Feb 10, 2014
Does a deadline, blank page, or difficult scene make you break into a sweat, yank your hair out, or start cleaning everything in your house so you’ll have an excuse not to write? Don’t worry, we’ve all had times when it’s hard to write, but you can do something about it.
- Time yourself and type nonstop for twenty minutes or whatever amount of time works for you. Try to shut off any distractions (like ringing phones). You’ll have lots of editing to do later, but at least you’ll have something to mold into shape.
- Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect! Diving into a new project can be hard, especially when you’re leaving characters you love and know at least as well as your family. First drafts aren’t supposed to sparkle. Just get your ideas down. There’s plenty of time to make them sing.
- Give yourself a small task. Sometimes, the project can intimidate you by seeming too big. Try working on a smaller goal first. Some authors have a word count per day in mind, others make a goal, such as two or five pages a day. The trick is to find a number that isn’t too hard to work into your day. A lot of times, writers get caught up and produce way more than the daily goal. Hopefully, that will happen to you, too!
- Find a candle scent that reminds you of your manuscript, calms you, or gives you energy—whatever aroma makes it easier for you to plunge into your project.
- Play music that makes it easier for you to dive into your character’s life. I happen to work best when it’s totally quiet, but many of my writing friends make a playlist for their characters and say it helps them immediately leap back into the manuscript.
- Try writing late at night, when your internal editor is too tired to bug you. You can also experiment with writing during different times of the day or night to see what works best for you.
- Word war with friends—you can even give winner a prize! Everyone can start at same time and write for twenty minutes, an hour…whatever works best for the group. Or you can have a contest over an entire day or weekend to see who can log in the most words. Again, you’ll have tons of revising to do later, but every first draft usually needs some hefty revisions.
- Find others with the same goal you have, and start a group somewhere, like Facebook, where you can cheer each other on and log in your progress.
- Get to know your characters better. Interview them or write journal entries from their point of view. Find out what scares them the most, and you could end up with some great ideas.
- Think about your manuscript when you’re showering, exercising, driving, or lying in bed. It’s amazing how many issues you can work out in your mind while doing other activities! I had the idea for this blog post in mind when I showered, and by the time I got out, I knew what I wanted to say. Of course, I was almost late driving my daughter to her bus stop. Oops! But I made it in time, then rushed home to start typing.
- Make a goal (or several smaller goals) and reward yourself when you hit it. Splurge on some music, get a massage, take a well-deserved TV break—whatever will motivate you to write, write, write.
- Don’t let shiny new ideas distract you. If another idea starts screaming for attention, take a few minutes to jot down notes so you’ll be ready to plunge into it later, then get back to your current project.
- If you have trouble getting back into your manuscript each day, write down a few things that should happen next before you leave your computer. That should help you leap back into it!
- I had mentioned turning off the phone when participating in a word war, but it’s also great to get rid of as many distractions as possible when you write. I love feeling like I’m in the zone, and cringe when the doorbell rings. Do what you can to block the outside world—put a note on your door, turn off your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other notifications.
- You can collect pictures that remind you of your characters or the world you created, or place encouraging sayings around your writing area.
- Realize that you CAN do it. That you WILL do it. And then glue your butt to your chair and write, write, write.
If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them!
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.
Dec 18, 2013
||I have a confession to make: I love Christmas music. In fact, I like it so much that my wife had to institute a family rule—no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I eventually got her to compromise, convincing her that Christmas music was allowed before Thanksgiving, as long as it had snowed first. This year, pre-Thanksgiving, I had the stereo pumping “Jingle Bells” as soon as Virginia had its first snowfall.My wife accused me of cheating because we live in the state of Washington.
I say that she never specified the location of the snow.
Anyway, with Christmas now only one week away, I began to wonder what writing wisdom might be gleaned from the music of the season. From the traditional “Away in a Manger” to Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” here are five Christmas songs and the writing truths they reveal:
1) “Away in a Manger”: I don’t care if you are reading this while at work in a busy office. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and belt out the opening lines of this Christmas classic. What do you have? Within the first four measures, you already know about the no-crib issue.
If you want to pull in the reader, start with a problem that needs overcome.
2) “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: There’s more to be learned from Rudolph than the proper hyphenation of phrasal adjectives*. In fact, the writing truth embedded in the song is as illuminating as Rudolph’s nose:
A single unique trait is often enough to create a memorable character.
3) “Blue Christmas”: Elvis had snow. He’d finished decorating the Christmas tree. But none of that could pull him from the doldrums of a blue Christmas. He was missing his “Dear.”
Have your protagonist struggle with the loss of something or someone he cares about.
4) “Christmas Don’t Be Late” as sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The squeaky voices of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore get really annoying, really fast. My tolerance of their singing definitely doesn’t extend to listening to the whole song. So . . . when you write, I don’t care if your character is a singing chipmunk or a granny who grew up deep in the mountains of Kentucky.
Don’t overdo dialectical speech in yer dialogue. It’ll get distractin’.
5) “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a., “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”): Written on a hot summer day in 1944, “The Christmas Song” went from a few lines penciled in a notebook to a finished song in about 40 minutes. No, you probably won’t crank out a timeless masterpiece in under an hour. But . . .
You never know when the muse might strike.
Sometimes you just need to sit down, start writing, and see what happens.
Now, before you give your muse an opportunity to inspire, take a moment. Pick a Christmas carol. Pause and ponder. Then share with us some holiday-based writing wisdom of your own.
||*Note: If you have no idea what a phrasal adjectives is, you may not know why you should never write about a “ten year old boy.” Thus, in the spirit of the season, I offer this ever-so-useful link as my grammatical gift to you: Grammarist: Phrasal adjectives.
Nov 15, 2013
|Stop twitching. This post is not a 5-page test, so I don’t care how scarred you are from childhood test-taking trauma. Build a bridge and get over it. Then keep reading in order to learn something that may help your writing.You okay now? Good. Here’s the scoop. . . . Thanks to a giveaway on Goodreads, I recently received a free copy of Darcy Pattison’s book Start Your Novel. When reading it, my interest was captured by one of her ideas for checking the characterization in a novel’s opening—she calls it the “Page 5 Test.” (See, I told you it wasn’t a 5-page test. You should have trusted me. I’m very reliable. Except when I’m lying.)
||Not only did I decide to use the Page 5 Test to check my own work-in-progress, but as a bonus exercise, I decided to run a Page 5 Test on a children’s novel I’m currently reading—Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret. Based on Darcy Pattison’s idea, here’s what I did:
- I read the beginning of Runaway Twin, only going as far as what would equal approximately five double-spaced pages of a typed manuscript.
- After I finished reading, I listed everything I’d learned about the main character from those opening pages. Here’s my list:
- The main character lives with a foster mother named Rita.
- The main character’s name is Sunny.
- Sunny is 13 years old.
- She loves Twinkies and junk food, but Rita is a health nut.
- Sunny is opinionated. (As the first-person narrator, she states: “In my opinion it is cruel and unusual punishment to put a thirteen-year-old girl who was raised on junk food into a home that serves tofu and cauliflower.”)
- Sunny wears her hair in a ponytail (at least sometimes).
- She has switched foster homes frequently, running away from at least a couple of them. (This also tells me Sunny isn’t afraid to take action when she sees the need.)
- She seems to like Rita (despite all the tofu and cauliflower) and doesn’t plan to run away from her.
- Sunny doesn’t consider herself a “bad kid,” although she doesn’t do much school work because she knows she’ll just get moved to a new home and school again anyway.
Notice the variety of things Peg Kehret wove into those opening pages. There are basic things such as the main character’s name and age. There are bits about Sunny’s family situation (foster child) and a glimpse into her outlook on life (Why bother with school work if you’re going to get moved again?). And there’s the barest mention of her appearance.
In only a handful of pages, Peg Kehret effectively pulled me into caring about her main character by not skimping on the information about Sunny and by making sure the details she included provided depth, not an inundation of surface-level facts. (Hey, I’d rather know Sunny has the guts to run away from a bad foster family than know how tall she is and whether or not she has a dimple in her chin.)
So consider printing out the first five pages of your own WIP. Read ’em. Then make a list.
What details are revealed about your main character? What isn’t revealed? Are you building a strong character with a unique voice, or is your protagonist coming across as shallow and boring? By running Darcy Pattison’s Page 5 Test, you may be surprised at what you discover, and you may get ideas for strengthening your novel’s opening pages.
Besides, you’ve got to try this. Know why? There’s gonna be a test tomorrow.