Camp Nanowrimo is better than Plain Old Nanowrimo

I am a huge Camp Nanowrimo fan. During Camp Nanowrimo you work in a cabin with a group of up to twelve writers for either the month of April or July. You can choose to create your own cabin and handpick writers from people you know in real life and people you’ve met from the general Nanowrimo boards. Or you can get the system to assign you randomly to a cabin based on certain criteria, like age or genre. I’ve done Camp Nano both ways in the past and both are pretty good.

There is a myth out there that Camp Nanowrimo requires you to share a physical copy of your writing so the internet can steal it forever. But that’s not true! Sharing your work is never obligatory. Even at the end when the system asks for evidence of the words you typed, you can copypasta a lorum ipsum template for the number of words required.

On the other hand, if you are looking for beta readers for your project, Camp Nano could be a great place to look! Some people in my cabin have decided to exchange their work, and, as far as I know, enjoyed the experience.

The main purpose of Camp Nano is to create a writing goal for either the Camp in April or July. Once in the cabin, you get to cheer on a group of writers as you all strive to meet your independent writing goals. It’s fun to learn about everyone’s different projects and their writing processes.

The standard Nanowrimo in November requires you to have a 50,000 word count goal. This is great if you have your life organized to start writing a novel in November, or if you tend to like to write your first drafts as quickly as possible.

For me, the November Nanowrimo rarely works. I’m either not ready to start something new in November, or worry risking carpal tunnel. Plus, it isn’t how I work. I can write 50,000 quick words no problem. And I guarantee I will have to rewrite them all as well.

Now, for Camp Nano, you don’t have to choose a 50,000 word count goal. You can choose a word count goal of your choice, which means it can be less than 50,000 words. And if you aren’t doing something measurable by word count, like planning or editing, you can choose to set a goal in either hours or minutes. Now, you can log the time you spent during the month working on your project. The versatility is great!

Also, unlike in November, Camp Nano gives you a message board in your cabin to chat to the other writers (of which there are 12 at most). This way, you get to know the people in your cabin much better than in a general message board open to everyone. You all can see each other’s project summaries and goals, and work as a group.

Plus did I mention that the Camp theme is kind of cute?

Good luck this April with meeting your Camp Nanowrimo goals!

Starting is the Hardest Part

I’ve been working on a new project. And I’m having to remind myself that it’s okay not to write it right the first time. Sometimes you have to write a project wrong to discover how to write it right. And sometimes ideas don’t come in a flash of inspiration. Sometimes they emerge slowly from a long fermentation process, bubble and burst.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve been working on as I shape my ideas and write my fledgling draft:

1) Characters need motivations. What is driving them throughout the story? What drives them through each scene? What do they want?

This applies to the main character most clearly, however minor characters also need motivations. They aren’t just a sounding board for the main character to talk to, or a nice object that takes up space in a scene. All characters need purpose.

2) Setting is basically a character too. It has personality. It contributes to the mood and atmosphere of each scene. It interacts with the characters and shapes the plot as well. If you can’t place where your characters are, you can’t place the story, and you have a bunch of characters wandering aimlessly in blank space.

Sometimes when you write a draft, you can’t fully know your characters and setting right away. Sometimes you learn about them through writing and through blocks and failures. Planning and writing a first draft requires some sort of balance between thinking hard about the players and plotting everything out, as well as giving a trial run and seeing where the writing takes you.

 

Is it worth it to have your computer read your entire novel aloud in a computer voice?

Having your computer read your entire novel aloud in its friendly, robotic computer voice is another one of those editing tips I read online and balked at trying.

Why?

First of all, the computer voice. It’s annoying. And listening to it read more than 65,000 words sounded like some not-yet-described level of writer’s hell. I mean, GPS is one thing. My novel is another.

Second, I thought perhaps the computer voice would kill the flow of my writing if I used it too early in my process. Because it doesn’t sound exactly human. So I read each scene as I wrote it aloud (especially the dialogue) alone in my room like a crazy person. It helped a lot.

Also I tried to have my husband read aloud to me parts of my book as well. He did a fantastic job, and having someone else read parts of the book was especially helpful. He didn’t know where to put inflection as he hadn’t written it, and his reading showed me when things weren’t quite there.

Of course, my husband couldn’t read out loud the entire thing cover to cover for me. That’s a pretty tall request to ask anyone, even your spouse. It takes forever and is pretty tedious for someone who already read the manuscript in all its iterations (even the really rough ones at the beginning; they were really rough, trust me).

Eventually, I didn’t know what else to do with the manuscript. So I put it down and recruited some beta-readers for some feedback.

After some time, I printed the manuscript–the whole thing–and read each sentence as carefully as I could. I wrote notes and implemented the changes.

Then, one of my beta-readers got back to me (Hi mum!). She had a few structural comments, and then she mentioned she had a list of duplicate/misspelled/missing words for me. Would I like this list?

Of course I’d like this list! This list will show me whether my painfully, fine-toothed-comb read through caught the mistakes and was sufficient.

Yep. My read through did not catch the mistakes on her list. My brain, especially, was just too damn good at supplying missing words or omitting duplicates.

I began to get a little scared.

Exactly how many mistakes of this type existed in the document? My beta-reader couldn’t have caught them all. She also is human and her brain must also be great at supplying missing words or omitting duplicates when she reads (Hi mum again!).

So I recruited Alex.

Alex is the name of the voice on my computer who will read any text aloud for me in an American accent. If you use a Mac, you can activate Alex by going to System Preferences, then Accessibility, then speech. You can change it to other accents if you prefer, but Apple doesn’t offer an English Canadian one. Come on Apple! Canadians have accents too.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised. Apple speech has come a long way since I used to make the computer read silly messages in Bubbles or Pipe Organ in elementary school.

Alex reads with some inflection, lifting his voice at the end of questions and taking a breath every three sentences or so. Alex doesn’t pause at em-dashes unfortunately. Only about two words in the entire document he pronounced completely wrong. And a few weird slangs and sound effects he spelled out.

It was much less painful than I expected, and in five years I expect Apple speech will be flawless. (Maybe by then they will have a Canadian speaker too?)

Also, he caught a lot of mistakes. Because the computer doesn’t lie. It reads exactly what you wrote. I discovered that instead of “goggles” I wrote “googles,” and instead of “tilted” I wrote “titled.” Thanks Alex. He also revealed all of the missing words and duplicates.

So, yes. I recommend getting your computer to read aloud your entire novel. You’ll be surprised at what it catches, and you’ll be very happy that it did.

Is it worth it to print out your entire novel for editing?

My friends, I used to be a doubter about printing out the novel. But now, I am a firm believer. Although it took me a while to get there.

The first time I printed out my entire manuscript, it was useless. One pack of paper and toner cartridge later, I realised the novel needed some major structural changes. These changes included (but weren’t limited to) writing new scenes, extending entire chapters into more chapters, developing characters, inventing new characters, and deleting huge sections of plot.

And I didn’t need to print out anything to determine these changes were necessary. Reading the manuscript on my screen was sufficient to conclude that I needed to blow that Popsicle stand. The changes were so big, they were obvious. It wasn’t an entire rewrite, but it was close.

So, to save paper, ink, and time, I have the following suggestion: If you know what changes to make in your manuscript, don’t print the thing. If you know what prevents your novel from reading like a novel, don’t print the thing. If you have structural edits to make and not line by line edits, don’t print the thing.

Instead, wait.

Wait until you’ve reached the point writing your novel where you don’t know what to do to make it better. When you’ve done the best you possibly can.

Okay, so now your novel is at the point where it’s chilling in some kind of document on your computer completely edited and you have no clue what to do with it next.

And now we print?

No. Put that sucker away. Don’t look at it. Don’t work on it. Do something else. Send to some beta-readers for a fresh perspective. Wait some more. Wait a long, long time, until you can no longer recite the entire manuscript from beginning to end and recall the exact contents of every chapter.

Once you’ve acquired some distance, you can return to your manuscript. But don’t read it on the screen like you have been for these past million drafts. Now print.

I did this last week and it’s been so worth it this time round.

I don’t know if it’s the time away from the manuscript, or looking at it in a different format (on paper instead of on the screen), or what, but mistakes just are popping off the page for me. I believed this wouldn’t happen because I grew up with computers and I have no problem reading stuff on the screen. I didn’t think that the printing copy would take me to a place of editing enlightenment.

But it has.

Since printing my manuscript, I’ve found stuff that sounds awkward, small nit-picky errors, and other hard-to-classify improvements (like wouldn’t it be more logical for the protagonist to think x instead of y in this situation). And even though I’ve read and played with many sentences a million times, the new format is allowing me to pick up how to strengthen sentences I believed were as strong as they could be.

Now my only question is after this draft, will I have to print out the novel again?

My answer: Probably.

As all writers know, it’s never over.

 

Scrivener: A Writing Software Review

I should preface this review by saying that I bought Scrivener with my own coin using the discount given to all winners of Campnanowrimo way back in 2015. Scrivener did not solicit this review and all opinions are my own.

I’ve been using Scrivener, a writing software, for nearly three years now. Originally, it was recommended to me by someone in my university writing club. Once I started using it, I never went back to Word.

Before using Scrivener, I wrote a first draft of a story using Word. However, once I switched to Scrivener, I never went back. Here are some reasons why:

1) Scrivener encourages you to divide each chapter into a folder and each scene into its own file. It is very easy to navigate from chapter to chapter and scene to scene, which is great for editing. Say goodbye to the massive scrolling option that Word would force you to do to get to a pesky little scene in the middle of your manuscript.

2) With Scrivener, you can easily swap the scenes into different orders (say you realise something is better suited at the beginning than in the middle) with a simple drag of the mouse.

3) There is a cute cork board option that lets you outline each scene and move it around.

4) Perhaps most importantly, there is a snapshot feature. This feature allows you to copy and save old versions of your scene indefinitely. And if you don’t like what you’ve currently written to revise the scene, you can roll back to the previous version. I must admit that I very rarely review my previous versions of a scene, because once I know something needs to be changed, it needs to be changed for good. However, my copious snapshots act like a security blanket. It’s nice to know that I’m not just deleting all my previous work and can come back to it. It makes it somewhat easier to edit relentlessly.

5) Formatting with Scrivener is pretty easy. You just hit compile and it compiles your document to a word or pdf (your choice), and then you can see your work in its glory. It will have a header, the page number, and the chapters labelled halfway down the page. Basically while you work on your book, you can read it like a book ought to be read. You don’t have to waste much time ensuring the formatting works and fiddling around with spacing or what have you. Scrivener will do it for you.

Of course, there are some cons to using Scrivener.

1) For the most part, Scrivener is fairly intuitive. However, sometimes it has glitches. Fortunately, the site itself and the general online community have plenty of tutorial guides and how-to fixes. Usually a quick google search will clear up “Why is my header always upside down” and “Why does italicised text compile as underlined text” and the like.

2) Scrivener compiles for word and pdf formats admirably. I just tried the ebook format and it seems like it should work, you just might need to play with the settings to make it look fantastic. Some even more obscure formats don’t seem to work that well. So if you really want your book to compile to LaTex, you might want to look into this. Or just write it in LaTex directly, which if you’re writing a more symbol based book (like math or physics or comp sci or something), you probably already are doing. If you are writing a standard novel, it should work fine.

3) Once I tried to write a university assignment in Scrivener. This worked well until I needed a bibliography. Scrivener doesn’t have a bibliography function. If you need a bibliography that is cited in the text, don’t use Scrivener. Instead, use Word.

 

 

10 Things I Learned about Writing in 2017

1) Beginnings are the hardest part. You have to figure out where to start your story (right as the action is about to happen) and how to seduce the reader to commit to more. And the blank page is intimidating as hell. You might spend more time on the first chapter than anything else, and that’s okay. Once you get over it, it gets much better.

2) Endings are the hardest part (unless, of course, you are talking about beginnings). Trying to wrap up an entire plot is like wrestling a rabid bear. Just as you think you’ve got subdued the beast, tied up all the limbs and muzzled the jaw, a giant paw will lash out and a mouthful of sharp teeth will bite you in the butt. And you’ll have to wrestle the bear some more and now your butt is aching and now you have rabies. Thanks bear.

However, one tip that saw me through my ending was realising that my protagonist had to step up and become the hero. I’m not a huge fan of disappointing endings full of setbacks. Or worse, endings where the protagonist is in the same position as she was in the very beginning (I’m looking at you, second books of trilogies!). That meant my protagonist had to rise to the occasion and triumph (at least sufficiently).

3) You have to get over how people who know you will react to your writing.

For instance, my husband teased me relentlessly about the kissing scenes. It was embarrassing even though he’d directly inspired those scenes (perhaps that’s what made it especially embarrassing). It was mortifying. I turned bright red.

On the other side of the coin, you also have to get over the scenes that people who know you will be shocked by. Since I’m a very anti-violence and anti-gun person, the intensity of my action scenes might surprise those who know me. Oh well.

Also some of your writing will touch on issues that people may interpret oddly. Obviously, your story exists independently of people and events that happened in your life. However, your experiences do impact your art. Still, your story isn’t a carbon copy of your life in the real world. Unless of course, you’re writing a memoir–in which case, good luck!

4) Three things need to be happening in every scene. This advice changed my life. If your scene just is there for one reason, like only setting or only characterisation or only plot, it isn’t good enough. Or worse, if nothing happens in your scene at all! Like your character is sleeping or sitting around being bored. When you first start writing, you may think that your novel should mimic real life as closely as possible. You might end up with tons of these habitual scenes, since you’re trying to understand your protagonist as a human being. Fine. But those scenes are boring. Novels need to be dramatic!

For example, in one scene, you can push the main plot along, hint at an upcoming romantic subplot, and describe an interesting setting. All that together becomes compelling. Suddenly your story begins to read like a real book.

5) Every sentence has a purpose. This only comes along in later drafts when you have the whole work banged out in one document, but it’s important. One sentence needs to lead to the next, which then needs to lead to the next, and so on. If you have two to three sentences saying the same thing, condense them into one. Your writing becomes more focussed, and then the plot moves forward. When a novel has too many filler sentences, it is hard for the reader to ground themselves in the story and know where the story is taking them. Your sentences have to flow like the current in a river, pulling a reader along to the rising action or, at least, the focus of a scene. If you have too many sentences saying the same thing or nothing at all, the writing is stagnant and the reader doesn’t know what kind of journey the book is taking or why they should care. Harsh, but true.

6) Your novel probably will deal with some sensitive stuff or some emotionally charged topics. In the politically correct world we live in, it can be tempting to leave these topics alone for fear of not doing them justice or offending someone. Don’t. This sounds like your story’s about to get real. And that’s what art’s for.

Your characters won’t always make the morally correct choice (if such a choice exists) and sometimes they will be downright offensive. Your characters, like people, are flawed. They make mistakes.I’m not saying to write the most offensive thing possible because you should try to totally get away with it. I’m saying, if your characters aren’t always PC and seem somewhat limited in their views, you as a writer can do a lot with that. Talk about things that are real in a real way. Our world is full of ugliness. Your readers know this. Show them the ugliness, but do it for a reason.

Sometimes you won’t be able to show every aspect of a social issue as in depth as you’d like. It’s only one story. Just do the best you can with the story you have.

7) On a lighter note, this year I learned how to use commas. At least, I learned how to use commas better than I did in days of yore.

Does anyone else struggle with with commas? If we ever covered commas in school, I wasn’t there–either physically or mentally. I vaguely remember some teacher saying “you put a comma where you take a breath.” This works on some intuitive level until it doesn’t.

So, I pulled out the Chicago Guide to Style and read the entire section on commas. Although I’m not claiming to have become some mythical comma guru and mastered every case in the universe, I have become way more confident about their placement. In fact, I’m going to do a series of posts about how to use commas correctly to help others who also get confused about whether to comma or not.

8) Writing without an outline can brings great joy. It’s fun to watch the characters make decisions of their own and come to life in the document and surprise you. However, writing without an outline can lead to drafts without direction and purpose.

Outlines have their time and place. Eventually, as unromantic as it seems, sometimes you have to go through every scene and figure out what has to happen so that you can reach the end. But there is a balance. Spontaneity is valuable. If you have an intuitive feeling that you are heading the wrong direction, you probably are. Hit the drawing board, re-evaluate, and try again.

9) Writing routines are great, but it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. All over the internet, there’s loads of advice about the virtues of a writing routine where you write everyday and don’t wait for an elusive inspirational moment to come. I agree with this. The problem is, I FORGET TO CHILL.

A creative process takes a lot out of you and if you keep working everyday if you are tired, you will burn out. So, you need to unwind. Some people have personalities where their default state is one of chill. I envy these people. They know to watch lots of TV and play video games and don’t take things too seriously all the time. They don’t stay up all night with insomnia worrying about random stuff. They turn off the lights and fall asleep immediately. If you’re one of these people, please. Tell me your secret.

See, I don’t tend towards procrastination. I have the opposite problem. I try to do everything at once. I need to schedule time where I watch bad TV, play Kirby’s avalanche, and google endlessly whether it’s better to own a rabbit or a guinea pig even though I can’t own either because my apartment doesn’t allow pets. If I don’t schedule these things, they don’t happen. And then my life isn’t balanced.

Anyway, if you have my personality type and you read these articles about writing constantly, it’s okay. If you take a breather to chill, you aren’t procrastinating. You actually are helping your writing by making sure you don’t burn out.

10) Twitter has a large writing community. I was hesitant about joining Twitter this year, because of its spammy nature and my shyness and paranoia about posting stuff to strangers on the internet. However, I’m so glad I did. Twitter has a huge writing community where people are at all stages of their journey, and they share their progress and their struggles. It’s great to connect with other writers that are going through the same things as I am.

Minor Characters Aren’t Reference Manuals!

There’s a common character trope that I often read in middle grade and young adult novels. The smart minor character who knows everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Let me give you an example. This example obviously doesn’t exist in a real novel, but it should give you an idea of what I mean. So, we have a character. Let’s call her Geraldine. Now twelve-year-old Geraldine is really smart. So smart she has a photographic memory and she can memorize everything, including plenty of pointless and not so pointless trivia. Geraldine is usually a friend or ally of the main character and isn’t the star of the show.

So the main character and Geraldine and the rest of their gang are on a boat, and they need to navigate to the treasure buried at the bottom of the sea. How ever will they figure out what to do?

Cue Geraldine.

Geraldine knows all the polar coordinates (she memorized them one afternoon while she was still in diapers) and how to read the stars, so she can navigate them from any point of origin to a mysterious South Pacific island. When the characters finally arrive at their destination thanks to Geraldine, they have to scuba dive down to the treasure chest on the ocean floor. But don’t worry, Geraldine will know exactly how deep they have to go within 10 meters to the bottom to avoid getting the bends. And when they reclaim the treasure chest, and the volcano explodes on the island, Geraldine will conveniently know that the melting point of gold is 1,064 °C  so that the main character knows to dip the chest back into water to save the Magical Golden Amulet of Scubadoobadoo before it is destroyed.

Okay. So maybe like some kids, Geraldine has some obsessions. She is obsessed with the ocean, with geography and maps, and maybe chemistry too to explain her knowledge of melting points. Maybe Geraldine gets nervous and can’t perform physical feats and her nerd glasses break under pressure – all the typical nerd character flaws.

However, besides Geraldine’s not-so-random obsessions that totally serve the plot and nerd character flaws that are totally cliché, she has no personality. There is no reason for her to be friends with the main character – they have nothing in common. She most certainly does not tell jokes. She never makes mistakes, unless she forgets to round to the proper significant figure in her calculations. She doesn’t serve an emotional purpose that connects with any other characters besides the author telling us point blank that they are friends.

This is because Geraldine isn’t a character, she is a reference manual.

“But Geraldine was integral to the plot!” you cry.

No, no, Geraldine was not.

When Geraldine navigated the crew to the island, she could be replaced by a GPS.

When Geraldine knew the dangers of the bends and the melting point of gold, she could be replaced by Google, an encyclopaedia, or a text book.

If Geraldine made a calculation (like how fast the boat could travel in a harsh wind or something), she could be replaced by a calculator.

Characters like Geraldine don’t just serve as some means for main character to achieve their goal. Characters, even minor ones, have their own purpose and goals in the plot. Maybe they want romance. Maybe they want the Magical Golden Amulet of Scubadoobadoo for themselves, muahahaha. Maybe they don’t even want to be there, but they have to be or else the main character will use the Magical Golden Amulet of Scubadoobadoo to enslave their family.

Please notice I’m not saying that smart kids and teens don’t exist. Some kids and teens DO have photographic memory. And some smart kids and teens without photographic memory CAN memorize an obscene number of facts. However, they have other aspects of their personality as well.

Because smart, bookish, nerdy characters are people too! They have passions besides facts they’ve memorized. They have failings. They connect to others. Sometimes they also like things that are incredibly mainstream like popular radio, or cute animals, or reality TV, or epic Youtube fails. They don’t just nerd, nerd, nerd all the time. They don’t.

So, if you must have a character that can recite pi to fifty decimal places, just remember, they are more than that. They are a human being with their own wants and desires, their own strengths and flaws. And if you can replace your character with a GPS, a smart phone, an encyclopaedia, a calculator – whatever – they aren’t fully fleshed out as a character yet. Find out what makes them tick besides your need for the main character to have a walking, talking reference manual. Please. Your readers will thank you.

How I’m Spending This Nanowrimo

This November I decided not to participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). Does that mean I’m not working on my novel? Certainly not. I’ve been working on my novel this month like crazy. All November I’ve been working towards a huge novel-centric goal of my own. It just wasn’t Nanowrimo’s goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.

Nanowrimo’s goal is great for when you are writing a first draft and want to write it quickly. And I love Camp Nanowrimo in April and July because you can set a more flexible goal that can either be the total words you write, or minutes you spend working on your project. The supportive online community of writers in both Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo motivates and inspires me.

However, I have to say this:

I am definitely a fan of Camp Nanowrimo. But the November Nanowrimo itself has never worked for me.

There are a few reasons for this:

 

  1. I’m usually not ready to start a new novel in November. I’m working on another novel in progress. I can’t just write a novel in November and call it a month. I’ve been working through my current novel for many, many months.
  2. Word count goals don’t lend themselves towards editing where progress is slow and the delete key sometimes feels like the only key. I log my progress by the number of minutes I write in a week.
  3. I could write 50,000 words in a month, but I guarantee they will be garbage. And that’s okay if you want to get your thoughts all out in one full swoop during a first draft. Sometimes you have to wade through garbage to find diamonds in the rough. But if I’m just going to have to do a complete rewrite anyway, I’d rather write my novel methodically instead of at the speed of light.

 

This isn’t to bash Nano too badly. If it works for you, it works.

My goal this November is to edit my current novel into shape so that I feel ready to send it to some beta-readers at the end of the month. This has led to some pretty intense rounds of edits. I figured out how to turn my main character into a hero. I figured out my ending. I sat down and analyzed what had to happen to make the book work.

Once I’d “finished,” I gave it to my husband to read. Then he gave me feedback. Now I’m working on strengthening a few more points to improve the ending before I show it to more people.

My goal isn’t a goal of 50,000 words in a month. I have more than 50,000 words for a while now. It’s making sure those +50,000 words are the right ones and fit with the right plot points. It’s rewriting some of those +50,000 words to make them belong to a whole.

Will I make my goal?

Well, November 30th is coming around really fast, but I think I will.

Fingers crossed.

Thoughts On How To Edit Your Novel Part 2

Last week, I wrote down some thoughts on how to edit your novel. Since I’m still editing myself (it never ends!), I have more thoughts on what I’ve learned about the process that I’d like to share in hopes that they help someone else. Of course, everyone’s creative process is different, so do what works for you.

1) Editing takes time. This is perhaps the most crucial lesson I’ve learned from tackling my manuscript. Sure, you can write a first draft in a month or two, but fixing that draft is not easy. You will have to answer questions such as are you consistent? Do you switch days in the middle of a scene? Is your character wearing mittens and suddenly swaps them out for gloves mid-discussion with the abominable snowman? Those sorts of silly things.

Then come the more complicated questions like are your characters consistent? Do they seem to switch personalities part way through the story in a way that can’t be attributed to character development? In one of my drafts, a character ripped his jacket and I had him moaning about a replacement, which didn’t make any sense because he was ridiculously rich. So. Those kinds of things are important too. Character consistency also comes from examining if your character is driven by the same goals throughout the story or if their goals change they make sense.

And then there are more complicated issues like “I want a helicopter search party in the ending, but nobody can drive a helicopter/where does the helicopter come from/how does this scene fit with the others/is this even a good idea.” This sort of issue is difficult because it is vague. You can’t figure out how to write the scene because you aren’t totally sure what the scene is and how it fits with the whole novel. These are tricky. These issues take time to solve. You can’t just happily type in a helicopter search party in ten minutes if you don’t know what the heck is going on. Sometimes you have to think about what best serves your novel and although your instinct might be spot on, orchestrating everything together might only happen after days, weeks, or months of thinking it through.

Also, these character, plot, or general manuscript problems require solving like any other problem. It can help to treat them like a tricky question on your high school calculus assignment by which I mean try, try again, try ten million times, swear, crumple the paper in a ball, moan about how stupid you are – just kidding. That is not what I mean.

What I mean is, mull over the problem in the story. Scribble down a few solutions. Discuss solutions with another person if you’re stuck. If you get frustrated with the problem, put the manuscript away, do something else, get a good night’s sleep, and try again in the morning. Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I put my manuscript away for an entire week. This has never failed me. Once the week is over, I usually can solve the problem with a fresh mind. See my article on the importance of breaks during the creative process for more information.

2) Stuck about whether something sounds good? Read it aloud.

This method is kind of dorky and embarrassing, but sit alone in your room and read your work out loud. Things that are awkward and odd will sound strange and you can figure out how to fix them.

This is especially useful for dialogue. If you can’t say what you’ve written on the page out loud, neither can your character. Speaking your character’s lines will show you what works and teach you how to recognize their voice.

However, this method isn’t just limited to dialogue and is extremely useful for prose as well. The only thing I’ve found better than reading my own work aloud is having someone else read my work aloud. Hearing it in someone else’s voice makes repetitive words and awkward phrases that much easier to pick out. Of course, finding someone willing to read your full +50,000 word manuscript is a pretty tall order, so I mostly end up speaking by myself in my room.

I’ve heard that having the computer read it aloud for you also can work wonders. I haven’t tried this myself (the complete lack of inflection kind of scares me), but I’ve heard that it works for a lot of people.

Since this post is getting rather long, I’m going to stop here. Stay tuned for part three next week!

Thoughts On How To Edit Your Writing

As always with the creative process, there is no right or wrong way to go about editing. However, I’m sharing my thoughts on editing in hopes that they can help someone else. If you agree with me, great! If you don’t, that’s great too! Just polish your work to the best of your ability.

When I first starting writing as a kid, I thought that you whipped out a good first draft and then edited for spelling and then ta-da! You were finished. Although this might work for some school assignments, this is NOT how you edit a novel.

Of course, spelling and grammar are important. But when you finish the first draft of your novel, you probably won’t edit those at all for a long, long time. It’s more important to flesh out your characters and plot first and make them the best that you can. This is probably the hardest part about editing your own work: finding your story, staying true to it, and ensuring that it reads like a real book. It doesn’t make sense to waste time with the spelling and grammar if you’re going to rearrange and rewrite entire sections, perhaps even the entire novel.

I’m currently working on the fifth draft of my novel. Over the long process of this project, I’ve deleted entire characters, introduced new characters, and shifted the plot around adding more beef and tightening the themes. When I compare my current draft to the first draft, they barely resemble each other. Sure, the kernel of idea that lead to the novel is there in all drafts, but in very different guises. Of course if I’d planned my novel before jumping into the first draft this might not have been case. However, part of my writing style comes from spontaneity. Sometimes in order to write your novel right, you have to write it wrong first.

When I edited these drafts, I had to ask myself hard questions and rip open the guts of my story. I had to figure out what about the story really mattered. What was the essence of the story? When my reader read my story what did I want them to feel, how did I want them to respond? Readers are always free to feel differently, but it is worthwhile to consider your hypothetical audience and how you hope they’ll feel.

Some writers moan about “killing their darlings.” Each time I had to redo hours of work to rewrite a scene, delete a sequence of chapters, or think out a plot point that didn’t quite work, I didn’t feel devastated. Instead, I was happy that I was strengthening my novel. Once I uncovered weaknesses, they didn’t seem very “darling” to me anymore.

In terms of plot, if you feel that something is lagging or boring, it probably is. I’ve heard it said that each scene should have at least three purposes. So in one scene you could have something that advances the main plot, something cool about the setting, and some key characterization or relationship development for example. Any scene where your characters are doing nothing: brushing their teeth, staring at the wall, doing daily routine type things – combine it with something else or delete it!

It’s common to add these types of scenes, because you want to know everything about your character and show that they have a life like everyone else. However, art doesn’t mimic daily life precisely. Arts accentuates certain aspects to make a plot. Art flourishes on a bit of drama. It’s okay for your story not to read a hundred percent like real life. You want your novel to be exciting, to make your reader gasp in surprise, and to seem somewhat heightened all around.

The story structure of beginning, rising action, climax, denouement, and conclusion is in itself artificial. It’s your job as a writer to seduce your reader along for the ride. It helps to think about what you like in the books you read. How do you like these books to make you feel? What keeps you turning the pages? Now, I’m not advocating copying other writer’s plots. However, I am advocating copying the feeling you have when you read them through your own writing. How do you do this? It’s up to you.