla and Veronica Sipe.

 
 

Here’s a sneak peek:

I found this great article the other day, “Seven Effing Great Ways to Build Your Writing Routine.”  The author encourages us to find our writing “sweet spots” in order to maximize our daily/weekly output.

Consider the following questions:

  • How long does your typical writing session tend to last?
  • How frequently do you sit down to write?
  • On average, how many words do you write per session?
  • At what time of the day do you do your writing?

Pity for the Pants

After reading through the chapters we were assigned, I can say that I am definitely an NOP. Well, to be truthful I’m actually a mix of the two types. I don’t go through with specific intent to outline my novel, but rather jot down ideas as they come. I’ve got notes shoved just about everywhere, but I keep most of them on my iPod touch in the notes app. The scenes and other smaller ideas that I come up with usually come to me while I’m running through the story in my mind. I find that if I write an outline for my work, it instantly seems like work rather than fun, and that just seems insanely unfair to my characters. So what ends up happening is that I will come up with an idea for a story and then run with it by letting it play out in my mind like a movie. As I do this, other scenes fall into place, and I write them down as well.

The annoying part is that most of this happens right before I fall asleep. I’ve always had a habit of telling myself stories to get to sleep, so now I simply use my novel ideas, as they let me get lost in a different world. This works splendidly for that purpose, but there are times that I come up with a detail that I will forget by morning, resulting in far more plotting than I would actually like to do. That’s probably a good thing however, as I spend less time simply sitting at the computer trying to think of the next scene. I have more time to focus on the characters themselves, and often even spend my spare time researching and looking for points of reference online. I even found a few actors who I would choose to play the part of my main characters! That seems to be how a lot of other people work through their novels, though maybe not in the exact same way.

After examining my methods of writing and plotting (or rather a lack thereof), I’ve decided that it would probably be a good idea to change my routine a bit. As it is, writer’s block happens quite often due to getting bored with the plot, and I find myself attempting to write less often than I did before.  I need to come up with a writing regimen like was mentioned in the text. It wouldn’t be plotting every detail out, so I wouldn’t feel like it had become a chore that I was required to do. What the regimen would do is force me to expand my ideas and get them down. Perhaps one of the several issues that prevent me from doing this is that I focus on the quality of my writing rather than quantity. I find myself wanting to create the perfect scene, to get it down on paper exactly how it appears in my mind. That’s all well and good, but trying to do so on my first attempt is foolish and wastes time. So in order to reach my goal of finishing my novels, not only for this class but for my own purposes as well, I will try to continue writing at least 2,000 words a week. It’s not a very hard quota to meet, but it will help me develop better writing habits.


The Stalling Queen…and then her subjects

Logan A. Mason
 Pants           
+
SIR (Issac Newton)

=
Le moi.
 

Yes, I am a Pantser.  I’ve been writing “by the seat of my pants” for as long as I can remember.  This method of writing has its pro’s and con’s of course,  from the exhilaration of not knowing what will come next for your character to being like, “I have no idea where this is going and could turn out to not make any sense, whatsoever, crap.”
HOWEVER.
I may or may not have two different distinct personalities inside me.  And by may or may not,  I mean may.  And by two, I mean at least five.  This however, if it concerns you, has nothing to do with multiple-personality disorder.  I am completely aware of all the different parts of me and why they come out at certain times.  This helps tremendously with my characters.  Even tremendously, in life.   I am very open-minded due to all these different view-points.  This is what has drawn me to act.  To read.  To write.  The more I learn about who I am, all of me, and what I can accomplish with them, the more I write with a continued passion and understanding of who the heck these characters are and what they will become. 
SO THE POINT that I am getting at is the different persona’s inside all have different agendas.  And about four of them are Pantsers, and one of them is a Plotter.  All the Pantsers make me late to class. Or work.  They make me put off homework, cooking food, doing laundry, cleaning my room.  They make me write slow, then write fast, all the time not knowing what is going to happen next.  Writing by gut, emotion, drive of a feeling.  And then of course, the one PLOTTER inside will be like, “HEY!”   And then suddenly I will make a list for that day and a block of time and finish my homework beforehand, have multiple batches of cookies baked and fresh, fold all my clothes, clean every inch of the house, and then write out a good four pages of solid plot. 
I suppose this makes me 4/5th’s crazy, 1/5th sane.  My dominant sides love the crazy, adore the process of making things up, and revel in the dreams.   And then the little control freak inside me will pop out once in a while and clean up the messes, organize the words, and straighten out the paragraphs.
And So, beginning to write a novel has led me to question all the parts of me and which path would be best to take.   I hope at least my Plotter will be up for many more future visits this semester.  Pantsers…settle down.

    
The sides tend to argue. Oy Vey!  

Thinking in Movies (and then writing)

by Tom Carreras

When I was a child, I wanted to be an author and illustrator. I was really into writing my own stories and drawing the characters that inhabited my imagination so that others could see. For some tragic reason, once I hit 7th grade, my writing desire all but vanished, and I didn’t write any stories until my senior year of high school, where I wrote a short story (16 pages) for my philosophy class. I loved it, writing by the seat of my pants (and procrastinating a bit to boot!) and loving it. Earlier in high school, probably around my junior year (and crescendo-ing into college), I became extremely interested in film. My personal film collection grew to be ridiculously large, I started to learn the names of too many films, directors, actors, actresses, and screenwriters (and other film trivia pursuit info), and I watched movies. Many, many movies.

So many movies…

All of this is to get to my writing method. Since becoming (after some flippy-flopping) a Creative Writing major at the start of my sophomore year, I have noticed that a lot of the way I like to write is in my mind. I enjoy thinking about scenes from stories I am developing – imagining them as live action films.

This mind-filming process of mine is typically coupled with plot outlining. I do like the surprises and changes that can come about from pantsing; however, I typically like having some sort of outline down, if anything so I can visualize more of my story in my head. I have not really used sticky notes or note cards much before for story-plotting purposes. I prefer just writing plot points in short paragraphs.

In planning out the novel for this class, I already have a feeling that there is going to be an exciting mixture of pantsing going on. I think that a balance of the two makes for a lot of fun – it gives me direction yet leaves room for exploration and improvisation.

Here’s to a well-plantsed novel!


sticky notes and receipt paper wads

Written by Rachael Heffner
While discovering myself as a writer, I quickly learned about the generalizations known as “plotter” or “pantser”. I have been writing pretty much since I was a kid. I used to sit in recess and write about how my dad was such a super hero and how badass of a cop he was. And then he would fly home and make me pancakes as big as my head. Now, although I have grown older and “wiser”, I still wish this would happen.
My “super hero” of a father and me.
Also starring my awesome Winnie the Pooh pjs.
As time stretched out, I began to read and write more and more things at the edge of my seat. Throughout high school, I would have said that I was in fact a pantser. I never wrote a paper until the day it was due or the night, and I also never revised a paper. I would always go with my gut, tweak a few things, and bam. I was done. That was until Junior year of high school and this all came crumbling down. I began writing my first novel when I was in my English class, desperate to find a way out of Speedway, Indiana and into something more exotic. That was when I began to write.
These are my notebooks that I wrote in for six months.
You can see my “plotting” abilities already forming. 
It started off as a pantsing project, but quickly developed into something more. Before, I had tried over and over to write a novel, to write that ONE thing that would take me away, but it never came. As I continued to write this first novel, things began to become more and more clear and that was when I knew I needed to switch things up.
I needed a plan.
At the back of my notebooks (oh, yes, the whole novel is hand written! lucky me!) I would write out the major scenes. I would write about what needed to happen and how it would happen. From there, I would construct the scene that would need to happen and then maybe make something up here and there.
This is when the evolution of the plotter came. I would write down ideas and lay them out as I worked at Steak n’ Shake. I would come home with wads of napkins and receipts with the ideas and scenes on them. From there, I would lay them out storyboard like and change up everything. I would take some scenes and flip them, just to see what it made my characters do.
Fascinating, right?

That was when I became the plotter I am today, but I would say I’m more of a mixture, leaning toward the plotting side. I still write something and let things happen. I tweak and send off to professors all the time, but hopefully, that will change and I can become more organized. 

Losing Structure

Veronica Sipe

People always ask writers (not me, but famous fiction writers) where their ideas come from. Those writers almost always provide answers that seem evasive to the questioners, but to me they make perfect sense. Ideas come from everywhere, all around. Ideas for stories are what happen when you take your own musings too seriously.

Garcilaso de la Vega. Compelling, right?

My ideas are usually born from ponderings on situations. I’ll read a newspaper article in which a family structure is described, and I wonder how I would feel if I were one of those people. For instance, one of the inspirations for the story I am writing now was this story on the blog Not Always Right. The connotations of the relationships therein made me wonder, and I began to hypothesize. After giving my hypothetical imaginings names and combining them with a few other ideas I had rolling around, including the youth of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and a randomly spawned Minecraft world, I had the basis of the story I’m working on now.

So I generally begin writing with a situation, an often fantastic setting, and some relationships between characters based on other people. That, I quickly realized, is not a plot for a novel. If I were a poet, maybe it could be a poem. If I were writing a movie or a TV show or a comic, I could partner with other people more skilled at constructing plot. But I want to write novels. So something has to happen. But all I wanted to write were everyday scenes, characters talking back and forth, setting and imagery.

I was learning this thing around that time.
I think it was poisoning my mind.

So, in middle school, I decided to tightly plot all my stories before I began writing, with the logic that if plot was taken care of, then I could write each scene freely and without concern for advancing the action. I would decide how I wanted the story to end up, how the conclusion would go. I took those everyday scenes I loved so much, and scattered them where they best fit. At this point I was so eager to start writing that I could barely hold myself back. But the plotting was not done. So then I defined every single scene in between  all the others, a quick summary of what would happen and how action would be moved forward, how character would develop. With everything mapped out in detailed outlines, I sat down to write a scene.

And couldn’t muster enough interest to drag me away from a game of Freecell.

The problem, you see, was that I felt like the story was told. It was done. Nobody was reading what I was writing–my writing was just for me, to get these stories and characters out of my head. And despite the bare-bones nature of my outlines, when I looked at them I could read every nuance I’d ever thought up between the lines. If I had dramatized scenes then I could have revised and connected them, but I really had nothing, and no motivation to do more.

Even at thirteen, I knew this was bad. I could never be the kind of writer I wanted to be by just coming up with a vague storyboard. I wanted to be a novelist; I wanted the only words on my covers to be my name and the title I came up with, and I wanted those covers to be on books. I didn’t want a “created by” credit on a screenplay or to share my stories with someone else. I wanted to create a perfect dream whole from my own mind and share it with a reader.

So I read every tip I could find, every book and article on writer’s block, and in the meantime I made due with my everyday scenes in which nothing really happened.

Eventually I just had to realize that it was my own impetus that was lacking. Some people did exactly as I had been doing and ended up with finished works. Other people sat down and wrote off the cuff. What was my problem? Meg Cabot, a writer I adore (and who wrote one of my five favorite books), helped me realize the nature of my problem by being a similar type of writer and sharing her own experience. I originally read this advice on her blog, but here’s an interview in which she says the same thing.

Of course, you can always change the destination.

“I like to say storytelling is like going on a trip: you always know from the beginning where you want to end up (but, of course, you never reveal this to the reader until the last page). The fun is experiencing what’s going to happen along the way. (Which is why I don’t work from an outline, but why I often get “way laid” by wrong turns. This is called writer’s block.)”

I realized that this was exactly the philosophy I needed to adopt. So I went back to that time in my process when I could barely contain myself, when writing seemed like the most exciting thing I could be doing, and I chucked out everything that came afterwards. I decided how I wanted the novel to end, and then placed the set pieces I was excited about at points in the story arch, and then I stopped planning. That is the point, nowadays, where I start writing, and generally can’t stop. Once I’ve written those scenes, new ones arise out of them, striving to connect one to the other, and the moment when multiple scenes can be combined into one long document is one of the most satisfying feelings.

Stickies is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sometimes it’s very tempting to write things out like a storyboard, but I know that it’s bad for me (not bad for everyone; maybe it’s the best thing for you). Generally I make do with keeping plot points in my head. If I start coming up with a lot of them, I resort to short notes on Stickies. (I think Stickies still comes default with Mac OS. Here’s a PC version. Get it, it’s like ruling the world, even if you love to make outlines.)

I’ve still not finished a novel, but it isn’t for lack of motivation anymore. Usually, it’s due to too much motivation for too many projects at once. I have faith that I’ll finish one someday, but maybe I won’t. Even so, it’s a blessing to be able to sit down and write enthusiastically, even if no one but me and my closest friends will ever read anything I write.


The Agony and the Ecstasy of Making Things Up

Someone plotting out their novel with post-it notes at a class I taught a few years ago. 

I wrote a blog post that I hope inspires you to take advantage of the multi-modal nature of a blog post. I posted on my own blog. Please check it out. 

If you aren’t sure how to insert pictures here, try this. 

Inserting embedded hyperlinks (like I’ve just done for you above) is pretty easy too. You click on “Link,” cut and paste the URL, and boom, done.

Don’t forget to include tags, or as Blogger calls them, “Labels.” When you’re creating your post in the editing dashboard, look over to the right, you’ll see a list of settings. Click on Labels. You can use the labels that have already been created, or make your own to make your post more “findable.”


Walk the Line or Dance Around?

by Rachel Rump

For many writers the challenge of writing for a novel comes not from what the story should be about but how in the world they are going to write it. Every writer has a technique. Some write in a linear fashion while others write whatever comes to them and only put the story together later. 

Unable to decide how to write my novel, I decided to try both techniques and see which one worked best for me. I worked on two novel pieces during the time of my Advanced Fiction Class. One was written in linear fashion (we shall call it Z) and the other was written in chucks of scenes as they came to me (this shall be known as S). Now that the semester has ended I am able to look back and evaluate which technique is best for the way I write.  

For my Z novel, I wrote in a straight fashion of how things were presented on my storyboard. I found that this took some time because I was already thinking further ahead to the climax or ending of the story and found that a couple parts were difficult to make it through before I got to a part where the words flowed. But I also found it easy to keep track of where I was in the story because I followed my storyboard and the story was put together with all parts included. I am roughly at the halfway point with a few revisions still needed but that will be addressed at a later time because my story must continue. I must continue to “walk the line”. 

Since I seem to always be all over the place I decided that I would try writing whatever scene came to mind for my second novel S. For this one, whenever I had an idea no matter how long or short it was I would write it down and save them all in a word document. I tried not to go back and revise these parts and just made sure to keep writing everything I thought about with the story. Looking back over all the word documents that I had written I noticed that many of them seem to overlap and describe a scene more than once. I have tried putting what pieces I have together but I find that there are many holes in between scenes. At this point I seem to only have a third of the novel down.  Luckily it was all on computer or it would have been a mess of paper.

A constant theme throughout these two novels? I have written a lot of words. Given that one story is more progressed than the other doesn’t mean this is the only way that I will ever write. I feel that linear is easier to do because I can see the novel come together, but I also liked just writing what came to me. It helped take all the scenes out of my head and put them on paper so that I could find where they fit into my story. I encourage anyone to try out these techniques just to see if maybe one of them fits better than the other.


Turning a Giant into Many Dwarves: A Novel-Writing Approach

by Clay Carter

When I tell people that this semester I am in a fiction class focused on creating a 50,000 word manuscript they are astounded and fearful. Many times I’m hit with their doubt, that they could never do this, that it is too much work, or that their ideas will not be able to cover enough space to fulfill the required word count. I understand that students are often frightened of large assignments, and that such a task can deflate confidence and reduce their drive to succeed.
My head was filled with these same thoughts in the summer months before entering this course. How will I ever complete my words? Will I be able to keep up? Can I imagine all the characters and plots and settings needed to communicate clearly the world of the story? In all honesty, I began to doubt myself and the story I wanted to write. Luckily I encountered a quote that allowed me to look at this project as composed of dozen of parts rather than thinking of the whole all at once, T.S. Eliot says:
“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to
its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas.”
The framework that Eliot mentions is crucial to tackling any large work of writing, whether it is an epic poem, a memoir or a piece of investigative journalism. His words also assuaged my worries. From here I felt more confident in my ability to create this world that I had begun to imagine by dividing my novel in smaller, more manageable sections. In the remainder of this blog I will outline the process that I feel has been effective in keeping my thoughts fresh and my fingers flying.
Developing a storyboard and a list of characters was the first step I took during the pre-writing phase. This is mainly an organization tool. It is daunting to remember characters and their plotlines. The storyboard is especially helpful to me because it allows my plots to become visual all at once. I used note cards to color code each character. When I lay them all out I can trace how any particular character moves through the course of the story. In times when I see that a character is not well rounded, meaning the character is static, I lay my cards out and find areas in the plot that would be conducive to the expansion of that character’s traits, flaws and desires.
When it comes time to writing I stay on a straight and narrow path with a planned destination because I have my cards in front of me. Before I write I know what scene I plan to write, which characters are going to be interacting and the conflict they confront. Knowing these three things allows for my mind to fill in the details of only this scene rather than thinking about how it might influence the rest of the novel. To reiterate, the storyboard provides a framework in which I can write and explore the minds of my characters. Structure will work wonders!
In conclusion I want to leave you the reader with another quotation I found to be most inspirational. It gave me the drive to push my creativity to its utmost and never shoot down ideas before I give them a shot. This bit comes from the film director Jim Jarmusch:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
[Editor’s Note: To hear about experimentation in the framework of a novel, check out today’s other blog post by Rachel Rump. – Lauren Burch]