Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.
Joshua Wolf Shenk
Do you remember the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music?
Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles
And warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Cream colored ponies
And crisp apple strudels
Door bells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
Try this writing experiment:
- Number a piece of paper from 1 – 25.
- Set the timer for 6 minutes.
- Now, make a list of your favorite things – exclude spouse and children.
When done with the list, look at which of the five senses are predominant. Taste of food? Smell of weather?
Be aware of how you remember things, and incorporate those descriptions into your writing, remembering to expand your favorite things to include all the senses, too.
Writing 1,667 words generally takes 60-90 minutes depending upon how fast you type. If you are hand-writing, it may take even longer, but not much.
Do you need to sit down and write for the full 90 minutes?
Consider splitting up your writing session times into two or more sessions throughout the day. Thirty minutes three times a day still gets the job done if you prepare yourself well.
NaNoWriMo fan and author, Ysenia Vargas offers the following advice:
Basically, for every hour of the day, from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, you are responsible for writing 500 words an hour. After writing 500 words for that hour, you can do whatever you want until the next hour begins.
Where does your story take place? Does it happen in one place or many places?
Take time in NaNoWriMo to write extensive descriptions of each location in each scene in your story. In the editing phase, you might only use a small part of this, but by exploring the surrounds around your characters fully, you have a wealth of information to choose from.
It’s difficult to write about a place you’ve never experienced, though science fiction and fantasy authors do it all the time. If you are new to writing, write about a location you are familiar with, one you know well. You can always change or rename the location later during the editing stage.
Consider the following as you describe each location:
- Where are they?
- When are they? What time of day? What year? What month? Which day of the week?
- Describe the ground.
- Describe the building(s) outside.
- Describe the building(s) inside.
- What is the most predominate color?
- What do you smell? One thing or many things? Which is dominant? Which is a hint of fragrance?
- What are the sounds? Are there many or few? Which is loudest, drowning the rest? Which is softest, heard only when paying attention or in a moment of silence from the rest of the sounds?
- What is the temperature?
- Is it dry, humid, wet, damp, windy, hot, cold?
- What does the character(s) feel on their skin? Is the sensation the same on top of the head as well as the feet?
- Where is the sun? Can it be seen?
- Describe textures, of walls, ceilings, furniture, floor, plants.
- Is nature here? What kind of nature? What is it, what does it look like?
- Does anything in the scene trigger stereotype reactions?
- Does anything in the scene trigger an emotional or memory response to one or more characters?
- Are there doors, paths, or exits?
- Are there windows? Open, closed? What is visible through them?
- Does the space feel open or closed, restricted, or free?
- Are there landmarks, statues, artwork, elements that serve as markers or direction indicators?
- Which way are the characters facing? North, east, west, south, etc.
- Is the sun/moon in their face or behind them? Or not anywhere?
- Are their vehicles? Furniture? What man made objects are near them? Do they interact with them?
- Find one element in the scene and describe it. Is it important to the scene, or an accessory? Does it help the story or help define the characters?
- Find another element, one that might be missed. Describe it. Why is it there?
This should start a series of your own questions specific to the location. Write those down and create your own list.
Peter Halasz of nowhitespace created a Writing Cheatsheet, a PDF document downloadable and printable that compresses just about all the bits and pieces you need to know about plot and character development.
On one side, the focus is on plot, outlining the hero’s journey, master plots, story structures, classic dramatic situations, myths, folktales, pacing…crammed together into the 8.5 x 11 inch space.
On the other side, it deals with character such as the basics, physical appearance, other people in the character’s life or circle, speech and language styles, soul searching, possessions, habits, personality and values, personality types, archetypes, personality factors, virtues and traits, and a wide variety of standard personality types, classes, phobias, and disorders.
The sources of the information are used in many Master of Fine Arts and writing programs such as Polti’s Thrity-Six Dramatic Situations, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Pinker’s Relationship Types, Myers-Briggs Personality Classifications, Edelstein’s Personalities and Virtues, and more.
Whether using this to help you with NaNoWriMo or in general, this is a brilliant tool to add to your writer’s toolbox.
What does it take to write well? Ira Glass reveals his tip for struggling writers.
Part serious, part humor, “In Reality How People Write A Novel: 67 steps” by the The Authors’ Nook breaks down the novel process into quick and easy steps such as:
- Declare to your friends and family that you’re writing a book.
- Immediately regret telling them because now you feel pressure.
- Stare at a blank page.
- To freshen up, Google: “How to write a book.”
- Remember that it’s a massive undertaking.
- Friends ask you, “So, how’s your book coming? Remember me when you’re famous!” And you want to die.
- Start to plot the novel just to get your mind off the pressure.
- Writer’s block.
- Netflix binge.
- Write 15 pages.
- Rewrite the 15 pages.
- Delete 14 pages.
- Drink a little too much.
- Netflix binge.
- Structure your story.
From time to time we may share links to writing tips we’ve found on the web to help us improve our writing. The majority of these are focused on fiction because our workshop motto is everything we write is fiction, whether or not it is. 😀
Five Essential Tips for Anyone Trying to Write A Book – Forbes: Brett Arends offers excellent tips that may seem simple but are really the things that get in our way and hold us back. These include practice writing, finding a writing space and time, planning your book, and so on. He also highlights how a writing group helped him, which is what we are here for! Come join us.
Writing tips by Paul Coelho: Hard to argue with a master and award-winning author. A favorite:
I write the book that wants to be written. Behind the first sentence is a threat that takes you to the last.
10 Writing Tips from Legendary Writing Teacher William Zinsser, May He Rest in Peace – Open Culture: The world of writing is a little smaller with the recent loss of William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, a staple of how to write since 1976. The article paying tribute to him selects some of the best writing tips he’s offered.
“A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
12 Writing Tips I’ve Learned After 20 Books and 3,000 Articles Over 20 Years – Inc.com: Inc’s Andrew Griffiths offers us some great tips that are not just about writing from a writer’s perspective, which they are, but also from an avid book reader. There is something to be said about good advice from those who love books such as:
I had the great pleasure of seeing Seth Godin in Sydney recently and he said something that really resonated with me: “If you are just writing to get ‘shares’ or ‘likes,’ you are writing too safe and too conservatively. If we really want to connect and engage our community, we have to be prepared to write content that is not popular, but it needs to be written.”
20 Writing Tips from Fiction Authors – iUniverse: This is a collection of quotes from modern writers, for the most part, on writing. There are some great ones in this collection including:
“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’”
Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manual – Quartz: Finding out that Struck and White were CIA sources – well, their writing styles were sourced by the US government in their style guide for writing “Intelligence Publications” – was fascinating, but the tips and advice in this collection of their tips celebrates their “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon,” something that I’m not sure the US Government, or any government, practices much any more. Still a good set of tips for the rest of us to practice.
5 Writing Tips: Jane Smiley – Publishers Weekly: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Jane Smiley shared a few fantastic tips including:
Exhaust your own curiosity about your project before showing it to someone else. Let your own ideas play out without getting input from others, then, after you show them your work, use their responses as input to push you forward. It may take you several drafts and a long time to come to the end of your ability to tackle a given subject, and when you do, you might be satisfied or dissatisfied with your product. If you are dissatisfied, the input of others will give you ideas for how to shape your novel further. If you are satisfied, the input of others will let you know if your novel is readable and accessible.