Tag Archives: writing a novel

How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time

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Often I hear about how people say they don’t have time to write. Their full time job, family, pets, etc. get in the way. I understand, and there are times when I believe that I have to choose between writing and working. However, even though I work full time, maintain a blog, participate in a critique group (which means spending time working on other people’s writing), exercise, and deal with the unpredictable speed bumps life chucks in everyone’s path, I somehow manage to write.

How is it possible to spend time writing, when you don’t have time to write?

Fight through the Sludge

Don’t allow yourself time off from writing. It’s easy to let one day off grow to two days, three days…until the time snowballs into weeks and then months. On the last day of my writing master’s thesis class, my professor told us that, once we step out of the classroom, most of us will never write again. More specifically, my professor was talking about how we wouldn’t write the genre/type of writing we’d just spent years working on to culminate in a novel/short story collection.

At first, I hadn’t believed my professor, but, after staying in contact with some of my classmates, I do. Many of them haven’t written anything creative since thesis…that was about 6 months ago, and, of those that have, they haven’t written much.

Their reason? Life got in the way.

Be Disciplined, Like a Samurai 

Writing a novel or short story takes time and effort. Anyone who writes knows that it’s not easy. Writing is exhausting. It uses a lot of brain energy, and it can be easy to come home from a long work day and just want to veg. I’ve done it. But writing is a skill, and every skill takes discipline.

One of the best ways to become disciplined is to be motivated. Motivation commits you to writing. Maybe a specific character in your story encourages you to write, because you have to tell that character’s tale. Perhaps you’re in a writing group and you’ve got deadlines to meet. Perchance you’re the type of person who’s motivated by visual stimuli. Create a writing space that you have to pass by on a daily basis. You could tape motivational quotes and pictures to the wall above your space.

Remember, as Robert Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

If you still think you never have time to write, here are some writers that became famous authors, while working full-time:

Anne Rice

Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, when she worked full-time as an insurance claims examiner and while she was grieving over the death of her 5 year old daughter.

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while working. He continued to work, even as he became famous and earned enough money writing to be a full-time author. He taught at Christ Church until late in life, as well as being a mathematician and a photographer.

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker worked as a civil servant at Dublin Castle for 10 years, while writing for the newspaper the Dublin Evening Mail. He went on to manage Sir Henry Irving’s production company/venue: the Lyceum Theatre. While working as the company’s manager, he wrote and had published his first horror story, and eventually published his most famous work Dracula in 1897. Stoker worked as Lyceum’s manager for about 30 years.

(Photo courtesy of Tony.)

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Don’t Mistake Unpreparedness for Writer’s Block: Know What to Write Before You Write

 

Sometimes when you sit down to write nothing comes to you. You stare at the blank screen and you can’t picture anything. Frustration builds until you shove yourself away from your desk and leave writing for later.

Often, this inability to conjure anything to write is termed writer’s block. However, writer’s block isn’t always the culprit behind the inability to write. More often than not, nothing is coming to you because you’re not ready to write.

5033800896_b63b3f63f9_oWhen writing a novel, preparedness is extremely important. You need to know what you want to write about. This doesn’t mean that you have to plan out every chapter in advance. Often you’ll find that the story changes as you continue to write it. But, there are many steps involved with writing a book.

Take a minute to think of them.

What did you come up with?

Some of mine include:

  • Writing a one sentence summary. This boils your entire novel down to its main premise. It gives your novel direction. For example, “A mute snake-breeder becomes embroiled in the chase for a once-presumed extinct snake after discovering a blood-splattered scroll in a half-dug grave.”
  • Ask a boatload of open-ended questions. When jumping into more of the details, I’ll ask myself, “what if,” “who cares,” “how about,” etc. These types of questions help me flesh out the story, and help me spot any plot holes before I write myself into a dead-end. Also, open-ended questions are great for adding sub-plots and complexity to a story, thus making it more realistic.
  • Explore your characters. I usually don’t know all of my characters at the beginning of my story, but I know my main characters. I know what they look like, their backstories, how they’ll act, and more. Having fully fleshed out characters not only helps you know your characters inside and out, but helps you see where the story is going and, even, how much of a role each character should have in the plot. Sometimes the person you thought should be the main character isn’t the best choice.
  • Research. Many times there’s information already out in the world about what you want to write. Take time to explore this information. You never know what useful tidbits you’ll discover that will enhance your story. For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to do intensive research on the time period you’re writing about. If you don’t, the piece won’t feel authentic. Even if you’re writing a futuristic science fiction novel, it’s still important to know what type of technology is realistic in the future. You have to be able to explain where nanites came from or how instantaneous travel is possible, or, if you’re writing a dystopian that occurs after World War III, you need to know what the consequences of setting off nuclear bombs are, etc.

Once you’ve done your research and exploration that blank screen will seem like less of a mountain. Ideas will come to you. Perhaps not immediately, ideas take time to fully form, and it’s likely you’ll discover that more ideas come as you’re writing; you’ll end up going back and adding those new story strands, creating a fuller, more complex, and intriguing story.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.)

Halt! How to Not Lose Readers on Your First Page

 

When it comes to enticing readers (or literary agents) to read your novel, the first page is extraordinarily important. Many people, including agents, believe that they can tell whether a book is worth reading from the first page. This means that your first page has to deliver what a reader expects it to.

495969512_f317d59719_oThink about how many times you’ve gone into a bookstore, the library, or onto Amazon in search of the next book you’re going to read. You probably first look at the title and the book cover. If those two aspects draw you in, then you read the blurb. If you’re still interested, you’ll open the book or, if on Amazon, go to the free preview, and check out the first page. If the first page doesn’t impress, then you move on to the next book. After all, why would you stick around to read an entire novel, if the first page isn’t interesting?

So, what can you do to make your first page enticing?

While there’s no hard-and-fast rules, certain elements can help or hurt your first page. Oftentimes, starting a novel with dialogue or weather will not catch readers’ interest. Readers want to picture what is happening. Have you ever read a scene where two people are sitting somewhere and having a conversation? The conversation may be intriguing, but you have no idea where the two people are or what the two people look like? Or, maybe it’s the opposite, where you have so much description that you’re overloaded. You can probably think of a novel where the author spends the first pages describing the weather, the house, the landscape…and nothing else happens. Nothing occurs that sets the scene in motion.

When it comes to writing a novel, readers want and expect the novel to read like a movie. They want scenes to be visual, as if a camera is guiding them.

Why is this?

Because readers want to be immersed in the story. In essence, readers want to be shown a story instead of told it.

How do you go about writing a scene like a movie?

Think about scenes the way a director would. Where should the camera be angled at this moment? Where is every character positioned in this scene? If something happens at point A, how does that effect point B? For example, your two protagonists (sisters) are fighting a gang of five people. The younger sister is stabbed. This effects the older sister’s actions. She may get distracted, and so gets punched in the face. Does the camera catch the younger sister getting stabbed, or is the camera focused on the older sister, so that the older sister, and readers, only hear the younger sister scream? It’s only when the older sister whirls around to look at the younger sister that she and readers realize the younger sister’s been injured.

When combining the camera technique with a novel’s first page, set the scene with a brief camera shot. This shot shows where the character is by using sensory detail. By setting the scene, your readers can follow what is occurring.

Notice that I said, “occurring,” instead of “about to occur.” Begin the first page in the middle of an action. Readers don’t want to be told that something is going to happen; they want to be immersed immediately in what is happening. Here’s a great opening line from Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: “The small boys came early to the hanging.”

This line throws readers into the story. Something morbid is occurring, and a group of children are about to witness a horrendous act that will change their worldview. Readers want to know more.

No matter what, the camera should never feel like it’s stuck in one place. You want to choose the best angle for each shot. A close in view will limit what readers’ experience, while a faraway shot will give readers a bigger picture view. However, while a close in shot will showcase small, vital details, a bigger picture will pass over the details for a more bird’s eye view.

You want readers to notice what you want them to see. Give readers enough information to make them want to know more.

(Photo courtesy of Stephen.)

When You Have Too Many Characters, Let the Zombies Loose

 

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I’ve been commenting on a friend’s work in progress. It’s a fantasy novel, and the number of characters is large. The novel is the first in a planned seven book series, and many of the characters are important. There are ten children/teens and three adults, for a total of thirteen main characters.

While there is no firm rule about how many characters to include in a novel, oftentimes fewer characters is better. Fewer characters tend to mean increased readability and emotional power.

When you have too many characters, several things can happen:

  • Reader confusion. While you have thoroughly thought out your story, readers haven’t. They don’t know all the ins and outs of every single character. As more characters get involved, plots and relationships grow more complex. It’s a lot easier for readers to forget what’s going on. Characters are forgotten and readers get frustrated.

 The most recent chapter I commented on for my friend’s book was one scene that contained ten characters. The chapter was about twenty pages because my friend wanted each character to get an equal about of time in the limelight. However, this novel is in limited third-person point of view, which means that the story is told through the eyes of one character. This sole character should have the lion’s share of the story. By my friend attempting to give all the characters equal show time, the protagonist’s voice was lost in the shuffle.

  • Tedium takes hold. When you have a large cast of characters, you need to take time to introduce them all. Characterization is pivotal. But, each character should get a percentage of readers’ attention. The more important a character is the more she should be in the story. Spending too much time explaining isn’t interesting. You don’t want readers to say that your novel was slow.

Many of my friend’s novel chapters are intense. I want to keep reading. Yet, I find that the characters spend too much time conversing. I want action, and too often I get five or more characters in a scene and for some reason all of them have to voice their opinion or I have to know what each one is doing at all times. This slows down the action and the tension.

  • Too much fluff. Writing characters is fun, as is creating playful banter and showcasing each character’s viewpoint, for the writer. Readers are only interested in characters that serve a purpose. If you’ve got characters in your story that don’t add to the plot, get rid of them. It’ll do your book good. The tighter your cast is, the more impactful your story will be.

As I’ve been commenting on my friend’s chapters, I’ve used track changes to delete swaths of text. At first I felt bad, but after a while, I realized that what I was doing was cutting out the fluff. There are so many characters that many times the important parts of the plot were pushed to the side. And, too often, when I wanted to know what the protagonist was thinking and feeling, I couldn’t find the protagonist anywhere in the story.

Having a large cast of characters is fine, as long as you’re honest with yourself. Do you need all those characters? How many of those characters will be in the story’s climax? Will anyone miss character 13 if you cut him out?

Like the title says, when you’ve got a huge cast, it might be time to let the zombies chow down on a few of your characters.

(Photo courtesy of Birgit Fostervold.)

Why Did You Become a Writer?

4549909730_a513381ed7_oRecently, someone asked me why I became a writer. When I went to answer, I found myself stumped. It wasn’t because I didn’t know why I was a writer. Writing is part of my identity. It’s part of who I am. But, trying to find a way to articulate this to a non-writer caught me off guard.

I’ve had more than one experience where I told someone I was a writer, and they’d respond by asking me what I’d published. Today, I can point to research papers, online articles for various companies, and a literary journal. However, even with those publications, many non-writers aren’t all that impressed with my writing record. This is even more apparent when they find out that though I’m a fiction writer, I don’t yet have a published novel.

I’ve even had family members—these members are in the minority—who tell me that they still have dreams too, but they say that as if dreams never do come true. It can make me feel like I’m a little kid, who’s getting a pat on the head by a chuckling parent.

I think of all those authors out there, who many would have never believed would become famous writers.

Stephen King has published over fifty novels, including Carrie, The Shining, and Doctor Sleep. King is world famous. But before he got published, he was a high school janitor. Who would have imagined that a janitor would get to where King is now?

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and more, was working on becoming a minister. It was during his time serving as a children’s hospital chaplain that he was inspired to write The Fault in Our Stars.

Nicholas Sparks, author of the renowned bestseller, The Notebook, as well as numerous other novels, worked various small jobs before he became a famous author. One of those jobs was cold-calling people to sell them dental products.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, went from being depressed and on welfare to one of the richest people in the world in five years.

There are so many more examples out there. When I think of these authors, the question of why I became a writer is all the more clear. I was always a writer. I wrote skits and plays in elementary school, attempted my first book in middle school, and wrote my first novel in high school. Were these early attempts good? No. But I’ve kept at it, taking courses, reading, and getting a master’s in writing.

I can’t imagine my life without writing. Story ideas and characters bombard me; I have to write about these fictional people and worlds. I hope to one day be published, and I’m not going to give up…I will get published.

But regardless of being published or not, I’m a writer because I can’t live without it. I can’t image living without telling about the worlds and characters that won’t let me sleep at night, that make me not realize the red light has changed to green, or that have me space out mid-conversation.

When someone asks me why I became a writer, I say that I didn’t become a writer. I’ve always been one.

Why are you a writer?

(photo courtesy of Dave Morrison Photography.)

 

Staying Creative When Life’s Pulling You in 27 Directions

 

Whether work, school, kids, exercising, a sick grandmother, or something else, it’s challenging to juggle so many responsibilities and move writing goals forward. Writing takes a lot of brain power, and after a long day at the office, it’s tempting to push writing off one more day.

5741700549_087e05aa3c_bHow do you avoid that “one more day” turning into a rut? I’ll share some of my methods for staying creative. Feel free to put yours in the comments.

  1. say no

Socializing is fun. Volunteering is fun. Getting lost in the Web is fun. Helping that friend or coworker out, for the sixteenth time, may not be fun, but you do it anyway. After a while, you’ve got too much on your plate. There’s no time to write!

Make writing a priority. Say no to some of your other activities. There’s only so much time in a day. If you want to get that short story or novel finished, you have to weed out some of your other undertakings.

  1. go outside

If you’re creatively blocked, get out of the house. Go for a walk. Play soccer. Do something outside. You’d be surprised at how many ideas may come to you after you’ve spent some time in the great outdoors.

  1. read

Reading helps stir imagination. Fiction, non-fiction, a magazine article, a graphic novel, get out of your head for a while and enter someone else’s imagination. You never know what creative ideas will spark in you.

If you have plenty of ideas, but not the energy to expand them onto paper, reading can help here too. Read something fantastic. Read a work that fires you up, that stirs your emotions. Take those feelings—that power—and write.

  1. talk it out

Sometimes a different method of communication will revive your creative engines. Call up a friend, family member, or someone else you trust. Talk to them about your ideas. Often, their feedback will get you excited, and help flesh out your ideas.

Or, talk out loud to yourself. Walk around your house and talk, use hand gestures, get in the heads of your characters, pretend you’re being interviewed about your writing on TV. This may sound silly, or slightly crazy, but it works.

  1. eat well

What you put into your body direct impacts how you feel. Eat whole grains, veggies, fruits, healthy sources of protein. Eating well makes you feel good, and when you feel good, you’re more creative.

  1. don’t stress

Stress is the bane of everyone’s lives. While some stress is good, too much is harmful. When you feel overwhelming pressure to write, your creativity drops. Practice stress reduction techniques, whichever ones work for you, so when you start getting too stressed, you’ll be able to calm yourself, or guide your stress into something useful.

What tips do you have for staying creative?

(Photo courtesy of Leszek Lesczynski.)

Overthinking Your Writing

 

More than once I’ve heard writers complain about how some really crappy books become bestsellers, and how these writers can’t understand why such horribly written novels get published, while their books don’t.

Most times – I’d say about 99% of the time – who gets published and who doesn’t has more to do with timing and luck than anything else. Of the other 1%, over half of those who get published have connections in the writing world that helped them.

359612723_65e3f5cb93_zHowever, writers tend to have two modes:

  1. What I’ve written is fantastic. I can’t believe I wrote that!
  2. This is horrendous. My writing should be burned.

These modes can make completing a piece of work difficult. Often the negative thoughts, where writers think their work is complete garbage, creep up during the middle of a story. The first 30,000 words are written, and then, suddenly, all that effort seems like a waste. The temptation to go back and revise is almost too strong to ignore.

Ignore it!

No incomplete book will get published, no matter how perfect the part that’s written is.

In those moments of despair, when your writing may seem like the worst writing in the world, don’t give in to the part of you that wants to stop writing and go back, because it’s better to get through the entire story first, then never reach that final page.

You’ll have plenty of time to go back and revise later, and you might find that what you thought was awful is actually pretty good.

A term used to describe the first draft of a piece of writing is called madman. Madman is that emotional, charged phase where you write without stopping. The madman doesn’t care if the writing is perfect, because he wants to reach the end.

It’s the final stage of writing – the judge – that is the analytical, unemotional phase, where every little mistake must be corrected.

Getting published is often a long, arduous process, where many complete, well-written, and entertaining books go unnoticed. Don’t cripple yourself by not completing your work.

Are you an over thinker?

(Photo courtesy of Fabio Venni.)