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Write: “Stealing” Writing Time and Revisiting Your Goals #ReadySetWrite

Monday, March 16, 2015

When we’re trying to get a first draft written on a tight deadline, we sometimes get into a panic mode that time is slipping away from us.

This is one of the main reasons I have trouble attending music concerts now—after years of being on tight deadlines from publishers (three manuscripts of 90,000+ words each per year), my brain was retrained to think that any time I was sitting and “doing nothing” was time wasted. Someone mentioned to me today that an artist I like is coming to Nashville soon for a concert (well, tickets are on sale soon—she’s not really going to be here that soon). And my immediate thought was: I don’t think I’d be able to write during that kind of concert. And I’m not even writing on a deadline right now!

Redeeming, a.k.a. “Stealing,” Writing Time

Back when I was a full-time writer/editor and was traveling quite a lot (I logged an average of 7,500 miles each of those four years for writing events/workshops, book signings, and conferences), I redeemed/stole the travel time by writing in the car. Yes, when I was driving—by using the voice recognition software built into Windows 7 (with Office ’07, before they screwed it up in Office ’10) to dictate my story into text. (Revisions afterward were quite interesting, especially when I got to parts where the computer hadn’t understood what I was saying and, even reading it aloud and trying to figure out what the words the computer wrote down sounded like, I couldn’t remember what I’d been saying.)

More recently, it’s stealing time on my lunch break at work, whether it’s bringing my laptop or Surface with me and doing it deliberately or grabbing some scrap paper off the recycle pile and scribbling like mad to get an idea down before it disappears (and then carrying those pages, folded up, around in my purse for weeks until I remember I did that and need to type them into the computer at home).

While technology (cell phone with Quick Office, a Surface tablet with the full Office suite) makes writing in any situation/location easy—for example, as I’ve sat in the waiting room at too many different medical-type offices recently—sometimes I just can’t be hunched over my phone or tablet, such as in a meeting at work or at a music event/venue. Sometimes, it does mean just grabbing the nearest paper-like substance and a writing utensil and making do.

And sometimes, it’s forcing myself to spend time brainstorming and thinking through where my story is going—like when I’m on the treadmill. I’ll just plug my earbuds into my ears in without any music playing (to block auditory distractions) and then make myself think about my characters and story as I’m walking. I did this ten years ago when working on Stand-In Groom, except then I was swimming for exercise. In the middle of a lap, I came up from the water gasping from just having hatched the idea of George’s secret-identity plot (imagine my explaining that to the lifeguard!).

As I’ve stated in another post, everywhere is a good place to brainstorm (or write). But how often do we either recognize and/or utilize the opportunity to “steal” that time and actually use it for writing?

Revisiting Your Writing Goals

One of the reasons I always preach setting—and writing down—specific, actionable goals, both short-term and long-term, for a manuscript is so that along the way, you can go back and revisit those goals and mark off the ones you’ve accomplished.

But the biggest fear about setting specific goals for our writing is the fear of failure—the fear of not meeting those goals.

As we went over in the Goals vs. Dreams series last year:

Remember, it may be your dream to be a published author; it’s your goal to do all of the work that gives you the ability to chase that dream. And if you do the work, if you write the manuscripts, work with critique partners, go to conferences and workshops, rewrite and revise, edit and re-edit, do your market research, enter contests, network, and get those appointments to pitch your work, then you’re successful. Because you’ve met all of your goals, and you’ve done everything you can to chase your dream.

But what if you discover that your goals/timeline have changed?

Just because you’ve written down your goals and timeline—and maybe even shared it with others—only means that you’ve given yourself the opportunity to be constantly re-evaluating, double-checking, and changing them as necessary to customize them to the real-life task of actually writing your first draft. Now, that doesn’t mean that you allow yourself to just keep putting things off or allowing yourself to procrastinate and not get things done.

If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.

(L’Engle, p. 149)

Procrastination is a really slippery slope: I don’t feel like writing today, so I’ll double up tomorrow.

And then tomorrow: I don’t feel like writing today, but I can get three days worth of words written tomorrow.

And soon, you’re pressed up against your deadline (whether it’s self-imposed or external) and you’re having to write 28,000 words over Thanksgiving week to make your deadline. (Hello, Ransome’s Crossing.) Or you’re sitting on about 22,000 words with forty-four days in which to write the remaining 83,000 words. (Hello, Ransome’s Quest.)

And, yes, those examples were publisher/contract-imposed deadlines. But what good is setting goals and putting yourself on a timeline to get your draft finished if not to train yourself to become a professional/published author?

Use the process of revisiting your goals and timeline as motivation to keep moving forward with your first draft.

After all, in the words of the inimitable Harold Hill:

“You pile up enough tomorrows,
and you’ll find you are left with
nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”

(The Music Man)

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Works Cited:

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

Music Man, The. Dir. Morton DaCosta. Warner Bros. 1962. Film.

Write: Using Dialogue to Bring Your Story to Life #ReadySetWrite

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Using Dialogue to Bring Your Story to Life #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.comDialogue is something that can make or break your story—how it’s written and how much you use.

One of the biggest complaints about the Star Wars films, especially the three prequels, is the stiff clunkiness of the dialogue. And in watching it, there are scenes in which the actors themselves, despite valiant efforts, show their discomfort with the lines they were given, unable to act through the terrible wording.

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Conversely, there’s a writer like Joss Whedon. Back when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on the air, a critic made the remark that the only reason the show was popular was due to Whedon’s ability to write snappy, witty dialogue for his characters, that no one actually watched it for the story. That’s a pretty good criticism to receive. And then Whedon wrote the episode “Hush,” which has only a couple of minutes of dialogue bookending a story in which everyone’s voices get stolen, yet it’s one of the strongest episodes in the entire series, even without dialogue. Of course, my favorite Whedon series for dialogue is Firefly and the follow up theatrical movie, Serenity.

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Because we’re dealing with words on a page, not being spoken aloud by actors with the benefit of staging, lighting, props, and direction, we have to hit somewhere between these two screen writers—with excellent dialogue that keeps readers’ attention engaged while also building tension and moving the story forward without getting bogged down in exposition or being so awkwardly phrased as to be uncomfortable or unbelievable—all the while balancing it with dazzling narrative and action.

Just as with the previous post, I’m not going to try to rewrite, or even summarize more than what I’ve already said, everything I’ve already written about dialogue on the blog. So here are some helpful links:

“Say What?”—A Series About Dialogue (September–October 2008.)

Writing Contest Prep: Words from a Judge on DIALOGUE
Debunking Writing Myths: Always/Never Use “Said” Dialogue Tags
Internal Dialogue

Write: Writing Your Story Scene by Scene #ReadySetWrite

Monday, March 9, 2015

Writing Your Story Scene by Scene #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.comHopefully by now, you’ve written a few possible opening scenes and you’re ready to move on with writing your story.

Are You SCENE What I’m SCENE?
When you sit down to work on your story, don’t think about “writing the story,” think about “writing a scene.” If you don’t think about what you’re doing in terms of small chunks, then it’s going to be overwhelming and is the quickest path to writer’s block.

However, if you schedule your writing time in order to write a scene or two, you’re more likely to not feel overwhelmed and actually meet your daily writing goals.

Now, rather than try to repeat what I’ve written about scenes before, here’s the whole series:

SCENE IT!

To try to summarize, though . . .

  • Make sure each scene has a beginning, middle, and end.
  • End each scene with a hook/question—not only do you want to end a scene leaving your reader wanting more, you want to end a scene where you want to know what happens next—and then walk away. That way, you’re more anxious to get back to writing.
  • Try to mix up the ways in which you open and close your scenes.
  • Make sure your characters have an intention/desire/goal in each scene.
  • Make sure each scene moves the plot of your story forward.

Get Set: Writing Your Opening Scene(s) #ReadySetWrite

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Writing Your Opening  Scene(s) | KayeDacus.comThe first five pages. Hooking the reader. Crafting a killer opening. Writing a gripping first chapter.

If there’s a book about the writing craft, there’s likely going to be a chapter—or a whole section—on the importance of a strong opening line/scene/chapter. Actually, there are entire books focused on just writing the openings (yet none that I’ve found that focus on writing a killer ending). Rather than repeat everything that’s already been written about crafting the “perfect” opening scene, let’s discuss what it means to sit down and write an opening scene—or a dozen—for the book you’ve been getting Ready and Set to Write.

Don’t Lock Yourself into Your First Opening Scene/Chapter

Like everything else in what you’re about to write, the first scene/chapter you’re about to sit down and put into words is a first draft—it’s open for revision, rewriting, or cutting along with everything else you’re about to put down on paper.

You may have a scene in mind that you feel is the perfect opening scene for your book. I’ve had several come to me, almost fully formed, which pretty much wrote themselves.

And those were the opening scenes I either ended up heavily revising or cutting altogether. (Such as this, which was the original opening chapter of Ransome’s Honor, which got cut in order to get to the plot of the story—the scene where William and Julia come face to face for the first time in twelve years—much sooner.) After rewriting the opening of what would become Stand-In Groom multiple times before figuring out the main plot element and completing the first draft—which necessitated another complete overhaul of the first third of the manuscript—and after submitting what I thought was the final version of the story for approval as my master’s thesis, when it came time to choose a reading for my oral defense, in re-reading the opening for probably the five hundredth time, I realized how slow and boring it was—and that I’d introduced a named character who had absolutely nothing to do with the story and who disappeared after that scene. So . . . snip, snip.

TL;dr version: Don’t fall so helplessly in love with the first opening scene you write (or the tenth revision of it) that you aren’t willing to see its flaws and either revise it or mercilessly chop it off.

Write More Than One Opening Scene

A great way to keep from falling into the “precious baby” mindset with your “perfect” opening scene is to write more than one. If you have more than one viewpoint character, this is easier than if you only have one. And if you have more than two viewpoint characters, it’s that much better. Write an opening scene from each viewpoint character’s POV. Give each character a setup and an inciting incident. It may be the same inciting incident for all of your characters (and in a romance novel, it’s when the heroine and hero meet, so it’s the same scene but from each viewpoint). If you have multiple plotlines in your story, you may have a couple of different inciting incidents, and this exercise will help you figure out which is the primary/dominant plotline, which will help you hone in on which opening scene may work best for your story.

Not sure what happens to lead up to the inciting incident? Start by just writing a couple of scenes about your main character(s). What’s a day in the life like? What needs to happen to your character in order to get him/her involved in the plot of the story? Experiment. Play around.

And if all else fails, send your character to the grocery store. You never know whom he/she might run into there!

Don’t Get It “Perfect”; Just Get It Written

It’s almost 99 percent certain that no matter how much you obsess over writing the “perfect” opening, by the time you get to The End, you’re going to need to either change, rewrite, or scrap your opening scene. By giving yourself permission just to get started and get something written so that you can actually get your entire draft completed, you’re less likely to give up because you feel like you’ll never be able to get it right.

Allow yourself to start in narrative. Or start with a scene description. Open with dialogue. Open with your character going through his/her daily routine. (Knowing that you’re going to be revising/rewriting these scenes in your second draft.)

Whatever you do, just get SOMETHING written. Start writing. Go back to what we discussed last week about allowing yourself to be in draft writing mode. At this point, it isn’t important to get it right, just to get it written.

Not Sure Where to Start Your Scene? Start in the Middle

Because it’s been drilled into our heads so often to open with a hook, the draw the reader in right from the first line, we tend to obsess over those opening words—are they active enough? do they pack a punch? are they memorable?

Who cares! This is just your first draft. That kind of stuff isn’t important—getting your draft written is the focus here. The best way to make sure you don’t fall into the never-ending cycle of “making it perfect” and not moving on from the first chapter into the most important part of your book—everything else—is to start writing in the middle of a scene. And the easiest way to do that is to open with either action or dialogue. Your character is doing something or saying something on the way to the inciting incident. Skip the setup beat. You can come back and fill that part in when you’re in the revision process.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if your opening doesn’t make sense to anyone but you—that’s okay, you’re the only one who’s going to be reading the first draft. So if you aren’t quite sure where/how your story starts, or if you’re having trouble getting started because of the anxiety of not being sure of exactly the right opening line to use, forget about it. Just jump into the middle of a scene and start writing. It doesn’t even have to be an opening scene. It can be a scene that happens halfway through the book.

While writing chronologically is recommended, not everyone can do that—or maybe writing a scene that happens in the middle of the book will give you the impetus and ideas you need in order to figure out what the opening scene needs to be in order to set up the middle scene you’ve already written.

Find Your Beginning in The End

The best way to figure out the perfect opening scene for your story is to finish your first draft before you even start worrying about that.

Yes, what you write in your opening scene(s) sets up what follows, but there’s nothing that says you have to continue in that line of writing, continue with that tone, or even keep that character. That’s what the revision process is for. But there’s no point in getting so caught up in crafting your story’s opening if it’s keeping you from writing your story. Yes, you want a strong opening; however, it’s the story as a whole—and, most importantly, the strength of your ending—that will keep readers coming back wanting more.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a reminder of the series in which I discuss writing beginnings and endings in depth:

There and Back Again: Finding Your Beginning in “The End”
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Is Writing the Perfect First Line Really a Big Deal?
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Are You a Trustworthy Writer?
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Dreaming of Writing a Perfect Opening
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: The Importance of Finishing Your First Draft
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Ending Your Beginning

Get Set: Setting Up Your Writing Space(s) #ReadySetWrite

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Setting Up Your Writing Space(s) #ReadySetWrite | KayeDacus.comWe as writers are blessed with the ability to ply our chosen art form anywhere we might find ourselves—from jotting notes on paper restaurant napkins to what-if’ing on the order of worship during a long-winded sermon to plotting a three-book series on a butcher-paper table cloth during a dinner/concert. But this isn’t the most practical way to go about writing an entire manuscript, much less trying to do it on a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise.

Setting Up Your Writing Space(s)

If you do an image search for “famous writer’s desk,” you’ll come across a multitude of images that are at once awe inspiring and awful:

Jane Austen (source)

Jane Austen (source)

Marina Warner (source)

Marina Warner (source)

Wendy Cope (source)

Wendy Cope (source)

Will Self (source)

Will Self (source)

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Yes, it’s a luxury to have a home office in which we can let go and completely take over the space with the things we need to help us write, be they books, images, Post-it Notes, or other objects that inspire. And if you live with one or more other humans, having a space where you can shut everyone else out is almost a necessity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean behind a closed door in a separate “office” in your home or elsewhere.

If you’re a frequenter of places like Starbucks or Panera, you’ll notice that more and more, these mobile (and caffeine/pastry/sugar) hotspots are becoming the creative “office space” of the new millennium—somewhere with free WiFi with quiet corners in which creative types can sit with a laptop or notebook for hours on end without being disturbed and without disturbing anyone else. So even though you’ve been told time and time again that you should approach writing as if it’s your profession (even if you’re not full-time at it), that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself into an office-style setup if that isn’t what works best for you.

This is my office setup at home (photo taken circa 2008—I have a wide-screen monitor now):
desk1

And while, when I was writing “full-time” and working from home, I did most of my freelance editing on my desktop computer here at this desk (which has never been, prior to this photo nor since, this clean/neat), it’s not where I did the majority of my writing. I actually did the majority of the writing of the majority of my published books sitting in my recliner in my living room on my laptop.

However, I still use my office (the second bedroom in my small house) as a workspace—a space designated for writing-related pursuits, leading to:

xlarge-sticky-note

Outline

Wall Plotting | KayeDacus.com

Characters + Wall

Unplugging to Plug in to the Story

No matter what physical space you choose to write in, whether at home or at a coffee shop or cafe, there’s one very important thing you do need to do—and that’s unplug from the outside world. That may mean turning off your internet connection for the hour or two (or eight) that you’ve set aside for writing. It also means turning off the TV, video games, Kindle, iPad, or other distractions that we use to procrastinate and that can easily distract us.

I know not everyone can have music playing in the background while writing, and most of the time I can’t write with music that has lyrics—I start singing along and get caught up in the music instead of listening to the voices in my head. (I know, sounds completely sane.) But there’s something to be said for choosing/creating a soundtrack for your story. Specific songs/pieces that are meaningful to your characters and may actually be mentioned in the story. Music that exemplifies the tone and pacing of your story. Your character’s favorite singers or music types.

Or if not music, some other kind of ambient noise that will put you in the right fame of mind for writing. Is your character a bird watcher? How about something with bird sounds. Writing an outdoor scene at the ocean? Sounds of waves lapping on the shore.

If you’re home alone writing, fill the space with this sound that will help set and keep the mood of your story. If the others in your home don’t want to share in the full sensory experience of your writing, or they keep interrupting you, or if you’re out and about writing, make sure to invest in a good pair of sound-blocking earphones. I have several different pairs of earbuds with varying degrees of blockage of outside noise. It’s amazing how helpful a sound cocoon can be when trying to focus, especially when there’s a limited amount of time to write.

If silence is what you need, again, the sound-blocking earphones work wonders—it gives you a visible sign that says do not disturb while you avoid any disturbing sounds.

Filling Your Writing Space

If your writing location is mobile—going from library to Starbucks to a park to home—the way you plan your writing supplies will be different from someone who works in a home office. But even still, I feel like there are some supplies that every writer should have readily to hand at all times:

  • At least three pens—one you could let someone else borrow, one to write with, and one just in case the other two run out of ink.
  • A notebook/pad or blank book/journal. You may not always want to or be able to pull out your laptop, tablet, or phone in order to jot down an idea or brainstorm a plot point when the lightning strikes. But good ol’ pen and paper works in almost any situation. I also like to have one beside me as I’m writing on my Surface or laptop on which to quickly jot down ideas for future scenes, work out what-if scenarios, or make notes of things I need to review/revise when I have more time later.
  • Any files you think you might need saved on a cloud drive (One Drive, Dropbox, etc.). Because I go back and forth between my laptop and Surface so often now, I keep my working files for my story in progress saved in a cloud drive so that I’m not having to remember to move them back and forth and accidentally using an older version of a file. This is not only my current manuscript documents, but my OneNote notebook, notes documents, research links, images, and so on.
  • Calendars, timelines, and goals checklists. Again, saving these in documents on the cloud drive is a great way to keep up with these and to be able to revisit them and check things off of your lists as you accomplish them.
  • As mentioned already, earphones—either for listening to music or just for shutting out the outside world.
  • Post-it Notes. Because . . . Post-it Notes.

What are your must-haves when it comes to your writing space(s)?

What Are You Reading? (March 2015)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Happy First Monday of March, everyone.
It’s Reading Report time!

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

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Tell us what you’ve finished over the last month, what you’re currently reading, and what’s on your To Be Read stack/list. And if you’ve reviewed the books you’ve read somewhere, please include links!

To format your text, click here for an HTML cheat-sheet. If you want to embed your links in your text (like my “click here” links) instead of just pasting the link into your comment, click here.
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  • What book(s) did you finish reading (or listening to) since the last update?

  • What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

  • What’s the next book on your To Be Read stack/list?

#CostumeDrama Thursday: Sons of Liberty (2015)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Costume Drama Thursday3For the last year, I’ve been living without cable TV (about to remedy that TODAY!), so I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of made-for-TV movies, miniseries, and specials over that span (like the AMC show Turn, which had just been announced when I made the decision to cut the cord). So I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do and reruns to find over the next few months!

#CostumeDrama Thursday: Sons of Liberty (2015) | KayeDacus.comFortunately, a couple of friends of mine mentioned the History Channel’s “based loosely on history” miniseries Sons of Liberty which aired for three nights in January. I know there were probably a lot of Revolutionary War buffs who were grossly offended by the liberties the “History” Channel took with the actual history surrounding our founding fathers (whether founding our country or a beer brand), but as that’s not one of my areas of historical expertise, I was able to watch it with an eye toward sheer enjoyment of the pretty, pretty actors in historical costumes in vaguely familiar historical settings.

Title: Sons of Liberty
Historical Setting: Massachusetts/Pennsylvania, 1760s–1770s
Starring: Ben Barnes, Marton Csokas, Ryan Eggold, Michael Raymond-James, Rafe Spall, Dean Norris, Jason O’Mara, Henry Thomas
Original Release Year: 2015

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At first, I wasn’t buying Once Upon a Time‘s Neal/Baelfire (Michael Raymond-James) as Paul Revere, and in the first episode, I just couldn’t see it. But as the series moved on, and especially after the “event at the barn,” I not only believed him as Paul Revere, I actually started falling for him just a bit. Now I have a hard time remembering him as Neal/Bae!

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