Don’t start watching Netflix before a writing session or during writing breaks
I am the worst for doing this. As soon as I settle in front of my laptop and Netflix, that’s my productivity done for the day. As I work part-time, I try to write for at least an hour when I get home, but like to have a cup of tea as soon as I’m through the door. If I pair that cup of tea with Netflix or television, I quickly lose all writing motivation, and instead start binge-watching.
It’s too late for me, but if you are debating getting Netflix but actually want to finish your novel, don’t buy it! It’s lethal for productivity.
If you tire mid writing session, go for a walk
And I don’t necessarily mean the outside kind. Sitting still for a long period of time is likely to make you feel lethargic or restless, so moving, even if it’s just a short walk to the loo or around your house for five minutes, will wake you up, thus improve concentration.
I will illustrate my point with an experience of mine from a couple of days ago. I made the mistake of cosying up in my new fleece blanket. See fleece blanket:
It’s the warmest, softest fleece in the history of fleeces. Not only did I waste the next 15 minutes sending smug photos of me in the fleece to my sister who was at work (see fleece collage):
I was so comfy and sleepy that I ended up wrapped up like a burrito lying horizontally, eyes closed and listening to music. Eventually, I forced myself to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water and was able to re-locate my concentration and launch straight back into writing!
Get any important activities out of the way before you settle down in front of your computer
I get home from work at 2pm, but like to write between the hours of 3:30 and 5pm. I therefore give myself an hour to unwind after work, prepare and eat a late lunch and treat myself to a cup of tea. Making sure you are well fed and watered before sitting down to write will aid concentration, and will ensure that you don’t get up every 15 minutes to get a drink or a snack (plus you won’t be spending the whole time thinking about how hungry/thirsty you are). As well as eating and drinking, go to the loo, get your laptop charger or collect up any equipment or books that you might need as you write. Basically, get anything that might distract from your writing out of the way beforehand! Although it may sound counter-productive to almost ‘procrastinate’ before writing, you will find concentrating easier, as there are less things distracting or interrupting your writing ‘flow’.
Put your phone on charge in another room
This one is self-explanatory. No phones=no distractions. Unless you are awaiting important news or awaiting a phone call, you can be away from your phone for an hour or two. If, like me, you are constantly touching and playing with your phone, putting it out of reach somewhere where you can’t hear it will improve your concentration ten-fold. You can even treat yourself to an Instagram binge afterward, as a reward for upping your word count.
And that’s all for today, although there are countless other ways to improve your writing productivity. Share your favourite tips with me in the comments!
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!
When you first begin your initial research on how to plan and write a book, there are countless useful blogs (listed at the bottom of this post) and articles on the elements that make a good story, in particular:
- The three act structure
- The use of three disasters
- Conflict (of which there are many types)
- Character arc and premise
- Goals (story goals, life goals and scene goals)
In isolation, the theories relating to the above are pretty digestible, however, they do not work on their own. Each theory interweaves with the intention of coming together and creating a well thought out story with a clear purpose. The complexity of this is overwhelming and personally made me want to tear my hair out.
Being a designer, I like to visualize things, so one morning when my head felt like it was going to explode, I whacked out a pen and began to scribble. I was on a mission to work out how each of the following theories slotted together to create the bigger picture, and to find a way to convey this in the simplest way possible. This is what I came up with. (Please note, this is based on the three act structure).
And this is it jazzed up and redesigned a little for you guys…
This graphic aims to give an overall picture and act as reference for those of you who need a friendly reminder of how all your planning fits together. Further planning tools and printables will be provided for each of the sections to further assist your planning process at a later date.
To those of you who are new to the writing world, I will dissect and explain the graphic in more detail below to aid understanding. Those of you who are already familiar with what it all means, feel free to take it and use it whenever you need a little reminder or clarity.
Acts, disasters and scenes
The three act structure is generally the main structure that your novel will follow. It is a well known and respected structure, used often in novels and play writing. Each act has a specific ‘purpose’ which will be discussed in further detail below. Each act is also made up of smaller scenes. Each scene takes the protagonist one step closer to the story goal. Within the three act structure there are the three disasters. The disasters again have a specific purposes.
Act 1 and first disaster– Act one is roughly one quarter of your story and should set up the story and introduce the reader to the characters and the world in which they live in. It should also introduce us to the problems that the protagonist needs to solve.
At the end of act one comes the first disaster. This disaster acts to commit the protagonist to the story (he knows what he wants, his goal and he goes after it) and bring him to the point of no return.
Act 2 and the second and third disaster – Act two takes up approx. 2 quarters of your novel. The first half of act two (the second quarter of your novel) should see your protagonist’s reaction to the first disaster and begin his quest to the goal. The second disaster strikes at the end of the second quarter (half way through the second act). This disaster is bigger than the first one and acts as a major set back to the protagonist reaching his goal. The third and final disaster comes at the end of act two. This forces a decision/ a change of mind-set that will set up the third and final act.
Act 3 – Act three presents the climax, resolution and presents whether the protagonist reaches his story goal. It is not always a bad thing if he doesn’t, as throughout the process he could realise that what he thought he wanted, is not what he needed. Act three ties up lose ends.
There are three kinds of goals; story goals life goals and scene goals.
The story goal is what the protagonist wants the most and the problem that he needs to solve. This could be an external physical achievement such as graduating, or internal such as a change of mind-set or attitude.
The story goal does not only affect the protagonist. it is likely to affect the rest of the characters too. For example, if the protagonists goal is to save the life of his wife, but he fails, her family, friends and children will also suffer the consequences. When the stakes are high, the readers care more about whether he achieves it.
The life goals of the characters can be totally separate to the story goal. For example, the protagonists story goal is to save the life of his wife but his life goal is to become a professional trapeze artist. He has ambitions and goals that make him a memorable and realistic character. He is living in a multi-dimensional world with hopes and dreams of his own before the first disaster strikes.
Each scene within a story must have a purpose. This is where scene goals come in. In each scene your character must want something, which is then met with conflict (see below). Each scene acts as a step towards the story goal.
The role of conflict
As the graphic suggests conflict comes not only as the three major disasters, but is also present at scene level. Scene level conflict is directly related to scene goals, because it acts as the opposing force.
Conflict could be one of two things: internal or external. Internal conflict may mean your character is battling internal emotions or feelings. External means he is up against something physical such as another person, the weather, time etc.
Also bear in mind that conflict does not have to be anything huge. It could be as minor as your protagonist missing the bus – even such a seemingly insignificant event will produce a setback, pulling the character further away from his story goal.
Be sure that your character does not lose or win all battles. There needs to be a mix of both highs and lows to ensure tension and avoid predictability.
Put simply, your characters arc is the journey and changes your character makes between the beginning of the story and the end of the story. Your characters begins at point A, and ends at point B. ‘Stuff’ must happen between these points that incite and create this change. If there is no journey, you will find it hard/impossible to progress your story.
Veronica Sicoe offers a detailed explanation of different types of character arcs here
James R Hull offers an interesting insight into the difference between growth and change here
K.M. Weiland. explains in great detail how to write different types of character arcs here
What is a premise? There are diverging opinions on premise, what it is and how useful it can be. The following explanation is my own interpretation of it and what I see it to be. The premise as I understand it and as I refer to it in the graphic, is what the protagonist learns throughout the book – the end result of his character arc. Examples such as ‘Lifes too short to worry’ ‘If you love her let her go’ or ‘I am good enough’ to name a few.
It is important that you don’t get too bogged down with trying to find a premise that is moral and deep, or forcing your story to fit around a premise from the start. You may start with the premise and go from there, but equally you may not even know exactly what your character learns until you finish the book. What is certain and important is that your character will go through changes throughout the course of the book, and this change is a vital element to consider in the greater context of your novel’s overall structure.
I hope you find the graphic useful, and it would be great to hear your comments!
Everything I know I learnt from a variety of valuable sources (listed below). Undoubtedly, I will be returning to many of these sources time and time again for further guidance. Check them out!.
Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
After you’ve figured out the rough plot of your novel (I used the first 4 steps of Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method), it may help you to outline it.
An outline can be viewed as a basic ‘wire-frame’ of your plot which you can refer to throughout the first draft stage. Although it isn’t for everyone (some may find it too prescriptive), it can be helpful in ensuring that you don’t forget any of the major plot points or stages of character development. Your outline can also help you to figure out when to incorporate subplots and to identify elements of your novel which don’t fit in with the overall storyline.
This method assumes that you have plotted your novel using the three act structure, and that you have a rough idea of your storyline. You can read more about planning your novel and using the three act structure here.
This method gets you to think carefully about the beginning, middle and end of:
- Your novel as a whole
- Each of your three acts
- The chapters and scenes within the acts
By doing this, you will (hopefully) end up with a detailed plan which summarises your novel in three varying degrees of detail.
You should end up with something that follows the below structure. (Click the image to enlarge). Please note that the image is just an example. Your plan might omit the romantic subplot and you may choose to plan your novel using scenes instead of chapters.
I have also included this second image (my actual, much uglier outline), to further illustrate this.
You can create your own outline by following the following steps.
- Start off by writing a summary for each of your three acts. What happens in each?
- Plot the beginning, middle and end of each of your three acts.
What needs to logically happen in each act so that the protagonist can get from the beginning of the act to the end? As you plan each act, you will begin to see scenes and chapters forming.
- Once you start breaking the acts up into smaller chunks (either scenes or chapters), ensure that each of these also have meaningful beginnings, middles and ends. Each scene/chapter should be relevant to the plot and should propel the protagonist towards the chosen story goal. I chose to plan my novel using chapters, but this is just a personal preference.
- Continue to plan out each scene or chapter this way until you have reached the conclusion of your novel. Don’t worry if you have yet to decide on a specific ending to your novel – you can always leave this blank for now and write the ending after you know more about your characters and plot. You should, however, have a rough idea as to whether or not your protagonist achieves their goal.
- Once you have outlined the main plot, you can begin to think about subplots such as inner character conflict and romance story-lines. Separate these out into main ‘signposts’ and ‘turning points’ and intersperse them within your overall plot where you see necessary. You can have as many signposts as you see fit, but ensure that the events are reflective of, and add to, the main plot. The subplot points can appear wherever you wish and needn’t follow the below plan. As each novel will vary considerably, it is impossible to suggest where each of these points should be, hence you should use your own judgement when deciding where to include these.
Once you have figured out all of the above, grab a large piece of paper (bigger than A4 would be best!) and use the above to create a visual plot outline that follows the above plan. You can do this on Word (using the table feature) if you prefer. I created my plan in Adobe InDesign.
And VOILA! You now have a plot outline, which I hope will help you tackle the mountain that is the first draft! I know I found it incredibly helpful, and hopefully you will too!
There are several things you may want to do once you have finished your outline:
- You can use it as a point of referral as you begin the drafting stage of your novel.
- You can use it to analyse your plot structure in great detail before you move onto the next stage of the novel writing process.
- You can use it to help you write a chapter by chapter synopsis. After I had completed my plot outline, I had planned to use it as such as I felt that a synopsis would help me write the first draft. This might be a helpful thing for you to do, if you like to plan in even greater detail before you begin the drafting stage. Personally though, I got to chapter three before I decided to stop writing the synopsis and just get on with writing the dreaded first draft!
Any questions, feel free to comment below!