Advice: “I’m writing, how do I keep up momentum?”

Advice offered to a beginning writer, who’d asked for “words of wisdom” as they work through the writing phase on their book and are trying to keep up momentum…

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The best advice I can offer is to JUST WRITE. 🙂 Don’t edit as you go, that will only slow you down. If you find yourself stalled on one section, feel free to jump ahead (or back) to a scene that engages you more. But keep pumping out those words: even if they’re crap, you can always edit them into something better later, and you can’t edit what you don’t got.

If you come across a place where you have to put content but you don’t know exactly what that content is yet (town name, chemical compound, how to train a hawk, etc), put something like “TWK” in its place. Something that you won’t write in the regular course of the novel, so that when the time comes to fill in those blanks, you can just do a global search for “TWK” and find all the places where you need to fill in missing details.

I found that doing a rough outline in advance was immensely helpful, as well as using the writing program Scrivener, which allows you to keep all your chapters/notes in one master screen and drag them/rearrange them as you need to (Scrivener has a 30 day trial, so you can try it free before you buy it, and it’s actually quite affordable).

If you have further questions, feel free to ask. 🙂

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FB Question: “How do you overcome writer’s block?”

Kim Rodriguez wrote, in the FB group “Writer’s Retreat”:

I’m having a problem and I need some guidance. I can’t seem to get a story out of my head. I can see it, it replays over and over for hours but I’m looking at a blank page and the words just won’t come out to describe it. I think it has just been swimming around in my head so long that it is so special to me that I’m anxious about making it perfect.

How do you all overcome your “writer’s block”? Is there a secret bypass or a password that I need to enter somewhere in my brain? Please send help, and coffee.

My reply: 

You could try writing any words that come to mind about your story. “Banishment”, “betrayal”, “love”, “business”, etc… then pick one of the words and begin to write about it, in the context of your story. Don’t worry about quality, or whether or not you’ll use what you’re writing — all you’re trying to do right now is get the pipe flowing.

Some people find it useful to hand write each word in the middle of a blank page, then write other words or phrases around it, with lines radiating outwards.

And re: making it perfect… that will stop you dead in your tracks. First drafts ALWAYS suck — they’re rough, they’re ugly in places, and usually not that pretty everywhere else. But you’ve got to get them out in that rough form before you can polish them in the editing phase. “You can’t edit what you don’t got”, as the saying goes. And trying to make it perfect on the first pass will only succeed in slowing you to a crawl.

I wish you all the best!

“Characters Gone Wild!” Or, what to do when they stop being two-dimensional and start being, well, themselves.

Silvija Baltgalvis, in the FB group “Writers Helping Writers”, asked: “Kind of an odd question here,,,but,,, in writing a story do your characters develop so much they start to take the story in directions you never saw coming?”

My Short Answer: Yes. They’re the ones living and telling the story. When they take on a life of their own, that is (for me) the best possible sign!

My Longer Answer: Yes, and that’s when the real joy of my personal writing process begins.

When characters “go live” and start acting of their own accord, there’s always the danger that they’ll hare off in directions that run counter to your original plans for the novel. Now, for many years I was a total pantser, so all that “running away in strange directions” stuff didn’t bother me much. All I needed to do was follow the characters fast enough to keep up with them and write down what they thought/said/did.

When it came to writing “The Codex of Desire”, however, I took a different approach. I had sat down in advance and mocked up a quick summary for each of the major chapters — and therefore when Girn’ash took over the story and made it her own, or when U’nuk stepped out of the background and revealed himself as a “live” character with his own motivations and inner life (I had never met him before in my life, incidentally), I had a choice: either grab the characters and drag them back into line with what I’d planned at the beginning, or give them their heads and let them take me where THEY wanted to go.

That’s a moment, I think, when almost any writer truly balances on the knife’s edge, not sure which side leads back to the frying pan, where a delicious meal is being prepared, and which side leads straight into the fire — and disaster.

However, this is where writing nearly 1.25 million words of fan fiction in the past — and pantsing all of it — stood me in excellent stead. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to new characters leaping out of the woodwork and insinuating themselves into my story, or to my main characters deciding to take the left-hand path when I had thought they’d go to the right. And in EVERY SINGLE CASE where I’d trusted the Writing Machine (TM) in my head, the story had turned out much better for it. The “live” characters ALWAYS acted in a way that ultimately tied in with the greater plot of the story, and often in ways that brought in rich new themes or subplots.

I could rely not only on the Writing Machine (TM), but also on these strangely independent psychological constructs which felt like individuals sharing my brain space. Although I couldn’t always see the grander pattern they were weaving in their individual actions, those actions would inevitably form a tapestry which was often much better and richer than anything I could have come up with by myself, had I tried to consciously micro-manage every little thing.

So to come back to the original question… that moment when my characters start to go “off-model” is actually the moment I’m waiting for. Because when they start to surprise me and make their own demands, that’s when the magic really begins. 🙂

Question from FB: “Is writing like a drug you love and hate at the same time?”

A question posted in the Fiction Writing FB group (the OP has asked to remain anonymous):

“It seems that there are a large number of posters here who want terribly to “be a writer”, even if they struggle with motivation and other similar things (you’ve all seen the posts). Many people seem to be fighting hard against the reality looming in on them that maybe, just maybe, writing is not for them.

“The reason for this post is that I’d like to ask the following question: what is it about “being a writer” that is so fantastic that people fight to the death and into depression and beyond in some cases, to avoid the inevitable decision that, maybe it is not the right path for them? It seems to be for some people a very stressful addiction, almost like a drug they love and hate at the same time. Quite curious.”

My reply:

I think it’s possible that some people are in love with the IDEA of being a writer, the same way that some folks are in love with the idea of being the lead singer in a band, or of being an award-winning scientist. And there’s nothing wrong with having that dream.

What saddens me is seeing people who want to be writers but who are not willing to put in the hard work: the people who are always looking for shortcuts, when the truth is that writing is a long murderous grind of practicing relentlessly, doing your research, and figuring out your own voice. I try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes it’s discouraging to watch people who want something so badly but aren’t approaching the task in a mindful, productive way.

When people tell me they want to be a writer, the first thing I ask is, “Well, what have you written so far?” In a surprising number of cases that answer is “Nothing yet, but…” No “buts”! I tell them that you become a writer by writing, even if you start out with stuff like blog posts, journal entries, and flash fiction. Get into the habit of writing regularly, and finding writers whose work you admire so that you can study the craft of writing. And above all, KEEP WRITING.

Some folks seem pretty disappointed to hear that advice. Unfortunately it’s the only advice I can offer that I’ve found reliably works. (Same thing goes for working in the comics industry, which is also a question I hear, a lot.)

Writer’s block, and one possible way of dealing with it

On the FB group “Writer’s Retreat”, Kim Rodriguez asked:

“I’m having a problem and I need some guidance. I can’t seem to get a story out of my head. I can see it, it replays over and over for hours but I’m looking at a blank page and the words just won’t come out to describe it. I think it has just been swimming around in my head so long that it is so special to me that I’m anxious about making it perfect.

How do you all overcome your “writer’s block”? Is there a secret bypass or a password that I need to enter somewhere in my brain? Please send help, and coffee.”

My reply:

You could try writing any words that come to mind about your story. “Banishment”, “betrayal”, “love”, “business”, etc… then pick one of the words and begin to write about it, in the context of your story. Don’t worry about quality, or whether or not you’ll use what you’re writing — all you’re trying to do right now is get the pipe flowing.

Some people find it useful to hand write each word in the middle of a blank page, then write other words or phrases around it, with lines radiating outwards.

(And re: making it perfect… that will stop you dead in your tracks. First drafts ALWAYS suck — they’re rough, they’re ugly in places, and usually not that pretty everywhere else. But you’ve got to get them out in that rough form before you can polish them in the editing phase. “You can’t edit what you don’t got”, as the saying goes. And trying to make it perfect on the first pass will only succeed in slowing you to a crawl.)

I wish you all the best!

“If E.L. James can do it, why can’t you?”

Thus spake my Beloved Husband, a couple of days ago during a conversation about growing my author brand and keeping the momentum going following the publication of “The Codex of Desire”.

Now, we all know what E.L. James did, right?

And we all know how mind-bogglingly successful she wound up being, yes? (At least on the sales front.)

Looking at straight-up numbers, I have almost 1.25 million words of fan fiction under my belt, including quite a few longer finished stories.

I’ve read some E.L. James, and I think I’m a few notches above her on most of the technical fronts. No false modesty there. 

I’m also no stranger to editing and revising. (Dear Gods, eight full passes on “Codex”… I still get the cold collywobbles just thinking about it.)

So — why not rework some of my fan fiction, retro-engineer those pieces into original universes with original characters, and use them to pump up that good ol’ author brand?

On the one hand, I know that some of my fanfics are cracking good because readers have told me so. (In fact, I’ve had some readers tell me that they’ll read anything I write, in any fandom, because they just love my writing style that much. That’s a pretty big vote of confidence.)

On the other hand… is there an other hand? The story concepts are my own story concepts. Put in my own characters and they become something new unto themselves.

Something I can publish to Amazon and Smashwords, to keep the pipeline flowing and my audience satisfied — and hopefully to attract new readers. M/M romance and erotica are very hot (pardon the pun) commodities right now. And I have a lot of stories in that genre, just waiting to enter the public arena.

My Beloved Husband’s words have certainly got me thinking. Does anybody have further pros or cons to bring to my attention? 🙂