Nano Prep: Oct. 31: Commitment

How badly do you want this?

That is a question each individual must ask and answer for him or herself.

There’s nothing wrong with writing on the side, or writing only because you enjoy it, not because you plan to make it your career. It’s simply a different approach.

If writing is to be your vocation as well as your passion, it must be a priority. There are no excuses, there is no such thing as “no time to write”. You re-shape your life and people in it with those who will support your work.

That doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with people who only pamper and praise you. Constructive criticism is important. Nor does it mean you get to be selfish and never consider the needs of anyone else in your life. But it means having people in your life who respect your needs and your boundaries.

If you want it badly enough, you make the changes in your life necessary to make it work.

If you don’t, take responsibility for that choice and act accordingly. Don’t blame others, and don’t use friends and family as an excuse because you don’t have the courage or commitment to go for it. Say, “This was fun, but only a hobby.” There’s nothing wrong with making that choice. It simply defines a different career trajectory.

You’re prepared — tomorrow, you begin.

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 31: Commitment  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 30: Quantity over Quality

This is where many get frustrated. The point of writing a great deal of material, quickly, in a first draft, is to get it down on paper, so that you know what you’re writing about and can shape your book in subsequent drafts. First drafts are where you see what you have, if your characters and ideas have the stamina to make it through a novel. If it’s not on paper, it can’t be shaped and molded into something better. If you wait until you’ve written the perfect sentence in your head, you won’t write.

There are times when you figure out you need to go down a different route. That’s fine. But don’t go back and rewrite what you’ve done up until now. You need to move forward.

What you can do is to go back and mark, in a different color, what I call “placeholders” – notes where you want to make changes in the next draft. And then continue from your stopping point with the new direction.

If you keep going back to revise, you won’t finish. I believe that it’s detrimental to revise until you have an entire first draft, because you need to get the big picture before you can focus on the details. In subsequent drafts, you can work on each chapter as much as you want before moving on; you can flow back and forth. But in first drafts, keep moving forward.

In my experience as a writer, a Trusted Reader, a mentor, a teacher, and a critiquer, 97% of the people who keep going back to revise and claim it’s because they’re “perfectionists” are really afraid of finishing. Because if they ever finish, they have to take the next steps, and someone might reject them. Fear of failure keeps them from finishing, but they pretend (often even to themselves) that it’s because they’re perfectionists.

Perfection is for final drafts, not first drafts. You won’t reach perfection until you have a draft on paper to perfect.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 30: Quantity over Quality  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 29: Character or Plot?

That depends on the way you like to work.

I’m character-driven. The character has to speak to me strongly, tell me his or her story. Then I start asking questions, and asking “what if?” and we go from there.

Sometimes, a situation will intrigue me, a premise will intrigue me. But until I have a character to drive the piece, I’m stalled.

Some people work better from plot and shape characters to serve the plot. It’s personal preference.

Also, remember this is a playground. Don’t be afraid to switch up your process. Every novel involves a bit of reinventing the wheel. Insisting “this is my process” will often hinder you rather than help you. You’re trying to create, not follow a formula, even in genre work.

When you’re making a living off your work, then you have a “process” that works for you. Inevitably, just when you think you’ve settled into “your process”, you’ll hit a roadblock and have to change it.

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 28: Outline or Blank Page?

There are two traps here: one is to over-outline and use that as an excuse to not get down to writing. The other is to blank page (also called “pantsing”, an expression, which, to me, means “lazy amateur who doesn’t care”) and then not know what to do next.

There is nothing wrong with either technique, unless it prevents you from doing the actual writing.

If you have tight deadlines or juggle multiple projects, I suggest that you outline. That way, you can sit down each day and have an idea of the day’s work, thereby meeting your quota. When you Blank Page, it’s very easy to sit down, be overtired or unfocused, say “I can’t”, get up and walk away. Do that for a few days, and you’ve blown your goal.

You’re not in competition with any one except yourself, but unfinished projects drain creative energy. In fact, I teach a class called “The Graveyard of Abandoned Projects”. Make the commitment to do this, fulfill the commitment during the month, go past it if you need to in order to finish, and THEN decide where you’ll take it.

Remember, you are under no obligation to ever publish this. So don’t look at it and think, “it sucks, no one will ever want it.” If you choose to keep working on future drafts, it will have a life beyond the first one. If you choose to stick it in a drawer and use what you learned on a different project, that’s fine. It’s your CHOICE. But make sure it’s a CHOICE and not a cop-out by not finishing.

If you decide to outline, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I do what I call a “Writer’s Rough”, which is basically a scene list with a sentence or two of description or dialogue about each scene. When I sit down to write, I fill it in. For me, that is the best of both worlds – I’ve got a framework, but I’ve got room to explore.

There’s also nothing wrong with keeping it all in your head, if you’re good at that. Sometimes, writing it down dilutes the creative pressure, and you need to build it in order to have the momentum to carry you through.

Don’t be afraid of tangents – the focus of a first draft is words on paper. You cut and shape in the next draft(s).

Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 28: Outline or Blank Page?  
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Nano Prep: Oct. 24: Music

I used to write to music.

However, when I write, it needs to be instrumental, or the lyrics distract me.

One of my favorite procrastination techniques is to create Character CDs – a CD for each of my main characters, filled with the music to which I think that character would listen.

I’ll play it before I write about the character; or, if it’s instrumental, while I write about the character.

Writing the romantic suspense novel Assumption of Right(as Annabel Aidan), I told the tale in chapters from alternating points of view. Each day’s chapter was from one or the other’s point of view. So I’d pop in that character’s CD, listen to it for a few minutes, and I’d be in the right mindset to write.

That was when I lived in New York, and it was noisy and full of interruptions. Once I moved to Cape Cod, for the most part, I stopped writing to music. Weather-permitting, I have the windows open and listen to the birds and the wind and sometimes, even the rain.

If someone’s running a leaf blower or some other power tool, and I’m ready to strangle them with their own cord, I’ll put on the iPod and crank up the tunes.

But, still, it has to be instrumental.

I never, EVER use a soundtrack from a play or movie. That music was created and assembled to support someone else’s creative vision. It bleeds into your writing. When students turn in work that was written to soundtracks, I can tell exactly which ones, because it shows up in the writing.

Published in: on October 24, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Nano Prep: Oct. 24: Music  
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Nano Prep October 23: Blogs and Journals

It can be very helpful to create a blog or journal to help you through the process. You can write it in longhand in a blank book, or keep it on your computer. In her wonderful book WRITE AWAY!, Elizabeth George shares entries from journals she keeps for each book she writes. My preferred blog host is Word Press. They are easy to use, have terrific customer service, a variety of customizable templates, and they’re free.

The only rule about journal entries is to date each one. That way, you can refer back and keep the entry within context. There will be many ups and downs on this road, and it’s helpful to look back as you’re moving forward; see where you’ve been to help you get where you’re going.

It’s a great way to play with characters and ideas. It’s a wonderful way to explore tangents that might not make it into the book, but help you flesh out your characters and situations. If you keep your journal in a notebook, you can tote it around with you and make entries whenever you’ve got a free moment, then take it back to your desk and integrate the material into your WIP.

You might want to write before you start your work, as a warm-up. Or you might want to write after you’ve completed your day’s work. In either case, daily entries will help you in the process, and will help you once you’ve finished.

Don’t publish excerpts from a WIP online. First of all, you only want your best, most polished work out there. Second, many places consider material online “published”, and thereby, you’ve used up your First Rights. If you want/need feedback, find trusted readers and swap manuscripts. Don’t send a raw manuscript out into the public cold.

Published in: on October 23, 2015 at 5:00 am  Comments (3)  
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