Tag: writing (page 1 of 2)

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?

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?

 

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?

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