Category Archives: Your Writing Career

Now, Go Forth and Write!

Welcome to the final hours of our pre-NaNoWriMo time! There are many people who are out there right now, anxiety ridden and dreading the toll of midnight. But y’all, dear readers, should be ready. You should be pumped. Our bloggers and guests have shared a plethora of advice and their own experiences. Hopefully you found their insights useful. You’ve done your prep work, imagined the impossible, and planned your way through to success. You’re ready to climb the mountain.

But what if you are still nervous? I mean, NaNoWriMo is a huge commitment, right? The answer is that you write anyways. You put your butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard and you give it everything you have to give. Though there are people who sprint up mountains for fun (crazy, right?) I prefer a hike. A slow and steady plod will get you there just the same, no matter how loud those voices in your head yell that you can’t make it.

What if you aren’t done with your prewriting? You have at least another 965,439.27 hours of prewriting left to do. You have to work through the complete 17th volume of your world’s history, and you don’t know how your protagonist kept their hair in the third grade, and there are at least 60 constellations you have yet to name and invent complete mythologies for… What do you do then? You put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard. At some point, prewriting time needs to be over. As one of my mentors, Kevin Anderson, said to a group of us at a seminar, “A book that doesn’t exist cannot be published.” The hard truth is that most books are never finished, they are abandoned. Start, work your hardest, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do.

But what if you miss a day? How could you possibly crest the 50,000 word peak if you lose your momentum… Step 1: You forgive yourself. Step 2: You put your but in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. Seeing a theme? I once saw a nutritionist who told all her clients that meaningful change was a process. You only failed when you stopped trying, success being one choice away. You just had to keep choosing to fight. And you know what? It works just as well for writing as it does for losing 40 pounds.

So, all of us here at the Fictorians wish you the best in this year’s NaNoWriMo. Surprise yourself, discover that you are far better than you give yourself credit for, and work your way up that mountain. Know that you aren’t alone in this. Know that what you are about to do is really hard, but you have everything you need to do it. The view from the top will be worth the climb, I promise. First drafts need not be perfect, but they do need to be finished. Now, go forth and write!

Pre-Writing and Screenwriting

Until 2012, I was a pantser. Truth be told, I still write short fiction without a plan sometimes, but I’ve been fully converted over to outlining. It’s a long story, but it’s worth the effort. The very first novel I wrote, RUNS IN THE FAMILY, took me 18 months to write. Without a roadmap, I would write all the little ideas and delete troves of words before latching onto another idea and doing the same thing over and over again. It was a slog and I hardly remember finishing it. When I had the idea that became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL, I vowed that I wouldn’t do that whole awful process again. I determined that I was going to figure out how to write a novel. I’ll cut off some of the story here, but a book on screenwriting changed the way that I write. That book was “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” by Jeffrey Alan Schecter. It’s a quick, easy read that gives you insights into character development, story pacing, and a structure that resonates with your reader.

Schecter’s book impressed the folks at Mariner Software enough that they built a screenwriting program called Contour that follows his method to the letter. When I found out about Contour, I quickly downloaded the free demo. From there, I ended up purchasing the program. It’s a part of my pre-writing process, which is the theme of the month, so let me break down how I get ready to write a novel.

Let’s say I have an idea already pretty formed in my head. Chances are that I’ve started gathering some notes on that idea in a notebook (yes, I have a notebook problem – there are never enough). I take that pretty formed idea in my head and start to make sure I can craft it into some of the key notions that Schecter teaches about character development. The takeaway here is that without good characters, your story doesn’t live to tell the tale. Forget to develop your protagonist and your book never reaches the end of Act One because there’s nothing to change them. Fail to develop a solid antagonist and your story dies in Act Two. By building the character development first, even before I start the plotting pieces and exercises, I have a solid idea of where the story is going to go based on the goals of my characters. From there, I go through Contour’s beats and guide sheets to develop a “straw” outline – that’s my first pass entirely through Contour. I come back and add more detail to the areas that need it – thanks to big text boxes and the like. Once I’ve done that, it’s time to open Scrivener, my writing software.

Once in Scrivener, I use what’s in Contour to help flesh out a basic structure. I create the building blocks in various ways – either folders and chapters for scenes, the cork board function for random thoughts or unplaced ideas, and any references I need to consult as I write. With the data from Contour about specific plot points, character goals, and what the characters need to discover/solve/act upon, by the time I’ve laid out my pre-writing, I have a serious amount of data already in the program ready for me to use. Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but for me it’s better than trying to handle those dozens of notebooks and pieces of scratch paper. If I take the time to enter the ideas in Contour, it asks the questions for me and my answers further flesh out the plot. From there, writing is relatively easy.

How easy? At this point, I’ve invested several hours in building out Contour and laying out Scrivener the way I want it to. For me, the end result is that I write faster. Remember RUNS IN THE FAMILY? Eighteen months from start to finish? With the method I laid out above, I wrote SLEEPER PROTOCOL in seven weeks. I wrote the recently published sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL in about nine weeks. It’s a much faster process when I know the route that I’m going to take. By laying out the entire novel, if a character decides to do something differently that I want them to, I can let that play out a little and still have a clear ending in mind. I can adjust things as I go, which is much easier than stopping and starting all over. With a full outline, I know where I have to get back to, and it makes a difference.

No two methods are the same, though. You have to figure out what works for you. For me, that intense planning and note taking process leads to big changes with my speed and productivity, but it may not work for you. There are a million ways to write a novel, but they don’t all require any prewriting. They do require writing, so get to it.

 

Six Jedi Mind Tricks for Writers

A Guest Post by David Farland

    1. Write in your sleep. The day before you plan to write, stay up a little late and plot out the scene you will write. As you do, consider where it will be set, who will appear in it, when it will occur in relation to other scenes, who will be your viewpoint character, and what actions or changes will occur in that scene. Write a quick sketch of a paragraph or two about the scene, then go to bed. You subconscious mind will worry about the scene while you sleep, piecing it together, and in the morning it will appear vividly in your mind so that you write it with ease.
    2. Create a “Sacred Writing Space.” When you plan to write, some people find it helpful to write down the goal: I will write tomorrow from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Then, when you go to work, do not let anyone violate your time. That means that you don’t check your mail or talk to friends on Facebook. Your writing time must be dedicated to writing only. If you plan to start at 6:00 get your butt in your chair a few minutes early, open your files, think, and begin typing at or before 6:00. In the same way, the space where you sit must also be dedicated to writing. Some people find that over time, they get in a habit of doing some things—like watching videos—in a certain chair. It might be difficult to break that habit consciously, so it may be easier for you to move your chair or move into a new room to create your sacred writing space. I don’t know why, but I tend to write with fantastic ease while sitting in airports.
    3. Shut the freak up. Doctor Jerry Pournelle once pointed out that the desire to write arises out of a profound need to communicate. If you stop communicating with others—by turning off your television and your radio, stop talking to friends, don’t answer emails, and simply let the silence grow around you, you will find that very soon your imaginary characters in your story will start speaking to each other, so that you will find yourself writing dialog. (This may take a couple of hours, but it works!)
    4. Put yourself in the writing mood. Sometimes you sit down at your writing desk and just don’t feel in the mood to write. You may be anxious about other things, or tired, or whatever. Don’t let your mood derail you. Simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then remember as vividly as possible a time when you were writing freely and without effort and enjoying the act. Hold that emotion for thirty seconds. If you don’t feel ready to write, try it again, only time hold in your mind a time when you felt excited to right. Hold it for thirty seconds. If that doesn’t work, try it again, only this time sit and remember times when you receive praise or awards or publishing contracts for writing. Hold the emotion for thirty seconds. You will soon find yourself “in the mood” to write.
    5. Develop the habit of getting into your “Writer’s Trance.” We all have times when we slip into our imaginary worlds fully. Sometimes it happens when you’re driving, or exercising, or washing dishes, or late at night while listening to music. Once you find yourself in that sphere, simply stop whatever you are doing and write! I often keep a notepad in my car, for example, so that if I find myself vividly imagining scenes while driving, I can stop and take notes. In the same way, listening to music late at night often gives me inspiration, as does lying in bed and thinking about my book before I fully wake up. Find out what works best for you, and learn to court your muse.
    6. Learn to think. Many times, a writer will try to sit down to write, only to find that he doesn’t know what to do next. Perhaps a certain character’s voice won’t come, or the writer hasn’t plotted his novel well enough to begin composing. Many writers feel intimidated at this point and feel “stuck.” Instead of giving up, simply imagine that you are getting up from your “stuck place,” and you are moving to a more creative spot. In other words, focus your mental energy on solving you writing problem. Getting stuck is a common part of the writing process, and it’s perfectly natural. A real writer doesn’t give up—instead he begin brainstorming, thinking about how to handle the upcoming scene. Simply put, you have to brainstorm the scene, looking at it from all sides, until you get excited about writing it. As ideas come to you and you look at the scene from different angles, some of those ideas will feel so “right” to you, that you’ll find yourself growing eager. When you’re ready, just write!

David Farland:

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and he has won over seven awards—including the International Book Award and the Hollywood Book Festival, Grand Prize—for his fantasy thriller Nightingale. He is best known, however, for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

Farland has written for major franchises such as Star Wars and The Mummy. He has worked in Hollywood greenlighting movies and doctoring scripts. He has been a movie producer, and he has even lived in China working as a screenwriter for a major fantasy film franchise.

As a writing instructor, Farland has mentored dozens who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).

Farland judges L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future, the one of the largest worldwide writing competitions for new fantasy and science fiction authors. In the video game industry, he has been both a designer and a scripter and was the co-leader on the design team for StarCraft: Brood War. He set the Guinness World Record for the largest single-author, single-book signing.

David Farland has been hailed as “The wizard of storytelling” and his work has been called “compelling,” “engrossing,” “powerful,” “profound,” and “ultimately life-changing.”

NaNoWriMo: The perfect starting place

Like many of the other Fictorians this month, I’ll be talking about Nanowrimo in my post. There’s much to be said on the general subject of pre-writing, but I cannot pass up an opportunity to speak of that magical time in November when the internal editors go on vacation and writers all over the world just let it fly.

Nano was so critical to me in starting my serious writing career that it’s not hyperbole to say that without Nanowrimo I’d likely not be a writer today. Nano provides what I feel is the perfect safe starting point for that writing hobby or career you may have always thought about but never took a serious run at. It certainly was for me, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without it.

In 2013 I was 44 years old, and I had been carrying one story in my head for more than 25 years, an experience I have found many writers have in common with me. Perhaps you have one too. I had taken a few shots at actually writing it, but when I decided to give Nanowrimo a try that year I hadn’t written a word in a decade. 1,600 words a day? I didn’t know if I could do a hundred.

As it turned out, I could do the Nano pace fairly easily that year, no outline needed. I was, after all, writing a story I had been thinking about since I was a teenager. I just learned to turn off my internal editor, allowed my writing to be as good or bad as it was on that first pass and went to town.

It’s repeated ad nauseam in the writing community, but that lesson of my first Nano was one of the most important tools I have learned in writing and one I still have to pull out often: JUST WRITE IT. You can fix it later, you can make it better later. You can’t fix an empty page. Get it written, get it done. This is why you revise after all (and revise, and revise – but that’s a blog post for another day).

Using Nano of 2013 I got that first novel off the ground and put my first 50,000 words into it. Once I had done that, it was easy to continue when November was over and by next spring I had a completed novel of 130,000 words. It was a feeling of accomplishment that is hard to describe. Lots of people talk about writing a novel, but I had done it. It was ugly, clumsy and tropey as all hell, but it was there. It existed. 

I’d like to come back to this moment as I think there’s a key lesson to share here, but first I’d like to talk about my remaining Nanowrimo experiences. I have participated in Nanowrimo every year since, and I have ‘won’ every year and I think it is on the strength of outlining. I say this despite the fact my first win was completely pantsed.

I usually start preparing for Nano in September as I decide what I want to use November for. I then spend October on prep. I have a complete scene-by-scene outline done. I have all my characters worked out in terms of back stories and motivations. I know where my big act breaks are, and a decent idea of themes I want to explore.

Once November starts, it’s time to write and not worry about the polish. I write everything this way now, November or not. First drafts are allowed to be rough, the important thing is to get from the beginning to end. I can’t stress this enough: Start, follow through, finish. You can fix later.

Despite the heavy outline though, I try to leave room for creativity during the writing process. Even though I document my characters beforehand, I usually find their voices while writing the project. I also pay close attention to that little voice that tells me to make radical changes to big scenes, outlines be damned. Folks, listen to that voice: it’s almost always right.

So like writing itself it’s still just about showing up and doing the work. 1666 words a day is more for some than for others, but I think it’s an achievable pace for most. If you are pantser, more power to you. I find that I’ve heard more people go in with some kind of outline, and for me the more detailed it is the more successful I’ll likely be.

One last thing I’d like to add before I close, with the caveat that it’s not really on point. If you are like me and you use your first Nanowrimo to finish that big novel you’ve been carrying around for years, when its done – congratulate yourself. Pour yourself your favorite beverage, brag on social media, pat yourself on the back. You’ve done an amazing thing.

Now write something else.

Put it in a drawer and write at least one other story before coming back to it. I have met many writers on this journey who are still working on that first novel years later. Still polishing, still revising. *Years later*. That may be the correct road for some but I am glad it is not the one I took. That first baby of yours will always be there to come back to but what will really level up your skills is *repeating the whole process*. Of all of my writing decisions, that was one of the smartest for me.

Good luck and I’ll see you in November!