Writing Tips Wednesday: 5 tips to keep you motivated to finish that first draft

Wednesday Writing Tips

Do you ever find yourself drifting? Not motivated to finish that draft? Get half way through and want to start on a new project?

Well, you’re not alone. A lot of writers feel this way. I know I feel it at times. I can’t tell you how many first drafts I started and then abandoned. How many unfinished manuscripts liter my closet and hard drive.

Now, whether this is from distraction, or the stories I abandoned not being big enough to carry all the way through to the end, one thing is for sure, I find new motivation every day.

As a writer you have to discipline yourself to keep going. Finish it. No matter if you think it’s crap.

I know I found this difficult at first. So find motivation to keep going.

Here are five tips to keep you motivated to finish that first draft:

  1. Give yourself a deadline

A reasonable one of course. If you work a day job and only have 2 hours to write a night, don’t set a deadline to finish a full length manuscript in a week, two weeks, etc. By doing that, you will only disappoint yourself and lose your motivation to keep going.

So give yourself a reasonable deadline. If you start on a Monday, give yourself a week to two weeks for research, a week for character bios, a week for your outline (if you outline), a chapter a day or every two days, and so on.

You could break it down in several ways, whichever works best for you. But, it’s a good idea to have one big deadline, with other smaller deadlines along the way.

For example, let’s hypothetically say I am starting a new project today, July 13, 2016. All I have is my idea so far. I want to finish it by the end of the year to have it go into revisions by January 1, 2017. Great, there is my deadline to finish my first draft. (This may seem like a lot of time, but this is just for informational purposes.)

Main Deadline:

December 31, 2016 – Completed First draft.

Smaller Deadlines:

July 31, 2016 – Research completed (Setting, Plot, Theme, etc.)

August 15, 2016 – Character Bios Completed (I know my Protagonist, I know my Antagonist, I know my side characters. I have their voice, dialect, back ground, and know how they fit into the world I will create from the research I completed.)

August 29, 2016 – Outline completed, if you outline. (I know the basic chapter outlines, scenes, how it will end. Can spot some inconsistencies in the story, I know where it’s going, and I’m ready to begin.)

November 1, 2016 – Reach half way point of the first draft. 9 weeks from when I started.

The next deadline after that is to finish. You can see how breaking it down and giving yourself deadlines can help. You have a goal, something smaller you’re working towards, other than to just finish. You have stepping stones.

2.  Don’t second guess yourself.

When you’re writing, self-doubt can rear its ugly head. This is normal. But don’t let it stop you in your tracks. remind yourself that every writer feels this way. Remind yourself how the first draft is not the final draft. The point of the first draft is to get the story down. It is much easier to edit and revise a story when there is a completed story.

If you find yourself stopping because you don’t feel like your writing is up to par, or the story is all that great, know that you are not alone. Reach out to other writers, take a writing course if it makes you feel better, visit blogs of writers who discuss the difficulties of writing. But then get back to it. Don’t lament on word choices or sentence structure, those can all be changed in revisions and editing. Don’t compare it to what you’re reading. Not yet. Just get it down.

3. Write Everyday. Every. Day.

The only way to finish is to write. No matter if you write one sentence, or an entire chapter. Write everyday. To grow as a writer, you have to write. So do it. No excuses.

4. Set a writing schedule, and guard it with your life.

You have no idea how helpful this can be. When you schedule yourself an exact time to be writing, you no longer allow yourself the excuse of “I just don’t have the time today.” No, you do. Schedule other things around your writing block.

If you can only write at night because you’re busy during the day, great, set that time. Do not let anything else creep into this time. If you only have time at 5a.m., great, set your alarm and get up and write.

This writing block is sacred. Keep it safe, guard it, protect it, and don’t let anyone or anything (barring an emergency) interrupt it.

5. Find motivation in your peers.

Become friends with other writers. Writers who have finished a Novel. When you find yourself slumping, slacking, or just down right unmotivated to keep writing, reach out. Ask them what they did to keep themselves going. Read through twitter (I’m not kidding, you’d be surprised some of the motivation and support you can get there).

So there you have it, 5 tips to stay motivated to finish your first draft. These have helped me to stay motivated and go from unfinished manuscripts, to one full completed and one in progress.

How about you? Do you have additional tips to add to the list? Let’s hear them!

Wednesday Writing Tips: 5 tips on writing dialogue

So to kick off my Wednesday Writing Tips I have decided to start with 6 tips on writing great dialogue.

  1. Explaining when you don’t need to.

Ex: “I can’t believe she said that! Well, I’ll just have to give her a piece of my mind when I see her next.” Jane exclaimed angrily.

Ok, written on the fly, so not the best example. But, the point is, in the example Jane is going to give someone a piece of her mind. The whole line conveys that she’s angry. Tacking on ‘angrily’ at the end is not needed. Try to avoid this.

2. Watch your Tags.

 – he said

 – she said

 – they said

Sometimes it’s ok to say ‘he said’ but watch how many times you’re using tags. Sometimes it’s not always necessary and can impede your flow.

3. Pay attention to conversations around you

This is where being a people watcher comes in handy. If you’re sitting at a coffee shop, or in a book store, or a park, listen to those around you. How are they interacting with each other? How are they moving? What is their body language like? There is more to great dialogue than just what your characters say.

4. Give each character distinct speech patterns.

Now, obviously, your female main character is not going to sound anything like your antagonist. Or at least, she shouldn’t. And her little sister who is only seven is not going to sound anything like the captain of the football team. Different people, different ages, will all have a different way of speaking. Their word choices.

So when you are writing for your character, make sure they sound like themselves. You don’t want everyone to sound the same where your reader will have trouble distinguishing who is speaking without having to reread it.

5. READ IT OUT LOUD!

No, seriously. This is one of the best things you can do to hear how it’s flowing. When you read something aloud you will stumble when the flow isn’t right. If you stumble, you know something is wrong and you need to look at it again. I always read any dialogue I write out loud.

*BONUS*

6. Just let it flow.

And finally, just let it flow. When you first start writing a draft just let it flow as it comes to you. Obsesses over it after you have finished. Don’t stop progress to agonize over your dialogue choices. It’s much easier to edit your dialogue after you have written it. So just keep going.

So there you have it. Five plus a bonus tip on writing dialogue. Do you have any to add to it? Let’s hear them.

Writing Struggles

Newsroom trash

Photo Credit: Louis Allen

I cannot tell you how many times I have let that voice inside my head get to me. Every writer knows it. The one that while you’re in the middle of your WIP says “This is crap.”

Do you listen to that voice?

I have, before. I have worked on, deleted, trashed, thrown away, and shredded so many started novels that I lost count. I’ve finished some too, though.

But there is always that voice, that one that says it’s not good enough, that it could be better, that this isn’t the story you should be working on. That voice is a liar. Don’t listen to it.

While yes, during your first draft, it may be crap. It probably is crap. The first draft is to get the story down, on paper (or computer) and out of your head. Then comes revisions. Make it not crap.

You have to get through this voice. All writers hear it, even the greats. No one can sit down and write a publish ready first draft, no one. If you can, you’re a unicorn and I want to be your friend.

You see, you’re not alone. While you’re sitting there, staring at your blank screen, or your blank page. While you’re reading over the chapters you just wrote. While you’re reading the critiques you’re getting back. We all have that sliver of doubt that enters our minds. It’s normal. It’s how you push through this fear and doubt that matters.

Don’t give up. Don’t assume because your first draft isn’t what you expected that you’re not a good writer. Don’t doubt something that pulls you back to it, no matter how long of a break you take, it’s your passion.

This is only one of the struggles writers face. Every. Day. Every time they sit down to write or edit. I have made a name for that voice. I call him Edgar. Yes, the voice in my head is a guy, I’m not sure what that means.

I imagine him sitting in my office at home while I’m writing at the other desk. He is across from me in the other desk chair, his fingers laced together and clasped in his lap. As I look over to him he gives me mischievous grin as he prepares to speak, yet his three feet stature and pudgy face makes me giggle. When he starts his negative talk, as he always does, I threaten to punt him across the room. That tends to shut him up for a while.

Who knows, I kind of like Edgar, even with his negativity. He pushes me past my comfort zone in my need to prove him wrong. He may end up in a story one day.

You don’t have to give that voice a name, or a physical embodiment, like I did. But do what you need to do to no longer listen to that voice anymore.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do when you hear that doubt creeping into your head?

5 top sites for writers

So today I wanted to talk about my favorite websites that I visit for writing information, tips, answers, and generally just everything writing related.

There are so many sites out there. Seriously, google it. But I want to give you my top 5. The ones I go to the most, and the ones that have helped me grow as a writer and a CP.

So here we go:

  1. Scribophile.com – This one is more of a community and a forum. Writers get together, share their work, get critiques, join groups. And they are very active. I’m in about I think, 7 groups now. You need karma points to be able to post your work and get critiques. You earn those points by reading and critiquing other members work. You are exposed to so many different writing styles, and types of people, it can really open your eyes. At least I know it did for me.
  2. jamigold.com – If you’re a plotter, like me, this site offers so many beat sheets and resources for writers. All of which are downloadable in excel format. They do all the math for you, and if you’re not a fan of math, this can be incredibly helpful. Also if you’re still learning structure, the numerous beat sheets they have will show you all different structure styles. I highly recommend it.
  3. Writability – Ava Jae is the Author of Beyond the Red. Her blog is hilarious as much as it is informative. She shares tips on writing, editing, revising, etc. She also runs contests to win a chance for her to critique your first 250 words, and all the critiques I’ve seen her do are incredibly helpful. She been blogging for years, so you probably won’t get to read all of her posts (I’m still trying) but read as much as you can.
  4. The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn is Author of multiple Fiction books, as well as Non-Fiction books on writing craft. Her blog has been so helpful to me over the years. Just about every question I have had, I have been able to find multiple answers to on her blog. Seriously, if you haven’t checked her out yet (And if you’re a writer, I’m not sure how you wouldn’t have heard of her) go do it. Now. Really. I’ll wait.
  5. Jane Friedman – Jane is a former publisher and gives all kinds of advice to writers. She has classes, books, resources. All of it, invaluable. Hers was one of the first sites I found when I typed in a writing question years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.

So there you go. The top 5 websites I visit for writing purposes. I’m not kidding when I say they have all helped me in one way or another, and I don’t think I would even be the writer I am today without their helpful posts and communities. So if you’re serious about being a writer and getting published, these sites should be on your list too!

So what’s on your list? What are some of the top sites you visit for help when it comes to writing, editing, revising?

5 Words we should be using!

I love words. I think that may be a little obvious, but I do. I love that our language is so diverse, and I love that one word if used one way, could mean something completely different if used another way.

Now, I have found that while reading I find myself longing for better words. Wishing for something that really excites my brain and tastes sweet as I speak it out loud. So if you’re like me, and you’re looking for better words to use while writing, here is my list of 5 words we should be using:

  1. Aflame – Instead of using excited
  2. Despondent – Instead of using sad
  3. Aghast – Instead of using anxious
  4. Clamorous – Instead of using loud
  5. Quake – Instead of shiver

So there you go, my 5 words we should be using. Do you have any more? I’d love to hear them and let’s start the next list!

Revisions, and learning to love them.

Yes, you read that right. Learning to love revising.

Oh come on, don’t groan.

We all know revisions are part of writing. It’s what takes that first draft to polished finished manuscript. But it can be drudgery.

You’ve finished your first draft. Go you! Now put it away. If you start revising now, you’re still very much in the story. You’re riding the high of it being finished, and you may miss some things that could/should be changed. So put it away.

After you have left it alone for a while, and you may even be starting to forget a details of your story, then pick it back up. You will have fresh eyes and be able to read your story as a critical editor.

Read it all the way through. Don’t stop. Make some notes if you must, when you find glaring issues, but read it from beginning to end. This will give you the best picture of the over all story and any big plot holes or gaps you will need to fill in.

Ok, so you’ve read it, you’ve made a few notes, and you have a good feel for the issues in your story. Now you start revising. If you’re like me, you will want to work in stages. It’s easier, I promise.

Round One of revisions.

I like to break my stages up into three chapters each. Unless there is an arch in the middle in which case I may add a few more chapters to round it out. As you’re going through, don’t pay too much attention to your punctuation just yet. Because you may change bigger things later on that will have made those punctuation changes useless.

After you have finished this first round of revisions, now you send it to your critique partners. When you get their critiques back look and see if they are similar. If they found the same issues, or had the same suggestions. This usually means there’s an issue that needs addressing.

Round Two of revisions.

So you read through your critiques, you made your decisions based on their suggestions, and you revised. Now, send it back to them. See what comes back. Did what you changed/added/removed change anything major that you missed? Did it cause a plot hole? This is what they are looking for the second go round.

After they send it back, you’re(me/we’re) hoping there are no huge changes, only minor grammar and punctuation at this point. If all street lights are green and the road is paved in gold, it might be. But for now, let’s just say that it is. Great!

Round Three of revisions.

You fixed the grammar, the punctuation, and your critique partners didn’t find anything big that needs to be changed. Now what? Your Beta readers. You send it to your betas to read through. You will get comments back. They will make suggestions, and you will have another revision to do.

Round Four of revisions.

Ok, you made the changes. It’s getting better with each pass. You’re confident in it, and you send it back to your betas. They jump up and down and call you the next [insert your favorite author here]. You’re stoked! What’s next?

Round Five of revisions.

One final pass. One final revision. Polishing it to the very best it could possibly be. You wanted to rip your hair out and throw your computer out of your window, but you’re done.

Why would anyone ever love this process, and why should you? Because, if you hadn’t done it that polished and shiny completed manuscript you have wouldn’t even be there. And looking back at it, isn’t what you ended up with so much better than what you started with? I’m willing to bet you fifty bucks it is. Just make your check payable to A.G.

But in all seriousness, while revising can be daunting, and it can feel like a never ending loop, know that with each pass you are one step closer to that finished publishable novel. And isn’t that something to love?

On Critiquing

Ok, it’s something we all need as writers. We need to give, as well as get critiques on our writing. And when I say critiques, I’m not talking about your spouse/partner/family reading it and telling you how much they love it. Sure, that can be a good boost, but that’s not what you need.

You need another writer. Someone who knows about structure, plotting, voice. Someone who is focused on the elements of a story that really make it sing. Someone who can call you to the mat and tell you something sucks isn’t working. But with telling you something isn’t working, they offer helpful advise and suggestions.

While your critique partner should never be mean to just be mean, and if they are stop swapping with them; Your critique partner should also not be afraid they will hurt your feelings. As writers we must always strive for better. A better scene, a better description, a better dialog exchange. An honest critique will help you get there.

Here is an example of a very good critique I got:

I like your use of descriptive words here, but I think changing them around a bit will help the flow of the sentence structure. Also, try an avoid cliches, you have a few in this paragraph. Cut them, and see what happens. Does it stop the scene in it’s tracks, or does the scene keep moving forward. Never be afraid to cut something if it’s not working. And right now, I don’t think it is.

Here is an example of a critique that’s nice, but not very helpful:

You did a good job here. I would change a few things, maybe move some things around.

And finally, here is an example of a completely unhelpful critique:

Nice. I liked it.

Now, which one do you think will help me grow as a writer and craft a better story? The first one right? Right. The second was good, it did let me know that there was obviously something wrong and that I needed to look closer at it, and the third, well while it’s nice to get compliments, if that’s all you have to say in a critique it’s not very helpful.

I haven’t gotten any like the third, but I have seen them before. So, when you are giving critiques, while you should be mindful of your word choices, you should never worry about hurting the writers feelings. If you are giving an honest critique with helpful advice, trust me, the writer is not going to string you up. We really do want those kinds of critiques. Not our egos stroked.

And, if you are getting critiques, don’t ever take them personally. They are not critiquing you as a person. They are critiquing the story and the way it is being told, and they honestly are trying to help.