Posts Tagged warrior-writer
Photo via Happy Housewives Club, which is a FANTASTIC site, btw.
I have always struggled with organization, and frankly, if don’t make a list, I will be sorting baby pictures or writing out greeting cards in three minutes flat. I’ve always been envious of people who run their homes with military efficiency. You know the people I am talking about; those folk who aren’t afraid of their closets and actually know what is in every drawer. Show-offs .
Yet, I have to say that just because something is our nature doesn’t mean that we are to be a victim to our innate shortcomings. In fact, Bob Mayer gave a really interesting exercise in his Warrior Writer Workshop. He said to look at your Myers-Briggs personality…then look at the opposite of your personality, and likely that is the area you need the most work. I am going to take it a step farther. I believe that the opposite of our personality could be what keeps us from ever enjoying great success.
More on this in a second…
One of my all-time favorite books is Eat That Frog—21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey. In Eat That Frog, Tracey gives an interesting rule.
Rule: Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
Tracey advises that you sit down and write out all that is required for you to do your job. We’ll take five for our purposes today. As a writer I must:
- Have a good imagination
- A solid command of grammar
- Possess a modicum of talent when it comes to writing prose
- Have the self-discipline to write
- Possess superior organizational ability
When it comes to the first four, I totally ROCK….and then we get to that last part *winces.* Superior organization? Oh yeah.
First of all, even when you write non-fiction, information needs to flow in an optimal way or it won’t be enjoyable reading. I just turned in my new book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and one of the largest challenges was taking all these lessons from my blog and making them flow like a book…62,000 words of seamless lessons.
Eep! Yeah, it was tough, but after 42 versions and a lot of alcohol, chocolate and crying, I got there.
Same thing applies to fiction. If we hope to be a successful novelist, we have to be masters at organization. We have to balance narrative plot points, character arcs, POV, setting, dialogue and keep everything straight and give it perfect timing. The greatest part of dramatic tension is relaying the right piece of information at the right time. We have to manage all these components over the span of 60-110,000 words. This is one of the reasons many aspiring novelists never get beyond the “aspiring” part. They believe that the talent to manage all of this information is something writers are born with, when in fact it is a skill that 99% of the time must be taught, and then refined with a lot of trial, error and shots of tequila.
Writing a novel is an entirely different creature, yet many new writers mistakenly believe that they can jump from short story to novel with no problem. Sure. That is like creating a three-bar melody and then believing we are ready to compose a symphony with a 100 piece orchestra.
And, if I look at where I have had the largest struggles when it comes to writing…it has always been in my ability to organize (or lack of ability as the case may be).
Ah, but if we look at my Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP, which means I am highly skilled at concepts and BIG ideas…but I fall apart when it comes to execution because I have a hard time managing the details. If we look at the opposite of my personality we get…my husband. Seriously, there should be a picture of my husband below the ISTJ.
Tigger married Spock.
ENFP (The Inspirer)——ISTJ (The Duty Fulfiller)
“Kristen, you are being illogical.”
I have creativity, imagination and enough energy to power a small city, but it is clear where I fall abysmally short. Ah, the devil is in the details.
I think this Myers Briggs test is a great exercise for getting a clear idea of what specifically is in our nature that needs to be addressed. But I want to take it a step farther.
In Eat That Frog, Tracey also introduces the Pareto Principle. In 1895, economist Vincent Pareto noticed that society seemed to naturally divide into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” 20% of the population had all the wealth power and influence and the bottom 80% got whatever was left. He later discovered that this principle held true in all economic activity.
In short, 20% of our activity will account for 80% of our results.
This means that if we have a list of ten things to do, TWO of those items will be worth as much if not more than the other eight combined. But can you guess which items we are most likely to procrastinate on doing? Right. The two activities that could make the most difference. We are also most likely to procrastinate where we are weak.
Can you guess where I procrastinate? Yep, any activity that requires organizational skills. Whether it is plotting my novel or filing invoices, I do everything I can to get out of doing the chores that require I operate where I am weak. Yet, remember the rule I began with?
Your weakest key area sets the height at which you can use all your other skills and abilities.
This rule basically says that if I do not figure out a way to mitigate or correct my greatest weakness, that it will always be my single greatest limiting factor.
So what can we do?
First, buy a copy of Eat That Frog. LOVE this book and use its principles to get A LOT of work done. See, knowledge is power and once we become aware of our limiting factors, then we can take action. We aren’t at the mercy of our nature.
As far as time-management, I know organization will never come natural to me, but it does come naturally to my mother, my sister-in-law, and my husband. When I need a system worked out for me, I have learned that I don’t have to do everything. I can delegate. GASP! I know! Cool, right? Of course, delegating isn’t one of those things I do well, naturally either, so I have to surround myself with friends who will yell at me if I fail to delegate properly. Hi, Piper! Hi, Cid!
I also make lists every day and no longer try to just “keep it in my head.” I then look at that list and whatever item makes me cringe when I read it (FROGS)? That is what I do first. Remember, 20% of our activity is going to account for 80% of our results.
When I tackle the toughest items first, I actually get more accomplished overall.
When we do the toughest jobs first, we get an endorphin rush from the sense of accomplishment. Also, since our toughest jobs are out of the way, the other “less important” chores go faster since we aren’t dragging our feet dreading the FROGS.
And how does this apply to writing? Well, I know that my prose is strong and I suffer no lack of imagination, BUT I do not naturally plot well. I used to get lost in the details and had a tough time keeping everything straight. This is why most of the writing books I now buy have to do with various ways to plot. Instead of reading book after book studying my strengths (dialogue), I now focus on my weakness, because that area will be my limiting factor if left unadressed. I also know that my writing will be faster and clearner and require fewer revisions if I can strengthen this weak area. What is your weak writing area? Work on that FIRST.
So what are some issues you guys struggle with and how do you deal with them? Any books or resources you can recommend? Are you a master at organization and maybe can offer tips? Or, are you like me? A junk drawer junkie? How do you overcome the clutter?
I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.
This Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique–Irene Vernadis
Happy Easter and happy writing!
Until next time….
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.
Many of you reading this blog aspire to be professional authors, and that is a fantastic goal. I blog three times a week to help you guys reach that goal and far sooner than you imagined. Writing can be the best job in the world, but I feel too many beginners glamourize the profession and fail to get the proper emotional preparation before traipsing off to battle. That is a formula to get creamed. So, today I am going to give you some perspective and tools to be successful.
Becoming a professional writer isn’t all rainbow and unicorns. Let’s face it. Many of us are screwed from the beginning. We have our basic personality working against us. What do I mean? To put it bluntly? Writing is a vortex of flakes. We creative people are not usually known for our self-discipline. I’ve been there. I don’t know about you guys, but I am a notorious procrastinator. I was once the High Queen of Do-It-Later Land, a sorrowful place of forgotten Post-It Notes, where the roads are paved with shiny good intentions.
What I have observed over the years is that very often, the personalities that are the most creative, also tend to be free-spirits who flutter around like fruit flies with severe ADD high off a case of Red Bull. Now, we are great at being creative, but unless it’s channeled and focused, creativity just looks like that kid who likes to run head-first into a wall over and over while giggling. Thus, it is easy to see why people might roll their eyes the day we announce we want to be a writer.
Writing is a very emotional business, and to write well, we must reach into the deepest parts of our being…and then place them out for public display. After running countless critique groups and helping hundreds of writers, I will share some advice that will help you reach your dreams. We will resume talking about craft next week. But all the craft classes in the world will not benefit you if your heart and mind aren’t in the correct place.
Persistence can look a lot like Stupid
Oh Twitter. It is so fun to watch all these writing quotes float by. One of the favorites of the newbie writer (Yes, it was mine too ) is You know what you call the writer who never gives up? Published. I have no idea who said that, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great quote. But, it really kind of needs a caveat, because persistence can look a lot like stupid.
My goal can be to climb Mt. Everest, but if I am on Mt. Shasta then I am not persistent, I am a moron.
You are on the wrong mountain!
Can’t hear you! I’m climbing! Never give up!
But you are on the wrong mountain you idiot!
What??? You’re just a dream-stealer! My motivational coach said you would try to stop me! I’m climbing! Never give up!
I teach at a lot of conferences, and every year I see the same writers shopping the same novel that has been rejected time and time and time again. These writers show year after year spending good money, believing that they just haven’t found the right agent who will see the beauty in their vampire-mystery-romance-YA-horror-memoir. It is as if they are stuck in a feedback loop. They can’t move on until this book gets an agent. They believe that if they don’t get an agent for this book, then they are a failure. No!
I have been there. I shopped my first novel for three years then woke up one day and realized I was swimming against the current carrying a corpse. When you make a decision to become a writer, you will be swimming against the current. People are fascinated by people who dare to dream and do great things. But….deep down, while they admire them, they also resent them.
Do not expect your family to embrace your decision. In fact, expect them to believe your writing group is really a cult (see Writer Reality Check). So expect to be swimming upstream, which is a heck of a lot harder to do carrying dead weight. If your book is being rejected time and time and time again, move on. Maybe you will grow enough to fix that first novel at a later time. Or, maybe you will take it for what it is…a learning experience. Always be moving forward.
Persistence is a noble trait; tunnel-vision is not. Be persistent. Read more books on the craft. Sign up for on-line workshops. Read…a lot. Be persistent the right way and the payoff will eventually come.
Learn to Fail Forward
One of the biggest frustrations I have with writers is their attitude toward failure. I think we like being tragic. Goes with our artsy side.
Hand over the beret. Give. This is for your own good.
Learn to have a healthy relationship with failure. One of my favorite books is Failing Forward by John Maxwell. I highly recommend everyone to read it. This book changed my life.
I used to have constant panic attacks. I was absolutely paralyzed by fear. All I could see was what I hadn’t accomplished. I magnified my failures and minimized my progress. Instead of looking forward, I was always looking over my shoulder to the past, crying over the broken dreams and what ifs? That is a load of crap.
Want to know the difference between winners and losers? There are 2 critical differences.
1) Winners have a healthy relationship with failure. Losers cry and whine and self-flagellate when they fail to meet the mark. Their focus is always on failure so that’s where they stay. Winners, however, look at failure as a stepping stone. They land on their tush and scratch their head and ask critical questions.
Why didn’t this work?
What went wrong?
At what point did my plan go south?
What can I do differently next time?
Do I need to adjust my goals?
All through the month of November I kept my eyes on the #nanowrimo hash tag column. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, a # symbol will put you in a group bound by that topic. Time after time I wanted to scream as writers posted crap like this:
My goal was 1000 words today. Only wrote 300. #nanowrimo #epicfail
I saw that stupid #epicfail over and over and over. Now how do you think the Epic Fail group fared for National Novel Writing Month?
But, I also saw tweets like this:
My goal was 1000. Only made 500. Hey, 500 more than I had. Will start earlier tomorrow. #nanowrimo
Which writer do you feel will have a better chance at success?
Hear me now—Where the mind goes, the man follows.
If our mind is always on our failure and where we blew it, then that is where we will go. But here is the thing, we are in control. We are the boss.
I’m going to give you guys a great tactic to keep your mind on the positive. I want you guys to picture a monster crouched in your soul. Every time you beat yourself up, call yourself names, whine about how life isn’t fair…you feed it. As you feed this monster, he grows larger and larger and hungrier and more demanding.
How do you kill him? You can’t. We are human and he is a part of us. We can’t kill him, but we sure as hell can weaken him. How?
We starve him.
Every time you go to open your mouth and gripe about some way you failed to make the mark, stop yourself. Take a breath and rephrase in the positive.
I didn’t make my goal of 1000 words…..BUT I did write 300 and that is 300 words in the right direction. Every day I am getting better and better. I’m not where I want to be, but I am not where I was.
Starve that monster in your soul and he will get skinnier and smaller and weaker. Eventually he will be starved long enough that he will lose his appetite, and you will be a happier, more optimistic person for it.
2) Winners have an internal locus of control.
Your locus of focus is very important. People with an external locus of focus believe other people or things hold all the power to their lives.
Well if my family would just take me seriously, then I know I would write more.
If I just had a better computer, then I’d write more.
If I just had quiet time, then I would be more productive.
IF we want to be winners, our goal is to maintain an internal locus of focus. We are in control of all things. We cannot control others. We cannot control events. The only thing under our power is our attitude and how we react to other people, events, and circumstances.
Well, my family thinks I’m a nut. I hope that changes. The only thing I can do is work hard and maybe one day my work ethic and commitment will change their opinions.
This old laptop crashes every other time I use it. What can I do to get a new one? In the meantime, maybe I can borrow one, or go to the library, or even write long-hand. It isn’t ideal, but Shakespeare didn’t have a Mac. I can do this.
I know I need quiet time to be productive. Can I stay up later? Get up earlier? Either I need to actively seek quiet time, or I will just have to be happy with a lower level of productivity. At least I am being fruitful with my time.
Be the captain of your own ship; the master of your soul (Invictus). No one is control of your destiny but you, and you have a lot more power than you believe.
Face Your Fears
I owe my friend and mentor Bob Mayer a lot, but the biggest lesson he taught me was to learn to face my fear. Do what is counterintuitive. I know that if I start feeling a flutter in my gut, then I am likely on the right path. The best writing in you lies behind your greatest fears. Think of it this way. Just expect a dragon to be guarding the cavern of treasure. In fact, the bigger the treasure, the bigger the beast standing sentinel.
Courage is not being without fear.
Courage is feeling fear, but then doing it anyway.
Only idiots and sociopaths are devoid of fear. Fear is your friend. Fear is like a water witch guiding you to your greatest reservoirs of creativity and strength. When you feel fear, keep going. Likely you’re onto something. No one ever accomplished anything great staying in the comfort zone.
I hope you guys feel fired up, and that you’re ready to take on 2011. I’ll be here to help you every step of the way. So what are your biggest challenges? Any advice? Suggestions? Do you see fear differently? Do you feel more hopeful? What are your deepest fears? Toss them out there. Sometimes the monster in the closet is only a coat when you turn the light on .
Until next time…
Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books. Put that gift card you got for Christmas to good use.
Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.
So this is the year. You are finally going to do it. You’re going to write a…no, you are going to finish that novel. How many of you have a bazillion ideas whirling around your gray matter at all times? How many of you have at least a half a bazillion ideas started and left unfinished? They are lurking in your documents, smoking and picking on the short stories. Maybe even writing gang tags on your recycle bin. The Unfinished are a miserable lot. Their lives began with such hope and promise, but then they were abandoned without so much as a good-bye. We are their deadbeat parents, promising that this weekend we’re going to spend quality time with them. But, we don’t. Why? Most of us are skilled at making babies, but we fail big time when it comes to being good parents capable of nurturing an embryonic idea to a successful novel.
Like “parenting,” we writers need to learn certain skills and gain good habits. We aren’t magically mystically born knowing this stuff. This is why I get such a bee in my bonnet when writers won’t say with pride, “I am a writer.” No aspiring. Aspiring writers aren’t responsible parents. They are the “Deadbeat Book-Daddy” of the writing world. They hang out with their writing when it is convenient and fun, and fail to stick it through when stuff gets hard. They don’t invest time, money, and resources into nurturing their work and maturing it into something they can be proud of and brag about.
My novel graduated today. She will be published this summer. Oh, I never thought I would see that day. *sniff, sniff*
And I am not busting your chops. I have a fair amount of Unfinished lurking in my computer too. They hang out with the spam cookies and send me e-mail about my inheritance in Ghana. But, I love them. They are mine. Some will one day be able to go to reform school. Others? Yeah…..we just won’t talk about them. They drool and say Baby Ruth a lot.
No one is going to fault any of us for making bad babies in our ignorance. My blog lessons, however, are here to educate you about how to take an idea and then lay a plan to grow it into a thing of beauty.
We have spent two months talking about structure. If you are new to the blog and want to write a novel, I highly recommend you go back and read the Structure Series so you have the tools to sally forth with the rest of the class.
Part of why ideas get started then abandoned is that writers really don’t get instruction about how to do this novel-writing thing. We believe we are born to write and for some reason that we should already know what we are doing. In our pride, we take off writing, then wake up one day and realize that we have painted ourselves into a corner. This is the point where most of us will do one of two things. Some of us will just give up and wait for the Inspiration Fairy to visit us in our dreams with all the answers. Others of us (yes, I have done both) will at this point (normally 30,000 words in) whip out the Literary Bond-O putty and slather that crap on until we have a “finished” novel that is so complex we don’t even understand it. Why? Because we had to create a secret government conspiracy, an evil twin for our evil twin and a rip in the space-time continuum all to explain why our protag wasn’t where she needed to be on page 100.
Here is the blunt truth. You need to be taught your craft. We all do. People with natural musical ability don’t feel they are “cheating” if they learn how to read music or take voice coaching. And I know all your family will believe that writing is easy, because, yes, even a chimpanzee can make a sentence.
All right. Enough of that.
So, no more Deadbeat Book-Daddy, and hello Responsible Writer Parent. Today we are going to talk about ways your novel can be hijacked, despite your best intentions. Many of you, in an effort to be a Responsible Novel Parent will go out and join a critique group. Excellent…but beware. I am going to explain how traditional critique groups can hijack your dream of being a novelist. But, I will also tell you how to side-step these problems and use the critique group to its maximum advantage.
This is my opinion, so take it for what it is. I’m right –ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Seriously. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose. When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for publication in New York.
In a good traditional critique group you will learn that POV does not mean Prisoners of Vietnam. You will learn to spot passive voice. You will hopefully learn self-discipline in that you need to attend regularly and contribute. You will forge friendships and a support network.
The problem with traditional critique groups is that they lack the ability to properly judge the quality of a novel. Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults.
Traditional critique groups can hurt you in the following ways.
Get you in a habit of over-explaining—In a traditional critique group, those sitting at the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Cassandra end up in a meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.” Well, duh, of course they are lost. They have missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Your job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections your critique group can follow.
Book-by-Committee—Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a book-by-committee, also known as Franken-novel.
False sense of security—We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many traditionally published authors has the group produced? I’m not picking on self-publishing, but self-publishing doesn’t have the same rigorous peer review. How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond our group for additional critique.
Also make sure this group is producing successful novelists. I began Warrior Writer Boot Camp because my old group of six years produced many successful articles, short stories and NF, but they had never produced a successfully published novel. I knew I had to create a different critique format capable of critiquing a leviathan work of 100,000 words.
Some writers naturally understand structure, and so they do fine in the traditional setting. I didn’t naturally understand structure, and my novel ended up on so many bunny trails I needed a pack of plot-sniffing dogs and a GPS to find my original idea. If you are the same, then make sure you take traditional critique for what it is…critique of prose. You might need to find or start another group on your own dedicated to looking at the big picture.
Or…be creative. If you can’t go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you.
Modify the content you bring to critique. Instead of bringing the first fifteen pages of your novel, write a fifteen page synopsis based off what you did when you were plotting with the index cards (discussed last week). Every scene card had a one-sentence summary, so writing a synopsis now should be a piece of cake. Write your one-sentence log-line at the top so they can critique that too, and also so they can make sure your synopsis supports the log-line.
Let your brilliant writer friends chime in on what they think of your story as a whole. Is it contrived? Is it convoluted? Boring? Does this synopsis sound like a book they are dying to read? Can they tell who the antagonist is? Is your antagonist dumb or the stuff of greatness?
Once you have your novel as a whole critiqued, take it to the next step. The next week take Act One and write a fifteen page synopsis of what happens in Act One. Get critique. Clean it up. Then, take Act Two and Act Three and do the same. Write fifteen page synopses about what happens in each act. Then take it to the next step. Break your act into scenes and write a summary of what happens in each scene.
This way you are cleaning up your concept. You are going beyond the prose. Your fellow writers NOW can help you by brainstorming better ways to build your mousetrap. They can offer insight into how to fix the idea before you invest the next year writing a book that is doomed from day one because the original idea needed to be fortified before it could support 60-100,000 words.
Once you have solid critique on all these summaries, take off and write that novel. Now it will be way easier because you know where you are going. Also, because your writer friends helped in the planning phase, they will be better trained to see flaws once they critique your final product. They will know why Cassandra is in the meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw.
I am going to warn you. This method will test your mettle. In traditional critique, we can hide behind our pretty prose. Concept Critique means laying our baby out there bare bones, warts and all. This will show you why you are in a writing group. Is it because you really want to succeed at this writing thing? Or, are you like me? I wrote really awesome prose and I got to hear every week how wonderful I was (even though the big picture was fatally flawed). I had to check my ego at the door when I started WWBC. Now I couldn’t hide. My ideas and story took a beating…but produced a final synopsis/outline that was brilliant (mostly because of my brilliant writer peers).
Being a Responsible Novel Parent can be tough on the ego. We have to face up to our “kid’s” problems and then look for ways to fix them. This means admitting we don’t know everything and being humble enough to look for genuine outside help. Does our “kid” have Novel ADD and go off on a zillion bunny trails? Does our “kid” have Story Autism? It’s in its own little world and not connecting with outsiders? Novel Development Issues are not a sentence for our “kid” to be one of “The Unfinished.” Concept Critique will help diagnose these developmental issues, and then give you ways to solve them so your novel can have an excellent life and be a “kid” any writer parent would be proud to claim…and brag about…a lot.
What are your biggest “Novel Parenting” issues? Problems? Concerns? What do you feel about critique groups? Are they helpful or do more harm than good? Do you guys have ideas for other ways you could re-tool a traditional critique group to be able to better see the big picture? I love hearing from you guys.
Until next time…
Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books. Put that gift card you got for Christmas to good use, .
Sorry for the delay in posting, but have been very busy with writing jobs, which is a good thing.
The topic for today is an interesting one and even possibly controversial. Editing is great, but it can KILL a novel. If you are hoping to either one day be published or even write that break-out novel, you could be your own worst enemy.
Some of you reading this may be on Twitter, and if you are, there is a hash tag group called #writegoal (the brainchild of talented romance author Anna DeStefano http://www.annawrites.com). Definitely worth following and even joining. The purpose of #writegoal is to inspire and to create a system of accountability. Other writers will cheer on people they have never met, and there is something oddly convicting about posting “Goal today is 500 words.” There are no writing police to drag you away if you fail to meet those 500 words. Yet, those who participate feel they must at least give it the good college try in order to appease the group. But, I digress. Accountability is important, but a topic for another day.
I keep tabs on #writegoal, and #amwriting and even on MySpace and FB groups. One consistent post I see looks like this. “Looked at the pages I wrote last week and now editing. What crap”…or something to that effect.
Editing can be CANCER to a novel. Yes, editing can be devastating to shorter works, but doesn’t have quite the killing power it possesses when introduced into longer works. In a novel that can span anywhere from 80-120,000 words (depending on genre), editing can be catastrophic if done at the wrong phase.
Think of it this way. Driving is great. It gets us from point A to point B much quicker, and we do not know what life would be like without our cars. Yet, do we hand car keys to an eight year old? NO! Why? Because that child needs to develop into at least pre-adult (known as an adolescent) to be handed a two-ton piece of metal and fiberglass. Is it because we sit up at night thinking of ways to make the lives of our eight year old children miserable and that we take sick joy in depriving them of fun activities like driving? Um, no. As older wiser adults, we know the child doesn’t have the height, motor skills, and cognitive development to take on such a task without possibly fatal results.
Yet we edit novels three chapters in? No!!!!! Can you edit a novel this early? Sure. But just like handing an eight year old car keys, prepare to endure some consequences.
In my opinion, a novel has not developed enough to sustain any reasonable edit until at least the first draft. Your first draft is essentially your fifteen year old who can now go to Driver’s Ed.
Some of you might be screaming right now. “Kristen! What do you mean? Are you mad? Are you suggesting I leave a document rife with spelling errors and grammatical flaws just lying around?”
Yes. Yes, I am. You will thank me later.
If you are writing a novel, you need to leave any kind of edit for once you have finished the entire first draft. Breathe. Get a paper bag. You will be okay. Just trust me.
Now is it okay to reread what you have written in order to get grounded? Sure. And when you reread, it is even okay to make notes of things you believe at the time should be fixed or even expounded. But don’t you dare hit that backspace button! Nothing gets deleted. Period. Feel free to highlight. Make a note that you believe something should be taken out at a later time, but leave it be. Also, anything you decide needs to be added needs to be written in any color other than your main document. Red, purple, blue. Doesn’t matter. Just make it a different color.
Also, if you take part of your novel to a writing critique group before you are finished with the first draft, then you are taking a HUGE risk.
But, if you choose to do so, I recommend that you still follow my rules of editing. Any changes or suggestions need to be inserted in the form of notes (highlight possible deletions and make a notes as to why this section needed a change). Any additions need to be in another color…then sally forth.
Don’t look back, or you will turn into a pillar or unfinished novels.
Premature editing is very dangerous for three reasons:
1. Uproots Subconscious Seeds—Your subconscious mind is an amazing machine. It sees the big picture in ways the conscious mind cannot. As you write, your subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will likely seem to make no sense. Duh. That is like an acorn trying to envision life as a 100 foot tall oak tree. These seeds need time to gestate. When you edit prematurely, all you see is a hunk of something smooshy. You don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to take root in the fertile soil of your story. By editing too early, you can possibly cripple your novel. By the end of the first draft, however, you will be able to look back and see sprouted weeds, which you can feel free to uproot. But the sprouts will be mature enough to distinguish from seedlings that need to be nurtured to their full potential.
2. Makes us Mistake Busy Work for Real Work—Premature editing indulges our fears. Many times writers do not continue forward due to subconscious fear. Deep down we might know our original idea is flawed, or not strong enough, or convoluted, or unclear. We may know that we don’t have a solid outline or framework to support a 100K words. We may realize our characters have problems, but it is going to take work and honesty to fix them. Or all of that might be just fine, but we fear failure or even success. We fear writing the gritty stuff because it leaves us exposed and vulnerable, or we fear writing real conflict because our human nature is to avoid it. Premature editing gives us a false belief that we are being productive, when in fact it is sabotaging our work and reinforcing our fears by permitting us to procrastinate. Fears can only be conquered by facing them, and premature editing keeps us “busy” and gives us justification to stay mired.
***This is one of the reasons I started Warrior Writer Boot Camp, based off Bob Mayer’s teachings about fear. I felt that, for many, the traditional critique group of piecemeal edit kept writers from facing and really working on the real weaknesses.
3. Premature Edit Can Discourage and Keep a Writer from Finishing—This is another reason that traditional critique groups can be counter-productive. Other writers are seeing your work in a microcosm, and that limits how well they can critique. This is why I suggest using the techniques we discussed earlier. Just make notes. Your fellow writers are invaluable, but you have to appreciate that they are seeing your work from a limited point of view. Their opinions may be dead-on (We HATE your protagonist and hope he dies), but they could be far off-base and serve only to uproot those subconscious seeds we discussed.
If you continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or your own self-edit, what happens is that you KILL your forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing machete. Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.
Now I know all of you care about your work, and you desire to put your best foot forward. If that means waiting a few months before you bring anything to read at your critique group, then so be it. Mark my words. It will take a lot of self-restraint NOT to go back through your writing with pruning shears after a hard critique.
But writing a novel is like planting a field of green growing things that will eventually bear fruit. If in the beginning, you can envision the magnificent rows ready for harvest, then it is easier to be encouraged and to refrain from digging up the seeds and starting over.
Good luck and happy writing!
Until next time…
Here are some resources to empower you on your journey to successful published author:
I highly recommend Candace Havens website. Candace often runs on-line writing workshops with Rosemary Clements-Moore that teaches Fast Draft techniques.
As always, I recommend, Bob’s Novel Writers Toolkit as a foundational text to learn how to write a novel and also suggest Who Dares Wins as a fantastic book that teaches how to address and conquer fear. Bob also runs the Warrior Writer Workshop, designed to develop amateur writers into professional authors. Bob now offers the course on-line for greater convenience.
Writing a novel? Welcome to hell. It will tear your soul apart.
Just kidding (not really).
After almost a decade in the business, I must attest that fiction is the toughest form of writing. It’s like trying to create and conduct a symphony with only black letters on a white page. So many things have to be balanced perfectly so as not to provide a natural spot for a big fat bookmark. The author must first have a hook that makes the reader want more, and then create a protagonist who possesses a story-worthy problem that makes us desire to spend the next 80-100,000 words giving a crap…without tipping over in the TDTL category (Too Dumb to Live). On top of that, there is pace, tone, POV, characterization, etc. It can be a dizzying experience that can frustrate even the most highly motivated.
Back last summer, I had the privilege of attending the first Warrior Writer Workshop by NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer (Bob just released a Warrior Writer book, by the way–more on that later). Anyway, several of my writers from my Fort Worth critique group also attended this landmark event. We realized after day one with Bob that we needed to make a serious change to the way we were approaching critique. Truthfully, we’d known it for a couple of years, just didn’t really have a solid idea how to change things. Bob’s Warrior Writer gave us the answer.
For my one year as VP and four years as Prez of this particular group, it had been a never-ending battle trying to get rid of this sick dependence on line-edit. Too many members believed that showing up twice a week to look for every “was” cluster or dangling participle was actually productive. In my opinion, there were too many members mistaking mere “activity” with meaningful “progress.” And the tragic part is the writing never improved. Week after week, the characters still remained flat, the POV switched so much that reading required Dramamine, and the plots had more holes than cheesecloth. And there were also some great writers, but this format of 5-10 page critique in a microcosm was merely a formula for frustration when one was working on a piece that spanned 100, 000 words.
What bothered me most was that I saw a lot of highly motivated writers in the group who wanted more, and who possessed the talent to write great material…if they could just see HOW. I’ve also fought the battle (in another group) with some extremely talented (published) writers who firmly believe that if members just attend and pay attention at critique, that, by osmosis, they will learn what they need to learn to write a darn good book.
That’s like saying if I hang out long enough at the Dallas Symphony practice, I will eventually be able to pick up the cello and play by ear. Now are there people who learn that way? Yes! And boy are we ever jealous of those guys. But, the reality is that, as a leader, if I cared about those in membership, I had to appreciate that not everyone learned the same way. Thus, we broke off and created Warrior Writer Boot Camp. This was a group designed specifically for those who desired to write a novel.
Making hell a little more manageable, .
Before any writing (or rewriting) takes place, Warrior Writer Boot Camp runs attendees through a series of steps designed to provide a much stronger framework for a story, and hopefully a much greater likelihood of publication.
Today, we’ll discuss two Warrior Writer Boot Camp steps for success.
1) In WWBC, we have the author place the one-line conflict in the header.
A woman must choose between her love for her husband and her love for her country when she finds a box of mysterious letters indicating the man she loves is a Jamaican spy.
This one line is to make sure that all that follows after this point in critique falls in line with that conflict. All other group members at all times know what the story is about. We are reminded of the big picture. This makes it easier for us to catch an author who’s gone off on a tangent. Or, sometimes the tangent is better (subconscious working) and then the group can help the author modify the one-line conflict accordingly. This simple tactic prevents “critique in a microcosm”—the five or ten pages might be great, but if they have nothing to do with the main conflict, then the scene needs to be cut or rewritten and made salient.
This one line is the very first step. And, to be blunt, at this point in Boot Camp, it doesn’t matter if it sucks. This next step will likely change that one line anyway.
2) Plot every detail, no matter how small.
As a writer, your subconscious mind is one of the greatest assets you possess. By plotting “every” detail ahead of time, you provide all sorts of fodder for your subconscious to get creative. In Warrior Writer Boot Camp we require members to detail everything (using the Character template in Bob Mayer’s Novel Writers Toolkit). The more detail the better. And give your details underlying reasons.
Write down that your protagonist loves Frosted Flakes because it reminds her of happier times when she was a kid before her father died. This way, later, when you get to writing and you have a stressful scene for your protagonist, what is going to be a natural choice for comfort food? Frosted Flakes. This will prevent a lot of your characters doing the same things. When we have to think of things on the spot, often we insert our own likes/proclivities. I recently edited a writer who had every single character drinking coffee when they were stressed or thinking. Guess what this author drinks when he is stressed or thinking?
If I know ahead of time that my protagonist is a Christian (religious beliefs are part of the template), then it is logical she pray when faced with an EOE (emotionally overwhelming event). If she is a Christian with wavering faith, the prayer will be different than a person of more solid beliefs. You get the idea.
Getting an idea of looks, manner, habits, beliefs are all vital to creating rich characters and a great story. It’s like going from a palette of paint with three primary colors to suddenly having one of those super-duper paint sets with hundreds of colors.
If you ever attend one of Bob’s Warrior Writer Workshops (and I certainly hope you do), you will probably hear him talk about the characters in Lonesome Dove. McMurtry did such a great job of creating characters that there was no question what each would do when the inciting incident occurred. Think about this in your own life. How would your mother react to being mugged? Now your father? Your best friend? The guy at the gym who teaches Cardio Kickboxing? Each of these people would have an entirely different book with the same inciting incident. Why? Because everyone is comprised of a different set of experiences, skill-sets, attitudes, beliefs, and abilities. All of these elements are going to directly affect HOW they react, or even if they react at all. This is what you the author are doing before you ever start the novel.
In WWBC, we create the antagonist first. Why? Because without the antagonist, the protagonist doodles on and has a happy conflict-free life. We don’t really give a rip about Luke Skywalker unless Darth enters the picture. Our WWBC goal is to make certain the writer is creating a worthy adversary, one whose defeat will elicit cries of joy from a riveted reader. It also makes it much simpler to create a protagonist perfect for taking him/her/it out (Week Two). These short dossiers make it much easier to adjust characters, goals, agendas, plans ahead of time before the author gets 50,000 words in and realizes there is a huge problem.
Pantsers need not cry out in pain. This method will not impede your creativity. I can attest to that, being a long-time pantser myself. It’s just that we get an opportunity to get to know and adjust our characters/plot/setting ahead of time. This will help keep us on track once we begin writing our novel. We can still be pansters, but it will be far easier to see the difference between getting creative and just jumping off the train altogether and landing in a tar baby. This tactic also creates characters that are richer sooner. As a pantser, I always found that my characters were kind of flat until about 40 pages in. Well, it took 40 pages for me to figure out who the heck the characters were! By doing all their back-story first, I now find my characters coming to life on page ONE.
To all you plotters, this method is good for helping you focus on characterization, which is often a weakness for the plot-driven author. It will give depth and texture and provide information to your subconscious to help make your plots even better.
Never underestimate the power of collective minds. In WWBC we now can have qualitative critique that focuses on CONTENT. When a new attendee brings his antagonist (with the one-line conflict in the header) the group now gets an opportunity to say, “Whoooo. Can’t WAIT for the book!” or “Seriously? Are you high?” (we’re not that mean). We get a chance to help the author make the strongest antagonist possible before the writing ever begins. We can say, “That goal seems silly,” “His goal needs to be bigger,” “What she wants is way too complicated, and I’m lost,” “Your bad guy isn’t scary, he’s annoying,”“That isn’t logical,” “What does this goal have to do with your one-line conflict?” Of course, we also can say, “I like that, but it might be stronger if you did X,” or “Great plan. Now make sure your protag’s greatest fear is X, because then you’ll have your arc.”
One doesn’t have to be a published author or a professional editor to do this sort of critique. We are ALL readers, and we know what we like, what will make us stay awake until four in the morning reading. We also know what will make us toss a book with great force across the room. The WWBC method allows problems to be addressed and fixed ahead of time, and I can attest that critique time is now put to far better use than merely looking for repetitive words and misplaced commas. Critique is also much more productive because instead of an author hearing, “Well, your protagonist is unlikable,” the writer now can get feedback from the group as to WHY the protagonist is unlikeable and can be given suggestions as to what would fix that problem. As authors, we often get tunnel vision, and can’t see the forest for the trees. WWBC alleviates this problem by providing different perspectives at all critical stages along the genesis of any work.
Critique now becomes a crucible where all the “impurities” can be fired out.
Over the coming weeks, we will delve deeper into this method of critique/constructing a book. Although having a group setting is ideal, a lot of these tactics can be used by an individual. In WWBC, we are actually a group designed to work for all kinds of learners (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, combination). Mostly, this format provides accountability, practice and repetition. Writing fiction can be hell, but no one said we had to do it alone.
Until next time…
For a Warrior Writer Workshop near you, contact Bob Mayer at www.bobmayer.org. Now ON-LINE! And Bob just released “Warrior Writer–From Writer to Published Author” so go buy a copy TODAY!