Tag Archives: Writing

Writing/Running Mix

382058_623672603320_333651482_nPeople have asked me how in the world I find time to train for half-marathons, marathons, and write novels, all in my spare time.

Quick answer: Like I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, you don’t find time for anything, you make time.

Not so quick answer: Because they feed off of each other.

Huh?

Feed off each other?

Both activities take hours every week. Hours that I could be spending watching the latest episodes of Real Housewives of Topeka, Kansas—or something like that.

Running and writing feed off one another for a few simple, but critical reasons. If you can sit down and write a novel in a few months, you have the discipline to train for a ten-mile run in the same span of time.

1. Both take a ridiculous amount of patience.

Writing a novel takes a ton of patience. Despite popular opinion, you can’t write a good novel in a weekend. You can’t write a good novel in a week. Hell, sorry NaNoWriMo, but you can’t in a month either. A novel is a block of stone you have to chip away at. You can get a few chunks of it in a few heavy swings, but you’ll often be overwhelmed and burnt out. It’s best to take your time and settle into your work. Take the right amount of time to edit and revise. That’s the most important part of writing anyway.

Distance running is the same thing. You can’t go out and run ten miles your first day out. You may be able to sprint a quarter mile and knockout a large chunk quickly, but that will tire you out. Developing the skills for distance running helps me sit down in front of the computer and do the work I need to before I start my day job every day.

2. Physical exertion breeds creativity.

There may be a study that proves this. On the contrary, there may be a study that says this statement is completely full of shit. But I can’t count how many great writing ideas I’ve had in the middle of a long, gut-checking run.

I feel that my best ideas come when I’m struggling to keep my body moving forward. I don’t know if this is because I’m not trying to think of creative ideas—I’m just trying not to pass out. “Light Bulb Moments” seem to happen when you’re focusing somewhere else.

3. Running and reading work well together.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Ummmm … Nope! You can’t run with a book in your hand.”

I smile at you. I look to the smart phone you’re holding in your hand, and politely ask you if you’ve ever heard of audible.

You tell me that reading audio books isn’t reading at all.

I tell you that you’re full of shit. The purpose of any writing is to convey information. Words put a picture in your head, and make you imagine what the book says. As Stephen King says, it’s a version of telepathy. Whether you consume the words with your eyes or ears, it doesn’t really matter much, does it? Stephen King also said that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or skills to write. Why not read while improving your body?

4. They both teach you how to ‘junk punch’ self-doubt.

Every time I lace up my running shoes, I doubt that I’ll be able to reach my goal for the day. Likewise, when I sit in front of the computer, I doubt that I’ll type fast enough to reach my daily 1,000-word count before I have to go to work. I doubt my words will resonate with my desired audience. I don’t think I’ll run any faster on the trail than I ran two months ago.

Nearly every time I punch that doubt in the face and break through all doubts. It’s freeing. The next time I open my word processor or step out of my front door with my camel pack on, I do so with more confidence. Doing either activity enables me to believe in myself that much more the next time. There’s nothing better than working with confidence.

That’s the main thing these two activities bring into my life—self confidence. No amount of time and money can buy that.

Crushing your 2014 writing goals

A lot of people strive to write a novel as a new year’s resolution, but how easy is it to let the goal fall through the cracks? We all have jobs, families, friends, and a social life, so it’s not always easy to find time to get your daily writing done.

How does anyone get this done? They make it a habit. I don’t know many other writers personally, but I’m pretty sure that those who put out new material fairly often make sure they have writing figured into their day. Every day. It’s easy to make excuses, we all do. But if you want to write a novel by the end of the year, here are a few steps that I found helpful when I accomplished my goals in 2013.

Make it a habit

I can’t say this enough. If it’s not on your to-do list every day, it’s easy to put it off.

Oh, I’ll write tomorrow.

I can just do it all this weekend.

I’ll wait until the summer when I have more time. 

Wrong! The more that you put it off, the easier it is to keep putting it off. I find that if I don’t write on a given day, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything. Once you have that mindset, it’s easy to keep it going. Until then, develop your habit of writing daily.

Know that it won’t be any good, and make your peace with it

Yes, we all think we’re going to write the next great American novel right out of the gate. We’re not. The first draft is going to be filled with typos, grammar errors, punctuation errors, etc. Doubly so if it’s your first time writing a substantial amount.

That’s okay…that’s what editing is for. When you write your first draft, don’t go back and read it until you’re done. You’ll only get discouraged. Instead, just keep plowing forward as if you’re writing the best book known to man. It makes the process so much quicker.

Watch less T.V.

We all love T.V. It’s a great, quick way of receiving stories and information. That being said, it’s a big waste of time for the most part.

I don’t know what it is–put me in front of the television, and I can’t get anything productive accomplished. It’ll hypnotize you. If you want to get serious about writing, you’ll need to sacrifice some T.V. time.

Read more

It seems counter-intuitive. Reading takes time away from writing, right?

Kind of. But it’s necessary for inspiration (for me at least). It also allows you to see the tricks of the trade: what works, what doesn’t, how to _____, etc. Reading about writing is good, but I think reading the types of stories that you want to write can be even better.

Make it visible

As in, make sure you know how close you are to your writing goals. I suggest word count goals since that’s the easiest way to tell whether or not you’re getting anything done as a writer.

I have:

  • Daily writing goals (1,000 words when I’m working on a project)
  • Project writing goals
  • In 2014, I have a yearly writing goal (300,000 words)

I know that I’ll need to write a few books and a lot of blog posts as well. I have a spreadsheet marking my yearly goal, and I utilize the ‘project target’ window in Scrivener (the writing software I use) to track the others. Do whatever works for you, but make sure that you track your progress. Hell, even offer rewards to yourself when you hit certain milestones if that’s motivates you.

 

I hope this post was helpful to those that want to knock out a manuscript in 2014.

Happy writing!

Making Time To Write

When my friends ask me, “How do you find the time to write?” I don’t always know how to respond without sounding like a condescending jackass. I usually come up with some simplified (but true) recitation of how long it takes to write a book, which goes something like this:

It takes me just under 45 minutes to write 1,000 words of fiction (assuming it’s a long project. It takes a longer for short fiction because I have to think up the entire plot on the fly.) I do this by waking up an hour early for work and getting it done then. I do the same on the weekend. So it takes *does quick math* around two an a half months to write a full length novel if you go at it every day.

To others that don’t write, I leave out the part that editing takes at least as long (twice as long for me). I leave out the hours of reading that it takes to gain the competency that it takes to write a novel. However, the fact remains. With a little discipline and an early wake up call, you can write a book…period.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say they want to do something, but they don’t have time for it. Whether it’s working out, writing a book, reading, etc., it’s annoying to me. Why? If you want something bad enough, you’ll make time for it. There’s not some benevolent angel passing out additional hours to a lucky few. Everyone has to use the time that they have. You can wake up early, go to bed late, do it on your lunch break, sacrifice *gasp* an hour or so of T.V., sacrifice that hour or so you bullshit around on the computer each day (I’m pretty sure everyone does this.) Get creative–but don’t say that you don’t have enough time. Instead, say that it’s not that important to you.

 

We all have 24 hours in the day; use them wisely.

Rant over.

How to Edit a Novel Without F’n Around

One Step Closer to Hell 360x540 WebsiteInstead of NaNoWriMo I’m participating in NaNoEditMo–National Edit a Novel in a Month (real contest that I just made up). I’m currently editing my second novel One Step Closer to Hell. I learned a lot after the first one, and this one is going better so far.

I’m pretty sure all new writers finish a novel and wonder what in the world comes next. Do I know? Debatable. But here are my steps for getting that all-important 2nd draft completed.

1. Make a plan

Yes, I get it. Some of you are ‘pantsers’ and don’t plan anything when it comes to writing your book. I tend to lean this way when writing, but I’ve found value in making a plan before editing. You can’t do it all in one pass–you’ll miss plenty even after three edits (which is why it’s important to let someone else do the final few edits). When editing, try to focus on one thing at a time.

2. Take a break

Every novelist that I’ve come across has talked about the importance of taking a break in order to distance yourself from your work. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve forgotten many parts of my second novel. I even wrote a novella during my break so I could completely dive into another project.  This definitely helped me attack the edit with a ruthless eye.

3. Fix the awkward

I know, I know. Most authors tell you to read it all of the way through and simply take notes when you finally come back to your book. However, I can’t do that. I find my work littered with sentences that sound like they came straight out of a toddler’s mouth. I have to fix that before I can read it and pretend it’s a real book.

I do this by reading the entire manuscript out loud, and fixing every sentence that reads like a meth head wrote it. Yes, that makes you look like a crazy person–but who are we kidding? We wrote an entire book of imaginary characters; that makes us a tad bit crazy in and of itself.

4. First Read-through

Now that I can get through more than one chapter without beating my head on my desk, I read the book and take notes. Only big picture notes–plot holes, inconsistencies, character development ideas, etc.  I look for issues that will take additional writing to fix–or issues that will be as simple as highlighting and hitting the backspace button.

5. Tear it apart

This is where the novel takes its shape. I add the parts I noted from above, delete scenes, move scenes around, break scenes into chapters, and chapters into parts, identify key plot devices that I can play around with, determine narrative structure, and shift the pace to my liking. This is where the rough draft becomes a legitimate manuscript.

6. Very important

I delete every instance of the word ‘very’. I tend to use this word a lot, but it’s a word you only put with weak adjectives.

Example: If I have: “A very big couch sat in the corner.” I would alter it to: “A ginormous couch sat in the corner.” or something like that. We use very so often that it doesn’t do much to change the meaning of a sentence.

I do something similar to the phrase, ‘a little bit’.

I’m pretty sure every writer has that one word or phrase that makes a reader want to choke a puppy if used too often. It’s important to take those phrases and light them on fire.

7. LY Adverbs

Here’s another crutch that writers like myself use to ‘make a sentence sound better’. Like the word very, people say these all of the time to convey a stronger meaning. If you use too many of them, it looks like you’re trying too hard.

Example:

Bill ferociously dialed the phone.

Alice picked it up contemptuously. “Hello.”

How clumsy does that sound? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

No, we can’t part with all of these. Hell, I have a hard time parting with even half of these. But for the love of God, try to mitigate the awkwardness (see #3).

8. Give your characters their own voice

This was easy in my second book because I already nailed down the characters’ personalities, but this was an issue in Deadly Colors. All my characters sounded the same. I had to go back and change the way they spoke in order to differentiate who was who. This is arguably the most important step in character development. Is your character mean, loud, socially awkward, smart, dumb, shy, nerdy, tough, or confident? Dialogue is the best way to demonstrate these traits.

9. Proofread

It’s best to save this for the end so that you don’t have to keep doing this during every step in the process. Yes, you’ll naturally get a ton of this during the other steps, but it’s good to have an edit devoted to this. I use a program called Grammarly to accomplish this step, but MS word should be sufficient if you know what you’re doing grammar-wise (which I don’t).

10. Rinse and repeat

Cool…you have a second draft now. That’s probably not going to cut it either. Repeat steps 3-9 until you’re finally happy with it.

11. Throw in the towel and call 911

You get to the point when you’re so sick of your own work that you don’t even want to read it anymore. This is when it’s as good as you can make it on your own. This was the hardest moment for me when getting my first book ready to go.

Call for backup.

Now it’s time to send it off to beta readers and your editor to see what they think. Now is the moment you let go. Sure, there’s plenty of other work to do after you get feedback, but compared to what was already done, this should be a cakewalk. Either they’ll love it, or someone will finally call you out on your bullshit. Either way–this moment is both terrifying and exciting.

Keep tweaking it until it’s finally ready to go. High-five yourself and grab some coffee…you’re a writer now.

The Best Thing About Writing

Last night I put the finishing touches on my 2nd novel this year (first draft that is). After writing two novels and several flash fiction stories this year, I feel like I’ve discovered the stage of writing that hits me the truest.

Of course,  it’s the ending.

I know, I know there are writers/critics who say writers are full of shit when they talk about how a story finds its legs and starts to walk on its own–I understand that. But anyone that’s ever said that has never written the ending to a novel. Yes, I’ve felt this way about some short fiction that I’ve done in the past, but this hit me much harder when putting on the finishing touches of my first two novels.

Something came over me.

Both days, I wrote substantially more than I’d ever written before. This wasn’t because I was trying to hit some sort of imaginary deadline, but because the words flowed like never before. The two instances when my typing speed couldn’t keep up with the pictures in my imagination happened to be when finishing my two novels. It felt as if a snowball had rolled downhill for months, and it got to the point where I could stop it no longer. It went past the point where I usually say, “That’s it for the day.” In some deep area of my subconscious, I thought I had to finish right then and there.

I usually have a hard time seeing vivid pictures of what I’m writing about. But in the end everything is crystal clear. It’s amazing. I’ve never heard the dialogue clearer, nor seen the pictures clearer.

It becomes its own person, develops its own mind, and sweeps you away as the writer–much like you hope it will the reader. In the end you lose all control and have to let the cards fall where they may.