I'm not one for resolutions. I personally find them to be to nebulous. "Lose weight. Write more. Spend less." They're fine aspirations, but what's the plan? How is this going to be achieved?
Good goals should have a defined end point. For example during National Novel Writing Month the goal is to write 50,000 words. An experienced goal setter will give themselves milestones before the end goal, and that's exactly what NaNo does, splitting up the goal into daily milestones which can be celebrated each and every day.
Good goals should have a time frame. In NaNo a writer is attempting to write those 50,000 words in one month. I find that choosing a time frame is the hardest, and most important, part of setting goals.
Successful goals include some social accountability. On the NaNo website your total word count so far is posted under your username on every post. Everyone on the site knows if you're ahead or behind and it can encourage writers to finish their words for the day before posting.
There is one more thing one can do to make goals more likely to be successful, but I don't even do this one.
Successful goals stake money on the outcome.
Our company goals for the year? (By posting them here we'll get some social accountability!)
1) Publish a new anthology before November 2018.
2) Attend one new marketing event a quarter.
What are your goals for the year?
I am ecstatic to be the one to tell you that our initial publication "Dark and Bitter" has been sent to the printer! We got the proof copy last week, it was very exciting, and looked amazing. As expected there were a few minor changes to make. These have been implemented and will make the final product look even better.
Through this publication process we have learned a lot. There have been trials and tribulations which could never have been predicted. I think it's important to review big projects like this for 'what worked' and 'what didn't work' so that we can improve on the next go around.
What Did Not Work:
Ordering local promotional materials. I personally thought that it was important to try and keep our purchases local. If we're trying to make sure that half of our authors are from the area then half of our products should be from the area too. This backfire in my face. We went to a local place to order our mugs. We were prepared for the cost to be higher than if we ordered them online. What we didn't expect was to have the product take four weeks nor the company to accidentally order twice as many mugs as we originally wanted, then try to charge us for it.
Doing the formatting for the ebook ourselves. This ended up taking a lot of time and making us far too frustrated. Next time we'll be hiring someone to do this for us.
Working with Susan Blackley of Written Image Press as our editor. She was absolutely fantastic. She went above and beyond what was requested. Her dedication and exceptional comments helped our authors bring their stories to the next level.
Working with up-and-coming local authors. Seeing their stories grow through the editing process, and seeing the author grow through the publication process, has been an absolute pleasure. It makes me really glad that we started this company. While I'm ready for a break for the holidays I'll be glad to get back at it with our next publication "Exploits in the Adirondack".
I personally like the character sliders that Brandon Sanderson talks about in his YouTube classes on writing.
A friend of mine likes to choose a couple characters from TV and combine them in unique ways. This particularly helps if he gets stuck while writing later, since he can go watch an episode of TV, which almost always helps him get rid of writers block.
Others will do interviews with their characters. I find that this can work if the questions are both interesting and open ended enough.
Another option is a list of likes and dislikes. This can come in the form of favorite foods or colors etc. I don't find this as useful since it doesn't really show off the inner workings of the character. That doesn't mean it can't be relevant occasionally; a character might hate gravy because their parents argued about it as a child. But it's not always the best use of my time.
The last option I'll talk about today is designing a character like they're from a role playing game such as DnD. I mention that one because it's the most well known, but I personally love using the hindrances page from Savage Worlds. It's a list of things that were designed to affect a character in a way that will affect game play. As such it feels almost inevitable that these choices will affect the plot, thus creating more tension and interest.
How do you design or learn about your character?
Since I’ve started to write in earnest I’ve started to read differently. While great books still draw me into their nebulous depths those books that are on the borderline of good have me asking a lot more questions. Why isn’t this as great? What could they have done to make this better? Can I apply this to my writing? These are all useful questions for improving my writing, but they do distract from the story at hand.
I’ve tried to channel my analytical mind by filling out a book review while I’m reading. Sometimes getting the idea on paper is all I need to let the problem go, and enjoy the story more.
The questions are simple:
What are the themes of the story, and are they working?
What are three things I liked?
What are three things I disliked?
I think the key is limiting both the liked and disliked to three things. When I write a review for a great book it’s hard to limit the things I liked, and often I can’t even think of three things that I disliked. Yet when reviewing a bad book it’s important to know that there are still things that I can learn from it (by filling out the things I liked section), and that just a few key changes would drastically improve the writing.
Since I’ve started to use this questions to review others novels I’ve started to subconsciously apply them to my works when editing as well. They mindset that even if it seems bad there are still good parts to my writing helps my writing confidence. Knowing that just a few changes can improving my writing makes the editing seem more manageable.
Do you notice different things when reading now that you’re a writer?
What are the most useful things you can do to help get more writing done?
Bonus - Have fun! Writing is about creating something that you enjoy. Take a minute to enjoy it!
I’ve tried a lot of different ways to learn about my characters before I start to write my novel, yet none have really clicked yet. I know these methods work for other writers so I thought I’d talk about the ones I have tried and see if anyone has a method to suggest.
The Questionnaire – Asking a long list of questions and answering them in character. Often I find these to be too superficial. If a character loves food I might talk about their favorite food once or twice, but for those that focus on other things food isn’t relevant to their character.
Of course there are also questions that are too broad. What’s important to your character? I don’t know yet, that’s why I’m filling out this questionnaire. Perhaps if I found a good mix of questions that worked together more this would work for me, but the ones that I have tried do not.
The Monologue – Having a character fill out a diary entry/letter/generally talk for a while. This will usually tell me what the character wants and what they find annoying. It can leave the character feeling one sided. To be fair I haven’t tried doing both a diary entry and letter for the same character, which might give me a more well rounded feel of their private v public life. I recently heard of pretending your character is going to a therapist, or have a character write a letter to the author, either discussing all of the horrible things that they've had to endure. I’ll be trying these next.
The Pinterest board – Putting together a collection of pictures of what the character, their home, and their general living arrangements are like. I find that this encourages me to spend too much time describing what the characters look like instead of their actions and emotions. Although adding some pictures to my general character notes helps me remember some of their physical descriptions.
Writers Coloring Book by Rachel Funk Heller - This is a particularly unique way to learn about your characters and plot around them. The book uses color to show the different levels of a characters psyche. One of the nice parts is just choosing colors that go well together and then figuring out how they fell together that way later on. This seems to work visual writers.
How do you learn about your characters?
I think one of the biggest draws of the novel is the idea of having written a novel. Depending on the author this can be a pro, con, or both. There’s something romantic about being able to say that you’ve written a full novel. It’s one of the reasons that National Novel Writing Month has so many people take on their challenge.
Yet the idea that a writer can only write novels, or maybe should only write novels is a disadvantage. For the first two years of my writing career I stayed away from short stories because of this idea. While it did help my writing progress it also hindered my editing progress.
Pros of writing a novel: You can say you have written a novel. If written from start to finish that’s a lot of time spent writing, which is great for honing the craft. It’s better for working on long term foreshadowing, long term character arcs, and pacing.
Cons of writing a novel: It’s a big time investment. It’s an even bigger time investment when it comes time to edit. Because it’s a large piece an author can sometimes feel overwhelmed, or bored, with the project.
As a fledgling writer I didn’t write short stories because they’re only a short story. That perception is one of their biggest drawbacks. To a writer it almost feels like dabbling in the art, instead of taking on a ‘fuller’ piece of work.
Yet artists do warm up sketches before working on professional pieces and athletes stretch before playing in a big game. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to think of short stories as warm up pieces. Works writers use to practice new techniques, or just have fun with.
Pros of writing short stories: They can be started, edited, and sent out in a week or two. Because they’re short they’re a great way to try a new writing technique, prose style, tense, or view point. There are a lot of markets for short stories, all of which have the potential to improve a writer’s audience. When trying to market a novel it’s nice to show previously published short stories.
Cons of writing short stories: Because they aren’t as big of an undertaking they can feel like less of an accomplishment. Since they‘re short they aren’t as good for figuring out long term foreshadowing, long term character arcs, or pacing. It can be hard to fully explore an idea in a short story.
Now that I’ve had experience writing both novels and short stories I find that figuring out which ideas would work best in each format, using the pros and cons listed above, is one of the most important decisions I have to make.
- Shannon Kauderer
I have at least seven 'To Do' lists going at any one time.
First there are the big goals for the year. I personally have nine. Seven are writing related, one is to enjoy/improve the house, and the last is to go do something new and exciting once a month.
Each month I check into those goals. I figure out how my progress has been so far and if the goal still seems relevant and achievable. For 2016 I canceled one of my writing goals that then seemed irrelevant to my bigger goal of becoming an inspirational published writer. I replaced it with a similar goal, learn about the craft of writing, using Brandon Sanderson's class recordings.
I then determine what I should be doing in each goal for the upcoming month. That's the mini goal list. If I look at the big goal too often it feels unachievable. Breaking it up really helps focus.
After that I break it up again, this time into the next step of each goal. Whether it's to buy a plane ticket to go to a new state for a cultural activity, or sit my butt down on the chair and edit the next page, it gets written down on the list.
After that I get to work.
That list becomes the 'number one' important list, but it doesn't hold all of the things that need to get done in every interest in an everyday life. I keep a list of mini goals for author visibility, one for helping out with this LLC, one for the classes I'm taking, one for house upkeep which includes anything from vacuuming to patching the roof, and one for helping out writer friends. They're there, and they get done when I have time, but I know that the 'number one' list is the one I have to spend my time on if I want to succeed in big year long accomplishments.
You've made it through the rest of the month with your word count intact. Now, like any good book, a new challenge comes forward that you, the main character, needs to overcome. This time it's the dreaded holidays.
That's right, Thanksgiving is near. Christmas presents must be amassed, traveling must be done, weather fretted about, and then comes the biggest time eater of all: socializing.
How will the main character survive this time?
Some lock themselves up in the bathroom and write words in their phone, hoping that auto correct doesn't mangle them up too much to figure out their meaning in December. Others spend extra money on a train ticket and spend the traveling time in a novel writing frenzy. Still others will determine that the traveling time is really the issue. They'll be the ones who offer to host and cook. Throw the turkey in the oven, quickly vacuum the first floor, and then twiddle down the hours by writing while bathed in the scents of home cooking.
1) You're the main character. You want to win this, and us, the readers, are rooting for you every step of the way.
2) Main characters want something and then they make a plan to get it. You should make a plan, schedule out time to write every day, even on the holidays, and then stick to it as best you can. While the best plans may fail, the plan is a start.
3) When main characters fail they make a new plan and keep going. When plans go askew they do they best they can, and that's ok. As Confucius said thousands of years ago. "Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."
I am a member of one writing group and one critique group.
Apparently, this is a little weird, but at my writing group we write. The goal is to get together, encourage each other, work through writing problems together, and write together. We accomplish this by sprinting; we do 20 minutes of writing, and then 20 minutes of talking, in a cycle the whole time we are together.
My critique group is particularly active during on months and particularly ignored during off months. All of the members participate in NaNoWriMo and the associated Camps. Three of the four members also participate in JuNoWriMo. An unofficial offshoot of NaNoWriMo that happens in June. During the month NaNo or Camp is happening we take a break while the members write like crazy. Once the month is over we start back up with our agreed upon submission of ~5k words per week from each member.
As someone who is working towards a full-time professional writing career both of these groups are important. The writing group was a great group to start with, getting to know others in the area who enjoy writing as much as I do and GET the same problems that I talk about. My significant other listens when I talk about my latest writer's block or character motivation problem, but he doesn't write, and can only understand so much. The emotional support of the writers group is amazing, and useful, and real.
The critique group is great for turn around and developing a critical eye. Having a weekly deadline to edit 5k words has been one of the best things I have ever done to improve my writing turn around. Reviewing three pieces of ~5k each week has done wonders for realizing what I can do to improve my own writing. Then there's the actual feedback I receive on my pieces which have been amazing at bringing the pieces up another three levels.
One of the best things I can recommend for a growing writer is finding and participating in both a writing and critique group. They can help bring any writer to the next level.
As a writer, I spin tales to take the reader away from everyday life, if only for a few hours. However, becoming a published author and reaching readers is a struggle. Writers sit in front of laptops and tap away in hopes of creating the next great American novel. But what happens after the manuscript is written and edited?
It was a dilemma for a few of my fellow writers and me. One Sunday night at Denny’s we pondered the question. Sending query letters to publishers is nerve wrecking. It takes the stars to be aligned just right to connect and get a contract.
We knew there had to be another solution. Yes, self-publishing on Amazon is an option, but the writers at the Sunday Night Write In knew there had to be other alternatives. So in January, the idea of starting a publishing company for authors in the 518 was spawned.
The 518 Publishing Company, LLC has been created to help writers in the 518 to publication. We will make it happen.