We have talked a lot on this blog about the thought processes behind writing. From inspiration to publishing we have discussed how different people work. Today I want to talk about a different kind of process, the actual, physical, process of sitting down to write.
Just like the mental processes this can look different for everyone. We write with different materials, in different places, wearing different clothes. Some people have specific routines they follow, others wing it. But all of this can influence our work.
I’ll start with the basic, writing materials. There are tons of different computer programs to use for writing. Among the most popular are Word, Pages, GoogleDocs, and Scrivner. But these are just a few, and just on the computer. I know people who use others tools, such as pen and paper, typewriters, and a device called a Neo. I personally like to use Microsoft Word. I know that this is kind of an old program, and for my professional life I have mostly switched to google. But for my stories I prefer to use the program that I have used for ages. There is something comfortable about it.
Places to write can be important too. They can provide inspiration or distraction. For me the best place to write is at Denny’s! That may sound strange, but the camaraderie of this group of writers has helped produce some of my best work. It also helps me focus. When I am at home I have a hard time writing because of all the distractions. I am always finding something else that I need to do. When I go to a place specifically to write it helps me cool down that part of my mind.
Clothes, food, music, and other forms of atmosphere can also influence writing. I like to be comfortable when I write and it isn’t a Sunday at Denny’s without Root Beer and Mozzarella sticks! I even know a writer who eats eggs whenever she writes a sex scene! As for music, that’s easy for me. Since there is a musical in the background of each of my novels, the soundtracks give me inspiration.
So there you have it, my process. While I certainly occasionally write in other places and ways, this is what works best for me. What is your favorite way to write?
Recently I have had some, thankfully minor, health scares. Luckily for me they are all easily fixable and will lead to my leading a much healthier and happier life. Now, what, you might think, does this have to do with writing? Well that's easy.
One of the problems I have been having was related to sleep. While I won’t get in to all of the details, one of the doctor’s solutions was to not look at screens for two hours before sleeping. Crazy right! In this day and age how could I possibly not look at a TV, phone, or tablet for two hours? What would I do?
Turns out the answer was simple. I read! Though a lot of this has sucked I have loved getting back to the days of reading before bed. And I’m reading real books too. Holding them in my hand. None of this e-book or audio stuff.
At first I reread some of my favorite cozy series. They helped remind me why I love the genre and inspire my next novel. Then I got to go to the bookstore! Since that’s basically my favorite place in the world it was a great day. I picked up a bunch of great new stuff, much of it in new genres. And since its doctor’s orders my husband can’t tell me I spent too much money!
But in all seriousness, while the circumstances that led to this weren’t the best, I relish the chance to get back to my roots as a writer, to read again.
In the last few weeks I have had a series of disasters. I managed to break to cars in the same week I got a $46 paycheck! I also came unbelievable close to losing something very important, my novel.
I let my husband borrow my lap top for a few days to work from home during a snow storm. The lap top was also doing a major hardware update. In the middle of this update he called to me from the other room. The screen had frozen. The machine wouldn’t do anything, not even turn off. I began to panic.
Not only do I use this computer for work, but all of novels and stories are saved on it. In the first second of panic I realized that my latest work, one new novel, one edited novel, and my updated encyclopedia, were not backed up! I was terrified that al of this work was gone.
Thankfully I was able to get the computer working again. The first thing I did was e-mail my work to myself. I will never again forget to back up my stories, they are too important to lose.
Let my story serve as a reminder to you. No matter what way you choose to do it. Whether you use e-mail, a flash drive, google drive, a hard copy, anything. DO NOT FORGET TO BACK UP YOUR WORK. I was lucky, but not everyone is, and I know no one wants to lose their stories.
Recently I reintroduced myself to two of my favorite genres of books, Memoir and historical fiction. Interestingly, though I love to read both of these genres, I haven’t been able to write in them.
I fell in love with historical fiction at an early age. I loved that the stories that I was reading could be real. Though the characters were fictional the times and places were not. At the time I loved the “Dear America” series. This allowed me to explore time periods that I didn’t know much about through characters who were my own age. I have always wanted to write in this genre, yet I never have. I think that the research aspect scares me. I wouldn’t want to get important historical details wrong, but I would also want to stay true to my characters. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, having read a lot of this type of book both through my work as a teacher and on my own. Maybe I will explore it again soon.
The other genre, Memoir, came to me more recently, but in somewhat the same way. Once again, I loved exploring real events and real people, only with memoir it is actually real. I find myself fascinated with stories of people’s experiences in events I’ve only heard about in the news. As for writing, this one is a little easier to explain. Thankfully my life is pretty boring! I haven’t lived through any event that would really interest readers. Maybe someday, when we are all famous writer, but for now I am content to read about the lives of others.
Choosing a genre to write in can be difficult. One of the best places to look can be your own bookshelf. Don’t be afraid to explore new things!
Ever since I was a small child I have known what I wanted in life. I wanted to inspire. While that may seem like a big thing for a young kid, and it is, that is just the type of precocious little one I was. I was also very goal driven. I knew exactly how I was going to achieve this.
One of the ways I wanted to do this was to create. I tried my hand at music and art, and showed no talent at either. Then I found my two loves, storytelling and acting. Both of them, luckily, go hand in hand. Luckily for me, my parents were extremely supportive and I began doing both of these things.
As I grew my storytelling turned to writing. I would write small stories and read them to my family. Many of them I kept to myself. In high school I began writing my first novel, which no one would be allowed to see for many years. In college I became a creative writing major, eager to hone my craft.
Through it all I had one hope. That someday other people, real people, people who had never met me, would read my stories. I would go to book stores and find the spot on the shelf where my name would be. I would stare at that spot and wish. Wish that eventually it would be true.
Well, miracle of miracles, it finally is! A few weeks ago I held in my hand a book which contains a story I wrote. It was real, tangible. Dark and Bitter is out there in the world. That moment was one of the most amazing of my life. That book is now available for anyone to purchase. People I have never met, and probably never will, can read my words. My words will be for sale in bookstores and online. This fact amazes me. It reminds me of one key thing. Dreams do come true.
Life. Sometimes it can be wonderful and full of joy. Other times it can bring immense sorrow. Lately it seems that sorrow has been in the cards. The problem with this, other than the obvious, is that it gets in the way of, well, everything.
Going into this month of November my hopes were high. I had finished my last book and had a fully fleshed out idea for the next one. I was excited to get started. Life was going pretty well too. Friends and family were doing well and one friend had just welcomed a baby. This business was moving full steam ahead (and still is!).
Then everything fell apart. On October 31st we got word that a family friend wasn’t going to make it through the week. She passed the next day. What was supposed to be a month of writing and enjoying friends became two weeks of sadness. At the same time other friends, both at work and at home, went through similar tragedies. It began to feel like the world was falling apart. I did not start NaNo, but rather spent moments with friends and family and began to contemplate things.
What I came up with was this: Yes, life can suck sometimes, but it keeps going. Did I start my novel this month? No. Will I put it away and never think about it again? Of course not. For one, it gives me an excellent distraction from the craziness around me. Second, writing has introduced me to a fabulous group of friends (including the other pub518 ladies) who are always there to lend a hand. Plus these characters just won’t shut up!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that yes, life can suck royally, but don’t let that stop you from living it.
My favorite part of any story is the characters. It is these people who truly bring the story to life for me. And I’m not just talking about the main characters. The best stories, to me, have fully formed minor characters, a whole world that feels real. This is also something I strive to do in my own stories. As a writer there is one thing I like do to make characters seem real.
Almost every character that appears in my stories has a fully thought out back story written down somewhere. This technique came from my time as actress. It was very important for even the minor characters, even the ones who didn’t speak, to know their motivation in any given scene. This meant creating detailed histories and discussing them with those around you.
One of my favorite theatre stories involves a girl who had no lines. We created an inside joke that two other characters had bet her not to talk for the whole weekend (that the play was set in). This made us giggle every time it would have made sense for her to talk. Though no one in the audience, and very few people in the play, knew why we were laughing, it added another layer to play.
I use this same technique in my writing. Knowing a characters personality and motivation effects everything, from their mannerisms to how they react to people. If you think about it in regards to real life, compare how two people react to a death. Someone who recently lost someone will react more strongly than someone who has not. It is human nature. Since these characters are human it makes sense to create lives for them.
Once your characters have a life, even if your readers never know it, the world they live in will feel more real. This makes your story more enjoyable for everyone.
During my day job as a teacher one of the things I often work on with my students is creative writing. It often amazes me how creative these kids can be. The plot lines they come up with are sometimes better than the ones I read in published books! That being said, there is one thing they struggle with, description.
My students are very good at knowing what is going to happen in a story, but they don’t know to say it. They often simply write out their plot. This ends up being more like an outline than a story. As such I came up with a phrase that I teach them and then stress throughout the process. That phrase is “show not tell”. What I mean by that is rather than just say what is happening you need to make the reader see it, live it. You need to use all five senses to make your writing feel real.
Many students, and in fact many people, have trouble with this idea. They would rather tell the story as it happened, much like they would while talking to a friend. What I do to combat this is to show them a simple story written both ways. Once they see how boring a “tell” story is they are more able to “show.”
Another thing I do with my students is to make sense charts. These charts lists the five senses and the students must fill it out about a character or setting. This helps them think of adjectives to use while writing.
While I typically use this technique with teenagers it could also easily be applied to any author. Any time you feel like you’re writing needs something more try using a sense chart. You would be surprised what this can add to a story.
It is currently “Back to School” time, something the stores and advertisements won’t let us forget. This means different things for different people. For parents it means no more kids around all day to worry about and find things for them to do. For kids it means going back to friends and learning, and waking up earlier! For teachers it means planning, grading, and an end to relaxation. It can also be a chance for us writers to go “back to school”.
For writers there are two things that come to mind when I say this. The first is more literal. Take a workshop. There are many offered all over the area, and farther. One friend even attended one in Scotland! They are often run by groups of writers such as RWA (the romance writers association). Some are offered online. Teachers can include well known authors, editors, or your fellow local writer. These workshops cover all kinds of things. They can help you work on character, plot, setting, anything you could think of, in a welcoming place. You can listen to others talk about their problems with writing and get help with your own. Workshops are a great place to learn to be a better writer.
The second way to “go back to school” is to work on something on your own. Take a look at your writing. You will know what areas you have trouble with, whether that be a story element, or a type of grammar, or anything. Then practice. Try re-writing a section, or maybe giving a character a backstory. Anything you can find to help yourself.
Just because we are now adults does not mean that we can’t go “back to school.” Take advantage of the daily reminders and make your writing better.
We’ve all heard of NaNoWriMo. That crazy month of November when we do nothing but write. What many people don’t know is that there are two other months for writing. NaNo calls the months of April and July “Camp” months. The goal here is similar to that of November, but there are some differences.
The first difference is your goal. During November you have to write 50,000 words. Camp is much more flexible. You choose your own goal, any amount you want. This allows people with busy lives to be more realistic about what they can do. It also let’s overachievers show their progress. You can also change your goal as you go, usually until the last week of the month when winning starts. That way if life got in the way you can still win, or if you’re doing better than expected you can surge ahead. This year my goal is 15,000. I think that this will be enough to finish my current work-in-progress.
That is another difference with camp. NaNo asks you to start a new project, Camp does not. You can if you want to, but you can also continue an old one, or use the time to edit or revise. Basically, as long as you are working on some type of writing, it works. I often use camp to finish the novels I start in November.
Another major addition to Camp is Cabins. Cabins allow you to have a specific group of writers to talk to. During NaNo we have the message boards. Cabins are more like a chat with a smaller group. There are a few ways to get a cabin. I usually form a cabin with people from the local NaNo group. We add as many people as we can and often end up with more than one cabin. One person sets it up and then adds the others. I like doing this because these people already know my stories and personality, so I don’t have to explain myself as much. You can also get added to a random cabin. You just select this option and the powers that be put you with a group. This can be interesting because you are interacting with new people.
Overall I like the flexibility that Camp gives, especially as someone who works, a lot. It gives me the motivation I need but at a pace that works better for my life. Happy writing everyone!