by Haley Muench
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.
<—–This is how the rest of my novel feels
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?!
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.
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.
- 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.
MAKE GOOD ART!
KEEP ON CHUGGING!
It’s worth it. I promise.
|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:
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.
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.”
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!|
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!
|My “super hero” of a father and me.
Also starring my awesome Winnie the Pooh pjs.
|These are my notebooks that I wrote in for six months.
You can see my “plotting” abilities already forming.
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.
|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.”
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.
by Clay Carter