One of the most popular sayings in the writing world is “write what you know.” This is arguably one of the hardest to follow. What if I don’t have a lot of experience in different fields? What if I’m not able to gain those experiences due to varying circumstances? These are issues I ran into. My knowledge was limited, but I wanted to write about big topics. So, I changed the adage for myself to “write what you want to know.”
Another year has flown by, and now it’s 2017. The year of the fire monkey. The year of the ultimate Treat Yo Self escapade. The year Skynet attacks in Terminator Genisys. The year of the writer.
Writing is important to you–it’s why you call yourself a writer/author. You take time out of your already impossibly-busy days to write because if you didn’t, you’d feel something missing. You may not get to it every day, maybe not even every week, but you try, because, goshdarnit, this is your dream.
But there are always naysayers. People who show up explicitly to ruin your party (even if your party happens at 3 am in a Red Bull-fueled frenzy in a dark room with a bright screen in front of you). People who may even care about you, but they don’t get it. And because they don’t get it, they tell you it’s not worth it. That your dream is stupid, dumb, not important.
Don’t. Listen. To. Them.
A few weeks ago, I posted a guest blog on a friend’s website on the reasons I love pitching!
Most often, you hear “pitching a book” in terms of conferences and pitching to agents at them. That said, not all authors develop a pitch because they aren’t able to attend conferences. But pitching can come up in other circumstances—maybe you run into an agent or editor around town. (I highly do not recommend stalking them to pitch. They frown on that. And call the police. Bad time for everybody.)
I actually met James Rollins (a prominent thriller author) at his book signing and he asked me to deliver my pitch! So there are lots of opportunities to use it.
Check out A.Z.’s website for the rest of the post!
A lot of us remember those questions on college or job applications that ask to explain how we were “well-rounded.” *insert groan* Later, we realized that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to have exposure to something other than our main focus. Being a well-rounded writer can be beneficial, too! There are a few ways, some obvious, some less so, that can help your writing.
Athletes have an off-season and take days off from their workouts to keep from straining their muscles. Writers are exercising muscles as well–our creative brain–so the logic follows that we should also take rest days. I’ve noticed that not a lot of writers do this–the same way some athletes don’t. But athletes who work out every single day often find themselves injured more frequently. Your body needs rest, as does your brain. Here are a few reasons why:
Disclaimer: This is NOT saying you have to go to a conference. This is if you are on the fence about going to one.
Writers conferences are expensive, usually require you to take some time off work, and you often have to travel to them. So what’s the point of going? Are they even worth the effort and money?
If you have ever interacted with me on social media or in person, it may come as a big surprise to you that I’m super data- and process-oriented. *sarcasm* I know! The woman who breaks everything down into percentages and goals (see any of my book pages) is data-oriented? SHOCKER. It permeates into everything that I do, including all parts of the writing process. I’ve had a few people ask about plotting/outlining, so I thought I would share my process.
My outlining process is actually more of a multi-step program. (Again, shocker.) It helps me stay organized and feel accomplished. The first thing I start with is what I dub “plotting.” This is where I just brainstorm cool ideas that I want to go in my book and scribble them into an unordered list in my story book. During this, I’m also usually researching broad topics related to my book.
Big Picture Outline
After getting a good list and a good idea of what my novel is going to be about, I make a big picture outline. This looks different for each book, but generally it’s one or two pages where I put my earlier notes in order and figure out the overall structure of the book. I plot things like clues, emotional journeys, and main turning points. I usually use this to help me write my synopsis later on.
This is where it gets tricky/fun/exciting/terrifying. For every scene in my book, I write on a single index card. I detail the POV character, the location, the time and date, and any notes I have for that scene. Here’s a sample card from the book I’m currently working on. (Sorry for the poor quality. My phone doesn’t have the best camera.)
This could include what I want to achieve with this scene, the plot points to cover, how my character is feeling, any snips of dialogue that come to me–basically, anything I want to remember when I finally get to writing that scene. I also number them to help me know about how long my book will be (and in case I drop them and they scatter). Then I read through them a few times, adding in new scenes or fixing red herrings I forgot to resolve. I also read them aloud to my husband (also an author), so he can provide reader feedback on things I probably have missed.
My whole plotting and outlining process takes me about two and a half months, which may seem like a lot to some, but this helps me stay grounded in my book. I usually don’t write myself into a corner, and I don’t get writer’s block because I know exactly what’s going to happen next. However, I do allow myself the freedom while writing to change my previous ideas, because that’s how fiction feels like reality.
Do you plot/outline differently? Do you not do it at all? Let me know in the comments!
Though most of what I write are thrillers and almost all are strictly in “the real world,” fantasy authors have something that can be hard or taken for granted for “real world” writers: the ability to build a world. Even though I write about Earth, I am still responsible for creating a scene and immersing my readers in that place, because there’s a good chance my readers have not visited the locations I describe. Writers do best when they realize they can learn from other writers, especially across genres. Here, fantasy author Chris Michaels describes the different types of fantasy stories and how he and other authors build their worlds.
Earlier this week, I posted about Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic. Continuing on that theme, I wanted to explore the different kinds of fantasy stories. First, let me be clear: I am not a fan of lists or concepts that claim to boil everything down to 12 easy steps. Those things may have a certain place in life, but I feel that reducing the complexities of the world to an even number people can count to using hands and feet is more a marketing scheme than anything else.
Okay, not that my little sermon is out of the way. While this isn’t a post about a limited number of ways to write a story, it is a helpful way to be intentional in the stories we tell. Knowing what you are trying to say is half the battle, the other half being to say it.
I found when crafting plots for my novels, that I needed to understand my own boundaries in order to be consistent. Not to say that I pinned myself in. Quite the opposite. Once I learned how my worlds worked, I was about to makethem work with my characters, scenes, and awesome ideas. For me, the most important step was to see what kind of story I was writing.
This was especially important while rewritng a novel call Mississippi Secrets. The story seemed to fall flat to me, more mimicking other things I had read than being anything truly original. Once I took a step back and tried to see where it would sit on shelves, I noticed that it was a blend of several different things. That was great! But, I could not have gotten there until I knew what else existed.
Here is the list I have cultivated over the years. Different types of fantasy stories.
Worlds Upon Worlds
This list describes different worlds for each type of fantasy story. A world is the entire context for the story including history, geography, culture, and the like.
- “This world” does not necessarily mean Earth. What it means is the same basic context as the reader (which is Earth, I assume).
- “Other world” is a totally separate planet or existence that is not connected to our reality at all.
- A third “alternate world” would be some sort of alternate reality. That is, “what if” stories (what if the South had won the Civil War?).
- Lastly, “past world” would be anything before the current context of the reader.
Also, building on Brandon Sanderson:
- Hard Magic – Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands.
- Soft Magic – Magic/technology has unclear or vague rules, or none at all. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader
Read the rest at Types of Fantasy Stories on Chris Michaels’s website.
The writer’s life is difficult. Between slogging through endless drafts and receiving even more rejection letters, sometimes it can be tough to keep going strong. But a lot of the time, we make it harder for ourselves by the words we say to ourselves, whether on purpose or unintentionally.