Just a fun post for today, based on what I have learnt during my writing journey. It’s been three years since I started my current WIP, and although I’m not deterred by the length of time it’s taken me to reach this point, there are a few things that would have sped up the process a little, had I known them before I launched in. But alas, it’s too late for me, but perhaps they may be of some help to you…!
1) You are not going to complete your finished manuscript within 6 months
Yep, Naive Heather did actually believe she could have a polished, completed and awesome novel within 6 months. Don’t get me wrong, you could easily finish your first draft in that time but your manuscript will be nowhere near as good as it could and should be. But why? This question leads us nicely on to point two…
2) You will improve with time
And with practice. Even if you think you know enough, you will never know everything, hence there’s always room for improvement. If you write consistently, you will be constantly improving. This is a good thing for your novel but a bad thing for your deadline. Please bear in mind that as you learn and improve…
3) You will likely stray from your outline
Even if you’ve spent months outlining, chances are, as you’re writing (and hopefully getting better at it), you will encounter flashes of inspiration that you didn’t have when you were planning. That plot device you loved? It doesn’t fit your character as well as you thought it might. That character you thought was necessary? She’s dead weight. But remember, straying from your outline isn’t a bad thing, as long as you bear in mind that…
4) Story structure is important
Don’t worry, structure won’t inhibit your creativity. Like it or not, satisfying stories follow certain structures – beginning, middle, and end, with rising tension, conflict, climax and resolution. For this reason, it’s vital to understand structure before you begin, so it’s wise to read widely on the subject. But don’t just stick to reading about structure…
5) Find out as much as you can about how to write a good novel
There are so many awesome websites and books on the subject so just Google it and get going! As stated before, you can’t possibly know everything before you begin, but it’s good to get a solid handle on the basics: POV, structure, character, tense, genre etc. I have beta-read for several writers before, some of whom didn’t even know how to use full-stops (there were none in the entire novel…!), let alone understand what POV was and why it was important. I wish I was joking…
6) Bonus point: no matter how ‘finished’ you think your book is, you will pick it up several weeks later and realise that long-standing scene you love is actually rubbish
To be honest, it’s pretty blindsiding. You’ve been sure about said scene since day one, so why is it only now, on day 700, that you realise it doesn’t actually make sense/is written terribly/doesn’t fit with the rest of your tweaked manuscript. It feels a bit like having the rug pulled out from under you – I mean, you were practically finished, and now you have some major restructuring to do?! It is scary but it is normal. So don’t worry, you got this!
This is going to be a fairly short blog post, but I really wanted to share something with you that I’m finding super useful during my editing process. I participated in Camp Nanowrimo during July, which was awesome. Having dragged my third draft out for well over a year, nano forced me to write consistently every day (which I rarely do) and I’m now left with a finished story. 66,000 words later, it’s now time to edit, alter, expand, cut and tweak my draft until I’m happy it’s the best it can possibly be. No sweat, right?
Having used the notecard outline method previously, I’m happy with the actual plot of my story, hence my editing from now on will focus mainly on subplots, characterisation, foreshadowing and dialogue. Although I know roughly what I intend to achieve during this draft, when editing, it can be hard to know exactly where to start and what to do. Personally, I like to write and edit chronologically as I see no point in writing and polishing a later chapter, only to find out it no longer fits with the rest of the novel. I therefore know I want to start editing from the beginning of the novel, but how exactly should I get started?
Well, there are many ways I could attack this draft. I could simply read it chronologically on screen and alter as I go or I could print it off. Although I do intend to print off my novel, I will not be reading it from the A4 printed sheets.
So, what will I be doing instead?
I have sent the Word document to my Kindle, and I’m reading it as I would read any other eBook.
And honestly, I can’t believe the difference it’s making to the reading process. For some reason, reading it in said format makes it so much easier to spot the elements that need changing. The problems seem so much more obvious when reading on this device.
Once you’ve spotted the issues, you can make notes one of three ways. You can:
- edit as you go, I.E, have the word document open at the same time and alter as you read.
- edit directly on your Kindle using the ‘note’ feature and then refer back to these later when editing the Word document.
- handwrite any changes on a printed hard copy after first making them in the Kindle version.
I tend to use a mixture of the second and third option. The second option is good for when you’re on the go, and the third is perfect if you prefer hand-written scribbles to on-screen notes.
How do I get my document onto my Kindle?
This is the easy bit. Simply download the Send to Kindle App, set it up using the instructions and click and drag your document into the window. It will then appear on your Kindle. Easy as pie. I recommend sending it as a Word document as although you can send PDF’s, they appear in a fixed format on your device, so won’t look like proper eBooks, more like smaller versions of the A4 PDF (not ideal). If you work in Pages (Mac) like me, simply export your Pages doc as a Word doc using the export function (RTF may also work). I also fiddle about with making each new chapter start on a new page before I send to Kindle, to make it look even more like a real book, although this is more procrastination than anything else. (Note: If you want each of your chapters to start on a new page and your original document is in Pages, export it to Word before you play with the chapters, as your Word doc will look different to your Pages doc).
Once it appears on your Kindle you can then treat it like any other book – you can even adjust the text size and font as you would normally. All that’s left to do is read! Try to look at your novel with fresh eyes (hard, I know) and, as you go along, any bits of stilted dialogue, typos or bits that don’t make sense should jump out at you. When you find these areas to improve, note them down somewhere (as discussed earlier) and then apply your notes to your original document later. To use the Kindle note function, all you need do is press and hold down on the word and ‘note’ will pop up. You then use the Qwerty keypad to type your comments. You can even view all your notes at the end and export them into a document (see this link for more info).
And that’s it! Even if you don’t end up using this method to do your editing, it can just be nice to see your novel ‘in context’ as if it were a real, published book.
How do you usually edit? Comment below!
Free. Everyone likes that word. Free coffee. Free pizza. Free cinema tickets. Free eBooks.
If the latter phrase gets you hot under the collar then you are in the right place.
This blog post will explore three ways you can add to your eBook library cheaply or for free. The below methods can be used to discover both fiction and non-fiction books of all genres and topics. I personally like to download mainly non-fiction books about the craft of writing and fiction books of all genres, but you can tailor the methods to suit your needs.
Before we get started, I feel the need to address the elephant in the room. As a writer, surely I should be supporting other writers by buying their books for a decent price, right? Of course! I’m not suggesting that from now on, you should exclusively read free and cheap Ebooks. You absolutely should not. Given a choice between a paperback and an Ebook, I’ll buy the former almost every time. BUT. There’s nothing wrong with expanding and adding to your collection by subsidising it with free Ebooks, especially as the authors themselves are the ones who are offering them to you. Therefore, all of the below methods are 100% legal, 100% ethical and 100% awesome.
Now that’s cleared up, let’s begin!
Bookbub / Book Cave
As I reside in the UK, I’ll be discussing Bookbub, as opposed to Book Cave (which I think is the US equivalent?), although both websites do the same thing.
Bookbub is hands-down the reason I became obsessed with Ebooks. This is how it works.
You sign up to the website.
You put in your genre preferences.
Bookbub accumulates a list of free and heavily discounted books which you can purchase across a number of different platforms – Kindle, IBooks Kobo, Google etc.
You download the book through the vendor for free or cheap as you would a normal Ebook.
Bookbub will also send you a daily email of the books it thinks you will like (the list has about 7 or 8 titles depending on how many genres you have ticked). I personally look forward to my Bookbub email and I almost always find one or two titles that I like and download. Although you may not have heard of a lot of the titles, that doesn’t stop them from being decent novels (although I have had a couple which were absolutely terrible). Bestsellers appear on the list fairly regularly, slashed from about £8.99 to about £1.99 give or take.
Subscribe to author websites and blogs for fiction
Anyone who spends enough time on the internet will realise just how easy it is to ‘accidentally’ gather free Ebooks from bloggers, website owners, authors and writers who are keen to expand their readership or get subscribers. They generally offer the Ebook in exchange for your email address (fair swap IMO). Below are two of my favourite authors and bloggers, both of whom are currently offering free Ebooks and amazing website content. Honestly, every writer should visit these websites, free Ebooks aside!
Simply go to the Kindle store on a computer, type in your keyword or phrase (example: novel writing, blogging, how to start a business) and search. Then sort the search results by price, low to high. BAM. The free ones will come up first, followed by the cheap ones. If you’re not sure about a key-word, just write free. This also works on fiction. Simply select the genre instead of typing a keyword.
Below is what happens when you type Free into the kindle search bar. TADA.
For all of us ‘book bloggers’, the Netgalley website offers the exciting opportunity to download and read Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of new and just-published books, delivered straight to your chosen E-reader in exchange for a review. You need to ‘request’ some of the books (meaning you won’t necessarily be eligible to receive all of your chosen ones), but there are many which you can download straight off the bat. You even get to call yourself a professional reader which, let’s be honest, is amazing!
And that’s it for now. Go forth and enjoy your eBooks!
Thanks so much for all your lovely comments RE part one of this blog post, it’s great to hear that my posts help not only me but others too, and I hope part two is as helpful and insightful as part one. Without further ado, let’s begin…
Overworked descriptions and cliche metaphors
I realise that overworked and cliche are two different things but keep an eye out for both, as they risk making your work look like the uninteresting ramblings of an amateur writer. To clarify:
“Hannah clumsily grabbed her red, ceramic, heavy mug and filled it to the brim with scalding, hot, brown coffee. It burnt her calloused, dry hands.”
Although this sentence is not horrendous, it’s a little too descriptive. One or two adjectives would have sufficed. See below.
“Hannah grabbed her mug and filled it to the brim with scalding coffee. It burnt her calloused hands.”
This one is self-explanatory but some examples of a cliche metaphor are:
– His eyes shone like diamonds
– Her rosy, red cheeks
– His deep, blue eyes
Accidental or thinly veiled racism/sexism/homophobia etc.
Sadly this is more common in novels than you may think. Of course, most of the time the author does not intend to offend, but it does happen. I have read a few reviews of a current popular novel where the readers felt that the only POC in the novel was represented badly (she was bitchy and homophobic with apparently no redeeming characteristics), so when creating characters, please be aware of the above.
Of course, only you, the writer, know your story world and its inhabitants, but it may be wise to consider whether or not your cast is representative of both ethnicity and gender, especially if it’s set in today’s modern world.
Watch out for outlandish developments
Every plot point and development needs to be a logical step up from what has happened before it. Even shocking plot twists or action scenes have a build up and have been ‘set up’ to some degree. Everything needs to be linked, or the result of something that precedes it, so try not to add in outlandish plot points just to ‘spice up’ your novel. I was recently reading (and enjoying) a novel where there was no mention of cannibals, until all of a sudden, just for a little bit of conflict, the protagonist was abducted and almost spit-roasted for dinner. It struck me as out of place, awfully random and to be honest, a bit stupid. All events in your novel are stitched together, so keep your eyes peeled for any random scenes or pointless developments.
Make sure your MC is actually participating in conversations
This may sound stupid but keep an eye out for this, especially if there are lots of characters. It’s all too easy to allow your protagonist to take a back seat and merely observe events and interactions. Make sure your MC is a driving force in the conversations – it’s easy (especially in first-person) to have the narrator pass thought or judgement on a situation in their head when it may be best if they were to make their judgment out loud to the other characters.
Is your main character somewhat likeable?
Don’t get me wrong, flawed protagonists are great, but your readers must want to root for them, so they have to have something going for them, even if that thing is pure grit or ruthlessness in gaining the story goal. They don’t need to be perfect or even nice, but at a basic level check that they aren’t (unless intentional), any of the following: racist, sexist, unnecessarily bitchy, unfairly jealous, whiny or homophobic).
Watch your use of nonsensical sentences
Of course, creatively writing is part of the fun, so go forth and use your imagination but read every sentence to make sure it does actually make sense. There’s no point trying too hard to be literary or whimsical if the meaning behind the sentence is lost to the reader.
Watch out for deep yet pointless conversations
A deep conversation is all well and good but if it randomly appears in your novel and doesn’t contribute to the overall goal or theme then cut it – it’s just fluff.
Don’t make your antagonist flat
No one is 100% evil, not even your villain. Evil for the sake of evil is something that comes up in a lot of negative book reviews, so make sure your book isn’t one of them. As well as this, don’t make your protagonist 100% good. No one likes a Mary Sue.
Another obvious point that is all too easy to overlook. Ensure consistency throughout. Some examples of things to look out for:
- The weather – if it’s snowing one minute, chances are it’s not going to be boiling hot the next.
- Character hair, eye colour, clothing or jewellery.
- Where your characters are in relation to one another as well as if they are sitting or standing. Also, which characters are actually in the scene.
- Time of day
- Spelling of names, places, and made up things.
The above is just the start. There are so many things (most of which will be unique to your novel) which you will need to keep a check on. For example, in a scene in my novel, my characters are wearing masks that cover their mouths. It would, therefore, be a bit stupid if I forgot this and described a character’s smile (because how the heck would you know if he was smiling or not?!). FYI this totally happened. Oops.
Do your research
If you’re representing a culture or a movement (think BDSM in 50 Shades) do your research so as not to offend those who are part of it. 50 Shades often has those involved in the BDSM movement complaining that it’s not accurate and is sexist etc. This also applies to different cultures – you don’t want to cause offense.
Your protagonist is hot-wiring a car? Check that the methods used are viable and correct (but don’t put your new-found knowledge to use!).
Do you have too much inner monologue?
This boils down to the whole show-don’t-tell thing (see part 1). If the protagonist is talking to himself and summarising what’s happening, would it be better and more engrossing to the reader if it was changed to action or dialogue? The answer may be no but it’s worth checking just to be sure.
Have you started in the correct place?
If your novel only picks up pace in the last 75% (like several books I’ve read recently) then consider starting the novel later. You don’t want your readers to give up before the good bit, so why not move the good bit forward.
Are your characters cardboard cut out or cliche?
Is your novel populated with dumb blondes, geeky redheads who look gorgeous when they take off their glasses, handsome square-jawed football players or brooding dark-haired Byronic heroes? If yes, consider changing it up a bit. As well as this, make sure your characters are multi-faceted. Why not give your star football player an interest in sewing, or make the seemingly dumb blonde an owner of a multi-million dollar company? Use your imagination and inject some uniqueness and life into your world.
And that’s it for now! Let me know what you think of the above in the comments!
This week I thought I’d write a blog post detailing some of the things to look out for when re-drafting and editing your novel. I’m currently at this stage in my own novel writing journey and it’s arguably the hardest stage so far – perhaps even worse than the dreaded first draft. I will be referring to this list continuously myself as I draft, re-draft and hone my novel and I hope it will be just as useful to you. I have split this post into two parts as it would have been a little bit too long to be one. Part two is now live and can be found here.
When writing dialogue, keep fancy dialogue tags to a minimum. There is nothing wrong with plain old ‘said’. Changing it up every now and then to add variation and drama is fine, but if your novel reads like:
Fix it, because it does get annoying. I recently stopped reading a novel 3 pages in because I just couldn’t get past the annoying use of tags.
Show don’t tell
Sorry to bring up the obvious – and you will have heard this numerous times – but it’s important, hence why it keeps cropping up. Show the reader your protagonist is distraught through body language, don’t tell them straight up that your protagonist is ‘sad’. Telling instead of showing distances the reader and this is the last thing you want to do.
Even worse than telling is over telling. If you’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to describing how your MC’s (main charactrer’s) love interest is sad, think about it – could this have been portrayed by describing her drooping shoulders or a flicker in her eyes?
Another obvious yet important point. Even the most well-crafted sentence or most beautifully-designed story world can be completely undermined by a single typo. It’s a sure-fire way to ensure both readers and agents stop reading immediately.
Keep an eye out for repetitive dialogue, imagery or word use. Also, check that you aren’t repeating something in dialogue that’s already been said via inner monologue and vice versa. As well as this, watch out that you don’t mention something unimportant more than once, as you risk bringing too much attention to it. The dad character is too busy on his mobile phone to pay attention to your protagonist? Great, mention the phone once and then leave it, don’t keep referring to it after every mention of the father.
Dialogue should be interesting and believable. Are your characters saying hello every time they meet? Cut it. Are they discussing something in unnecessary detail, purely for the sake of the reader? Cut it.
Example: If your MC and his mother are talking about that time when MC’s sister tried to kill herself, they wouldn’t discuss it like this, as they both already know the details of what happened.
“Mother, I don’t want to leave her because she tried to kill herself seven months ago by taking 20 packets of pain-killers.”
This exchange is being used purely to relay backstory to the reader and it shows. There’s no subtlety or intrigue and it’s just plain amateur. There has to be a better way to get the information across.
Also, make sure there is a point to every piece of dialogue included. Don’t include a rambling conversation between your protagonist and their next-door neighbour purely to set the scene, unless of course, the neighbour is an important element of the storyline.
The mirror scene
Ah, the good old ‘using a mirror to describe the appearance of the first-person protagonist’ trick. There is nothing inherently wrong with a mirror scene, but think carefully about having one and if you do, make sure it is interesting. I have one in my novel at the moment and I’m debating getting rid of it entirely. It’s a good device to use to describe your protagonist, but it’s done so often that it’s becoming a ‘trope’.
Cut lectures and long, preachy paragraphs
A well-written novel will have substance and morals, but these will be weaved subtly throughout and won’t be force-fed down the reader’s throat. Avoid sounding preachy by cutting down (or even cutting out completely) long paragraphs used purely to relay your opinions on certain divisive topics.
Cut the exclamation marks unless absolutely necessary
Pretentious, annoying names
Keep an eye out for these. Unique names are great, ridiculous ones are off-putting.
Do all your novel elements make sense together?
At risk of sounding mean and crass, if you’ve just dumped every interesting thought you’ve ever had into your novel, then chances are, it’s not structured or well thought out, and will only be interesting to you, and you alone. If you’ve got a load of cool but vaguely (if at all) stitched-together ideas, then perhaps you need to seriously think about your story structure. If you’re serious about publishing your novel once it’s done, perhaps take one of the interesting elements and play with that and cut anything that doesn’t fit with it.
Insta love – it’s a word that appears on Goodreads a lot. Some readers love it but most hate it. People don’t just fall in love in seconds or even days. Lust perhaps, but love, no. Build up the relationship believably before you plunge in with the L word.
Do you have too much backstory or exposition in one paragraph or even in one chapter? If so, consider drip feeding it instead. Also while you’re at it, think – do you really need a whole paragraph to describe something when in fact a single sentence would do just fine?
Are you giving things away too quickly?
I read a novel that did this quite recently. Basically, the novel was about a present-day female protagonist who was brought back in time to marry a lord in medieval Scotland. Sounds great, right? Wrong! Instead of joining the protagonist as she wakes up in medieval Scotland with no idea what had just happened to her, the readers are told within the first chapter what is about to happen to her via several paragraphs of clunky backstory. What could have been an intriguing, drip-fed premise had been laid bare in a single paragraph and explained in painful detail. Why should I read on when I already know what is going to happen?!
Characters referring to each other by name all the time
That’s not how we talk. Period.
Too much lengthy description about unimportant things
Yes, scene-setting is great but please don’t discuss your MC’s handbag through three paragraphs of detailed description if it’s not relevant to the plot.
If your twist comes out of nowhere, then you may need to go back and add in little hints as to what’s to come. Yes, it needs to be a surprise (it’s a twist after all) but it needs to also be believable. If all of a sudden your MC turns into a frog because of a curse you need to at some point discuss said curse beforehand, even if it’s just briefly.
And that’s it for part one. Now on to part two.
This blog post is a little bit different to usual and aims to inspire those of you who are on the lookout for new and interesting ideas for storylines. As we all know, it can be hard and frustrating to find inspiration especially if you are actively searching for it, so I’ve come up with a list of internet articles I’ve read recently that I believe would make fabulous starting points for those of you who are stuck.
I’ll keep it brief as it’s relatively easy to find said inspiration when you know where to look, and what to look for! The majority of these articles have come from the ‘BBC Futures’ website which I cannot recommend highly enough – its articles are full of thought-provoking ideas and questions which could form the basis of extremely unique storylines. I find the below links so interesting, that it took me a while to decide whether or not to share them on here, or keep them to myself (selfish, I know…).
Have fun exploring, and let me know any other articles you find in the comment box below…
1. An article about a tribe in Thailand, where the children can see underwater almost perfectly.
“When the tide came in, these kids started swimming. But not like I had seen before. They were more underwater than above water, they had their eyes wide open – they were like little dolphins.” – Quote from article
2. An article discussing the pros and cons of ‘designer babies’.
“The colloquial term “designer baby” refers to a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics.” – wikipedia
3. An article exploring the notion of death, how we define it, and the fate of people whose brains have died but whose bodies continue to live
“Their hearts are still beating. They urinate. Their bodies don’t decompose and they are warm to the touch; their stomachs rumble, their wounds heal and their guts can digest food. They can have heart attacks, catch a fever and suffer from bedsores. They can blush and sweat – they can even have babies.
And yet, according to most legal definitions and the vast majority of doctors these patients are thoroughly, indisputably deceased.” – Quote from article
4. A theoretical discussion about what might happen if everyone in the world starting eating as a vegetarian
“Eliminating meat from our diets would bring a bounty of benefits to both our own health and the planet’s – but it could also harm millions of people.” – Quote from article
5. An article about a woman who is allergic to water
“Rachel’s rare condition means that a bath is agony; even her own tears will scorch her face. How can the human body reject life’s most basic necessity?” – Quote from Article
“It’s on your passport. It’s how criminals are identified in a line-up. It’s how you’re recognised by old friends on the street, even after years apart. Your face: it’s so tangled up with your identity, soon it may be all you need to unlock your smartphone, access your office or buy a house.” – Quote from article
7. An article about a man whose brain create false memories
“Due to an unusual illness, Matthew creates false memories that seem as vivid as the real thing. He’s had to learn to live with a past that is as uncertain as the future.” – Quote from article
8. An article exploring how people ‘live on’ after death through social media
“At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.” – Quote from article
9. And finally, an article discussing “individualism” and “collectivism” in society
“Psychologists are uncovering the surprising influence of geography on our reasoning, behaviour, and sense of self.” – Quote from article
And that’s all for now! Let me know if you come across anything of interest!
As we all know, introducing varying levels of conflict throughout your novel is important, and to help you all out, I’ve written a quick list post detailing ways to add it into your novel. Although not all of the below will be relevant to your own writing, hopefully the list will help to highlight the many ways you can ramp up the tension in your novel, and will help you to come up with your own.
As you can see, conflict doesn’t have to come from a catastrophic event, and can be as seemingly insignificant as a stomach virus – perhaps your protagonist passed the virus onto her crush, who in turn, missed the prom.
A secret kiss
A lost object
A natural disaster
A specific rule or regulation
Rallying against those in charge
Head vs Heart
A bad omen
A breakdown (physical or mental)
A breakdown in communication
An animal attack
A revenge attack
A trip or a fall
A car accident
A parent enforcing the rules
Morality vs desire
A power cut
A broken down vehicle
A broken object
A missed train or bus
Feel free to add your own ideas into the comments!
Just a quick list post detailing several different ways of sneaking that little extra bit of writing time into your life! It’s a bit hypocritical of me as I’ve chosen to write this as opposed to actually getting on with my novel or short stories but oh well…here goes!
1. Try to write 500 words a day
Exactly as it sounds, try and write a minimum of 500 words per day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it works! My sister, Becca, has written 70,000 words of her first draft this way. It needn’t be 500 words exactly, just choose a goal that you believe to be attainable and get cracking!
Why this will work:
In his eBook Mastering creativity, James Clear explores the importance of having a schedule and sticking to it – to him, consistency and routine is the difference between being a professional, and being an amateur.
‘if you’re serious about creating something compelling, you need to stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to strike you and simply set a schedule for doing work on a consistent basis. Of course, that’s easy to say, but much harder to do in practice…..If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.” Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits’.
The entire publication is well worth a read. Find it here. Bottom line is, if you set yourself a schedule and stick to it, it will soon become a habit – as integral to your daily routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.
2. Set a timer for 15 minutes each day and write
Very similar to the above point, but you set a timer instead. This may work better if you have less time, as you know exactly how long you will need so will be easier to stick to and schedule in. Just promise yourself you will write AT LEAST until the timer finishes, and more if you fancy it. You could end up writing for hours. OR you could end up writing for 15 minutes. But hey, at least you’re making progress! I’m very tempted to give this method a go, as I’ve been slacking BIG TIME on my writing recently.
3. Devote one day a week to writing
It doesn’t have to be a whole day, but choose a day where you are free of other commitments and spend a few hours writing. This is what I (try to) do. I’m busy the rest of the week with work (now part-time, woohoo) and then freelancing afterward, so I tend to write on weekends. Sundays generally work for me, so I’ll try and sit down and crack out 3 or 4 hours of writing. Although this can work out really well (I once wrote 10,000 words in a day…) it can also be harder to keep to. Life happens, and sometimes your writing days will end up being filled with other commitments. It’s definitely worth giving it a go though, especially if you’re like me, and like to write in big chunks.
4. Download Evernote and write on the train/in lunch breaks/whilst waiting to pick up the kids etc
I love Evernote! I downloaded it over a year ago when I first started writing, and I used this method when I was writing my first draft. I was commuting into London every day and would try to add a little bit to my draft every morning (assuming I got a seat on the train). It worked great and, even though the writing was appalling (I absolutely hate typing on phones), I succeeded in outlining the main story-line this way. Evernote also allows you to access all your notes on any computer/iPad with an internet connection, so you can get home and pick up where you left off on your laptop. It is also a good source for note taking.
Top tip: Split your writing into chapters, or scenes, and have each one in a different ‘note’, otherwise you will find yourself having to scroll for ten minutes just to find the bit of writing you’re looking for. Not ideal. Remember, you can finalise chapter breaks properly once you are in the editing stage – you don’t need to commit to these specific breaks permanently, it is just easier from a usability perspective whilst you are at the drafting stage.
5. Ignore how bad your writing is
So you’ve found the time to write, which is great, but sometimes the quality of our writing can stop us in our tracks! Don’t sweat it. Sometimes our brains just don’t work (example, I just wrote ‘sometims our bains don’t work’…) but don’t let this put you off. If you’re having one of those days, just dump as much as you can on the page (no actual dumping please…). You never know, 10% of it could be salvageable and at least you’ve made progress. Moral of the story: any writing is better than no writing. Again, James Clear advocates the idea that you should give yourself permission to create junk:
‘Creative work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t selectively choose your best moments and only work on the days when you have great ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you is to go through a volume of work, put in your repetitions, and show up over and over again. Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you have to give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of below average work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to excellent work.’
That’s all for now!
Up until a month ago, I was happily muddling through my second draft. Although I knew there were problems with it, it wasn’t until I was about half-way through, that I thought it would be helpful to sit down and reassess the structure and elements of my story as a whole.
After many hours of brainstorming, I concluded, in short, that:
- My main character was boring – her arc was weak and she was, let’s just say, forgettable.
- The subplots weren’t adding to the story.
- There were many plot holes.
- There were also several unnecessary scenes that I had become attached to (because I had spent SO many hours working on them, I couldn’t bear to get rid of them).
I thought about several methods that I could use to remedy the above issues. I started off by researching character development, how to write good subplots and finally decided that the extra scenes I loved so much had to go.
Although I had made progress doing this, I felt overwhelmed. I wanted to see all of the elements of my novel plotted out – I wanted to see how the character arc linked with the relationship subplot, how the character arc impacted the main plot and how my character changed over time. If I could physically see all of these elements in play, I felt that it would be easier for me to weave them together in a coherent order. I started off by doing this on my laptop, in a table that looked something like this:
This was helpful for a time, but sometimes you just need something physical to wrap your brain around. Cue, the notecards:
You have probably heard about using flash cards to outline a novel. There are many good articles online that explain exactly how to do this (try this and this). These methods are mainly to help you when you first start planning your novel, but they can also help if you just want to see your novel as a whole, in order to move bits around and assess whether or not the structure you have currently is working.
Although the above methods suggest only using about 60 cards, I decided to break this down further. I ended up with well over 150 cards, and not enough floor space to lay them out on!
What I did
I had four colours of card:
I dedicated each colour to a certain element of the novel:
Green – Main plot events
Pink – Character relationships and subplots
Yellow – Character arc
Blue – Other
To further explain:
On the GREEN cards I wrote (among other elements):
- Each element of my three act structure
- Opening scenes
- The inciting event
- Each of the three disasters
- Character introductions
- Character reactions to the main events.
- Character reflections on the main events.
- Main scenes.
On the PINK cards, I wrote any events and interactions that happen between the main characters.
For example, my novel has four main characters, each of whom have varied relationships with each other. Two of the females in my novel end up falling out – so on a few of the pink cards, I have made a note to include:
- ‘The rising tension between X and X’.
Finally, towards the end of act two, these rising tension cards make way for the:
- ‘X & X have a huge argument over X.’
That way, the argument doesn’t come out of nowhere.
You can also include:
- Any elements of a romantic subplot
- Scenes that show the changing dynamics within relationships and friendships.
- If two characters are falling in love, you can include the increasing romantic tension between them.
On the YELLOW cards I detailed my character arc:
- How the character is at the beginning of the novel.
- Various actions showing how the character acts at the beginning of the novel.
- Introducing any fears the character has.
- Introducing any coping mechanisms that character employs.
- Events where the character has to face her fear, preferably varying in seriousness. Say she is scared of spiders, have her face the fear several times, and in varying degrees of ‘scariness’, until she finally faces the entire fear head-on.
- Anything that will affect the character arc – the impact character for example.
- How the character is at the end of the novel.
- The character’s epiphany.
- The character’s choice in the climax.
- Elements of characterisation for the main character.
- You get the idea….
And finally, on the BLUE cards, I detailed any other event that I thought was important and didn’t want to forget.
- Anything that needs foreshadowing – so if the protagonist is going to use a bow and arrow in the climax, it must be introduced, preferably a couple of times, near the beginning of the novel. So I would take a blue card, cut it into however many pieces, and write ‘introduce bow and arrow’ or ‘protagonist uses bow and arrow here.’
- Any element of scene setting.
- Backstory and flashbacks that are relevant to the plot and character building.
- Elements of characterisation.
- Resolutions to the subplots or resolutions to any of the character relationships. For this reason, a lot of these cards will come at the end of our plotting.
You can either create the cards as you go along (this is what I did), or you can create your cards and then arrange them. The beauty of this method is that you can move things around, take bits out and alter elements, without having to try and wrap your head around pages and pages of on-screen text.
Once you are happy with the layout, you can then take a photo of the layout, or do what I did and re-type it into a word document, which you can then follow when you write your drafts. The only slightly annoying thing about using the notecards is, unless you have a large surface or floor that you can leave them on, you will spend a lot of time tidying away and re-laying the cards (unless you figure out your structure in one sitting). To ensure that I didn’t ruin the order of the cards, I collected them up chapter by chapter and bull-dog clipped them together.
Of course, bear in mind that each novel is extremely different, so use the above steps merely as guidance!
Happy writing! Let me know if you find this method useful at all!
Although I knew writing a novel would be hard, I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t anticipate just how difficult it would really be (stupid right?!). Before I embarked on my writing journey, I assumed that, as long as I planned, outlined, and did a little character development, my novel would just fall into place. I was wrong. Obviously.
Now, a year and one and a half drafts in, I am realising that my character arc is weaker than I would like, my subplots are one-dimensional and my main character is, well, boring. BUT, only through actually writing, growing and learning, have I come to this realisation. Sometimes, you just need to make mistakes, to realise where you are going wrong.
With that said, I thought I would put together a short blog post detailing some of the major things I’ve learned, in the hopes that I and others won’t make these same mistakes (again).
1. Character development in VERY important
Although I knew some character profiling was necessary, I became so excited and bogged down with my storyline, my setting, and my three act structure, that I cast aside arguably the most important aspect of novel writing; character development. Your characters are key to your novel as they are the driving force behind the plot. Likewise, character arc, character relationships and characterisation all deepen and add layers to your story, which, without these elements, will fall flat. Don’t make the same mistake I did! Spend hours, if not days/weeks figuring out your characters. Trust me, you will thank yourself later.
2. Writing the first draft is actually the easy bit
Vomiting up 2000 words a day is actually not too bad, because as long as they hint at your plot, who cares how bad they are. And they can be REALLY BAD.
A first draft is meant to be awful – it’s merely a vessel for you to throw down all of your ideas and thoughts. It may not be as coherent, deep or well crafted as you want it to be, but it will be a very good starting point for you to develop from. The following drafts – the ones where you start to look at your novel critically – are where the hard part begins!
3. That being said, just because you have a first draft doesn’t mean you have a good story.
I repeat. It does not. In all honesty, when I began my second draft, I ended up cutting about 20,000 words, deleting what I thought would be my main scenes and adding in another 20,000 words and several new plot elements. And I am still unhappy with the shape of my story so far. Sometimes, you can get so bogged down with certain scenes and characters, that you want to keep them in, even if they are irrelevant. Don’t. They add nothing to your plot, and although you spent hours writing them, they will only hinder you in the long run. Oh well, onwards and upwards!
4. No amount of planning and research will leave you fully prepared for the task at hand
I’m a list kind of girl. I like to be organised, often to the point that it cripples me. There are so many elements to writing a novel, that it can feel overwhelming and frustrating, so it’s tempting to go into full planning mode and try to micro-manage everything. Which is impossible. As a first time novel writer, you can’t learn absolutely everything by reading articles or books, or writing lists, outlines and templates. Yes it can help, but the only way that you will actually learn is by writing. I have learnt so much this past year, and although I’m feeling disheartened by my novel so far, I know that this is a necessary learning curve that will only make my writing stronger. I’m also super excited to explore all the possible ways that I can make my novel better!
5. Time and patience will lead to objectivity
Don’t worry if you go through days, weeks or months where you lack the motivation to work on your novel. Having a break from it can sometimes be a help rather than a hindrance. It’s easy to get so attached and over-excited about your novel that you overlook major plot holes or problems. Having a break from your novel can help you distance yourself, thus allow you to analyse your novel for possible problems more objectively.
6. The drafting process is not always clean cut
I always thought that I would have a first draft, a second draft, a third draft and so on, but this isn’t how my journey has panned out.
My first draft was 55,000 words, because I stopped short of the ending (I had too many plot holes to write a coherent one, hence wanted to fix these before continuing. I did have a rough idea of how it might pan out though).
The second draft, of which I am now 33,000 words in, has highlighted to me numerous problems that need fixing before continuing with the drafting process. I have therefore decided to stop mid-draft, and return to the outlining and character development stage.
So, In essence, I am, let’s say, only one and a half drafts in, even though I am on my second pass at writing. It’s likely that you will pick up on major errors as you write your drafts. Don’t feel the need to carry on until the end. Sometimes it’s better to iron out the problems, than to carry on just for the sake of finishing a draft. Whatever works!
Of course, I have learnt an awful lot more than the above, but it would be almost impossible to highlight every single one, as I am learning new things every day. I hope that reading this post will encourage you to keep going with your novel, even if you are somewhat disheartened with it. Mistakes, wrong drafts, major plot holes and errors of judgement are all part of the journey. We will get there in the end!