Tag: how to write a novel

Perfectionism in First Drafts

Woman writing


Are you a perfectionist? If so, this might sound familiar…

You write a page, re-read it, research, tweak, search for that perfect synonym for “look” that doesn’t sound as creepy as “ogle” but not as cliche as “stare.” Something with undertones of longing… and if that word isn’t perfect then the whole page is garbage.

So you spend the next hour fussing over how rough your rough draft is.

See the irony?

When you write your first draft and inspect every word, Google synonyms, and research etymology then you’re never going to finish your novel. And if you do, it’s likely going to read choppy because of how disjointed your writing process is.

 

It’s not bad that you’re a perfectionist 

Most people tell you that you have to learn to overcome perfectionist compulsions to make it pretty, and just write.

It’s easy to villainize your perfectionist nature because everyone says it’s the death of the first draft.

You don’t have to say “no” to your inner perfectionist, you just have to say “wait.”

It’s a huge difference.

When you have a deeper desire burning within, it’s much easier to say “not now” and be patient.

Don’t victimize your tendencies, empower them. Don’t resist your desire to perfect, just say to yourself, “I can perfect this, but now is not the time.”

There’s something called the second draft. And in that magical land, your inner perfectionist is a mighty hero who can frolic among the prose and critique sentence structures to your heart’s content.

 

Check your attitude

You have no right to complain about not being successful if you’re not putting in the hard work and hitting your weekly word count but puttering over each paragraph.

If you’ve ever complained that Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey should never have gotten published because they’re trash, remember that Meyer and James had the balls to finish their first drafts.

 

Work hard

Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur. He’s a double shot of personality with a chaser of vulgarity. Click here if you want Gary to kick your ass for being a lazy writer. Do not click if you will get offended for someone calling you out on your crap. In fact, if you don’t want people calling you out on your crap, do me a favor and unsubscribe from my blog.

I write this blog to check my own priorities by asking myself the hard questions, and to help you do the same for yourself.

 

What is a rough draft?

A rough draft is not supposed to be pretty, or even a good representation of your original idea.

A rough draft is supposed to be ugly, barely a shadow of what you envisioned. But, moldable into something that can eventually be pretty.

 

These will help you practice self control

  1. This application makes it impossible to edit anything while you’re creating your first draft. It was made for perfectionist writers. I just started using it last week and love it. After a session of writing, save it, export it, and paste it in your word document.
  2. You need accountability and encouragement. Write with someone else who will hold you to your goals. Race each other for a word count. If you hit your difficult word count, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time to possessively edit to make it perfect.
  3. This site helps you reach your goals. You need something to lose if you miss your weekly word count. Put money on the line (even if it’s just $1). When you have something to lose, no matter how much, it become more difficult to ignore the task because you don’t want to lose.

 

Whether you’re a recovering perfectionist or go over the deep end every night, there is hope. You just need self control. And self control comes with time by consistently just doing it without waiting for that elusive motivation.

Disclaimer: I am not in any way suggesting you start vomiting words just to hit your word count. That just creates a huge problem for the second draft because everything is impossibly messy and jumbled. The first draft needs to be true to your characters. You should already have a general idea where your story is going (that can definitely change, as we all know too well).


Question(s) of the day: What’s been holding you back from completing your first draft? How have you dealt with perfectionism?

20 Writing Tips From Stephen King

Last week I challenged you to set a goal for yourself and set up consequences if you missed it. Did you do it?

I hit my goal of writing 5,000 words. Thanks to my friend Nathan who invited me over to do a word sprint with him. After an hour and a half of writing, whoever wrote the fewest words would have to make up the difference in push-ups.

I’m not a very fast writer. Thankfully I only had to do 350 push-ups (spread out over a few days; I’m not that fit). Could have been a lot worse.

You may have come across this before, or read the book On Writing by Stephen King. This is always a good refresher. I’ve read the book twice, and will likely read it again in a couple years.

I hope you find his expert advice helpful.


pondering

King’s Tips For Writers


 

  1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”
  2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. The timid fellow writes “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock” because that somehow says to him, ‘Put it this way and people will believe you really know. ‘Purge this quisling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write ‘The meeting’s at seven.’ There, by God! Don’t you feel better?”
  3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence “He closed the door firmly.” It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself if ‘firmly’ really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before ‘He closed the door firmly’? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, then isn’t ‘firmly’ an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”
  4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.” “While to write adverbs is human, to write ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is divine.”
  5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story… to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all. “
  6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”
  7. Read, read, read. “You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
  8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

    Empty chairs


  9. Turn off the TV. “Most exercise facilities are now equipped with TVs, but TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs. If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhard on CNN while you exercise, or the stock market blowhards on MSNBC, or the sports blowhards on ESPN, it’s time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a writer. You must be prepared to do some serious turning inward toward the life of the imagination, and that means, I’m afraid, that Geraldo, Keigh Obermann, and Jay Leno must go. Reading takes time, and the glass teat takes too much of it.”
  10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
  11. There are two secrets to success. “When I’m asked for ‘the secret of my success’ (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.”
  12. Write one word at a time. “A radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My reply—’One word at a time’—seemingly left him without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasn’t. In the end, it’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord Of The Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
  13. Eliminate distraction. “There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”
  14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing lik John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”
  15. Dig. “When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.”

    Girl holding a book


  16. Take a break. “If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that it is to kill your own.”
  17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your ecgocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
  18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. That’s where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it. You may be entranced with what you’re learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.”
  19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
  20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

Yes, he breaks his own rules occasionally, but he knows what he’s doing. He’s Stephen King. These tips are found in the book On Writing, and was originally shared here.


Question(s) of the day: What point stood out to you most and why? Did you take my challenge last week? If so, how’d it go?

 

Why Your Characters Are Boring

I’m writing the first draft of my novel. It’s not nearly as inspired as my imagination had painted it before I started. It comes across flat, one-dimensional, and it’s difficult to love the characters (let alone know who the characters are).

It’s funny because before I started, I wrote character arcs, explored their deepest fears, and I had their background fleshed-out.

But when I read the first ten pages of my draft, none of that came across.

Have you ever had that problem, a character you know so well refuses to show who they really are on paper?


Girl going on an adventure


What was wrong

You know what the issue was?

Yearning.

There just wasn’t enough of it. Practically none, as a matter of fact. I included enough background information about my character, I gave him a few obstacles to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, and he had a sense of humor so he was likable.

And still, he was flat. He didn’t want anything. There wasn’t any intense inner struggle that manifested in the first few pages.

You see, yearn is an intense word. It’s to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from. And if a character doesn’t deeply desire something he can’t have, any scene you write is not really a scene – it’s just filler crap.


An Open Book


You’re doing scenes wrong

And that’s when I realized, in the first ten pages, I didn’t write a single scene.

For a scene to truly be a scene, each character in the scene has to want something. There has to be conflict, an obstacle inhibiting the character from getting what they want, and before the scene ends, one of the characters has to be different as a result of that scene.

Example: If Joe walks into the coffee shop wanting to propose to Jenny, by the end of the scene based on what Jenny says, Joe doesn’t want to propose.

There’s a value change. Every scene needs character change. You read that correctly, every single scene.

No exceptions.

I found that the first ten pages of my novel was filler crap. (You see? I’m not only hard on you, I’m hard on myself too. Makes it even that way.)

I had to reread it and ask myself, “What does my character want in the first ten pages?” And when I discovered he didn’t want anything, I had to ask, “What should he want?”


Clutching a book


How to fix it

This is a little exercise. It’s helped me rescue flat characters more than I’d care to admit.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What does she want?
  • Why does she want it?
  • What does she NOT want?
  • What are the repercussions of her desire?
  • Where in the scene is her desire revealed to the audience?
  • How does the audience know what she wants? Through dialogue, actions, or interior thinking?
  • What or who prohibits her from achieving it?

Every scene needs these answered. Sometimes the audience will know the desire before the scene begins, but there must be conflict, there must be intense yearning, and there must be repercussions to that desire.

If you don’t have that, it’s not a scene at all.


Question(s) of the day: What part of a scene do you struggle with most? Do your characters yearn in every scene? Could that be intensified?

In Reality How People Write A Novel: 67 steps

There are tons of books on how to write a novel. I have about 7 of them on my shelf. In those books on writing, they only share best practices and maybe an outline to follow.

But that’s never how it happens in real life… I have never read an honest breakdown for how actual human beings write a novel.

So here it is.


Journal


 

  1. Declare to your friends and family that you’re writing a book.
  2. Immediately regret telling them because now you feel pressure.
  3. Stare at a blank page.
  4. To freshen up, Google: “How to write a book.”
  5. Remember that it’s a massive undertaking.
  6. Friends ask you, “So, how’s your book coming? Remember me when you’re famous!” And you want to die.
  7. Start to plot the novel just to get your mind off the pressure.
  8. Writer’s block.
  9. Netflix binge.
  10. Write 15 pages.
  11. Rewrite the 15 pages.
  12. Delete 14 pages.
  13. Drink a little too much.
  14. Netflix binge.
  15. Structure your story.
  16. Share your emotions on writing forums.
  17. Energized by the sympathy you receive, write 50 pages.

    Man Jumping


  18. Re-read your pages a million times.
  19. Realize you’re the worst writer in the history of the written word.
  20. Netflix binge.
  21. Take long walks, talking with your protagonist.
  22. Feel a little mentally unstable that you’re talking to fiction.
  23. Feel close to your characters.
  24. Edit the 50 pages.
  25. Ask friends for advice.
  26. Doubt your premise.
  27. Write 10 pages.
  28. Re-read and find yourself refreshing and clever.
  29. An hour later, remember that you aren’t halfway done with the novel and not sure where it’s going.

    Girl in the woods


  30. Netflix binge.
  31. Read about how this one person wrote a novel in a weekend.
  32. Write 25 pages.
  33. Take a month break to recharge your “creative energy.”
  34. Your friends ask you if you’re still writing that book.
  35. Drink a little too much.
  36. Netflix binge.
  37. You imagine your protagonist at your social events and you’re more enthralled by them in fiction than you are by your friends in the flesh.
  38. You feel weird about that occurrence and wonder if you’re going crazy.
  39. Write 30 pages.
  40. Although you seriously doubt your skill, you decide to stop talking about the book altogether. You will finish it. People need to just stop asking you about it.
  41. Netflix binge.
  42. Realize how much time has gone by since you started it.
  43. Go on a research binge, looking up random, insignificant facts about your book’s setting that might be interesting to your readers.
  44. After a week of research you realize you could have written it pretty well without it.

    Spider Web


  45. Get into a rhythm and start jotting down notes of every interesting line you hear.
  46. Ask your friend to punch you if you don’t have a first draft completed in a month.
  47. Procrastinate, but end up finishing the first draft relieved your friend won’t punch you.
  48. You re-read and realize it’s so disjointed, why are you even a writer?
  49. Netflix binge.
  50. You convince yourself it has potential if you touch it up.
  51. During editing, you focus on the tiny details in every chapter.
  52. It takes too long, so you alter the structure, put in foreshadowing, and add to the theme.
  53. Read it again and you actually enjoy it, minus the million tiny errors.
  54. Go back to the forum to tell people you’ve finished your first draft.
  55. You tell your friends that you’re done, and no they can’t read it.
  56. Edit for a couple months too long because everything has to be PERFECT.
  57. If someone sees it with an error, you will literally keel over and die.

    Train


  58. Finally decide someone needs to read it because you’re too close to it.
  59. You send it to a few close friends you trust, reminding them about how “rough” it is, even though by the time you send it to them, you secretly think it’s basically perfect. But if you tell them it’s super rough, it’s a free pass if they find a mistake.
  60. They give their honest feedback.
  61. You don’t remember ANY positive feedback, ONLY the negative comments.
  62. Doubt your skills as a writer.
  63. Drink a little too much.
  64. Netflix binge.
  65. Take your friends’ suggestions and make the proper changes.
  66. Read it again and are slightly impressed with yourself.
  67. Now you have a novel. Still not perfect in your eyes, but decent.

And that is how actual human beings write novels. No one is polished in their first draft, or as polished as they’d like in their final draft. No one likes their own writing at first. Everyone doubts their own abilities, even their mental stability.

You’re not crazy.

You’re just a writer.


Question(s) of the day: Have you noticed a difference between “how to write” and how you actually do it? What’s the biggest difference for you?

17 Things I Learned About Writing From Structuring My Novel In 7 Days

Last week I approached a good friend and told him my woes. “I started structuring my novel about two months ago… I kind of lost wind. Not really sure I know where I’m going with it.”

“How long do you think it would take you if you really pushed yourself?”

“Probably seven days.”

“Okay, then if you’re not done by noon next Saturday, then you owe me fifty bucks, and you get to know that you failed.”

And that’s how I knew I have a great friend.

The last week has been a little crazy.

Definitely depressing. Filled with many thoughts of, “Holy shit, I can’t even figure out how to escalate the tension in this scene, I’m such a hypocrite! I’m the worst writer in the history of authorship.”

But seven days passed by, and I am left with thirty pages of scribbles, scratches, and huge Xs trying to cover up half-baked ideas.

I kept my fifty bucks and my pride.

Okay, that’s a lie.

That structuring exercise sapped my pride for a year.

Next year I’ll be prideful.

Here are a few lessons I learned this week. I hope you can learn from my exercise as well.


 

Glass Doors


1 The age-old question, ‘Which is more important, plot or character?’ is utter crap. I tried only focusing on plot for 48 hours before I called my buddy back. “My plot sucks. I need to bounce ideas off you… now.” He told me to flesh out my characters and plot would follow. And it did. They are a symbiotic relationship. Don’t treat one more important to the other. The way you approach it can be unique, but both are equally as important.

 

2 Get a second opinion. You need external input. Some of your “most brilliant ideas ever” are total crap. You don’t know that until someone sane tells you that in the most loving way. Don’t finish your novel before you let a friend read it, and now 400 pages later you realize that the premise is fundamentally flawed.

 

3 Don’t think about your antagonist as a bad guy. For the first couple days (before I named my characters) I scribbled “antagonist” as a placeholder. Then I realized my mistake: there is no such thing as an antagonist. Just a person with good motives and circumstances happen to put them at odds with your protagonist. But they’re not “the bad guy.” And if, heaven forbid, you think of them as the bad guy, then they will be one-dimensional. I ended up changing my main character’s name and turning him into the antagonist because I wanted a truly likable, dynamic antagonist. And suddenly, I liked the “bad guy.”

 

4 Write. Seriously, this is a point. Since I had seven days to write thirty pages of structure, I turned down Netflix to write. I know you scream heresy, but I structured a novel in 7 days, so I’m not ashamed. I said no to some social outings, and my wife supported my solitude. If you want to write, you have to write. Simple as that. I plan on cancelling Netflix as I write my novel. Only one thing can truly have my attention. And that will be my novel.

 

5 Read. I started and finished a book last week. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I highly recommend. If you don’t make time to read, I won’t make time to read your writing. Because a writer who isn’t studious is an insult to their audience. You can always be better. Please don’t act like your writing is great now. So read for goodness sake, and you’ll improve.


 

Trees


6 Work out. Your mind is most stimulated and active when your body is healthy. And doing something like running (without music) lets you actively think about the menial task at hand, while your subconscious works out your plot holes. For Sherlock Holmes it was violin. For me it’s working out. Yes I just compared myself to Sherlock Holmes. Please don’t scorn me.

 

7 Start with a plan. To reach your destination, you have to know where you’re going. Write down your steps. Stick to those steps. And when you write, let your characters take you where they want to go. But you at least have an overarching framework to reference.

 

8 Celebrate the small wins. If you hit your daily 3,000 word count, holy smokes, you’d better celebrate… not with sweets though. Eat food that will fuel your energy, not make you want to nap at 6pm.

 

9 Keep it simple. Wouldn’t it be cool if zombies, werewolves, pirates, and ninjas all fought against each other? Yes it would. Wouldn’t it also be cool if there was a race against time to save the president’s life? Okay, yes. Wouldn’t it be cool explorers in the arctic found out that there was a massive tectonic plate shift going to happen any day now and millions could die? Yes, that would be cool. Please, not all in the same story though. Pick your battles. Or your reader will battle you.

 

10 Take a lesson from Dan Brown. Say what you want about his writing, plot, or controversial subject matter… who cares. What he is undeniably good at is cliffhangers. Every single chapter ends with a cliffhanger. And his chapters are usually around 5 pages long. Yeah. Talk about serious adrenaline rush. That’s why people can’t put down his books. I’m not saying your chapters are bad if they’re longer than 5 pages, but what I am saying is the more cliffhangers you have, the more likely your reader is to clutch the book tight in the light of his/her lamp at 1am even though they have to wake up early for work the next morning.


 

Firepit


11 Get rid of cliches. I struggled with this one. I’m writing an NA adventure story. There are staples in the “adventure” genre like every hero has to have a wise mentor who helps him in the beginning. To avoid those cliches, I’m making the mentor extremely self-aware that he’s the stereotypical wise mentor. If your novel doesn’t have the leeway to use tongue-in-cheek humor like that, then avoid cliches like the plague. See what I did there?

 

Twelve. Be consistent.

 

13 Let it sit. Know when to walk away and do something else. If you’re too close to it, you won’t be able to see any glaring mistakes. Unfortunately this is not the prevailing problem with writers.

 

14 Don’t be distracted. I’m the most distractible person in America. I truly believe that. The internet is slowly turning my cognitive function into Jell-O. As soon as I sit down to write, suddenly I NEED to look up that one actor from that one movie to see if they’ve been in anything recently. Turn off your phone. Close the browser. Sometimes I go somewhere without Wifi. I know. Crazy. But, it works. Without distractions, all you can do is sit and think, or write. And if you dare to say, “But I need the internet to research!” Please. You know that’s a lame excuse. Writing time is for writing, not researching. Don’t confuse the two separate times. If you do, you’ll end up on a Buzzfeed quiz, ‘Which GoT character are you? Mine surprised me!’ and you’ll snap out of a coma 3 hours later on a disturbing subreddit regretting everything.


 

The Single Fern


15 Don’t censor yourself. Write from the heart. Don’t try to be overly vulgar because you think that’s a more raw form of art. Just be yourself and write what comes out. No more. No less.

 

16 Study your genre. You need to know the staples of your genre. Your audience expects some things to be familiar to other novels they’ve read in the genre, and many things to be unique. If you don’t know where the lines are between being familiar and unique, your readers will likely be disappointed.

 

17 Don’t allow yourself to fail. For me, I needed a friend to threaten to take my money if I didn’t get it done. Don’t be naive and say you can’t rush the creative process. They’re called deadlines. And the real world lives by them. If you don’t set yourself BRUTAL deadlines, then you’re choking your potential. Setting lenient deadlines promotes apathy. Sprint. Don’t meander. I would never read a novel that meanders, even if it’s a dramatic romance set in the 17th century. I still want the emotional turmoil at sprinting pace.


 

Door


That’s just a few of the many things that stood out to me this week. Other than slight emotional trauma that I will likely need to seek therapy for, I think I will survive.


Question of the day: Do you set rules for yourself when you write? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

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