Writing · Writing Process

5 Lessons Learned from Writing a Novel.

For some months now I have been busy re-writing an old novel I had written during NaNoWriMo back in 2015. The good news is I have finally finished writing it and at around 80k has become one of the longest pieces of writing I have ever done. It has certainly been a struggle for this short story writer!

During this entire process, there have been a few things that I have learned along the way.

1. Have a plan/outline

Previous experience has taught me that in order to finish a long writing project I need to have some kind of outline before I start. At the beginning of each chapter, I therefore wrote what I wanted to happen within that chapter in order to maintain my focus. It does not have to be a detailed outline for many pages that some writers are known to do; you may only need a couple of lines in order to get some sense of direction to move forward.

2. Listen to of your characters

Despite having some kind of plot outline, my characters would say and do things a little bit ‘off script’, sometimes making things better than I had originally imagined. This was great when it came to building my word count or to write again when I needed to take a break, however, this would also take me down the path of panster once again, meaning that I may never finish. When this happens, you may need to reassess what you want with what your character wants and take another look at your plot.

3. Use a timer and have a quota

Ever since I tried NaNoWriMo, I have been using a timer to help get the words written, otherwise my internal editor or perfectionist self can sneak in and it can take too long to get the words written down. Start with a quota that you find doable and gradually challenge yourself to go that little bit further. I began with a daily quota of 1,000 words and used a timer in order to get the words down faster. I would set a timer for 15 minutes and would average 500 words each session. As my 1000 word limit would be reached within half an hour, I then doubled my daily quota so that I wrote 2000 words in one hour. I then increased that to 4000 words a day, broken up into two separate hourly slots.

4. Aim to strike while the iron is hot

I returned to this old NaNoWriMo project because the idea still resonated with me. The more I thought about my characters and plot, the bigger the project had become. Sometimes new ideas may have to be placed on the back-burner if we are currently working on something, but the best time to begin writing a new project is while we are still brimming with enthusiasm, so make the most of such opportunities whenever possible.

5. Have a deadline and word limit.

Because my novel was becoming longer than I had anticipated, I needed to create some kind of deadline as well as consider my word limit, otherwise I would never finish. I had read that the average word limit for debut novels these days tend to be around 80k, so that’s what I aimed for (as well as taking my genre into account). Also I began to feel that the longer it took, my enthusiasm began to wane and I therefore needed a break. With a deadline and word limit in mind, it certainly helped to get the words written down faster.

One of my goals for this year was to step out of my comfort zone and by writing an 80k novel, I think I can safely say I’ve achieved that! It certainly has been a learning experience. 😉

Have you written your first novel and what advice would you give? How are you progressing with your writing goals? Have you stepped out of your comfort zone this year with your writing? Are you a plotter or a panster or somewhere in-between? Have you revisited an old NaNoWriMo project?

Main image courtesy of Unsplash

Writing · Writing Process

Writing in More than One Genre.

Before the end of last year, I began to consider writing in a different genre. I think it’s good for writers to experiment and find out what works and what doesn’t. It takes us out of our ‘comfort zones’ and gives that elusive muse plenty to work with. For quite some time writing a romance remained in the back of my mind and for someone that doesn’t always write happy endings, the thought had become quite a challenge.

I always envied those authors that chose one particular genre and stuck with it. My muse would jump from one idea to another, leaving me wondering what genre I actually wrote in and therefore making it difficult to ‘brand’ myself on social media.

More recently, though, the more I looked into my chosen genres, the more I realised that they all kind of blend in together. As I mainly write paranormal, at least romance can always be included. My current work in progress is the ‘novel’ I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2015 and a romantic element plays a major role. Yes, it’s a mess, but I am having fun with it and could well be the longest thing I have written so far.

Recently I read a post from Cait Reynolds on Kristen Lamb’s blog regarding genre, which posed some interesting issues. If you haven’t already read it, it’s well worth a look. The main takeaway regarding genres is this – pick a genre and stick with it for about three years and keep other genres to a minimum. For someone who has had issues with plot bunnies for many years, this became a bit of a wake-up call.

Writing can be fun, especially if we give our muse free rein, which is great for those of us who write as a hobby or are just starting out. The thing is, though, if we are seriously considering publication, we may need to focus on one genre for a while (preferably the one that we get the most pleasure in). This allows us time to establish a readership.

Writing in one genre shouldn’t stop our muse completely; we just need to keep our ideas in different genres on the back burner for a little while before we can take our readers along for the ride.

Do you agree with sticking with one genre before trying something else? Do you struggle to control your plot bunnies? Have you published in different genres and how has that worked for you? If you write in more than one genre, are they similar genres or completely different?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Writing

Do You Finish Your NaNo Projects?

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo a couple of times (failed once, succeeded twice) and the end result has always been one giant mess. I guess that’s the purpose of the whole exercise though isn’t it? Just get the words written down!

To be perfectly honest, I have not finished any of my NaNoWriMo projects. I start with a rough outline and let the characters determine how they wish to get there. Last year’s efforts, although incomplete, has been the best so far when it comes to re-writes (so I might just be getting better). Only a few short months ago I went over it and can see the potential in it, so that is one I will keep working on.

Recently, I began working on the re-writes of one of my other NaNoWriMo projects, however as I began working, I soon discovered it was in dire need of an overhaul. The more I looked into it, the more questions arose. I wanted to know more about my characters backgrounds, which in turn made the project bigger than it was before. The more research I undertook, the more possibilities opened for both plot and character development. Overwhelmed, I decided to begin by writing a short story for one of my major characters. I felt the need to take a small step backwards in order to move forward.

This year, although I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo, I will be working on one of my previous efforts. I have a bit of a backlog to finish and tidy up before it comes around again next year. Participating has certainly been worth it; even though I have been left with a bit of a mess, I at least have something to work with and know what my limitations are.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the very best of luck!

Do you finish your NaNoWriMo projects? Will you be participating this year? Do you have a back-log of projects to complete? What have you learned about yourself as a writer after doing NaNoWriMo?

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Writing

Has Your Writing Ever Surprised You?

Sometimes as writers our work can surprise us. We may get an idea for a story where our plot can take us in a completely different direction than what we had originally intended. It opens up doors to possibilities that can broaden our research and make our story stronger.

Recently, with a new story idea, I had been struggling with the very beginnings and background to one of my characters. Once I spent some time away from this new story, I quickly found myself down a particular period in history and amongst some shady characters. It was most unexpected, but it has left me excited to pursue this and how it will shape the rest of the story’s plot.

Then there can be the actual writing itself. A lot of the time writing can be compared with pulling teeth, trying to find the right words and wondering what our characters are going to say next. It’s a wonderful feeling when we find ourselves ‘in the zone’; that special place where we are there within the scene as we write it, oblivious to our surroundings. Such moments don’t happen too often (or is that just me?) and such a natural high, that it should be savoured.

Last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I had a rough outline of what I had planned and used a timer. I think it was these two things that helped me get over the line at the end of the month. Recently I began the task of going over my NaNoWriMo novel, and expecting the usual slush, I was pleasantly surprised when I began reading the first couple of chapters. The descriptions actually made me feel that I could see the setting; the season and the spaces the characters occupied. Sure it still needs a lot of work, but to have made such a starting point when I was racing against the clock surprised me.

Writing, like any creative outlet, allows us to free ourselves from constraints. When we give in to our creativity and just go with it, we can experiment and try different things. If we allow our characters free rein, letting them tell us their stories in their own way (some authors have said as writers, we are just conduits), such things can surprise us as writers, but always in a good way. 😉

Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? Did you ever come up with a plot device you never expected? Have you experienced being ‘in the zone’? Do you allow your characters free rein?

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

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Writing · Writing Process

Writing & Creating Change.

Recently, I began working on the re-writes of my first novel. By starting with the first chapter, I tried to get an idea of my main character. I sent the first couple of pages to some of my beta readers for feedback and all seemed fine. All was ready to go, but I quickly froze in my tracks.

Re-writes are not always a lot of fun and takes a fair amount of time and hard work. I have reworked my short stories so many times it has almost made my eyes bleed! My most recent short story is just over 8,000 words; the longest I’ve written so far, and my beta readers really like it. For something so ‘short’, it certainly took a fair amount of work. For some reason, the re-writing of my first novel was different. To help work around it, I printed my NaNoWriMo novel from last year (2016) and began re-writing.

I was now faced with a dilemma – do I really want to be re-working two novels simultaneously? It made me realise that this is pretty much how professional authors work – they alternate with writing a new WIP, re-write another novel and plan/outline another. It helps with their productivity. Taking a step back, I realised I had a problem with time management. I needed to work harder and smarter in order to achieve my goal of publication. Some things needed to change.

Trouble is, habits are hard to break and not all of them are good for us. Making any necessary changes takes both time and conscious effort. Continuously coming up with new ways to be productive can be very effective and helps us find new ways to improve. We really need to want the change if we want to succeed.

Perhaps I am too close to my first novel or it may still need some work; perhaps both. I can still chip away at it a bit at a time until I’ve reached a point where I am satisfied with it. Like an artist’s canvas, this is still a work in progress. Pretty much like myself, really. 😉

Do you have trouble with re-writes? Are you continuously coming up with new ways to be productive? Do you have problems with managing your time?

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Writing

Lessons Learnt from NaNoWriMo, 2016

typewriter-801921_1280Once again this year I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and was fortunate to make it all the way to the finish line. There were a couple of moments when panic began to set in and I wondered if I was going to make it at all! Looking back on NaNoWriMo this year, there were three very important lessons that I managed to take away from the whole experience.

Less time on social media helps you to focus.

The more time I spent writing and less time on social media, I became more focused on my WIP and found myself less distracted. From having only 30 days in which to write as much as you possibly can, every minute counts. Because I spent less time on social media, at the end of each day I felt I had achieved something – which was making more progress towards the goal of 50,000 words. Now that NaNoWriMo has finished, I continue to spend less time on social media, making me feel more relaxed and more focused upon my writing goals.

Writing is the No.1 Priority.

Doing NaNoWriMo and concentrating upon that one writing project made me realise that writing is my No.1 priority (as it should be). As I am easily distracted, social media shows me what other writers are doing towards their goals, while allowing me to lose focus upon my own. Doing NaNoWriMo has allowed me to re-focus, prioritise and work on my own path towards publication.

Writing 50,000 words a month is do-able.

The thought of writing so much is initially daunting, especially for those writers like me who are used to writing shorter works. When I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, I found some things which helped me enormously in getting the words down. The thing about NaNoWriMo is to get you into the habit of writing on a regular basis and trying to meet deadlines. These are habits writers must learn in order to become professional.

I have already decided not to participate in NaNoWriMo next year as I now have a couple of NaNoWriMo projects that need a lot of re-working (adding to the pile of all the other projects I want to get through 😉 ).

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and enjoy your holidays! I look forward to seeing you all again in the New Year.

merry-christmas-australia-1Did you do NaNoWriMo this year? What did you learn from the experience? Did you make it to the finish line? Do you plan on taking up the challenge again next year?

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Main image courtesy of Pixabay

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Writing

What Is Your Favourite Aspect of Being a Writer?

take-532097_1280There are many good things about being a writer; choosing your own hours, working wherever you want, but my favourite aspect of being a writer has to be telling the stories you need to tell. It’s those voices in your head that tell you what to write, which helps determine what genre/s to write in and how you need to go about telling them. Sure, friends and family tend to give us strange looks or even a wide berth, but we’re fortunate enough not to be considered strange enough to be placed in a padded cell – well, at least not yet, anyway.

minionvoicesIt’s the spark of an idea that comes to you through experience; from something you see, hear or read, through an issue that you feel passionate about. It’s the idea of being able to create people’s lives, places and whole new worlds within our imaginations. Our imagination lights up and fires our creative souls to produce something you hope others will appreciate. In short, it’s the joy of creating something we see in our minds eye and moulding it into shape through the use of words. The best part of being a writer is to give those voices free reign; after all everyone has a story to tell – even those voices within your own head. 😉

Without a doubt I’ll be giving free reign to the voices in my head this month by yet again participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve been busy doing my preparations, so I’m eager to get started (just don’t expect to see too much of me around here for a while)!

What is your favourite aspect of being a writer? Do you enjoy the writing process? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

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Writing · Writing Process

How Pinterest Can Help You Plan Your Novel.

pinterest-793051_1280I was a late-comer when it came to joining Pinterest. I was a bit dubious at the thought and found it was a case of ‘not another social network’. When I did eventually join I soon found it to be quite useful; especially when it came to planning a novel.

Recently, I have been working on writing my first novella (or is that a novelette?), and in order to help me ‘see’ what I was writing, I created a secret board. I scoured the internet for pictures of my setting, characters and various articles for research. Once I began doing this, I had a better understanding about my characters (especially my protagonist) and the world in which they live. The only downside to gathering pictures on Pinterest however, is like any other form of research – it can become time-consuming. You get so caught up in it, that the writing side can become sadly neglected.

I currently have about half a dozen secret boards for various works in progress, including the novel I will be working on for NaNoWriMo this year. Just like my novella, I have found having a secret Pinterest board of great help in the planning process. It has helped me to work on my protagonist, as well as establish a time period and location. I have gathered quotes that focus on my protagonist’s state of mind at the beginning of the novel and have a picture I find to be applicable for a book cover. Having a book cover, like a working title, gives you something to focus on while you write your novel as it allows you to keep your theme in mind. Having a secret Pinterest board is a great way to keep you motivated, especially during those times when your enthusiasm starts to wane.

Pinterest has become a popular social network amongst writers and it’s easy to see why. It’s a great addition to researching our stories and provides motivation and an audience at the same time.

Are you on Pinterest? Do you use Pinterest to help research your novels? Do you have secret boards? How do you use Pinterest?

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 Image courtesy of Pixabay

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Writing

Pushing the Boundaries During NaNoWriMo.

early-morning-299735_1280This year I became one amongst the many people around the world who participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I have undertaken this challenge a couple of times in the past; the first time a success, the other a complete failure, so even though I came to it this time around with an open mind, I was determined to see it through to the end.

It’s been an intense number of weeks; however, there were three things that I learned about myself throughout the whole experience that surprised me.

Genre:

During NaNoWriMo this year, I thought I’d try something completely different and write in a genre that I’ve never written before. Admittedly, the idea had been tinkling in the back of my mind for a few years, and despite certain aspects that remain fuzzy, I wanted to give it a go. I worked with a very basic outline; I knew my beginning and my end and one of my main characters remained very elusive (but then he’s supposed to be), but on the whole I let my characters ‘speak’ for themselves. From doing this, events happened that I did not expect and minor characters began to reveal their own, unique personalities. By writing in a genre I have read, but never written, I gave my ‘muse’ a free reign, which is just what NaNoWriMo is all about.

Focus:

I’ve always been one of those people that are easily distracted, which is why, whenever I write, I need to work in silence. I flitter from one writing project or idea to the next, which might also explain why I generally write in shorter forms. Therefore writing 50,000 words can be quite a challenge and yes, when I reached the half way point, I felt like throwing it all in; I didn’t like my beginning, my story was going nowhere and I was re-reading one of my favourite novels at the time in which to help me with my love scenes. At the midway point, panic had well and truly dug itself in. But when I stopped to really think about my story, about my vague plot outline in order to keep going, I thought I’d focus on my strengths and began writing those scenes I knew I could write. I began writing scenes that I could clearly ‘see’ in my minds’ eye, including the very last scene where I got to write ‘The End’. Sure, my NaNoWriMo novel is now a complete mess, but it allowed me to focus on the task.

Quotas:

I have to admit that during NaNoWriMo I did not write every day and do the recommended daily quota. I took weekends off to spend time with family and the odd day here and there between writing sessions. When I did write, though, I made sure I wrote enough to make up for lost time in order to meet the 50,000 word limit. There were days when I wrote up to 2,500 words and decided to push myself even further the next session; 3,000 words then became 4,000 words per day, until with 10,000 words left to write, I accomplished that in two days. I wrote 5,000 words each for two days, which has become my personal best. I kept telling myself that if I could write more words for the day, then I probably should – I pushed myself outside of my own comfort zone.

When participating in a challenge like NaNoWriMo, you can often surprise yourself with what you are really capable of. Writing a novel from scratch is certainly not as easy as it looks; it takes time, patience and an awful lot of hard work and determination. Whether you reached the 5,000 word limit or not, every word you’ve written is a step closer towards your goal; after all as the saying goes ‘you can’t fix a blank page’.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Did you make it to the ‘finish line’? In what ways do you push the boundaries with your own writing? What have you found works best for you?

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This Writer's Life · Writing

Writers: Choose Progress Over Perfection.

MushroomsRecently my husband suggested I should start sending my writing off for people to read. He came up with a few names, but I found myself ultimately tensing up and disagreeing with those names he had suggested.

He then raised a very valid point – if I don’t want anyone to read my writing, then I don’t want to get published; I’ll only be writing for myself. As an unpublished writer, at the moment I am only writing for myself. I’m finding out where my strengths and weaknesses are and I want to build up a body of work so that when I do publish, I’ll have more than one book on offer. Sounds reasonable, however, the problem with that is that it could take years, so why wait that long?

During our conversation, a voice in the back of my head screamed ‘I’m not ready!’ Fear took hold of me once again. Why? I then realised that my fear stemmed from perfectionism. I can’t let anyone read my work – it needs to be perfect before I can do that!

The trouble is there is no such thing as perfect. It’s an illusion. We admire other writers – their writing can look so damned perfect, yet we only ever see the finished product. Years of hard work and persistence enabled these writers to reach such a high standard and yet they learned to let go. They knew when their best was good enough. Like any art, not everyone is going to like everything you write. In order to do the best we can at our craft, we need to make mistakes. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not learning. Participating in National Novel Writing Month  is the ultimate way in which writers can lose all pretence of perfectionism, and author Anne R Allen lists several ways in which NaNoWriMo can help.

Change your way of thinking. Instead of aiming for perfection, think about making progress instead. Learning to progress increases your knowledge, which can make you an expert in certain areas. It broadens the mind; makes you a more interesting person and can become a great motivator. It will also help you decide that, you too, have done the best you can do and can move on.

Aiming for perfection can be crippling as it helps feed those self-doubts. Perfection doesn’t help you to move forward as a writer, instead strive for progress and you’ll never look back.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Does perfectionism hold you back from achieving your goals? Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

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