Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At the End of the Day--My Top 12 Writing Tips

I can't believe I haven't blogged in over a month--disgraceful!  My only excuse is I am so consumed with Overtaken pre-pub I barely have time to eat or sleep, let alone blog.  But I've certainly missed you all. It's also been difficult for me to think of a blog-worthy topic right now, but since this is primarily a blog about writing, and we're in the middle of Nanowrimo (which I am NOT participating in this year, thank goodness) I thought I'd share some of my fave writing tips.  At the end of the day, when all is said and done, these are the ones that have always served me the best:

1.  Go for pages rather than word counts.  Yes, I know Nanowrimo is all about hitting that 50,000 word goal, but if you set yourself a number of pages per day first, you'll find you can surpass that final number, and ahead of time too,  During the rest of the year, watching your pages add up is, fo me, far more satisfying than stressing over a bloated word count.

2.  Break your writing sessions up into several sittings per day.  It's a bad idea to work on anything for longer than an hour without a break.  Writing is no exception.  Schedule your writing session for various times during the day (or night).  You'll be more productive.

3.  And break those sessions up too!  For instance, give yourself 15 minutes to freewrite, then stand up and get a drink of water.  Then take 15 minutes to write some more.  Stop, read a few magazine pages.  Then go for, say, 30 minutes...have lunch.  You get the picture.

4.  Write your first draft from start to finish--without editing.  While you're writing the first or discovery draft, try not to look back at your previous pages unless it's for something like a quick reminder of a character's name or the last thing he or she said when you put your pen down.

5.  Write your last scene first.  I've always thought it's important to know where I want my story to go.  I consider this last scene or page the equivalent of a life raft, something to swim toward when the going gets rough.

6.  Always diagram a "W" goal structure even if you have no other plot or outline, starting with:  What does my main character want, and why can't she/or he have it?   (For more information on the full "W" and what exactly it is, check out The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript, currently on super sale at valeriestorey.com.)

7.  Write longhand whenever you can.  In my workshops I've always taught:  ideas come through our heads, pass through our hearts, and are expressed through our hands--with a brush, pen or pencil, or even a twig.  There's something very honest and fresh when we write by hand.  I also think it's much easier and more comfortable than any other method.

8.  Print out every draft.  Edit and rewrite from a paper version of your manuscript, rather than relying on your computer screen to catch errors or ways to improve and polish your writing.  The difference between the two formats and what you can find "wrong" is astonishing.

9.  Collage your feelings, scenes, chapters, characters, and book covers, and keep them all together in your manuscript binder.  For more information on writing with magazine cut-outs, just click here.

10.  Write with a friend.  Create a writing group that's based on productivity rather than critique.  Have assignments and goals to accomplish between meetings.

11.  Always be aware of your genre and where you want your book to be in the bookstore--both online and bricks-and-mortar.  This is especially helpful for writing query letters and synopses, but it's also a good way to keep your writing on track.  Know your genre and how you fit into it, or how and why your manuscript is taking that genre in a new direction.

12.  Be playful.  Use as many prompts, tricks, what-ifs as you can throughout the writing process.  Be willing to change your story when it tells you to.  Be outrageous, be daring, "go for the jugular," as Natalie Goldberg always says, and do your best to enjoy the journey through all its many stages.

So there we are!  Happy Nanowrimo, everybody.  Now back to our writing.

Tip of the Day:  Let's make it a baker's dozen and throw in a 13th tip:  Don't be afraid of your creativity.  If you're fearful of "what will people think," use a pseudonym.  If you're afraid of failure, tell yourself it's all pretend, anyway, and much more fun than washing the floor.  Good luck!