Stickin’ With It (Getting Your Novel Written)

I get it. I get it more than I have at any other time in my life.

How hard it is to get a book finished, that is.

I’ve always written through life’s ups and downs. But even in the worst of it, I was able to put in 6-8 (or more) hours of hardcore writing a day.

These days?

Between a roof that leaks and showers that leaks, dishes, an epileptic dog that needs meds, cooking, shopping, dishes, caring for two aging parents, dishes, laundry, mowing, dishes, linoleum floor-laying, ceiling repair, dishes, bill paying (did I mention the never-ending pile of DISHES???), I know how the world can suck all the hours out of your day.

I don’t have the same luxury of uninterrupted writing time, not like I did when I was younger.

So here’s what I have been doing:

Writing at night. Most of my stuff’s written between the hours of, say, seven and ten. I get some additional work done in spurts during the day, as well. But this is my time to sprint. Figure out when your best sprinting sessions can take place (and where).

Planning ahead of time. I can make far more of the time I do have if I know ahead of time what I’m going to write.

Don’t sweat not having some new release every 2.4 seconds. The indie world especially seems to think that the key to success is about ten releases a year. Okay, not really–mostly, I see indie experts advocating four new releases. Which is still a ton of work. Seriously. And while it is true that the more books you have available, the more you’re going to sell, it doesn’t help anything to release books you’re not happy with. And I’m not just talking about the reviews and your Amazon star rating. I’m talking about how you personally feel about your work. Release what you believe in and what you’re proud of.

Don’t let fatigue let you move the finish line. There are times, when you are on the seventeenth draft, that you just want to call it done. Don’t do it. Don’t claim you’re at the finish line when you know that line should still be about another ten miles down the road. Again–feel proud of your work.

I mean, most things in life take about three times longer to finish than you think they will. That’s frustrating. But if you don’t keep at it, if you let the frustration take over, you never get there at all. Better to release a book a month or two later than expected than to give up and never release it.

And seriously–those of you who work from home can agree with me when I say, What is the deal with all the dishes??????

Writing a Mystery – The Most Essential Rule

I am now in the midst of writing a mystery. I’ve been working on this for several months now, and I had to share the one thing I wish I’d done from the get-go. The thing I will always do, every time I write a mystery from here on out:

Write the Crime First

I don’t mean some one sentence “Professor Plum did it in the kitchen with the candlestick” either. I mean write the crime as a story. Do not include the detective or p.i. or cop or amateur sleuth or whoever is going to solve the thing. That’s not part of this at all. This is the crime. From the point of view of the person who did it. Write it as a story. Doesn’t matter how long–a short story, novella, novelette. Write how this person manages to steal or kill or abduct or whatever it is they’re guilty of. Write why. Write what brought them to it. Write how they carried it out, and write how they covered it up.

Then, after you’ve written the crime, and have full understanding of it, write the mystery. Introduce your detective who will now try to solve it.

Seriously–write the crime first. You’ll thank me.

When Your Computer Crashes Or the File Won’t Save (Losing a Day’s Writing)

This happened to me recently. It wasn’t a first draft (I had earlier versions saved), so I did have a few ways to reconstruct what I’d done. The whole put-it-back-together task would have been infinitely harder if I’d been in that first draft phase.

I’d spent several hours that day reading the vast majority of a 20K-word project out loud, editing as I went along. I thought I’d saved the file. When I came back to it after dinner, the computer had restarted. I opened the file only to find that everything I thought I’d saved was gone.

Here’s how I dealt with it:

Lots and Lots of Cussing

It’s fine to scream about it. Why wouldn’t you scream? There’s nothing worse than the feeling of losing a whole day. But then you have to put it all aside.

Reconstruct Immediately

Don’t wait. Don’t think your mind will be better able to work if you’ve completely cooled off. Don’t give it a night’s sleep. You’ll forget a ton of it. Reconstruct immediately.

Think Big, Then Small

I raced through the sections, jotting down notes to remember the big strokes changes I’d made. Once I’d made those notes, I went into the sections and made the actual changes. Then I read the sections straight through (silently this time). And I could remember, as I read, where I’d made smaller changes.

Was It the Same? Nope.

But that was okay. I do think the bigger changes were tighter the second time around.

Point Is, I Didn’t Lose Anything

I don’t think there’s anything I lost permanently. No, it wasn’t word-for-word. But I don’t think I’d have remembered half of it if I’d decided to tackle it again the next morning.

And besides, by tackling it as soon as possible that very evening, I could go to bed knowing that I didn’t actually lose a day’s work.

Write in the Midst of a Busy Life (Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo)

Even all these years in, I still go through periods when I think it: that I’m too tired, too frazzled, too worried about something to be able to write properly.

And then I tell myself to just shut up.

Everybody works differently, and there’s no one right way. But for me, I do better if I carve some time out each day. I no longer swear by daily marathon writing sessions that used to make up the bulk of my day. I just plain can’t write for ten-plus hours a day. There’s too much going on in a busy household. Dinners and dog-walking and lawn mowing and license plate renewing and…

You know. You have all the same stuff to do.

But I’m better off if I carve out something, like I said. Half an hour, even. There’s usually some section of the day that’s quieter, even in the most chaotic of households. Maybe really early in the morning. Maybe around lunch. Maybe mid-morning, after you drop the kids off at school. Maybe in the afternoon, while the kids are doing homework and before you have to put dinner on. In my own house, it’s post-dinner. I can actually get a few hours of work in, between about seven and eleven (when my dog needs his last round of meds for the day).

When you write in short bursts, the hardest part is keeping your train of thought going. The best way I’ve found to keep my momentum going?

Write Out of Order

Write scenes. Don’t worry about the order of events. Don’t worry about the narrative thread linking it all together. Just write scenes. Action scenes. Love scenes. Scenes of characters meeting. Write all the pivotal events.

Do a NaNoWriMo-Style Challenge

It’s coming up anyway, but why not do your own NaNoWriMo-style challenge? Tell yourself you’ll write 40-50K words of scenes in a month. The point of NaNoWriMo is to just get it down, right? Great! Draft your scenes. Do it in a month. Then slide the pieces (ahem, chapters) into place, linking them all with a narrative thread. (Tip: This part works much easier in a writing program like Scrivener. I haven’t drafted a book in Word in ages.)

The Point Is…

Every house is loud. And busy. Laundry baskets are always full and cars are always leaking oil. There are always repairs and chores. It’s true for everyone, even professional writers. There is absolutely no perfect time to write. There just isn’t. But there are plenty of great snatches of time in the midst of all the chaos, when you can write some surprisingly lovely stuff.

Just ‘Cause – Writing Projects that Bring Joy

I took a break from my novel last week to write a short story.

‘Cause I wanted to.

There is something so wonderful about writing a just-’cause project. No concerns about word count or genre or marketing. A project you want to write. It charges the batteries.

And more: it gives you a chance to play with structure and voice. It gives you a chance to grow.

Every project you write changes you as a writer, if only a little bit.

If you are stuck with your WIP, take a day to write a just-’cause piece. Something for yourself.

It will teach you, unlock some door you didn’t know was locked before.

And, because you’ve grown a bit as a writer, it can help you tackle your WIP again.

Jutoh VS. Scrivener: Best Writing Program

I’ve been a fan of Scrivener since I started indie publishing. I even posted a piece on formatting (compiling) your book with Scrivener a few years ago (it still works with Scrivener 2).

But when I got a new laptop, I downloaded Scrivener 3…and man, was I disappointed. Much of what I loved about Scrivener for the drafting process is still there, but the compile. What a mess. Seriously.

I’d been hearing indie authors swear by a new (to me) program for a while, and decided to give it a shot:

To a great extent, Jutoh is really similar to Scrivener, especially if you don’t find yourself using all of Scrivener’s fancy cork boards and icons and drafting options. For example, Jutoh includes an area on the left side of the screen with a list of all your chapters (similar to Scrivener’s binder). In this area, it’s possible to drag and drop chapters into a different order (though I’ll confess I find moving chapters in Scrivener to be more fluid / easier). You can use multiple screens in Jutoh during editing (I frequently make use of the split-screen feature in Scrivener). It’s also affordable: $45 for a one-time download (no subscription).

And, maybe most importantly: Jutoh’s compile feature is a breeze (especially compared to Scrivener’s). So easy, in fact, that there’s really not much instruction I can give. Put your chapters together as you’d like them to look in a finished product, then choose your output format, and click “Compile.” Seriously. That’s it.

I absolutely recommend Jutoh for compiling your ebooks (it’s even easier than Scrivener 2). But there’s just something about the drafting process that I find more compatible to Scrivener (though drafting is absolutely possible in Jutoh).

Here’s my current workflow:

Draft in Scrivener – Compile into Word – Import into Jutoh – Complete Global Edits – Compile into OpenDocument – Save as .docx – Import into InDesign – Do Final Edits in Jutoh (for ebooks) and InDesign (for print).

I will say, I’m so, so, so, so, so glad to have found Jutoh. It’s an utter lifesaver in terms of compiling ebooks. Though I’m using both Scrivener and Jutoh right now, if I had to choose only one program, I’d go with Jutoh. I’ll definitely be using nothing else to compile for the foreseeable future!

Why You Should Learn to Juggle Multiple Projects (Novel Writing)

I know it can sound horrible, especially at the beginning of your writing journey. Write multiple books? you’re thinking. I’m trying to get the first one out!

Even if you’re still relatively new to the writing life, it’s not too soon to think about multiple projects. Here’s why:

  1. Sometimes, you just need to let an idea gel. It’s not all the way there. If you find yourself really struggling with one project, there’s absolutely no shame in putting it aside for a time to work on something else. Readers will know if you’re forcing a plot to come together. *BUT: If you’re a new writer, you do run the risk of constantly getting to the middle and chucking that project to start something new, never finishing anything. I’ll post a few tips for getting unstuck soon.
  2. Often, I find my brain needs to take a breather from doing the same kind of writing activity. (Usually, when I’m in the midst of endless amounts of copyediting.) Cutting a working day short a couple of hours (or even taking a day a week) in order to do a few drafting sprints energizes me, lets me come back to copyediting refreshed and more alert and able to catch tiny mistakes.
  3. There’s a ton of downtime in any writing project. When working with a traditional publisher, months can elapse between editorial letters. Even when indie publishing, you’ll find yourself waiting on print proofs or waiting to hear from the editor you’ve hired. In the midst of proofing the re-release of my first MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, I found that the margins were pretty tight. So I got back into the InDesign file and widened them. Redid the cover. Uploaded the files and ordered another proof. As I wait for it to be delivered, I’ll be drafting a new humor piece.

Once I got in the habit of juggling multiple projects, I also found myself more easily transitioning between different writing tasks (drafting, editing, marketing, etc.) And it mixes the days up, keeps the writing life feeling new and exciting.

Staying in Rhythm (Copyediting Your Book)

When I’m copyediting, I get in this zone where I pretty much don’t want anything else to enter my brain. I only want to concentrate on the book at hand. I’m sure I’m not alone–it’s why the term revision cave became a thing. You really do crawl inside your WIP and lose all track of the outside world.

There’s a rhythm to copyediting. Kind of like jumping rope. Get away from the book too long, and suddenly, the rope’s getting tangled in your feet and everything’s falling apart.

But I also realize lately that being able to put my head down and work on only my book-in-progress is a real luxury. We all have families and jobs taking up our time, leaving less day than we’d like for copyediting. During the pandemic, I’ve been doing much more cooking and shopping. I have a young dog now who loooooves to walk. Etc., etc.

A few things you can do (and I’ve been doing as well) to keep the rhythm going in your copyediting job:

  1. Keep your book with you at all times. I always compile my manuscript and put it on one of my e-readers. I keep it and a notebook in my purse. Find yourself with ten minutes or so on your hands? You can probably read a chapter, and make a list of typos or phrasing changes to type when you get back home.
  2. Stop reading other books. This is harder than it sounds. But I usually stop reading other works of fiction during the time I’m engaged in a really close copyediting read of one of my own books. It helps keep the timeline of my own book in my head.
  3. Read like a reader. I’ve discovered that, while copyediting, you’re better off reading your own book like you read other authors’ work. You want to read at a fast enough clip that the timeline stays fresh. But you don’t want to just plow through it, looking for missing commas. You want to ask yourself questions as you go: Is this character acting realistically? Did another character drop out of the action inexplicably? Are threads mistakenly abandoned? Sometimes, you can actually find plot holes while copyediting.

And now, back to my WIP…

Outlining Your Novel: Hitting the Beats

So far, in the Outlining Your Novel series, we’ve explored character arcs, the three act structure, death, and the turning point in the middle. As I said when the series started, outlining is not about creating a chronological order of events. Outlining is about taking a large project and breaking it into small chunks.

Now that we can see the novel as a big picture (the character arc is maybe the biggest part of that), we can begin breaking it down. We do that by hitting important beats, or moments of change, for that main character of ours.

Here, it helps to think of your story as a linear timeline. At the 10% mark, the status quo is interrupted in some way. This is a small disturbance. At the 25% mark, your main character encounters the big problem that makes up the primary conflict of the story. At the 50% mark, we have the change in the main character that we brainstormed during the discussion on the turning point. At 75%, we have the dark moment of the soul–the point in which all seems lost for the main character. At the 90% mark, we have the ultimate climax, where good triumphs over evil, and for the remaining 10%, the loose ends are all tied up.

That’s it!

Well, okay, it’s not it. But you’ve done the hard part. All that’s left is to brainstorm chapters that fill in the spaces in-between the beats, remembering your three-act structure. I find Scrivener to be one of the best writing tools out there for breaking a story down into chapters before actually writing. I also highly recommend Googling and reading about the beats and plot points that should be included in the genre you’re writing. That’s not to say you have to include every single turning point. But it provides a great framework to start with.

So go on–get outlining!

Outlining Your Novel: The Turning Point in the Middle

In my ongoing series on plotting your novel, I’ve addressed character arcs, the three act structure, and death. This week, we’re looking at the center of the book.

That might sound a bit odd. We’ve done plenty of brainstorming, but now, we’re jumping right into the middle? Without addressing the beginning of the book?

As I said before, the idea of outlining is to take a big project (writing a novel) and break it into manageable chunks. That doesn’t mean meticulously plotting from beginning to end. For me, it means gathering all the pieces of the novel and then sliding them into the appropriate place.

So. The turning point.

I find this beat in any novel particularly interesting, and have ever since I encountered James Scott Bell’s WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE.

The idea is that every main character encounters a turning point in the center of the book, after which their attitude and behavior begins to change. They have a mid-point epiphany. Or something life-changing happens. They may realize something about their enemy (perhaps they realize they’ve been chasing or blaming the wrong person). At the mid-point, they change direction.

What I really love about this strategy is that it plays right into creation of the character arc. Writers always use the term “character arc.” Not character line. Character arc. Picture an arc in your mind. Has the same shape as a rainbow, doesn’t it? Right in the center, it has a…

turning point.

(!)

In order for the full character arc to be believable, something drastic needs to happen to your main character in the center of the book. Remember, no one ever changes their mind on a whim. Something has to happen to a person to change their mind. They have to have some sort of experience that changes them.

Here, you want to brainstorm an event that can happen right at the center of your book, one that will change your main character for the better. The change won’t happen in its entirety in this moment–it will continue to take place for the rest of the book. But the trigger for the change to occur happens here.

Go on–get to brainstorming!