Tag: writing 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?

33 Reasons Why You Need to Quit Writing Today

Do you ever listen to motivational speakers? Well, this isn’t that.

I’m here to crush your spirit. Since I’d like to continue writing books, I’m going to discourage you from doing it. You see, the less competition, the easier it is for me. And since you’re not that committed anyways, it’ll be an easy task to kill your creative spirit.

Unless your spirit animal is a lion. I’m no dentist.

Too soon?

I had to. And I’m not sorry.

Back to the point: I love how motivational speeches never work. They give you temporary inspiration, maybe even guilt, and then your normal self takes over again and you forget everything you heard.

Do you know why you forget?

Because it’s hard work to change. Changing sucks. It’s so much easier to scroll through Instagram.

And this is exactly why it’s going to be easy to kill your creative spirit. Because after taking this ass-kicking, you’ll still make excuses for not writing on Tuesday night because you have that thing going on that’s super-duper important.

And then you never make up the daily word count because you forgot.

And then it becomes a habit to miss writing because there’s always something going on.

So, I’d like to jump-start that bad habit for you. Just call me a bad Samaritan.


London


There are so many reasons you should just give up now.  You should quit because…

1. Some rando on Reddit said you’re worthless
2. Grammar is hard
3. Some of your characters are flat
4. Most books you read are infinitely better than yours
5. You’re bored with your plot now
6. Your main character is basically you with a different name
7. And you hate your main character
8. That means you hate yourself
9. Now you have to go to counseling for this revelation
10. Writing is hard
11. You’re out of good ideas
12. You have friends and it’d be nice to see them more often
13. Your story’s not that great anyways
14. You’re scared
15. Your family might see your uncouth book and disown you
16. Now you’ll have to spend holidays watching reruns of Friends by yourself
17. What if publishers reject you?
18. What if agents reject you?
19. What if those closest to you say it’s not your best?
20. Most of what you’ve written is steeped in cliches
21. You have a crush on one of your characters and it’s becoming unhealthy
22. You hear of someone who began their first novel at the same time you did and is now polishing off their seven hundred and eighty-seventh book
23. You have this great idea for another novel
24. You love everything about writing aside from actually sitting down and… writing
25. The researching phase sucks you into a never-ending vortex of Wikipedia articles and etymology searches that are so much more interesting than the next blank page
26. Your cursor is taunting you
27. Your daily word count is unrealistically high, but when you lower it, you still can’t hit it
28. You remember your perpetually-half-drunk 4th grade teacher Mrs. Knutson who told you that you could make a lot of money in the technology field
29. You don’t know anything about marketing… how will you sell your book?
30. Sometimes you cry alone in the bathtub, the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack masking your sobs
31. Self publish, traditional publish, or nap?
32. Your friend, who’s really stupid, starting writing a book and it’s actually really good. And that makes you feel terrible about yourself
33. Writing is more work, less fairy dust and unicorn sharts


If that doesn’t kill your spirit animal, then maybe you’re determined (or have the lion spirit animal). Either way, please stop writing and make it easier for me.

Thanks for being so cooperative.


Question(s) of the day: What excuses have you heard (or made) for not writing? Do any of my points ring true?

How To Write Your Book in a Month

I’m taking a 6-week course called, Book In a Month. I’m not trying to write the entire first draft during the class. I’m shooting for about half a book in a month. Kinda ruins the title of the class, doesn’t it?

Your reaction might be, “Don’t you just write x number of words per day, and after x number of days, you’re done? Why do you need a class for that?”

Because I’m weak willed, that’s why! I need someone to hold me accountable to a word count or else I’ll make the lame excuses all writers make:

“I have writer’s block” or “I don’t have any inspiration or motivation today” or “I found a really good TV show!”

It would be hilarious if I pulled that crap with my boss.

“Ben, where’s the report? It’s due today.”

“I know you told me to write the report, but I didn’t get it done because I have writer’s block, I don’t have any inspiration, and I found a really good TV show!”

Is writing your novel less important than a work project? If your boss would be infuriated with a reply like that… are you mad if you don’t meet your deadline because you have writer’s block?

I’m definitely guilty of it.

We don’t need inspiration to write. We need deadlines and accountability.


Shoes


I believe that vulnerability is powerful.

So I’m going to be open with you. The first week of class, I set my week-long goal to be 10,000 words. And when I wrote 3,500 words that week, I realized it was much more difficult than I thought.

Yes, my life outside of work has been pretty busy lately, and I can easily make excuses for why I missed my goal. Instead of making excuses, I realigned my goals to be more realistic given other obligations I have.

So I assigned myself 7,000 words for last week. So far, I’ve written about 4,000 words and it’s due tonight at 6pm.

This week I’ll change my goal to 5,000 words. Yes, there are a ton of writers who are way faster than me. But that’s fine. There’s a girl I follow on Twitter who said once she wrote 18,000 words in a day. While I am not striving to become that, I would like to write 1,500 words a day comfortably in the midst of a tight schedule.

I just need to find a consistent pace that’s still challenging and sustainable.

 

That was a lot of word-count numbers you just threw out. Calm down!

Not many other writers have been open with me about their struggles of the craft. That’s one of the things that sets this blog apart. Because you can find the top 10 tricks for any aspect of writing virtually anywhere on the web, but rarely can you find someone being open about what’s really difficult, and what they’re struggling with.

I hope you find it encouraging to hear that someone else also struggles to hit deadlines. At the same time I will never say, “Oh, you missed your deadline? Me too, let’s feel sorry for each other!”

I say, “Hey, you’re human. It happens to me too. Now pick yourself up and don’t accept missing deadlines and breaking promises to yourself as normal, kick some ass!”


Kayak


I want to have my cake and eat it too.

Do you ever feel weird saying no to social outings? And when they ask you what you have going on, you feel like it’s insulting to tell them you’re writing your novel?

“I can’t hang out tonight, I have a deadline.”

“Oh, you’re working tonight? Your boss is demanding!”

“Well, it’s just a deadline I set up for myself… It’s the book I’m writing.”

Then there’s the second-too-long-pause. “Ohh, so you’re writing instead of hanging out with me? Friendship over.”

At least that’s how I imagine someone reacting if I say no so I can write, as if sticking to my deadline isn’t serious.

As if it’s okay to flake on your promises to appease others.

 

I’m reading this blog so you can kick my butt! I’m ready for the butt-kicking!

What’s your writing goal this week? (Mine is 5,000 words)

What distraction are you going to remove from your everyday life? (Mine is Netflix)

Who is going to keep you accountable? (My friend Avery. He doesn’t know that yet)

What are the consequences if you miss your deadline? (I pay Avery money and publicly declare on social media that I slacked off and missed my goal)

 

Tell me your answers in the comments below. I’d love to be part of your success this week!

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?

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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