The Power of Accountability

It’s Easy to Write a Book. Right? Right?

AcountabilityBack in Spring 2015, when the self-publishing phenomenon gathered momentum, I decided to write a book. I had done some research and had a good idea that I wanted to write something romantic with magical elements strewn in.

I grew up in Germany, and from early on, I was fascinated by fairy tales my grandmother used to tell me. Later, my parents encouraged my reading passion, and for Christmas, I received beautiful Reader’s Digest hardcover editions of 1001 Nights, Tales of the Caravan Serail, stories by Hans Christian Anderson, Bechstein, Grimm brothers, and collections of world legends. I devoured them all.

I knew my material. Couldn’t be too hard, then, to sit down and pen a love story set against the background of a magical parallel world, could it? I wrote 1500 words, submitted them to my local Writers Group, and got destroyed.

Writing a Book is Harder Than I Thought

“This reads like fan-fiction,” was one of the kinder comments. What a wakeup call! Apparently, the style of writing I was used to didn’t translate well for modern readers.

I dragged my sorry butt home and sulked. I nearly gave up the idea of writing altogether. Then I re-read my story a few weeks later, and some of it was really good. And some… just wasn’t.

Fast-forward a few more weeks. I listened to podcasts, bought some beginner writers’ courses online, and slowly began to understand why my first attempt had been so bad.

Ever heard of “Show, don’t Tell”? Yeah, I had told my story. When my heroine was sad, I’d written, “She was so sad that she cried.” Seriously.

Over the course of the next year, I learned how to outline. How to weave story strands. How to build a story arc with conflict and foreshadowing. How to write settings. How to avoid purple prose—the kind of dramatic, over-emotional writing that was popular in the nineteenth century. Boy, was there a lot to learn!

And once I’d figured out how to improve my actual writing, I realized that I had to learn about marketing and publishing as well.

By the time I was ready to return to my book, it was nearly two years later.

Writing That Book Should be Child’s Play By Now

The one thing I had still not mastered was consistency. I’d go WEEKS without putting down a single word. Frustrating, to say the least! I had a really cool concept, an outline, two memorable main characters, the title for the first, and ideas for two more books.

Every morning I got up, had a cup of tea and sat down to write. Then I’d remember I needed to fold the laundry. And do the dishes. And get lunch ready. Steven Pressfield writes about this phenomenon in his inspiring book The War of Art:

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is. (…) Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. It is experienced as a force field emanating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its intention is to shove the creator away, distract him, sap his energy, incapacitate him. (…) If Resistance wins, the work doesn’t get written.”

And yet, at this very moment, I’ve written and published two novels and four short stories (in two very different genres). I’m writing a novella, have outlined the third novel in the Spirit Walker series, and I’ve started writing a prequel in the same series. I have three books planned in a brand-new series, and ideas for many more in my ideas folder.

How Did I Finally Write Two Books (And More)?

Last year, I came across a series of writing exercises which led me to The Write Practice website.

The site owner Joe Bunting runs several programs aimed at motivating and teaching writers. One particularly cool one is The 100 Day Book Program.

Over the period of three-and-a-half months, writers must post a chapter each week. If they miss the deadline three times, they forfeit $100 which will be paid to the IRS. If they succeed, the money is returned to them. There is a fee involved which covers daily lessons, videos, mentors checking in with the writers.

Once the chapter is uploaded, the writer receives feedback from other participants, and has to provide feedback themselves to three authors. Kinda like a benevolent pyramid scheme!

The feedback was great and highly appreciated, but what made the program work for me was the accountability element. There were quite a few Thursday nights where I worked until late into the night to get my chapter done and uploaded.

The process didn’t run smoothly for me, but it got me 95% there after 100 days. I needed an extra week with my first book and an extra three weeks with my second. Most importantly though, I GOT THEM DONE! Two months later, they were edited and published as Spirit Hunger and Spirit Elfen.

Summary

For some reason, we writers are a fickle bunch. We talk ourselves out of writing every day, even though it’s our favorite thing to do in the world (mostly)!

Every time you start a new endeavor, be it getting fit, or completing a project, the first bit of advice you get is, “Find an accountability partner!”

I used to scoff at the idea. Until I tried it with writing. Knowing that there were people out there, waiting to hear how the story progressed, was a very powerful motivator. As powerful as potentially losing money to the IRS. Ugh.

The secret to writing, publishing, and becoming successful as a writer, is consistency. Find a mechanism to make yourself more consistent. You could do worse than checking out The Write Practice.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you suffered from Resistance and its little brother Procrastination? How did you get over it?

How I Overcame Writer’s Block

How I overcame Writer’s Block

dawn-190055_640So for the last two days I haven’t been able to write. I’m literally 90% done with my novel. In theory, I should be flying through the final ‘boss battle’ and head for the home straight.

In practice I was terrified of that particular scene. I had no idea where to go. No idea how to get my characters through it. Not even from whose perspective I would tell the story.

So my dilemma wasn’t the kind of writer’s block, “oh no, a white piece of paper, what could I possible put on it…” It was more like, “oh no, what if the scene is boring? Or over the top? Or no one likes it?”

Why I suggest an outline

This has happened a few times throughout my journey to write the first draft. And each time it cost me WEEKS to get back to my story. What saved me was the fact that I had taken the time to write an outline.

I know this doesn’t work for everybody but if you get times where you just need to step back from your manuscript, I highly recommend you at least give it a try. This is what worked for me because I’m a detailed planner. It would equally work for somebody who doesn’t like planning but has a general idea where you’d like to end up!

I created a very detailed outline with each individual scene planned. That doesn’t mean that throughout the writing process, I haven’t changed it up. What it does mean is that even after taking a lengthy break, I can sit down with my document and have a pretty clear idea what should come next.

As I explained in my article on Dragon Dictation, it helps me to think about the scene for five minutes before I write. Maybe even talk aloud to myself like a crazy lady, just like I would tell a friend about a movie I watched and what happened next.

If you’re a VISUAL person, you got it easy!

I have no idea if this works for everybody. But I’d guess that if you’re a creative person, you’re familiar with the idea of day-dreaming. Have you ever imagined what it would feel like to win the lottery, call your boss and hand in your notice? Or how your spouse would react when you kiss them and say, “By the way, honey, I’ve solved our mortgage problems and ordered that Ferrari you’ve always wanted. No, I’m not crazy, I’ve won $10,000,000 in the lottery! No, I’m serious!”

Doesn’t that feel awesome? Can’t you imagine how the scene would be full of emotion, happiness, maybe a little fear about how your life would change? That’s the technique I use for writing a scene in my book.

I sit down, put on some headphones with binaural sounds, such as Inspire from iDoser – it costs $3 to download but I was happy to pay that. I find it works really well for me and I can use it as a timed sprint of 30 minutes exactly.

Then I visualize my scene. This has the double effect that it allows me to solidify my characters in my mind. I always cast my hero and heroine and that makes it a lot easier to do the next step.

I literally describe the scene that’s playing in my mind like a movie. I watch the two characters move, gesture, smile, snark, fight, get hurt, care for each other. Then I put fingers to keys and type like the devil, writing what’s already there in my head.

I usually end up with 600-900 words during a 30 minutes session. Word count isn’t as important as breaking through the barrier between my imagination and the page. This visualization technique allows me to do that and produce energetic, colorful scenes.

Hope this helps you guys! Let me know if you tried this and whether you found it as great as I do 🙂

How do you FAIL Nanowrimo?

Did you fail NaNoWriMo?

to-write-1700787_640NaNoWriMo 2016 is nearly over. Some participants won the contest, others didn’t. My Twitter and Instagram feeds are full of writers bemoaning that they “failed Nano”.

That makes me really sad. It’s like they don’t even realise that they’re a lot further along than they were at the beginning of the month. One girl said she ‘only’ managed 15,000 words. That’s about 520 words a day. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you extrapolate that, that’s over 180,000 words a year! That’s 3 romance novels! And trust me, 500 words a day is not that hard. That’s 20 minutes writing if you’re in the zone.

Is there another way to take part without beating yourself up?

Why bother feeling down over a target that’s entirely arbitrary? I used Nano this year to take advantage of the sprints on Twitter. It’s fun to know that there are 1000s of other writers playing along and at the end, I’ve got another 300 words or more added to my total. Do that 4 times and hey presto, that’s some days 1500 words that felt easy.

You won Nano – good for you!

What about the people who did manage the 50,000 words in November? Well done, that’s a super achievement! Don’t fool yourself though, the hard work is only beginning!

You need to edit! That means several passes through your text to knock it into shape.

Work from high level issues down to details. What I mean by that: DON’T START WITH LOOKING FOR TYPOS! That’s a total waste of time. Chances are you’re going to have to re-write chunks of your work anyways.

Some ideas on how to edit

Very briefly – I look for the following:

  • Are my characters consistent in their voice, behavior, clothing?
  • Continuity in weather, time of day, time of year, location, all that jazz;
  • When beginning a new chapter or different location, do I give enough detail to settle the reader and take them with me? Or do I lose them because they can’t follow my time / location jumps?
  • Do I give enough / too much descriptive detail? Is it boring or not evocative enough?Do I drop enough hints / red herrings / clues for the plot to thicken or build up suspense?
  • Are my characters too passive? Are they whiny? Do they annoy me? Do they do stupid ‘out of character’ things?
  • Am I rambling? Can I cut certain scenes to make them tighter?

Stylistic issues

  • Now I look at whether I’m consistent in my point of view i.e. Head-hopping?
  • What about using certain words too often or too close together in the text? Can I find a better expression than ‘he ran very fast’?
  • Do I use words that distance the reader from the action? Such as ‘he saw a horse in the distance, coming closer’. I’m describing what he saw rather than just describing the horse, ‘he turned around. A horse galloped towards him’.

Then, and only then, will I proof-read for errors and typos.

So does Nano matter?

Of course it does. Anything that allows us to be part of a community of creators matters.

But – we’re in this for the long run. Writing isn’t a “quick, get it down on paper” career. So taking another few weeks to get your word count up to 50k isn’t going to make or break you.

Enjoy yourselves, the best is yet to come! 🙂

Do you agree? Let me know what you think!

How to Fix Your Novel

 

How to Fix Your Novel by Steve Alcorn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How to Fix Your NovelThe Story

Have you started a novel, only to get part way into the manuscript and find yourself stuck? Or do you have an idea for a novel, but aren’t sure where to begin? Have you completed a first draft, but feel it doesn’t quite have the luster of professional writing?

In this lively and fun-to-read guide, Steve Alcorn shows you the remedies you need to achieve success. Step by step, you’ll breathe life into old manuscripts, create new novels that read like bestsellers, and put the spark back into your writing life. Topics include:

Story Structure
Character Building
Viewpoint
Tense
Voice
Setting
Conflict
Suspense
Mystery
Dialogue
Writing Big
Beginnings and Endings
Getting Published

Whether you’re a first time novelist still planning your story, or an experienced author looking for ways to bring your fiction to life, How to Fix Your Novel is the ideal prescription.

Steve Alcorn is a theme park designer, author and teacher. His novels include mysteries, young adult stories, historic fiction and romance. During the past decade Mr. Alcorn has helped more than 10,000 aspiring writers fix their novels and polish their manuscripts, through the online learning programs of 1500 colleges and universities worldwide. Now you can learn those same techniques in this fun and easy-to-use guide.

My take on it

It’s taking me a long time to read this book, not because it’s unreadable but because I am putting each point into action as I go along. Steve has managed to break down the act of plotting and writing a novel into logical, easy to follow steps. I’m finding it hard to grasp the concept of scene and sequel, but I think that’s more my shortcoming then Steve’s.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anybody thinking about writing a novel. Preferably before you even begin to plot!

Do you agree with my comments? Let me know and post below 🙂

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Great info on writing short stories

I decided to maybe take a break from writing my novel, but write a quick short story instead which will go more into my character’s backstory. It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a short story so I thought I quickly google and see what I could find. There are some great resources out there, but for my purposes this site hits the spot:

Write a Short Story in 2 Parts with examples. 

I hope you find this useful! I did 🙂

Author 2.0

 

Author2-0 J.F. Penn

Author 2.0 Blueprint by J.F. Penn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read through this quickly. Then spent 3 x the time following the links in the book. There is so much information on how to write, how to self-publish, how to market yourself and your book. Great and free! Thanks so much, Joanna!

Do you agree with my comments? Let me know and post below 🙂

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