Saturday, September 20, 2014

Writer's Construction Zone: Part 3

Oregon coast (Camp)
After the day's writing is complete, most writers have some discretionary time. Without a plan of some sort, many of us will vacillate between what we want to do and what might be the next best step. 

For example, I'd rather do research for my current work in progress (WIP), than critique someone else's rough draft. But one of my goals is to be a part of a larger writing community. So, I put that reader/editor hat on and start reading.

Especially when writers spend full-time at another job, we can be overwhelmed in choosing what we really do need to work on next. With so many choices ahead, why not begin with an assessment of your writing and storytelling skills?

Writing skills:  Take a moment to assess which of the following you are particularly good at. What writing skills would you like to improve? 

  • Planning to sketch out ideas (from simple to elaborate)?
  • Outlining to more formally map out what you wish to write?
  • Drafting to get those words down on paper reasonably efficiently?
  • Revising of content and structure?
  • Editing for exact expression at the paragraph, sentence, and word levels?
  • Copy editing for grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
  • Word processing skills that support all the above?

Storytelling skills? Imagine you are a kid, sitting around a campfire. The grandfather spins a tale, and everyone leans closer. How does he do it? The audience is riveted to his next words, his hand pointing to the stars, and the exciting conclusion that makes it hard to go to sleep in the tent with the firelight flickering low and the rumble of adults still talking. Are you comfortable with these storytelling skills:

  • Fully-developed and empathetic characters that involve the audience? 
  • A consistent point of view that keeps your audience engaged?
  • A setting that brings the story to life?
  • Rising and falling conflict? 
  • Pacing appropriate for the genre and style of your story?
  • A story arc that reaches a satisfying conclusion and resonates with your theme? 

When we can identify more precisely what we want to work on next, we can then find resources to help us -- whether through an article in a writer's magazine, a creative writing class, participating in a online writing community, or simply reading/studying a book.

For example, to work on that slippery skill of matching your characters to an appropriate point of view, I can recommend Orson Scott Card's classic Characters & Viewpoint, an Elements of Fiction Writing put out by Writers Digest (2011).

Next Saturday, I'll be sharing some thoughts on building that professional development plan. 

Meanwhile, may your writing go well!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Writer's Construction Zone: Part 2

Once we face up to our dreams of becoming a writer, many paths open. Maybe we're not sure exactly WHAT we want to write. That's OK. Why not experiment -- poetry, flash fiction, short stories, even a running start on a novella or novel. Why not?

What am I writing? The craft of writing sets up writer and reader expectations depending sometimes on the length of what we write, the format we choose, or the genre. Trust me, writing a cozy mystery with cats and knitting is far different than a noir mystery where all characters carry their own sorrows.

Write whatever piques your interest. Maybe don't worry about finishing what you start. But consider looking at your current writing projects and asking: What am I writing about? Why? What draws me to these stories? Are there common themes, characters, conflicts that resurface?  

It was rather a shock when I discovered that buried in nearly all of my writing is that bedrock issue of abandonment, but I didn't have to think very hard to figure out why this issue remains important to me.

How am I writing? Although some folks criticize the old-fashioned "butt in chair" strategy of writing, I like this approach because you are writing -- every day.

Throughout the rest of the day, when you're not writing, the material is fresh enough that your unconscious is at work and may surprise you at that next writing session.

When you write every day (or nearly every day), you come to know WHAT you require to successfully get down on paper a certain allotment of words. 

What's rather fun is to figure out WHEN is the best time for you to write. You may be a leap-out-of-bed-at-dawn person or a let's-wait-until-everyone-is-asleep writer.

HOW you begin to write is also open to so many different strategies. Do you draft out an outline before writing? Are you a plodder, building that story structure (and supporting research, if needed) before you write? Or, are you a sprinter: do you leap into the story to discover with each plot twist, what happens next? My husband happens to be a 'bleeder,' someone who tortuously thinks for a long while before committing a single sentence to paper. 

Do you use prefer to write by hand? The very act of writing with a pen or pencil slows down how we think about the story we're telling. I tend to use word processing for story telling (drafting, outlining, taking notes, editing, and formatting), for I can type as fast as I can think. 

If you love technology, have you tried any of the writing programs like Scrivener that allow you to use sophisticated mapping, images, and research files in support of that primary document, your story?

How much am I writing? Before we fall into that pit of despair that says we are not reaching those goals we set, consider your writing productivity. 

How much are you writing every day? by the week? by the month? Even 100 words a day can lead to 3,000 words a month, though that's before editing. 

Do you set goals for how many words you write? Deadlines for your writing projects? Do you identify your long-term AND short-term goals -- in words?   

You may want to check out A Round of Words in 80 Days, an online writing community of writers who set goals by each 'round' of 80 days, and then check-in with short updates every Wednesday and Sunday.  

Next Saturday's post will explore the differences between skills we use in the process of writing and those storytelling skills we call 'writing craft'. 

Meanwhile, may your own writing go well.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Writers' Construction Zone: Part 1

A writer friend recently asked how she could jumpstart that novel that's been sitting in a drawer for the last five years. She wants to write, but those first 25,000 words still languish.  

I want to tell her to start at the beginning by thinking about her goals. When she's decided what she really wants to do, then she can begin identifying those "next steps" to lead her to a completed novel and a specific plan for skill building and marketing.

Because finishing one novel is not the whole story.

So here's Part 1 of Writers' Construction Zone, a guided workshop on identifying your writing goals and a self-assessment to determine where you are right now. Part 2 will identify those specific steps you can consider taking to reach your goals.


Some writers begin storytelling as soon as they can read and write. Others take a little longer to discover their dreams. If you are reading this far, you've already made a commitment to being a reader and a writer. But we can be overwhelmed by many different aspects of being a writer, from skills building, to publishing, to creating an online platform, to marketing.

So, let's take this step by step. Take some time to answer these next questions to build an writing plan that's tailored for you -- and that will identify the specific skills you need to work on to achieve your goals.

1.  What are you writing right now?
2.  What would you like to be writing within the next 2-3 years?
3.  How would you describe where you are in your writing career? Are you a beginning writer? Someone who's published a book or two? Someone at the end of your writing career but eager for just one or two more books?

Unless you are writing for your pleasure alone, somehow you'll want to get what you've written into the hands of readers. 

1. Who is your primary audience? 
2. Is your audience larger than family and friends?
3. Can you describe the demographics of your audience?

If you had a finished manuscript in your hands, what would you want to do?

1.  Find an agent and be traditionally published by one of the big 5 US publishers -- Penguin/Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hacette, or Simon & Schuster?

2. Work directly with a small, independent publisher?

3. Self-publish through Amazon (KDP and/or CreateSpace), Smashwords, or Lulu?

Much has been written online and in writing magazines about the strengths and drawbacks of each of these three publishing options. If you were buying a pair of shoes, you wouldn't rely on advice from your friends. You'd want to try them on, right?

Next Saturday's post will depend on your questions and comments. Let me know what you'd like to hear about first and what kind of information you'd find most helpful.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining. Let's write!

Friday, September 05, 2014

New Website?

I've been seesawing for a while. Which is better? My blogs here on Blogger -- or should I take that leap of faith and learn Word Press?

Like many writers with thoughts of the next book pushing away at the imagination, I've resisted. As a writer of historical fiction with a new stack of books just waiting to be read, I'd rather read than rewrite code, and so set aside thoughts of my online presence. But when I would visit other writers, their pages shone with easy accessibility. So . . . 

Blogger won.

Notice the new headline below the banner that introduces this blog, upcoming appearances, my books, and a bio. My website has been revamped! 

What do you think? 

Have you made a change in your website? What factors went into your decision?

Early morning crane (Camp 2012)