Writing Goals: One Bite at a Time

Eating_the_Whole_Elephant

When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.Creighton Abrams


 It’s a new year – new goals. We’re excited. We’re pumped. THIS is going to be our year. We feel it in our bones!

Some writer’s have lofty goals: “I’M GONNA WRITE A BEST SELLER!  – 30,000 words per day! – Get published in 14 different languages!”

Some goals are a tad simpler: “Finish that darn chapter book! –  Get a manuscript under contract.   WRITE EVERY DAY!  Blog once a week!”

Then why, oh why, do even our simplest goals fall by the wayside as the year goes on? They’re not crazy goals – completely doable – so WHY?

—–> We try to eat the elephant whole. <—–

“Eat the Elephant Whole” Example:

THE GOAL:   Finish writing your novel.

THE ATTEMPT:

You start with a clean desk, a nice writing schedule. You’re doing this. You’re amazing. This story is amazing. You’ll have this done in no time! Then a deadline comes at your day job and you miss a few days writing. No prob, you got this. Just a couple days off, you’ll get back to it, you will.

You don’t – not for almost a month. Your first “writing session” back is spent trying to remember where you wanted the story to even go. You stumble through another chapter. It’s crap. You try again. Why isn’t this working? Maybe you just need a little time off?

So you let it sit for a week? Maybe two. Okay, it was really ten – but who’s counting? You think about going back to it, but then you think about how many chapters you still have to write and it’s scares you. Besides you’ve got this great new idea you’ve started on. You really need to focus all your energy on that one before you get back to this one.  After all, it’s only October. NANOWRIMO’s just around the corner. You’ll finish it then.

 

“One bite at a time” Example:

THE GOAL:   Finish writing your novel.

THE ATTEMPT:

Your first writing session you don’t write a lick.  Instead you break that big goal into little goals for that month.

January Goals:  Week one:  outline story. Week two:  list main characters; begin character free writes to learn character’s voice. Week three:  continue character free writes. Week four: try out point of views.

February rolls along. A deadline at the day job put you a week behind in January, so you adjust February’s goals.

February Goals:  Week one:  try out point of views. Week two:  write chapter one. Week three: write chapter two. Week four: write chapter three.

You couldn’t stand chapter two. It took you two weeks to get happy with it so again you adjust when making next month’s goals.

Month after month you plug away – get distracted – adjust your “bite sized” goals  – take a week off – have a writing binge – until what? You finished this sucker and it’s not even November?

You decide to skip NANOWRIMO this year because you can’t wait to start revising your novel!

Why does the second example work when the first one didn’t?

Little bites, my friends.

Don’t make the mistake of tackling the whole elephant at once. Look at your lofty goals and chop them up in to bite size goals that are easier to swallow (and finish).

This can be your year! It’ll just take LOTS of tiny bites and an exhausting amount of “chewing” – but you can finish that elephant!

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Writing Basics that Work

I’ve done my fair share of web surfing. My fair share of looking for the writing “diamond in the ruff” that works for me. Below are three tried and true writing basics that will help every author become a better author (or just get that darn manuscript finished).

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#1 – Be consistent

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How you define consistency is 100% dependent on you and your life. But every author (yes, every author) needs their version of routine to be successful at this craft.

I’ve tried all sorts of routines. The early morning, butt glued in the chair, write or die method. I’ve tried the late night, half asleep, slap the face and keep going method. I’ve even tried the method of locking myself in my room with a sign on the door for the kids that says: “No blood? No Broken Bone? No Enter.” All these methods had their perks, and all had downfalls (my 5 year old laying outside my door screaming for me to let her in while my husband tried to coax her back downstairs was one of the big downfall).

Given my full and crazy life, I’ve learn to snack write. I’m never entirely sure when I’ll have time to write, but I seize the moments I get and try my darnedest to write every day. 

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#2- Read. A LOT.

Writing Basics - Read

If any of you are working parents, like me, finding time to write (let alone read) can seem near impossible. But good reading does make better writing. I don’t find it coincidental that many authors, especially beginning ones, reflect their favorite author’s style in their own writing. It’s a good place to start. And hopefully it eventually carries them to find their own voice.

Reading also inspires you to write. Don’t believe me? Try it.  Next time you have a slump in your writing, re-read a book that once struck your internal tuning fork. Just see if you can stop yourself from wanting to write.

Don’t limit yourself to paper or e-books. Audio books are great for commuters or busy parents like me who live in a car – driving one carpool after another.  I also listen to books while I’m cleaning the house – laundry’s not nearly as awful with a great book on in the background.

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#3 – Write – for goodness sakes, WRITE!

Writing Basics - Write

What? Did I really put that? Seems a tad obvious..hmm?

Well … it is.

But I know that I’m not the only writer that has gotten caught in the research whirlpool then wondered why my word count for that day was so low. You know what distractions you have to turn off to make you focus, so now, you just have to do it. Every day (or whatever version of consistently you have).

To keep your writing flowing you also have to stop editing yourself.  Especially with that first draft. Make a mess! Know it’s not going to look great! Little secret here that some writers forget… no one has to see that first draft. No one. Your goal simple needs to be to finish it. Then, when revision time rolls around, you can spit shine it all you want. But first, you write.

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On that note.  This would be a great time to close this blog and get back to your writing (but not until you’ve left a comment below ‘cuz I’d love to hear if you’ve got any other writing basics that are must haves for you).

Please tell me your thoughts below.

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NaNo – NaNo – NaNoWriMo

Am I the only one that thinks of Mork and Mindy whenever someone talks about NaNoWriMo?

Mork and Mindy

Let’s just push past how old I’m feeling at this moment and get to the good stuff. A great blog post, by someone else.

I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, but just signed up to do it this year, all because of Liana Brooks blog post on Critique Circle. She took what  seemed like a monstrous feat and chopped it up into tangible tasks. I’m working on Step 5 right now and kind of wish I could dive into the writing already.

So, without further ramblings, here’s the good stuff. I do caution… once you get to the end of this post you might feel crazy enough to sign up too. You have been warned!

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NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – can we be honest for a second? You are only doing NaNo for one of three reasons:

1) You need to get into a daily writing habit and writing 1666 words a day for a month is a good way of developing that habit.

2) You need to get a big chunk of writing done in a hurry and 50,000 words in a month ain’t a full novel for most genres, but it ain’t too shabby either.

3) You’re friends are threatening to steal your fuzzy socks and your chocolate stash if you don’t join.

See, the 50,000 words you get when you win NaNoWriMo aren’t the prize, they’re the byproduct. Winning NaNoWriMo means spending the month of November turning yourself into a better writer. And I want to help you be a winner.

There’s pages and pages of writing advice on the internet. You could read books on writing, and nuance, and metaphor. If you’re lucky you’ll spend your entire life reading great books and learning from other authors, but not amount of learning is going to help you get off the starting block and to writing a book unless you know where to start. So that’s what this post is about: how to prep for NaNoWriMo.

Mid-October you need to set aside a day for NaNoWriMo planning. You’re going to be doing your research, basic plotting, and some very simple outlining. It you’re a Plotter who needs to have all the details written down, fine, add more. If you’re a Pantster (like me!) you’ll find this method isn’t overwhelming and leaves lots of room for improvisation. Once you’ve got your date set grab something to make notes on and give yourself five hours to work… and yes it’s perfectly fine to do this in fifteen minute increments over the month of October. You’re busy, and that’s normal. 🙂

Step 1: Write the elevator pitch for your novel.

Don’t get hung up on finding an original plot or the perfect pitch right now. Just pick an idea that tickles your imagination and run with it. The fact that you are writing it will make it unique. Every person is different, and so is every story!

– In two sentences or less write what you’re going to write your book about. It doesn’t need to be perfect, you just need to verbalize it somehow.

– If you don’t know what to write about look for inspiration in art work, online story prompts, the NaNoWriMo Adopt A Plot forum, or on Tumblr where the Out Of Context D&D people give anyone with a pulse an urge to write fantasy.

– Can’t decide on just one plot? No problem! Plan them all out. Start writing whichever catches your fancy in November and write the others next year.

Step 2: Use the Dime Novel Formula

This is 100% stolen from the author of the Doc Savage novels Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent) and he deserves full credit. Partial credit goes to British author Tim Dedopulos who wrote a NaNoWriMo post in 2010 entitled How To Write A Novel In Three Days. We’re using a modified version of his method….

– Lester Dent said every good novel needed four things: A new way to kill someone, a new thing for the villain to want, a new place, and a menace that threatens your hero at every turn.

– Write down your four things.

Step 3: You Need Four Plot Twists

No one likes a book where they can guess the ending on page one. It’s boring. Plot twists set in the right place along the course of the book will give your reader a wild ride that keeps them reading long past bedtime. Plan on at least four plot twists.

– Plot twist #1 comes in the first quarter of the book. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” “I found a wardrobe that leads to a kingdom of snow and my brother ate the evil queen’s Turkish Delight!” etc. You get the idea.

– Plot Twist #2 comes about 40% of the way through the book, this one’s the gut punch. The hero loses something, they’re betrayed, something horrible happens and at all cost you must leave the readers thinking there is no way your hero can ever find a happy ending after this. If you’re George R. R. R. Martin this is where you kill [spoiler redacted], you soulless fiend.

– Plot Twist #3 comes at the climax of the story, when the fate of the universe hangs by a thread, and then suddenly PLOT TWIST! something amazing happens. Harry comes back from the dead. Loki really didn’t kill Thor. Mulan shoots Shan Yu with a firework and the Emperor bows to her.

– Plot Twist #4… and I know you’re scratching your head here… this one comes in the last pages of the book. The villain confesses they did it all for the love of the hero, the hero pulls the sword from the stone and finds out it’s plastic, the long-lost princess realizes she rescued the wrong kingdom! This is the very final twist that keeps the book alive after the last page is turned. It may seem diabolic, especially if you’re not writing a series, but it lets the reader believe the characters will live on and have more adventures even after the book ends, and that’s important.

Step 4: You Need Three Villains

Early in my writing career I wrote several novels that were great except the pacing and tension seemed almost nonexistent. It wasn’t until I wrote a book with a well fleshed out villain that I realized my early novels suffered from a lack of antagonist. Save yourself some tears and define your villains up front.

– Who is your Primary Antagonist? This is the villain that shows up one page one and gives our hero grief but who may not be a villain all along. If you’re writing an Enemies-To-Lovers romance this antagonist will wind up being a hero in the end.

–  Who is your Second Antagonist? The Middle Villain, is the one who comes in the center of the book (hence the name) and who the hero didn’t see as a problem beforehand. Either this antagonist was a friend before and betrayed the hero, or they become a villain because of the hero’s actions in achieving the first quest of the book. This antagonist carries a lot of weight and deals the hero the most set backs. They’re the one that drives the hero to the moment of despair and strips them of everything (which is why a betrayer makes such a good second villain). While dealing with the second antagonist the hero stumbles into a realization of who the bigger villain is. If you’re writing a series with One Big Villain driving the series (think Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews or Star Wars where the Emperor is the Big Bad) you’ll have the hero defeat a series of Middle Villains in each book and only face The One Big Bad in the final book. If you’re writing a series driven by Hero’s Choice this second villain will bounce between being a villain and being a temporary ally (think the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs or Star Trek where Romulans and Klingons are sometimes enemies and sometimes friends). The other series option is the No Hero series like Game of Thrones where everyone is an antagonist and a protagonist in their own mind.

– Who is the Third Antagonist? The Big Bad, the villain whose presence is felt but unknown throughout the book. In a series, you may not see this person until the end of the series. The best part about this kind of antagonist is it invites readers to reread so they can catch the earlier clues. You really can save this villain for the very end, or at least the last 1/3 of the book. They usually appear around the hero’s Moment Of Despair, when the hero has lost all hope, friends, support, and belief in themself. This is the villain that defines the hero. Because the hero looks up from the mud and blood and despair and say, “I cannot let you do this. I cannot let you win even if I lose everything.” The decision to fight this villain when all hope is lost, at great personal sacrifice, is what makes an ordinary person a hero. And because the hero is coming from such a low point, beaten and fragile, their victory is all the more sweet in the end.

*Whew! Got all that? Okay. Good. Take a breather because the next section is there we’re going to tackle the nitty gritty. You ready?*

Step 5: Building The World

Do you know what derails the most NaNoWriMo novelists? The research. They pause to look up a name, or find a place to set a scene, and then they’re lost down the rabbit hole of research and you find them wandering bookstores in mid-January wondering why people are hanging Valentine’s Day decorations. It’s sad, really. And you, smarty that you are, are going to dodge that bullet by naming everything right now!

– Make a list of 25 female names and 25 male names for your book. You can do it by culture or race if you need to, but get it done before November 1st. And, remember, if you hate the name November 15th you can change it in edits. That’s why we have the Search-Replace function.

– Make a list of all the modes of transport in your book. If you have spaceships or sailing vessels make a list of names for them too. Ten minimum. More is better. Pick a theme if you’re having trouble, like naming all the ships in your fleet after minerals: Jasper, Feldspar, Malachite…

– Make a list of all the places you might set a scene. Name the cafes, name the fields, name the forests, name the nebulas, name the schools, name the rooms. You may not use them all but they’ll be there if you need them.

– Make a list of all your props: weapons, clothes, whatever will be on stage goes right here. If it helps, pretend you’re planning a play. Picture what you might need. And feel free to add more when you start writing. These lists are guidelines only, you can use them or lose them to your heart’s content.

Step 6: The Setting Thesaurus

This is going to take a bit of time, so plan ahead. What you need to do here is follow the excellent example set by Becca and Angela and make a thesaurus for all the scenes.

– Honestly, this is more for the Plotters who need to know everything. Pantsters, write five or six key words to describe each place, one for each major sense. If you have more or have something you really want to see in that place, scribble it down.

– Bookmark the Emotion Thesaurus and Setting Thesaurus in case of emergencies in November.

Step 7: Time For The Math

NaNoWriMo is meant to be thirty days of steady writing, but let’s be realistic, unless you’re life is perfect you won’t be writing all thirty days. Look at your calendar right now and decide how many days you can write. For me is about 24 days in November. I take weekends off to spend time with my kids and I’ll be too busy cooking on Thanksgiving to write.

– Grab a calculator. Divide 50,000 by the number of days you have to write. This number is your target word count if you want to have 50,000 words at the end of the month.

– 50,000 isn’t a full novel for adult genres and most YA. If you really want a novel in a month you need to do that math with 75,000 words. I’m sorry.

– Curse yourself. Cry. Google WRITE OR DIE. Thank the creators of WRITE OR DIE for all they have done for you. Bookmark WRITE OR DIE. Tell your family and friends you love them, and then go buy some note cards.

Step 8: The Dread Outline

This trick I actually picked up from a fellow Critique Circle writer my first year participating in NANOWRIMO. She said she spent Halloween night handing out candy and writing scenes on a note card. One card per writing day with all the scenes she needed to write.

– Let’s pretend you have 25 writing days in November and you want 50,000 words. That’s 2000 words on each of your writing days, or one scene per day.

– Pick out 25 cards and write one or two sentences describing a scene you want to write on each card.

– Put a small sticker or check mark on Plot Twist days and mark the days on your calendar. You’ll probably be writing a plot twist on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th of November.

– Rearrange, discard, or rewrite anything that doesn’t seem to make sense.

– REMEMBER! This is only the rough draft. It’s meant to be rough. You are aiming to write something ugly. Everything will be smoothed and polished in edits. These cards can be changed at any time, they’re really here to be your count down clock to victory. No panicking allowed.

Step 9: Write Like A Pro

Can I share a teeny tiny little secret with you? There’s not an author alive who knows what they’re doing. That blank page is just as blank for you as it is for your favorite author. Every person is unique. Every person will write differently and in different ways. There is no wrong way to be an author.

– Sit down.

– Write.

– All the planning you did, that’s there for reference. All those lists and names and plot twists were written down so your subconscious could have time to play with the ideas and present you with the scenes when it’s time to write. On November 1st all you have to do is show up and write.

– If you get stuck, check your notes.

– If you go running down a new avenue just make sure to connect with your plot twist.

– Never abandon your villains, they’re what makes your hero a hero.

– Write.

– Keep writing.

– Don’t give up.

– Have fun.

Sign up for NaNoWriMo 2014 here.

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Wham! Hitting the Publishing Brick Wall

Do you have any friends that run? Not jog around the block, but really run?

I know a few.  I have an aunt that just finished a 200 miles race (yes, that sounds crazy to me too). And another friend that marathon hops. Dedicated runners, like these two, typically love the process – the prep for the race, the energy of race day, the high that comes after finishing. Sure, they may have bad days, but as a whole they love knowing they can do hard things. But all marathon runner, even these dedicated ones, have that dreaded mile where they hit a “brick wall” – that mile where they question their sanity and wonder “If I quit and walk into those onlookers over there, will anyone actually notice?”

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Publishing a story, especially a novel, is a marathon too. Just ask anyone who’s finished one. Maybe they get easier the more you finish, you seasoned pros will have to chime in on that one, but I still hit a brick wall with each and every one.

I recognize that every writer has a different “brick wall,”  and everyone has their own way of climbing over it. So that’s what I’d love to discuss today. What’s your writing brick wall along the path to publication?

My brick wall is submission. I enjoy brainstorming a work, fleshing it out, writing that first draft, polishing it up… fun, fun, fun. Then – I get stuck and the voices in my head start talking: “You spent how much time making up a story? Do remember you’re a mother? Was that really the best use of your time?” or the one that plagues me most – “You honestly think that’s good enough to sell? You sure you don’t want to go edit that some more?” (my voices can be pretty ruthless). I’d like to say I have a magical fix for my own publishing brick wall, but I don’t. Instead, I’ve learned to accept my weakness and use it to my advantage.

While I’m pretty methodical with my daily have-to-dos, when I’m dreading something (like submitting a manuscript), I procrastinate. Big time. So, how do I use procrastination to my advantage?

I work in spurts.

I’m someone who has to get everything done, just has to. So, while I may be a procrastinator, I also know it will all get done… eventually.  When I hit my brick wall, I sit and wait for that magical time when I’m sick of procrastinating and actually want to play catch up. Then I pounce and put myself in overdrive. I tackle all those half done cover letters, tell my voices to shut their yaps, deem my manuscripts “good enough” and send them on their way. My “intensive spurts” method isn’t for everyone, especially those with looming deadlines, but it works great for me.

Now on to you:

What’s your brick wall? And how do you get past it?

Please comment below.

Your fix might be the answer another writer is looking for!

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: “Writing Basics that Work” – Click Here

 

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