Monday, February 22, 2016

5 Tips to Setting a Good Writing Habit

This past weekend I attended a workshop on setting habits, specifically how to set new writing habits.  Since I always seem to find ways to stray away from what I need to do when writing, listening to someone else’s ideas is always a good way to pull myself back into the chair and get busy.

Let’s face it – these days the computer can be our downfall even as it has made writing so much easier.  I recall sitting down with my manual typewriter – yes, an actual manual typewriter – and  working until my wrists grew tired. Then I rented an electric (Selectric) and before long that was my favorite. As soon as I could afford one, I bought it.  That lasted until I got my first computer.  And my first computer game.  Writing changed forever. Those games sucked away so much time. Later I got the internet and even more time was consumed.  I still spent every day at my desk, just not writing as much.

So now I find I need to return to the old things that worked.

1.       Write first thing in the morning.  This was one of the ideas we discussed at our habit session. If you make a habit of getting up and getting busy at your computer with writing for at least half an hour or an hour before you allow yourself to get online, you will get some work done.

2.      Use a timer.  If you are so anxious to get to that online news, or latest game, or facebook page, then set a timer. Try writing for half an hour with a clock ticking away. That can ease the anxiety, but also help you rack up some pages in the meantime.

3.      Don’t use a computer to write. Try writing in a notebook.  Our speaker, Harlequin author, Rogenna Brewer, told us some writers have returned to their old Alpha Smarts as a writing method. That way you are working directly into a writing program, but you don’t have the temptation of an internet icon tempting you.  She also mentioned that some people still use notebooks to write. Sometimes that can work.

4.      Get out of the office. Sometimes you get so used to writing in the same place that you still can’t break the bad habit of getting online. You stop to get coffee and the internet is sitting there tempting you. Take your laptop and go to a library or coffee shop.

5.      Do one of these things until regular writing becomes a habit again.  Check how much you want to write every day to get a full story written and then set that mark as your daily goal. Then start following whichever pattern works best for until your writing habits are set. No matter whether you write by the seat of your pants or with a carefully constructed outline, the key is to keep writing with whatever method works best for you.

She noted that many of us are working on several things as we write a book – besides the writing. We are also working on editing another book perhaps, while promoting a third. But take the time to set a good habit for writing the next one. That can not only keep you going, but can help you set up your career for the future.

 

  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

5 Tips for Overcoming Writing Road Blocks

What do you do when you hit a road block in your plotting?

Sometimes it seems to happen no matter how well you have plotted your book. You reach a place where you just can’t seem to get passed the last scene. The next scene is a blank on the page and in your head. You’ve reached a turn in the road that you can’t seem to get around. Suddenly all your great plot ideas are stalled. You can’t seem to figure out how write the next scene. The story itself simply isn’t working and your characters refuse to move forward, and you don’t know why. Even worse you don’t know how to get them to move on. It's not writer's block. You want to write the scene. You just can't seem to do it.

Here are some quick ideas for getting past that road block and getting back on track.

1.      Turn in a new direction.

      Go off your plotting map and try something new. You don’t even need to write this into your story. Grab a new page in your writing program or go to a new page in your notebook, or go to a new notebook completely.  Pull up a new page and start a new chapter, a new scene, something different and try taking your story in a new direction

2.       Use the last scene as a plot twist.

Perhaps the problem is that you thought you were going one way, but now that isn’t working and that is why you find you are suddenly stuck. Well, maybe that plot direction won’t work. Trying using it as the end of that plot direction and toss in a twist so that you can go in a new direction. This might be where you find that you’ve fallen in love with your villain and you need someone else to be the bad guy. Well, make that decision and move on with your story to bring the blame for the dastardly deed to someone else. Using that plot twist can get you headed back in the right direction.

3.      Use the block as a red herring.

If you are writing a mystery, use this dead end to send your readers in one direction while you and your villain are actually plotting in a different direction. Let this event seem important, but you can just drop it here, and then explain later why it didn’t work or how it helped to solve the mystery.

4.      Jump forward.

Perhaps this scene has taken too much of your creative drive and you just feel blah about it. Stop writing it and go forward to work on your next scene. Don’t let this one keep you down. Instead of trying to figure out how to make this one work to get to the next scene, go on to that scene. You can always come back to this one and fix it later or you can take it out of the book. Maybe you will find you don’t actually need it.

5.      Bust on through.

Sometimes there is nothing else you can do except to push through that bad period. Move on to the next sentence, or just write something. Again, you can always come back and fix this scene. Sometimes you just need to sit in the chair and make yourself write it. That is what editing is for.  Bursting through that wall and barreling straight on down the road is sometimes the only answer. Just getting past the obstruction can make you feel like you’ve not only accomplished something, but it can help to push you forward.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

5 Tips for Writing Your Setting

When I teach classes about writing or plotting a book I usually include at least one lesson writing setting. It's something that I think can really help bring the reader into your story.  If they can see or feel the story location in their minds it makes understanding the plot and the characters much easier.
But how do you accomplish that?  Here are five tips to help you write a more realistic setting.

1. Know your Setting.  It just stands to reason that if you know a location you will be able to write about it better. As someone who has lived in both locations I can say that the feel of the mountains in Colorado is different than the feeling you get in the mountains of Washington state. The ski resorts in Colorado are different than what you feel when you visit ski resorts outside Vancouver. Knowing some of those small differences can bring the story home.

Still what can you do if you can't visit every location you want to use?

2. Duplicate the feeling of the location.  A ski crowd in Colorado will be dressed much the same as that crowd on the slopes in Washington. The icy touch of the morning sun and the coldness of the snow will be very similar.  Riding up the gondola is going to be similar.  Drink in the sensations of where you are and look for the similarities that you can use.

3. Drink in the ambience. I am always telling my family when I visit a new place where I have never been that I am soaking up the ambience.  I like to feel the location and that can mean not just looking at the sights, but closing my eyes and listening to the sounds or smelling what is in the air. That can mean feeling things down to the density of the air. Again, the feeling of a February afternoon in Phoenix is different than a summer day in Colorado even if the temperature might be close to the same.

4.  Look for differences that you can compare to what the reader might know. I often use comparisons to well known places or things to bring the setting home. This can be very helpful when writing about fictional towns. Bring in sensations that the reader can relate to.

5. Remember to listen to the language and listen for the little idiosyncrasies of a certain dialect.  Some of these can be very small. We can probably pick out the differences between someone who is from New York as opposed to someone who is from Texas or Georgia.  Can you tell the difference between someone from Iowa and Washington? How about Minnesota and California?

The main thing to remember is that a little bit of research can go a long way when researching a location. And remember if you are using a location that you aren't quite certain about, Google Maps is a wonderful resource.  Do a flyover to see the landscape or pull down closer and jump on a road or highway and take a visual tour across the country. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

5 Tips to Writing Productivity

One of the big problems writers face all the time is trying to keep productive  We have all sorts of excuses for why we don't write or can't seem to get going. Maybe we can't think of what to write in the next scene or what we want that next piece of dialogue to say.

Sometimes it pays to simply sit down and write!

But what can I write about? Where will I start?  Those are more questions that just beg to make you sit around and watch a movie or play a computer game or check on facebook, or perhaps work on your website.  Oh, or do research!  That's always a great way to put off writing. Excuses, excuses.

Again, sometimes all you can do is to sit yourself down and start writing.

For 35 years I had to sit down every morning and write.  True, I was handed stories write. When you are a newswriter you have to write every day.  As a producer I could put it off a little longer but then I was mainly writing teases or choosing the stories I wanted to write. As a newsroom manager I wrote less, but there were always proposals or a series piece or someone else's work to re-write.

But as a fiction writer what keeps us going?  In some ways I harken back to my old days in the newsroom. Here are five tips to get started writing.

1.  Write first thing in the morning.  I've suggested this before. Writing when you're fresh or when you come back from a morning jog, bike ride, or walk.  I used to plot a scene while I was walking in the morning so I had a starting point for the day.  Some of those plotting problems would be solved while I walked.

2. Start with a scene  you know you want to or need to write.  This might be anywhere in your book. I often write out of order. If you've written an outline you'll know where to put it.  Yes, I know some people refuse to write except in a straight line, but sometimes writing out of order can be fun.

3.  Write a piece of dialogue. If you insist on writing in order then write your next scene as a dialogue. Sometimes dialogue can be just the thing to get your mind flowing again. Pretend you are having a conversation with your characters and see what comes out.

4.  Write from another point of view.  One of the most freeing moments for me came when I wrote a piece of my book Blues at 11 in first person. I'd been writing it in third person like all my other suspense novels and romances and the book wasn't working. I knew I wanted it to be a mystery and have a light touch.  I wrote a scene in Kimberly's first person point of view and suddenly the words began to flow.  Kimberly and her voice took over my head and I was able to get the book written.

5.  Just write.  There are times when there is no other choice than to power through.  Usually that first line can get you started and before long you'll find that first sentence has led to another, and another, and another, and the scene is written.

Being a writer means writing. I keep a little note attached to my computer that says "touch the ball every day."  It's a saying another writer mentioned in a blog post and supposedly came from an NBA star who said that was what it took to be a star player. He had to touch the ball every day. And that is what it takes to be a writer. Touch the pen to paper or keyboard every day. Write!

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