Category Archives: First Drafts

I’m Sorry, I’ve Thrown Off My Groove

Maintaining momentum on your work in progress can be difficult and it’s never more difficult when your own brain gets in the way. All those little doubts that make you question if the scene is any good or if you should throw that outlined plot twist out the window in favor of the new cool idea you just thought of. The indecision is enough to give you that deer in the headlights look, unsure which chattering shoulder angel to listen to.

Do I have the hero kill the villain or do I have them go out for shawarma?

It’s questions and doubts like these that almost always bring my word stampede to a screeching halt. It took me years to figure out that the source of this wasn’t inexperience. It was me. It was my own self-doubt, a.k.a. impostor syndrome, a.k.a. I’m getting in my own way……again.

Now I’ve talked before about WTFS (Write the F-ing Sentence) and while that’s similar, it’s not the same thing. This is more than questioning if their coat should be azure or cerulean. It’s deciding whether or not the romance between two characters that your writer brain suddenly wants to add is going to be a good addition or a distraction from the main plot. It’s deciding if spending the next four pages exploring a character’s backstory is necessary or if it’s better to use that space for a secondary character’s nervous breakdown. The stakes are much higher with these sort of quandaries and it’s that pressure that stops progress. If it were as simple as choosing a hair color then it would be a bad habit that’s easily fixed. However since the root of the problem is a lack of self-trust rather than indecision it’s a lot harder. The only solution I’ve found is a three step process.

  1. Relax. Take a walk or a short breather to let the mental tension and anxiety melt away. The right words will come easier when you’re relaxed.
  2. Take a deep breath and go with the impulse. There’s a reason your subconscious suggested it in the first place. There’s no harm in trusting it…for now.
  3. Re-evulate. After the manuscript is finished, go back and re-read that section. If you hate it you can rewrite that section. Most of the time, when I’ve trusted my subconscious, I’ve really liked the resulting scene(s). But if I ever dislike a spontaneous scene I still won’t regret writing it because I didn’t let indecision stop me from completing the story.

I admit, the first time I tried these steps it felt like I was taking a huge leap of faith. And in some respects I was. But it was only through this that I was able to learn to trust my subconscious and not panic because a chipmunk suddenly wanted me to tell its life story. You’ll never know if the chipmunk’s story will provide the answers you need for later conflicts if you don’t allow it to speak in the first place.

Momentum Because Pixar

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

prompts. Those clever little devils can really get the creative juices flowing, ya know? When I’m having a rough time creating, I hit up my dear friend Google, and I get myself some clever, witty dialogue prompts. From there, it just comes naturally. When I hit my groove, and I mean really hit my groove, I am able to write for hours. I ride that river of creative momentum and I don’t stop until my fingers bleed. Well, not literally bleed, but you see my meaning.

Finding what brings out your creative flow is VERY important in building up that momentum. Without momentum you are literally stuck, unmoving, not writing! And for us authors that is incredibly bad place to be. Writers Block……a few heathens say it doesn’t exist. That you can just pick right up where you left off….Well to those nay sayers, I say booo!!!! If you are experiencing lack of momentum—writers block, you are among friends here at The Fictorians. We have all experienced writers block at one time or another. Well, thats great Aubrie, but how to I get my momentum back? Well listen up my friend, for I am about to reveal to you a secret that all authors wish they knew….

I have absolutely no idea.

However, I do know that if you don’t at least try to get your mojo back, its gone for good. As I said before, dialogue prompts are very helpful to me. I don’t even always use them for my current WIP (Work in Progress). Sometimes its a completely new story that I spout off with. It really doesn’t matter, as long as I am writing. Another tool I have found helpful is the 22 rules of story writing from Pixar. One of my favorite things from their advice is this:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

It literally helps me create new characters and story ideas all the time! You can find the rest of the rules here:

http://nofilmschool.com/2012/06/22-rules-storytelling-pixar

If you remember anything from this post, remember this— Never, Never, Never Give Up. -Sir Winston Churchill

You’ve got this. I promise. It may seem impossible at times, tedious, and trying. But you can do it. All you have to do it keep going. Keep up that momentum and don’t stop.

Pre -Order my debut novel Secret of Souls here:
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-Aubrie

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.

< Insert amazing blog post here >

Hello everyone! Momentum is a key element for success in completing any writing project, and this month has already be loaded with lots of good advice from folks who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. Some of their advice might contradict the advice I’ll be offering, but that’s part of the joy of writing. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – just the way that works for you.

I too have some advice to offer, something that works for me. This one simple trick, you might say, to avoid getting stuck in your path. (“Writer’s Blocks hate him!”) It may work for you, or it may not. In order to give my advice context though, I have to talk a bit about how I write. It’s a brief side road but I think the trip will be worth it.

Writers seem to be broken up into two general groups: the outliners and the pantsers. I have great admiration for pantsers, those brave souls who just sit down at the keyboard and make it happen live.

That’s amazing, but it will never be me. I am an outliner and I never sit down for my writing session with no idea what’s going to happen. I do several extensive outline passes of my plot and character arcs before I start page one. I often even have much of my dialog pre-written (or pre-recorded).

Once I start that first draft, I want nothing to stop me until I finish the novel. A story finished is a story fixable. I may be newer at this than some Fictorians, but I’ve had more than a few stories die from the blank screen of death because I stopped and just couldn’t get going again.

3,000 word days? Great. 1,000 words? No problem. 25 words? At least I moved forward. The only number I don’t want is zero. As long as I’m moving in any way, I tend to keep moving. It’s when I straight up stop that the problems begin

Yet even with the best outline you can run into issues. Maybe you realize a plot hole you didn’t count on, or dialogue that sounded great in your head just reads corny now that you see it on the page. Very common for me, you knew there was a fight scene here but you didn’t block it out and now it makes no sense.

Any of these can get me stuck, lead me to a zero day where the cursor blinks at me and I simply blink back. This is the one thing I don’t want. So, what do I do when I’m stuck?

I cheat.

I simply skip where I’m stuck by using my two best friends: left angle bracket and right angle bracket.

If you look at my completed first drafts, they will be riddled with these. A few examples from my first draft of SEAS OF EVEREST, Book 2 of the trilogy I am working on:

<finish this up>

<a little more here>

<describe the city>

<she gets upset>

<insert amazing mammoth fight scene here>

Yep, I used them to summarize an entire action scene. I was very stuck on the blocking of that scene (there was a wooly mammoth in it after all) and couldn’t just sit there and work all that out. I took a shot at it but realized my writer brain was not in ‘write action scene’ mode that day. I could stop and try to force it, or I could throw some angle brackets down and move on.

Move on. You know, keep my momentum. No zero days.

That’s exactly what I use them for. So I can maintain my momentum. Gots ta keep on keepin’ on or that book is never going to be finished. I knew that fight scene would come to me later, and it did.

When I finished SEAS OF EVEREST I went back and found I had 83 angle bracketed items to go back and fill. Some were quick and easy, others were decent projects. Closing those 83 items took me all of three days and I freely admit those days were pretty long.

But the book was done. The story was complete, I had got to the end of the tale. That is always the goal for me, get to the damn end. Once you’ve been there, you can always go back and clean up those items you left undone along the way.

If you stop and hammer out each one? Well, you might never get where you’re going.

Using Deadlines to Drive Momentum

Momentum quoteWriting is an act of creation.

Building a poem, a short story, or a novel is a project that requires continuing effort for sometimes months or years.

Completing that project is not easy. I’ve seen statistics that suggest maybe 1% of all the writers who begin a novel ever actually complete one. For those of us who do, one important component of success is building momentum.

For me, as a story begins to grow and develop into a fully-formed adventure, I get more and more excited to see it finished. I love the brainstorming process and the intense bursts of writing as I pour words on the page and create the first draft. I’ve even grown to enjoy the opportunity to revise and edit and polish that initial draft into a finely-tuned, well-crafted piece of art that will draw readers into my world and plunge them into amazing adventures.

The process is not easy, but the daily effort builds momentum to keep going. Some days are admittedly easier than others, and like everyone else, I have had to develop ways to help keep motivated and to keep generating momentum. Several ideas have been mentioned by other fictorians already this month, so be sure to check out their excellent posts.

I also like to use deadlines.

A deadline is a tangible line in the sand, a goal to help focus my energy over short periods of time. Even when they’re self-imposed, deadlines create a sense of purpose and the threat of consequences if I don’t succeed. Setting a deadline helps me avoid falling into the trap of thinking I can take as long as I like on the next novel.

I can’t. I have a deadline.

Sometimes I set very aggressive deadlines, and even if I know I can’t possibly accomplish them, they still help motivate me to try. When I first started releasing books in 2015, I set the goal of eight books in eight months. That’s a super-aggressive goal that turned out to be physically impossible, but it helped me work extremely hard to get my indie-publishing process off the ground and dive in and do it, rather than hesitating and wasting time with unproductive doubts.

A great deadline is scheduling time with an editor. I use the amazing Joshua Essoe to edit most of my novels. He’s booked out over a year, so I have to schedule my time with him far in advance, which requires planning my work and knowing my pace. Let’s just say I’m still working on perfecting that bit, especially since most of my novels end up running long.

I was due to deliver a manuscript to Joshua in July, but I had gotten bogged down editing another novel. Six weeks before the deadline to deliver the draft to Joshua, I had to set aside that other project and get to work. I had waited perhaps too long. The goal was 160,000 word first draft.

I got it done. Mostly. I delivered about 130,000 words to Joshua, and wrote the final 50,000 words of that epic story over the three weeks that he spent editing the first part.

Do I recommend doing a first draft that way? Sure – as long as that draft’s not due immediately to the editor. Writing a first draft that fast was an amazing, if exhausting process, but I should have started sooner so I could do some initial polishing and revising before submitting it. I could have better used Joshua’s time that way.

Lesson learned.

But that extremely tight deadline was undeniably effective at getting me to write, and to find ways to write faster than ever. That’s 180,000 words in about two months – probably the fastest I’ve produced such a long work. I am already setting new deadlines for revising and editing, because I’m planning to release the novel in Q4 of this year.

I recognize that not everyone likes to work under tight deadlines, and that the added stress of having aggressive deadlines can be counter-productive, but don’t ignore deadlines. If you don’t set a goal, you limit your ability to move forward and get things done. I recommend everyone use some kind of deadline. Without them, there’s no accountability, and far less sense of purpose to drive a project forward.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org