Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Now You've Reached the Muddled Middle

My last blog post suggested this could be a good time to get to work on an intended project that hasn't made it to paper or the computer screen. Even though you don't need a "chunk of time" to write, some people believe they have a better chance of completing a book when they have nearly unlimited time.

I am far more likely to finish something when I have a set time for completion -- a.k.a. a deadline. In a time management class, a lecturer once said, "If you say you work better toward a deadline, it means that you don't work efficiently the rest of the time." Probably true.

Let's say you've made a good stab at a story or novel, but suddenly you aren't sure of the next steps. Or the only reason you haven't thrown your computer out the window is because it's a desktop and it's too heavy.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or techniques for completing a first draft.

1)  Even if you don't outline, are you clear about how the story will end? If you don't know, write down several options. They can be as simple as (with insertion of your characters' names): the hero discovers the child his mother gave up for adoption, the villain gets away with the murder, the hero uncovers who really embezzled the money.

Ultimately, you have to know what you're aiming for or it will be very difficult to send characters down the path to get there. You don't need to write down how everything will happen, just ensure you know the ending scene(s).

2) If you're stuck at one point, write a completely different part of the book. It can be one scene that's been making it's way around your brain, a conversation you want two characters to have, or a description of the room where the murder took place. It doesn't matter what you write, only that you do write rather than think you can't.

3) Write a set of bullet points for what will be in the next two chapters. This doesn't have to be a full-fledged outline. The key is not to start fleshing out those bullet points until you have written them. (My bad habit is to get an idea and start writing. It's made worse by the fact that I type so fast I think I'm getting somewhere.)

4) Consider a reverse outline document. I started this eight or ten years ago and it's been a huge help. I wrote a detailed set of bullets for each completed chapter. These aren't written in the style of a publicity piece, and the reverse outline will likely contain far more info that an up-front outline. Include notes to yourself about things to do or check.

The reverse outline is especially important if: a) You didn't start with an outline, b) You have to start and stop your work. It also helps you see if a subplot has been ignored or a character sidelined by lack of action or conflict.

5) Don't move to another project until you have finished the first draft of the current one. It's relatively easy to write the first third or half of a book. If you move on to the next idea simply because you think you can't finish, you likely won't complete anything. It's okay to work on two projects at once -- I usually do -- but not okay to quit.

As soon as I write this, someone will say you have to know when an idea is not developing well. That's true, and an experienced writer may decide something is unworkable and move on. If you're reading this, you likely aren't writing your tenth book, and you don't have the perspective to decide what truly cannot be finished.

Now, quit eating that leftover Halloween or Easter candy and get back to work.
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Saturday, April 18, 2020

So You Finally Have Time for That Book

You've had an idea for a book for a looong time, but you had a lot on your plate and couldn't make the time to put it together. And now you are home with less to do. So you gather notebook, pens, maybe computer and...

Now what?

If you're like a lot of people, you can write for a few hours or days without hitting a stopping point. Then you hit a "what next?" wall and stop. You put it aside while you think about it. There's plenty of time, you can't go anywhere.

I hope you do get back to the book. If the idea has been percolating, it needs to be on paper, even if you don't decide to publish it.

Thoughts Before You Start

1.  Pull your thoughts together and make some notes. Maybe you've jotted ideas for a while. If not, try to write a short road map before you begin. It'll help you know where you're going and if you're close to finishing.

2. Are you writing for fun or publication? If the latter, think about who you want to read the book and how much they will know about your subject. It makes a difference in your vocabulary and level of detail in description.

3. Don't sweat the details. Also known as don't get bogged down in research. Maybe there's a scene where folks harvest corn. You don't need a lot of intricate facts. Leave a space that says, "Add two sentences on harvesting." If you start reading about the process, you could go on for hours.

4. If you're writing a mystery and want to describe a weapon or manner of murder, you may not need pages of description. A true crime novel or private investigator story would need more than a traditional or cozy mystery. Same goes for a book that involves a hobby. Unless it's germane to the story, the reader doesn't need to know how to throw a curve ball or how long it takes marigolds to germinate. (See #2.)

5. Just keep writing, don't stop to edit. If you take a break, you may need to reread your last chapter to get the feel for where you are, but don't critique yourself.

6. Try not to think about things such as how to find a publisher, market your book, or which talk show to be on. Nothing like that matters until you finish and polish the manuscript.

7. Some people close to you may be interested in your progress, but most people won't be. They may like you a lot, but they're living their lives and probably aren't writers. Besides, someone could try to talk you into going in a different direction. You want to follow your own path.

8. And the most important point. Don't stop if you hit a dead spot. It's okay to jump ahead and write a scene that's clear to you. Work on the transition or specifics later.

That's it. Writing is hard, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Check back in a couple of days for a blog post on how to keep the story moving.

And don't stop reading!
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