Re-evaluate, Re-vamp, and Revive Your Writing in 2019

New Year, new me; isn’t that what we say every year? 

Well, I think I speak for all of us when I say that 2017 and 2018 were complete clusterf**cks. 2019 has to be our year, lets face it, because it’s about time we all got off of this downward facing roller-coaster…

I can’t tell you how to meet all your goals this year, nor can I promise that this is the year that it all changes. What I can do, though, is help you to get fresh ideas, develop them, and better your writing style; so stick with me, kids, and we’ll weep our way through 2019 together. 

Planning For Success; Time Management and The Writing Habit

Plan and Prioritise to Keep Your Workload Under Control

In the past we’ve discussed time management and the benefit of getting in to a habit of writing in detail elsewhere, so in the interests of brevity we’ll cover a few quick and dirty ways to manage your time and get into a habit of writing!

Quick Time Management Tips

When you have a busy day, or week, ahead and a workload that just won’t quit there are a few quick things that you can do to get things under control once more;

  1. Get Up And At It; I advocate sticking to normal working hours as much as possible (time to relax is key for everyone, but easy to lose altogether as a freelancer), but when the going gets tough an early morning or two can go a long way towards getting you back on the right track. 
  2. Clear The Decks; A quick way to give yourself a feeling of accomplishment and de-clutter your to-do list is to deal with all of your small tasks in one morning. Get all of your calls, emails, and small “house-keeping” tasks like invoicing out of the way and you’ll notice that the white-noise recedes a little. 
  3. Prioritise; Make a list of the tasks that are left numbered from one downwards, number one being the highest priority, and work your way through it. 
  4. Re-evaluate; Once half of the day has gone, look at the work you have left, re-evaluate it and renumber if necessary. 
  5. Leave Yourself Notes; If you have unfinished work at the end of the day make a note of what needs done and knock-off at a reasonable time so you can do it all again tomorrow. 

Getting Into The Habit Of Writing

The truth is that you can only build a habit by, well, actually writing (I know, right?), but if you’re having trouble with your fiction at the moment there are a few things you can do to build the framework of your new habit. 

  1. Start Keeping A Journal; Whether you write about your life, your hopes, story ideas, or just b*tch and moan about how you can’t write, keeping a journal will not only get you into the habit of writing every day, but can actually help you clear your head. Set out ten to thirty minutes to just empty the contents of your mind onto the page first thing in the morning, or just before bed, and you might find that ideas start to crop up. 
  2. Write Fanfiction; Don’t turn your nose up at fanfiction! Sometimes letting yourself run away with favourite characters and worlds could be just the thing to get your motor running again. 
  3. Let Your Family In; Tell your family about your goals and your workload – ask them to hold you accountable (this will become annoying quickly, but hopefully it will motivate you to work in order to AVOID the reminders). 
  4. Sprint It Out; Quick sprints can ease you back into writing without risking becoming overwhelmed by an ambitious word count goal or work appointment. Ten minute or 500 word sprints can be an excellent way in which to make progress without pressuring yourself.

New Year, New View 

Narrow or Widen Your Focus for Interesting Results

When the old year goes out you have the chance to begin again; improving your writing does not always mean focusing on the technicalities of grammar and prose. Sometimes it’s about experimentation and lateral growth. 

Expanding Your Repertoire

That old saying “write what you know” is not so much a restriction as a challenge; if you increase your knowledge, embrace new points of view, and read voraciously you can write with more flair, more breadth, and more confidence. 

This isn’t just about knowing your history, your geography, your anthropology, however, but about writing style, and about the genre in which you write. If you understand and know the tropes of your genre, and you have experience of various writing styles, you can turn your hand to more. 

So, if you want to expand the pool from which you draw your stories and your ideas you can spend 2019 in this way; 

  1. Read Speciality Magazines; history, gossip, hobby, industry. Whatever takes your interest, whatever you think can be of use to you. 
  2. Read Novels Within Your Chosen Genre; search google for, for example, the seminal fantasy novels and read any ones that you haven’t already. 
  3. Read Novels Outwith Your Genre; dip in to science fiction, literature, romance, horror… anything that takes your fancy outside your genre. Broaden your horizons and see what tropes, themes, and turns of phrase you can pilfer from elsewhere. 
  4. Undertake Writing Challenges; prompts, one line starters, and theme challenges are a good way to stimulate creativity. 
  5. Live A Little; don’t spend all day every day reading and writing! Get out and live life; experiences inform our writing as much as anything else. 

Style And Substance; Making It All Count

Crown Yourself King or Queen Of Writing Excellence!

So, you’ve got your time management skills on point, your workload is prioritised, and you’re world view is broader than it has ever been; all you need to do now is make sure your prose is on fleek!

Nuances and Technicalities

People will tell you that writing is an art, that a good story trumps technically flawless writing, and that rules are made to be broken… 

It would be wrong to say that all of the above is false, but there is a caveat to consider. Writing may be an art, but it is also a craft which requires work. Good story telling can compensate for bad technique, but a good story becomes great when your technique is also good. Finally, rules are made for a reason. 

I know, I know, this is an unpopular and old fashioned opinion, but i hold to it; the rules are like scaffolding. Learning and following these rules helps you to learn in a structured way and create pieces of writing that are functional as well as pleasing, if not overly original. 

Understanding why these rules are in place is the next step; when you understand why they are there you can figure out which can be bent without making your story structurally unsound. 

If you want to improve your technique and style you should;

  1. Read About Writing; books such as On Writing (Stephen King), and Zen in the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury) are good basic texts to get you started. You could also consider The Art of Voice (Tony Hoagland) which, yes, is about poetry, but should be required reading for all writers (I think). No craft will prepare you for novel writing quite like
  2. Brush-up On Your Grammar; English Grammar For Dummies is not the last word on English grammar rules, but if you were never formally introduced to the foundational aspects of grammar (as so many people in the UK were not) this is a great place to start.
  3. Learn How To Edit; when you look into the practice of editing you’ll find yourself surprised by the way in which editors consider fiction (I know I was!). You don’t need to have professional editing skills in order to write well, but a basic level of skill will help you to prepare your manuscript for literary agents. Better still, it will help you up your skills so that there’s less work to do when the editing stage rolls around! Consider Copy-Editing For Dummies or Copy-Editing  to help you on your way.

Experimentation

Finally, fuse your new found skills and techniques with all that new knowledge and your expanded world view for interesting (and often pleasing) results. How?

  1. Rewrite A Famous Fairy Tale; a fresh take on an old story could be just what you need to revamp your portfolio. Try a sci-fi, horror, or modern take on a few different fairy tales. Don’t just stick to the big ones, either; look into some of the more obscure examples too. 
  2. The Train Of Thought Challenge; sit down with a phrase, word, or character and start writing. Whatever comes into your head until it comes to a natural conclusion. 
  3. Revisit Your Old Work; see how your new eyes feel about old writing. What changes would you suggest? Do you feel the same way about the idea that you used to?
  4. Write In A New Genre; move out of your comfort zone to put some of your skills to the test. 
  5. Try New Points Of View; used to writing in 1st person? Try 3rd! Used to past tense? Why not give present a go? In fact, if you want a real challenge try writing in 2nd person with a future tense (that’ll bend your head!).

Above and beyond all of this, however, you should have fun with the process; life is for living. Make 2019 your year, and stay merry!

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Ready, Set, NaNo

November is peak season for writers; when NaNoWriMo rolls around we’re all ready to power through novels that we’ve pushed back and back and back all year long. Every year the story is the same for thousands of people:

You start well, you beat your targets for the first few days, and then… something goes wrong. Somewhere down the line you lose motivation or you meet a blockage that you just can’t work around.

You fall further and further behind, and sure maybe you write until the last day, but you never meet the target. You never finish it.

 

Or maybe you just give up altogether.

 

I’d love to be your hero (baby) and take away the pain…

 

But I can’t… All I can do is help you to prepare for NaNoWriMo so that you can up your chances of success. Here are some things to keep in mind as we go on:

1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint;

Yes there are some truly terrifying individuals who can crank out ten thousand words (or more) in the first day, but I’d bet you that many of them burn out somewhere in the second week.

Nano is a test of endurance, planning, and determination. In essence it’s a microcosm for the experience of a writing career – it teaches you skill you should apply to every day life if you want to take this on full time.

2) Failure is an option, but it doesn’t define you;

You can do it all right and still not finish. You can finish and dislike the product. Hell, you can finish and like your book and still not get published; this is not a reflection on your potential, but on THIS project and your CURRENT skill.

Learn how to say “I’m not ready YET”.

3) This is not an excuse to neglect your body and life

I’ll say it again, NaNoWriMo is an intense and limited example of what it means to take on a writing career; you should be continuing your life as usual, but finding time to write. This may mean sacrificing small pleasures such as an extra hour in bed or gaming time – what it DOESN’T mean is not washing, sleeping, eating, or socialising and skipping school or work.

If you take the time to learn how to juggle you will build good habits that will increase your productivity in the long run. This is a worthy goal, even if you fail the word count goal first time round.

 

Preparing For NaNoWriMo

Your preparation doesn’t need to begin now, but I would recommend that you start it soon. There are three steps to preparing for Nano, and depending on what book you want to write you may already have completed the first two.

1) Idea and Plot Development:

If you want to make your life as easy as possible during Nano it’s advisable to develop your idea and basic plot before you start to write; this will minimise the likelihood of severe writers block.

Idea development is a topic I have discussed before in detail, so if you’re unsure about it check out the link provided. If you’re having trouble getting an idea at all, however, checkout some prompts and methods. 

Once you have your idea it’s time to make a basic plot and some characters. This booklet might be of use to you*. When you have a an idea, plot, and main character(s) you’ll find you can get off to a flying start.

 

2) Research and Pre-Writing

Once you have the basic outline of a story and your characters, you need to flesh out their world and experiences. This is the time to gather knowledge and understanding of any topics on which you’re unversed.

You should consider what genre your story will fall into, in broad terms, and look into the main tropes, cliches, and plot devices used in that genre. Worldbuilding might be on the agenda; if you find it hard to flesh out the tricky details consider these world-building questions to help you get the gears turning. If you’re working with in the ‘real’ world, but in a historic setting you should brush up on your historical research skills to make the most of what you read. Most of all remember that when you research for fiction you are focusing on the major events of the time, and the minutia of life for your characters.

i.e. in a story surrounding a weavers daughter there is very little reason why the reader needs to know about the intricacies of courtly life, even in the country in which the book is set, unless she must become immersed in them herself!

Pre-writing, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the process of writing what I would call the “scaffolding” which will prop up your first draft. Think family trees, histories of towns and conflicts, personal histories, relationship development plans, and political information for your characters and your world. Your reader will probably never see any of this, but it will help you immensely (trust me!).

 

3) Real World Preparations

Ultimately this is the part that will make or break your attempt; you need to make time in your life for NaNoWriMo.

This can be done in a number of ways:

  1. Tell your friends and family you will be participating so that they can give you space and support.
  2. Create a workspace for yourself somewhere quiet and relatively undisturbed.
  3. Figure out the best time for you to write e.g. mornings, evenings etc.
  4. Begin building habits, e.g. if mornings are your time begin the process of gradually waking up earlier than usual. Set an alarm half and hour earlier than usual for one week, for example, and then move it back another half hour after you are used to this.
  5. Set a routine, build a habit; start sitting down to write, plan, or pre-write once or twice a week. Try to have a set time, and ensure that people know to leave you be (unless it’s an emergency) in that hour or two. Setting this habit early will help greatly when November bares its teeth.

 

Once you’ve done all of this you’ll be ready to give NaNoWriMo hell!

 

 

 

 

 

*This booklet is entirely free, but if you want to enable me to keep updating it (as well as producing more articles and resources) you could consider supporting me through Kofi.