The Best Way to Get Writing Feedback: 4 Writing Tips

Why you should ask for writing feedback in stagesWelcome to Part Two of the Feedback series! Today we’re going to look at why you should ask for writing feedback in stages. Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing!

As we talked about in Part One of this series, getting writing feedback is important! And it’s usually best if you have several early readers so you have the benefit of a handful of perspectives. Once you find your early readers, it might be tempting to give everyone your shiny new book right away. However, I would suggest instead starting with one or two early readers at a time. Then make changes based on their feedback, give the revision to another early reader, and repeat this process until you’ve run out of readers.

I’m a big believer in staggering writing feedback like this. In fact, it’s a major factor in my writing process. Here are four reasons why I’ve found this approach to be insanely beneficial:

1) You get fresh eyes with each revision

This is the biggest reason why I use this method. A reader can only experience your story for the first time once. Once they read it, they’ll point out things that are confusing or don’t make sense about your book. If you’re like me, you’ll also discuss possible solutions with your early reader. This means your reader will know what you want to happen and how you want to fix the issues.

Once you make the changes, it makes sense to have the person who gave you the feedback look over the revision. However, since this person has more background information because of your discussion, it’s possible they won’t be able to pick up on the problems in the same way a new reader would. But if you’ve saved some of your early readers for later, you can give your book to a fresh set of eyes, see what issues they point out, and check in with them about the changes or clarifications you made based on your first reader’s feedback. This can give you more confidence that you’ve addressed your book’s issues effectively.

2) You can play to your readers’ strengths

I have about five to seven early readers, and something I’ve learned over the years is that they all have different strengths. Some are stronger big-picture thinkers, while others are better at digging into the more technical grammar and logistical details of a story, and others have varying degrees in between.

Big Picture thinkers are more helpful with earlier drafts. They can often spot bigger character/plot problems and scenes that are either out of place or not working. Their strengths lie in giving developmental feedback that can make your story stronger and more complete.

Meanwhile, grammar and technical questions aren’t all that helpful in early drafts. It doesn’t make much sense to correct grammar and iron out the logistics of a scene if that scene really needs to be cut or rewritten. But this type of feedback is essential in the later stages of a draft. Before you send it to an agent or editor, you want to make sure your grammar is as clean as you can make it and the logistics of your story make sense.

If you learn the strengths of your reader, staggering your feedback puts you in the position to get the best possible critique at each stage of your novel.

3) Too much feedback can give you too much to think about

The good and bad thing about writing is that it’s all subjective. This means that there is no true “right” way to read something. However, that also means it’s possible to get conflicting feedback and conflicting advice. In the end, it all comes down to you as the writer. You need to decide what changes you will make to your story. But it can be hard to make a decision that feels right for your book if your thoughts are getting pulled in too many different directions.

However, if you only give your book to one or two readers at a time, you have more control over the amount of feedback you’re getting at once. This makes it easier to evaluate each opinion and make a decision that feels right for your story without getting overwhelmed.

4) It helps build your confidence

Sharing and talking about your novel for the first time can be a little nervewracking. If you let one (supportive) person read your book at a time, it can help you get used to your work being read. And if you’ve chosen your readers correctly, by the time you’re ready to share it with the world, you’ll feel supported, encouraged, and proud of the progress your book has made. You’ll know that you have a handful of ideal readers who like and believe in the book you wrote. Even if others don’t like your book, you can take comfort in the fact that readers like your early readers are out there. You just have to find them!

I hope this helps you get better writing feedback!

You can find Part Three: How to Give Good Feeback here! You can also revisit Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing here!

Now it’s your turn: How do you get your writing feedback? Have you tried getting your feedback in stages? If you have, did it help? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing

Finding the Right Early Readers for your writingFeedback is an important aspect of the writing process, but it can also be a bit of process in and of itself. When I sat down to do a post on the subject, I realized how many levels to feedback back there actually are. Which is why this will be the first post in a four-part feedback series. This post deals with how to find people to give you feedback. Part Two will focus on the importance of staggering your feedback, Part 3 will discuss how to give feedback, and Part 4 will look at how to evaluate the feedback you get. Today, we’re going to look at how to find the right early readers for your books!

Today, we’re going to start by looking at how to find the right early readers for your books!

It’s important to find people who can give you feedback as you draft and revise, but it can also be unhelpful and discouraging if you ask the wrong person to critique your work. Not every reader is going to be your reader. Here are a few things to look for when you search for the right early readers for your books:

1) People who have the same taste in books/entertainment as you

It’s nice if they’re also writers, but they don’t have to be. They just have to be high-quality entertainment consumers who like the types of stories you’re trying to write. They also should be good at understanding the basics of story construction and be able to identify a story’s problems.

How can you find out if someone has these qualities? Talk to them about books and shows you like and dislike and why. The why is the most important. If that person has the same taste in entertainment as you and is able to thoughtfully critique and explain their reasoning, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do the same for you and your book.

2) People who can find the gems in the roughest of drafts

It’s important to have a reader who can see a draft not just for what it is, but for what it could be. This is a very special skill. Most people are conditioned to read polished, published products, so seeing the strengths in a rough draft can be a real challenge for them. A good early reader will be able to sift through the problems and make note of them, but still find what’s working and be able to get excited about it. Which leads me to point three–

3) People who can be both critical and encouraging

You really do need both. I’ve heard some writers say they want an early reader or an editor who will tear their book apart, not tell them what they want to hear. And while I think those are both fairly good qualities in someone who is giving feedback, I think it’s equally as important for that person to be able to tell you what is working well and why. 

There are two reasons for this. First, and most importantly, I like to know what’s working so I can pull from those places and create a more consistent book. So if I were to get a note from an earlier reader that said something like, “Chapter eight is a little uneventful,” it would also be good to hear “wow, the tension in chapter fifteen is fantastic!” This way, I can look at chapter fifteen, figure out what I did and why that’s working, and then try to replicate it to fix the problem in chapter eight.

The second reason is, quite simply, it’s A LOT of work to write a book. As much as you need people to be honest, you also need support. If your early reader can’t support you and encourage you regardless of the number of problems they find, then they may not be the best early reader for you and your work.

4) People who think differently than you

New perspectives and insights will make your story better! I know when I’m writing, I often get so locked into my story that when I find a problem, it can be hard for me to see the number of possible solutions. Having early readers who approach problems differently will help open you up to the number of different directions your book can go in. I’ve found that even if I don’t take a direct suggestion from one of my early readers, nearly every suggestion they make helps me think about my story differently and consider an angle that hadn’t occurred to me prior to talking with them, which helps widen the world of my story.

5) Places to find these people

One of my writer friends, author Julie Eshbaugh, wrote a post for PubCrawl about the importance of writerly friendships and where to find them. Some places include taking a writing class at a local college or community center or joining an organization. These are also great places to look for early readers! And if your early reader happens to also be a writer, you can offer to be an early reader for them in return! But remember, these readers don’t have to be writers, so, you might want to check out book clubs and library groups too.

Before you agree to let someone read your work, make sure you get to know your potential reader’s taste in books/entertainment. (See point #1.) Then once you know they have a passion for the same types of books and stories as you, float the idea that you’re a writer working on a book. In my experience, it’s best if you can get someone to offer to read your book–especially if they’re not a writer and you can’t offer a critique in return. You can, of course, ask, but keep in mind that some people will just say yes because they don’t know how to say no. You will get better and more thoughtful feedback from people who truly want to help as opposed to people who say yes out of obligation.

6) How I find my readers

Here’s another place to look for early readers: your own friend groups. That’s where I found all of my early readers. Now, I recognize that I’m extremely lucky to have friends that get writing and storytelling. You definitely shouldn’t trust your book to a reader just because they are a friend. But don’t overlook your friends just because they may not all be writers. Your friends often get you and what you like better than most people, which can put them in a position to help you make the book you want to make.

I hope this helps you find some awesome early readers for your writing!

It may take some trial and error to find the right set of reliable early readers, but trust me when I say they are worth looking for. My early readers have been essential to the strength and development of my stories and I couldn’t imagine writing anything without their feedback.

You can find part two in this series here!

Now it’s your turn: Do you have early readers? If you do, how did you find them and how do they help? If you don’t, what’s been your biggest challenge in finding one or concern about having one? Tell me about it in the comments!

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4 Great Sources of Inspiration for Writers: Writing Tips

Four Sources of Inspiration for WritersThere are plenty of sayings about writing and inspiration. Most center around the idea that if you want to be productive, you can’t always wait for inspiration to strike. And while I think that’s mostly true, I also think you need inspiration to spark a story and get you started. Every story is inspired by something or someone. Inspiration for writers is everywhere, but it can also be fickle. It may not always come to you; sometimes you need to go to it.

With that in mind, here are four places to look for your next story idea:

1) Untold stories

If there has ever been an idea or character from a book/movie/TV show that you’ve wanted to know more about, create your own version of that character and world to explore. This source of inspiration is one of my favorites! It’s actually how I got the idea for Crossing the Line. After seeing The Avengers, I found myself really interested in the character of Black Widow. I hadn’t known much about the character coming in, but one thing that’s made pretty clear in the movie is that Black Widow wasn’t always one of the “good guys.” In fact, at one point, she worked for the enemy. I became fascinated with what the transition from enemy to ally would have been like. The movie didn’t dig into this idea at all, so I created my own spy and spy world to explore this concept.

You can do this with any story that you love or are intrigued by.

2) What ifs

What if there was life on Mars? What if time travel was possible? What if pigs could fly? Pick a fact that is most definitely false and explore a world where it’s true. Or vice-versa, pick a fact that is most definitely true and explore a world where it’s false.

For this idea, start by making a running list of “what ifs.” No idea is too absurd or ridiculous. When you find one that’s really interesting to you, do an exploratory freewrite and see if it’s an idea you can turn into a story.

3) Flip a Cliche

Make a practiced story idea new again by doing the opposite of what readers have come to expect. For example, the cliche: two people for different worlds desperately want to be together but can’t. Instead: Two people from different worlds want nothing to do with each other but are stuck together. Or, cliche: The chosen one rises to the occasion to fight the big bad and save the world. Instead: The chose one wants no part of being the hero, never gets their act together, and your characters have to find some other way to not die. The possibilities are endless! This is another favorite of mine. The idea for a current project came from this source of inspiration, not to mention a handful of ideas in the past.

For this idea, brainstorm your favorite stories and see if you can pick out some of their more cliche storylines, or take note of any storyline you’ve seen repeatedly. Then flip each of those cliches and choose your favorite to write about.

4) Find something in real life and explore it deeply

Go to a public place. Find someone who captures your attention. What draws you to them? Turn this person into a character by creating a story backstory for them, then develop a world for them to live in. Or! Take a walk or a drive and find a location that either grabs your interest or a location you’ve overlooked in the past. Develop a story about that place and the people who frequent it. There is plenty of inspiration for writers all around us every day, so be on the lookout!

I hope you find these sources of inspiration for writers helpful!

All of these ideas are just points to jump of off. Don’t be afraid to let your stories take on a life of their own, even if they deviate from the original source of inspiration.

Now it’s your turn: Where do you get your inspiration from? Is there a source of inspiration for writers that I missed? Is there a source that’s inspired you in the past you found surprising? Tell me about it in the comments! Feel free to add to my list!

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3 Overlooked Sources for Novel Research: Writing Tips

Overlooked sources for Novel researchNovel research has gotten so much easier since the invention of the internet. A quick Google search can either answer your questions or point you in the direction of someone who can. But there are a few areas of both the internet and the real world that I’ve seen underutilized lately.

Here are three overlooked sources for novel research. These are resources that either I have personally used and benefited from, or they’ve been used by someone I personally know. I hope some of these can help you!

1) Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or other streaming services

Specifically, the documentaries section. Plenty of filmmakers have done research and documented experiences of people or situations that may be unfamiliar to you. This can be particularly helpful if you have a character in your book who is experiencing something you personally have not. Even if you don’t learn anything new from a documentary, there’s a power in seeing an experience or situation that you may need to write about on screen. In my book series, my main character was kidnapped as a kid and raised to be a North Korean spy. One way I learned more about North Korea was through Netflix documentaries. I can’t tell you how much it helped. I didn’t use any fact specifically, but watching them gave me a feel and understanding that I believe enhanced my books.

Additionally, don’t write off TV and movies as a form of craft research. If you’re struggling with the pace of your book, you may find a show or movie that’s incredibly well paced, or has a pace you’d like your book to have. I have an author friend who broke a movie down scene by scene to understand its structure. She then made a revision plan so her book’s structure would match. Or if you just can’t nail your character’s movement, find a character from tv/movies who reminds you of your character. Study their movements. Describe what you see. Then transfer your observations into your story.

And of course, you should also do some research on any documentary or video resource you use. Some are more respected and accurate than others.

2) Coursera

This is one of the best-kept secrets in education and online learning. Coursera.org allows you to enroll in online courses from top colleges and universities all over the world. And as long as you don’t want a certificate, specialization, or degree, they are absolutely free. Classes tend to run around six weeks, but it can vary from class to class. Courses are primarily comprised of video lectures, short readings, and forum discussions. The time commitment is fairly minimal, and since you’re not getting a grade, you can do as much or as little of the work as you want. (I tend to only watch the videos…)

So, if you have a character who’s into biology or who’s a lawyer, but you don’t have a strong understanding of those areas, you can take a class on the topic! They also have great psychology classes that can help you understand your characters and their development better.

But be warned. If you like learning just for the sake of learning, this can be addictive. Every time I log on I sign up for more classes than I have time for.

3) The Library

I know what you’re thinking! The library is totally not an overlooked resource for novel research. And for books, the internet, and general information, you’d be correct. However, it’s easy to forget that magnitude of the library system. Libraries give us access to so much more than just books. According to the Syracuse University iSchool blog, you may also have access to museum passes,  artwork, and even bones (from some medical libraries). So, if there’s a local museum that would help with your research, but is a little too expensive, your library might be able to help you out! And if you have a character who’s really into art, you could check out a piece of artwork so you can describe it accurately. Or if you’re writing a crime novel, having access to actual bones might be beneficial.

Also, keep in mind, you aren’t necessarily limited to the items in your library. I have a friend who got some very specific ink blots from a library out of state through an interlibrary loan program. If you want to know more about what your library has access to, you should definitely pay them a visit!

I hope this helps with your novel research!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your go-to source for novel research? Do you have an uncommon or overlooked source you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Stop Editing While You Write: 5 Great Writing Tips

Stop Editing While You WriteThe mantra for every writer in the first or early drafting stages should be, “I’ll fix it later.”  It can be a challenge to keep that in mind, but it’s SO important. If you’re editing while you write, you’re ultimately getting in your own way. It’s hard to edit a book in progress because you don’t really know what you have yet. You won’t know until you finish your draft. Every time you stop writing to edit, you’re putting yourself farther from the finish line.

For the purposes of this post, I’m considering “editing” to mean both fixing language/grammar/sentence structure and more substantial plot changes. Basically, anything that you might stop writing to fix.

Here are five tips to help you stop editing while you write:

1) Make a list of problems

This is something I rely heavily on. In the past, one of my biggest excuses to stop writing and edit was, “I need to fix it before I forget.” But every time I went back to fix something it kept me from moving forward. Instead, I keep a running list of problems so I know what I need to check in on later. I keep bigger, overarching issues in a page on my notebook and more scene or chapter specific issues in the notes section in Scrivener. (If you’re in Word, the comments feature can also help with this.) This way I only stop long enough to jot down some notes, then I get right back to my word count.

2) For big changes, pretend you already made them and keep writing

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re moving through your books, hitting your word count, then out of the blue, you have a revelation about your project. And it’s a MAJOR revelation. One that completely changes the direction of your story. Since this revelation is so big, it would be easy to think you need to stop writing, go back, and put the changes in before continuing. But you don’t. You need to keep moving forward. Like the point above, all you have to do is take a time out and make notes about the changes you want to make. Then you keep writing as if you’ve already made them. Save changing previous writing for after you’ve finished drafting. If you don’t, it can become a domino effect. Once you make one big change, it won’t be long until you start making others. Keep your eyes on the prize and get to the old stuff later!

3) Remind yourself that it’s supposed to be bad

It’s amazing what changing your way of thinking can do for your writing. I think one reason a lot of writers have a hard time not editing is that we get too focused on the end result. When a book’s in its early stages, it is at its worst, so it can be easy to get hung up on how bad it is. One idea that really helps me manage this is to remember that it’s supposed to be bad right now. It’s not called the writing “process” just because it sounds good. It’s actually a process. Your work needs to be bad before it can be good. So, if you’re in your first or second draft and your book is a hot mess/bad/the-worst-thing-ever-written, then CONGRATULATIONS! You’re doing a good job!! Try to remember that!

Once I got used to the idea that in early drafting bad writing=a good job, it became a lot easier to accept and move forward. For more tips on this subject area, I have a whole post on embracing imperfection in your writing.

4) Write each day’s work in a separate document

Or, you can do each chapter/scene if you’d think that’d be best. The ultimate goal here is to put less of your work on your screen at once. There are two ways this can help.

First, sometimes it can be easier to fall into editing when you get stuck drafting. And then you might think, “Well, let me go fix some of the old stuff, so at least I’m doing something.” And the next thing you know, you’re editing everything and not moving your project forward. (Or maybe this is just me?) As much as this may feel like progress, it’s not. At least, not at this stage. It’s actually keeping you from finishing your book, which is a problem.

Second, it can also be hard to move on when you feel like what you’ve written so far could be so much better. And if you’re having a hard time with Tip #3, simply taking the work off your screen might be the way to go. The less previously written work you have access to, the harder it will be to edit.

5) Write on the clock

I did a post a couple of weeks ago that touched on the benefits of writing on the clock and how I use this technique. The idea is you set a reasonable writing goal to meet in a given amount of time. As I mentioned in that post, one reason why I love this approach is that it focuses on quantity, not quality, which is important in the drafting stage. It also makes it easier to push on and get your words down without editing while you write because you simply don’t have time for anything else.

I hope this helps you stop editing while you write!

If you’re looking for more tips like this, you might want to check out this post: 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft.

Now it’s your turn: Have you caught yourself editing while you write? If you have, how do you manage it? If you haven’t, what tips can you share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Novel Revision Plan: 5 Writing Tips

How to Create A Novel Revision PlanYou finished the first draft of your novel! (Yay!!) And it’s probably a hot mess. The good news is, it’s supposed to be–so you’re doing things right! As exciting as it is to finish a draft, I know first hand how overwhelming it can be to tackle revision. Here are some tips that have helped me create quality novel revision plan time and time again.

Pick an approach

Before you get started, I suggest picking an approach for your novel revision plan. The two I’m most familiar with are chapter-by-chapter or storyline-by-storyline. (If you know of more, let me know in the comments!) I recommend deciding this up front so you can plan and take notes accordingly.

Chapter-by-Chapter

The idea of this approach is that you’ll go through the book sequentially and address all of the problems in an individual chapter at one shot. So if you realize your character is acting odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you’ll fix all of these problems in each problematic chapter before moving on to the next one. This approach will probably work better for people who prefer to multitask.

Storyline-by-storyline

If you’re less of a multitasker (like me) you might want to give this approach a try. Instead of juggling multiple problems at once, focus on one problem at a time. In this case, if you notice your character is odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you first go through the book and fix your character in every scene where he/she is off. Then you do the same thing for Storyline A, then Storyline B. I personally prefer this method, but that’s because I know it works for me. If you’ve never tried either, give them both a shot at some point to see what works best for you.

Read your book

Now that you have your approach, take a step back and see what shape your story is in. It might be tempting to start revising based on how you felt when you were writing, but this is often a bad idea. Scenes that seemed good as you were writing may need some work for one reason or another, and scenes that seemed bad at the time may be surprisingly good when you read through. I would recommend giving yourself some time off before you dive in so you can see things with fresh eyes. Shoot for at least a week if you can.

Once you start, don’t make any changes as you read–especially early in the revision process. Your goal here is to simply see what you have to work with and to identify your novel’s problems. Document problems as you go on a blank piece of paper. If you’re going chapter-by-chapter, try writing down each chapter number than listing any problems. If you’re going storyline-by-storyline, have a page for each character/storyline, then document page numbers and issues on the appropriate page. Or figure out some hybrid that works for you (if you’re going with storylines, maybe document issues by chapter then sort them by storyline later). Again, these are just some suggestions. Only you will know what works for you. Don’t be afraid to adapt these ideas as you see fit.

Here’s a post on how to identify your novel’s problems. I suggest keeping these things in mind as you read, then mentally going through each area again once you finish and have a better idea of your complete book.

Consider freewriting

Once you know what your problems are, consider taking some time to work out your solutions in an informal way. This is how I start every brainstorming and revision planning session. I’ve got a whole post with tips and the benefits of freewriting, so I’ll leave it at that for now. 🙂

Address bigger problems first

Now it’s time to actually make your novel revision plan. No matter which approach you take, I highly recommend addressing the bigger problems first. The bigger problems require the most work and are easier to manage when more of your book is movable or expendable. If you take the time to fix the smaller problems first, you may end up having to trash some of your solutions to solve your larger and more detrimental problem. And then you’ll have to go back and re-solve a problem you’ve already given time to. In some ways, being a writer is like being a doctor. If a patient comes in with multiple issues, doctors will always treat the most life-threatening problem first because it’s essential to the patient’s survival. You should treat your book the same way.  And if you do, you might even find that your smaller problems solve themselves.

Before you start revising, sit down and plan what problem, specifically, you’re going to tackle first, and exactly how you want to solve it. Then move on to your next problem. you can apply this no matter if you’re going chapter-by-chapter or storyline by storyline.

Don’t try to fix it all in one round

I know I say this a lot, but it can’t be stressed enough. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a number of problems in your book, don’t try to fix them all at once. Use this list as a guide and take them one at a time. You can always make another novel revision plan. There’s no limit to the number of revisions you can do to a book. Make it as manageable as possible and do whatever you have to in order to keep moving forward.

I hope this helps you create your own novel revision plan!

Keep in mind, these are just tips and guidelines that have worked for me. Modifying writing advice to meet your own needs and workstyle is essential to developing a happy writing life, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? Have you tried a novel revision plan before? What works well for you? What have you struggled with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Write When Your Writing Process Fails You

How to Keep Writing when Your Writing Process Fails youThis post was inspired by my latest WIP, which I really struggled with a couple of months ago. I had characters I loved and an idea I was excited about, but I had a terrible time getting everything to come together. I have a pretty reliable writing process. (You can read more about my writing process here.) I know what I need to do in order to develop a story and be an effective writer. But when it came to this project, I found myself hitting roadblock after roadblock.

I have a pretty reliable writing process. I know what I need to do in order to develop a story and be an effective writer. But when it came to this project, I found myself hitting roadblock after roadblock.

I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of finding your writing process, but let’s be real. Sometimes a project is just difficult! Pushing forward when none of your usual tricks are working can feel like an impossible hurdle to overcome. So, what do you do if you’ve found your process failing you?

I can only speak from my own experience on this, but here are a few things that helped me push on, get a draft down, and find my story when my process let me down.

Work with what you have

If you have something to work with, do your very best to move forward. Try not to focus on what you don’t know. Instead, modify your process based around what you do know.

I typically have a pretty solid idea of what my story is going to be, and I outline the whole book before I start writing. But this time, I found I only had a solid idea of the first eight or nine chapters and then a fuzzy idea of what came after. I tried to get a clear picture of the rest of the book, but it just wouldn’t surface.

Instead of waiting for the rest of the book to come to me, I decided to outline the first eight chapters and start writing. When I got to the end of those eight chapters, I figured out the next eight, which I could see a little more clearly once I’d gotten the draft started. I was able to write the entire draft in eight chapter chunks. In the end, I had a very messy draft but a complete draft nonetheless, and I learned a lot about my story while I wrote it.

Trust your writerly instincts

Most of the time, our inner writer knows what we need to do more than the brain does. Personally, I have never been one to take a brainstorming walk. I tend to get too distracted by my surroundings, and I never end up actually thinking about my story. But when I was struggling to figure this book out, I felt compelled to take a walk and brainstorm. Additionally, I randomly got a song I hadn’t heard in months stuck in my head. I soon realized it was a song that captured the feel of my book and main character perfectly. I downloaded the song and went for a walk, listening to it on repeat.

My brain told me this walk was a waste of time, but I went anyway. In the end, the combination of the music and the walk were exactly what I needed. The music helped me focus my thoughts and I wound up with three revelations that proved to be essential in moving forward. I’ve continued these walks and they’re still generating ideas for me. In fact, walking might be a good idea for you if you’re struggling to write. Studies have shown that walking can actually help us think and improve creativity.

Try to understand how this story is different from previous stories

Maybe your process is finely honed and effective, or maybe you’re still finding what works for you. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that every project has its own needs that must be honored. To accommodate those needs, you need to understand what makes your story different from the ones that came before.

This turned out to be a key for me. As much as the previous steps helped me to keep moving forward, understanding my story’s differences helped me go over the hump.

In this case, my idea came to me a little differently than it usually does. Traditionally, I start with a character, an environment, and a growth trajectory, but this time I started with a story concept–nothing else attached. It meant I needed to do more development work than I usually do, which I was prepared for. I did tons of work on the character aspect but I had inadvertently left my world underdeveloped. These development holes were my main issue. I couldn’t tell an effective story in a world I didn’t fully understand. Everything started to take better shape once I solidified these details.

Now that I understand the breakdown, I’ll know to check in on development issues next time a problem like this pops up.

I hope this helps you when you feel like your writing process is failing you.

Now it’s your turn: What do you do when your writing process fails you? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Draft Faster by Timing Your Writing: Writing Tips

Draft Better by Timing Your WritingStaying on task and motivated to write can be a struggle–especially when you’re in the thick of the drafting process. One thing that has been revolutionary for me when I draft is writing on the clock. It keeps me focused on production not quality, which is vital at this stage of a book.

I’ve seen a couple different versions of this method. The more popular one is to set a timer and commit to working non-stop until the timer goes off. You control how much time you set, but if you’re looking for a guideline, maybe start with 30 minutes. Here’s an online timer if you need one.

This approach may work for a lot of people–including you–but it wasn’t enough to keep me motivated. I needed to see some sign of success in order to keep going. I’m a goal-oriented person, so it isn’t enough for me to just have dedicated writing time. I need to be working for something. So instead of just writing with a timer, I add some word count goal-oriented checkpoints along the way. This helps me keep my draft moving.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Make a realistic estimate

First, I make sure I have enough time to meet my daily writing goal if I were to work virtually non-stop. If I don’t have enough time, I either adjust the goal or see if I can find more time later in the day. If you don’t know what’s realistic for you, you may have to set the timer and just write non-stop for half an hour to get a baseline.

This step is important! I honestly believe one of the keys to finishing any project–writing or otherwise–is to put yourself in positions where you won’t be discouraged. If you create goals that are too unrealistic for you to achieve in the time you have to work, it’s highly likely that you will get discouraged. Don’t do that to yourself. You are better off planning on taking more time to finish your book and actually finishing it, than getting overambitious, getting behind, and giving up.

Here are more tips for setting manageable goals, and why setting reasonable goals is important.

Adapt for your own writing window

Once I know how much I can accomplish in a half hour, I adapt that number to the window I have to fill. I typically write in two-to-three hour chunks. My half hour word count, when I work constantly, is about 600 words. My daily goal is typically around 2,500 words, so I know I need at least two hours to meet my goal. If I have less time, I need to consider cutting my goals back. If I have more time, I consider either cutting my time back or, if I have it in me, increasing my goal.

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is having way more time to write than you need to achieve your goals. This defeats the purpose of this approach. In my experience, it makes you more likely to take your time and maybe even wander off to the internet. The point is to stay focused, so don’t let yourself wander. Change your goals or writing window instead.

Create checkpoints within your window

I found that in order to keep my motivation up, the best thing I can do is to create checkpoints for myself throughout my window. You can create your checkpoints as frequently as you want, but I’ve found that the more frequent mine are, the more motivated and focused I am. So for me, I’m not just trying to write 600 words every half hour. I’m trying to write 100 words every five minutes.

Maybe you don’t need to break your goals down quite this much for your draft, but I find it helpful. It’s easier and less intimidating for me to think about writing 100 words every five minutes than 2,500 in two hours. It also keeps me from thinking I can spend five minutes scrolling the internet and “make it up later.” I can’t spend five minutes that way if I know I need to spend that time writing 100 words. Additionally, each time I meet a small goal it reminds me that I can do this and it fuels me to keep me going.

Learn your super-focused rate

You may not have this experience, but I found that once I learned to be regularly focused and on the clock, I could write even faster if I needed to. 600 words/half hour is my manageable goal. I know that if I work at a steady, but fairly calm rate, I can reach that goal without too much extra effort. It’s more about staying focused than anything else.

However, once I learned to stay focused, I found that if I’m really locked in and time is limited, I can write 900 words/half hour. I don’t like to do this often because I burn out, but learning to write on the clock has helped me see that I can write at this rate if I need to. It’s a nice card to have in my back pocket for days when time is tight.

Adapt as needed

Your days and life may be inconsistent at times. There may be aspects of this approach that just don’t work the way you need them to. When that happens, don’t be afraid to mix it up! See if you can nail down exactly what isn’t working and why, then modify to meet your needs. The ultimate goal is to get your closer to finishing your draft. Figuring out how you work best is a big part of making that happen! So definitely make a change if you need to.

I hope this helps you draft faster!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever tried timing your writing? Does it help? What tricks help you get a draft down? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems: Revision Tips

Revision Tips: How to Identify Your Novel's ProblemsYou finished a draft of your novel! After you take some time to fully appreciate the fact that you reached the end–which you should definitely do–it’ll be time to dive into revision. But knowing where to start can be tricky. If you’re coming off the first draft, the whole story might feel like a hot mess. If you’re coming off the third, your book may be better but still not “there” yet.

So, how do you know where to begin? Like everything else in writing, I recommend breaking things down into as many steps as possible and taking things one step at a time.

Identify what stage your book’s at

The first thing to know about revision is that you don’t have to tackle everything at once. In fact, I would recommend you don’t even attempt to. If you do, the idea of everything you have to revise might get overwhelming very quickly, and it will be all too easy to give up. Instead, consider first breaking your revision down into two stages–early stage revision and late stage revision. I tend to revise at least two drafts with the “early stage” guidelines and two drafts with the “late stage” guidelines. At this point, we’re just looking at the problems. We’ll touch on addressing them later on.

Side note: These are guidelines that have helped me, but don’t be afraid to modify this to meet your own needs!

Early stage revision – First and Second Drafts

In the early stages, it’s more important to focus on the bigger developmental issues. These are the big elements that shape and carry your book. Don’t worry about the writing itself yet. At this stage, there’s a good chance you’ll have to rewrite a lot of what you’ve already written, so worrying about the language isn’t the best use of your time. Early stage revision is more focused on story and big-picture issues.

Check your characters

Take some time to assess your characters and their development. Are the coming across how you want them too? Do your main and secondary characters appear in the story with some level of consistency? Do all of them serve a purpose? If not, are there characters you can cut? Does each character have some kind of development? Do their actions and reactions line up with who they are and with their overall growth?

Check your plot/storylines

Next, consider your main plot and storylines. Does your overall plot have crisis points or rising actions that consistently build to the climax? Does the middle drag? Is your plot too front-loaded or back-loaded? Do you have storylines that get dropped halfway through the book? Are there storylines that are imbalanced or inconsistent? Are there storylines that are so small or confusing that your book might be better off without them? Is there something missing from your book that adding another storyline might explain? Do the events in each of your plotlines make logical sense? Does every scene play a role in your plot?

Check your setting/world

Now assess the world your characters are living in. Is there a good understanding of the “rules” of this world? Can readers find their way around? Is there a good grasp of the culture and problems? If there’s magic, are the rules clearly explained? If you changed history in our world, are the changes clear? If you created the world, is it fully developed? This section will probably be more important if your sci-fi or fantasy writers who developed your story’s world, but elements of this will probably apply to every writer on some level.

Late stage revision – Third and Fourth Drafts (and up)

Once you feel good about the bigger elements of your book, it’s time to take a closer look at the smaller ones. Late stage revision focuses on your book’s detail and language issues.

Check in with early stage issues

You probably made some big story changes in the earlier stages, so take a second to check back in with them and make sure everything still lines up and makes sense. If it doesn’t, I suggest fixing those elements and making sure you’re happy with the story itself before you move on.

Check believability

Now that the story is set, take a look at how believable the situations are. Do you rely on coincidence too much? Is there a reason for your characters to be acting as they are? Do things happen ‘just because you want them to’ too frequently? (This is something I’m super guilty of…)

Check your facts

If you set this story in the real world, make sure you double check all of the real world facts and situations you put your characters in. Is it possible for your characters to get from Point A to Point B in the time you say they do? If the locations your characters visit are real, do you have the details correct? If you’re writing about a culture or situation you haven’t experienced first hand, are you getting those details right?

If you set your story in a world you made up, are your details consistent? Are you following the rules you set for your world? Are you sticking with the ‘facts’ you established for yourself and your world?

It can be hard to get everything 100% correct and accurate, but you should do your very best to try.

Check your writing (aka editing)

Once you finish rewriting and making changes, and have all of the details in your story in place, you can finally worry about your word choice, grammar, and sentence structure. I highly recommend not worrying about this until the last step. This way, you won’t waste time polishing something you end up trashing or rewriting.

Implementing the changes

As you go through each section, make a list of the problems in your book, then go back through your story and tackle them one problem at a time. You might want to start with a free write or brainstorm before you start writing out the changes. I’m planning on doing a full post on how to make a revision plan, so keep an eye out for that if this is something you’re interested in hearing more about!

I hope this helps take the pressure off revision!

Keep in mind, that these are just some tips that I’ve found helpful. Play around with them. Don’t be afraid to change them up and make them your own! And if you’re wondering how to tell if your book is finished, check out this post!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? What works really well for you? What do you struggle with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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6 Awesome Writing Tips for Finishing Your First Draft

Six Tips for Finishing Your First DraftEvery part of the writing process has its own challenges, but when it comes to a first draft, finishing is often the biggest challenge. First drafts are the worst your book will ever be and sometimes it can be difficult to push through terrible writing and plot problems to make it to the end. However, I’ve found that with the right approach, you can push through and maybe even have some fun. Or at the very least, you may not completely hate the experience.

Here are six tips to help you push on and finish your first draft as painlessly as possible.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

1) Take time to figure out how you draft best

I strongly believe that one of the keys to a happy writing life is figuring out your writing process. One step to cracking that code is uncovering out how you draft.

There tends to be two main approaches to drafting: planning and pantsing (as in, you fly by the seat of your pants). If you’ve only ever done one of these before, I encourage you to try the other. I think sometimes it can be really easy to get stuck in the approach you first learned or first tried. And while yes, that may very well be the approach that works best for you, I think it’s important to try both so you know for sure.

The first time I drafted a book I planned. I did this in part because I’d heard that’s what my favorite author did it and in part because it just seemed like a good idea. It worked for me and finished the draft like that. I also wrote my second book the same way. When I got to grad school, one of my first classes involved drafting a book in a semester. We used NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! as our guide. Baty challenges writers not to plan their books before coming in. I had never written that way, but I gave it a try. Halfway through the semester I broke down and started planning because not planning was painful for me. But I’m glad I tried it. I learned I am most definitely a planner and knowing that shaped not only my drafting but also my revision and editing process.

So, give both approaches a shot. If you hate it and it’s painful, then, by all means, switch back. But it’s worth at least trying the opposite approach so you can know for sure what’s best for you.

2) Turn off your inner editor

This is another concept preached by No Plot? Not Problem. It can be the hardest to get past, but I found it to be crucial. For me, part of this was also accepting that there would be problems I could not fix and questions I didn’t know the answers to. Once I did, it completely opened up my drafting. If I couldn’t fix these problems or answer these questions, it meant I didn’t have to try. That freed up brainpower to focus on what I did know and gave me a roadmap for what I’d have to fix in revision. I found I was able to draft much more quickly and I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the process.

Like I said, I know getting to this place can be hard. If it helps, try thinking of your first draft as an extended brainstorm instead of a “draft”. The point isn’t to write well. It’s to discover the story. You don’t need to answer questions or fix problems. You need to learn what the questions and problems are. The flaws need to exist in their entirety so you can fully understand them. In fact, your story needs you to write a bad first draft so you can learn what your story needs to be a killer polished draft down the line. So if you think about it, trying to write a “good” first draft is actually a disservice to your story. Why would you want to hurt your story like that? 😉

3) Set manageable goals

I think one reason writers end up getting discouraged is that they set their writing goals too high. This usually comes in the form of a high page count, high word count, or planning an unrealistic amount of writing time. If you continually fail to meet your goals, it can be easy to feel like you’re “bad” at this and give up. In actuality, you may have just set bad goals. Instead, take a look at the amount of time you can feasibly dedicate to writing, and consider how much writing you can reasonably accomplish in that time. It’s okay if that number is small and it takes you a long time to finish a draft. The key is to set daily goals you can actually meet and keep show up until you reach “The End”.

If you’d like to know more about this, I did a whole post on How to Set Manageable Writing Goals.

4) Show up on a regular basis and protect your writing time

Consistency is key. Maybe you can’t write every day. Or maybe you can. It’s up to you to decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to writing, but make sure you can put that time inconsistently. The person who writes 500 words on a regular basis will finish their draft–regardless of how long it takes. The person who writes 5,000 words from time-to-time/whenever they can fit it in, most likely will not. Set time aside for your story. Even if it’s only 15 minutes every other day.

Now, once you set that time aside, protect it. People will ask to do things or go places with them. They will ask you for favors. Learning to say “no” is important (Find some tips here.). It might be easy to think of your writing time as “free time,” but it’s not. It’s time for your story, which is something you care about. Don’t undervalue yourself or your story by saying yes to others just because their needs seem more legitimate. If you don’t consider your story legitimate enough to prioritize, who else will? You can’t finish your draft if you don’t give yourself the time to get it done.

5) Only share with understanding and supportive people

I know there are a lot of writer’s out there who don’t share their work with anyone until it is absolutely polished and perfect. Personally, I find sharing as I move through the entire process to be invaluable. But I don’t think that means you should share with just anyone. The quickest way to kill your aspirations is to talk about your project with people who either don’t get it or don’t believe in you. Any idea in the drafting stage is still new and undeveloped. If you share it with the wrong person and they poke holes and point out problems, it can be hard to push on. When an idea is this new, you don’t need to hear what’s wrong with it. You need to hear about its potential. Only discuss your story with those who can see what your story could be.

6) Don’t use being “too busy” as an excuse not to write

If you’re constantly looking for a large stretch of time to sit down and really dig into your draft, you may never make it to the end. Even if you come up with that time, you might also find that it’s easy to either procrastinate or overthink under those circumstances. Instead, write when you’re busy and try to use it to your advantage.

This is another point Baty argues. He says that you will write faster and have an easier time turning off your inner editor if you write when you’re short on time. I have found this to be absolutely true. When I have a busier day, it means my writing time is limited. That also means that I have a very small window to be productive. I don’t have a minute of that window to waste if I have any hope of reaching my goals. Because of that, I don’t have time to overthink or second guess. I just have to GO. Typically, I plan two to three hours a day to write. But when I have to, I can do the same work in an hour and ten minutes. Sometimes even faster.

When it comes to drafting, productivity and output are more important than quality. Working when you’re limited on time forces you to focus on that.

Recommended Reading:

I’ve mentioned No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty a few times in this post. If you’re struggling with drafting, I highly recommend giving this book a read. Thanks to this book, I totally changed how I approached my drafts and it made the process so much more fun.

I hope you’ve found something in here that helps you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: What tricks have helped you draft? What’s been a drafting struggle? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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